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Soon after the adoption of this plan, he sent General Morgan, with a respectable detachment, to the western part of South Carolina, and marched with the main body of his army to Hick's Creek, on the north bank of the Pedee.
Morgan was joined by a considerable number of militia, who, since the establishment of the British at Ninety-Six, had been ground down with cruel oppression, and were now burning for
As soon as the intelligence of this movement reached Lord Cornwallis, he despatched Colonel Tarleton, with eleven hundred men and two field-pieces, to "push the Americans to the utmost." Tarleton advanced with celerity, confident that his superiority, both in cavalry and infantry, together with the undisciplined condition of his opponents, would secure an easy victory.
The engagement took place on the 17th of January at the Cowpens. The Americans formed two lines; the first composed of one hundred and ninety North Carolina militia, under Colonel Pickens; and the second, of light infantry and a corps of Virginia riflemen. These were some hundred yards behind the others; and in the rear of both was the cavalry of Lieutenant-colonel Washington with about forty-five mounted militia. Though the British were exhausted with fatigue, Tarleton immediately ordered a charge, which he conducted in person. The first line, after some resistance, was broken, and the second shared a similar fate. Tarleton had begun to cut down the militia, when he was stopped by an unexpected charge of Colonel Washington, which was almost immediately seconded by one from Howard, with fixed bayonets. The militia, elated with this success, rushed on in great numbers, driving back the British advance-guard, and seizing their artillery. Amid the wild confusion of these simultaneous victories, Howard called to the enemy to surrender. The greater part obeyed, and of all Tarleton's army but one small party escaped, to carry the news to Cornwallis. Morgan's loss was twelve killed and sixty wounded; while that of the British was three hundred killed and wounded, five hundred prisoners, eight hundred must kets, one hundred dragoon horses, thirty-five baggage-wagons, and two field-pieces.
For their conduct in this brilliant affair, the officers received testimonials from Congress; and the whole army the thanks of that body. In its consequences, it was one of the most important actions of the Revolution; and the circumstances under which it was fought, challenge our utmost astonishment at its success.
The news of this misfortune, though it mortified, did not discourage Cornwallis. He determined, by a vigorous movement to the South, to nullify the impressions of defeat, and intercept Morgan, who, with his prisoners, was proceeding to Virginia. Notified of these movements, General Greene, after marching from Hick's Creek, left his army with General Huger, and rode one hundred and fifty miles, to join Morgan, that he might be in front of Corn*wallis, and make the junction of his two commands more easy. Immediately on his arrival, he ordered the prisoners to Charlotteville, and his troops to Guilford court-house, to which place General Huger had been directed to proceed.
In their retreat, the Americans underwent almost incredible hardships. Besides being exhausted by fatigue and hunger, they were obliged to march bare-foot over the frozen ground, and often to ford deep creeks, yet far from murmuring, they submitted to all this, cheerfully. The royal army fared little better than their adversaries; for being obliged to destroy their baggage, in order to facilitate their progress, they encountered many privations hitherto almost unknown.
So active were the movements of the British general, that he reached the Catawba on the evening of the same day that the Americans had crossed it. Here his progress was for a while arrested by a heavy rain, which rendered the river impassable. When the freshet subsided, the enemy crossed by wading, and having dispersed a small company of militia who had opposed them, pushed forward, in hopes of overtaking Morgan before he could cross the Yadkin. They were again disappointed. The elements again favoured the Americans, and the British were again detained by the swelling of the river. These hair-breadth escapes were considered by the Americans as proof that their cause was favoured by Heaven, and impressed religious people with such sentiments as added fresh vigour to their exertions.
Cornwallis now marched to the upper fords of the Yadkin, but before he could cross, Greene had united his forces at Guilford court-house. Even now his numbers were so inferior to that of his antagonist, that a council of officers unanimously agreed that he ought to retire over the Dan, and by no means risk an engagement. Apprized of this, his lordship determined to keep the upper country, where the streams were fordable, so that his opponent being unable to cross below, and having his supplies and reinforcements intercepted, would be obliged to give battle under many disadvantages. In this expectation he was deceived; Greene, by good
management, eluded the snare. By the most indefatigable exertions he transported his army artillery and baggage over the Dan into Virginia; yet, with so narrow an escape that the van of the British arrived just as the rear of the Americans had crossed. To the royal army this escape appeared almost incredible; and their mortification must have been unbounded. They had cheerfully submitted to fatigue, starvation, and every other hardship; and when their object seemed within grasp, their hopes were destined to a bitter disappointment.
Cornwallis, however, consoled himself by the reflection that he could improve the opportunity offered by the absence of the Americans in assembling the royalists and establishing a constitutional government. He therefore published a proclamation to that effect, and afterwards erected the king's standard at Hillsborough. The experiment was, however, attended with so little success that he found it necessary to despatch Tarleton, with four hundred and fifty men, to the Deep River, in order to incite a loyal spirit among the inhabitants of that region. Hearing of this movement, and apprehensive that the absence of the American army would be fatal to their cause in the south, Greene determined to re-enter North Carolina at all hazards. Accordingly, he crossed the Dan, and immediately dismissed General Pickens and Lieutenant-colonel Lee, in pursuit of Tarleton. On their way they met with a body of three hundred and fifty Tories, who mistook the Americans for British, and were cut down while making protestations of their loyalty. Tarleton was about a mile from this scene of slaughter, and upon hearing the alarm, crossed the Haw River, and returned to Hillsborough. On his retreat, he killed several of the royalists who were on their way to join the British, and whom he mistook for American militia.
