“Plan of the Battle Fought Near Camden, 16 August 1780,” by William Faden

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On the 16 of August, General Horatio Gates led an ill-prepared and exhausted campaign against the fortified British garrison at Camden.  General Cornwallis’ troops comprised of three excellent British regular units, as well as units of volunteers and loyalists who had performed well in the campaign thus far.  Cornwallis had already learned of Gates’ advancement and marched his troops to Camden with a reinforcement of one thousand soldiers, doubling the size of the Camden garrison.  Gates troops comprised of Charles Armand’s Legion of cavalry and infantry, and a first-class unit of Virginia light infantry.  Gates unfortunately sent his best troops to help Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Sumter ambush the road leading to Camden from Charleston and detached William Davie to cover the movement of the wounded from Hanging Rock to the Americans’ hospital at Charlotte, NC. 

The battle began when Tarleton and Armand’s dragoons ran into each other on the road above Camden.  Shots erupted and Tarleton was able to drive the American cavalry back.  The Virginia light infantry fired from the woods along the road was able to stop their charge.  The two armies then continued to move forward in line, flanking the road and the boggy areas.  The artillery then opened up.  Gates did have an advantage in numbers, outnumbering Cornwallis nearly two to one, but his troops were ill fed, plagued by stomach illness, and done in from the push south.  Even worse, he had decided to deploy the Virginia militia and not de Kalb’s Continentals to hold the entire left side of his line, directly opposite of Cornwallis’s best troops, the 23rd Regiment of Foot.  The 23rd fired a volley and then advanced with the bayonet.  It was too much for the militiamen, many of whom lacked bayonets to begin with, and their line crumbled and ran.  The Maryland and Delaware Continentals and some North Carolinians were left to stand alone and their commander, Major General Baron Johann de Kalb, to go down mortally wounded. 

Gates rode off to safety, reaching Charlotte the same night.  Cornwallis’s superior generalship and knowledge of warfare smashed the second American army in the South.  The road to Charlotte was littered with abandoned gear, dead horses, and dead or dying American soldiers.  Approximately eight hundred of Gates’ men were killed or wounded, and another one thousand were taken prisoner.  The British lost half of that number.  Gates’ armywas all but destroyed at Camden, one of the worst losses suffered by the Continental Army.  British and Loyalists morale was bolstered as a consequence.  However, soon after this defeat, South Carolina militia leaders would modify their tactics and would begin to use more successful guerilla tactics.


Faden, William.  “Plan of the Battle Fought Near Camden, 16 August 1780.”  Manuscripts Division.  South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.  Columbia, South Carolina. 

Correlating SC Social Studies Academic Standards:

Standard 3-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Revolution and South Carolina’s role in the development of the new American nation.

Indicator 3-3.2 Summarize the key conflicts and key leaders of the American Revolution in South Carolina and their effects on the state, including the occupation of Charleston by the British; the partisan warfare of Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, and Francis Marion; and the battles of Cowpens and Kings Mountain. (H, P, G)

Standard 8-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Revolution—the beginnings of the new American nation and South Carolina’s part in the development of that nation.

Indicator 8-2.3 Summarize the course and key conflicts of the American Revolution in South Carolina and its effects on the state, including the attacks on Charleston; the Battle of Camden; the partisan warfare of Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, and Francis Marion; the Battle of Cowpens; and the Battle of Kings Mountain. (H, G)

Standard USHC-2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the establishment of the United States as a new nation.

Indicator USHC-2.2 Explain the impact of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution on the American colonies and on the world at large. (H, P, E)

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