The fortification of Dorchester Heights by the Continental Army made Boston untenable for the British: Henry Knox’s cannon dominated the city and the harbor. On 5 March 1776, Gen Howe prepared 2500 redcoats to seize the Rebel position just as he had done ten months before at Bunker Hill. The operation would commence at dawn the next day.
General George Washington expected the attack and placed 6000 troops on Dorchester Heights to repel it. But he also knew that if the British managed to close and come at his poorly trained and poorly disciplined troops with the bayonet, no amount of continentals would matter – they would break. Even a Pyrrhic victory for the British like Bunker Hill would spell the end of the siege of Boston. Washington’s critical shortage of powder would be exposed to all the world, and without the cannon the British navy could supply Howe indefinitely. That would leave Washington just one remaining option: Storm the city.
Washington couldn’t chance a loss of the Dorchester Heights without possession of Boston – It would be the end of the Revolution. And he couldn’t storm the city while the navy was in the harbor… Unless it was distracted.
Which it would be supporting Howe’s assault.
Washington decided to gamble everything on a single throw of the dice. While Howe and his best troops were busy south of the city supported by the British Navy, Washington’s best regiments would assault over the Boston Neck, overwhelm the redoubt with sheer numbers, and seize the city. The casualties would be excessive, but a loss at Dorchester would be fatal to the Revolution if he didn’t already have Boston. He would lead the attack the moment Howe’s men were committed on the peninsula and unable to reinforce the Boston neck.
On the night of 5/6 March 1776, Rebel spies reported British assault troops were loading flatboats for transport across the harbor. Washington brought up his best regiments, including the fishermen from Marblehead that proved so critical in the year ahead, to assault positions before the neck. The morning of 6 March was expected to be the bloodiest of the war.
But it wasn’t to be: A fierce and blinding, but unexpected, snowstorm hit Boston around midnight and continued throughout the morning. About noon it stopped as quickly as it started. But by then Howe couldn’t attack. His flatboats would be easy targets for Knox’s guns. He knew surprise was lost and Washington would reinforce the heights. Losing a large part of his army in another Bunker Hill just to be bottled up on another peninsula would gain him nothing. (Remember he didn’t know about the shortage of powder.) The next day Howe drafted a note to Washington offering not to burn Boston to the ground if he was allowed to evacuate unmolested.
Washington quickly agreed. On 17 March as the last Redcoat and loyalist were boarding ships in the harbor, Washington triumphantly entered Boston. As he was traversing the Boston Neck, he eyed the British redoubts and fortifications he planned to personally assault on the morning of 6 March 1776.
No amount of troops could have forced the Neck: The Americans would have been massacred, and Washington would have undoubtedly been killed leading the charge. It wasn’t the last time Washington and the Continental Army was saved by the weather.
On 2 and 3 March 1776, Henry Knox’s cannon from Ft Ticonderoga opened fire on British positions around Boston. They did the same on the late afternoon of 4 March. But as the British were safely tucked away riding out Knox’s bombardment, LTG George Washington put in motion his plan to fortify Dorchester Heights, which overlooked Boston and the harbor.
As soon as the sun sank below the horizon, thousands of Continentals trudged up the heights with hay bales. With these they created a wall in the darkness that obscured their movements and muffled the sound of thousands of soldiers digging. Then they dug trenches and gun pits for cannon throughout the night. By 4am, the last of Knox’s guns were in place. The hay bale wall was dismantled and the bales were used to reinforce the position. The guns on Dorchester Heights dominated Boston Harbor. Admiral Shuldham informed Gen Howe, the commander of the British army in Boston, that the city was untenable. The stunned Howe replied, “The rebels have done more in one night than my whole army would have done in a month.”
But it was all a bluff: Washington barely had enough powder to hold the heights if the British attacked as they did at Breed’s Hill, much less clear the British Navy from the harbor.
In the early months of 1776, George Washington was desperate for gunpowder. So the Continental Congress dispatched the fledgling US Navy to seize British stores along the Carolina and Georgia coasts. In secret, they also authorized Commodore Esek Hopkins to raid into the Caribbean.
On 3 March, 1776, Hopkin’s and his small flotilla appeared off the coast of the British colony of Nassau. Captain Samuel Nichols and 200 Marines landed on the island in the first amphibious assault in Marine Corps’ history, and bloodlessly seized the fort.
