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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.

View Poll Results: Who deserves blame for the defeat at Camden?
The militia were cowards and should have held 3 17.65%
Gates ridiculous decisions caused the defeat, it was unreasonable to give those orders to the militia 6 35.29%
Gates is to blame and his officers deserve to share it with him 5 29.41%
None are to blame, just misfortune of bumping into Cornwallis in the middle of the night 3 17.65%
Voters: 17. You may not vote on this poll

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  #16  
Old 09 May 12, 19:11
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I blame Gates, for expecting the Militia to even hold a battle line against British Regulars. I also place blame (70% Gates, 30% Militia) on the Militia for running from the bayonet charge. That was moronic on their part to an extreme. By charging bayonet the Regulars gave up their primary and overwhelming advantages, those being their ability to stand in line unmoved under fire, and to fire with a mechanical efficiency in volley that utterly devastates infantry in the open. While Cornwallis might have dominated the battle, this was his mistake, and Gates should have exploited it (and the militia should have wanted to ruthlessly). Close combat was the one and only point in which the militia were not obscenely outmatched by the regulars, a man with a weapon in melee being as easy to kill as any other man. The militia should have stood the charge with a volley and melee, or made a countercharge of their own. Either one (the latter would have been better for morale) would have tied up a large number of Cornwallis' infantry for some time, bought the Continentals time to work over their own portion of the enemy and move to support the militia, and shielded the militia from artillery and musketry from reinforcing companies by using the Redcoats themselves as shields.

Gates screwed it up royally, but the militia, especially their commanders, should have seen their chance to turn the mathematical certainty of their being thrashed in a volley fight into the possibility of victory in a barroom brawl writ large.
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  #17  
Old 10 May 12, 13:00
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Originally Posted by Ricthofen View Post
If anyone's to "blame" it's the British for simply being so good. If you want to go into tactical mistakes though the blunder would be to Gates for choosing to engage a professional and well-led British force with poorly-trained soldiers in a European-style battle.
In his second account, Gates tends to agree. He considers it "unfortunate". His aide, Thomas Pinckney clarified and expanded the explanation many years later. He says the army was at Rugelys but needed to move for reasons of supply and to gain more defensible ground. They chose a spot 6 miles from Camden that would provide good defensive works and their presence would put pressure on all the British occupation posts in the SC backcountry. With Marion in the south and Sumter threatening Camden from the other side, Rawdon would need to venture out and face Gates on chosen ground, or he would need to withdraw their fortified posts south toward Charleston.

While moving to the new location, and in spite of Gates best efforts to collect information, they ran headlong into Cornwallis marching the main British army toward Rugeleys for an attack on Gates. Cornwallis was unaware of Gates movements and Gates was unaware of Cornwallis's movements. Just an accident of fate.

Once the armies bumped into each other, Gates (and his officers) agreed they would not be able to maneuver untrained militia units out of the position in the dark and were forced to face Cornwallis at the Camden battlefield location. That accident of fate was the cause of the defeat.

The implication here is that Gates knew very well his army could not face Cornwallis and was trying to avoid that outcome.

I notice we have 2 or 3 comments that indicate the British simply defeated Gates and it wasn't really by fault of his own. Fate stepped in and forced Gates to a fight his army was not prepared for. Cornwallis took it from there and won simply because his army was better.

Definitely deserves further consideration. Does Gates plan to move into the other position make good sense? should he have been moving away from Camden instead of toward Camden? I'm not sure about this. Perhaps Gates was making the right moves but fate stepped up?
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Old 10 May 12, 17:04
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It may have been an accident of fate that the two armies made contact, but I still think that Gates dropped the ball on his deployment and conduct of the battle.

Yes, Cornwallis may have won regardless of what Gates did, but at least the Continentals and Militia could have made the British pay for a victory, rather than handing it to them on a plate.
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Old 10 May 12, 18:37
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Originally Posted by Anacreon View Post
It may have been an accident of fate that the two armies made contact, but I still think that Gates dropped the ball on his deployment and conduct of the battle.

Yes, Cornwallis may have won regardless of what Gates did, but at least the Continentals and Militia could have made the British pay for a victory, rather than handing it to them on a plate.
I agree. Gates has a flash of intellect when he bumps into Cornwallis and decides that his militia are not capable of the sort of maneuver at night that would be necessary to break contact and make it to more defensible ground.

He then shows his mediocrity on the next decision by deploying them to fight as line infantry, the very qualities of which he previously decided the militia did not have.

