Saturday, December 31, 2011

Camden, SC: A husky pup and another battlefield

Happy New Year to all.  We decided in the past few weeks to get ourselves another husky and rather than adopting as we have done previously, we chose to get a puppy.  Getting a puppy was a difficult decision as young huskies can be handful, but we have gotten a bit frustrated with the adoption process for huskies.  It has become far too invasive, cumbersome, and even expensive; an adoption fee can now run as high as $300.  It is a shame too, particularly in the case of huskies.  Many end up in shelters because new owners decide they are just not up to keeping them once they learn how much energy a husky has, not to mention the huge streak of independence (aka hardheadedness).  Do a quick search online, and you will see there are quite a few out there waiting on a new home.

While we were in North Carolina visiting T's parents for Christmas, we checked around for a reputable breeder and found one a couple hours away in Camden, South Carolina where we met Betty and Mike of the Cafitachiqui Kennel  Nice folks with an obvious love for huskies.  We picked out this little guy based on some online photos, and once we saw him in the flesh, we knew he was the right choice.   His coloring reminded us of our beloved Harley, a white and gray husky who lived to be 15, an unusually long life for the breed.  After a long debate involving family and friends over the merits of "Churchill," "Pericles," "Jackbull," and "Kagemusha" (shadow warrior), we gave our new family member the name "Musashi."  It is borrowed from Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645), Japan's most famous samurai and author of The Book of the Five Rings.  He is also the subject of a series of movies from the 1950s by Hiroshi Inagaki called The Samurai Trilogy, as well as several books, such as The Lone Samurai by William S. Wilson.  We like unique names, so let's hope the little guy lives up to this one. 

Here he is right after we got him.

And on the long ride from NC to Northern Virginia...snoozing with his head on the console, just like past  huskies we have owned.

Mei Ping is not sure of him yet, but we think it is only a matter of time before he wins her over. He certainly adores her.

Where were we?  Oh yea.  Camden.  Camden is rich in Revolutionary War history, so while we were in the area, we decided (at T's urging of course) we would check out some of it.  The town itself saw two battles, the Battle of Camden and the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill and was occupied for about 9 months by British forces.  A number of skirmishes, both large and small, took place around the area, between British and American forces, as well as between Patriots (Whigs) and Loyalists (Tories).  North and South Carolina were hotbeds of loyalist activity and both saw a great deal of fighting amongst Americans, which could accurately be called a war within a war.  Several of T's ancestors fought in both North Carolina regular and militia units and at least one reported fighting Tories on occasion, including after the Battle of Camden.  He was part of a NC militia unit on the way to reinforce Gate's army when word of the American defeat reached them.   His unit retreated back into North Carolina, fighting Tories along the way.

The battle of Camden took place about 6 miles north of the modern-day town on August 16, 1780.   It was a total disaster for the continental forces.  Horatio Gates, fresh from victory at Saratoga and darling of politicians, but of questionable military capability, commanded the Americans.  He had been assigned the mission to retrieve American fortunes in the South where things were not going so well.  Savannah and Charleston had fallen and the Americans were on the run.  Loyalist forces dominated the countryside.  The Charleston defeat alone cost the Americans 5,000 captured, including some 2,600 of the precious Continental soldiers, as well as a huge cache of arms and munitions.  Now, Gates was told to clear the Carolinas of the British.  His "Grand Army" as he called it when he took over in July of 1780 in Deep River, North Carolina, consisted of a few units from the Continental Army, solid regiments from Maryland and Delaware under the mercenary Major General Baron Johann de Kalb, plus artillery and a legion of dragoons. 

With this force, Gates began marching south.  He elected not to take a roundabout route recommended by de Kalb, which would have taken him through an area rich in forage and strong Patriot sympathies, instead opting to go straight at the British encamped at Camden.  The route he chose took him through an area strong in Loyalist sympathies, largely barren of supplies, and known for its swamps, sandy soil, pine thickets, and scrub oaks.   Poorly supplied, Gate's men would arrive for battle sick, hungry, and tired.  By the time the force reached the Camden area, his regular army units would be reduced by sickness, desertion, and detachments to about 900 men.  On the way down south, however, he was reinforced by some 2,800 North Carolina and Virginia militia, another 700 Virginia state troops, plus other miscellaneous units, giving him a force of about 4,100 men.  Gates thought he had about 7,000, but in reality had about 3,000 fit for duty on the day of battle.  Subordinates warned him of the condition of his army, but Gates decided to offer battle anyway, marching confidently to attack the British force at Camden.

On the British side, the field commander, Lord Rawdon, and the department commander, the Earl of Cornwallis, elected to march out from occupied Camden and meet the approaching American army.   Their force was considerably smaller, consisting of about 2,200 men, but was composed entirely of British regulars or well-trained provincials recruited in the Colonies.  They included the companies from the 23rd, 33rd, and 71st (Highlander) regiments, as well as Banastre Tarleton's Legion, the Royal North Carolina Loyalist Regiment, Lord Rawdon's Volunteers of Ireland (made up mostly of Irish deserters from the American army), some South Carolina loyalist militia, and a strong artillery element.

Both armies decided to attack, hoping for surprise.  It was Gates, however, who was surprised when he ran into Cornwallis's army on August 16th, 1780.  With an army comprised mostly of sick militia, Gates would have been wise to beat a hasty retreat, but he was undecided.  A council of war was called, but the only person to speak, the leader of the Virginia militia, said it was too late to retreat and the army must fight.  And so it was decided.

