The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major engagement of the Revolutionary War.
While both sides claimed victory, the clear advantage went to General Nathanael Greene, who recovered all the previous conquests the British had taken in the South.
General Nathanael Greene had taken over the Southern Army after the terrible defeat at Camden and had re-energized the army with innovative techniques and a series of quick but effective attacks on Cornwallis.
Some of these attacks, such as the Battle of Cowpens, were complete victories, while others were effective attacks that caused the British to stretch their supply lines and take casualties. Cornwallis found himself retreating back to the coast of Virginia and being harassed the entire way there.
Prior to the Battle of Eutaw Springs, Greene placed the fortified village of Ninety-Six under siege. After learning of incoming reinforcements, he assaulted the village but was pushed back. He then retreated towards Charlotte, North Carolina.
Rawdon pursued Greene for several days but abandoned the pursuit because his men were exhausted by days of forced marching, and he lacked sufficient supplies to continue. In spite of the fact that Ninety Six was the only remaining inland British outpost after the fall of Augusta, Georgia, Rawdon decided to burn and abandon it and withdrew the garrison to Charleston. In poor health, Rawdon sailed for England in late August, leaving Charleston under the command of Colonel Alexander Stewart.
On 16 July, Greene moved his army, exhausted by many days of marching and combat, to a campsite on the High Hills of Santee, allowing his main force to rest while awaiting reinforcements. Marion and Sumter continued to harass the British in a "war of posts." On August 23, his force moved towards Camden to cross the Wateree River and then Howell's Ferry to cross the Congaree River. By 4 Sept., they were camped at Fort Motte, then Stoudenmyer's Plantation on 5-6 Sept.
On 13 Aug., Colonel Stewart had led a force of 2,000-2,300 men from Orangeburg to Thompson's Plantation, south of the Congaree River.
He then fell back to Eutaw Springs on 27 Aug., about 2 miles east of present-day Eutawville, then in Charleston District (but both now in Orangeburg County)
At 4:00 AM on 8 September 1781, Greene's army began marching from Burdell's Plantation in the direction of Eutaw Springs, which was 7 miles (11 km) distant. In the van were Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee's Legion plus 73 infantry and 72 cavalries of South Carolina State troops under Lieutenant Colonel John Henderson and Captain Wade Hampton, respectively.
Next in the marching column came 40 cavalry and 200 infantry under Brigadier General Francis Marion, followed by 150 North Carolina militia under Colonel Francis Marquis de Malmedy and 307 South Carolina militia led by Brigadier General Andrew Pickens.
Continental Army troops formed the center and rear of Greene's column. These were led by three green North Carolina battalions under Brigadier General Jethro Sumner. Major John Armstrong led a mounted contingent, while Lieutenant Colonel John Baptista Ashe and Major Reading Blount directed the foot soldiers.
Ashe and Blount served with the 1st North Carolina Regiment, while Armstrong belonged to the 4th North Carolina Regiment.
Two Virginia battalions under Lieutenant Colonel Richard Campbell and Major Smith Snead were trailed by Colonel Otho Holland Williams' two Maryland battalions under Lieutenant Colonel John Eager Howard and Major Henry Hardman. Lieutenant Colonel William Washington's mounted men and Captain Robert Kirkwood's Delaware infantry companies formed the tail of the column.
Greene's force had two 3-pound grasshopper guns under Captain-Lieutenant William Gaines and two 6-pound cannons directed by Captain William Brown. All told, Greene had 1,256 Continental infantry and 300 cavalry, the horsemen mostly divided between Lee and Washington.
Lee's cavalry was led by Major Joseph Egleston and his infantry by Captain Rudolph. Greene's army numbered 2,400 men, of whom 200 were left behind to guard the baggage train.
Stewart had between 1,800 and 2,000 troops on hand. His British regulars were the 3rd Foot, 63rd Foot, 64th Foot, and John Marjoribanks' 300-man flank battalion. The last-named unit was made up of the converged flank companies of the 3rd, 19th, and 30th Foot. The regulars were supported by two American loyalist contingents.
