The Revolutionary War in the south: Re-evaluations of certain British and British American actors


November 21, 2016
by Ian Saberton Also by this Author


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Prefatory remarks

Wide-ranging and to some degree disparate as they are, my re-evaluations are, on the one hand, compartmentalized under the sub-headings set out below and, on the other, placed in the context of the historiography relating to them.  Based preponderantly on The Cornwallis Papers,[1] they crystallize my reassessment of the persons addressed.

As ever, when it comes to the historiography of the southern campaigns, it is a question of separating the wheat from the chaff.  On Major Gen. Nathanael Greene, the Continental general officer commanding in the south, five works on him alone were published between 1960 and 1972, and since then the rate of publication has increased, particularly in recent years.[2]  Yet apart from Thayer’s and Treacy’s scholarly studies on the one hand, Showman’s edition of Greene’s own papers on the other, and the thought-provoking work edited by Massey and Piecuch, none adds, at least for the military historian, to a better understanding of Greene’s character, strategy and tactics.  Keeping track of works on Greene is of course a mere microcosm of the picture as a whole.  As Cogliano has stated, “The present literature on the American Revolution is so vast that it would be impossible to digest it in a lifetime …  more works pour off the presses monthly.”[3]  There, historiographically, lies the rub.

Overall, I remain of opinion that militarily the broad picture of the war as portrayed by American historians has not markedly altered since the 1970s, but almost all of their interpretive works are written from a perspective that does not coincide with my aim to provide an accurate, balanced and dispassionate commentary on the war.  Ipso facto, I have ― whether here, in the The Cornwallis Papers, or in two recent articles[4] ― preferred to base my own conclusions mostly on primary and secondary material rather than on the reworking or interpretation of it in tertiary form, even though in some respects there is a measure of agreement between the latter and myself.[5]

Re-evaluations of certain British or British American actors

Sir Henry Clinton

Much has been written about Clinton’s character, whether, for example, by Willcox, Willcox and Wyatt, or more recently O’Shaughnessy, but none in so many words draws the fundamental conclusion that I do.[6]  For instance Willcox and Wyatt, who in their psychological exploration of Clinton’s character dwell equally on the problems of a diagnostic approach based on limited historical evidence, conclude that the paradoxes of his conduct can largely be explained by the assumption that he suffered from a conflict, unresolved since childhood, between craving and dreading to exercise authority.  “The central point is that Clinton, although greedy for authority, was afraid of exercising it because it represented an area, the paternal, where a part of himself insisted he did not belong …  This conflict affected both phases of his American career.  When he was intent on telling his superiors what to do, he obviously craved power …  As commander in chief, responsible only to the distant ministers of the Crown, he was hesitant and unhappy about using his power; his attitude suggests an unconscious conviction that he ought not to have it.”[7]

I on the other hand come to what appears to me a simpler, more commonplace conclusion that Clinton exhibited the classic signs of someone suffering from a marked sense of inadequacy, a conclusion that implicitly reflects on his entire conduct of the war.[8]  No such link is explicitly drawn in any of Willcox’s cited works.  As to the principal signs exhibited by Clinton, he, as a subordinate, was overassertive, overcritical, and overly resentful when his advice was rejected; he, as Commander-in-Chief, was prickly, belittling of his colleagues, and quick to assume they were incompetent; he stored up perceived grievances aplenty; and typically, when associated with his other traits, he was shy, diffident, and did not mingle easily.

Banastre Tarleton

The bête noir of the southern campaigns, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, commander of the British Legion, has received an almost uniformly bad press in America, being castigated for severity in a tide of vilification that began during the Revolution and continues to the present day.  Yet underlying his actions, as I have sought elsewhere to maintain,[9] was a defensible approach to the war which has received scant attention from American writers, who, apart from the two notable exceptions below, have superficially and uncritically followed revolutionary propaganda in demonising the man.  In a nutshell, his severity, like that of the revolutionaries, was grounded on “an intuitive conviction that a winning policy had no option but to rely primarily on deterrence.  Indeed, as he saw it, the greater the deterrence, the sooner the restoration of peace and good government under the Crown.”

