The Papers of General Nathanael Greene


Thomas Sumter (1734-1832)
(portrait -- 96k)

A farmer, miller, and magistrate in South Carolina before the war, Thomas Sumter had a reputation for being hard-bitten and unscrupulous. He had served in the Continental army until he was forced to retire by illness in 1778. The burning of his plantation by an officer in Tarleton's legion brought him back into the field as a partisan leader in June 1780. ... As a partisan leader, he was bold, imaginative, and pugnacious, although a poor tactician and a careless battle commander. He often failed to reconnoiter the ground or coordinate his units. Despite these shortcomings, he scored important victories during the summer of 1780 and became a symbol of South Carolina resistance. In October 1780, Gov. John Rutledge named him state militia commander. ... While the southern army remained at Charlotte, NG often consulted with him. This close cooperation did not endure, however, and by war's end, Sumter considered NG his enemy. Reasons for the deterioration in their relationship included Sumter's reluctance to subordinate himself and NG's unhappiness over Sumter's use of plunder to pay his troops. A disgruntled Sumter retired again in August 1781.
After the war, Sumter doggedly sought to defend his reputation, often at the expense of NG's. This was especially true after Sumter read in William Gordon's history, which was published in 1788, an excerpt of NG's letter to Joseph Reed of 4 May 1781, PGNG 8: 199-202. In the excerpt portion, NG had written that some of Sumter's men followed him only because it afforded them an opportunity to plunder. In 1791, Sumter, then a congressman and still smarting from NG's criticism, helped to temporarily block a settlement with NG's widow for money that NG--in a somewhat irregular transaction--had pledged on behalf of the firm of Hunter, Banks & Co., to purchase clothing for the southern army. (The settlement was finally completed in 1796). Sumter returned to Congress in 1801 as a senator and served until he resigned in 1810. He devoted himself to his private affairs thereafter. A full-length biography is Gregorie, Sumter.
Excerpted from PGNG 6: 563n.