Had he been a great, or even smart general, he would have deployed his militia in such a way as to minimize their exposure to enemy fire, putting the brunt of effort on the Continental Regulars. But most importantly he would have nullified the British advantages of rate of fire and discipline by putting his militia in a fold or other semi-defensible position where they could shelter from fire until the British were in close musket range (for the most part), then order a single volley and charge to put the militia in a more even overall fight.
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  #20  
Old 11 May 12, 07:55
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Originally Posted by Elijah View Post
In his second account, Gates tends to agree. He considers it "unfortunate". His aide, Thomas Pinckney clarified and expanded the explanation many years later. He says the army was at Rugelys but needed to move for reasons of supply and to gain more defensible ground. They chose a spot 6 miles from Camden that would provide good defensive works and their presence would put pressure on all the British occupation posts in the SC backcountry. With Marion in the south and Sumter threatening Camden from the other side, Rawdon would need to venture out and face Gates on chosen ground, or he would need to withdraw their fortified posts south toward Charleston.

While moving to the new location, and in spite of Gates best efforts to collect information, they ran headlong into Cornwallis marching the main British army toward Rugeleys for an attack on Gates. Cornwallis was unaware of Gates movements and Gates was unaware of Cornwallis's movements. Just an accident of fate.

Once the armies bumped into each other, Gates (and his officers) agreed they would not be able to maneuver untrained militia units out of the position in the dark and were forced to face Cornwallis at the Camden battlefield location. That accident of fate was the cause of the defeat.

The implication here is that Gates knew very well his army could not face Cornwallis and was trying to avoid that outcome.

I notice we have 2 or 3 comments that indicate the British simply defeated Gates and it wasn't really by fault of his own. Fate stepped in and forced Gates to a fight his army was not prepared for. Cornwallis took it from there and won simply because his army was better.

Definitely deserves further consideration. Does Gates plan to move into the other position make good sense? should he have been moving away from Camden instead of toward Camden? I'm not sure about this. Perhaps Gates was making the right moves but fate stepped up?
Though indeed circumstances were against Gates, the reasoning I find behind it is that, prepared or not, Gates likely would've still lost. Some of the best military minds of the Revolution were gathered on the British side in an element they were familiar with, European war, and the battle was against Gates from the start.
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Old 11 May 12, 08:15
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One could find Gates at fault then for not having enough intell of Cornwallis' whereabouts. If Gates was looking to avoid the British, wouldn't it make a ton of sense to do everything in his power to find, locate, and plot a course to avoid them?
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Old 11 May 12, 08:24
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One could find Gates at fault then for not having enough intell of Cornwallis' whereabouts. If Gates was looking to avoid the British, wouldn't it make a ton of sense to do everything in his power to find, locate, and plot a course to avoid them?
Lack of intel was among the critical comments from the period accounts. Pinckney explained that Gates did all he could to actively gather intel but was without any money to bribe the population with. Which Pinckney found to be a great handicap. Gates may also have been hurt by the fact the local population around his camp (Rugeleys) was lukewarm (sometimes Tory sometimes Patriot depending on who they figured was on top).

Its always debatable whether one has done all he could or not. However, the idea that lack of intel was the problem is definitely on the table from the old accounts.
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Old 11 May 12, 08:29
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That makes a lot of sense about the population and their personal leanings. I figured them to be mostly Patriot, but survival can make people do things they would not normally do.
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Old 11 May 12, 08:40
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Henry Rugeley was a local leader who was given command of a local militia unit by Cornwallis. At Camden he seemed to bide his time but afterwards went loyalist. However, in December (after Kings Mtn and Blackstocks) Henry played the fool and let W. Washington use a fake cannon to scare him out of his little fort. Cornwallis was so upset he accused Rugeley of being a traitor. One of the more humorous moments of the southern campaigns.
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Old 11 May 12, 08:43
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Didn't the 'American' Militia fight bravely and stand against 'regulars' at Camden?

Unfortunately the 'American' militia in this case were loyalists and the 'regulars' 'patriots'.
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Old 11 May 12, 10:42
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Didn't the 'American' Militia fight bravely and stand against 'regulars' at Camden?

Unfortunately the 'American' militia in this case were loyalists and the 'regulars' 'patriots'.
The Provincial Units led by Rawdon included the British Legion Infantry, The Volunteers of Ireland (Rawdon's unit) and some North Carolina units. They were not militia but part of the Provincial Establishment. Troops mainly from New York and New Jersey enlisted in 76, 77, and 78 for the duration of the war. All of the Provincial units at Camden had been in uniform for a couple of years and were recruited for the duration.

The Provincials did fight well and were toe to toe with the Continentals when the British Regulars came around the flank and completed the rout.
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Old 11 May 12, 15:40
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In defence of Gates and the militia (A British view)

Many sources, but mainly Rev. Dr. Gordon (1788).

