Tea Party winners: Roseanna M. White's winner is Debbie Wilder, Denise Weimer's print copy of Widow goes to Andrea Stephens, Debra E. Marvin's winners for Ebook collection are Cheryl Baranski and Rachel Koppendrayer, Carrie Fancett Pagels' ebook collection goes to Joan Arning and paperback to Connie, Gina Welborn's winner is Regina Fujitani, Gabrielle Meyer's paperback copy of A Mother in the Making is Teri Geist DiVincenzo

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

General Baron de Kalb and The Battle of Camden, SC

General Baron de Kalb
By Susan F. Craft

General Baron DeKalb was born in Germany in 1721. He served with distinction  in the French Army during the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War.
In 1768 on behalf of France, he traveled to America on a covert mission to determine the level of discontent amongst colonists.
In 1777, he returned with his protégé, the Marquis de Lafayette, and joined the Continental Army.
On August 16, 1780, five miles north of Camden, SC, British forces under Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis defeated the American forces under the command of Major General Horatio Gates.
Gates had over 4,000 men, but only 2,000 were effective for combat. Many succumbed to the heat and also the night before, the men had been fed green corn, causing many to suffer bowel problems.
Lt. General Lord Cornwallis
Cornwallis had around 2,100 men. Six hundred were Loyalist militia and Volunteers of Ireland, and 1,500 were regular troops. Cornwallis also had the infamous and highly experienced Tarleton's Legion, around 250 cavalry and 200 infantry.
The British troops opened the battle by firing a volley into the militia, followed by a bayonet charge. The militia, lacking bayonets, panicked and ran away. The panic spread to the North Carolina militia, and they also fled.  Gates bolted with the first of the militia to run from the field and took refuge 60 miles away in Charlotte, NC. Before he ran, he ordered his right flank under General Baron de Kalb to attack the British militia.
Under de Kalb, the Continentals fought hard, but they numbered only 600 to 2,000 British troops. Cornwallis ordered Tarleton's cavalry to charge the rear of the Continental line. The cavalry charge broke up the formation of the Continental troops.
De Kalb tried to rally his men but was fatally wounded.
After only one hour of combat, the Americans were utterly defeated, suffering over 2,000 casualties. Tarleton's cavalry pursued and harried the retreating Continental troops for 20 miles.
The Battle of Camden, SC
The terrible route for the Americans at the Battle of Camden strengthened the British hold on the Carolinas that were already reeling from the capture of Charleston, SC, by General Sir Henry Clinton in January 1780.
Here’s how Andrew, a character in my novel, The Chamomile, described General de Kalb.
You see, General de Kalb wasn’t one of those officers that puts space between him and his men. He was one of us. Most times when we traveled, he didn’t ride his horse, but marched along beside us. Came around each night and shared the food and fire. Slept on the ground with us. And stories? He could tell some of the best stories. Knew how to share silence too.
At Camden, we were pretty much beaten. Six hundred of us to their two thousand. De Kalb sent his horse to the back of the lines early on, so he could fight side by side with us on foot. Time after time we charged, reformed, and charged again with the general leading the way.
Someone laid his head open with a saber. He was shot. Bayoneted. Cut many times. But he still led one more charge. When the general finally fell, we closed ranks around him. Then Tarleton brought in his dragoons. We fought as long as we could, until most of us broke and ran.
I was running for the woods with the rest of them, but I turned in time to see British soldiers headed toward the general to finish him off. They would have, too, but his aide, Chevalier de Buysson, threw his body on top of him and yelled, "No! No! It’s de Kalb. Brigadier General de Kalb."

Cornwallis ordered his own surgeons to try and save de Kalb.
Death of de Kalb
Here is de Kalb’s response, “I thank you sir for your generous sympathy, but I die the death I always prayed for; the death of a soldier fighting for the rights of man.”
When the general died three days later, Cornwallis found out he was a Mason, same as himself. He had him buried with full military and Masonic honors.
Years later, on a tour of South Carolina, President George Washington visited the grave of DeKalb and is reported to have said the following, “So there lies the brave de Kalb; the generous stranger who came from a distant land to fight our battles and to water with his blood the tree of our liberty. Would to God he had lived to share with us its fruits.”


  1. A very interesting post, Susan. I find it so humbling to learn of so many individuals who were not American colonists, yet came to fight for our cause.

    1. Yes, people were drawn to this country's ideals. It's interesting for me to talk to newly naturalized citizens and feel how much they love this country, how much they appreciate it, and how much of its history they know -- more than some natural born citizens I meet!

  2. This is a great post and I agree with Janet. General Lord Charles Cornwallis will be making several appearances in my new novel, The War Woman, tentatively titled.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. From all the accounts I've read, Lord Cornwallis was a gentleman and a fine commander.

  3. Wonderful article, Susan! I remember that scene from The Chamomile. :-) I suspect de Kalb is going to show up in my series too at some point. lol! Our fledgling nation was so blessed to have the services of many such brave souls from other countries who came to fight with us. I agree with Washington's comments.

    1. Thanks, Joan. And thank you for remembering the scene -- it's a very nice compliment. I remember that you're working on a novel that will have Camden in it. They just held the reenactment of the Battle of Camden on August 18. I was so disappointed that I couldn't attend this year. I have some pictures of past reenactments that I could share with you, if you want them.

  4. Great post!! I finally finished my novel that begins with the Battle of Camden ... it's neat to see others discover this fascinating portion of our history!

    1. Shannon, congratulations on finishing your novel. Do you live in South Carolina? I live in Columbia, not far from Camden. I believe I read somewhere that there were more battles fought in South Carolina during the Rev War than in any other state.

      I look forward to hearing about your novel.

    2. Hi again Susan, and thank you! Sorry for my slowness in responding. I live down near Charleston, and my two older boys are in Columbia at USC. :-) I've been to Camden a few times for research etc. ... and yes, it's pretty amazing to see the part our state played in that era! Are you familiar with Patrick O'Kelley's *Nothing But Blood and Slaughter*? (taken from a quote by Nathanael Greene) It's a 4-volume work covering every military engagement in the Carolinas connected with the Revolution, including the Regulator War. Slow reading, but fascinating!

  5. The revolution would have been much more difficult--maybe impossible--without the help of foreign military experts and diplomats. The French were the most prevalent, but the Dutch, Poles, Russians, and Spanish also helped.

    Here are several more articles on the Battle of Camden for those who are interested: 1780-08-16 Camden.


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