The Battle of Camden, South Carolina, in 1780

August 16, 1780 — Key Battle of the American Revolutionary War

The Battle of Camden was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain on August 16, 1780, during the American Revolutionary War. The British won the battle, which was one of the worst losses of the war for American forces. In the aftermath, British forces were in complete control of South Carolina and prepared to invade North Carolina.

Battle of Camden, 1780, Attack on De Kalb

This illustration depicts the attack on General Johann de Kalb during the Battle of Camden. From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South by Henry Lumpkin, 1981.

Battle of Camden Facts

  • Date — August 16, 1780.
  • Location — Camden, South Carolina.
  • Opponents — United States of America and Great Britain.
  • American CommandersHoratio Gates, Johann de Kalb, Edward Stevens, Otho Holland Williams, Charles Armand.
  • British CommandersCharles Cornwallis, James Webster, Francis Rawdon, Banastre Tarleton.
  • Winner — Great Britain won the Battle of Camden.

Key Moments

  • In late 1779, the British started their Southern Campaign and systematically took control of Georgia and South Carolina.
  • Congress sent Horatio Gates to take command of the Southern Department. 
  • Gates gathered an army of 4,000 men but was stubborn and refused advice from his staff and officers who were familiar with the terrain.
  • Gates marched from North Carolina into South Carolina and threatened British outposts, including Lynches Creek.
  • Cornwallis responded by assembling an army and marching to Camden to engage Gates.
  • Both armies moved toward each other on the night of August 15.
  • In the early morning hours of August 16, the advance parties came into contact with each other and a skirmish ensured.
  • Cornwallis and Gates pulled back and prepared to do battle at daybreak.
  • The battle opened with artillery fire, but Gates made a critical mistake by placing his inexperienced militia forces across from the best British soldiers.
  • The Americans were routed and Gates and some other officers fled with the militia.
General Horatio Gates, Portrait, Stuart
General Horatio Gates. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Battle of Camden Significance

The Battle of Camden was one of the most important events of the American Revolutionary War. Although it ended in disaster for the Americans, it gave the British confidence to initiate an invasion of North Carolina. Congress responded by placing General Nathanael Greene in charge of the American Army in the South. Meanwhile, Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion, and the Overmountain Men continued to harass the British for the next two months, leading to the Battle of Kings Mountain in October.

Battle of Camden Overview and History

On August 16, 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Camden took place with disastrous results for the army, which was led by Major General Horatio Gates. Up to that point Gates, who was known as the “Hero of Saratoga.” However, he made tactical errors at Camden and fled the battlefield, earning him another nickname — “The Coward of Camden” (see Common Questions About Horatio Gates).

Disaster at Charleston

In May 1780, General Benjamin Lincoln was forced to surrender Charleston to British forces under the command of General Henry Clinton. The defeat at Charleston was the worst of the war for American forces. 

The British took more than 5,000 Americans as prisoners, including 2,500 soldiers from the Continental Army. Many of these prisoners were kept on prison ships and did not survive the terrible conditions. The others were paroled and agreed they would not take up arms against the King or the British Army for the remainder of the war.

Clinton Leaves Cornwallis in Command

Soon after, Clinton returned to New York, leaving General Charles Cornwallis in command of British forces in the Southern Theater. Clinton left Cornwallis with orders to subdue the rest of South Carolina and then move north to take control of North Carolina and Virginia. 

Charles Cornwallis, Portrait
General Charles Cornwallis.

Clinton Alters the Terms of Parole

Clinton and other British officials believed there were many Loyalists in the South who were willing to join their ranks. However, Loyalists did not volunteer as expected, so Clinton decided to require former American troops to fight for the Crown.

After he left Charleston, Clinton issued a proclamation that altered the terms of parole for the Americans who were taken prisoner after the Siege of Charleston. The proclamation required them to swear an Oath of Loyalty to the King and agree to serve the British when asked to do so.

The proclamation backfired on Clinton and reinvigorated American resistance in the South. Many Americans refused to take up arms for the British, and actively worked against Cornwallis as he tried to maintain control of South Carolina and expand his reach into North Carolina and Virginia.