My reappraisal of Tarleton is in part a contribution to an ongoing academic debate about him that began with the publication of two works by Scotti and Piecuch in 2007 and 2010.  Scotti maintains that “there is no real quantitative or qualitative evidence that suggests his men committed more depredations than anyone else in the Revolutionary War.”  He later goes on, “In the process [of mythologizing the man, as continued by modern historians,] Americans have divorced themselves from the reality, which is that Banastre Tarleton is no more guilty or innocent of wanton devastation than anyone else who participated in that struggle.”  Piecuch, for his part, questions whether Tarleton and his men were ever guilty of a deliberate massacre at the Waxhaws.[10]

Among those eminent British historians who have written about the Revolution since World War II, Mackesy, Robson and Wright have made no criticism of Tarleton.  Indeed Wright remarks, “Of the British tactical commanders, there were two … who were both clever and positive, now deeply buried though they are in the seventh circle of execration in America:  Arnold and Tarleton.”  He later continues, “Whatever his relationship with Mary (Perdita) Robinson, who helped him write his book on the war as well as his parliamentary speeches, and whom, true to his lights, he deserted, Tarleton showed an energy and capacity all too rare among the British commanders.  To Rochambeau, however, as to all Americans, he was ‘a butcher and a barbarian’.”[11]

Nisbet Balfour

Lt. Col. Nisbet Balfour fared for many years little better than Tarleton in the eyes of American historians.  A son of the Laird of Dunbog in the County of Fife, he was born in 1743 and by the summer of 1780 had been commanding the Royal Welch Fusiliers for two and a half years.

As British occupation of South Carolina’s backcountry began, he was seconded to the command of Ninety Six but would not remain there for long.  Cornwallis would soon appoint him Commandant of Charlestown in place of Brig. Gen. James Paterson, who on July 18, 1780 was conveniently shipped off to New York for the recovery of his health.[12]  It was an exemplary appointment.  Arriving in Charlestown at the beginning of August, Balfour at once applied himself efficiently and indefatigably to the job, which involved not only managing the very complex civil affairs of the town and country but also supporting militarily the troops in the field.  An imposing figure, he is accurately described as being “altogether a very fine specimen of physical manhood, with an erect person fully six feet in height, broad-chested and athletic, with cheeks unwrinkled, a skin clear and florid, eyes large, blue and tolerably expressive, and features generally well-chiselled.”  In the uniform of his regiment he was, in the words of a lady who knew him well, “as splendid as scarlet, gold lace and feathers could make a man.”

Occupying as headquarters a mansion at No. 11 Lower King Street belonging to the estate of Miles Brewton, Balfour soon began to ruffle the feathers of revolutionary Charlestonians.  According to David Ramsay, a leading incendiary who, having been a member of the revolutionary legislature, was transported to St. Augustine for breaking his parole, he displayed in the exercise of his office “the frivolous self-importance, and all the disgusting insolence, which are natural to little minds when puffed up by sudden elevation and employed in functions to which their abilities are not equal.”  In particular Ramsay objected to Balfour and his assistants exercising legislative, judicial and executive powers over citizens in the same manner as over the common soldiery under their command.  For his part Brig. Gen. William Moultrie, who commanded the revolutionary prisoners, accused Balfour of “violent and arbitrary administration,” asserting that “Balfour, a proud, haughty Scot, carried his authority with a very high hand.  His tyrannical, insolent disposition treated the people as the most abject slaves.” [13]

Of Balfour’s critics Ramsay was the first to go into print, merely two years after the close of the war.  It was he who set the tone for American writing about the military history of the war for well over a century.  Despite stating that he had endeavored “to write impartially for the good of mankind,” he has provided a wonderfully unbalanced, tendentious version of events laced with partisan vituperation, as in the case of Balfour.  Others, for example Lee, Lossing and McCrady, have followed suit with equally damning remarks.[14]

Fortunately for Balfour the passage of time has led to a less emotive and more balanced assessment of his conduct.  Like Cornwallis, he was faced with the realities of power.  In the situation in which he found himself he had inevitably no option but to adopt measures which were designed forcibly and inescapably to put down rebellion.  This being so, it was only natural for the revolutionary party to consider those measures oppressive.  Indeed, they cannot have been otherwise if the aim was eventually to reinstate civil government under the Crown.  As the saying goes, you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs.

