August, 1780: Battle of Camden Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In July, 1780, General Horatio Gates decided to advance against the British forces under Lord Charles Cornwallis in South Carolina. Arriving at Camden on August 16, the same day as the troops of Cornwallis, Gates was determined to take the town of Camden from the British, and the battle was joined seven miles north of the town. Although the American forces outnumbered those of the British, several factors severely handicapped the colonials. American troops were exhausted by long marches, weakened by the laxative effect of their ill-chosen supplies, and poorly commanded. In addition, fewer than 900 troops were trained Continental soldiers. The British attacked first, and the Virginia and North Carolina militia quickly threw down their arms and fled. Only the 600 Delaware and Maryland Continentals under the German general Johann Kalb (also known as Baron de Kalb) stood their ground, but 2,000 British attackers eventually overwhelmed them. The Americans chaotically fled to North Carolina, with Gates at the forefront of the fleeing survivors.

In July, 1780, General Horatio Gates decided to advance against the British forces under Lord Charles Cornwallis in South Carolina. Arriving at Camden on August 16, the same day as the troops of Cornwallis, Gates was determined to take the town of Camden from the British, and the battle was joined seven miles north of the town. Although the American forces outnumbered those of the British, several factors severely handicapped the colonials. American troops were exhausted by long marches, weakened by the laxative effect of their ill-chosen supplies, and poorly commanded. In addition, fewer than 900 troops were trained Continental soldiers. The British attacked first, and the Virginia and North Carolina militia quickly threw down their arms and fled. Only the 600 Delaware and Maryland Continentals under the German general Johann Kalb (also known as Baron de Kalb) stood their ground, but 2,000 British attackers eventually overwhelmed them. The Americans chaotically fled to North Carolina, with Gates at the forefront of the fleeing survivors.

Death of General Johann Kalb at the Battle of Camden. From a painting by Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887). (National Archives)

Only about 1,000 Americans survived death or capture, compared with 331 deaths suffered by the British. The cowardice of Gates and the size of American losses combined to make for the worst defeat of the Americans during the war.

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