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the lower fords of that river were impassable in winter ; that the ferries were distant from each other; and that no sufficient number of boats or flats could be collected at any one ferry to transport the American army in a convenient time. He reasonably concluded that if he could prevent General Greene from passing the upper fords, he might overtake and overwhelm him before he could cross at the lower ferries.
Dix's ferry, about fifty miles from Guildford courthouse, was in the direct road to Virginia ; but the British were as near it as the Americans, and it was impossible to bring up boats from the lower ferries against the rapid current of the river to transport the Americans before the arrival of the British. That route, therefore, was abandoned as impracticable. But there are two other ferries, Boyd's and Irwin's, only four miles distant from each other, considerably farther down the river, and about seventy miles from Guildford courthouse. The Americans were nearest those ferries by about twenty-five miles, the whole distance between the two armies; and consequently, in that direction, they had by so much the start of their pursuing enemies. Besides, all the boats at Dix's and the intermediate ferries could easily be conducted down the stream to Boyd's and Irwin's. An officer, therefore, with a few men, was instantly despatched to perform that service.
In order to cover his retreat, and to check the pursuing enemy, General Greene formed a light corps out of Lee's legion, Howard's infantry, Washington's cavalry, and some Virginia riflemen under Major Campbell, amounting to 700 men, the flower of the southern army. As General Morgan was severely indisposed, the command of these light troops was given to Colonel Otho Holland Williams.
Having refreshed his troops, and made the necessary arrangements, on the morning of the 10th of February, General Greene left Guildford courthouse on his march toward the Dan; and was pursued by Cornwallis, who had been detained by the long circuit which he was obliged to make in order to pass the Yadkin. The retreat and pursuit were equally rapid ; but the boldness and activity of the American light troops compelled the British to march compactly and with caution ; for on one occasion Colonel Lee charged the advanced cavalry of the British army suddenly and furiously, killed a number, and made some prisoners. General Greene's precautions and preparations for passing the Dan were successful ; and on the 14th of February, he crossed that river at Boyd's and Irwin's ferries, with his army, baggage, and stores. Although his light troops had marched forty miles that day, yet the last of them had scarcely reached the northern bank, when the advanced guard of the British army appeared on the other side of the river.
The escape of General Greene into Virginia, without a battle, and without any loss, except a few wagons at the Yadkin, was a severe disappointinent to Cornwallis. The pursuit was at an end, and the Americans safe ; for the river was deep, all the boats were removed from the south side, and the American army was posted on the opposite bank ; General Greene's prudence and activity having accomplished what was deemed impracticable.
In this retreat and pursuit of more than 200 miles, both armies endured excessive fatigue and hardships. Want of tents, bad roads, heavy rains, swollen rivulets, and scarcity of provisions, were privations and sufferings common to each.
The men were often thoroughly wetted, without any means of drying themselves till the moisture was evaporated by the heat of their bodies. The inclement season of the year aggravated their sufferings. But under these trials the British soldiers had great advantages, for they were provided with shoes, and comfortably clothed. But the Americans were in rags, and many of them barefooted: the blood flowing from the gashes in their naked feet marked their
line of march. Yet both armies bore all with patient fortitude and withcut a
The Americans did not lose a single sentinel by desertion. Cornwallis entirely failed in his attempts against General Greene ; but he was consoled by the reflection that he had completely driven the enemy out of North Carolina, and that now there was nothing to hinder the loyal inhabitants from openly espousing his cause and reinforcing his army. By easy marches he fell back to Hillsborough, where, on the 20th of the month, he erected the royal standard, and called on the people to join his army, and assist him in restoring order and constitutional government in the country.
