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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > American Age of Discovery, Colonization, Revolution, & Expansion > American Revolution

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American Revolution 1763-1789 The birth of a new nation - to commence at the Proclaimation of 1763 to the end of the Articles of Confederation.

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Old 08 Apr 12, 12:21
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Account of Col Senf

Colonel John Christian Senf is identified as a European volunteer serving as an engineer for the Southern army. Piecuch says he was with Gates during the battle and they left the field together. He carried the news to the Continental Congress. I don't see mention of the date this was written.

He starts with Gates arrival at Rugely's House some 13 miles from Camden on the 13th of August. Gaining intel on the 14th, Gates sent Col Senf out on the 15th to join with Sumter some 12 miles to the west. The marched with Sumter to a point very close to Camden and surprised the guards, taking some 40 prisoners and 40 wagons with supplies and horses along with 300 cattle. Later that day, Sumter captured 70 British regulars marching toward Camden from Ninety-Six. Sumter began hightailing it out of the area. Col Senf returned to Gates.

While Senf was with Sumter, the VA militia under Stephens arrived in camp. Gates received intelligence that Cornwallis was at Camden. The officers had a meeting and determined the "Ground where they were upon was by no means tenable." After some discussion, Senf says "It was Unanimously agreed uon to march that Night the Army to that Creek" which they felt was a "more secure encampment." In their choice of movement, the officers wanted to move closer to Cornwallis instead of backing up to a stronger position. They felt that moving backward would "have given the Enemy a weak opinion of our strength & more encouragement to attack."

The army moved the night of the 15th to the new spot. Along the way a minor skirmish brought Gates a prisoner who said Cornwallis had less than 3,000 men and intended to attack Gates at Rugeley's. Gates called another officer meeting where it "was their Unanimous Opinion that it was now too late to retreat, a Battle ought to be fought, & some of them were glad to have an opportunity of such as they had no Idea of the Enemy's Superiority or of the following behaviour of the Militia."

Gates formed for battle. 2nd Maryland (400) under Gist on the right with 2 field pieces. 2 more field pieces then 1200NC militia with Rutherford in the center, 2 more field pieces then 700 VA militia with Stephens and the Light Infantry on the far left with 300 men under Porterfileld. Armand's 60 cavalry behind the left side. 1st MD (400) under Smallwood held in reserve.

Colonel John Christian Senf is identified as a European volunteer serving as an engineer for the Southern army. Piecuch says he was with Gates during the battle and they left the field together. He carried the news to the Continental Congress. I don't see mention of the date this was written.

He starts with Gates arrival at Rugely's House some 13 miles from Camden on the 13th of August. Gaining intel on the 14th, Gates sent Col Senf out on the 15th to join with Sumter some 12 miles to the west. The marched with Sumter to a point very close to Camden and surprised the guards, taking some 40 prisoners and 40 wagons with supplies and horses along with 300 cattle. Later that day, Sumter captured 70 British regulars marching toward Camden from Ninety-Six. Sumter began hightailing it out of the area. Col Senf returned to Gates.

While Senf was with Sumter, the VA militia under Stephens arrived in camp. Gates received intelligence that Cornwallis was at Camden. The officers had a meeting and determined the "Ground where they were upon was by no means tenable." After some discussion, Senf says "It was Unanimously agreed uon to march that Night the Army to that Creek" which they felt was a "more secure encampment." In their choice of movement, the officers wanted to move closer to Cornwallis instead of backing up to a stronger position. They felt that moving backward would "have given the Enemy a weak opinion of our strength & more encouragement to attack."

The army moved the night of the 15th to the new spot. Along the way a minor skirmish brought Gates a prisoner who said Cornwallis had less than 3,000 men and intended to attack Gates at Rugeley's. Gates called another officer meeting where it "was their Unanimous Opinion that it was now too late to retreat, a Battle ought to be fought, & some of them were glad to have an opportunity of such as they had no Idea of the Enemy's Superiority or of the following behaviour of the Militia."

