The Waxhaws Massacre
It is May, 1780 and the War of Independence has entered its fourth year, longer than anyone had imagined. Battle after battle has been fought, but has not brought either side closer to winning. In the north were the revolution began, the war has ground to a deadlock, but in the south the fighting has just begun. With their base at Charleston, South Carolina, the British want to restore order to all southern colonies. The southern colonies would be a handsome prize for King George III. The south is rich with lucrative crops like tobacco and cotton and by all accounts full of people loyal to the crown. The British expect to find little resistance and at last find people who want to be under the rule of the British Empire especially for its protection and trade. The south needs Britain and Britain needs the south. For four years the British have tried to find loyalists loyal to the king and for four years they have found a deeply divided country. As the British move into the backcountry they send in Colonel Banister Tarleton, an effective cavalry commander and brutal officer. Tarleton moves his cavalry regiment to catch up to some American troops who escaped from their defeat at Charleston. Colonel Abraham Buford and his 230 troops are pursued to a town called Waxhaws. Tarleton has 200 men with him and orders Buford to surrender, but Buford refuses. The Americans are only able to fire just a few volleys before they are immediately overrun. Buford's troops surrender, but Tarleton does not stop and he still attacks surrendering Americans. This British victory gives the Americans a victory of their own. They are allowed to publish propaganda about the massacre showing the brutality of British troops.
A Hornet's Nest
In an effort to bring in loyal militia and frighten rebels, the British publish an announcement to the southerners. It declares that all persons who do not obey the king's government will be treated as rebels and enemies. In most years of the revolution the southerners usually were able to stay out of the war, but they could no longer remain neutral. The British did not create peace in order, but terror and practically a civil war. The proclamation is the work of General Sir Henry Clinton, the overall commander of all forces in America. Clinton should have known better. Back in 1776, the British declared nearly the same proclamation in New Jersey, it backfired then and it will backfire now in South Carolina. Now everyone must choose to be a loyalist or patriot. Now old rivalries inform which side they are going to be on and the citizens of South Carolina fight not for the British, but for their own agendas. Each side tries to outdo the other in violence and a hornet's nest is stirred in the south. By late June 1780, British General Clinton has lived in Charleston for a month now and can sense trouble brewing in the wilderness. He decides to leave for New York City and turn the southern command over to another officer. In London, England the British government selects General Charles Cornwallis. He has been into the American Revolution and is in Britain to bury his beloved wife. Now with her passing he wants to go back to his work and fight in the American Revolution. Cornwallis will find that the war has changed than it has been fought up north. He is not fighting in the south of wealthy ports and rich rice farms; he is fighting in the south of swamps and untamed frontiers as well as angry populace of farmers. With the colony full of rivals that are more interested in their personal gains than the war's the entire strategy seems to be breaking apart for Cornwallis and the British. Cornwallis must forget the loyalists and their private wars and he must attack the American Army which is the main block to conquering the south.
The Battle of Camden
General George Washington has his main army in the northern colonies to keep an eye on the British troops in New York City. He decides to send reinforcements and a new commander to the south, but the man he wants to send is snubbed by congress. Instead the Continental Congress will send their man. They turn to General Horatio Gates, the hero of Saratoga to take command of the southern department. Washington is outraged because they have turned to one of his greatest rivals and a man he considers inferior. There are rumors circulating that Gates was not the great general he claims to be and at Saratoga he may had taken credit from subordinates like Benedict Arnold and Daniel Morgan. Either way, Gates will gain 1,400 soldiers who are still suffering from the defeats at Charleston and Waxhaws. His army is in a dire state and is lacking everything. However, there is hope; the patriot militias who have fighting a civil war in the southern backcountry now join the army. They are eager for a fight against the British army, however they lack experience. Several of the experienced continental soldiers believe that an army made up of 2/3 militia cannot stand a fight against the most powerful army in the world. Still Gates will attack the British ready or not and encounters the British on August 16, 1780 at Camden, South Carolina. Each side hastily prepares their troops for the battle. Cornwallis' 2,000 British soldiers will take on Gate's 3,000 American soldiers. General Gates sends his militia out front where they get their taste of the best trained army in the world, but he has made a serious tactical error that will cost him. Gates places the militia on the left of his battle lines, a place where they are ill-prepared. The British Army will always place their best troops at the right of their line and from the British perspective they have their best and well prepared regiments going against the weakest and most unprepared American regiments. The best of the British troops are led by "Bloody" Banister Tarleton, the colonel who fought the Americans at Waxhaws. The American militia gets confused and panic on the battlefield which causes them to rout, but they do not flee alone. Quickly overtaking them is General Horatio Gates himself. The general who went to the south to fight for bravery and glory now rides as far as his horse will carry them. The Battle of Camden effects Gates reputation forever. It also affects the army and in particular the militia and few now believe the patriots can hold the south even if the future of the revolution depends on it.
