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They Were There:

March 2023
3min read

“… the rich prize within our grasp was lost…”

Major General Nathanael Greene, Continental Army:

We crossed the river at Howell’s Ferry, and took post at Motte’s plantation. Here I got intelligence that the [British] army had halted at the Eutaw Springs, about 40 miles below us, and that they had a reinforcement, and were making preparations to establish a permanent post there. To prevent this, I determined rather to hazard an action, notwithstanding our numbers were greatly inferior to theirs. On the 5th we began our march. … We moved by slow and easy marches, as well to disguise our real intention as to give General Marion an opportunity to join us. … [He] joined us on the evening of the 7th, at Burdell’s plantation, 7 miles from the enemy’s camp.

We made the following disposition and marched at 4 o’clock the next morning, to attack the enemy. Our front was composed of four small battalions of militia, two of North and two of South Carolina. One of the latter was under the immediate command of General Marion … who also commanded the front line. … Our second line consisted of three small brigades of Continental troops, one from North Carolina, one from Virginia and one from Maryland. …

Lieutenant Colonel Lee with his Legion covered our right flank, and … Lieutenant-Colonel Washington, with his horse and the Delaware troops … formed a corps-dereserve.…

… In this order we moved onto the attack. The Legion and State troops fell in with a party of the enemy’s horse and foot about four miles from their camp, who mistaking our people for a party of militia, charged them briskly, but were soon convinced of their mistake by the reception they met with; the infantry of the State troops kept up a heavy hre, and the Legion in front … charged them with fixed bayonets; they fled on all sides, leaving four or five dead on the ground, and several more wounded. As this was supposed to be the advance of the British army, our front line was ordered to form and move on briskly in line, the Legion and State troops to take their position upon the flanks.

All the country is covered with timber, from the place the action began to the Eutaw Springs. The firing began again between two and three miles from the British camp. The militia were ordered to keep advancing as they fired. The enemy’s advanced parties were soon driven in, and a most tremendous fire began on both sides, from right to left, and the Legion and State troops were closely engaged. … The militia fought with a degree of spirit and firmness that reflects the highest honor on this class of soldiers. But the enemy’s fire being greatly superior to ours, and continuing to advance, the militia began to give ground. The North Carolina brigade under General [Jethro] Sumner was ordered up to their support. These were all new levies, and had been under discipline little more than a month; notwithstanding which they fought with a degree of obstinacy that would do honor to the best of veterans; and I could hardly tell which to admire most, the gallantry of the officers or the bravery of the troops. They kept up a heavy and well-directed fire, and the enemy returned it with equal spirit, for they really fought with a degree of courage worthy of a better cause; and great execution was done on both sides. … The enemy were routed in all quarters. Lieutenant-Colonel Lee had, with great address, gallantry and good conduct, turned the enemy’s left flank and was charging them in rear at the same time the Virginia and Maryland troops were charging them in front.

Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee, Continental Army:

The conquering troops pressed the advantage they had gained, pursuing the foe, and possessed themselves of his camp, which was yielded without a struggle. Washington promptly advanced … to gain the rear of Majoribanks [ sic ]. … As he drew near to the enemy, he found the ground thickly set with black jack, and almost impervious to horse. Deranging as was this unlooked for obstacle, Washington with his dauntless cavalry forced his way, notwithstanding the murderous discharge of the enemy, safe behind his covert. Human courage could not surmount the obstruction which interposed, or this gallant officer with his intrepid corps would have triumphed. …

… Majoribanks, although victorious, fell back to cover his flying comrades; and … [the enemy] judiciously took possession of the brick house. …

General Greene brought up all his artillery against the house, hoping to effect a breach, through which he was determined to force his way … [but] the weight of our metal … [was] too light to effect a breach.

This intermission gave Stuart time to restore his broken line, which being accomplished, he instantly advanced, and the action was renewed. It soon terminated in the enemy’s repossession of his camp, followed by our retreat. …

Satisfied with these advantages, colonel Stuart did not advance further; and general Greene … drew off; persuaded that he had recovered the country. …

The conclusion of this battle was as unexpected to both armies as it was mortifying to ours. The splendor which its beginning and progress had shed upon our arms became obscured, and the rich prize within our grasp was lost. …

The honor of the day was claimed by both sides, while the benefits flowing from it were by both yielded to the Americans: the first belonged to neither and the last to us.

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