Congress Puts Gates in Command of the Southern Department

On June 13, Congress placed Major General Horatio Gates in command of the Southern Department. General George Washington disagreed with the appointment, instead preferring Nathanael Greene. Washington trusted Greene, but not Gates.

British Outposts in South Carolina

Meanwhile, Cornwallis was facing challenges of his own. He had around 8,300 men under his command in the Southern Theater, however, many of them were sick and unfit for battle. This made it difficult for him to determine how to protect the territory in Georgia and South Carolina that had been reclaimed during the British Southern Campaign.

Before Cornwallis moved into North Carolina, he established a base at Camden, along with outposts at Hanging Rock, Rocky Mount, and Cheraw. Camden was also being used as a hospital for 800 wounded British troops. 

Adding to the logistical problems he was facing, Cornwallis knew that if the Americans attacked Camden, he would have to find a way to move the wounded men.

Gates Gathers His “Grand Army”

Around June 13, Gates rode south to North Carolina. He arrived in North Carolina on July 25 and joined General Johann de Kalb at his camp at Coxe’s Mill. 

De Kalb had roughly 1,200 men under his command. Most of them were Continental Soldiers from Maryland and Delaware. These soldiers are widely recognized as some of the best American soldiers of the war. They had been marching to Charleston when the city fell and remained in North Carolina. By the time Gates arrived, they were exhausted, poorly equipped, and low on supplies.

Charles Armand was also with de Kalb, along with the remnants of Pulaski’s Legion, around 120 men, which was now known as Armand’s Legion. Their former leader, Casimir Pulaski, had been mortally wounded during the Siege of Savannah (September 16–October 18, 1779).

Gates referred to the army as his “Grand Army.”

Battle of Camden, 1780, Delaware Continentals
This painting depicts the Delaware Continentals during the Battle of Camden. Image Source: The Delaware Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Sumter’s Report

Before Gates arrived in the South, General Thomas Sumter gathered a force of South Carolina militia and carried out raids on British supply lines. Sumter sent Gates a report that provided details of the British outposts and how many men were at each position.

The Plan to Attack Camden

It is likely that Gates used the information from Sumter to decide to attack the British garrison at Camden, which was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Rawdon. 

Gates expected Cornwallis would remain in Charleston, so he wanted to force the British out of Camden and other outposts and push them to Charleson. 

He ordered his men to be ready to march right away. The order surprised the officers, who were unsure the army was in condition to engage the British.

The Route to Camden

There was also a debate about which route to take to Camden. Officers from the area suggested an indirect path that would avoid the swamps and treacherous terrain and take the army through territory that supported the Patriot Cause. 

The route was about 50 miles longer and would take more time to reach Camden, but it would be an easier march, and food and supplies would be available. 

However, Gates confidently assured everyone that supplies, including food and rum, were on the way. He decided to take a direct route to Camden — which took the army through swamps and territory populated with Loyalists, so he could attack as soon as possible.

Washington and White

While Gates was making preparations, Colonel William Washington and Colonel Anthony White were busy trying to recruit men to replenish their cavalry units, which had been decimated at the Battle of Monck’s Corner (April 14, 1780) and the Battle of Lenud’s Ferry (May 6, 1780)

Washington and White asked Gates for help, so they could rebuild their cavalry companies and join his army. However, Gates declined and made it clear he did not think the cavalry could effectively operate in the Southern Theater.

The March to Camden Begins

Gates and his army left North Carolina on July 27 and headed toward Camden. Even with the direct route, it was a 120-mile march that was expected to take two weeks.

During the march, the food and supplies Gates had promised never arrived. The men resorted to eating unripe apples and peaches from trees. When the men complained, Gates insisted they would find corn when they marched along the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. While Gates was correct, the corn, like the apples and peaches, was green and not ready to eat, leading many of the men to become sick.

Rawdon Warns Cornwallis

Rawdon sent messages to Cornwallis that estimated an American force of 7,000 troops was threatening the British outposts, including Camden. 

