Battle of Eutaw Springs

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Battle of Eutaw Springs
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Date September 8, 1781
Location Orangeburg County,
near present-day Eutawville, South Carolina

33°24′26″N 80°17′56″W / 33.40728°N 80.29875°W / 33.40728; -80.29875Coordinates: 33°24′26″N 80°17′56″W / 33.40728°N 80.29875°W / 33.40728; -80.29875
Result British tactical victory
American strategic advantage
Belligerents
 United States  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
Nathanael Greene Alexander Stewart
Strength
2,200 2,000
Casualties and losses
119 killed;
382 wounded;
60 captured;
18 missing
Total
579[1][2]
85 killed;
297 wounded;
70 wounded prisoners;
430 captured
Total
882[3][4]

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was a battle of the American Revolutionary War, and was the last major engagement of the war in the Carolinas.

Background[edit]

In early 1781 Major General Nathanael Greene of the Continental Army began a campaign to end British control over the South Carolina backcountry. His first major objective was the capture of the British controlled village of Ninety Six.[5] On May 22, 1781, Greene laid siege to the fortified village. After nearly a month Greene became aware that reinforcements under Lord Rawdon were approaching from Charleston.[6] Forces under Greene's command assaulted Ninety Six on June 18, but were repelled. To avoid facing the force commanded by Rawdon, Greene retreated toward Charlotte, North Carolina. Rawdon pursued Greene for several days, but was compelled to abandon the pursuit because his men were exhausted by days of forced marching and he lacked sufficient supplies to continue. Despite the fact Ninety Six was the only remaining inland British outpost after the fall of Augusta, Georgia, Rawdon decided to burn and abandon it, and withdrew the garrison to Charleston. In poor health, Rawdon sailed for England in late August, leaving Charleston under the command of Colonel Alexander Stewart.[7]

After Rawdon's departure, Greene turned his army around and headed toward Charleston. His men were also exhausted by many days of marching and combat, so he set up camp above the Santee River to allow his main force to rest, while several detachments continued to harass the British as they withdrew toward Charleston. On August 22, his force prepared to face the remaining British forces garrisoned in Charleston.

Colonel Stewart led a force of 2,000 men from Charleston's British garrison in search of Greene's army. The force camped at Eutaw Springs, about 10 kilometers east of present-day Eutawville, then in Charleston District (but both now in Orangeburg County).

Organization[edit]

At 4:00 AM on 8 September 1781, Greene's army began marching from Burdall's Plantation in the direction of Eutaw Springs, which was 7 miles (11 km) distant. In the van were Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee's Legion plus 73 infantry and 72 cavalry of South Carolina State troops under Lieutenant Colonel John Henderson and Captain Wade Hampton, respectively. Next in the marching column came 40 cavalry and 200 infantry under Brigadier General Francis Marion, followed by 150 North Carolina militia under Colonel Francis marquis de Malmedy and 307 South Carolina militia led by Colonel Andrew Pickens. Continental Army troops formed the center and rear of Greene's column. These were led by three green North Carolina battalions under Brigadier General Jethro Sumner. Major John Armstrong led a mounted contingent while Lieutenant Colonel John Baptista Ashe and Major Reading Blount directed the foot soldiers.[8] Ashe and Blount served with the 1st North Carolina Regiment,[9] while Armstrong belonged to the 4th North Carolina Regiment.[10]

Two Virginia battalions under Lieutenant Colonel Richard Campbell and Major Smith Snead were trailed by Colonel Otho Holland Williams' two Maryland battalions under Lieutenant Colonel John Eager Howard and Major Henry Hardman. Lieutenant Colonel William Washington's mounted men and Captain Robert Kirkwood's Delaware infantry companies formed the tail of the column. Greene's force had two 3-pound grasshopper guns under Captain-Lieutenant William Gaines and two 6-pound cannons directed by Captain William Brown. All told, Greene had 1,256 Continental infantry and 300 cavalry, the horsemen mostly divided between Lee and Washington. Lee's cavalry were led by Major Joseph Egleston and his infantry by Captain Rudolph. Greene's army numbered 2,400 men of whom 200 were left behind to guard the baggage train.[8]

Stewart had between 1,800 and 2,000 troops on hand. His British regulars were the 3rd Foot, 63rd Foot, 64th Foot, and John Marjoribanks' 300-man flank battalion. The last-named unit was made up of the converged flank companies of the 3rd, 19th, and 30th Foot. The regulars were supported by two American loyalist contingents. These units were John Harris Cruger's regular battalion of DeLancey's Brigade and John Coffin's South Carolina Tories, which consisted of about 150 regular infantry and 50 militia cavalry. Stewart's artillery consisted of two 6-pound, one 4-pound, and one 3-pound cannons plus a swivel gun.[8]

Battle[edit]