These movements of General Greene entirely disconcerted the plans of Cornwallis, and so damped the spirit of the Tories, that they left him in large numbers.
Though the American commander had resumed the field, he did not wish to risk a general action, but to keep alive the courage of his army by harassing the foragers and detachments of the enemy. So artful were his movements, that for seven days he lay within ten .iles of the hostile camp; changing his position every night, and keeping it a profound secret where the next one would be. At the end of three weeks, he was joined by two brigades of militia from North Carolina, one from Virginia, and four hundred regulars. Having now a superiority in numbers, he gave battle on the 15th
of March at Guilford Court-house. His army consisted of four thousand four hundred men, more than one half of which were militia; that of Cornwallis, two thousand four hundred, chiefly veteran troops. The former were drawn up in three lines; the front, composed of North Carolina militia, the second of Virginia militia, the third of continentals under General Huger, and Colonel Williams. The British advanced in three columns; the Hessians on the right, the guards in the centre, and Lieutenant-colonel Webster's brigade on the left. The American front gave way almost as soon as attacked, in consequence of the indiscretion of a colonel, who called out to an officer that he would be surrounded. The Virginia militia maintained their ground with great spirit, but were also obliged to retreat. The continental troops were last engaged, and fought bravely for hour and a half; but the discipline of veterans gained the day. They broke the second Maryland brigade, turned the left flank, and were endeavouring to encircle the American regulars. A retreat therefore became indispensable. It was ably conducted by Greene, who retired but three miles.
In this battle the Americans lost about four hundred killed and wounded; among the latter were Generals Huger and Stephens. The loss of the British was severe. Besides several hundred privates, Colonel Webster, an able and much beloved officer, Colonel Stuart, and three captains were killed; and Generals O'Hara and Howard, and Colonel Tarleton wounded.
Though Cornwallis had gained a victory, he was in no condition to improve it. The long-sought interview with his adversary ill repaid the toil and anxiety which he had expended to accomplish it. So effectually had it crippled his abilities, that on the 19th, he broke up his camp and retreated towards Wilmington. Greene having re-collected his forces, and provided for the wounded of both armies, immediately pursued as far as Ramsey's Mill, on the Deep River. From Wilmington his lordship marched towards Virginia; but instead of pursuing him, Greene formed the bold design of returning to South Carolina. Hazardous as was this attempt, circumstances afterwards proved that it was the very best one which could have been devised, as well as demonstrated the sagacity of the man who planned and executed it.
Before Greene commenced his march, he sent orders to General Pickens, to prevent supplies from going to the British garrisons at Augusta and Ninety-Six, and soon after proceeded towards the latter station. No sooner was his approach known than the friends of Congress were filled with exultation. The spirit of opposition had ever
been sustained by Sumpter, Marion, and other partisans, who now hailed the coming campaign as the reward of their long exertions. Before the arrival of the American army, the latter general, accompanied by Lieutenant-colonel Lee, invested Fort Watson, between Camden and Charleston, and obliged it to surrender.
On the arrival of General Greene, he encamped before Camden, which was defended by Lord Rawdon with nine hundred men. In consequence of his force being insufficient for an assault, he took a good position about a mile distant, in order to allure the garrison from their works. He was successful, and an engagement ensued, in which the Americans were worsted; but they retreated in such good order as to save most of their wounded, artillery, and prisoners. The British retired to Camden, and the Americans to about five miles above their former position.
Lord Rawdon, on the 7th of May, received a considerable reinforcement under Colonel Watson. He, therefore, on the next day, endeavoured to give battle to General Greene. But failing in this, and having all his supplies intercepted, he returned to Camden, burned the jails, mills, and his own baggage, and evacuated the post. Soon after, the British were obliged to contract their extended chain of communication, and retire within the Santee. This measure greatly animated the friends of Congress, as well as the partisan militia, and was immediately followed by the surrender of a post at Orangeburg to General Sumpter, and of Fort Motte on the following day. Three days after, the garrison of Fort Granby, consisting of three hundred and fifty-two men, surrendered to Colonel Lee. About the same time, Marion compelled the garrison of Georgetown to evacuate that post.
But few stations now remained in possession of the British. One of these, Fort Cornwallis, was attacked by Lieutenant-colonel Lee, and Colonel Pickens, and, after an obstinate resistance, compelled to capitulate. The Americans took three hundred prisoners, and had about forty killed and wounded.
Some acts of retaliation took place about this time, which became a source of uneasiness to the officers. By strenuous exertions some of the perpetrators were discovered and received summary punishment.
Meanwhile, General Greene, with the main army, laid siege to Ninety-Six, in which was Lieutenant-colonel Crugar, with five hundred men. On the left of the besiegers was a work in the form of a star; on the right a strong stockade fort, containing two blockhouses. The town was also defended with strong pickets, and surrounded by a ditch and high bank. The Americans pushed