The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Camden
Battle of Camden

Background: Marching Armies
Sometime after July 27, Francis Marion joined Maj. General Horatio Gates' army. Gates now met Marion and his band of militia for the first time and found their appearance so shabby that it was a distraction to the regulars. He took little time in detaching Marion with orders to gather intelligence on the movements of the British. During the march, Gates sent Lt. Colonel William Washington and his cavalry away, because he did not think cavalry would be of use in the South.

General Gates also weakened his force during this time by sending 400 men, including 100 Maryland regulars to assist Thomas Sumter, who had requested reinforcements to conduct his own raids. It appears that Gates' original strategy was to use Marion and Sumter to cut off Camden's supply lines from the south. This action would leave Camden vulnerable and force the British to evacuate their garrison without a fight.

General Gates had counted on Lt. General Charles Earl Cornwallis remaining in Charleston. Camden was held by a garrison of about 700 men under Lt. Colonel Lord Rawdon. However, on August 9, General Cornwallis received word from Lord Rawdon of General Gates' approach and he immediately set out for Camden, arriving on August 13. Meanwhile, Gates had found the going difficult and anticipated supplies had not turned up along the route. The men had ended up eating green apples and peaches.

On August 15, General Gates issued orders for a night approach to Camden. The evening's meal had been topped off with a dessert of molasses that had dire effects on the digestion of the men. At the same time, General Cornwallis had ordered a night march in preparation for an early morning attack on Gates at Rugeley's Mill. As Gates' Continental force marched south on the evening of the 15th, men often broke ranks as the molasses took its stomach churning effect.

At about 2:00 A.M. on August 16, 1780, General Gates' Continental force General Cornwallis' British force literally ran into each other on the Waxhaws road about ten miles from Camden. The forward cavalry screens of Continental Colonel Charles Armand and Lt. Colonel Tarleton clashed and skirmished in the dark. The cavalry was pushed back into the marching columns causing confusion until 100 Virginia state troops maintained formation and steadied the Continentals.

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