The next day the Marines seized the town on the other side of the island only to find that the British governor and the townsfolk worked all night loading most of the powder onto ships. The ships departed at first light and slipped by Hopkins.
In the autumn of 1776, the Siege of Boston was at a perceived stalemate. The British could sortie and end the American Revolution anytime it wanted: LTG George Washington did not have enough powder to fight a battle, and the Continental Army didn’t have the discipline to retreat; the army would disintegrate. But Washington did have more than 20,000 militiamen and the lack of powder was a closely guarded secret. However, even though Washington had few pieces of artillery, which made the lack of powder less obvious, he still needed more cannon to end the siege. Henry Knox would change that.
Henry Knox was a bookseller from Boston. He was never a soldier but Washington was impressed with his military expertise, obtained solely from reading, and made him his chief of artillery. In September of 1776, Henry Knox set off with a motley crew of engineers, artillerists, and backwoodsmen to Ft Ticonderoga which Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold had captured that summer. It was packed with cannon.
Knox had no way to transport the cannon, so he waited for the harsh New England winter and created a “Noble Train of Artillery” by placing the cannon on sleds drawn by oxen. They cut their way for 300 miles over the snowy Berkshire Mtns. The trek took three months and by the end of January, 60 tons of cannon were at Washington’s disposal.
By mid February the gun carriages were complete. On 19 February 1776, Henry Knox, personally siting each gun, unleashed a furious barrage on British positions around Boston. It was ineffectual but it reinforced the perception that the Continental Army had plenty of gunpowder.
However, firing on British positions wasn’t going to end the siege. The guns needed to fire on the British Navy supplying Gen. Gage in the city. They could do that from the unoccupied Dorchester Heights to the south of the city, but the heights were a no mans land because the British fired on any American attempt to fortify the position. Washington needed a way to occupy the Heights with the cannon and dig in before the British cleared it with fire.
Colonel Henry Knox figured that one out too.
During the American Revolutionary War, it is generally agreed that 1/3 of the population of the Thirteen Colonies supported independence from Great Britain, 1/3 did not, and 1/3 were on the fence, falling on whichever side seemed to be the most advantageous at the time. On 10 January, 1776, a small pamphlet, Common Sense, was published in Philadelphia by an anonymous author which immediately unified the 1/3 that supported independence from Great Britain, and a good many of the fence sitters, if only temporarily.
Penned by Thomas Paine, an English born recent immigrant to America, Common Sense provided an easily digestible and, pardon the pun, common sense argument on why American independence was not just desirable for the Thirteen Colonies, but for mankind itself, particularly those that languished under a dictatorial absolute monarch. (Which, to be fair, the British monarchy wasn’t, but perception is reality.)
Unlike most Enlightenment treatises, which targeted other scholars, Paine’s target audience was America’s lower and middle classes. He eschewed the appeals to authority to obscure Greek and Roman thinkers, as Voltaire, Rousseau, and even Franklin were wont to do, and made his case, convincingly, through straight logic emphasized by Bible quotes for his primarily devout Protestant working class audience.
Common Sense flew off the printing presses and is the bestselling book in American history. It is the high water mark of Enlightenment literature and so influential that the future Declaration of Independence, US Constitution, Polish Constitution of 1791, and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen were direct results of the mere 48 page pamphlet.
There are no asterisks, and Common Sense is just as relevant today as it was 245 years ago.
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense is Required Reading for Humanity.
“I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.”
“Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happinesspositively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”
“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
“In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places; which in plain terms, is to impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.”
Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.
“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”
“Small islands, not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.”
In December 1780, the Southern Department’s new commander, Major General Nathaniel Greene, split the remains of the Continental Army in the Carolinas with the recently promoted Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. Though unconventional, splitting the army allowed Greene the most foraging, resupply, and recruiting area to rebuild the remnant of the Continental Army he inherited after its destruction at Camden in August. While rebuilding his army in his new basecamp at Cheraw South Carolina, Greene would keep an eye on Cornwallis at Winnsboro, and operate against the British and Loyalists on the east side of the Broad River. Morgan would operate on the west side of the Broad River, resupply and rebuild his force with what little that remained of the militia that won the Battle of King’s Mountain, and to “give protection . . . and spirit up the people” in the midst of the vicious Patriot and Loyalist civil war being waged in the Carolinas and Georgia.
