The Battle of Saunder's Creek (Gum Swamp)

August 15 or 16, 1780 at Saunder's Creek in Kershaw County, South Carolina

Facts about the Battle of Saunder's Creek

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Brig. Gen. Horatio Gates and consisted of unknown number of troops. British Forces was commanded by Gen. Charles Cornwallis and consisted of unknown number of troops.
  • Casualties - American casualties were unknown. British casualties were unknown.
  • Outcome - The result of the battle was a British victory.

Battle Begins

At 10:00 PM, Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis marched out of Camden on the road toward Rugeley's with the 23rd Regt., the 33rd Regt., the 71st Regt., the Light infantry, the Volunteers of Ireland, the Royal North Carolina Regiment, the British Legion, the North Carolina Volunteers (i.e. Bryan’s refugees), 6 field pieces (4 pieces of cannon went with main body, two in reserve) and some pioneers. A few supply wagons followed behind, guarded by the Legion dragoons.

Left in charge at Camden was Major Archibald McArthur, who had with him a small body of provincials, including the remnants of the Prince of Wales Volunteers, some loyalist militia, and a number of convalescents and sufferers of malaria from the regular army, including many from the 71st Regiment. According to Stedman, the number of sick in Camden had numbered 800, which one infers was roughly about how large McArthur’s garrison force was. A part of the 63rd Regiment., under Major James Wemyss, which had been supplied with horses at Charleston had also been sent thither to reinforce the garrison.

Although the harvest was nearly over, the magazines at Camden were not ready, Cornwallis therefore was in no position to hold out against a possible siege, hence the need to take action. About 2:00 AM, some seven miles from Camden, his forward troops, under Webster, and Gates’ advanced guard, to their mutual surprise, stumbled into each other near Saunders Creek.

After some brief fighting, Gates’ advance troops withdrew, and the two armies then made preparations for battle on the morrow.

Some battle report excerts:

Cornwallis to German, 21 August 1780: “I had now my option to make, either to retire or attempt the enemy; for the position at Camden was a bad one to be attacked in, and by General Sumpter's advancing down the Wateree, my supplies must have failed me in a few days.”

Lee "[Cornwallis] found his army very much enfeebled; eight hundred being sick, his effective strength was reduced to somewhat less than two thousand three hundred men, including militia and Bryan's corps, which together amounted to seven hundred and fifty men."

Tarleton: “[Webster] composed his advance guard of twenty legion cavalry, and as many mounted infantry, supported by four companies of light infantry, and followed by the 23d and 33d regiments of foot.”

Stedman: “Cornwallis began his march towards Rugeley's Mills, at ten in the evening of the fifteenth of August, committing the defence of Camden to major McArthur, with some provincials, militia, convalescents of the army, and a detachment of the sixty-third regiment, which was expected to arrive during the night. The army marched in the following order: The front division, commanded by lieutenant-colonel Webster, consisted of four companies of light-infantry, and the twenty-third and thirty-third regiments, preceded by twenty cavalry, and as many mounted infantry of the legion, as an advanced guard. The center division consisted of the volunteers of Ireland, the legion infantry, Hamilton's North Carolina regiment, and colonel Bryan's refugees, under the command of lord Rawdon. And the two battalions of the seventy first regiment followed as a reserve; the dragoons of the legion forming the rear-guard. It is not a little singular that the same night, nearly about the same time, and with a similar intention, general Gates should have left his encampment at Rugeley's Mills, and moved forward towards Camden. Both armies marching on the same road, in opposite directions, their advanced guards met and fired upon each other about two in the morning. Some prisoners were made on both sides; and from these the respective commanders became acquainted with the movements of the other: Both armies halted and were formed; and the firing soon afterwards ceased as if by mutual consent.

John Robert Shaw: “Having received intelligence that general Gates had encamped in a bad situation, Lord Cornwallis mustered his troops and harangued them in words nearly to this effect. ‘Now my brave soldiers, now an opportunity is offered for displaying your valor, and sustaining the glory of British arms; -- all you who are willing to face your enemies; -- all you who are ambitious of military fame stand forward; for there are eight or ten to one coming against [us]; let the men who cannot bear the smell of gunpowder stand back and all you who are determined to conquer or die turn out.’ Accordingly we all turned out except a few who were left to guard the sick and military stores. We marched out of Camden about 10 o’clock at night, August 15, 1780; it being the intention of our general to surprise the enemy in his quarters at Ruggles[Rugeley’s]. But in this we were disappointed, for Gen. Gates had set out about the same hour, in hopes to surprise us at Camden. We came up with their advanced party about seven miles from Camden, when the light troops and guards advanced on each side necessarily engaged each other in the dark. In this blind encounter, the American cavalry being driven back in the van, occasioned some disorder in their ranks; and having thus repelled them, we were eager for a general engagement; but Lord Cornwallis finding the enemy were on bad ground, was unwilling to hazard in the dark the advantages which their situation would afford him in the light.

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