Despite the threat, Rawdon was hesitant to withdraw the garrisons from Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock. Rawdon believed that if he left the outposts undefended, Sumter would be able to cut off his communication line with Charleston and attack more outposts.

August 1 — Battle of Rocky Mount

On August 1, Rawdon’s concerns about the safety of the outposts became a reality when Sumter attacked Rocky Mount. However, the attack failed, and the garrison, which was made up of Loyalists under the command of George Turnbull, held the outpost. Sumter withdrew and returned to his camp.

Porterfield Joins Gates

Gates and his army crossed the Pee Dee River and were joined by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Porterfield and 100 Virginians on August 3. Porterfield and his men had managed to escape capture at Charleston and in the months following the British occupation of South Carolina. 

Francis Marion Arrives

The next day, August 4, Colonel Francis Marion and 20 men rode into the American camp. Gates and his officers were amused by the appearance of Marion and his men, who were quickly sent to scout the British movements. Regarding Marion and his men, Colonel Otho Holland Williams said:

“Colonel Marion, a gentleman of South Carolina, had been with the army a few days, attended to by a very few followers, distinguished by small black leather caps and the wretchedness of their attire; their number did not exceed twenty men and boys, some white, some black, and all mounted, but most of them miserably equipped; their appearance was in fact so burlesque that it was with much difficulty the diversion of the regular soldiery was restrained by the officers; and the general himself was glad of an opportunity of detaching Colonel Marion, at his own instance, towards the interior of South Carolina, with orders to watch the motions of the enemy and furnish intelligence.”

Gates also instructed Marion to:

  • Inform the people of South Carolina that Gates would protect them from “barbarity and devastation.”
  • Seize boats along the banks of the Santee River so the British could not use them to retreat after they were defeated in battle by Gates.
Otho Holland Williams, American Revolution, Portrait, Egeli
Otho Holland Williams. Image Source: Maryland State House.

Caswell and the North Carolina Militia

At this juncture, Gates was supposed to be joined by Major General Richard Caswell, who was leading 1,200 men from the North Carolina Militia in attacks on Loyalist forces. However, Caswell did not arrive.

August 5

On August 5, Gates received a message from Caswell, reporting he intended to attack the British outpost at Lynches Creek. Caswell asked Gates to provide support and then agreed he would merge his command with Gates. 

August 6 — Battle of Hanging Rock

On August 6, Sumter led his forces to victory at the Battle of Hanging Rock. He attacked the British outpost and inflicted heavy casualties on the British garrison. 

When word reached Rawdon that Sumter had attacked Hanging Rock, he believed the Americans had captured the outpost, but that was not the case. 

Rawdon gathered a small force and marched to Lynches Creek to help defend the outpost.

August 7

Gates joined with Caswell, which increased the number of militia under Gates’ command to 2,100. The next day, Gates marched to the bridge over Little Lynches Creek, which was about 15 miles north of Camden.

Battle of Lynches Creek

On August 10, Gates approached Little Lynches Creek and found Rawdon was blocking the approach. Rawdon had positioned with the Volunteers of Ireland, the 33rd Regiment, the 23rd Regiment of Welsh Fusiliers, and the 71st Regiment.

Royal Welsh Fusiliers, British Army, American Revolutionary War, Troiani
Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Image Source: Don Troiani’s Soldiers of the American Revolution by Don Troiani, 2007.

Rawdon was outnumbered four to one, and he hoped to slow the American advance long enough for reinforcements to arrive from Charleston. Further, he preferred to engage Gates at Lynches Creek instead of Camden. If Gates took Camden, it would allow him to capture a significant amount of British supplies.

The battle started with a skirmish between Armand’s Legion and British sentries. Armand and his men were pushed back and Gates decided he did not want to launch a frontal assault.

Instead, the Americans fired on the British with rifles from long range, but it had little impact and failed to push the British from their positions. 

After waiting for two days, Gates decided to break off the engagement and crossed Lynches Creek in broad daylight. When Rawdon saw what was happening, he ordered a withdrawal and returned to Camden.