From his camp at Grindal Shoals on the Pacelot River, Morgan received word that a raiding party of 250 Georgian loyalists was about 20 miles away at Fair Forest destroying Patriot settlements and farms between the Loyalist stronghold at Ninety-Six and Winnsboro. On 27 December 1780, Morgan dispatched Lieutenant Colonel William Washington (a distant cousin of George Washington) and 85 Continental Dragoons with 200 Carolina and Georgia mounted militia to attack the Loyalists. The Loyalists quickly learned of the Washington’s mission and fled back towards Ninety-Six. Washington caught up to the Loyalists at Hammond’s Old Store on the Bush River on 30 December after a hard 40 mile ride.
Washington’s mounted force crested a hill and unexpectedly saw the Loyalists formed up on the top of the hill opposite them. The dragoons wasted no time and “gave a shout, drew swords, and charged like mad” across the saddle between the hills. The militia followed. The Loyalists immediately broke, and mounted Continentals and Patriots cut them down. Morgan later reported 100 Loyalists killed, fifty wounded, and forty captured without a single Patriot casualty, making the “Battle” of Hammond’s Store one of the costliest Loyalist defeats in the South to date in the war.
Most of the Loyalists who survived the Patriot onslaught fled towards “William’s Fort”, a Loyalist stockade about seven miles to the south, just outside Ninety-Six. Washington sent Colonel Joseph Hayes’ Little River Regiment of Militia with ten dragoons under Cornet James Simon to pursue and take the fort. When Simon arrived at William’s Fort, he gave the Loyalist commander, Brigadier General Robert Cunningham thirty minutes to surrender before he attacked. Cunningham was a popular and charismatic loyalist leader and was recently promoted to brigadier general by Cornwallis. Cunningham was so popular and prominent a local leader that in 1778 he was elected to South Carolina’s pro-Patriot Provincial Congress. Cornwallis entrusted to him command of all Loyalists in the region around Ninety-Six and expected him to clear the Carolina backcountry after Ferguson’s failure at King’s Mountain. But when confronted by the fiery young Continental officer, possibly with fresh tales of massacre at Hammond’s Store still echoing in his ears (there were a disproportionate number of dead to wounded and captured at the earlier battle), Cunningham abandoned William’s Fort after most of his men deserted. Hayes and Simon attacked when they recognized what was happening, and inflicted five more dead and thirty more wounded and captured on the Loyalists. The Patriots then gathered what stores they could, and not wishing to run afoul of any relief force from Ninety Six, returned to Washington at Hammond’s Store, and then back to Morgan at Grindal Shoals.
The Burning of William’s Fort and especially the Battle of Hammond’s Store shocked Cornwallis. Cornwallis’ first report was that Morgan had an army of 3000 that was marching on Ninety-Six to finally clear that thorn in the Patriots’ side, and Hammond’s Store was just the beginning. Cornwallis quickly found out that Morgan had less than 2000, but he could no longer ignore Morgan and concentrate on re-invading North Carolina. The Patriot capture of Ninety-Six, a post “of so much consequence” to the Loyalist cause, or even worse, Augusta, would unravel his campaign in the Southern Colonies and give Greene even more much needed time to rebuild at Cheraw.
On New Year’s Day, 1781, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton received a dispatch from Lord Cornwallis to move toward Ninety-Six and with his British Legion and 71st Regiment, defend against any attack by Morgan. The next day, Tarleton learned Washington withdrew and that Ninety-Six was in no immediate danger. The impetuous Tarleton decided to attack. Following Cornwallis’ intent, Tarleton proposed pushing Morgan towards King’s Mountain where he, and if they were lucky Greene, could be trapped and destroyed by the combined weight of Tarleton’s and Cornwallis’ commands.
Of course that plan didn’t come to fruition, but what did happen was the Patriot victory at Hammond’s Store set in motion a chain of events which led directly to the Battle of Cowpens two weeks later on 17 January 1781.
In October 1775, the Continental Army besieging Boston was in desperate need of supplies, primarily gunpowder. From spies in England, Continental Congress learned of supply ships that traveled regularly from London to Nassau in the Caribbean and authorized the purchase and outfitting of two ships to capture them. They purchased the Philadelphia merchantman, Black Prince, from Continental Congressman Robert Morris on 13 October (birthday of the US Navy), renamed her the Alfred, and outfitted her as a ten gun sloop-of-war.
