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The Battle of Camden 1780

Battle: CAMDEN

War: American Revolutionary War

Date: 16th August 1780

Place: South Carolina, United States of America

Combatants: British and Germans against the Americans

Generals: Major General Lord Cornwallis against Major General Horatio Gates


Death of Baron Von Kalb at the Battle of Camden

Size of the armies: The British comprised 1,500 hundred regulars and 500 militia. The American army comprised 1,500 Continental troops and some 1,500 militia.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British regulars wore red coats and as headgear, the bearskin mitre cap for grenadiers, leather caps for light infantry and cocked three cornered hats for battalion companies. The American Continental troops wore similar uniforms in blue. The militia of each side wore what the men chose. Weapons were muskets and some light field guns. The regulars of each side were equipped with bayonets. The militia did not have bayonets.

Winner: The British

British Regiments:
23rd Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers
33rd Foot, now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
Two battalions of Fraser’s 71st Highlanders
Lord Rawdon’s Irish Volunteers
Tarleton’s Legion
Loyalist militia

American Regiments:
1st Maryland
2nd Maryland
Delaware regiment
North Carolina militia
Virginia militia.

Account:
In January 1780 Major General Clinton who had taken over as British commander-in-chief in America from Major General Howe took a force from New York and captured Charleston, the provincial capital of South Carolina. Storms caused substantial loss of guns and horses on the journey.

Clinton returned to New York leaving to Major General Cornwallis the task of capturing the rest of South Carolina.

On 18th May Cornwallis sent Colonel Banastre Tarleton with foot and light dragoons in pursuit of an American force commanded by Colonel Burford. Tarleton overtook Burford at Camden near the border with North Carolina and defeated him.

Cornwallis arrived at Camden which over the next few months became an important base of operations for the British and in which supplies were assembled.

Map of the Battle of Camden
Battle of Camden

In July an American army under Major General Horatio Gates had marched from the North and was threatening the British in South Carolina.

The British were commanded at Camden by Lord Rawdon, Cornwallis having returned to Charleston. Rawdon advanced from Camden to meet the Americans and took a position on a creek to the North-East of the town. On Gates’ approach Rawdon fell back to Camden.


The British troops after the Battle of Camden

On 14th August Cornwallis joined his troops in Camden with the determination to attack Gates. He made a night advance which collided with the Americans who were also advancing to make an assault.

British 33rd Regiment of Foot
The British 33rd Regiment of Foot (from Tim Reese’s CD Rom of 116 illustrations of British and American Regiments from the Revolutionary War.

The battlefield lay between two swamps which narrowed the front and secured the flanks. Cornwallis formed his army in two brigades, Colonel Webster on the right with the companies of Light Infantry, the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 33rd Foot and on the left Lord Rawdon on the left with the Irish Volunteers, Tarleton’s infantry and some loyalist provincial units. Two battalions of Fraser’s 71st Highlanders provided a reserve.


The British Attack

Gates drew up his army with the regiments of the Continental Army on the right under Gist, Kalb’s 2nd Maryland and a Delaware regiment, his centre under Caswell of North Carolina militia and his right under Stevens of Virginia militia. Smallwood commanded the reserve of the 1st Maryland.

General Horatio Gates
General Horatio Gates

Gates ordered his left wing of militia to attack the opposing British units. As they began to move forward the British launched a counter attack along the whole line. Ill-trained and largely without bayonets with which to conduct close quarter fighting, the American militia retreated off the field leaving Webster’s regiments to turn on the flank of the American right wing where the Continental units were putting up a stiff fight and continued to do so for some time. Tarleton’s cavalry finally attacked the American right wing in the rear causing the units to break. The British cavalry pursued the retreating Americans for some twenty miles.

Gates, the American commander appears to have left the battlefield with the first of the militia and ridden a considerable distance before drawing rein, leaving his subordinate commanders to fight on with the right flank. His reputation was destroyed. Baron Von Kalb, a German in the American service, particularly distinguished himself before being killed.

Casualties

The British lost 324 killed and wounded, 100 being from the 33rd. The American casualties were 1,000 killed and wounded and 1,000 lost as prisoners. 7 guns were taken with all the American stores and baggage.

Follow-up

The battle ensured the British hold on South Carolina for the time being. But as with all the British victories in the war, Camden provided only a short respite before the inexorable course of American success continued.

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