Extraordinarily preoccupied with the heavy duties of his office, Balfour personally had little time for those incorrigible revolutionaries who persevered at times in trying to score points.  Rather short with them he may have been, but his arduous responsibilities did not allow him the freedom to be otherwise.  Politically, they were beyond redemption.

Of latter-day American historians McCowen to some degree shares my assessment of Balfour, asserting that “little can be found to substantiate the accusations of Moultrie and Ramsay,” to which I have referred.  He continues, “As British commandant, Balfour was understandably unyielding toward the revolutionaries.  He scrupulously carried out the commands of his superiors in regard to policies in Charleston and wisely deferred to the Board of Police in civil matters.  Thus there would seem to be little reason to regard Balfour as the villain of the British occupation of Charleston.  Perhaps Moultrie and Ramsay were too personally involved in the events of the time to evaluate objectively the effectiveness of the British officer whose personality they found overbearing.”[15]

As revealed in The Cornwallis Papers, Balfour’s immense contribution to the British war effort in the Carolinas speaks for itself.  Always an entertaining writer, he comes across as an officer who never shirked responsibility but rather took it upon himself, an officer never loath to take the tough decision.  Right, for example, in promoting the transportation of incendiaries to St. Augustine, undoubtedly right in confirming the sentence of death on Col. Isaac Hayne, he may, for example, be criticized for closely confining Continental and militia captives on prison ships, a decision which led many to die of small pox or putrid fevers.  Yet taken together, his decisions were invariably sound in furthering the interests of the Crown.[16]

If Balfour was more commonly fallible, it was in his assessment of subordinate officers.  While right to a degree about the impetuosity of Major Patrick Ferguson, the Inspector of Militia, he was, for example, quite wrong in criticizing Lt. Col. John Harris Cruger for lack of confidence, an officer whose sterling qualities were amply displayed in the siege of Ninety Six.  Devoted to Cornwallis, he only once came close to regretting his judgement, namely to march from Wilmington into Virginia.[17]

After the war Balfour was rewarded by promotion to colonel and by appointment as an aide-de-camp to the King.  He went on to become an MP and see service as a major general in Flanders.  Unmarried, he died a full general at Dunbog in 1823.

John Watson Tadwell Watson

Watson was the lieutenant colonel commanding a corps of British American light infantry that arrived at Charlestown in mid December 1780.  Much has been written, whether by revolutionary participants or later, about his brief service in South Carolina, particularly his fraught expedition to the east and his encounters with Brig. Gen. Francis Marion, but how he came to be serving there instead of taking part in the winter campaign, what was his character as a Guards officer, and why he failed to reinforce Col. Francis Lord Rawdon before the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill have remained a mystery.[18]

Drawing on The Cornwallis Papers, I conclude that he was typical of many a Guards officer down the years, seemingly puffed up with self-importance and reluctant to obey or cooperate with ranking officers such as Rawdon, Balfour and Tarleton whom he considered his professional inferiors.  It was for this reason that Cornwallis decided not to take him and his men on the winter campaign because there would have been a constant difficulty of command between him and Tarleton.  As regards his failure to reinforce Rawdon, he may have disobeyed orders, they may have miscarried, or he may have been unavoidably delayed by Balfour’s stopping him to cover the ferries for Cornwallis’s possible return from Wilmington.[19]

Alexander Stewart and Paston Gould

The basics of Stewart’s service in the south have long been known.  Born in 1739 and a native of Ayrshire, he was lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Regiment (the Buffs) and had arrived with it at Charlestown in early June 1781 as part of a reinforcement from Ireland commanded by Col. Paston Gould.  In early July he would lead his regiment to a junction with Rawdon at Orangeburg, where Rawdon, who was returning on sick leave to England, handed over to him command of the troops on the frontier.  On September 8 he led them bravely in the Battle of Eutaw Springs.