General Charles Armand, American Revolution, Portrait, Peale
Charles Armand. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Gates Takes Sumter’s Advice

On August 12, Sumter sent a message to General Gates, suggesting they work together to take Camden. Sumter recommended sending a contingent behind Camden to disrupt the British supply route and block their anticipated retreat toward Charleston.

On August 14, as his army reached Rugeley’s Mill, approximately 12 miles from Camden, Gates followed Sumter’s advice. He sent Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Woolford, 100 Maryland Continentals, a company of artillery equipped with two guns, and 300 North Carolina militia to reinforce Sumter.

The next day, Sumter sent Colonel Thomas Taylor, Colonel Edward Lacy, and Lieutenant Colonel James Hawthorn to Cary’s Fort at Wateree Ferry to see if they could capture it. The Americans surprised the garrison and captured the Loyalist militia and their supplies, gaining victory at the Battle of Carey’s Fort.

The American Camp at Rugeley’s Mill 

On August 14, General Edward Stevens and 700 men from the Virginia Militia joined Gates at Rugeley’s Mill. At this point, Gates had roughly 4,100 men under his command, including:

  • 900 from De Kalb’s Delaware and Maryland Continentals. This included Brigadier General William Smallwood and his Maryland 1st Brigade and Brigadier General Mordecai Gist and his Maryland 2nd Brigade
  • 120 mounted and foot troops belonging to Armand’s Legion.
  • 100 Virginia light infantry under Porterfield.
  • 100 men along with six guns from Colonel Charles Harrison’s Virginia artillery.
  • 1,800 North Carolina Militia, and about 70 volunteer horsemen

However, Gates mistakenly believed he had 7,000 men under his command, even though some of his officers tried to convince him otherwise. In fact, Otho Williams told Gates there were only 3,000 men fit for combat. Gates told Williams it would be enough to accomplish his goals.

Mordecai Gist, American Revolution, Portrait, Egeli
Mordecai Gist. Image Source: Maryland State House.

Cornwallis Responds to the Threat to Camden

When Cornwallis was informed that Gates was on the move, he assembled his army. On August 9, he left Charleston and arrived at Camden on August 13. While Cornwallis marched to Camden, Rawdon received reinforcements when four light infantry companies arrived from the garrison at Ninety Six. It is estimated that Cornwallis had a little more than 2,100 men under his command at Camden. 

However, due to erroneous reports, Cornwallis believed Gates had 7,000 men. If true, he was outnumbered three to one. However, he knew if he withdrew from Camden he would need to evacuate the 800 wounded soldiers at the hospital. It would also cost him most of Georgia and South Carolina, although he would be able to hold Savannah and Charleston.

Cornwallis also had Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. By then Tarleton was known to the Americans as “Bloody Ban” for his brutal tactics that led to significant American casualties at Monck’s Corner, Lenud’s Ferry, and the Battle of Waxhaws (May 29, 1780).

Banastre Tarleton. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Gates Marches to Camden

Gates met with his officers on August 15 and informed them he planned to march to Saunders Creek that night, which would put his army about five and a half miles north of Camden. 

The officers were surprised by the announcement, and some of them vocally opposed the plan. However, Gates insisted on undertaking the march, which was planned to start at 10:00 p.m. Charles Armand was instructed to lead the march with his cavalry.

During the day, the army made preparations to march. As part of the process, they were served a final meal. Unfortunately, the meal played a key role in the ability of the men to fight. A typical meal would have included rum, but none had arrived, so Gates had molasses distributed to the men instead. Otho Williams recalled:

“The troops of Gen. Gates’ army had frequently felt the consequence of eating bad provisions, but at this time a hasty meal of quick baked bread and fresh meat, with a dessert of molasses mixed with mush or dumplings, operated so cathartically as to disorder very many of the men, who were breaking the ranks all night, and were certainly much debilitated before the action commenced in the morning.”