Gates deployed his regulars on the right of the Camden road and his militia on the left, backed up by one of the Maryland line regiments.  Gates early in the battle ordered the Virginia militia forward, but two of the British regiments countercharged, easily breaking the Virginians.   It was a common problem with militia during the war that without proper training and bayonets, they could not stand up against British regulars in a bayonet charge.  Once the Virginians broke, the North Carolina militia on their right fled in panic without firing a shot.  In just a few minutes, some 2,500 of the American force had fled the field and only the American regulars and a North Carolina militia unit were left.  Gates himself evidently fled at this time, only stopping when he reached Charlotte, NC.  The Marylanders on the left fought hard, retreated, rallied, then finally broke for good.  On the right, the Delaware regiment, another Maryland regiment, and a North Carolina militia unit, about 600 men all told, fought the entire British army fought for a while longer until de Kalb went down with a mortal wound and Tarleton's cavalry attacked from the rear.  When they broke and ran, the battle was over.  American casualties were around 1,000; the British about 330.  It was a disaster of the first magnitude for the Americans.  The Southern Army had been destroyed and Gates was disgraced.

Map depiction of the battle from  The only problem with it is that the village of Camden was to the south and rear of the British forces.

Site of Baron de Kalb's final, mortal wound.  The last of 11 wounds suffered in the battle.  He died three days later and was buried by the British with full military honors.  Note the sandy ground.

The American left flank was established in this area.  Certainly the landscape has changed since 1780s but it still represents the "piney woods" area this part of South Carolina was, and still is, known for.  Sandy and poor soil, pines, and scrubby oaks.

There really isn't much to the battlefield.  No trenches and such.  Just a couple monuments, some placards explaining the progress of the fight, and about 2 miles of trails.  It is admirable that some 477 acres of the original battlefield have been preserved, largely through the efforts of the Palmetto Conservation Foundation (

The "piney woods."  I've also heard the area called "the barrens."  Having grown up just north of this area in what is known as the Sandhills in  North Carolina, I can attest that the land is indeed barren.  Pines, sand, and scrub oaks dominate the landscape and in the summer it is unbearably hot and insect heaven.

 Flat Rock Rd (or SC 58) runs through the middle of the battlefield today.  The American militia would have been on the left and the American Continentals on the right facing you.

Looking south to what would have been the British lines.  The open lane in the center of the photograph heading south, just to the east of Flat Rock Rd is the trace of the Great Wagon Road, which both armies marched to battle on.  Settlers used the road to migrate south into the Carolinas during the Colonial period.

The Great Wagon Road.
Some of the placards on the battlefield's trails.

Wounding of Baron de Kalb.

 The other major fight near Camden is today actually within the city limits and covered by streets, houses, and a polo club.  Hobkirk's Hill was fought on April 25th, 1781 between the forces of Lord Rawdon and the Americans under Nathanael Greene, widely recognized as one of General George Washington's most gifted and dependable officers.  His 1781 campaign in the South is regarded as one of the finest in American military history.  He did not win a single battle, but won the campaign, seizing the initiative from the British, making their position in North and South Carolina untenable, and setting the stage for Washington's decisive victory at Yorktown in the fall of 1781.

Greene was given command of the Southern Army after Gate's disaster at Camden in Charlotte, NC in December of 1780.   Putting the remnants of the Gate's army back together, he proceeded to conduct a brilliant fighting retreat through North Carolina to the Virginia border.  At the same time, a detached force under Daniel Morgan destroyed a portion of the British Army at Cowpens in January of 1781.  In March of 1781, Greene turned and gave battle to Cornwallis at Guilford Court House (near present-day Greensboro, NC), suffering a tactical defeat, but inflicting such losses on the British force that Lord Cornwallis is reported to have said "another such victory and the British Army is ruined."  Cornwallis was obliged to retreat to Wilmington, NC for refitting while Greene headed south to attack the British garrison under Lord Rawdon at Camden.  A pitched and confusing battle took place about 2 miles north of the Camden village between Greene's 1,400 troops and Rawdon's 900.  Again the Americans suffered a tactical defeat, leaving the field to Lord Rawdon's forces.   This one was a close-run affair, however, and losses were about even, about 260 men each.  More importantly, the battle was a strategic victory for the Americans.  By this time of the war they could afford the losses, and the countryside, aroused by the appearance of a Continental army and a string of Patriot victories over Loyalist forces, was becoming more hostile to the British.  Rawdon in May abandoned Camden, burning the jail, the mills, and homes of some Patriots, and fell back towards Charleston. He also ordered the garrisons of other British strongholds, including Ninety-Six and Augusta, to also fall back.  Soon, the Americans had control of the entire interior of South Carolina, and Rawdon and the rest of the British forces in the state would be penned up in the Charleston area until the end of the war.

Hobkirk's Hill today.   Main Street, Camden.
 Camden, first settled around 1730, claims to be the oldest existing inland town in South Carolina.  It is a quaint town with many old homes, structures, antique stores, and a museum.  Unfortunately for us the museum was closed, but the grounds were open, and they provided an exhibit on the history of the town with a focus on the 9-month British occupation from 1780-1781.  The placards describing life and warfare in the backcountry of South Carolina were interesting although nearly all of the structures, as well as the fortifications, were reconstructions.

The Revolutionary War in the backcountry of North and South Carolina was a brutal war within a war. 

Camden under the British was enclosed by a palisade reinforced with redoubts at each corner.
Like this one.

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