So much for his service, but what of his character, about which history has remained silent?  Fortunately the The Cornwallis Papers includes certain facts about him and allows certain conclusions to be drawn, none of which portrays him in an entirely creditable light.  Admittedly beset with personal problems of a financial nature, he comes across as a forceful personality overly preoccupied with rank, advancement, and reward ― as one who in his letters to Cornwallis is not averse to leaning on their past acquaintance to try and obtain preferment.  Had these preoccupations not affected the conduct of the King’s service, then all would have been well, but on at least one occasion they did.  In a damning letter of June 7 Rawdon explains to Cornwallis how and why Stewart influenced Gould “to run rusty” by refusing to cooperate in the attempt to relieve Ninety Six.  It was left almost entirely to the exertions of Rawdon and Balfour that the successful attempt was made.  For his part Cornwallis plainly understood the nature of the creature with whom he was dealing, as may be read between the lines of his letter to Stewart of July 16.[20]

In December 1781 Stewart would achieve his cherished promotion to brigadier general and in 1782-3 serve in Jamaica.  In 1786 he entered the Commons as the Member for Kircudbright Stewartry, a seat he would hold till his death in 1794.  Four years earlier he had been promoted to major general.

The character of Gould also remained a mystery.  The titular successor to Rawdon, he was, as I conclude from The Cornwallis Papers, a weak man, a previously unrevealed consideration that led Cornwallis to supersede him with Major Gen. Alexander Leslie.  Blame for not cooperating in the relief of Ninety Six must also be laid at his door.[21]

Patrick Ferguson

A consensus has yet to arise as to Ferguson’s character, though The Cornwallis Papers goes a long way to supporting my own overall conclusion that he was a humane, benevolent officer who, despite trying circumstances, applied his best endeavors to discipline the royal militia and suppress their irregularities.  Yet unsubstantiated criticism continues to creep out of the woodwork ― and from surprising quarters.  For example Higginbotham, who with Shy has perhaps done most to contribute in recent times to a reassessment of the nature of the war, begins by stating more or less accurately that “the King’s friends in the south favored anything but pacification as that word is currently used.  Instead they wanted a course of harsh retribution.”  So far so good, but he then mistakenly contends, at least as far as Ferguson is concerned, that “their views were shared by some of Clinton’s subordinates, especially those most exposed to tory opinions such as Banastre Tarleton, Patrick Ferguson, and Lord Rawdon.”[22]

It is true that Ferguson had vacillated between favouring a scorched-earth policy and a conciliatory approach to the war, but by 1780 he had come down firmly in support of the latter.  Nevertheless, Shy maintains that he remained among the group of “hotheaded young officers … that advocated the use of fire and sword to defeat the American rebellion.”[23]

Thomas Fraser

How Fraser came effectively to command the South Carolina Royalist Regiment in the field has to some extent remained unchartered.

Born in 1755, Fraser was a Scot who had settled before the war in New Jersey.  Commissioned a lieutenant in the New York Volunteers in August 1777, he had acted as its adjutant and then as quartermaster.

As his service in the south began, he was seconded as quartermaster to Balfour’s detachment on its way to occupy Ninety Six.  A spirited and able officer, he would, as recommended by Balfour, receive a warrant from Cornwallis to raise a company of which he was appointed captain.  He proceeded to take part on August 19 in the action at Musgrove’s Mill, where he was wounded.  Shortly afterwards Cornwallis appointed him to the majority in the South Carolina Royalist Regiment, backdated to August 10.  With the recall soon after of his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Alexander Innes, first to Charlestown and then to New York, Fraser would take command of the corps in the field and play with it an active part in operations in South Carolina, a part outlined to some extent in The Cornwallis Papers.[24]

When the regiment was disbanded at the close of the war, he was placed on the Provincial half-pay list and retired to South Carolina.  Marrying there, he engaged at first in the lumber business, establishing saw mills on the Edisto River, but did not appear to prosper.  He then became a factor or commission merchant in Charleston.  Until his death he continued to receive half pay, and his widow was granted a pension by the Crown.[25]

