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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Marquis of Hastings to Alexander Leslie
Hastings, Francis Rawdon-Hastings, Marquess of, 1754-1826
October 24, 1780
Volume 15, Pages 283-287


Camp, near the Indian Lands,
West of the Catawba River,
South Carolina, Oct. 24, 1780.


Lord Cornwallis not being sufficiently recovered from a severe fever which lately attacked him to be able to write to you, his Lordship has desired that I should have the honour of communicating with you the subject of the present service. The Commander-in-Chief has transmitted to Lord Cornwallis a copy of the instructions under which you are to act. At the time when

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Petersburg was suggested as an adviseable point for a diversion which might co-operate with our intended efforts for the reduction of North Carolina, it was imagined that the tranquillity of South Carolina was assured; and the repeated assurances which were sent to us by the Loyalists in North Carolina gave us reason to hope that their number and their zeal would not only facilitate the restoration of his Majesty's government in that province but might also supply a force for more extensive operations. Events unfortunately have not answered to these flattering promises. The appearance of General Gates' army unveiled to us a fund of disaffection in this province of which we could have formed no idea; and even the dispersion of that force did not extinguish the ferment which the hope of its support had raised. This hour the majority of the inhabitants of that tract between the Pedee and the Santee are in arms against us; and when we last heard from Charles-town they were in possession of George town, from which they had dislodged our militia.

It was hoped that the rising which was expected of our friends in North Carolina might awe that district into quiet; therefore, after giving them a little chastisement by making the seventh regiment take that route in its way to the army, Lord Cornwallis advanced to Charlotteburg.

Major Ferguson, with about eight hundred militia collected from the neighborhood of Ninety-Six, had previously marched into Tryon county to protect our friends, who were supposed to be numerous there, and it was intended that he should cross the Catawba river and endeavor to preserve tranquillity in the rear of the army. A numerous army now appeared on the frontiers, drawn from Nolachucki and other settlements beyond the mountains, whose very names had been unknown to us. A body of these, joined by the inhabitants of the ceded lands in Georgia, made a sudden and violent attack upon Augusta. The post was gallantly defended by Lieutenant Colonel Brown until he was relieved by the activity of Lieutenant Colonel Cruger; but Major Ferguson, by endeavoring to intercept the enemy in their retreat, unfortunately gave time for fresh bodies of men to pass the mountains and to unite into a corps far superior to that which he commanded. They came up with him, and after

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a sharp action entirely defeated him. Ferguson was killed, and all his party either slain or taken.

By the enemy's having secured all the passes on the Catawba, Lord Cornwallis (who was waiting at Charlotteburg for a convoy of stores) received but confused accounts of the affair for some time, but at length the truth reached him, and the delay, equally with the precautions the enemy had taken to keep their victory from his knowledge, gave Lord Cornwallis great reason to fear for the safety of Ninety-Six. To secure that district was indispensable for the security of the rest of the province, and Lord Cornwallis saw no means of effecting it but by passing the Catawba river with his army, for it was so weakened by sickness that it could not bear detachment.

After much fatigue on the march, occasioned by violent rains, we passed the river three days ago. We then received the first intelligence respecting the different posts in this province which had reached us for near three weeks, every express from Camden having been waylaid and some of them murdered by the inhabitants. Ninety-Six is safe, the corps which defeated Ferguson having, in consequence of our movement, crossed the Catawba and joined Smallwood on the Yadkin.

In our present position we have received the first intimation of the expedition under your command. From the circumstances which I have detailed we fear that we are too far asunder to render your co-operation very effectual. No force has presented itself to us whose operation could have been thought serious against this army; but then we have little hopes of bringing the affair to the issue of an action. The enemy are mostly mounted militia, not to be overtaken by our infantry, nor to be safely pursued in this strong country by our cavalry. Our fear is that, instead of meeting us, they will slip by us into this province, were we to proceed far from it, and might again stimulate the disaffected to serious insurrection. This apprehension you will judge, Sir, must greatly circumscrible our efforts. Indeed, Lord Cornwallis cannot hope that he shall be able to undertake anything upon such a scale as either to aid you or to benefit from you in our present situation. The Commander-in-Chief has signified to Lord Cornwallis that his Lordship is at liberty to give you any direction for further co-operation which may appear to him expedient.

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But his Excellency has complied so very fully and completely with Lord Cornwallis's request, by sending so powerful a force to make a diversion in the Chesapeake, that his Lordship fears he should require too much were he to draw you into the immediate service of this district. His Lordship is likewise delicate on this point because he does not know how far, by drawing you from the Chesapeake, he might interfere with any other purposes to which the Commander-in-Chief may have destined your troops. Under these circumstances Lord Cornwallis thinks himself obliged to leave you at liberty to pursue whatever measures may appear to your judgment best for his Majesty's service and most consonant with the wishes of the Commander-in-Chief. No time is specified to Lord Cornwallis as the limitation of your stay to the southward. Should your knowledge of Sir Henry Clinton's desires prompt you to make a trial upon North Carolina, Cape Fear river appears to be the only part where your efforts are at present likely to be effectual. A descent there would be the surest means of joining and arming the friends of government, as well as of co-operating with this army.

This, therefore, would naturally be the point to which Lord Cornwallis would bring you, did he conceive himself at liberty so absolutely to dispose of you. It must be remarked, however, that there are two difficulties to this plan. The first is that the country from Cape Fear to Cross Creek (the Highland settlement) produces so little it would be requisite, in penetrating through it, to carry your provisions with you. The second is that no vessel larger than a frigate can pass the bar of Cape Fear harbour. Whatever you decide, Lord Cornwallis desires earnestly to hear from you as soon as possible.

'Tis uncertain yet what steps this army (if left to itself) must pursue, but it will be ready at least to act vigorously in aid to any plan which you may undertake. Lord Cornwallis begs that you will inform the Commander-in-Chief of your circumstances, and that you will have the goodness to mention how highly sensible his Lordship is to the very effectual manner in which his Excellency has endeavoured to ease the operations of his army. The measure must have been attended with the most favourable consequences had not accidents which no foresight could expect so greatly altered the complexion of our affairs in this province.

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Lord Cornwallis desires me to add how much satisfaction he should feel in having your assistance upon this service did it promise more favourably for you. But should the intentions of the Commander-in-Chief have left you at liberty to make the attempt at Cape Fear, the success which would probably attend that essential service would be doubly pleasing to Lord Cornwallis from the opportunity it would most likely give him of congratulating you in person. Allow me to add my hopes that the course of the service would put it in my power to assure you personally how much,

I have the Honour to be, &c.