August 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 5
Ninth in a series of paintings for AMERICAN HERITAGE
All through the spring and summer of 1781 Major General Nathanael Greene had fought his way through the Garolinas, never quite winning a battle but always hurting the British more than they hurt him. When Greene had started his campaign, British posts had stretched across hundreds of miles. Now, in late summer, they had melted away under Greene’s persistent attacks, and the enemy had sure control only in the area around Gharleston.
On the morning of September 8 British Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stuart, along with two thousand tough and able troops, was camped in a handsome North Carolina plantation near the twin sources of a river called Eutaw Creek. Greene advanced on Stuart’s camp with about twenty-two hundred men, most of them tested Continental soldiers every bit as resilient as Stuart’s regulars. Marching with Greene and in charge of the North and South Carolina militia as well as his own brigade was Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox,” who had agreed to use his guerrilla fighters as line troops in the coming action.
Stuart got wind of the impending attack and sent out a detachment under the Tory Major John Coffin to investigate. Coffin came up against some mounted North Carolinians and, behind them, the superb troopers of “Light-Horse Harry” Lee. Scorning the abilities of the rebels, Coffin attacked; his forces were cut to pieces and retreated, bearing with them the news of Greene’s approach. Stuart quickly formed a line, and the Americans went forward against it. Greene had militia in his front line, but they fought like veterans, getting off seventeen volleys against the massed British musketry. At last the militia broke; hut Grcene sent in North Carolina Continentals, who, with less than a month’s training behind them, managed to patch tip the line and check the advance. They were finally dislodged by a British attack, which in turn was broken after savage hand-to-hand fighting by sturdy Maryland and Virginia troops.
The British line dissolved, and it seemed that the day was Greene s. Bm the anchor of the British right Hank, three hundred regulars under the brave and gifted Major John Marjoribanks, stood their ground and shot down half of Colonel William Washington’s cavalry when it tried to dislodge (hem. At the same time Grccnc’s troops, pursuing the fleeing enemy, got into the British camp and there fell upon supplies of liquor. The attack disintegrated as they plundered the tents and swilled down the rum. The British occupied the plan tation house while Marjoribanks, seixing the moment, charged from his position and, in an attack that cost him his life, drove off the rebels.
Greene might still have attacked and won, but victory would have been too expensive. So, as at Guilford Court House [see A MERICAN H ERITAGE , June, 1973, he withdrew, leaving the field to Stuart, whose men had suffered the highest percentage of losses of any force in the war. They lost some seven hundred men, as opposed to about five hundred American casualties.
This blistering action, stubbornly fought on both sides, was the last major battle of the war in the South. Yorktown was now little more than a month away.