To differentiate American warships from British warships, the 13 Colonies needed a flag. In November, Continental Congress adopted the red British Ensign with the addition of 13 white stripes on the red field and called it the Grand Union Flag. The optimistic thinking behind the design was that it allowed American crews of captured British vessels the ease of creating a new flag to fly over their prize by just sewing white stripes on the captured British ensigns. In any case, it was the first American national flag, and it was raised for the first time on 3 December 1775 at the commissioning ceremony of the Alfred. LTG George Washington would raise the Grand Union Flag for the first time at the Continental Army encampment outside Boston on New Year’s Day 1776.
After the failure to capture Colonel Francis Marion in Ox Swamp the week before, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his Loyalists of the British Legion, reinforced by the 1st battalion of the 71st Regiment of Foot (Fraser’s Highlanders), headed into the South Carolina backcountry to find and defeat Brigadier General Thomas Sumter. Sumter’s large force of Patriots threatened the loyalist stronghold at Ninety Six. Sumter’s men had recently defeated Major James Wemyss and his 63rd Regiment of British regulars at the Battle of Fishdam Ford, and Tarleton mounted them and incorporated the remnants into his British Legion to ride with the dragoons. Tarleton attempted to surprise Sumter, who was on his way to Ninety Six, and got within a day’s march undetected. However a deserter from the 63rd, who had probably never ridden a horse before, informed Sumter of the imminent danger about midnight on 20 November 1780.
In the predawn hours, Sumter moved to Blackstock’s Plantation on the Tyger River. The plantation’s buildings were on a sharp hill above a pasture over which any attack must come. Sumter placed his barely trained militia, most of whom had just recently joined him, among the buildings and fences. Blackstock was a strong position that gave Sumter’s raw militia confidence against the coming attack by the Legion’s dragoons, the Highlanders of the 71st, and the 63rd’s regulars.
About 4 pm, Tarleton was informed that Sumter was at Blackstock’s Farm, and immediately set off with all of his mounted troops to surprise Sumter. It probably would have worked because even though Sumter’s men were assigned positions that morning, by late afternoon the untrained militia were scattered about the farm buildings, many not within easy reach of their positions. Sumter’s officers would have had a hard time reorganizing the men if 350 British horsemen charged down the lane while they were lounging about. Fortunately, a small patrol spotted Tarleton’s imminent approach and fired a shot which warned Sumter’s main position. When Tarleton arrived at the edge of the pasture, he saw that surprise was lost and dismounted the regulars.
Sumter was concerned that Tarleton was waiting for artillery, which would play havoc with his militia, so he decided to force the battle. He sent forward a strong skirmish line of Georgia riflemen and South Carolina volunteers to harass Tarleton as he formed, with orders to gradually withdraw in the face of any advance. The 63rd took up Sumter’s challenge and pushed the riflemen and volunteers back at bayonet point. As the dragoons of the British Legion watched the regulars advance as if they were at a show, 100 South Carolina mounted riflemen under Col. Edward Lacey snuck on the 63rd rapt audience and launched a volley from the woods into their flank. Though the Legion chased them away, they took casualties they could ill afford. About that same time, the 63rd’s sweep of the skirmishers approached too closely to the hill and Carolina riflemen checked their advance with witheringly accurate fire from the barn. The sharpshooters killed or wounded most of the 63rd’s remaining officers, including its commander Major John Money. Despite the fire, Tarleton rode in to save Money and barely escaped with Money’s body draped over his saddle. With his friend dying, Tarleton desperately charged Sumter’s position with every mounted man remaining under his command in a last attempt to salvage the battle. Tarleton’s charge barely made it up the lane before he was attacked by militiamen from the reverse slope screaming Indian war whoops. With his horse shot out from under him, Tarleton withdrew from the battlefield when his men could no longer charge because the lane was blocked by dead and dying men and horses felled by the deadly fire from the top of the hill. Tarleton fell back about two miles to reorganize and attack again in the morning with his Highlanders and Legion light infantry.
