|Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres — A Sketch of the Battle near Camden in South Carolina|
|A Sketch of the Battle near Camden in South Carolina
Dimensions: 11 1/2" x 13" image size; 24" x 29 1/2" sheet size
The Battle: Arraying the Troops
Both Maj. General Horatio Gates and Lit. General Charles Cornwallis, having been surprised by the encounter, withdrew to plan and wait for dawn. Following the early morning skirmish, the element of surprise was now gone. It was learned from prisoners taken that the British force was 3,000 strong and commanded by General Cornwallis himself. General Gates immediately called a council of war with his officers to discuss what action to take. Although Major General Barton de Kalb had privately advised retreat, he said nothing at the council of war.
After a few moments of silence, militia Brig. General Edward Stevens declared that it was too late to do anything but fight. General Gates wanted to prove his worth as a skilled commander, so when no other advice was offered, he insisted on facing the British on open ground. Although both Gates and the British estimated the American forces to be nearly 7,000 men, the actual number was only about 3,000, nearly 2,00 of whom were inexperienced militia.
Before dawn broke, General Gates found his men. The core of his force, 900 Maryland and Delaware regulars under General de Kalb, were arrayed to the right of the Waxhaws road. To the left of the road were placed 1,800 North Carolina militia. On their left were 700 Virginia militia. Colonel Charles Armand’s cavalry was held in reserve behind the Virginians. Gates himself was stationed with the reserves some 200 yards behind the battle line.
When the British appeared on the field, Lord Rawdon commended his own Volunteers of Ireland, as well as Lt. Colonel Banastre Tartleton’s British Legion cavalry on the British left wing opposite of General de Kalb. Following European military custom, both General Gates and General Cornwallis had placed their most experienced troops on the right wing. AS a result, Lt. Colonel James Webster commanded the most seasoned British regiments on the right wing opposite Gates’ inexperienced militia. In hindsight, it looks to be a recipe for disaster for Gates.
The Battle: Fighting Commences
The British opened the battle by attacking with their right wing on the American left wing at the heart of the militia. Brig. General Edward Stevens ordered his men to fix bayonets, which as militia they had never done before. In the face of an aggressive bayonet charge from the British, first the Virginians and then the North Carolina militia fled before the British regulars could even reach them. Many dropped their muskets without having fired a shot.
While the rout was taking place on the American left wing, the right wing under Maj. General Baron de Kalb was attacking after receiving the order from Maj. General Horatio Gates. They had no idea how bad things were on the left wing because the dawn’s dead calm had left the smoke from gunfire lingering in a haze on the field. The Maryland and Delaware Continental regulars twice repulsed Lord Rawdon’s Volunteers of Ireland and then launched a counterattack.
The Continental counterattack was successful with prisoners taken and the Volunteers’ line nearly broken. Lt. General Charles Cornwallis saw the action, rode up and rallied his men. Meanwhile, Lt/ Colonel James Webster controlled his men on the British right wing. Instead of pursuing the fleeing militia, he wheeled to the left and continued his charge as a flanking movement against General de Kalb.
Only one militia regiment held its ground. It was a North Carolina regiment that had been stationed the closest to the Delaware Continental regulars. Their steadfastness was rewarded by being the firs tot be hit by lt. Colonel Webster’s flank attack. The militia unit fought well and was joined by Maryland regulars that had been called up from reserve by General de Kalb. The Maryland regulars fought off Webster’s attack, but now only about 800 Continentals were facing at least 2,000 British regulars.
The small force continued to fight bravely. The final blow came when General Cornwallis ordered Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton on his British Legion to attack the American rear. Under the cavalry charge the ranks finally broke. Some Continentals managed to escape through a nearby swamp. General de Kalb himself had taken eleven wounds before falling. The field was taken after an hour. General de Kalb fleeing Americans for over twenty miles before finally turning back.