Gates formed for battle. 2nd Maryland (400) under Gist on the right with 2 field pieces. 2 more field pieces then 1200NC militia with Rutherford in the center, 2 more field pieces then 700 VA militia with Stephens and the Light Infantry on the far left with 300 men under Porterfileld. Armand's 60 cavalry behind the left side. 1st MD (400) under Smallwood held in reserve.



Cornwallis's army appeared 1/2 hour before daylight on the 16th. Senf saw Troops on the left first which he thought to be light infantry (actually Provincial regiments). Then, the "Main Body display'd to their right." Before Cornwallis completed his deployment, Gates ordered the "Virginia Militia and Light Infantry to advance in good order and make the attack". He also ordered Smallwood to move in behind them for support. Gates now rode over to Gist and gave the order to advance slowly "till proper distance, fire & charge Bayonets which has been according to orders Executed." General Gist had some initial success even to the extent of taking a British field piece.

Senf then tells us the NC and VA militia "all broke & dispers'd in the utmost confusion." He is scanty on providing any reason for this but says the British cavalry too immediate advantage of the opening and struck the MD continentals in their flanks and rear "when in the meantime the Enemy advanced in their front, to which of course our brave Troops have fallen a Sacrifice."

Gates, who was now behind the 2nd Md, tried in vain to rally the fleeing VA and NC militia. Swept along with them, Gates tried again a few minutes later but "the militia was struck with such a panick & obeyed no more command."

The baggage fell "Prey to the Enemy." Gates made his escape with a couple of aids and went to Charlotte. He saw "no ammo, no arms, no provisions and in the middle of a disaffected Country" and determined to move on to Hillsborough the next day. Where he arrived on the 19th.

It looks like Col Senf is pretty solid with Gates in that neither one has any explanation for the militia not wanting to move forward into open contest with the British Regulars. He backs up Gates story on trying to personally step forward and rally the militia on more than one occasion.
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Old 08 Apr 12, 12:25
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Originally Posted by Dibble201Bty View Post
It's probably just a typo but the Royal Welsh Fusiliers were the 23rd. The 33rd would a few years later become the 33rd (or 1st Yorkshire West Riding) Regiment of Foot a couple of years later (and even later the Duke of Wellingtons). Both regiments of course were at Camden.

Paul
I think the problem here is that both units were side by side at the battle. I wasn't saying 33rd, Royal Fusileers
I was saying 33rd first, then, next unit is the Fusileers who were also the 23rd, then next unit is 71st Highlanders.
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Old 08 Apr 12, 12:29
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Originally Posted by Massena View Post
'I haven't noticed any mention yet of arms for the NC and VA militia. Do you have it handy this morning? Were those units armed with muskets and bayonets?'

Is this an issue in the discussion or was it brought up before and I missed it?

Sincerely,
M
Just curious at the moment. Like Twitter, I am having trouble understanding Gates deployment. I am still hoping some of the other commanders are going to say the officers were not unanimous in all of these deployment decisions.

I think it would demonstrate an even greater lack of wisdom on Gates part if the militia had rifles against British bayonets. He should know from Saratoga that riflemen needed bayonet support to be effective.
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Old 08 Apr 12, 12:54
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http://www.uswars.net/_images/1775-1...ps/m800816.jpg

Here is a page showing the deployment at Camden.

http://www.battleofcamden.org/idx_pdf.htm

Here is a page showing many of the accounts we are getting from Piecuch plus some other stuff.

http://www.uswars.net/revolutionary-...800816-camden/

A page covering the battle that also has some primary source quotes.

Last edited by Elijah; 08 Apr 12 at 12:58..
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Old 08 Apr 12, 17:20
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Otho Holland Williams 1st account

Prof. Piecuch indicated this passage was found in a letter to Alexander Hamilton who was a friend of Col. Williams. It comes just two weeks after the battle. Williams has rejoined Gates in Hillsborough. This passage is not really very long and gives very few details of the battle. Instead, it reads like what it is, a letter between friends where one is venting frustration.

