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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Hugh Williamson to Thomas Benbury
Williamson, Hugh, 1735-1819
December 01, 1780
Volume 15, Pages 166-168

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Edenton, Dec. 1st, 1780.

The Hon'ble Thomas Benbury, Esq., speaker of the House of Commons of the Assembly of North Carolina.

After the Battle of the 16th of August, as soon as I overtook Genl. Caswell, he gave me a Flag to return to the Enemies' Lines for the relief of our wounded; I was also instructed to ask for a return of the Prisoners.

This return I have made to the present Commanding Officer, but, as the Publick may be desirous to know the Fate of those Brave Men who bled on that Memorable Day, I shall take the liberty to mention such facts as seem most interesting. I wish I could say that our loss after the Battle, either by wounds or sickness, was inconsiderable; but we labored under many difficulties. It was our misfortune that the Countenance we showed immediately after the Battle was not calculated to Command that respect which is due to an army of the United States. The Enemy was disposed to neglect us, and a victory which they greatly overrated did not seem to increase their Humanity. For eight or ten days after the Battle our people suffered under great neglect. After the Bitterest Complaints and most urgent importunity our supplies became more liberal. We were also weak in Medical Help. Our Militia Surgeon disappeared after the Battle, and the Commander-in-Chief had not yet turned his attention to the Wounded Prisoners. It happened that one of the Continental Surgeons fell into the hands of the Enemy. It may be supposed that with his assistance, tho' he was indefatigable, I found it impossible to give the desired help to 240 Men, who Laboured under at Least 700 Wounds. After three weeks we were happily reinforced by Dr. Johnson, a Senior Surgeon of great skill & Humanity in the Continental Service.

Inclosed is a List of the wounded Militia, also the only return I could get of the Prisoners in general. It is not satisfactory, for the Commissary of Prisoners, one Booth Boote, whose Character did not appear to be diversified by a single Virtue, would never do any thing that would prove acceptable to us.

The number of wounded brought into Cambden from the actions of the 16th and 18th of August was 240. Of this number 162

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were Continental Troops, 12 were South Carolina Militia, 3 were of Virginia Militia, and 63 were of the Militia of this State, of whom the List is enclosed.

On the 7th of September 18 of our Militia, having recovered from their wounds, were sent to Charlestown; 9 of the Militia, having recovered, escaped at different times, and 10 of them remained in Cambden on the 13th of October chiefly well. We had the misfortune to lose 5 Privates, who died by their Wounds, 9 by the Small Pox, 1 by a Putrid fever, and 4 by the Flux; 2 Officers died by their Wounds and 2 by the Small Pox.

It will obe observed that we paid a heavy tribute to the Small Pox. However, we have the comfort to recollect that, having formed the most alarming apprehensions from that disease, no means in our power were omitted by which we might avoid or palliate its dangerous effects. The British Camp generally contains the Seeds of Small Pox. It had been in Cambden for some time. We were not suffered even to inoculate those Men whose wounds would admit of that operation with safety. Lord Cornwallis shewed much displeasure at the Inoculation of an Officer who had a slight wound, and was quartered apart in a private House. Desirous that some of our Surgeons might be permitted to inoculate the prisoners who were sent to Charles Town, I made an application to his Lordship on that Subject, and received the inclosed Answer, from which nothing could be expected. Immediately after I was called to see two of the Inhabitants of South Carolina who were sick in Prison. They had the small Pox in a small Room with 17 others, State Prisoners, who were yet to take it. I wrote Lord Cornwallis on so pressing a Tryal of Humanity, Stated the Cases fully, and assured his Lordship that Confinement in such a Room, putrescent as the Atmosphere there was, must be followed by death, equally certain as immediate execution. The two sick Men were enlarged, but the others were detained; they were not inoculated; most of them died. About the 22nd of September we obtained Permission to inoculate such of our Men as had hitherto escaped. At that time the State Prisoners in Jail, many of them very sick, were committed to my Care. Such as were then in health, and were inoculated, suffered very little by the Small Pox. During the whole of our attendance on the wounded

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and Sick, we had occasion to remark That the most of our Prisoners were visited by the Flux, which prevailed in Cambden; we did not lose a single Man by that disease, unless of those who had broken thighs or Legs.

That small Boys suffered most by the Flux; That the sufferings of our men were greatly increased by the want of Sugar, Tea, Coffee, Vinegar, and such other palatable antiseptic Nourishment as is best suited the Sick. The cry for these Articles was constant, while our supplies were so scanty as hardly to deserve the name, nor was any thing of the kind to be purchased for Money, unless in very trifling Quantities. From a transient view of our misfortunes it is clear that we should save many Lives by any kind of Military establishment which would admit of the Troops being inoculated before they took the Field.

It is also clear that a moderate supply of Sugar, Rice, Tea, Coffee or such other wholesome Nourishment for the sick and invalids of our Militia would tend greatly to reconcile them to the hardships of a Campaign & would save the lives of many.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your most obedient and very humble Servt.,
To the Honble Thos. Benbury, Esqr., Speaker of the Commons House of Assembly.