When 16 August 1780
Strength British – 2,100
Americans – 4,000
After securing Charles Town, Major General Sir Henry Clinton returned to New York City leaving Lieutenant General Charles Lord Cornwallis in charge of the British army in the South. Cornwallis was tasked with conquering the Carolinas and invading Virginia. Clinton did not give him specific orders as to how to accomplish this and gave him a force of just 3,000 soldiers. Keeping his army adequately supplied in the field proved to be an ongoing issue so to improve this situation, Cornwallis established a supply depot, commanded by Colonel Lord Rawdon, at Camden.
After the loss of Charles Town, Patriot resistance in South Carolina was led by colonial militia who conducted a guerilla campaign against British patrols and Loyalists. Washington sent units from the Continental army under Baron de Kalb to resist British occupation of South Carolina. Then, on 25 July, the “Hero of Saratoga” Major General Horatio Gates arrived to take command of the force. Against the advice of his officers, Gates planned to confront the British at Camden by building a defensive work north of the town believing it would force them to leave. On the journey to Camden, 2,000 militiamen joined Gate’s army.
Hearing of Gates’ movement, Cornwallis journeyed from Charles Town with reinforcements. The field where the two armies met lay between two swamps. Cornwallis split his army into two brigades; Colonel James Webster led the force on the right and Colonel Lord Rawdon led the force on the left. A reserve force of light cavalry was led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton who had become infamous for massacring surrendering Continentals at the earlier Battle of Waxhaws. Gates set up his army with regiments from the Continental Army on the right under Brigadier General Mordecai Gist, North Carolina militia commanded by General Richard Caswell in the center, and Virginia militia led by General Edward Stevens on the left.
When the battle began, Gates ordered the Virginia militia to attack the units opposite them but as they moved forward, redcoats counter-attacked with bayonets fixed. With little training and without bayonets themselves for close-quarter fighting, the militia turned and ran. They were quickly followed by the militia from North Carolina who ran so fast they suffered only three wounded men!
In the meantime, British soldiers under Lord Rawdon attacked the Continentals but were twice forced back. The Continentals then began their own attack and came close to breaking the British line. Instead of pursuing the fleeing militia, Colonel Webster turned and attacked the Continentals. Cornwallis then ordered Tarleton’s cavalry to charge the Americans from the rear. As the Americans retreated, they were pursued by Tarleton for almost twenty miles.
Gates abandoned his army as it was being routed and rode northwards fast. By evening he was 60 miles away in Charlotte and three days later he was 180 miles away in Hillsborough where he wrote his report to Congress. He was accused of cowardice but while Congress ordered a board of inquiry to investigate him, he had powerful friends who prevented him from being punished but his reputation was ruined. Washington then appointed Major General Nathaniel Greene as commander of the Southern Department of the Continental Army.
British – 68 killed / 245 wounded / 11 missing
Americans – 900 killed and wounded / 1000 capture
Battle of Camden - Death of de Kalb by Alonzo Chappel.