“They have done all that can be expected of them, we are outnumbered and outflanked,” explained Lt. Col. Benjamin Ford in regards to the desperate situation his Marylanders faced on the disastrous day of August 16, 1780.
Many historians consider the battle of Camden as the high tide of Great Britain’s prospects for victory in the American South. In the spring of 1780, British leadership focused their attention on conquering the Southern Colonies. Charleston capitulated, along with the bulk of the American army defending it, in May of 1780. After its fall, the British set up outposts across South Carolina’s backcountry in an effort to secure that colony before moving into North Carolina.
In response, the Continental Congress sent Gen. Horatio Gates, the “hero of Saratoga,” to take over the Southern Department. Gates reorganized the forces there and named his field command “Grand Army,” whose core was a small contingent of experienced Continentals from Maryland and Delaware. The majority, however, was comprised of untested soldiers and newly recruited militia from Virginia and North Carolina.
Soon after his arrival, Gates led his army south to confront the British near Camden, South Carolina. The mostly inexperienced American force found itself facing some of the best units of the British army under the command of one of its best generals, Charles Cornwallis.
The result was an unmitigated disaster for the Americans with far-reaching consequences. In All That Can Be Expected: The Battle of Camden and the British High Tide in the South, August 16, 1780, historians Rob Orrison and Mark Wilcox set forth the events surrounding one of the worst American military defeats in United States history. Readers will also follow in the footsteps of American and British soldiers through the South Carolina backcountry on a narrative tour to help better understand this fascinating campaign of August 1780.