Ridpath's History of the United States
Volume II


Chapter VII
Reverses and Treason

During the year 1780 military operations at the North were, for the most part, suspended. Twice did the British under Knyphausen advance from New York into New Jersey; and twice they were driven back. Early in July, Admiral De Ternay arrived at Newport with a French squadron and six thousand land troops under County Rochambeau. The Americans were greatly elated at the coming of their allies; but Washington's army was in so destitute a condition that active co-operation was impracticable. In September the commander-in-chief held a conference with Rochambeau, and the plans of future campaigns were in part determined.

In the South there was much activity, and the patriots suffered many reverses. South Carolina was completely overrun with the invading armies. On the 11th of February, Admiral Arbuthnot, in command of a British squadron, anchored before Charleston. Sir Henry Clinton and a division of five thousand men from the army in New York were on board the fleet. The plan of the campaign was to subjugate the whole South, beginning with Charleston. The city was defended by fourteen hundted men, under General Lincoln, who began his preparations by fortifying the neck of the peninsula. The British effected a landing a few miles below the harbor, advanced up the right bank of Ashley River, and crossed to the north of the city. A month was spent by Clinton in making cautious apporaches toward the American intrenchments. On the 7th of April, General Lincoln was re-enforced by seven hundred veterans from Virginia. Two days afterward Admiral Arbuthnot, favored by the wind and tide, succeeded in passing Fort Moultrie with his fleet, and anchored within cannon-shot of the city. A summons to surrender was answered by Lincoln with the assurance that Charleston would be defended to the last extremity.

A siege was at once begun, and prosecuted with grat vigor. Desiring to keep a way open for retreat, Lincoln sent a body of three hundred men under General Huger to scour the country north of Cooper River and rally the militia. Apprised of this movement, Tarleton with a legion of British cavlry stole upon Huger's forces at Monk's Corner, thirty miles north of Charleston, routed, and dispersed the whole company. The city was now fairly hemmed in, and the thunder of two hundred cannon shook the beleaguered ramparts. From the beginning the defense had been hopeless, and every day the condition of the town became more desperate. Finally the fortifications were beaten down, and Clinton made ready to storm the American works; not till then did Lincoln and the civil authorities, dreading the havoc of an assault, agree to capitulate. On the 12th of May the principal city of the South was given upto the British, and the men who had so bravely defended it became prisoners of war.

A few days before the surrender Tarleton, who was ranging the country to the north and west, surprised and dispersed a body of militia who had gathered on the Santee. After the capture of the city, three expeditions were directed into different sections of the State. The American post at Ninety-Six, a hundred and fifty miles northwest of the capital, was seized. A second detachment of the British invaded the country bordering on the Savannah. Cornwallis with the principal division marched to the northeast, crossed the Santee, and captured Georgetown, near the mouth of the Great Pedee. Here he learned that Colonel Buford, was a body of five hundred patriots, who had left North Carolina for the relief of Charleston, was now retreating through the district north of Camden. Tarleton with seven hundred cavalry pressed rapidly across the country, overtook the Americans on the Waxhaw, a tributary of the Catawba, surprised them, and, while negotiations for a surrender were pending, charged upon and massacred nearly the whole company. For this atrocious deed Cornwallis commended Tarleton to the special favor of the British Parliament.

By such means the authority of Great Britain was re-established over South Carolina. As soon as the work was done, Clinton and Arbuthnot, with about half of the British army, sailed for New York. Cornwallis was left with the remainder to hold the conquered territory; for it was the territory, and not the people, who were conquered. In this condition of affairs, two daring patriot leaders arose to rescue the republican cause. These men, ever afterward famous, were Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion. Under their leadership the militia in the central and western portions of the State, especially on the upper tributaries of Broad River, were rallied, armed, and mounted. An audacious partisan warfare was begun, and exposed detachments of the British army were swept off as though an enemy had fallen on them from the skies. At Rocky Mount, on the Wateree, Colonel Sumter burst upon a party of dragoons, wh barely saved themselves. On the 6th of August he attacked a large detachment of regulars and Tories at Hanging Rock, in Lancaster county, defeated them, and retreated. It was in this battle that young Andrew Jackson began his career as a soldier.