These units were John Harris Cruger's regular battalion of DeLancey's Brigade and John Coffin's South Carolina Tories, which consisted of about 150 regular infantry and 50 militia cavalry. Stewart's artillery consisted of two 6-pound, one 4-pound, and one 3-pound cannon, plus a swivel gun.
The Fighting Begins
In order to make up for a shortage of bread in his supplies, Stewart had been sending out foraging parties each morning to dig up yams, unarmed, except for a small guard detail. At around 8 a.m. on September 8, Captain John Coffin and a detachment of his South Carolina Loyalist cavalry were reconnoitering ahead of Stewart's main force when he encountered a mounted American scouting party under Major John Armstrong.
Coffin pursued Armstrong, who led him into an ambush. Attacked by Henry Lee's 2nd Partisan Corps, Coffin escaped but left 4 or 5 of his men killed and 40 more captured. The Americans then came across Stewart's foragers and captured about 400 of them.
Greene's force, with around 2,200 men, now approached Stewart's camp while Stewart, warned by Coffin, deployed his force. When the Americans realized they were approaching the British force, they formed three lines, with the militia in front with 2 3-pounders, followed by the Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina Continentals with 2 6-pounders, with the Delaware Regiment and Washington in reserve. The Americans started the attack at 9 AM with artillery and an advance by the militia.
This line consisted of left to right, Hampton, Henderson, Pickens, de Malmedy, Polk, Marion, Lee's infantry, and then Lee's Cavalry. They were opposed by the British Line consisting of left to right, Coffin, 64th, 63rd, New Jersey Volunteers, New York Volunteers, 84th, De Lancey's, 3rd, and Marjoribanks. Hand-to-hand combat ensued when the Militia closed with the British Line. Some militia panicked while some held firm, able to fire 17 times, before ordered back and replaced by the North Carolina Continentals in a 'passage of lines".
The North Carolina Continentals halted the British advance but were forced back by a British bayonet charge, only to reform and halt the British a second time. Greene then ordered the Maryland and Virginia Continentals forward in another passage of lines, forcing the British back towards their camp.
However, two areas of British resistance remained, one under Maj. Henry Sheridan at the Brick House, which included a swivel gun, and another under Maj. Marjoribanks on the northern flank. Washington's cavalry tried to dislodge Marjoribanks, but Washington was unhorsed, wounded, and taken prisoner, sitting out the remainder of the war. Marjoribanks then retreated towards the Brick House.
The Brick House now became the focal point of the battle, and when an American artillery assault failed, the house gave the British a focal point to regroup, rally, and reenter the battle. Maj. Marjoribanks then attacked the American flank in the clearing before the house before he was mortally wounded.
According to Stewart, the Americans "gave way in all quarters, leaving behind them two brass six-pounders and upwards of two hundred killed on the field of action, and sixty prisoners, amongst whom was Colonel Washington, and from every information, about eight hundred wounded..."
According to Otho Williams, some plundering of the British camp occurred, while an attack on the British left by Lee's cavalry failed. At this point, Greene ordered a retreat with all of the wounded. Greene's army was then able to march back to Burdell's Plantation in column formation, with a cavalry picket covering the orderly retreat.
According to Greene, "Nothing but the brick house and their strong position at Eutaw's hindered the remains of the British army from falling into our hands."
Both sides claimed victory, and while it was a tactical victory for the British, it was a strategic failure.
Shortly after the British claimed victory, the British retreated towards Yorktown. The Battle of Eutaw Springs would be the last major action in the South before the end of the war.
The British failed to gain widespread Loyalist support, which they needed if they were to defeat the Americans, and they failed to stop Greene's Army. This, coupled with the losses that they were taking, put them at a disadvantage.
The Americans were able to recruit more soldiers, but the British had to rely on soldiers from England, Loyalists, or Native American allies.
Nathanael Greene had successfully rallied a beaten army back from the dead and took back most of what the British had gained while in the South.