In the Whiteley Room
Turning Points : The Battles of Camden uses artifacts from the Camden battlefield, reproduction articles, text, and maps to tell the story of two major battles of the American Revolution. Both battles, the Battle of Camden and the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill, were part of the Southern Campaign. This exhibit focuses on the people, movements, and outcomes of both battles - and how those battles ultimately led to American Independence.
At the first Battle of Camden, August 16, 1780, units of the British Army commanded by Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis met American Major General Horatio Gates’ “Grand Army” a few miles north of Camden. When the smoke cleared, the Continental army was dead, dying, in full retreat, or taken prisoner. This was the second Continental Army defeated and taken prisoner by the British in four months. The British believed that they had reached a turning point in the rebellion. From his victory at Camden, Cornwallis prepared to march his Army north to suppress the rebellion in North Carolina and to join his army with the British forces already in Virginia. In this time and at this place, the revolution seemed lost.
April 1781 – less than a year later – how things had changed.
Events in the last several months had not borne out the British exuberance after their victory at Camden or their belief that the war in the South was all but over. American fears of a widespread surrender on the part of the people and repudiation by their European friends also did not come to pass. American victories at Kings Mountain (October 1780) and Cowpens (January 1781), constant militia strikes from partisan leaders, and an unyielding hatred on the part of patriots for the British cause forced the British to re-evaluate their strategy in the South. On April 25, 1781, Cornwallis abandoned the British forces in South Carolina when he departed Wilmington, North Carolina for Virginia.
On that day, Colonel Francis, Lord Rawdon prepared to face a third American army. Rawdon, left in field command of all British forces in South Carolina, commanded the garrison at the occupied town of Camden. Rawdon knew that Major General Nathanael Greene was on his way with over 1,000 veteran soldiers. Although the British position behind Camden’s fortifications was secure, Rawdon decided to attack the Americans. Once again, an out-numbered British force faced and defeated a superior Continental Army. But, this victory was different. The defeated American force did not flee.
After his victory, Rawdon faced a decision. Another turning point. At the moment, the British were secure in their fortress at Camden. But….. Greene’s army, a numerically superior force with all his artillery and provisions intact, still threatened the town. Partisans under Brigadier General Francis Marion and Continentals under Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee had cut the British supply line at Fort Watson and had Fort Motte under siege. General Sumter’s force was preparing to attack British outposts at Granby (Cayce, Lexington County) and Orangeburg and Col. Elijah Clarke’s Georgia and South Carolina militia were planning the siege of Fort Galphin (Silver Bluff, Aiken County). As Rawdon wrote in May 1781, the “whole interior country” was in revolt. Rather than sit in Camden or venture out to battle the Continental Army once again, Rawdon decided it was “necessary… to withdraw my force” back to Charleston. Rawdon evacuated Camden on May 10, 1781. Thus began the British retreat back to the sea.