The Americans marched away from Rugeley’s Mill around 10:00, with Armand’s cavalry leading the way. The rest of the column was arranged as follows:

  1. Porterfield and the Virginia troops marched on one side of the cavalry.
  2. John Armstrong and his North Carolina Militia marched on the other side of the cavalry.
  3. An advance guard, made up of the infantry.
  4. The Maryland and Delaware Continentals.
  5. Caswell and his North Carolina Militia.
  6. Edward Stevens and the Virginia Militia.
  7. The baggage train, carrying supplies.

The night was warm, which likely did not help any of the men with upset stomachs. However, there was a full moon, which provided enough light for everyone to see.

Cornwallis Marches to Rugeley’s Mill

On the afternoon of the 15th, Cornwallis sent Tarleton out to scout the position of the American army. Tarleton came across an American patrol and took three prisoners. Cornwallis questioned the prisoners, who told him that Gates planned to march at 10:00.

With that knowledge, Cornwallis decided to surprise Gates. He planned to march at 10:00, move to Rugeley’s Mill, and attack Gates. Tarleton and the British Legion led the British column.

The Meeting Engagement at Parker’s Old Field

Around 2:30 a.m. on August 16, the lead elements of the two armies — Armand’s Legion and the British Legion — stumbled into each other at a place called Parker’s Old Field.

When the British Legion saw Armand’s Legion in the moonlight, they called out to them. Almost right away, Porterfield’s infantry came into sight. Armand, realizing it was the British ahead of him on the road, asked Porterfield if he should attack. Porterfield said he should, but by the time Armand gave the order, Tarleton and the British Legion were already charging toward the Americans.

Armand and his men held their ground and fired on the British and then drew their swords and charged ahead. The American infantry moved up and fired on the British from both sides as they engaged Armand’s Legion.

Realizing they were caught in a crossfire, the British Legion fell back. The skirmish lasted for about 15-20 minutes. Porterfield was seriously wounded in the knee and had to be removed from the field while the fight carried on.

This brief skirmish is referred to as the “Meeting Engagement.”

Gates and Cornwallis Respond to the Skirmish

A message was sent to Gates, informing him of the skirmish and that Cornwallis was not at Camden. Gates responded by pulling the army back and taking up defensive positions on both sides of the Waxhaw Road.

When Cornwallis was notified, he sent Rawdon ahead to investigate. Rawdon did as he was told and reported to Cornwallis that he found a dead American on the road, wearing a Continental uniform. Rawdon also told Cornwallis the area was favorable for a battle. Cornwallis decided to stop his advance and prepare to attack in the morning.

Gates Holds a War Council

Gates called his officers together and surprised them once again by asking, “Gentlemen, what is best to be done?” Up to that point, Gates had essentially ignored their advice. 

According to accounts of the meeting, there was a moment of uncomfortable silence. Then General Stevens asked, “Gentlemen, is it not too late now to do any thing but fight?”

With that, Gates and his officers proceeded to devise a plan to engage the British.

The Battlefield at Camden

The area where the two armies were located was full of stretches of sandy soil, tall pine trees, and swamps. There were swamps on both sides of the British Army, which narrowed the area of their approach to about 1,200 yards.

The ground the Americans were on was slightly elevated. On the other hand, the British were surrounded by swamps, including Gum Swamp Creek at their rear. Cornwallis was aware of his position, and he also still believed Gates had 7,000 men and outnumbered him three to one.

Organization of the Armies at the Battle of Camden and Gates’ Tactical Error

The battle’s outcome was significantly influenced by the way Cornwallis and Gates arranged their forces. Cornwallis deployed his forces in a line that ran perpendicular to the road. The road ran north to south, and the British line ran east to west. 

Gates made a tactical error by mirroring the same formation as Cornwallis — both put their best soldiers on their right.

On the British right, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Webster, Cornwallis positioned the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the Volunteers of Ireland — Irish defectors from the American army — and the battle-hardened North Carolina Loyalist Militia. 

Across from them, on the left of the American line, Gates placed the inexperienced militia forces from Virginia and North Carolina. The left was under the command of General Edward Stevens.

