On May 12, 1780, General Lincoln surrendered Charleston. Five thousand Continental soldiers became prisoners of war and enormous stores of munitions were lost. After the victory, General Clinton sailed north back to New York City leaving Lt. General Charles Cornwallis in command. Clinton's orders to Cornwallis were simple: he was to hold the port cities of Charleston and Savannah, Georgia firmly under British control. He could carry on operations in the backcountry any way he wished, as long as he maintained control of those two cities.
On May 29, 1780, at Waxhaws, Lt. Colonel Tarleton caught up with a small Continental force retreating to North Carolina. Colonel Abraham Buford had turned back after learning that General Lincoln had surrendered. With that defeat, the lone remaining Continental force in the South was at Deep River, North Carolina. Maj. General Baron De Kalb and over a thousand Maryland and Delaware Continentals had left Morristown, New Jersey on April 16 with orders from General George Washington to reinforce General Lincoln. They had made it to North Carolina, when word of Charleston's surrender reached them. De Kalb had halted and made camp, while awaiting new orders from Washington.
Background: Horatio Gates - The Hero of Saratoga
Even before General Lincoln surrendered Charleston, the Continental Congress had chosen his replacement as Continental Commander of the Southern Department. General Washington had recommended Maj. General Nathanael Greene for the command, but Congress instead chose Maj. General Horatio Gates. Gates had been lobbying Southern congressmen through a stream of letters, he began lobbying southern congressmen. On May 7, the Continental Congress chose Gates to replace General Lincoln. On June 13, Gates received word of his appointment and left for the South immediately. On July 25, 1780, Gates arrived at the Deep River camp and took command from General de Kalb.
General Gates immediately ordered that the army be prepared to march at a moment's notice, in spite of the deplorable condition of the force. On July 27, he set out with his army for Camden, South Carolina. Camden was central to controlling the back country of South Carolina because of its crossroads location near the Wateree River and the Catawba (Indian) Trail. Gates had chosen a direct march to Camden through difficult, swampy terrain over the advice of his officers who were familiar with the area. They had recommended a route that would have started out west, then turned south. It was more indirect, but was a route through Patriot-friendly regions, which meant food and supplies. Not only was the route that Gates had chosen more difficult, but it was through unfriendly territory.
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