The Battle of Camden was a major victory for the British in the Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War. On August 16, 1780, British forces under Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis routed the American forces of Major General Horatio Gates about 10 km (six miles) north of Camden, South Carolina, strengthening the British hold on the Carolinas.
In January 1780, Henry Clinton having taken over as commander in chief in North America, took an army and captured Charleston, South Carolina. Clinton returned to New York and gave Charles Earl Cornwallis the task of capturing the rest of the Carolinas.
... the British in the south, in which men and supplies were assembled. Because of its crossroads location, it was considered key to controlling the back country of the Carolinas. On July 25th, an American force under Horatio Gates advanced into the Carolinas, heading towards the 1,000 man garrison under Lord Rawdon. Against the advice of his officers, Gates ordered his army to move through a swampy area, and through territory loyal to the Royalist Crown 
Gates had also been steadily losing men. He had sent 400 of his troops to assist Colonel Sumter who requested reinforcements to carry out raids against British supply columns. On Gates' approach, Rawdon with his force fell back to Camden. On August 3rd, Gates and his army joined up with 2,000 North Carolina militia, commanded by Colonel Calwell. Disease was rife amongst the colonial force, mainly dysentery which put many of the men out of action. 
The Armies & Deployments Edit
Gates formed up first on the field. He had around 3,700 troops, of which around only 1,500 of them were regular troops. On his right flank he placed Mordecai Gist, Johann de Kalb's 2nd Maryland and a Delaware Regiment. On his left flank, he placed 2,500 untried North Carolina militia under Colonel Richard Caswell. Gates stayed with the reserve force, the 1st Maryland Regiment under William Smallwood. Gates placed seven guns along the line. Behind the militia, he placed companies of cavalry and light infantry. With this formation, Gates was placing untested militia against the most experienced British regiments.
Cornwallis had around 2,100 men, of which around 600 were Loyalist militia and Irish Volunteers. The other 1,500 were regular troops. Cornwallis also had the infamous and highly experienced Tarleton's Legion, around 250 cavalry and 200 infantry who were formidable in a pursuit situation. Cornwallis formed his army in two brigades. Lord Rawdon was in command of the left wing, facing the Continental Infantry with the Irish Volunteers, Banastre Tarleton's Infantry and the Loyalist troops. On the right was Colonel Webster, facing the inexperienced militia with the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 33rd Regiment of Foot. In reserve, Cornwallis had two battalions of the 71st Regiment of Foot and Tarleton's cavalry force. He also placed four guns in the British centre. 
The Battle Edit
Both armies advanced at each other just after dawn. The British troops opened the battle, when the right flank fired a volley into the militia regiments, causing a significant number of casualties and then launched a bayonet charge. The militia, lacking bayonets, fled before the British regiments even reached them. Only one company of militia managed to fire a volley before fleeing. The panic quickly spread to the North Carolina militia, and they fled. Seeing his left flank collapse, Gates fled with the first of the militia to run from the field. Within a matter of minutes, the whole rebel left wing had evaporated.
While the militia was routing, and before Gates' flight, he ordered his right flank under de Kalb to attack the opposing British militia forces. Rawdon's troops advanced forward in two charges, but a heavy fire repulsed his regiments. The Continental troops launched a counter attack which came close to succeeding and Rawdon's line was beginning to falter. Cornwallis rode to his left flank and steadied his men. Instead of pursuing the militia and repeating an event similar to the Battle of Naseby, Webster wheeled around and launched a bayonet charge into the left flank of the Continental regiments.
The North Carolina militia that had been stationed next to the Delaware regiment held its ground, the only militia unit to do so. The Continental regiments fought a stiff fight for some time, but only 800 Continentals were facing over 2,000 British troops. Cornwallis, rather than fight a sustained fight with a heavy loss, ordered Tarleton's cavalry to charge the rear of the Continental line. The cavalry charge broke up the formation of the Continental troops, and they finally broke and fled.
De Kalb, attempting to rally his men was shot eleven times by musket fire. After just one hour of combat, the American troops had been utterly defeated, suffering over 2,000 casualties. Tarleton's cavalry pursued and harried the retreating Continental troops for some twenty miles before drawing rein. By that evening, Gates, mounted on a swift horse, had taken refuge 60 miles away in Charlotte, North Carolina. 
Gates' army had been utterly defeated; it had suffered over 2,000 casualties, some 1,000 of the troops being prisoners. They lost all seven guns and the whole baggage train. Gates lost control of the southern army due to his cowardice. General Nathanael Greene, standing next to George Washington as the most able and trusted Colonial officer of the Revolution, was given Gates' command of the southern army and started recruiting additional troops. There are many reasons given for Gates's defeat. The most prominent are the following:
- After Saratoga, Gates became overconfident in his ability to defeat the British. After the surrender of Burgoyne's army, he formed the view that Americans could defeat the British in a set piece pitched battle, muzzle to muzzle.
- Gates made several tactical errors. Being an ex-British army officer, he kept with the tradition of placing the best regiments on the right (in this case the Continentals). This meant that the best British regiments on Cornwallis right were facing Gates Left-the militiamen. Also, Gates' army was running out of supplies by the time of the battle, and many of the troops were not well-rested or fed.
British Order of BattleEdit
Overall Command: Lord Charles Cornwallis
Commanding Officer: Colonel Webster
- Light Infantry
- 23rd Foot, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers
- 33rd Foot, now the 3rd Battalion, 1st Yorkshire Regiment
- 2 artillery guns
Commanding Officer: Lord Rawdon
- Irish Volunteers
- Tarleton's Infantry
- Loyalist Militia:
- The Royal N.C. Regiment
- Bryan's Loyalist Militia (N.C.)
- 2 artillery guns
Commanding Officer: Fraser
- Two battalions of 71st Highlanders
- Tarleton's Cavalry
- 2 artillery guns
American Order of BattleEdit
Overall Command: Horatio Gates
Commanding Officer: Gist-commanded Gist's Maryland Brigade
- 2nd Maryland Regiment
- 1st Delaware Regiment
- 3 artillery guns
Commanding Officer: Caswell
- North Carolina Militia
- 2 artillery guns
Commanding Officer: Stevens
- Virginia Militia
- Armand's Legion
Commanding Officer: Smallwood
- 1st Maryland Regiment
- 2 artillery guns
The Battle on FilmEdit
In the 2000 movie The Patriot Ben and Gabriel Martin are seen watching a similar battle. Ben comments at Gates stupidity at fighting "muzzle to muzzle with Redcoats". There are some historical inaccuracies, including too many Continentals compared to militia, and that the militia retreated long before the most of Continentals did, but in the movie the Continentals and the militia retreated at the same time.
- Russell, David Lee The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies 2000.
- Battle Commemoration website - Includes a listing of American and British participants and casualties
- Portrait of Horatio Gates
- Portrait of Baron DeKalb
- Portrait of John Edgar Howard
- Portrait of William Smallwood
- Portrait of William Washington
- Portrait of Otho Williams