The exploits of Sumter were even surpassed by those of Marion. His company consisted at first of twenty men and boys, white and black, half-clad and poorly armed. But the number constantly increased, and the "Ragged Regiment" soon became a terror to the enemy. Every British outpost was in peril. there was no telling when or where the sword of the fearless leader would fall. From the swamps at midnight he and his men would suddenly dart upon the encampments of the enemy, sweeping everything before them. When the British expected Marion in front, he would assail the rearguard with the utmost fury, and then disappear; when they thought him hovering on their flank, he was a hundred miles away. During the whole summer and autumn of 1780 he swept around Cornwallis's positions, cutting his lines of communication and making incessant onsets with an audacity as destructive as it was provoking. In the midst of this wild and lawless warfare, Marion preserved an unblemished reputation. Fifteen years afterward, when he lay on his deathbed, he declared that he had never intentionally wronged any man; and it was truthfully written on his monument that he lived without fear and died without reproach.

After the fall of Charleston, General Gates was appointed to command in the South. With a strong force of regulars and such militia as would join his standard, he advanced across North Carolina, and at the beginning of August reached the southern boundary of the State. Lord Rawdon, who commanded the British posts in the northern parts of South Carolina, called in his detachments and concentrated his forces at Camden. Hither came also Cornwallis with re-enforcements from Charleston and Georgetown. The Americans moved forward and took post at Clermont, thirteen miles northwest from Camden. By a singular coincidence Cornwallis and Gates each formed the design of surprising his antagonist in the night. Accordingly, on the evening of the 15th of August, Gates set out for Camden, and at the same time Cornwallis moved toward Clermont. About daydawn the two armies met midway on Sander's Creek. Both generals were surprised, but both made immediate preparations for battle. As soon as it was llight the conflict began. Steadiness and courage in all parts of the field would have given the victory to the Americans, but at the first onset the Virginia and Carolina militia broke line, threw their arms away, and fled. For a while the Continentals of Maryland and Delaware sustained the battle with great bravery, but at length they were outflanked by Webster's cavalry and driven back. The American officers made heroic efforts to save the day, but all in vain; the retreat became a rout. Baron de Kalb, the friend of La Fayette and fellow-sufferer with Washington at Valley Forge, remained on the field trying to rally his men until he was wounded eleven times and fell in the agony of death. More than a thousand of the Americans were killed, wounded, or captured. The shattered remnants continued the retreat to Charlotte, North Carolina, eighty miles distant. The military reputation of Gates, which never had any solid foundation, was blown away like chaff, and he was superseded by General Greene, who, after Washington, was the best officer of the Revolution.

Cornwallis was again master of South Carolina. A few days after the battle of Sander's Creek, Sumter's corps was overtaken by Tarleton at Fishing Creek, thirty miles nowthwest from Camden, and completely routed. Only Marion and his troopers remained to harass the victorious enemy. The triumph of the British was marked by cruelty and oppression. Cornwallis visited the patriots with merciless severeity, and the ruined State crouched at the feet of the conqueror. On the 8th of September the British advanced from Camden into North Carolina, and on the 25th reached Charlotte, the Americans having retreated to Salisbury. While this movement was in progress, Colonel Ferguson, with a force of eleven hundred regulars and Tories, was sent into the country west of the Catawba to overawe the patriots and encourage the loyalists to take up arms. On the 7th of October, while Ferguson and his men were encamped on the top of King's Mountain, they were suddenly attacked by a thousand riflemen led by Colonel Campbell. The camp was surrounded; a desperate battle of an hour and a half ensued; Ferguson was slain, and three hundred of his men were killed or wounded; the remaining eight hundred threw down their arms and begged for quarter. On the morning after the battle ten of the leading Tory prisoners were condemned by a court-martial and hanged. During the remaining two months of the year there were no military movements of importance. Georgia and South Carolina were in the power of the British, and North Crolina was invaded.

Meanwhile, the financial credit of the nation was sinking to the lowest ebb. Congress, having no silver and gold with which to meet the accumulating expenses of the war, had resorted to paper money. At first the expedient was successful, and the continental bills were received at par; but as one issue followed another, the value of the notes rapidly diminished, until, by the middle of 1780, they were not worth two cents to the dollar. To aggravate the evil, the emissaries of Great Britain executed counterfeits of the congressional money and sowed the spurious bills broadcast over the land. Business was paralyzed for the want of a currency, and the distress became extreme; but Robert Morris and a few other wealthy patriots came forward with their private fortunes and saved the suffering colonies from ruin. The mothers of America also lent a helpinghand; and the patriot camp was gladdened with many a contribution of food and clothing which woman's sacrificing care had provided.

