The Battle of Carey’s Fort, South Carolina, in 1780

August 15, 1780

The Battle of Carey’s Fort was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain on August 15, 1780, during the American Revolutionary War. American forces won the battle, which is most famous for being part of Thomas Sumter’s campaign against British outposts in South Carolina.

Thomas Taylor, South Carolina, American Revolution, Portrait

Thomas Taylor. Image Source: Breed’s Hill Institute on Facebook.

Battle of Carey’s Fort Facts

  • Also Known As — Battle of Wateree.
  • Date — August 15, 1780.
  • Location — Kershaw County, South Carolina, south of Camden.
  • Opponents — United States of America and Great Britain.
  • American Commanders — Thomas Taylor.
  • British Commanders — James Carey.
  • Winner — The United States won the Battle of Carey’s Fort.

Key Moments

  • In late 1779, the British started their Southern Campaign and systematically took control of Georgia and South Carolina and established outposts in South Carolina to maintain control of the Backcountry.
  • In central South Carolina, Thomas Sumter gathered men and organized attacks on outposts at Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock.
  • While Sumter carried out his raids, General Horatio Gates led a larger American Army toward Camden, South Carolina.
  • On August 14, Gates sent reinforcements to Sumter, so he could carry out an attack behind the British forces at Camden.
  • Sumter sent men to attack Carey’s Fort on August 15.
  • The Americans routed the garrison, captured supplies that were en route to Camden, and occupied the fort.

Battle of Carey’s Fort Significance

The Battle of Carey’s Fort was significant because Thomas Sumter’s forces won a decisive victory and captured a significant amount of supplies. However, the victory was short-lived because Horatio Gates and his army were decimated at the Battle of Camden the next day. Sumter was forced to retreat north, leading to the Battle of Fishing Creek on August 18.

Thomas Sumter, General, American Revolutionary War, Portrait, Peale
Thomas Sumter. Image Source: Columbia Museum of Art.

Battle of Carey’s Fort Overview and History

In May 1780, American forces under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to General Henry Clinton, ending the Siege of Charleston. Afterward, Clinton sailed to New York City and left General Charles Cornwallis in command of the South. British forces spread out and occupied key locations in South Carolina, including Camden, Cheraw, Georgetown, Ninety-Six, and Rocky Mount. The line of outposts covered more than 150 miles and ran northwest from Charleston on the coast to Rocky Mount.

A handful of American Patriots remained scattered throughout the region, including a group led by Colonel Thomas Sumter. Sumter planned to attack the British outposts to disrupt their communication and supply lines.

Sumter’s Campaign

After American forces won the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation (July 12, 1780), support for the Patriot Cause grew. Volunteers joined Sumter’s ranks and he targeted the outposts at Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock.

On August 1, Sumter led the majority of his men to Rocky Mount while William Richardson Davie led 100 to Hanging Rock. Sumter intended to attack the garrison and capture the outpost, while Richardson was to create a diversion and keep the garrison at Hanging Rock from sending reinforcement to Rocky Mount.

While Richarson’s attack was successful, Sumter failed and was defeated at the Battle of Rocky Mount. He returned to his camp, regrouped, and marched to Hanging Rock to join Davie.

Meanwhile, General Horatio Gates led his American Army into South Carolina and marched toward Camden. After Charleston fell, Congress placed Gates in command of the Southern Department. 

On August 6, Sumter and Davie launched another attack on the Loyalists at Hanging Rock. Although the Loyalists were able to maintain possession of the outpost, Sumer and his men inflicted heavy casualties and seized supplies.

Gates Approaches Camden

Meanwhile, Gates continued to march deeper into South Carolina, toward Camden. On August 7, he joined with Major General Richard Caswell, who was leading 1,200 men from the North Carolina Militia. 

On August 10, Gates attacked British forces at Little Lynches Creek. Unable to dislodge the British, who were led by Lieutenant Colonel Francis Rawdon, Gates decided to march two miles away and cross the creek at another location, forcing Rawdon to withdraw to Camden.

General Horatio Gates, Portrait, Stuart
Horatio Gates. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Gates Coordinates with Sumter

Two days later, on August 12, Sumter sent a message to 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 Lacey, and Lieutenant Colonel James Hawthorn to Carey’s Fort at Wateree Ferry to see if they could capture it. The fort was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Carey. The garrison consisted of 37 Loyalists and they were guarding the ferry crossing.

As Taylor and the Americans made their way to Carey’s Fort, a continent of 70 Highlanders from the 71st Regiment were traveling from Ninety-Six to Camden. They were heading to Carey’s Fort so they could cross at Wateree Ferry.

Taylor and his men attacked Carey’s Fort on the morning of August 15 and took them by surprise. Most of Carey’s men were sleeping and were quickly taken as prisoners. The Americans also captured 36 wagons full of supplies.

While questioning the prisoners, Taylor found out the Highlanders were on their way. Taylor and his men were not wearing uniforms, so Taylor set up a trap. When the Highlanders arrived, they mistook Taylor’s men for the Loyalists and easily captured the entire contingent, along with a large number of wagons loaded with supplies. The exact number is unclear, somewhere between 36 and 56. Taylor also captured a herd of cattle.

Battle of Carey's Fort, 1780, Map
This map shows the location of the Wateree Ferry, which was near Carey’s Fort. Image Source: The Revolutionary War in the Southern Back Country by James K. Swisher, 2008.

Battle of Carey’s Fort Aftermath

With Carey’s Fort under the control of Taylor and his men, Sumter marched there with the rest of his army and occupied the fort. However, the stay was short-lived. 

According to some accounts, Sumter and his men occupied the fort until the next day, when they heard the sounds of battle coming from Camden. However, others indicate Sumter and his men gathered the wagons and prisoners and started marching north to join Gates. Because of the large number of wagons, they moved slowly.

Regardless, the next day, Gates was soundly defeated at the Battle of Camden, and his army was nearly decimated. Gates and other survivors fled north to Charlotte. At that point, Sumter was leading the largest Patriot force left in South Carolina and General Charles Cornwallis wanted him subdued.

When Cornwallis found out where Sumter was, he sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and the British Legion after him, leading to the Battle of Fishing Creek (August 18, 1780).

Banastre Tarleton, British Legion, American Revolution, Portrait, Reynolds
Banastre Tarleton. Image Source: The National Gallery.

Battle of Carey’s Fort Casualties

The total number of casualties is unclear, but it is believed at least seven Loyalists were killed in the brief battle. According to Sumter, the Americans also took at least 70 men as prisoners.

Battle of Carey’s Fort Outcome

The outcome of the Battle of Carey’s Fort was an American victory. However, the defeat at Camden the next day forced Sumter to give up the fort and move north to try to escape British forces.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Battle of Carey’s Fort, South Carolina, in 1780
  • Date August 15, 1780
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Carey’s Fort, Battle of Wateree Ferry, Thomas Taylor, Edward Lacy, James Hawthorn, Carey's Fort, Wateree River, Thomas Sumter, Camden Campaign
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date February 27, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 26, 2024

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