The Battle of Camden marked a devastating defeat for the Americans. It was a battle between the British forces and the Patriots which took place during the American Revolution.
Let us look at the Battle of Camden, its key facts and brief summary.
1) The background
The Battle of Camden took place in 1780, prior to this the British had suffered defeat in the Battle of Saratoga and the Battle of Monmouth. Hence they decided to renew their southern battle strategy and gain back the rebellious North American colonies. This strategy mainly revolved around loyalists joining the British forces and besieging the rebels in the north.
Sir Henry Clinton, a British army officer led successful sieges and campaigns in the backcountry and was successful in capturing important towns such as Georgetown, Augusta, Cheraw, Ninety Six and Camden. Following this he flew back to New York and Charles Lord Cornwallis was tasked with retaining the control of the rest of portions of the state.
2) Major General Horatio Gates
Washington ordered the Continental Army regiments under the command of Major General Johann de Kalb to go south. Following the order, they departed from New Jersey and arrived at Buffalo Ford on Deep River, North Carolina. Subsequently, Major General Horatio Gates arrived at the camp in July and took command of the forces.
Horatio Gates was also known as the ‘Hero of Saratoga’ due to his victory at the Battle of Saratoga.
3) British HQ at Charleston
British forces captured Charleston in May 1780, following which they established a supply depot and garrison at Camden as a part of their strategy to secure control of the South Carolina backcountry.
4) March to Camden
Two days after Gates’ arrival at camp, he ordered the forces to march to Camden, South Carolina in an effort to liberate the state. He gave this order despite being advised against it by his officers.
5) Gates’ ‘Grand Army’
Gates was joined by 2,100 North Carolina militiamen under the command of General Richard Caswell. Additionally, 700 Virginia militiamen under the command of General Edward Stevens joined the army as well. Gates also had Armands’ Legion under his command. Hence, he was commanding an army of around 3,700 men out of which 2/3rd were militiamen.
6) Word reaches Cornwallis
The word of Gates’ march to Camden reached Cornwallis, following which he left his headquarters at Charleston and marched to Camden. His army consisted of 2,200 regulars and loyalists.
7) The two armies marched towards Camden, unaware of the presence of each other.
8) The food disaster
On August 15, Gates fed his men a meal of cornmeal and molasses which acted as a purgative and gave the men diarrhoea. As a result, most of the men were rendered unfit to fight, despite this Gates ordered the men to go on a night march to Camden.
9) The British forces and the American forces met each other before dawn. However, both the parties agreed to halt the battle till morning because neither wanted to engage in a night battle.
10) The battle deployment
Gates made an error in his judgement while deploying his forces. As commonly seen in the 18th-century warfare, Gates placed his most experienced unit on the right and the lesser experienced unit on the left flank.
However, he did not realise that his opponent would do the same thing. Hence Gates’ most experienced troops were facing the inexperienced British troops and the experienced British forces battled with the inexperienced Virginia militia headed by General Stevens.
11) Cornwallis established the veteran 23rd and 33rd Regiments of Foot on his right flank to battle Stevens. The flank was led by one of his best officers, Lt. Col. James Webster.
12) The Battle of Camden
In the morning on August 16, 1780, Gates ordered De Kalb and Stevens to attack and Cornwallis ordered the same to Webster. The British forces then made use of bayonets, seeing the bayonets the Virginia militia fled because they were inexperienced with them. Subsequently, the American left-wing collapsed.
However, the Continentals bravely remained on the battlefield as the rest of the army fled. Gates too escaped the battlefield via a horse. Subsequently, Webster attacked the Continentals thus leaving them outnumbered and trapped. Hence the Battle of Camden came to an end with the crushing defeat of the Patriots.
13) De Klab’s death
Major General De Klab fought bravely in the Battle of Camden, he received numerous injuries during the battle and succumbed as a British prisoner a few days later.
Even though the Patriots outnumbered the British forces 2 to 1, they ultimately lost the battle with over 2,000 casualties. Moreover, many Americans ended up as British prisoners. In contrast, the British forces suffered around 300 casualties.
14) Additionally, the Americans lost more than 20 wagonloads of military equipment along with a large amount of artillery.
15) The Aftermath
During the Battle of Camden, Gates fled the field on a swift horse and was safe and sound in North Carolina by evening. However, this battle marked a humiliating defeat for him. It further ruined his reputation and he never held a field command again. Gates was then replaced by Major General Nathanael Greene.
16) Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill
A second battle took place at Camden on April 25, 1781, called as the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill. It was fought between a small American troop headed by Nathanael Greene and the British forces. Although the British won the battle they abandoned Camden the following month.