The Battle of Blackstocks was a great patriot victory against one of the most dreaded loyalist commanders of the American Revolution. However, Sumter was one of the very few casualties the Americans suffered. Sumter was shot in the chest with five balls of buckshot, and a sixth lodged next to his spine. Sumter turned command over to Georgia militia Col. John Twiggs. That night after policing the battlefield of anything useful the British left behind, Twiggs, in the fashion of Washington, kept the campfires burning and slipped across the Tyger River. When Tarleton returned in the morning, he found the farm abandoned. Unfortunately for the Patriots, what Tarleton couldn’t do on the 20th, Twiggs did on the 21st. Without Sumter, the militia disbanded, just as it did after the victory at King’s Mountain. Sumter spent the winter recovering from his wounds. Any attempt to capture Ninety Six would have to wait until spring.
Lord Cornwallis dispatched Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion to chase down Francis Marion and secure his lines of communication to Charleston. Tarleton was eager to finally have his chance at Marion, who had defeated every Loyalist commander he came across. Tarleton learned that Marion had a camp on Jack’s Creek, so he headed to the Widow Richardson’s farm nearby. Mrs. Richardson was the widow of a brigadier general of South Carolina militia and the mother of a paroled militia officer. Tarleton figured he could force Marion’s location from them. When the interrogation failed, Tarleton set a trap. His men built large bon fires, which Tarleton assumed would attract Marion. He was right.
When Marion’s men reported the bonfires on the night of 7 November, 1780, Marion, close by, began infiltrating his men into position to attack what looked like another small militia encampment. Fortunately, Widow Richardson’s son snuck away from the farm and warned Marion of the size Tarleton’s ambush, and his two hidden cannon. Marion immediately withdrew to the safety of his camp at Richbourg’s Mill on Jack’s Creek. However, in the confusion, one of the loyalists Marion captured at Tearcoat Swamp escaped and made his way to Tarleton.
On the morning of 8 November 1780, the Loyalist informed Tarleton of Marion’s whereabouts, and Tarleton took off in the chase with his Green Dragoons, with the light infantry to follow as fast as possible. With no chance in a stand up fight against the British Legion, Marion’s men desperately stayed just ahead of their pursuers. Marion’s rear guard under Major John James fought a series of valiant delaying actions as Marion’s men rode hard into the swamps at the head of Jack’s Creek and then down the Pocotaligo River. For nine hours, Tarleton chased Marion through the swampy thickets of the South Carolina wilderness. Marion headed for Benbow’s Ferry on the Black River, where he planned to turn and ambush Tarleton. Tarleton never got there.
As dusk was rapidly approaching that evening, Tarleton’s British Legion came to the end of a trail, one that Marion was on just minutes before, beyond which was the watery morass of Ox Swamp. Not wishing to get lost in the darkness of the swamp, Tarleton called off the chase. He said to his exhausted and battered troops, “Come my boys! Let us go back and we will find the Gamecock [Sumter]. But as for this damned old fox, the devil himself could not catch him!”
Tarleton’s moniker stuck – Francis Marion would go down in history as the “Swamp Fox”.
After the Loyalist defeat at King’s Mountain in October of 1780, Lord Cornwallis attempted to salvage the situation in South Carolina by quickly defeating its two most prominent militia leaders, Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter. He dispatched his most trusted subordinate Banastre Tarleton to kill or capture Marion and Sumter. Tarleton could only go after one at a time and chose Marion. Marion operated in a much smaller area, and routed some Loyalists at Tearcoat Swamp at the end of October. This left Major James Wemyss and his 63rd Regiment of British regulars to parry Sumter in the backcountry. Wemyss, with loyalist militia, his regulars, and some of the dragoons of the British Legion, was tasked with guarding the mills along the Broad River upon which Cornwallis relied upon to feed his army.
Major James Wemyss was the second most hated man in South Carolina in 1780. Though Tarleton is remembered for his ruthlessness and brutality in the Southern Theater of the American Revolution, Wemyss was no less so. In September of 1780, when Cornwallis and Tarelton were in Charlotte and Ferguson was unsuccessfully attempting to secure the Carolina back country, Wemyss was securing Cornwallis’ lines of communication back to Charleston on the coast. Wemyss did so by torching a 75 mile long by 15 mile wide swath along the Peedee, He fired 80 houses and plantations, including a church, imprisoned the families of patriot soldiers and militiamen, threatened the children of known patriot commanders, and he “gifted” captured slaves to Loyalists. In early November 1780, a patrol reported Sumter’s camp at Fishdam Ford on the Broad River, named for a prehistoric Indian fish weir. On the 8th Wemyss moved out to attack. About midnight on the 9th Wemyss arrived outside Fishdam Ford, and his scouts reported the Patriots’ fires high and bedded down for the night. Wemyss decided to immediately attack despite Cornwallis specifically ordering him not to conduct operations at night.
