Before I continue my mini-series on colonial myths, I’d like to offer an overview of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. How many know what that refers to? Unless you’re a serious American Revolution buff, chances are you don’t.
|Kershaw-Cornwallis house, Camden, SC, British headquarters 1780-81|
We also know individual legends like George Washington and the cherry tree, Betsy Ross, and Molly Pitcher. We’ve also heard of Benedict Arnold’s treachery, and we know the difference between Whig and Tory.
The average person is willing to let their knowledge of history be informed solely by grade-school textbooks, or films like The Patriot. Those of us who have an interest in blogs like this one, on the other hand, thirst to know more ... to get the facts right. :-)
I shared already how a common reenactor myth sparked a story idea, then sent me in search of solid provenance for said story. As I got deeper into the research, it took my breath away at how little I knew of the Revolution as a whole.
Like the fact that the whole second half of the war took place in the southern colonies.
|Siege of Charleston display at the Charleston Museum|
When the city fell, May 12, 1780, Lord Earl Cornwallis was left to implement the next stage of the "Southern strategy": push into the backcountry while holding Savannah and Charleston. A good part of the populace was believed to be loyalist, but not as many as the British counted on. Their initial plan to establish a network of outposts went smoothly enough at first, but then trouble flared in the backcountry of South Carolina in particular, around Camden, with what became known as the Presbyterian Rebellion. (The trouble was chiefly among the Scotch-Irish Protestant population.)
General Washington sent a force southward, headed by Horatio Gates, and in August 1780 the two armies met just north of Camden, in the wee hours of a moonlit night. Fighting broke out at dawn, and a hot battle turned into a complete rout of the Continental forces, many of them unseasoned militia. Gates was summarily fired after having fled ahead of his troops, and Continental commissary officer Nathanael Greene, a former Quaker, was assigned the task of regrouping the Continental forces and finding ways of making the militia function under fire.
Greene, it turned out, had a genius for logistics—literally, wearing out the British army. Rather than win the war by military might, or number of battles won, he employed a strategy of cutting off supply lines and making it untenable for the British to hold their various outposts.
|The force that turned the tide of a war ...|
These two years comprised possibly the bloodiest and most brutal of the war. Greene is quoted as saying, “Nothing but blood and slaughter has prevailed among the Whigs and Tories, and their inveteracy against each other must, if it continues, depopulate this part of the country.” The Southern Campaign is, I believe, what earned the Revolution the nickname of America’s first civil war. Not much calm and reason here, but passion and fury and vengeance, neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother.
Links of interest:
North Carolina Digital History's War in the South
Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution
All photos mine.