Battle of Blackstock's Plantation, South Carolina
ON the evening of the 18th, TARLETON obtained information, that General Sumpter, with upwards of one thousand men, was moving towards (a.) Williams' house, a post occupied by friendly militia, fifteen miles from Ninety Six.
At daybreak next morning the light troops directed their course for Indian creek, marched all day with great diligence, and encamped at night, with secrecy and precaution, near the Ennoree.
Another day's movement was intended up the banks of that river, which, if completed without discovery, would, perhaps, give an opportunity of destroying General Sumpter's corps by surprise; or certainly would prevent his accomplishing a retreat without the risk of an action.
This encouraging hope was frustrated in the evening by the desertion (b.) of a soldier of the 63d, and the American commander at twelve o'clock at night obtained intelligence of his danger.
TARLETON pursued his march at dawn, and before ten o'clock in the morning had information of the retreat of General Sumpter: He continued his route to a ford upon the Ennoree, where he expected to gain farther intelligence, or perhaps meet the Americans.
On his arrival near that place, he found that the advanced guard and main body of the enemy had passed the river near two hours, and, that a detachment to cover the rear was waiting the return of a patrole: The advanced guard of the British dragoons charged this body, and defeated them with considerable slaughter.
From prisoners it was learned, that the sudden movement of the Americans was owing to the treachery of the deserter, by whose information General Sumpter had fortunately escaped an unexpected attack, and had now the option to fight or retire.
THOUGH greatly superior in number, he did not wait the approach of the British, but by a rapid march endeavoured to cross the rivers in his rear; beyond which, if pressed to extremity, he could disband his followers in the woods, and without great detriment assemble them again at an appointed quarter to the northward of the Pacolet.
The march already made by the British infantry, he imagined must soon render them unable to keep up with the cavalry; which circumstance, he flattered himself, would impede the advance of Lieutenant-colonel TARLETON, or, at the worst, produce only a partial engagement.
Influenced by such reflections, he continued an indefatigable march, which was followed without intermission by the British.
TARLETON, unwilling to divide his corps, and risk an action against a great superiority with his dragoons and the 63d, pressed forward his light and legion infantry, and three pounder, in a compact body, till four o'clock in the afternoon; at which time it became evident, that the enemy would have an opportunity of passing unmolested the Tyger river before dark, if he did not alter his disposition:
He therefore left his legion and light infantry, who had made meritorious exertions during the whole day, to march on at their own pace, whilst he made a rapid pursuit with one hundred and seventy cavalry of the legion, and eighty mounted men of the 63d.
Before five o'clock the advanced guard charged a detachment of the Americans, who gave ground after some loss, and retreated to the main body.
Sumpter now discovered, that he could not with safety immediately attempt to pass the Tyger, and that the ground which he possessed on its banks gave him a favourable opportunity to resist the efforts of the cavalry.
Regular information of his being pressed at this period by the mounted part of TARLETON's corps had been communicated to him; which, without such report, he might have calculated by the distance and duration of the movement:
A woman (c.) on horseback had viewed the line of march from a wood, and, by a nearer road, had given intelligence that the British were approaching without infantry or cannon.
DECIDED by these considerations, the American commander prepared for action, and made a judicious disposition of his force:
He posted the center of his troops in some houses and out-houses, composed of logs, and situated on the middle of an eminence; he extended his right along some rails, which were flanked by an inaccessible mountain; and he distributed his left on a rugged piece of ground that was covered by a bend of the river; a small branch of water ran in front of the whole rising ground, which was called Blackstock's hill:
The great road to the ford across the river passed through the center of the Americans, and close to the doors of houses where the main body were stationed.
The whole position was visible, owing to the elevation of the ground, and this formidable appearance made TARLETON halt upon the opposite height, where he intended to remain quiet till his infantry and three pounder arrived:
To encourage the enemy to do the same, he dismounted the 63d to take post, and part of the cavalry to ease their horses.
Sumpter observing this operation, ordered a body of four hundred Americans to advance, and attack the 63d in front, whilst another party approached the dragoons in flank.
A heavy fire and sharp conflict ensued: The 63d charged with fixed bayonets, and drove the enemy back; and a troop of cavalry, under Lieutenant SKINNER, bravely repulsed the detachment which threatened the flank.
The ardour of the 63d carried them too far, and exposed them to a considerable fire from the buildings and the mountain.
Though the undertaking appeared hazardous, Lieutenant-colonel TARLETON determined to charge the enemy's center with a column of dragoons, in order to cover the 63d, whose situation was now become dangerous.
The attack was conducted with great celerity, and was attended with immediate success.
The cavalry soon reached the houses, and broke the Americans, who from that instant began to disperse: The 63d immediately rallied, and darkness put an end to the engagement.
A pursuit across a river, with a few troops of cavalry, and a small body of infantry, was not advisable in the night; a position was therefore taken adjoining to the field of battle, to wait the arrival of the light and legion infantry.
AN express was sent to acquaint Earl CORNWALLIS with the success of his troops, and patroles were dispatched over the river at dawn, to discover if any part of the enemy remained in a body:
Intelligence was soon brought across the Tyger, that the corps was entirely dispersed, except a party of one hundred, who remained in a compact state, in order to escort General Sumpter, who was wounded in the action.
This news, and some rumours of approaching reinforcements, impelled Lieutenant-colonel TARLETON to follow the late advantage, by pursuing the fugitives; which would prevent their rallying to assist their friends, if the report was true concerning their advance.
Accordingly, leaving a guard to protect the wounded, he again commenced his march:
The men who had remained with their general since his misfortune, upon hearing of the approach of the British, placed him in a litter between two horses, and dispersed through the woods.
After a toilsome pursuit of three days, in which a few stragglers were secured, intelligence was obtained that General Sumpter had been conducted across the country by five faithful adherents, till he was removed out of danger.
THREE of the enemy's (d.) colonels fell in the action, and General Sumpter received a severe wound in the shoulder. Upwards of one hundred Americans were killed and wounded, and fifty were made prisoners.
On the side of the British, Lieutenants GIBSON and COPE, of the 63d, were killed; and Lieutenant MONEY, aid-de-camp to Earl CORNWALLIS, who had commanded the detachment of mounted infantry, with great gallantry, was mortally wounded:
Another officer of the 63d, and two subalterns of the British legion, were likewise wounded. The former corps had also thirty, and the latter fifteen, non-commissioned officers and men, with thirty horses, killed and wounded.
GENERAL Sumpter made proper use of the good fortune which had manifested itself in his favour previous to the action; and if he had waited in his strong position at Blackstock's till dark, without advancing a corps to attack the 63d, and the cavalry, he might have withdrawn, in all probability, without his adversaries' knowledge;
but, he would have been completely protected in the operation, even if they had notice of his intention; owing to the superiority of his numbers, and the advantages he derived from the situation of the ground, and the river; which could not be approached, after dark, by the British, till the light and legion infantry arrived; previous to which event, the rear guard of the Americans might certainly have passed the Tyger.
The light troops made very great exertions, to bring General Sumpter to action, and the hazard incurred by the cavalry, and 63d, was compensated by the complete dispersion of the enemy.
Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre TARLETON, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America, (1787; reprint, North Stratford, NH: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1999), Chapter III, pp. 175-180.
Click here for ---> Battles & Campaigns Main Page