Placing the militia on his left was a tactical error. Gates should have put his most experienced men — the Mayland and Delaware Continentals — across from the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Instead, Gates placed General Mordecai Gist and the Continentals on his right side, which was under the command of General de Kalb.

On his left, across from the American Continentals, Cornwallis had Lieutenant Colonel Francis Rawdon-Hastings and the 71st Highlanders. They were supported by Tarleton and his British Legion, a mixed force of dragoons and light infantry.

Gates also kept roughly half of his Continentals in reserve.

The Battle of Camden Begins on the American Left

It took around two hours for the two armies to assemble their lines. While they did this, small skirmishes broke out across the battlefield. 

Gates took his command position several hundred yards behind his line and waited for Cornwallis to make a move. Accounts indicate that Gates did very little to command his men during the battle, leaving it to Colonel Otho Williams and a handful of other officers who were on the field.

Williams was scouting the British movements when he saw the British marching toward them. He went to Captain Anthony Singleton who was with the Maryland Continental Artillery. Singleton told Williams the British were about 200 yards away. At that point, Williams gave the order for the artillery to open fire, starting the battle of Camden.

Williams returned to where Gates was while the British returned fire with their artillery, covering the battlefield in thick smoke. At that point, Williams saw an opportunity. 

On the left of the American line, General Stevens and the Virginia Militia were in formation and ready to attack. However, the British forces across from them were still moving into attack formation. 

Williams suggested Stevens should take advantage and attack, saying, “…the effect might be fortunate, and first impressions were important.” 

Gates responded by saying, “That’s right, let it be done.”

Stevens and the Virginia Militia received the order to move forward. The 1st Mayland Brigade was also ordered to move forward to provide support for Stevens. However, Stevens was too late, and the British line was advancing.

As the Royal Welch Fusiliers opened fire and moved toward the Virginia Militia. The militiamen panicked and fled from the field. Many of them dropped their weapons without taking a single shot. 

Williams responded by gathering a group of volunteers, somewhere between 40 and 90, from the reserves and moving in to provide support for the militia, however, it was to no avail. Within moments, the left side of the American line collapsed.

The Virginians fled, followed by most of the North Carolina Militia. Otho Williams said:

“The unworthy example of the Virginians was almost instantly followed by the North Carolinians; only a small part of the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Gregory made a short pause. A part of Dixon’s regiment of that brigade, next in the line of the Second Maryland Brigade, fired two or three rounds of cartridge. But a great majority of the militia (at least two thirds of the army) fled without firing a shot. The writer avers it of his own knowledge, having seen and observed every part of the army, from left to right, during the action.”

The 1st Maryland Brigade also broke as the militia ran by them. Some of them reformed, but others including their commanding officer, General William Smallwood, were nowhere to be found.

William Smallwood, General, American Revolution, Portrait, Peale
William Smallwood. Image Source: Maryland State House.

The Battle of Camden Continues on the American Right

As the left side of the American Line fell apart, Rawdon moved forward with his men toward General de Kalb and his men. Rawdon was quickly joined by Webster and the Royal Welch Fusiliers, who shifted in his direction after the American militia fled.

De Kalb and the Continentals were able to hold their positions at first. However, they were attacked on the front and on both sides. De Kalb called up the reserves and Williams took command of what was left of the 1st Maryland Regiment. Williams led them into the battle and tried to support the 2nd Maryland Regiment, which was exposed to an attack from the side. Williams tried to move next to the 2nd Maryland, but Cornwallis responded by sending Webster to attack. This move eventually overwhelmed the Maryland brigades and forced them to withdraw.

The Battle of Camden Ends

The final blow to de Kalb’s forces came when the British Legion attacked from the rear, led by Tarleton, and the right, led by Major George Hangar. De Kalb tried to organize a counter-attack, but he was knocked from his horse, suffered multiple wounds, and was captured.

Battle of Camden, 1780, Historical Marker, HMDB
Battle of Camden historical marker. Image Source: Historical Marker Database.

