THE EPIC BATTLE OF EUTAW
Sept. 8, 1781
The American Revolution
"SWAMP FOX" STRATEGY
Broke the Main British
Army in the South
"Hold up the glories
of thy dead,
Tell how thy elder
And point to Eutaw's
| Seven years of British determination
to bring South Carolina to her knees met failure. The spirit that had long
resisted royal edict and church canon, the fierce desire and indomitable
will to be masters of their own destinies, and the dauntless courage that
had carved a new way of life from a wilderness were again threatened by
oppression; so, little difference was felt among nationalities and creeds,
causing a unity to grow among the new world "peasants and shepherds" that
shook the foundations of old regimes.
| By midsummer, 1781, the Continentals
under General Nathaniel Greene had gained virtual control of South Carolina.
The retreating British. disillusioned and sick with summer heat, united
forces under Colonel Stewart at Orangeburg and began their march to Charleston.
Early in September the 2,300 well-equipped British camped in cool shade
beside the gushing springs of Eutaw, little dreaming the Continentals were
close upon their heels. General Greene, hearing of Washington's plan to
encircle and embarrass the British at Yorktown, determined to prevent Southern
aid from reaching the beleaguered Cornwallis. Contingents under Marion,
Pickens, Lee, William Washington, Hampton and other South Carolina leaders
were called together, and reinforcements from other colonies joined them.
These 2,092 poorly-equipped, underfed, and near-naked Americans camped
on Sept. 7th. on the River Road at Burdell's Plantation, only seven miles
from Eutaw Springs. Strategy for the ensuing attack is accredited to the
genius of the dreaded "Swamp Fox," General Francis Marion, who knew every
foot of the Santee swamps and river.
| The 8th dawned fair and intensely
hot, but the Americans, on short rations and with little rest, advanced
in early morning light toward the springs. At their approach the surprised
British left their uneaten breakfast and quickly threw lines of battle
across the road in a heavily wooded area. Behind them in cleared fields
stood a large brick home with a high-walled garden. The woods and waters
of Eutaw Creek were on the north. Heavy firing soon crackled and boomed
through the shady woods. At first the center of the American line caved
in, but while opposing flanks were fighting separate battles, Greene restored
the center with Sumner's North Carolina Continentals. The whole British
line then began to give, but Colonel Stewart quickly pulled up his left-flank
reserves, forcing the Americans to retreat under thunderous fire. The encouraged
British shouted, yelled, and rushed forward in disorder; whereupon Greene
(according to J. P. Petit) "brought in his strongest force: the Maryland
and Virginia Continentals, Kirkwood's Delawares, and Wm. Washington's South
Carolina cavalry . . . with devasting effect." The British fled in every
direction and the Americans took over their camp. Only Major Majoribanks,
on the British right flank and pushed far back into the woods near Eutaw
Creek, was able to hold his unit together. Major Sheridan took hasty refuge
in the brick home, Colonel Stewart gathered some of his men beyond, and
from this vantage they "picked off" many American officers and men.
| Greene sent Wm. Washington's
cavalry to deal with Majoribanks, but penetrating the woods with horses
was too difficult, so Washington tried to encircle and rout, thus exposing
himself to dangerous fire. His horse was shot from under him, he himself
was wounded. and his company practically ravaged. When a hand to hand fight
developed, a Britisher poised his sword over the wounded Washington, but
Majoribanks saw and gallantly turned it aside.
| In camp, eating the deserted
breakfast, and feeling the battle was won, the hungry, thirsty Americans
began plundering the English stores of food, liquors, and equipment. Thoroughly
enjoying themselves they ignored their leaders' warnings and commands.
Majoribanks, realizing the disorder, fell upon them. Sheridan and Stewart
pounded at their right, and Coffin came in from their left. The stunned
Americans fought this impossible situation bravely, but they were put to
flight from the British camp.
| After more than four hours of
indecisive battle under a merciless sun, both armies had had enough. Casualties
were extremely high. "Blood ran ankle-deep in places," and the strewn area
of dead and dying was heart-breaking. Greene collected his wounded and
returned to Burdell's Plantation. Stewart remained the night at Eutaw Springs
but hastily retreated the next day toward Charleston, leaving behind many
of his dead unburied and seventy of his seriously wounded. The gallant
Majoribanks, wounded and on his way to Moncks Corner, died in a Negro cabin
on Wantoot Plantation. He was buried beside the road, but when lake waters
were to cover that area his remains were removed by the S.G.P.S.A. to their
present resting place at Eutaw Springs Battlefield.
| The total casualties came to
1,188, according to Rev. M. H. Osborne. Many were buried where they fell,
therefore the whole battlefield is a hero's cemetery, sacred to the memory
of courageous men. Patriot blood shed at Eutaw was certainly not shed in
vain. This last major battle in South Carolina completely broke the British
hold in the South and, more important, denied needed aid to the North.
Only six weeks later Cornwallis succumbed to Washington at Yorktown, and
American Independence was assured.