The Battle of Camden 1780
War: American Revolutionary War
Date: 16th August 1780
Place: South Carolina, United States of America
Combatants: British and Germans against the Americans
Generals: Major General Lord Cornwallis against Major
General Horatio Gates
Death of Baron Von Kalb at the Battle of Camden
Size of the armies: The British comprised 1,500 hundred
regulars and 500 militia. The American army comprised 1,500
Continental troops and some 1,500 militia.
Uniforms, arms and equipment: The British regulars wore red coats and
as headgear, the bearskin mitre cap for grenadiers, leather caps for
light infantry and cocked three cornered hats for battalion companies.
The American Continental troops wore similar uniforms in blue. The
militia of each side wore what the men chose. Weapons were muskets and
some light field guns. The regulars of each side were equipped with
bayonets. The militia did not have bayonets. Winner: The British
23rd Foot, the Royal Welch Fusiliers
33rd Foot, now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
Two battalions of Fraser’s 71st Highlanders
Lord Rawdon’s Irish Volunteers
North Carolina militia
In January 1780 Major General Clinton who had taken over as
British commander-in-chief in America from Major General Howe took a
force from New York and captured Charleston, the provincial capital of
South Carolina. Storms caused substantial loss of guns and horses on
Clinton returned to New York leaving to Major General Cornwallis
the task of capturing the rest of South Carolina.
On 18th May Cornwallis sent Colonel Banastre Tarleton with foot and
light dragoons in pursuit of an American force commanded by Colonel
Burford. Tarleton overtook Burford at Camden near the border with
North Carolina and defeated him.
Cornwallis arrived at Camden which over the next few months became
an important base of operations for the British and in which supplies
Battle of Camden
In July an American army under Major General Horatio Gates had
marched from the North and was threatening the British in South
The British were commanded at Camden by Lord Rawdon, Cornwallis
having returned to Charleston. Rawdon advanced from Camden to meet the
Americans and took a position on a creek to the North-East of the
town. On Gates’ approach Rawdon fell back to Camden.
The British troops after the Battle of Camden
On 14th August Cornwallis joined his troops in Camden with the
determination to attack Gates. He made a night advance which collided
with the Americans who were also advancing to make an assault.
The British 33rd Regiment of Foot (from Tim Reese’s CD Rom of 116
illustrations of British and American Regiments from the
The battlefield lay between two swamps which narrowed the front and
secured the flanks. Cornwallis formed his army in two brigades,
Colonel Webster on the right with the companies of Light Infantry, the
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 33rd Foot and on the left Lord
Rawdon on the left with the Irish Volunteers, Tarleton’s infantry and
some loyalist provincial units. Two battalions of Fraser’s 71st
Highlanders provided a reserve.
The British Attack
Gates drew up his army with the regiments of the Continental Army
on the right under Gist, Kalb’s 2nd Maryland and a Delaware regiment,
his centre under Caswell of North Carolina militia and his right under
Stevens of Virginia militia. Smallwood commanded the reserve of the
General Horatio Gates
Gates ordered his left wing of militia to attack the opposing
British units. As they began to move forward the British launched a
counter attack along the whole line. Ill-trained and largely without
bayonets with which to conduct close quarter fighting, the American
militia retreated off the field leaving Webster’s regiments to turn on
the flank of the American right wing where the Continental units were
putting up a stiff fight and continued to do so for some time.
Tarleton’s cavalry finally attacked the American right wing in the
rear causing the units to break. The British cavalry pursued the
retreating Americans for some twenty miles.
Gates, the American commander appears to have left the battlefield
with the first of the militia and ridden a considerable distance
before drawing rein, leaving his subordinate commanders to fight on
with the right flank. His reputation was destroyed. Baron Von Kalb, a
German in the American service, particularly distinguished himself
before being killed.
The British lost 324 killed and wounded, 100
being from the 33rd. The American casualties were 1,000 killed and
wounded and 1,000 lost as prisoners. 7 guns were taken with all the
American stores and baggage.
The battle ensured the British hold on South
Carolina for the time being. But as with all the British victories in
the war, Camden provided only a short respite before the inexorable
course of American success continued.
- History of the British Army by Sir John Fortescue
- The War of the Revolution by Christopher Ward