Originally, in North Carolina, the loyalists were more numerous than in any of the other colonies; but unsuccessful insurrections had considerably cooled their zeal and diminished their numbers. Some had left the province, and joined the royal army in South Carolina ; and many, rendered cautious by experience, resolved to watch the course of events, and not rashly to expose their lives and fortunes in a doubtful and hazardous cause. Considerable numbers, however, determined to encounter every risk, and made preparations for repairing to the royal standard. But those proceedings were soon checked; for General Greene, aware of the inclinations of many of the people, on the 18th sent Lee's legion across the Dan, into North Carolina, to watch the royal army, counteract the proclamation, and intimidate the loyalists; and, being reinforced by 600 Virginia militia, under General Stevens, on the 21st and 22d of February he repassed the river with his whole army, and advanced toward the British encampment. In order to perplex and harass Cornwallis, and to discourage the loyalists, he sent forward his light troops to hover round the British quarters; while, with his main body, he proceeded slowly, by the route most favorable for forming a junction with some North Carolina and Virginia militia who were returning from a war with the Cherokees. With the force then under his command, he had no intention of hazarding a general action; but he knew that his presence in the province would overawe the loyalists, and encouraged the friends of congress. Cornwallis was indefatigable in exciting to arms the adherents of royal gov
In one day he imbodied seven independent companies; and considerable numbers were assembling in order to join his army. Colonel Tarleton, with part of the legion, was detached over the Haw river, to protect and conduct to camp a body of loyalists who had agreed to meet at O'Neil's plantation. General Pickens and Colonel Lee got notice of Tarleton's movements and design, and concerted measures for attacking him and frustrating his intentions. Lee, with his cavalry, was to fall upon Tarleton ; while Pickens, with his militia, was to disperse the loyalists. On the evening of the 25th the loyalists were paraded in a lane leading to O'Neil's house, when Lee entered it with his cavalry. At first he mistook them for Pickens's militia, who, he imagined, had reached the place before him. They were equally in error with respect to him. They mistook his cavalry for Tarleton's. Lee, however, on observing the red rag on their hat, the badge of loyalty, soon became sensible of their real character ; but he resolved to pass on toward Tarleton, leaving the tories to Pickens. That officer with his militia soon came up: a firing between him and the loyalists immediately began ; and Lee, perceiving that Tarleton, who was within a mile, would be alarmed, and could not now be surprised, instantly wheeled and fell upon the astonished loyalists, who, as he was cutting them down, exclaimed that they were the king's best friends.
On hearing the firing, Tarleton, who was refreshing his men about a mile from the bloody scene, instantly mounted, recrossed the Haw, and hastened 10 Hillsborough. He met some loyalists on their way to camp, and, mistaking them for provincial militia, put them to the sabre. Thus these unfortunate per
sons were massacred equally by those whom they came to assist and those whom they meant to oppose. General Greene recrossing the Dan, and the massacre of Colonel Pyle's corps, disconcerted the measures of Cornwallis, and so completely intimidated the loyal inhabitants that few of them afterward repaired to the royal standard.
The country about Hillsborough, having been traversed by both armies, was nearly exhausted; and it was obvious that the royal army could not long remain at that place. Although Cornwallis, in his proclamation, had allowed forty days to the loyal inhabitants to come in, yet, on the 27th of February, only six days after issuing the proclamation, he found it expedient to decamp from Hillsborough. He passed the Haw, a branch of Cape Fear river, and took a position on Allamanee creek, in order to procure provisions for his troops, and to protect the numerous loyal inhabitants residing between the Haw and Deep river.
As Cornwallis retreated, General Greene advanced, passed the northern branch of the Haw, and encamped between Troublesome creek and Ready Fork. He assumed a confident air, although he did not yet feel himself strong enough to hazard a battle; and, in order to avoid a surprise, he changed his ground every night, without disclosing to any person beforehand the new position which he intended to take. In his difficult and critical movement to check an enemy whom he durst not encounter, and to maintain positions favorable to a junction with his expected reinforcements, General Greene was greatly assisted by an active light infanty and a daring body of cavalry, who penetrated the country in every direction, and so overawed the loyalists that Cornwallis found it difficult to procure information on which he could rely.