Main points.

1. From my point of view the battle was an encounter type battle, by which I mean that neither commanding general was able to observe his opponants dispositions before making his own. Because of this BOTH generals deployed their armies blind, and in Gates case he therefore shouldn't be blamed for deliberately placing his militia against British regulars.

2. Both commanders deployed their forces according to the accepted practice of the time, wherein ones forces were of variable quality. It was standard to consolidate the strongest troops together on one flank for the main assualt, and hold the other with weaker troops with good quality reserves if possible. Again both commanders followed this practice.

3. It seems it was fate that determined both commanders would place their strength on their own right, and hold with their left.

4. Lord Cornwallis order for a bayonet attack while the militia were attempting to draw British fire first, caught the latter in mid deployment, and like many wise soldiers long before and after they ran as the bayonets approached.

5. The American army as a whole had been under arms and in occasional skirmishes since 10PM the previous night, and had only scavenged fruit for rations. Is it hardly surprising that the militia, having endured such conditions, were in no mood to face a bayonet charge?

6. Finally in defence of any foes that faces British bayonets, here's a quote from Marshal Contades after the battle of Minden some 20 years earlier...

I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry ranked in order of battle and tumble them to ruin.

Regards

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Old 11 May 12, 16:46
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Quote:
Originally Posted by allsirgarnet View Post
1. From my point of view the battle was an encounter type battle, by which I mean that neither commanding general was able to observe his opponants dispositions before making his own. Because of this BOTH generals deployed their armies blind, and in Gates case he therefore shouldn't be blamed for deliberately placing his militia against British regulars.

2. Both commanders deployed their forces according to the accepted practice of the time, wherein ones forces were of variable quality. It was standard to consolidate the strongest troops together on one flank for the main assualt, and hold the other with weaker troops with good quality reserves if possible. Again both commanders followed this practice.

3. It seems it was fate that determined both commanders would place their strength on their own right, and hold with their left.
I can't for the life of me remember where, but I think I read something about it being standard practice in the British Army to put the best regiments on the right (a place of honour, if you will), so Gates should have known that he'd be putting Militia up against regulars. Then again, since he learned his craft with the British, perhaps he can't be judged too harshly for using a 'tried and true' battle tactic in a confused situation.
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Old 11 May 12, 23:31
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In defence of Gates and the militia (A British view)

Many sources, but mainly Rev. Dr. Gordon (1788).


4. Lord Cornwallis order for a bayonet attack while the militia were attempting to draw British fire first, caught the latter in mid deployment, and like many wise soldiers long before and after they ran as the bayonets approached.

5. The American army as a whole had been under arms and in occasional skirmishes since 10PM the previous night, and had only scavenged fruit for rations. Is it hardly surprising that the militia, having endured such conditions, were in no mood to face a bayonet charge?

6. Finally in defence of any foes that faces British bayonets, here's a quote from Marshal Contades after the battle of Minden some 20 years earlier...

I never thought to see a single line of infantry break through three lines of cavalry ranked in order of battle and tumble them to ruin.

Regards

Gaz
The British bayonet charge did indeed strike terror into the hearts of militia units. Many of whom were not equiped with bayonets or trained to use them if they had been. I have looked around but have trouble finding references to just how many militia may have been equiped with musket and bayonet. There was one unit (maybe Cap Dixon?) from North Carolina that held with the Continentals. There is a reference to that unit having bayonets. I wonder how much difference it made to have a bayonet in allowing them to stand with the Continentals while the other militia ran.

Its interesting to hear you refer to Cornwallis taking advantage of the Patriots militia while they were in mid deployment. According to the account of Williams, the mid-deployment that Cornwallis saw would be Williams taking militia riflemen forward to try and do the same thing to Cornwallis because Williams believed the British were ripe to be caught in mid deployment. I say interesting because it provides an example of how differences in perspective change the description of events.
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Old 12 May 12, 01:38
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I can't for the life of me remember where, but I think I read something about it being standard practice in the British Army to put the best regiments on the right (a place of honour, if you will), so Gates should have known that he'd be putting Militia up against regulars. Then again, since he learned his craft with the British, perhaps he can't be judged too harshly for using a 'tried and true' battle tactic in a confused situation.
It was traditional in those days for place of honour to be on the right but that goes both ways since Gates maybe put his better troops on his right.

And Baron you mention European War yet most if not all of the major battles were what would be called European wars but British tactics were not in that style anymore that the Americans were just behind a tree with a rifle. Were not the British troops at Hobkirks Hill and Euatw Springs almost nearly all Americans anyway. While Greene once said his best troops were ex British troops.
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