The Battle of Camden, fought on August 16, 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, was one of the most devastating defeats for the Patriots. Taking place near Camden, South Carolina, it pitted a force of about 4,000 Continental Army soldiers, led by Major General Horatio Gates, against a smaller British force under the command of Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis. However, despite their numerical advantage, the Patriots were severely defeated due to a combination of poor leadership, ill discipline, and the superior tactics employed by the British forces. The British victory at Camden helped solidify their control over the Southern Colonies, temporarily impeding the Rebel’s progress in the region.
Given the magnitude of the defeat, the Battle of Camden is not often the central focus in many historical accounts of the Revolutionary War. However, British officers who participated in the battle provided some of the most detailed and insightful accounts, supporting the notion that the victors often write history. These accounts provide a British perspective on the battle, shedding light on the tactical decisions made by Cornwallis and his officers, and the factors leading to their decisive victory. While these reports may not cover the entire spectrum of experiences during the battle, they offer invaluable insights into the event, highlighting the complexities and challenges of this tumultuous period in American history.
Cornwallis, Charles Cornwallis, and Ian Saberton. The Cornwallis Papers:: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in The Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War. 6 vols. Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2010.
The primary source for British General Lord Cornwallis’s account of the battle.
Tarleton, Banastre. A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America. Dublin: Colles, Exshaw, White, H. Whitestone, Burton, Bryne, Moore, Jones and Dornin, 1787.
Also a good source for the actions that led up to the battle and its immediate consequences.
Piecuch, Jim. The Battle of Camden: A Documentary History (Amazon ebook: The History Press, 2006).
The Piecuch volume is akin to a primary source as it contains extracts from both American and British eyewitnesses (both officers and enlisted men). It is a good starting place to understand the battle and its consequences. Piecuch also summarizes contents of his book in a Journal of the American Revolution article.
Saberton, Ian. American Revolutionary War in the South Further Reflections from a British Perspective in the Llght of the Cornwallis Papers. Tolworth, Surrey: Grosvenor House Publishing Co., 2022.
———. The American Revolutionary War in the South: A Re-Evaluation from a British Perspective in the Light of the Cornwallis Papers. Tolworth, Surrey: Grosvenor House Publishing Co., 2018.
Smith, David and Turner, Graham. Camden 1780: The annihilation of Gates’ Grand Army (Kindle Edition: Osprey Publishing, Inc., 2016).
Davis, Robert Scott, Thomas Pinckney, and William Johnson. “Thomas Pinckney and the Last Campaign of Horatio Gates.” The South Carolina Historical Magazine 86, no. 2 (1985): 75-99. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27567893.
Smith should respond to the Wikipedia listing for the battle if waxhaw; sources there are in conflict with smith’s more considered analysis.