Copyright 1999. Rhode Island Historical Society. All rights reserved.
Since I wrote your Excellency by Major Giles, Lord Cornwallis has been constantly in pursuit of the Light Infantry and the prisoners, and is now between the Shallow Ford upon the Yadkin and Salem, one of the Moravian towns; and still pushing into the country with great rapidity.[1
The moment I was informed of the movements of Lord Cornwallis I put the army in motion on Pedee and left it under the command of Brigr Genl [Isaac] Huger and set out to join the Light Infantry in order to collect the Militia and embarrass the enemy 'till we could effect a junction of our forces.
General [Daniel] Morgan after the defeat of Tarlton [Banastre Tarleton] had very judiciously made forced marches up into the Country and happily crossed the Catawba the evening before a great rain, which prevented the enemy from following him for several days, during which time the prisoners were got over the Yadkin and on their march for Dan River, which I hope they have passed and are in Virga.
On my arrival at the Lt. Infantry Camp I found them at Sherards [Sherrald's] Ford on the Catawba. The enemy were a little lower down the river at McCowan's [Cowan's] Ford, and the river still so high that they could not cross. We made the best disposition we could to stop them when the river should fall. But the fords were so numerous, and our force so small that we could not effect it. Genl Davidson who had great influence among the Mecklenberg & Roan [Rowan County] Militia had made use of all the arguments in his power to get the Militia into the field, but without effect. They had been so much in service and their families so distressed that they were loth to leave home even on the most pressing occasion.
The enemy crossed at Mc
Cowen's Ford where Genl
Davidson was posted with the greatest part of the Militia who fell by the first discharge. The enemy made good their landing, and the Militia retreated. A place of rendezvous was appointed for the Militia to collect at, who were posted at the different fords up and down the river above 30 miles. Part of them halted at Mrs
Tarrences [Torrence's] about seven miles short of the place of rendezvous, and were over taken by Tarlton & dispersed. I waited that night at the place appointed for the Militia to collect at, untill morning, but not a man appeared.[2
] The light Infantry continued their march to Salisbury and crossed the Yadkin. But before we got over all the baggage and stores the enemy were at our heels. A pretty smart skirmish happened between a party of our riflemen and the advance of the enemy near the ford. We had secured all the boats, and the river was so high that the enemy could not follow us.[3
Heavy rains, deep creeks, bad roads, poor horses and broken harness as well as delays for want of provisions prevented our forming a junction as early as I expected, and fearing that the river might fall so as to be fordable, I ordered the army to file off to this place where part of them arrived last evening, the rest I hope will be in this night.[4
The enemy finding they could not cross the Trading Ford, marched up to the Shallow Ford where they passed the night before last, and are within 25 or thirty miles of this place.[5
As soon as I arrived at the Lt
Infantry camp I wrote letters to all the Militia Officers over the mountains and in the upper Country to embody their men and join the Army as early as possible.[6
] But very few have joined us, and those principally without arms or amunition. We have no provisions but what we recieve from our daily collections.[7
] Under these circumstances I called a council who unanimously advised to avoid an action and to retire beyond the Roanoke [i.e., the Dan] immediately. A copy of the proceedings I have the honor to enclose.[8
I had previously ordered all the stores and heavy baggage to be removed to Prince Edward Court House; and informed Govr
Nash of our situation.[9
] I have formed a light army composed of the cavalry of the 1 & 3d
and the Legion amounting to 240, a detachment of 280 Infantry under Lt
Col. [John Eager] Howard, the Infantry of Lt
Col Lee's Legion and 60 Virga
Rifle Men making in their whole 700 Men which will be ordered with the Militia to harrass the enemy in their advance, check their progress and if possible give us an opportunity to retire without a general action.[10
The force under Lord Cornwallis consists of between 2500 and 3000 troops including near 300 Dragoons and their mounted Infantry. They have destroyed their waggons, and are compleatly equiped as Light Infantry.[11
I have the honor to enclose a copy of a letter from Lt Col. Lee, extracts of two letters from Genl
Marion and a copy of a letter from a well informed Gentleman respecting the operations at Wilmington.[12
General Morgan is so unwell that he has left the Army.[13
] The enemy since the action of the 17th
Ulto have pursued him upwards of 200 Miles. He was obliged to leave the wounded, the arms, waggons and carriages of the artillery taken in the action, but I hope they have not fallen into the hands of the enemy.
I have ordered Genl
Marion to cross the Santee River and Genl
Sumter to collect the Militia in the upper part of S. Carolina. Genl
Pickens has orders to take command of the men in arms in the rear of the enemy.[14
I have wrote Mr
Henery the late Govr
of Virginia to collect, if possible, fourteen or 1500 Volunteers to aid us, should the enemy attempt to pursue us beyond the Dan River.[15
I had the satisfaction to recieve your Excellencys dispatches of the 27th of Decr
and 9th Inst.
a few days since.[16
] I have the honor to be With sentiments of the highest esteem and respect
Your Excellency's Most Obedient Humble Servant.
] Gen. Edward Stevens provided more details of the crossing and skirmish in a letter of 8 February
to Gov. Thomas Jefferson:
The Great Quantity of Rain that fell the night before raised the River in such a manner as made it difficult to Cross even in Boats. General Greene with a small Party of Horse was still at Salisbury, Pushing out the remainder of the Stores from that place to the Tradeing Ford which was effected that night, except some few old musketts which were unfit for service.... On the evening of the 3rd Inst. the enemy appeared at the River tho by this time we had Compleated Crossing all to a Waggon or Two and those they paid Pretty dear for, as there was a Party of Virginia Rifflemen of about a Hundred under the Command of Major [David] Campbell, and a small party of North Carolinia Militia Horse was formed in ambush to receive them with Orders to give them a fire or Two and then Disperse down the River and Cross in Canoes which they executed very well and with but a very Triffleing loss on their part. (Boyd, Jefferson Papers, 4: 561-62)
Joseph Graham, who served with the mounted militia that carried out the ambush, wrote in his memoirs that the militia lost two men killed; British losses were unknown, but "from the appearances of blood in different places, [were] believed to be ten or twelve." (Graham, Graham, pp. 300-301
) According to Graham, the wagons that the British captured had been used by militiamen to haul their baggage from Cowan's Ford. Banastre Tarleton concurred, calling the captured items "waggons and stores belonging to country people." (Ibid., p. 301; Tarleton, Campaigns, p. 227
The Papers of General Nathanael Greene,
ed. Dennis Conrad et al.
(Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 1999). Full texts of documents calendared in
The Papers of General Nathanael Greene
(Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), Vol. 7, pp. 152-289. On the Web at http://mep.blackmesatech.com/mep/ [Accessed 21 January 2018]