The Chase Begins
The defeats at Charleston, Waxhaws, and Camden have destroyed the Continental Army divisions. Half of the Americans that fought at Camden are now dead, wounded, or captured. The majority of the patriot militia flees back into the backcountry and the south has practically fallen to the British. In Fort Lee, New Jersey Washington receives news of the defeat at Camden. Washington feared that the worst would happen when Gates took command and the worst has happened. Gates will be court marshaled, but a bigger issue is who will command the southern army. Washington sends the man he wants; General Nathaniel Greene one of the most trusted subordinates from New England. Greene, just like Gates, had to deal with the lack of supplies for his troops. Greene will travel far from his native New England to find an army unsupplied and unenthusiastic and only 800 soldiers are actually fit for duty. In letter after letter Greene requests from the 13 colonies supplies and troops but to no avail. He will have to supply his army with nearby resources but there is a threat more urgent than supplies; Cornwallis is on the march to finish off the Americans. Greene decides to form a plan that will begin a chase as Greene's forces retreat from Cornwallis'. Greene decides to split his force in two in order for the British to do the same. He will take a larger force of his army while he gives the rest to Colonel Daniel Morgan, one of the courageous officers the Americans have. Greene and Morgan take off on separate paths from their base at Charlotte, North Carolina. Greene goes southeast will Morgan goes southwest which leads them both back into South Carolina. Cornwallis off course splits his army sending the young and infamous Colonel Banister Tarleton after Morgan while he chases Greene. As the chase begins both armies stay very close to each other and occasionally their scouting parties skirmish, but Greene and Morgan move faster to avoid a major battle in order to the bring the British troops further into the back country to draw the British further from supply lines. Cornwallis becomes continuously frustrated with the rough terrain but he must continue to try to fight Greene. Tarleton has to deal with his opponent Morgan who continues to draw Tarleton from supplies as well but Morgan knows he cannot outrun Tarleton for long.
Globalizing the Conflict
Far from the chase in the back country of the southern colonies, General Sir Henry Clinton, the overall commander of the British forces in America, enjoys his time in luxury at New York City. The war down south is far away. Clinton receives fewer messages from Cornwallis but that does not concern him, at least not enough for him to leave New York City and move south. Meanwhile 50 miles in Hartford, Connecticut George Washington meets with French General Comte de Rochambeau on September 20, 1780. Washington has not been in battle for three years because the British barely make any action in the northern colonies anymore. Instead the British have stayed in their base at New York City while their southern forces rage against the American southern forces. Washington hopes that by meeting Rochambeau he can convince an attack on New York City. Seven French warships are docked in a harbor in New England and Washington hopes they can be enough to attack the British fleet in New York City's harbor and then they can try to take the city back but Rochambeau does not agree. A veteran of European war, Rochambeau displays patience where Washington does not and the French general wants to wait for more reinforcements much to the frustration of Washington. Many Americans do not believe that France had played a big role during the war. As a matter of fact France, Spain, and the Netherlands had all declared war on Britain and globalized the war into places like the Caribbean, Africa, and India which caused Britain to spread its military thin throughout the colonies. Washington sees only that he must wait even more to capture New York City.
On January 16, 1781 deep in South Carolina, Daniel Morgan knows he cannot outrun the British any longer. British Colonel Tarleton has moved his forces quickly on now both sides must prepare to fight. On the eve of their battle Morgan goes around to speak to his men. Out of 1,000 American troops half of them are militia and are untrained forced that were last seen fleeing the field at Camden. Morgan rallies the militia for his greatest fight and tells them that they will be out front in two lines. He tells the militia to fire just two volleys before retreating and he tells them to aim for sergeants and officers. On January 17th on a mild winter morning the battle begins at a place called Cowpens. Tarleton has 1,100 British troops so the numbers are relatively even for the fight. Unknown to Tarleton, Morgan prepares to set up the plan he discussed with the militia last night. As the battle begins Tarleton's regulars fire at the American militia who are up front in the American lines. Morgan's plan comes into play as he tells the militia to fire just two volleys and then retreat. The British believe that they are taking the field but they soon come up against the experienced American continentals. Banister Tarleton, the ambitious and aggressive young officer moves right into Morgan's trap. The British infantry start to retreat and Tarleton tries to push them on again but soon the British are forced to retreat from the fight in defeat. Tarleton chased Morgan all across the south and it ended here in defeat at Cowpens. The British lost 39 officers and 60 soldiers killed and 829 British soldiers are captured. The Americans lost 12 men and 60 others were wounded. With this victory Daniel Morgan retires and will watch the rest of the war from the sidelines. However, the war is still not over as Greene still has to fight Cornwallis who is now reinforced by Tarleton and the survivors from his force. All across the world people are asking how will the war end.
You know he really made two mistakes: he did not try to rein in Tarleton, and he overextended his lines by his great advance. But to be fair, Cornwallis had a good plan - his problem was Clinton, who did not want to use troops he thought were needed to protect New York City in other parts of the country. Cornwallis thought (and probably rightly) they'd be more useful in the South. I think that is why they both met the receptions they got when they returned. The Briish public guessed who (had he been supported properly) might have won, and who lost it through stupidity. So Cornwallis is cheered and has another two decades in India an Ireland to show how good he really was, and Clinton is booed and ignored. Seldom has public opinion been more proper.