Right away Williams states, "We were truly unfortunate and compleatly routed. The infamous Cowardice of the Militia of VA and NC gave the enemy every advantage over our few Regular troops whose firm opposition and Gallant behaviour have gain'd tehm the applause as well of our successful Foes."

He goes on to state "the inhabitants who were immediately in arms against us, and many of our Fugitive Officers and men were disarm'd by those faithless Vallains who had flattered us with promises of joining us agains the enemy." (the inhabitants referred to would be the people living north of Camden around Rugeley's where Gates had camped. They were known later to swing with the tide of war. Rugeley himself was among those with questionable loyalties.)

Williams says the Baggage was plundered by those who first left the Field, the British took some, and the local Inhabitants got the rest. He says some of the horses were taken from the waggonerss by retreating men by gunpoint.

He then describes Gates use of "utmost expedition in getting from the Lost Field" as "Unaccountable". He says Gates has lost the confidence of the army due to his flight. However, Williams says he is remaining silent on the subject until all things "necessary will be done in justification of the Steps that have been taken and then all will be understood." He admits to not having first hand knowledge of Gates actions.

Says the NC militia leaders are reforming and hope to get 800 but he doubts they will number over 400. The MD Continentals (including Deleware regiment) hope to muster 600 men from the battle.

He closes with the somewhat hopeful, "We are resolv'd not to dispair but bear our fortunes like Veterans."

The next of the American Commander accounts found in Piecuch's book also comes from Col Williams. It is much longer and provides an account of the battle events.
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Old 08 Apr 12, 22:10
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Otho Holland Williams 2nd Account - 1st part

Sometime late in 1780 Colonel Williams wrote a detailed account of the Battle at Camden. This account represents Williams going public with his criticisms of Gates conduct at Camden. I'm not sure sending the earlier letter to Alexander Hamilton actually represented staying silent but this time Williams provides a lot of detail on what he considers to be Gates shortcomings.

Williams opening paragraphs set the stage for the 15th. He describes Rawdon's position as commander of the corps who had "wisely collected his whole force at Camden" due to its strong defensive works. Williams says the British position is weak as Gates, Marion and Sumter are all actively "stimulating their countrymen to re-assume their arms; and that, in short, the whole country were ready to revolt from the allegiance which had been extorted from them but a few weeks before."

He starts with Stephens arrival with the VA militia on the 15th and acknowledges Sumter's good action in taking the supply train with assistance from Gates. Williams then turns critical and goes after Gates, "to attract the attention of the garrison in Camden, if they did not choose to retire, which seemed to be but too confidently expected; and to facilitate the execution of the little expedition under Sumpter, all other objects seemed to be suspended." His statement seems to indicate Gates was overconfident that the British were overmatched by the combined force of Sumter and Gates. Colonel Williams then chooses this moment to mention that "no supply of provisions of any sort was collected." He indicates that Gates movement into SC had been a surprise to the Patriots of the area and "if General Gates had taken a secure position with his army and waited only a few days, abundance of provisions would have flowed into his camp; and that, by the addition of volunteers from the Carolinas, he would have acquired such a superiority over the British army * * * he would have found no difficulty in recovering the country as far as Charleston." Williams did not specify where the supplies were to come from or what NC volunteers were on the way beyond the some 1200 already in camp. However, his main point is that Gates had been unprepared for a campaign and Williams certainly seems correct on that point. Williams is confident that a bit more time would have taken care of things.

Colonel Williams attended the officers' meeting on the 15th. He says they spent most of the time determining an accurate roster and finally arrived at 3052 total forces. Someone commented, "Sir, the number are certainly much below the estimate formed this morning." Gates replied, "these are enough for our purpose." Williams then noted that Gates did not share what that purpose was with the other officers. Gates then said, "there was no dissenting voice in the council where the orders have just been read." Only then did Gates give them the orders. Williams says animated complaints began to surface. "Even those who had been dumb in council said that there had been no consultation." Instead, Gates had simply presented them in such an optimistic way as to shut down discussion. Some wondered (we get the idea Williams is among them) how the army (2/3 militia and new to each other) could possibly move coherently in the dark. Apparently, Col Armand was distressed to see his cavalry would be placed in the front of battle lines in the dark.

