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History of the Battle

Narrative of The Battle of Hobkirk�s Hill: April 25, 1781

After the Battle at Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, as soon as Lord Charles Cornwallis was beyond pursuit retreating towards Wilmington, NC to resupply, Southern Department Commander Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene "determined to carry the war immediately into South Carolina." Dismissing those of the militia whose time was about to expire, he retained nearly eighteen hundred men, with small chances of reinforcements or of sufficient subsistence. He knew the hazards that he was incurring; but, in case of untoward accidents, he believed that Gen. George Washington and his other friends would do justice to his name. The safety of the interior of South Carolina depended on the possession of the posts at Camden and Ninety-Six in that state, and at Augusta in Georgia. On the sixth of April, Gen. Greene detached a force under Lt. Col. "Light Horse" Harry Lee, which joined Gen. Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion, and threatened the connections between Camden and Charleston; Gen. Thomas "Gamecock" Sumter, with three small regiments of regular troops of the state, had in charge to hold the country between Camden and Ninety-Six; and Col. Andrew Pickens with the western militia to intercept supplies on their way to Ninety-Six and Augusta.

After these preparations, Gen. Greene on the seventh began his march from Deep River, NC, and on the twentieth of April 1781 encamped his army a half-mile from the strong and well-garrisoned works of Camden in Logtown. In the hope of intercepting a detachment whom British South Carolina commander Col. Francis Lord Rawdon had sent out under Lt. Col. John Watson, Gen. Greene moved to the south of the village to Paint Hill; but, finding that he had been misled, his army, on the twenty-fourth of April, took a well-chosen position on Hobkirk's Hill. The eminence was covered with wood, and flanked on the left by an impassable swamp now called Johnson�s Springs, located behind �Holly Hedges�. The ground toward Camden, which was a mile and a half distant, was protected by a forest and thick shrubbery; but the time given to improve the strength of the position had not been properly used. On the twenty-fifth the men, having been under arms from daylight, were dismissed to receive provisions and prepare their morning repast. The horses were unsaddled and feeding; Gen. Greene was at breakfast.

By keeping close to the west bank of the Little Pine Tree Creek swamp, Lord Rawdon, with about nine hundred men, gained the left of the Americans "in some measure by surprise," and opened a fire upon their pickets. The good discipline, which Gen. Greene had introduced, now stood him in stead. About two hundred and fifty North Carolina militia, who had arrived that morning, did nothing during the day; but his cavalry was soon mounted, and his regular troops, about nine hundred and thirty in number, were formed in order of battle in one line without reserves. Of the two Virginia regiments, that under Lt. Col. Samuel Hawes formed the extreme right, that of Lt. Col. Richard Campbell the right centre; of the two Maryland regiments, that of Lt. Col. Benjamin Ford occupied the extreme left, of Col. John Gunby the left centre. The artillery was placed in the Great Waxhaw Road (now North Broad Street) between the two brigades. In this disposition he awaited the attack of Lord Rawdon.

Perceiving that the British advanced with a narrow front, Gen. Greene ordered Lt. Col. Benjamin Ford's 2d Maryland Regiment on the far left flank and Lt. Col. Richard Campbell�s on the far right flank to wheel respectively on their flanks, the regiments of Lt. Col. Samuel Hawes and Col. John Gunby to charge with bayonets without firing, and, with inconsiderate confidence in gaining the victory, weakened himself irretrievably by sending Lt. Col. William Washington with his cavalry to double the right flank and attack the enemy in the rear. But Lord Rawdon had time to extend his front by ordering up his reserves. Lt. Col. Benjamin Ford, in leading on his men, was disabled by a severe wound; and his regiment, without executing their orders, only replied by a loose scattering fire. On the other flank the 2d Virginia Regiment of Lt. Col. Richard Campbell, composed of new troops, could not stand the brunt of the enemy, though they could be rallied and formed anew. Gen. Greene led up the regiments several times in person. The 1st Virginia regiment under Lt. Col. Samuel Hawes and the 1st Maryland Regiment under Col. John Gunby advanced with courage, while the artillery played effectively on the head of the British column. But, on the right of Col. Gunby�s regiment, Capt. Beatty, an officer of the greatest merit, fell mortally wounded; his company, left without his lead, began to waver, and the wavering affected the next company. Seeing this, Col. Gunby ordered the 1st Maryland Regiment to retire, that they might form again. The British troops, seizing the opportunity, broke through the American centre, advanced to the summit of the ridge, brought their whole force into action on the best ground, and forced Gen. Greene to retreat. The battle was over before Lt. Col. Washington with his cavalry could make the circuit through the forest to attack their rear.

Each party lost about three hundred men.

Lord Rawdon returned to Camden. Receiving a reinforcement of five hundred men with Col. Watson, Lord Rawdon crossed the Wateree River in pursuit of Gen. Greene; but Gen. Greene kept his enemy at bay.

No sooner had Gen. Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion been reinforced by Lt. Col. "Light Horse" Harry Lee than they marched against the fort on Wright's bluff below Camden (Fort Watson on the Santee River), the principal post of the British on the Santee, garrisoned by one hundred and fourteen men. The Americans were without cannon, and the bluff (actually an Indian mound) was forty feet high; but the forest stretched all around them; in the night the troops cut and hauled logs, and erected a tower so tall that the garrison could be picked off by riflemen. Two days before the battle of Hobkirk's Hill it capitulated.

The connection of Camden with Charleston being thus broken, the Camden post became untenable. On the 10th of May, 1781 after destroying all public buildings and stores and many private houses, the British abandoned Camden, never to hold it again. On the eleventh of May, 1781 the post at Orangeburg, held by sixty British militia and twelve regulars, gave itself up to Gen. Thomas "Gamecock" Sumter. Lord Rawdon marched down the Santee on the north side, anxious to save the garrison of Fort Motte, to which Gen. Francis "Swamp Fox" Marion had laid siege. To hasten its surrender, Rebecca Motte, the owner of the house in which they were quartered, on the twelfth brought into camp a bow and a bundle of Indian arrows; and, when the arrows had carried fire to her own abode, the garrison of a hundred and sixty-five men surrendered. Two days later the British evacuated their post at Nelson's ferry. On the fifteenth of May, 1781 Fort Granby (in modern Cayce, SC), with three hundred and fifty-two men, surrendered by capitulation. Gen. Francis Marion turned his arms against Georgetown; and, on the first night after the Americans had broken ground, the British retreated to Charleston. The troops under Lord Rawdon did not halt until they reached Monck's Corner.

The northeastern part of South Carolina was thus recovered, but the British still held Augusta and Ninety-Six in the northwest. Conforming to the plan that Gen. Greene had forwarded from Deep River, Col. Andrew Pickens and Col. Elijah Clarke with militia kept watch over Augusta. On the 20th of May 1781 they were joined by Lt. Col. �Light Horse Harry� Lee. The outposts were taken one after another, and on the fifth of June the main fort with about three hundred men capitulated. One officer, obnoxious for his cruelties, fell after the surrender by an unknown hand. Lt. Col. Thomas Brown, the commander, had himself hanged thirteen American prisoners, and delivered citizens of Georgia to the Cherokees to suffer death with all the exquisite tortures which savage barbarity could contrive; but on his way to Savannah an escort protected him from the inhabitants whose houses he had burnt, whose kindred he had sent to the gallows.