George Hanger

Hanger played a short but important part in the southern campaigns, being major and second in command of Tarleton’s British Legion during the summer and autumn of 1780.  As such he made a significant contribution to the victory at Camden and commanded the British van on the entry into Charlotte.  It is, however, as author of An Address to the Army, one of the relatively few commentaries on the southern campaigns by a British participant, that he is best remembered as far as the war is concerned, a contribution that has led in part to my deciding to provide a pen portrait of him in The Cornwallis Papers and a short series of articles on him in this journal.  They correct manifold inaccuracies littering the historical record, for example as to his character and the nature and length of his service in America.[26]

James Dunlap

By no means rosy is the picture of Dunlap emanating from revolutionary sources and followed by American historians to this day, but is it accurate?  For the reasons I shall now advance I suspect not .

A captain in the Queen’s Rangers on secondment to Ferguson’s corps, Dunlap was vilified by the revolutionaries for severity, but scarce one concrete example has come to light, which alone is suspicious.[27]  Among recent American historians who have relied on those revolutionary sources are Waring and Bass.  Paraphrasing them, but like them in only general terms, Bass remarks, “James Dunlap had been vicious and wanton.  His plundering, depredations and murders had aroused uncontrollable hatred.”[28]

So, if the historical record is flawed, what do we actually know of Dunlap’s service and what reasonable conclusions about his conduct does a re-evaluation lead us to draw?  Undoubtedly he played an important part in the operations in South Carolina’s backcountry and the adjoining border region.  While seeking to promote Ferguson’s plan of campaign, he was involved in the actions at Earle’s Ford on July 15, Cedar Spring on August 8, and Cane Creek on September 12, where he was severely wounded in the leg.  As he recuperated at Gilbertown, a failed attempt was made to murder him in which he was shot in the body.  Recovering by early November, he was promoted to major of an irregular corps of horse to be raised in the District of Ninety Six.  While foraging with seventy-six of his men on March 24, 1781, he was attacked at Beattie’s Mill on Little River and surrendered after stiff resistance.  On his way to Virginia as a prisoner he had got as far as Gilbertown when he was shot and killed in cold blood by a set of men who forced the guard.

Accepted by all as an active, spirited officer, Dunlap has had his drive and determination vilified by revolutionaries as severity ― a highly suspicious charge as such conduct would have been so contrary to the humane, conciliatory policy followed by his commanding officer, Ferguson.  Accused by revolutionaries of raiding Col. Andrew Pickens’ plantation and causing him to break his parole in late December, he was in fact in Charlestown in November and early December before being engaged at the village of Ninety Six in forming his corps of horse.  He had still not done so by mid January.  Entrusted with this task, he had neither men nor opportunity to trouble Pickens, a course so at odds with British policy to conciliate that man of influence.

It is a peculiar fact of civil wars that adherents of one party tend to blackguard those of the other more bitterly than is common in other forms of warfare. As I have previously observed, there are, despite the passage of years, distinct parallels to be drawn between the Revolutionary War in America and the troubles in Northern Ireland, not least in the attitudes of the opposing sides.[29]  Yes, there were occasional lapses by the security forces in Northern Ireland, but an abiding recollection of my service there was the opposing party’s unremitting depiction of the security forces’ actions in the worst possible light.  So, I conclude, was it the case with Dunlap.

Other actors

In a short article such as this the vast panoply of mostly supporting actors cannot be addressed.  Re-evaluations or biographical or identifying information are likely to be found in my commentary in the The Cornwallis Papers or among its 2,882 footnotes.



[1]   Ian Saberton ed:, The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War, 6 vols (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2010) (“CP”).

