While at his home Traveller's Rest in Virginia, Maj. General Horatio Gates continued to watch Canada, in hopes of finally leading an offensive there, but he also began lobbying southern congressmen for command of the Southern Department as Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln lost Georgia. On May 7, 1780, the Continental Congress chose Gates to replace Lincoln when word of Charleston's plight arrived. General Washington had recommended Maj. General Nathanael Greene over Gates. Gates learned of the appointment on June 13, 1780 and almost immediately departed for the South.
On July 25, 1780, Gates arrived at the Continental camp at Coxe's Mill, North Carolina along the Deep River and assumed command from Maj. General Baron de Kalb. De Kalb had been leading about 2,000 Continental regulars sent by General Washington to aid Charleston, when word of the city's surrender prompted him to retreat back to North Carolina. When Gates arrived, the force was down to 1,200 troops who were in poor shape. In spite of their condition, Gates ordered them to be ready to march immediately, calling them "the grand army." When Colonels William Washington and Anthony White asked Gates for assistance as they put together cavalry units, he stated that the Southern Theatre was not good cavalry country and refused assistance.
Thomas Sumter had delivered a report to General de Kalb, which showed a tenuous British situation at Camden, South Carolina and its outposts. When Gates studied the report, he decided to attack Camden. His officers who were more expeirenced in the geography and politics of the Carolinas advised that he make a more circuitous route through Salisbury, Charlotte and the Catawba area. Gates ignored the advice and chose a route fifty miles shorter, but swampy and full of Loyalists, who would be of no aid to the Continentals.
Gates and his 'grand army' set out on July 27, 1780. They would take two weeks to cover the 120 miles to Camden. Along the way, they had to eat green corn, while some men used hair powder to try and thicken stews made from the green corn and tough woods cattle that they came across. Gates had apparently chosen his route in hopes of attracting greater numbers of militia. Around August 5, about 2,100 North Carolina militia under Maj. General Richard Caswell joined Gates' force as it camped near Lynches Creek.
After more than a week of maneuvering in the woods with half-starved men, Gates ran into a British force led by Lt. General Charles Cornwallis himself about ten miles northeast of Camden at about 2:30 A.M. on the morning of August 16, 1780. Cornwallis had left Charleston as soon as he had been warned of Gates' approach by Lord Rawdon who was in command at Camden.. After some blind skirmishing by the two armies' advance screens, they both withdrew to wait for daylight. Gates chose to stand his ground and fight Cornwallis with a sick army still not recovered from a diet of green corn and molasses from the night before as well as the mosquito-filled swamps.
Just before dawn, Gates arrayed his men. He chose to place his inexperienced militia on his left wing, which would face General Cornwallis' right wing where the British traditionally placed their most experienced troops. Gates placed his own Continental regulars under General de Kalb on his right wing. Cornwallis opened the battle by attacking the American left wing. The militia had never experienced open field tactics and immediately fled the field in the face of the disciplined British bayonet charge.
Related Items Available at eBay - Scroll for additional items