In order to make up for a shortage of bread in his supplies, Stewart had been sending out foraging parties each morning to dig up yams, unarmed except for a small guard detail. At around 8 a.m. on September 8, Captain John Coffin and a detachment of his South Carolina Loyalist cavalry were reconnoitring ahead of Stewart’s main force when he encountered a mounted American scouting party under Major John Armstrong. Coffin pursued Armstrong, who led him into an ambush. Attacked by Henry Lee’s 2nd Partisan Corps, Coffin escaped but left 4 or 5 of his men killed and 40 more captured.[8] The Americans then came across Stewart’s foragers and captured about 400 of them.[11]

Greene's force, with around 2,200 men, now approached Stewart's camp while Stewart, warned by Coffin, deployed his force.[12] When the Americans realized they were approaching the British force, they formed two lines, with the militia in the front line and the North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia regulars in the second line. The British charged the American position and broke the center of the American forces' first line. The North Carolina Continentals in the second line reinforced the first, and were temporarily successful until they too were broken by a British charge. The Virginia and Maryland regulars then came to the aid of their comrades. This attack stopped the British advance and the British began to retreat in disorder.

The Americans pursued the retreating British soldiers into the British camp, where a majority of the Americans stopped to plunder the British supplies. The tables now turned again. At the north-east corner of the camp was a strong brick house defended by a British battalion commanded by Major John Majoribanks. This battalion had driven off an earlier American cavalry attack before falling back to the house. An American assault on the house failed, and Majoribanks was able to restore order to the rest of the British force. The British forces launched a counterattack and drove the American forces from the British camp. One American battalion was able to delay the British advance sufficiently to allow the American army to retreat in good order.

The Battle of Eutaw Springs on 8 September 1781

Casualties[edit]

The British casualty return stated the loss as 85 killed, 351 wounded and 257 missing.[3] However, Greene reported that he had captured 500 prisoners, including 70 wounded.[3] When Stewart moved camp on September 9, he left 54 of his wounded behind with a surgeon to attend them.[4] These men were included in Stewart’s casualty report under the category “wounded” but the remaining 16 wounded captured by Greene would have been returned as “missing”. The disparity between Stewart’s report of 257 missing and Greene’s figure of 500 prisoners may be due to Stewart regarding the capture of his foraging party as a separate engagement and not including their losses in his casualty return for the battle.[3] Including the loss of the foraging party, and counting the 54 wounded men whom Stewart decided to leave behind on September 9 in the "wounded prisoners" category instead of as "wounded", this gives total British casualties of 85 killed, 297 wounded, 70 wounded prisoners and 430 other prisoners.

There were three successive versions of the American casualty return. The first, compiled soon after the battle, gave 251 killed, 367 wounded and 74 missing.[13] The second, compiled somewhat later and published by the Continental Congress, reduced the losses to 138 killed, 375 wounded and 41 missing.[14] The third and final revision, compiled on September 25, 1781, arrived at figures of 119 killed, 382 wounded and 78 missing.[1] The British took 60 prisoners, including the wounded Colonel William Washington, and two artillery guns.[2]

Aftermath[edit]

The claim of several historians that the British won the battle is challenged by Christine Swager in her book The Valiant Died: The Battle of Eutaw Springs September 8, 1781. The book argues that, first, at the end of the battle, the British held the majority, but not the entirety, of the field where the main battle took place. Greene held part of the field where the initial skirmish spilled out of the woods into the clearings. Swager also argues that Greene meant to re-engage the enemy on the following day, but was prevented from doing so because the excessively wet weather conditions negated much of his firepower.

Neither army left the vicinity for at least a full day following the battle. When Greene withdrew, he left a strong picket to oppose a possible British advance, while Stewart withdrew the remnants of his force towards Charleston.[15] His rear was apparently under constant fire at least until meeting with reinforcements near Moncks Corner.

Despite winning a tactical victory, the British lost strategically. Their inability to stop Greene's continuing operations forced them to abandon most of their conquests in the South, leaving them in control of a small number of isolated enclaves at Wilmington, Charleston, and Savannah. The British attempt to pacify the South with Loyalist support had failed even before Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald, later to become famous as a United Irish rebel, served as a British officer at the battle and was badly wounded.

The State Song of South Carolina contains the line "Point to Eutaw's Battle Bed" in reference to this battle.

The Eutaw Springs Battleground Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Rankin, p. 360
  2. ^ a b Adams, p. 103
  3. ^ a b c d Boatner, p. 355
  4. ^ a b Lumpkin, p. 305
  5. ^ Greene (1979), p. 93
  6. ^ Greene (1979), p. 153-156
  7. ^ Greene (1979), p. 170-172
  8. ^ a b c d Boatner (1994), 351-356
  9. ^ Heitman (1914), 77 & 108
  10. ^ Heitman (1914), 75. Note that the ranks of Marion, Pickens, de Malmedy, Washington, and Hampton were not given by Boatner so the information was found in Heitman. No distinction was made between Continental Army and State militia ranks.
  11. ^ Ward, pp. 828 and 921
  12. ^ Boatner, p. 352
  13. ^ Lumpkin, pp. 304-305
  14. ^ Virtual War Museum: Battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, 1781
  15. ^ Pancake, p. 221
  16. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 

Sources[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Morrill, Dan (1993). Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution. Nautical & Aviation Publishing. ISBN 1-877853-21-6.