Ultimately, the matter was discussed at length and the officers and soldiers "acquiesced with their usual cheerfulness, and were ready to march as the hour approached."

I think its interesting to note that Williams never mentions himself or any other officers expressing doubts that previously untested militia from NC and VA might have trouble fighting against British regulars. They loudly doubt the ability to maneuver in the dark but express no prior doubts about fighting?

Before cutting this segment off, probably good to go ahead and mention that supper for Gates army on the night of the 15th was the famous molasses instead of rum episode. The poor food choice led to "disorder very many of the men, who were breaking ranks all night, and were certainly much debilitated before the action commenced in the morning." After eating, the Patriots began marching toward Camden in the dark where, unknown at the time, the British were moving toward them. Also in the dark.

I will get back to this account in the next post. It is quite long and contains much to discuss. Next is the battle itself.
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Old 09 Apr 12, 09:09
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Are you just running through the battle using this book for reference for information purposes or is there an issue here that you would like addressed?

Sincerely,
M
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Old 09 Apr 12, 09:44
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Originally Posted by Massena View Post
Are you just running through the battle using this book for reference for information purposes or is there an issue here that you would like addressed?

Sincerely,
M
Right now I am just briefing the various accounts with a few comments. But any discussion is very welcome.
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Old 09 Apr 12, 10:31
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I mentioned above and have noticed in all I have read so far (yes, I have already done some looking ahead.) that nobody has yet mentioned it being a mistake of deployment. Other than Armand not liking his cavalry on the front line, no officer has mentioned that militia would appear to be a poor choice to advance against British regulars. There is an upcoming militia general report that also doesn't mention that deployment might not have been ideal.
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Old 09 Apr 12, 15:34
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And your point is what? That employing militia was a very bad idea? No kidding.

Sincerely,
M
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Old 09 Apr 12, 15:44
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Actually, the point of my remark is that none of the American officers who wrote on the battle mentioned the militia line vs British Regulars as being a mistake. They all seem to be surprised at the militia failure. I just think they should have been able to see it coming. That's all.
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Old 09 Apr 12, 16:16
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I doubt very seriously that the experienced Continental officers, such as Williams, Howard, and Kirkwood, were surprised at all.

Sincerely,
M
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Old 09 Apr 12, 16:41
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Originally Posted by Massena View Post
I doubt very seriously that the experienced Continental officers, such as Williams, Howard, and Kirkwood, were surprised at all.

Sincerely,
M
Then why would he leave it out when preparing a critical report on Gates various mistakes at Camden? But, I'll openly admit, I would have expected them to be aware of the limitations on militia by 1780.
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I don't know-I wasn't there.

Sincerely,
M
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Old 10 Apr 12, 18:25
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Account of Otho Holland Williams - part 2

First, Williams provides a summary of British activities, Rawdon consolidates at Camden, Cornwallis arrives, they decide to go after Gates at the camp at Clermont and march from Camden on the night of the 15th. At midnight, the two armies bump into each other.

Armand's cavalry had been at the head and rode into a volley of small arms. Some wounded, they retreated in disorder which caused disorder down the line though the 1st MD. Porterfield's light infantry stood firm and chased the British away but Porterfield himself received a mortal wound. The British had been just as surprised as the Patriots. Gates got a prisoner who informed him Cornwallis had about 3000 men only 500 yards to their front. Gates "astonishment could not be concealed" and called another officer meeting.

Gates asked for input. "What is best to be done?". After a few moments of silence, Gen Stephens (VA militia) exclaimed, "Gentlemen, is it not too late now to do any thing but fight?" More silence and, "No other advice was offered."

Williams writes that he personally gave the intelligence to Baron De Kalb whose response had been, "Well, and has the general given you orders to retreat?" In spite of this inference that perhaps the Baron would have retreated, he stayed silent in the officer meeting and "every measure that ensued, was preparatory for action." The "American Army were formed."