[2]   Theodore Thayer, Nathanael Greene: Strategist of the American Revolution (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1960); M. F. Treacy, Prelude to Yorktown: The Southern Campaign of Nathanael Greene, 1780-1781 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963); Clifford L. Alderman, Retreat to Victory: The Life of Nathanael Greene (Philadelphia: Chilton Book Co, 1967); Ralph Edgar Bailey, Guns over the Carolinas: The Story of Nathanael Greene (New York: William Morrow, 1967); Elswyth Thane, The Fighting Quaker: Nathanael Greene (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1972); Richard K. Showman, Dennis M. Conrad, Roger N. Parks, et al. eds, The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, vols VI to IX (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991-97); Gregory D. Massey and Jim Piecuch eds, General Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution in the South (Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 2012).  The many recent biographies of Greene include Lee Patrick Anderson, Forgotten Patriot: The Life and Times of Major-General Nathanael Greene (Boca Raton, FL: Universal Publishers, 2002); Gerald M. Carbone, Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution (London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Terry Golway, Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution (New York: Henry Holt & Co, 2005); Steven E. Siry, Greene: Revolutionary General (Lincoln, Nebr: Potomac Books, 2007); Spencer C. Tucker, Rise and Fight Again: The Life of Nathanael Greene (Wilmington: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2009).

[3]   Francis D. Cogliano, Revolutionary America 1763-1815: A political history (Abingdon: Routledge, 2000), 2.

[4]   Ian Saberton, “Why was the Revolutionary War in the south lost by the British?” Journal of the American Revolution (September 28, 2016),; idem, “Was the Revolutionary War in the south winnable by the British?” ibid. (October 10, 2016),

[5]   I use “secondary” to describe material emanating from interviews or conversations with persons who had taken part in, or lived through, the war.  By “tertiary” I mean material that is neither primary nor secondary and, to the extent that it relies on other tertiary material, needs to be treated with a measure of caution.

[6]   Sir Henry Clinton, The American Rebellion, edited by William B. Willcox (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), ix-li; William B. Willcox and Frederick Wyatt, “Sir Henry Clinton: A Psychological Exploration in History,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 16, No. 1 (January, 1959), 3-26; William B. Willcox, Portrait of a General: Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1964), ch. XII; idem, “Sir Henry Clinton: Paralysis of Command,” in George Athan Billias ed., George Washington’s Generals and Opponents: Their Exploits and Leadership (Boston, MA: Da Capo Press, 1994), 2: 73-102; Andrew O’Shaughnessy, ‘”The Scapegoat’: Sir Henry Clinton,” in his The Men Who Lost America:  British Command during the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of the Empire (London: Oneworld Publications, 2013), 214.

[7]   Willcox and Wyatt, “Sir Henry Clinton,” 12, 17-19.

[8]   CP, 1: 6.

[9]  See CP, 1: 155-6, and Saberton, “Was the Revolutionary War in the south winnable by the British?”

[10]   Anthony J. Scotti Jr., Brutal Virtue: The Myth and Reality of Banastre Tarleton (Westminster MD: Heritage Books, 2007), 135 and 137; Jim Piecuch, The Blood Be Upon Your Head: Tarleton and the Myth of Buford’s Massacre (Lugoff, SC: Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution Press, 2010), 27-40.

[11]   Esmond Wright, Fabric of Freedom 1763-1800 (London; Macmillan & Co Ltd, 1965), 117.

[12]  For a biographical note on Paterson, see CP, 1: 49.

[13]   For a biographical note on Moultrie, see ibid., 373-4.  David Ramsay, The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina from a British Province to an Independent State (Trenton, 1785), 2: 263-4; William Moultrie, Memoirs of the American Revolution (New York, 1802), 300.

[14]   Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States (revised edition, New York, 1869), 462; Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, 2 vols (New York, 1855), 2: 568n; Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution 1775-1780 (New York: The Macmillan Co, 1901), 715.

[15]   George Smith McCowen Jr., The British Occupation of Charleston, 1780-82 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1972), 144-5.

[16]  For a biographical note on Hayne, see CP, 6: 78.

[17]   For biographical notes on Ferguson and Cruger, see CP, 1: 37-8, 152, and 258.