In the midst of the general gloom the country was shocked by the rumor that Benedict Arnold had turned traitor. And the news, though hardly credible, was true. the brave, rash man, who, on behalf of the patriot cause, had suffered untold hardships and shed his blood on more fields than one, had blotted the record of his heroism with a deed of treason. After the battle of Bemis's Heights, in the fall of 1777, Arnold was promoted by Congress to the rank of major-general. Being disabled by his wound, he was made commandant of Philadelphia after the evacuation of the city by the British. Here he married the daughter of a loyalist, and lliving in the old mansion of William Penn entered upon a career of luxury and extravagance which soon overwhelmed him with debt and bankruptsy. In order to keep up his magnificence, he began a system of frauds on the commissary department of the army. His bearing toward the citizens was that of a military despot; the people groaned under his tyranny, and charges wer preferred against him by Congress. The cause was finally heard by a court-martial in December of 1779. Arnold was convicted on two of the charges, and, by the order of the court, was mildly reprimanded by Washington.

Professing unbounded patriotism, and seeming to forget the disgrace which his misconduct had brought upon him, Arnold applied for and obtained command of the important fortress of West Point on the Hudson. On the last day of July, 1780, he reached the camp and assumed control of the most valuable arsenal and depot of stores in America. He had already formed the treasonable design of surrendering the fort into the hands of the enemy. For months he had kept up a secret correspondence with Sir Henry Clinton, and now the scheme ripened, on Arnold's part, into an open proposition to betray his country for gold. It was agreed that on a certain day the British fleet should ascend the Hudson, that the garrison should be divided and scattered, and the fortress given up without a struggle.

On the 21st of September, Sir Henry Clinton sent Major John Andre up the river to hold a personal conference with Arnold and make the final arrangements for the surrender. Andre, through whom correspondence between Arnold and Clinton had been carried on, was a former acquaintance of Arnold's wife, and now held the post of adjutant-general in the British army. He went to the conference, not as a spy, but wearing full uniform; and it was agreed that the meeting should be held outside of the American lines. About midnight of the 21st he went ashore from the Vulture, a sloop of war, and met Arnold in a thicket on the west bank of the river, two miles below Haverstraw. Daydawn approached, and the conspirators were obliged to hide themselves. In doing so they entered the American lines; Arnold gave the password, and Andre, disguising himself, assumed the character of a spy.

During the next day the traitor and his victim remained concealed at the house of a Tory named smith. Here the awful business was completed. Arnold was to surrender West Point, its garrison and stores, and to receive for his treachery ten thousand pounds and a commission as brigadier in the British army. All preliminaries being settled, papers containing a full description of West Point, its defenses, and the best method of attack were made out and given to Andre, who secreted the dangerous documents in his stockings. During that day an American battery drove the Vulture from its moorings in the river; and at nightfall Andre was obliged to cross to the other side and proceed by land toward New York. He passed the American outposts in safety; but at Tarrytown, twenty-five miles from the city, he was suddenly confronted by three militiamen,* who stripped him, found his papers, and delivered him to Colonel Jameson at North Castle. Through that officer's amazing stupidity Arnold was at once notified that John Anderson--that being the assumed name of Andre--had been taken with his passport and some papers "of a very dangerous tendency." Arnold, on hearing the news, fled to the river and escaped on board the Vulture. Andre was tried by a court-martial at Tappan, and condemned to death. On the 2d of October he was led to the gallows, and, under the stern code of war, was hanged. Though dying the death of a felon, he met his doom like a brave man, and after times have commiserated his sad fate. Arnold received his pay.

In the dark days of December there came a ray of light from Europe. For several years Holland had secretly favored the Americans; now she began negotiations for a commercial treaty similar to that already existing between France and the United States. Great Britain discovered rhe purposes of the Dutch government; there were angry remonstrances, and then, on the 20th of December, an open declaration of war. Thus the Netherlands were added to the enemies of England it seemed that George III. and his ministers would have enough to do without further efforts to enforce a stamp act or levy a tax on tea.

*John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac van Wart. Congress afterward rewarded them with silver medals and pensions for life.


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