« PrejšnjaNaprej »
writes he, "of ruining Lord Cornwallis if he persists in his mad scheme of pushing through the country; and it is my earnest desire to form a junction as early for this purpose as possible. Desire Colonel Lee to force a march to join us. Here is a fine field, and great glory ahead."
More correct information relieved him from the apprehension of a co-operation of Arnold and Cornwallis. The British troops which had landed at Wilmington, were merely a small detachment sent from Charleston to establish a military depot for the use of Cornwallis in his southern campaign. They had taken possession of Wilmington without opposition.
Greene now changed his plans. He was aware of the ill-provided state of the British army, from the voluntary destruction of their waggons, tents and baggage. Indeed, when he first heard of this measure, on his arriving at Sherrard's ford, he had exclaimed: "Then Cornwallis is ours." His plan now was to tempt the enemy continually with the prospect of a battle, but continually to elude one; to harass them by a long pursuit, draw them higher into the country, and gain time for the division advancing under Huger to join him. It was the Fabian policy that he had learnt under Washington, of whom he prided himself on being a disciple.
As the subsiding of the Catawba would enable Cornwallis to cross, Greene ordered Morgan to move off silently with his division, on the evening of the 31st, and to press his march all night, so as to gain a good start in advance, while he (Greene) would remain to bring on the militia, who were employed to check the enemy. These militia, assembled from the neighboring counties, did not exceed five hundred. Two hundred of them were distributed at different fords; the remaining three hundred, forming
AFFAIR AT MCGOWAN'S FORD.
a corps of mounted riflemen under General Davidson, were to watch the movements of the enemy, and attack him wherever he should make his main attempt to cross. When the enemy should have actually crossed, the different bodies of militia were to make the best of their way to a rendezvous, sixteen miles distant, on the road to Salisbury, where Greene would be waiting to receive them, and conduct their further movements.
While these dispositions were being made by the American commander, Cornwallis was preparing to cross the river. The night of the 31st was chosen for the attempt. To divert the attention of the Americans, he detached Colonels Webster and Tarleton with a part of the army to a public ford called Beattie's ford, where he supposed Davidson to be stationed There they were to open a cannonade, and make a feint of forcing a passage. The main attempt, however, was to be made six miles lower down, at McGowan's, a private and unfrequented ford, where little, if any, opposition was anticipated.
Cornwallis set out for that ford, with the main body of his army, at one o'clock in the morning. The night was dark and rainy. He had to make his way through a wood and swamp where there was no road. His artillery stuck fast. The line passed on without them. It was near daybreak by the time the head of the column reached the ford. To their surprise, they beheld numerous camp fires on the opposite bank. Word was hastily carried to Cornwallis that the ford was guarded. It was so indeed: Davidson was there with his riflemen.
His lordship would have waited for his artillery, but the rain was still falling, and might render the river unfordable. At that place the Catawba was nearly five hundred yards wide, abont three feet deep, very rapid, and full of large stones. The troops VOL. IV.-10
entered the river in platoons, to support each other against the current, and were ordered not to fire until they should gain the opposite bank. Colonel Hall, of the light infantry of the guards, led the way; the grenadiers followed. The noise of the water and the darkness covered their movements until they were nearly half-way across, when they were descried by an American sentinel. He challenged them three times, and receiving no answer, fired. Terrified by the report, the man who was guiding the British turned and fled. Colonel Hall, thus abandoned, led the way directly across the river; whereas the true ford inclined diagonally further down. Hall had to pass through deeper water, but he reached a part of the bank where it was unguarded. The American pickets, too, which had turned out at the alarm given by the sentinel, had to deliver a distant and slanting fire. Still it had its effect. Three of the British were killed, and thirtysix wounded. Colonel Hall pushed on gallantly, but was shot down as he ascended the bank. The horse on which Cornwallis rode was wounded, but the brave animal carried his lordship to the shore, where he sank under him. The steed of Brigadiergeneral O'Hara rolled over with him into the water, and General Leslie's horse was borne away by the tumultuous current and with difficulty recovered.
General Davidson hastened with his men towards the place where the British were landing. The latter formed as soon as they found themselves on firm ground, charged Davidson's men before he had time to get them in order, killed and wounded about forty, and put the rest to flight.
General Davidson was the last to leave the ground, and was killed just as he was mounting his horse. When the enemy had effected the passage, Tarleton was detached with his cavalry in
AFFAIR AT MCGOWAN'S FORD.
pursuit of the militia, most of whom dispersed to their homes. Eager to avenge his late disgrace, he scoured the country, and made for Tarrant's tavern, about ten miles distant, where about a hundred of them had assembled from different fords, on their way to the rendezvous, and were refreshing themselves. As Tarleton came clattering upon them with his legion, they ran to their horses, delivered a hasty fire, which emptied some of his saddles, and then made for the woods; a few of the worst mounted were overtaken and slain. Tarleton, in his account of his campaigns, made the number nearly fifty; but the report of a British officer, who rode over the ground shortly afterwards, reduced it to ten. The truth probably lay between. The survivors were dispersed beyond rallying. Tarleton, satisfied with his achievement, rejoined the main body. Had he scoured the country a few miles further, General Greene and his suite might have fallen into his hands.
The general, informed that the enemy had crossed the Catawba at daybreak, awaited anxiously at the rendezvous the arrival of the militia. It was not until after midnight that he heard of their utter dispersion, and of the death of Davidson. Apprehending the rapid advance of Cornwallis, he hastened to rejoin Morgan, who with his division was pushing forward for the Yadkin, first sending orders to General Huger to conduct the other division by the most direct route to Guilford Court-house, where the forces were to be united. Greene spurred forward through heavy rain and deep miry roads. It was a dreary ride and a lonely one, for he had detached his aides-de-camp in different directions, to collect the scattered militia. At mid-day he alighted, weary and travel-stained, at the inn at Salisbury, where the army physician who had charge of the sick and wounded prison
ers received him at the door, and inquired after his well-being. "Fatigued, hungry, alone, and penniless," was Greene's heavyhearted reply. The landlady, Mrs. Elizabeth Steele, overheard his desponding words. While he was seated at table, she entered the room, closed the door, and drawing from under her two bags of money, which she had carefully hoarded in those precarious times, "Take these," said the noble-hearted woman; "you will want them, and I can do without them." This is one of the numberless instances of the devoted patriotism of our women during the Revolution. Their patriotism was apt to be purer and more disinterested than that of the men.
Cornwallis did not advance so rapidly as had been apprehended. After crossing the Catawba, he had to wait for his waggons and artillery, which had remained on the other side in the woods; so that by nightfall of the 1st of February he was not more than five miles on the road to Salisbury. Eager to come up with the Americans, he mounted some of the infantry upon the baggage horses, joined them to the cavalry, and sent the whole forward under General O'Hara. They arrived on the banks of the Yadkin at night, between the 2d and 3d of February, just in time to capture a few waggons lingering in the rear of the American army, which had passed. The riflemen who guarded them retreated after a short skirmish. There were no boats with which to cross; the Americans had secured them on the other side. The rain which had fallen throughout the day had overflooded the ford by which the American cavalry had passed. The pursuers were again brought to a stand. After some doubt and delay, Cornwallis took his course up the south side of the Yadkin, and crossed by what is still called the Shallow ford, while Greene continued on unmolested to Guilford