The Battle of Camden, Death of DeKalb. Engraving after a painting by Alonzo Chappell.  National Archives. 

                          THE BATTLE OF CAMDEN

       The tragedy of the Battle of Camden is that it should never have taken place when and where it did.  The American General Horatio Gates, hero of Saratoga, had taken command of the troops in the South from Baron Johann de Kalb only a short six weeks before the battle.  His mission was to clear the British from the Carolinas. De Kalb's men were bordering on starvation and exhaustion; consequently, he advised Gates to take a longer route into South Carolina by way of Charlotte, where friends and supplies were plentiful.

     Gates preferred the eastern route and ordered his men to march on August 13, 1780, arriving at Colonel Rugeley's plantation some thirteen miles north of Camden two days later.  He had nearly 4,000 troops but two-thirds of these were green, untried militia.  Lord Cornwallis, hearing of Gates' movements left Charleston, arriving in Camden on the same day that Gates did.  By moonlight, both armies moved out, meeting in the early morning hours in Gum swamp in the vicinity of Sanders Creek.  Skirmishing broke out, but the actual attack took place at daylight.

     A small band of 50 men advanced on the British, who counter-attacked with bayonets and drawn swords.  At this, the Virginia and North Carolina militia panicked, broke, and ran - many without having fired a single shot.  What was to have been attack turned to a complete rout, with "Butcher" Tarleton in hot pursuit.

     Meanwhile, the Delaware and Maryland regiments held, led by de Kalb, whose horse had been shot from under him -- and here the British concentrated their attack.  The gallant German fell with eleven wounds, dying in Camden three days later.  The British buried him with full military honors.

     General Gates covered himself with something less than glory by joining the fleeing militia, never stopping until he reached Charlotte.  Gates was never to live down the disgrace of his flight.

     The American losses were enormous, nearly 1000 men killed and 1000 captured, besides numerous transport and ammunitions confiscated.  The British lost less than 350 men.  For the Americans, this was the most disastrous battle of the Revolution.

     In 1954 the Kershaw County Historical Society placed a marker on the Flat Rock Road indicating the site of the Battle of Camden.  A stone monument erected by the Hobkirk Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution indicates the spot where Baron de Kalb fell.  Another marker states that 2,000 acres of the Battle of Camden site were designated a National Landmark in 1961.  It remains an uninterpreted site otherwise.

     This site may be reached by going north from Historic Camden for about seven miles on Highway 521, then take a left fork onto Flat Rock Road.  The marker and monument are located 2.2 miles from the fork on the right.

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