After several movements the American light troops and some militia took post on the branches of Reedy Fork, while General Greene, with his main body, lay at some distance toward Guilford courthouse. Early in the morning of the 6th of March, Cornwallis, under cover of a thick fog, passed the Allamanee, and marched toward Reedy Fork to beat up the quarters of the light troops, and to bring General Greene to a battle if a favorable opportunity presented itself. sharp encounter ensued, and some loss was sustained on each side. The Americans retreated, but no important advantage was gained over them. General Greene fell back to the iron-works on Troublesome creek, and Cornwallis returned to his station near the quaker's meetinghouse at the forks of Deep river.
At length General Greene received all the reinforcements which he expected; therefore he again advanced, and took a position near Guilford courthouse, within about ten miles of the British encampment. On the 13th of March his army amounted to 4,261 men, including 180 cavalry, under Colonels Washington and Lee. The continental infantry amounted to 1,490. The rest of the army consisted of the Virginia militia, commanded by General Stevens; and of the North Carolina militia, under Generals Butler and Eaton. Hitherto Genera) Greene had studiously avoided a battle; but having received all his reinforce ments, he now resolved to risk a general engagement. His movements indica ted his intention ; and Cornwallis readily embraced the proffered opportunity of a battle. Accordingly, on the evening of the 14th of March, he sent off his baggage under a proper escort to Bell's mills, on Deep river, and early next morning put his army in motion toward Guilford courthouse.
General Greene, who was meditating an attack on the British, had his men prepared for action, when the firing of his advanced parties gave him notice of the approach of the English army. About three miles in front of the American encampment, the van of the royal troops, consisting of the cavalry, the light infantry of the guards, and the yagers, under Colonel Tarleton, fell in with the American advanced guard, consisting of Lee's legion, with some riflemen under Campbell and Lynch. A severe conflict ensued, and was obstinately maintained on both sides till the appearance of the 23d regiment to support Tarleton made Lee hastily retreat. During this skirmish General Greene put his army in order of battle, about a mile from Guildford courthouse. The whole country presented the appearance of a vast wilderness covered with tall trees and a thick underwood, interspersed with a few cleared fields. General Greene drew up his army in three lines on a large hill, surrounded by other woody eminences : his first line, composed entirely of the militia of North Carolina, and amounting to 1,060 men, exclusive of officers, under Generals Butler and Eaton, was advantageously posted on the edge of the wood, behind a strong rail fence, with an extensive open field in front of their centre, through which ran the great road to Salisbury; on it, in the centre of the line, were place two field-pieces. The second line, consisting of the two brigades of Virginia militia, amounting to 1,123 men under Generals Stevens and Lawson, was drawn up in the wood, about 300 yards behind the first, and on both sides of the great road to Salisbury. The third line, posted about 300 yards behind the second, consisted of the Virginia regular troops under General Huger, on the right, and the Maryland brigade under Colonel Williams on the left : this line was drawn up obliquely, with its left diverging from the second line, and partly in open ground. Washington, with his cavalry and some riflemen, formed a corps of observation on the right flank; and Lee's legion, with a body of riflemen under Campbell and Preston, covered the left. The baggage was sent off to the iron-works on Troublesome creek, where the army was ordered to rendezvous in case of defeat.
After the rencounter between Lee and Tarleton, Cornwallis continued his march toward the American army; and as soon as the head of the column appeared in sight, it was met by a cannonade from the two six-pounders stationed on the road. The British returned the fire. Cornwallis instantly made his dispositions for the attack. The 71st regiment, and the regiment of Bosc, led by General Leslie, supported by the first battalion of the guards under Colonel Norton, formed his right wing. The 23d and 33d regiments, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Webster, supported by the grenadiers and second battalion of the guards under General O'Hara, formed the left. The light infantry of the guards, and the yagers, with the cavalry, formed a corps of observation ; the artillery was in the centre. The British army amounted to upward of 2,000 men.