The British appeared 200 yards in front of the American lines at dawn. Col. Williams ordered the artillery to begin firing and rode to the rear to speak with Gates. He reported the British were 'displaying' (deploying) their column by the right. Gates "seemed disposed to wait events - he gave no orders." Williams suggested that, "if the enemy, in the act of displaying, were briskly attacked by General Stephens brigade (VA Militia), * * , the effect might be fortunate." Gates agreed with "that's right-let it be done." Williams then rode to General Stephens and gave the order to advance the VA militia against the British right flank. Unfortunately, the British were already formed for battle and began their own advance. Williams led 40 or 50 riflemen forward to snipe at the British from 50 yards in hopes of drawing the British into an early volley. It did not work. Stevens tried to calm his men and "put his men in mind of their bayonets." However, the British "advanced, firing and huzzaing" which put the militia into an immediate panic such "they generally threw down their loaded arms and fled, in the utmost consternation."

The NC militia panicked and ran with the VA men except for one regiment under Col Dixon. They stood next to the 2nd MD (extreme right end of the militia and close to the CA regiments on the left) and fired a couple of rounds before leaving. The CA troops on the Patriot left (1nd MD or Light Infantry or both) "engaged seriously in the affair; and, notwithstanding some irregularity, which was created by the militia breaking, pell mell, through the second line, order was restored there-time enough to give the enemy a severe check, which abated the fury of their assault, and obliged them to assume a more deliberate manner of acting."

On the Patriot right flank the battle progressed better. The 2nd MD (and Del Reg) "were engaged with the enemy's left (composed of Provincial regiments with little combat experience), which they opposed with great firmness. They even advanced upon them * *" when they saw the 1st MD being flanked and pushed back by the British Regulars reforming on the other side of the battle. At this moment, the CA officers looked for Smallwood to give orders. He was gone so they (including Williams) rallied the 1st MD for another British charge, they gave ground but rallied yet again. They were now only 200 yards away from the 2nd MD who remained engaged with the Provincials (Legion infantry, Volunteers of Ireland, and NC Royal Provincials). Colonel Williams ran to the 2nd MD and found them ready to retreat. Williams asked Lt. Col. Ford to rally the 6th MD regiment but was told, "They have done all that can be expected of them-we are outnumbered and outflanked-see the enemy charge with bayonets."

The British paused to reform the regulars and Cornwallis sent Tarleton and the Legion Cavalry charging into the battle. Both infantry and cavalry charged together sending the remaining CA regiments running for cover. Williams described the "rout of the remainder was entire-not even a company retired in any order-every one escaped as he could."

Col Otho Holland Williams summed up the CA performance with this comparison, "If, in this affair, the militia fled to soon, the regulars may be thought almost as blamable for remaining too long on the field; especially, after all hope of victory must have been despaired of."

He goes on to mention the "the brave Major General, the Baron De Kalb, fought on foot, with the second brigade, and fell, mortally wounded into the hands of the enemy."
Probably enough for now to get through the battle itself. The aftermath and blame game left to the next segment. Questions raised in this segment include: Why did none of the officers speak up to protest Gates plan of engaging battle instead of making retreat? How in the world could Williams have come up with the idea that untested VA militia should advance against British regulars and how could Gates possibly agree?

Certainly no doubt Williams places all blame and responsibility on the militia and provides and wonderful account of the CA performance. And his own exploits. Are they overstated? Need to look for confirmation in other accounts for that item.



There are some marked differences in Gates account and Williams account. In Gates account, he gives the order to advance to both flanks. In Williams account, only the VA militia are to advance and the idea comes from him. Gates is likely correct as the Patriot right did advance on the British left. Also, there is fair reason to believe that Gates does not share information with Williams (or anyone else) without good reason (as he sees it.) By that, I mean that I understand how a commander can hold a meeting that seems to be an open forum, but really isn't. Its very possible the officer meetings were held but noone dissented because Gates didn't really give much opportunity. Unfortunately, I also think the officers may have been driven to silence by not wanting to be the one arguing for retreat. Sort of a personal cowardice issue.

Part 3 to come later.
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