Wemyss would have been completely surprised had newly promoted Brigadier General Thomas Sumter’s subordinates listened to him. Sumter was convinced the British and Loyalists would not conduct a night attack, probably because he knew of Cornwallis’ order forbidding it. Colonels Thomas Taylor and Richard Winn weren’t so sure. While Sumter lounged in his tent that evening and eventually turned in for the night, Taylor and Winn pushed out extra pickets, rehearsed alerts where their men moved from their bed rolls to formation, and even had their men sleep next to their loaded muskets and rifles. Taylor specifically built up his campfires, then deliberately had his men sleep away from them in the woods. The men grumbled, but the preparations paid off.
When the first picket fired at the approaching British and Loyalists, the only Patriot who acted surprised was Sumter. Half-dressed and barely awake, Sumter took off for the riverbank, assuming he had been surprised and defeated just as he had at Fishing Creek in August, where only his quick escape and nimbleness in the saddle prevented his capture. Sumter’s men, however, were prepared.
Winn and Taylor’s men formed up along a fence at the edge of the wood line just outside of the firelight. Upon receiving fire from the pickets, Wemyss immediately charged with his dragoons and ordered the infantry to follow up as fast as they could. As soon as the horsemen entered the circle of firelight, the Patriots unleashed a devastating volley which brought down at least twenty dragoons, including Wemyss. Command of the British and Loyalists fell to a lieutenant in the 63rd who ordered a bayonet assault with the remaining dismounted dragoons and the regular infantry. But they too met the same fate as the previous charge as soon as they entered the fire light. (As anyone who has been to CTC can tell you: never follow the blinking yellow lights.) Nevertheless, the 63rd decided to make a fight of it. With the bayonet assault stymied by the fence, the 63rd reformed and traded volleys with the Patriots in the woods. The British seemed to have the upper hand until the patriot companies from Col. Edward Lacey’s outlying camp converged on the fire fight and began firing into the flank of British formation. The Battle of Fishdam Ford lasted only twenty minutes before the British and Loyalists broke.
The Patriots, satisfied in a job well done, went back to sleep.
About two hours after sun rise, Sumter returned to find the captured British and loyalist wounded around the camp fires, guarded only by one of his sergeants major. Sumter paroled the prisoners, including Wemyss, and told them to spread the tale of the British defeat. Despite fleeing at first contact and not participating in the Battle of Fishdam Ford in any capacity whatsoever, Sumter declared he had won a great victory over not just Loyalists, but British regulars. Sumter’s command swelled to over a thousand once the news of the victory spread through the countryside.
Though Sumter had a slightly toxic and abrasive leadership style, his subordinates for the most part didn’t seem to mind, or didn’t mind enough to not fight for him. Some of his subordinate regimental commanders came and went when they wanted, but Sumter stalwarts such as Taylor and Winn stayed with him throughout the war. They managed and mitigated Sumter’s peculiar leadership style, and recognized that despite his flaws, Sumter’s charisma and energy were necessary to continue the fight for South Carolina. Lacey, Taylor, and Winn fully credited Sumter with the victory at Fishdam Ford, even though the victory was through their and their men’s efforts alone.
Cornwallis was furious with Wemyss’ loss at Fishdam Ford. First Ferguson and now Wemyss – Cornwallis was running out of trusted and competent subordinates. He recalled Banastre Tarleton from his hunt for Francis Marion in the swamps along the Santee River to defeat Sumter. Cornwallis feared Sumter would seize Ninety Six, one of the few remaining loyalist strongholds in the south. Cornwallis would never be able to subdue the South without Ninety Six. Finally, the Battle of Fishdam Ford and the unsuccessful attempts to capture Marion forced Cornwallis to withdraw his main army from North Carolina back into South Carolina to secure enough supplies to feed his men through the winter. The sodden British camp at Winnsborough during the winter of 1780 has been compared in misery to Washington’s camp at Valley Forge three years earlier in 1777.