Battle of Camden Outcome

The outcome of the Battle of Camden was a significant victory for the British and a resounding defeat for the Americans. The victory left the British firmly in control of Georgia and South Carolina. 

There was very little organized American resistance in the Southern Colonies. Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion were still operating in South Carolina. Further west, the Overmountain Men were led by John Sevier, Isaac Shelby, and others.

Cornwallis prepared to invade North Carolina, sent Banastre Tarleton after Sumter and Marion, and sent Major Patrick Ferguson west to recruit Loyalists and deal with the Overmountain Men.

Francis Marion. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The American Retreat and British Pursuit

With Gates and other officers nowhere to be found, the American retreat was chaotic and disorganized.

Only a small number of Maryland and Delaware Continentals escaped the battle. 

Four officers from Maryland — Major Archibald Anderson, Colonel John Gunby, Lieutenant Colonel John Howard, and Captain Henry Dobson — along with Captain Robert Kirkwood of Delaware, gathered roughly 60 men and retreated together.

The American survivors fled north with Tarleton and the British Legion in pursuit.

At Rugeley’s Mill, Tarleton encountered Armand and some others, who were protecting the American supply wagons as they made their escape. Tarleton and his men were able to get by Armand and continued their pursuit of the remnants of the American Army.

By the time Tarleton and his men reached Hanging Rock, they were exhausted, and so were their horses. Tarleton called off the chase and ordered his men back to Rugeley’s Mill.

Gates Flees to Hillsboro, North Carolina

Soon after the left of the American Line collapsed, Gates called for a horse, mounted it, and galloped away. Gates was not the only officer to disappear from the field, Smallwood and General Richard Caswell were also nowhere to be found after the American Line collapsed.

According to some accounts, he fled to Charlotte, 60 miles away, stayed there overnight, and then continued to Hillsboro, where he arrived on August 19 — some 200 miles away from the Camden battlefield.

Other accounts, which are more detailed and forgiving, indicate Gates led some of the survivors to Charlotte, where they were eventually joined by Smallwood, Mordecai Gist, remnants of Armand’s Legion, and others. From there, Gates led them, along with 300 Catawba warriors and survivors from other battles to Hillsboro.

Regardless, he left the battle and did not oversee the retreat. However, upon reaching Hillsboro, he did work to reassemble the American Army.

When Washington and Congress learned of the loss at Camden, General Nathanael Greene was appointed to replace Gates. Gates returned to his home in Virginia while Congress investigated his conduct at Camden. Gates never returned to the army after Camden.

General Nathanael Greene, Portrait, Illustration
Nathanael Greene. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Casualties at the Battle of Camden

Gates’ “grand army” was decimated, suffering nearly 2,000 casualties, including 800-900 men killed, including General de Kalb, who succumbed to his wounds three days after the battle. 

The day de Kalb died, approximately 700 American survivors arrived at Hillsboro, North Carolina. Another 1,000 Americans were taken as prisoners.

In contrast, the British reported fewer casualties, with only 68 dead, approximately 245 wounded, and 11 missing.

Battle of Camden APUSH Review

The Battle of Camden is part of APUSH Unit 3 (1754–1800). Use the following links and videos to study Colonial America, the American Revolution, and the American Revolutionary War for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Battle of Camden APUSH Definition

The definition of the Battle of Camden for APUSH is a significant engagement between British forces, led by General Charles Cornwallis, and American troops under General Horatio Gates. The battle took place near Camden, South Carolina. Unfortunately for the American side, it resulted in a decisive British victory. The battle’s outcome had a demoralizing effect on the American forces and temporarily stalled the Southern Campaign. However, it also marked a turning point, leading to the eventual success of American forces in the South under the leadership of Nathanael Greene and Francis Marion.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Battle of Camden, South Carolina, in 1780
  • Date August 16, 1780
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Camden, American Revolutionary War, British Southern Campaign, Horatio Gates, Johann de Kalb, Edward Stevens, Otho Holland Williams, Charles Armand, Charles Cornwallis, James Webster, Francis Rawdon, Banastre Tarleton
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 22, 2024

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