The dispositions having been made, the line was ordered to advance, and it moved forward. When the British were at the distance of 140 yards, the American first line began to fire; but, although most advantageously posted, many of them, without even firing their loaded muskets or being fired upon, threw down their arms, ran into the woods, and made the best of their way to their respective homes. Few, even of those who remained, gave more than a second discharge ; but, on receiving the fire of the British, they fled precipitately, in spite of the efforts of their officers to rally them, and sought refuge behind the second line. The British steadily advanced, but experienced more resistance from the Virginia militia than they had done from those of North Carolina. The Virginians maintained the conflict till Stevens, perceiving their inability any longer to withstand the shock, ordered a retreat. That officer, though wounded, did not leave the field. The British suffered considerably in their conflict with the American second line ; but, nevertheless, they advanced steadily against the continentals under Huger and Williams. The British line was unavoidably a good deal broken by the different degrees of resistance it had experienced at different points, by impediments arising from the thickness of the woods and the inequalities of the ground, and by being extended to the right and left in order to present a front equal to that of the enemy: the whole, however, moved on, and the second battalion of the guards, under Colonel Stuart, first reached the open ground on which the greater part of the continentals were
drawn up; and, impatient to signalize themselves, impetuously rushed on the second Maryland regiment, which, instead of firmly meeting the charge, fled in confusion. The guards eagerly pursued them, and took two six-pounders which had been abandoned; but they were arrested in their progress by a destructive fire from the first Maryland regiment, which threw them into some confusion: at that critical moment Washington's cavalry made a furious charge upon them, and were followed by the first Maryland regiment with fixed bayonets. The guards were completely broken, with much slaughter, and the two field-pieces were retaken ; but, the British advancing both on the right and left, the Americans in their turn were .compelled to retreat, and the two six-pounders were again retaken. These two field-pieces had been lost by the British at Saratoga ; they were recovered by Cornwallis at the battle of Camden, were retaken by Morgan at the Cow-Pens, and after changing masters several times on the field of Guildford courthouse, ultimately on that day remained in possession of the British. After a hard-fought battle of nearly two hours, the royal army prevailed; and General Greene was obliged with reluctance to direct a retreat, which was performed with regularity and good order.
After the engagement had ceased on the left and centre of the British line, a firing was still heard on the right, where General Leslie commanded occasioned by some riflemen, who, availing themselves of the woody nature of the ground, kept up a distant and irregular discharge. Tarleton was sent to disperse them, which he accomplished, after receiving a slight wound. The 232 and 71st regiments were sent in pursuit ; but, when the British general was fully informed of the circumstances of the day, and of the severe loss which he had sustained, he recalled them. General Greene continued his retreat to Reedy Fork, three miles from the field of battle. After passing the stream he drew up his men, and halted for some time to collect the stragglers, and then retired to Speedwell's iron-works on Troublesome creek, ten miles from Guildford courthouse, which was the appointed place of assembling the army in case of discomfiture.
This was one of the severest battles in the course of the war. In every engagement where General Greene commanded, many of the Americans fought obstinately, and in this action, the Virginia militia fought bravely; and Stevens's brigade did not retreat till that officer, who had received a ball in his thigh, seeing his men about to be charged with the bayonet, and sensible that they could not stand such a mode of attack, both from their state of discipline and their want of that weapon, ordered a retreat. A considerable number of the continentals were new levies; and although much inferior to veteran troops, yet in general they displayed a good deal of firmness, and part of the American army manifested much bravery. General Greene lost four field-pieces, which were the whole of his artillery, and two wagons. About 300 of the continentals, and 100 of the Virginia militia, were killed or wounded. Among the former was Major Anderson of the Maryland line, much lamented by his countrymen; among the latter was General Huger, besides General Stevens. Of the North Carolina militia six were killed and three wounded, and 552 were missing. Of the Virginia militia 294 were missing. Few of the missing were made prisoners ; they returned home, and never rejoined the army; so that General Greene sustained a great diminution of numbers.
The British lost several valuable officers, and more than a third of the troops engaged in the battle fell. According to the official returns, the loss of the British amounted to 532, of whom 93 were killed on the field, 413 were wounded, and 26 were missing.
After the battle, the field presented an afflicting spectacle : it was strewed, to a considerable extent, with the dead and wounded. The victors collected the