A Parting of the Ways
In winning a hard-fought victory at Guilford Court House, Cornwallis completed the ruination of his army. He lost a fourth of his total force in the battle — ninety-three dead and 439 wounded. Rains fell after the battle, adding to the misery of an army without tents or provisions. Cornwallis had to head to the coast, first Wilmington, then in Virginia, to make contact with the British navy and receive badly needed supplies and reinforcements. Cornwallis had taken himself out of the war farther south.Greene Returns to South Carolina
Though he had lost the culminating battle of the campaign with seventy-eight dead and 183 wounded, Greene's strategy had succeeded admirably. He had used Cornwallis's combativeness to lure him out of the southern theater and wear out his army. There were still 8,000 British troops in the Deep South, but most of them were tied down in garrison duty. The largest maneuvering force available to the British was Lord Francis Raw-don's 1,500 men at Camden.
Nathanael Greene proved to be one of the most gifted American generals of the Revolution. Ironically, this combative commander was raised a Quaker.
The departure of the militia reduced Greene's own army to around 1,500 men. Despite this, he wrote Washington, “I am determined to carry the war immediately into South Carolina.” He sent word to the partisan leaders in that state that he was coming, and he dispatched Henry Lee and his Legion to renew its partnership with Francis Marion. On April 9, he led his army into South Carolina.
Lord Rawdon, the British commander at Camden, was only twenty-six years old. Despite his youth, he was a veteran who had seen action since Bunker Hill. When he learned of the approach of Greene's army, he had only 900 men with him. He had sent 500 out looking for Marion. Rawdon was secure for the time being in Camden, which was well fortified. He would demonstrate that he was not the kind of man who was content to wait and see what his opponent had in store.The Battle of Hobkirk's Hill
Greene reconnoitered Camden and decided he did not have enough men to storm the place. He sent word to Sumter, Marion, and Lee to bring up reinforcements. While he waited, he camped at Hobkirk's Hill, a low wooded ridge situated a mile and a half north of Camden. Greene briefly left this position, hoping to intercept the return of Rawdon's raiding party of 500 men. The information that led him out proved false, and he marched back to Hobkirk's Hill. He had sent away his artillery with the army's baggage.
A deserter brought word of this to Rawdon. He decided to attack on the morning of April 25. His assault caught the Americans enjoying a good meal after a recent distribution of rations. Many were washing their clothes. While the American pickets held up Rawdon's advance, Greene rapidly formed his army in line of battle. Three guns had been recently returned to camp. Greene posted them in the center of his line, out of sight of the British. Rawdon attacked on a narrow front. Greene decided to take advantage of this by counterattacking all along his line, enfilading the enemy. As the British approached, Greene's men stepped out of the way of the three guns, which discharged a storm of grapeshot.
The British were momentarily thrown into confusion. Rawdon began extending his own line to match the advancing Americans. The Americans were pressing forward with bayonets when a company of Maryland Continentals was thrown into disorder by the loss of its captain. The Colonel of the regiment halted his force and ordered it to fall back to regroup. The British promptly charged, and the confused men turned and fled. Their panic spread to other units. Soon most of Greene's army was running away. With the rest, he covered the retreat and fell back three miles. Here he rallied his men. He sent his cavalry back to the battlefield after the victorious British returned to Camden and recovered his wounded. He had lost nineteen dead, 115 wounded, and 136 missing. The British casualties were heavier, thirty-eight killed and 220 wounded.