Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Retreat of Cornwallis, October 1780

From The History of the Origins, Progress and Termination of the American War, by Charles Stedman, self-published, London, 1794:

    On the fourteenth of October, which was as soon after lord Cornwallis received certain intelligence of the loss of Ferguson's detachment as the army could be put in motion, he began his march back to South Carolina. Nearly about this time lord Cornwallis fell sick, and continued ill for some time; the command devolved on lord Rawdon. In this retreat the king's troops suffered much, encountering the greatest difficulties; the soldiers had no tents; it rained for several days without intermission; the roads were over their shoes in water and mud. At night, when the army took up its ground, it encamped in the woods, in a most unhealthy climate; for many days without rum. Sometimes the army had beef, and no bread; at other times bread and no beef. For five days it was supported upon Indian corn, which was collected as it stood in the field, five ears of which were the allowance for two soldiers for twenty-four hours. They were to cook it as they could, which was generally done by parching it before the fire. In riding through the encampment of the [Loyalist] militia, the Author discovered them grating their corn, which was done by two men of a mess breaking up their tin canteens, and with a bayonet punching holes through the tin; this made a kind of rasp, on which they grated their corn: The idea was communicated to the adjutant-general, and it was afterwards adopted throughout the army. The water that the army drank was frequently as thick as puddle. Few armies ever encountered greater difficulties and hardships; the soldiers bore them with great patience, and without a murmur: Their attachment to their commander supported them in the day of adversity; knowing, as they did, that their officers', and even lords Cornwallis and Rawdon's fare was not better than their own. Yet, with all their resolution and patience, they could not have proceeded but for the personal exertions of the militia, who, with a zeal that did them infinite honour, rendered the most important services. The continual rains had swelled the rivers and creeks prodigiously, and rendered the roads almost impassable. The waggon and artillery horses were quite exhausted with fatigue by the time the army had reached Sugar Creek. This creek was very rapid, its banks nearly perpendicular, and the soil, being clay, as slippery as ice. The horses were taken out of some of the waggons, and the militia, harnessed in their stead, drew the waggons through the creek. We are sorry to say, that, in return for these exertions, the militia were maltreated, by abusive language, and even beaten by some officers in the quarter-master-general's department: In consequence of this ill usage, several of them left the army next morning, for ever, chusing to run the risque of meeting the resentment of their enemies rather than submit to the derision and abuse of those to whom they looked up as friends.
(Charles Stedman served in the British Army "under Sir W. Howe, Sir H. Clinton, and the Marquis Cornwallis.")