[18]   See, for example, William Dobein James, A Sketch of the Life of Brig. Gen. Francis Marion and A History of His Brigade (Charleston, 1821), passim; William Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, Major General of the Armies of the United States (Charleston, 1822), 2: 68, 71-2, 104-5; Robert W. Gibbes ed., Documentary History of the American Revolution consisting of Letters and Papers relating to the Contest for Liberty, chiefly in South Carolina (Columbia, SC, 1853), iii, passim; Lossing, Field-Book, 2: 472-75, 479, 500-01, 565-66; David Duncan Wallace, South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948 (reprint of 1951 edition, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969), 315; Mark Mayo Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (New York: David McKay Co, 1973), 1172; Robert D. Bass, Swamp Fox: The Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion (reprint of 1959 edition, Columbia: The Sandlapper Press Inc, 1976), passim; Hugh F Rankin, Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox (New York: Thomas Y Crowell Company, 1973), passim; Showman et al. eds, The Greene Papers, vols VII and VIII, passim; John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse:  The American Revolution in the Carolinas (Hoboken NJ: John Wiley and Sons Inc, 1997), 395-6; John W. Gordon, South Carolina and the American Revolution: A Battlefield History (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003), 142.

[19]   For a biographical note on Watson, see CP, 2: 199-200.

[20]   CP, 5: 292, 295, 299 and 6: 169-70.

[21]   CP, 5: 292, 294 and 6: 62.

[22]   CP, 1: 38; Don Higginbotham, “Reflections on the War of Independence, Modern Guerrilla Warfare, and the War in Vietnam,” in Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert eds., Arms and Independence: The Military Character of the American Revolution (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1984),  20.

[23]   Ferguson to Clinton, October 10 and 15, 1778, PRO 5/96(177) and (179) (Kew: UK National Archives); Stephen Conway, “To Subdue America: British Army Officers and the Conduct of the Revolutionary War,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 43, No. 3 (July, 1986), 383; John Shy, “British Strategy for Pacifying the Southern Colonies, 1778-1781,” in Jeffrey J. Crow and Larry E. Tise eds, The Southern Experience in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1978), 167.

[24]   For a biographical note on Innes, see CP, 1: 17.

[25]   CP, 1: 243.

[26]  The Hon. George Hanger, An Address to the Army in reply to Strictures of Roderick M’Kenzie (late Lieutenant in the 71st Regiment) on Tarleton’s History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 (London, 1789); CP, 1: 38-9; Ian Saberton, “George Hanger — His Early Life,” idem, “George Hanger — His Adventures in the American Revolutionary War begin,” and idem, “George Hanger — His Adventures in the American Revolutionary War end,” Journal of the American Revolution (January and February 2017).

[27]   See, for example, Hugh McCall, The History of Georgia (Savannah, 1816), 2: 352; Johnson, Greene, 2: 107; Lyman C. Draper, King’s Mountain and its Heroes (Cincinnati, 1881), 159 and 164.

[28]   Alice N. Waring, The Fighting Elder: Andrew Pickens (1739-1817) (University of South Carolina Press, 1962), 41 and 68; Robert D. Bass, Ninety Six: The Struggle for the South Carolina Back Country (The Sandlapper Store Inc, 1978), 349.

[29]   See CP, 1: back cover.


  • This was an intriguing read. However, as I read through it, I was reminded of encountering reports of the same American Civil War battle (Murfeesborough, Tenn.) by both Union and Confederate Generals and again of the War of 1812 battles along the Niagara Frontier by both British and American generals that made one realize that the actual truth of what happened lay somewhere in between the differing accounts. So I keep that experience in mind as I read the various authors relation of the accounts. I think the same theory applies to the reporting of the individual attitudes/personalities of the people involved.

  • I am shocked! shocked! that a British government employee/contractor historian would write assessments of British officers that are much more favorable than those written by American historians who are sympathetic to the revolutionary viewpoint. Who’d ever a thunk it?

    As Mr. Adams writes in his comment here, the actual truth will never be known but probably lies somewhere in between the pro-crown and pro-revolutionary viewpoints. Like everything else. One insurgent’s brutal butcher is always another man’s “strong hand” in defense of the anti-insurgency.

    It’s easy enough to see that difference in opinion in accounts of the Irish Easter Rising and continuing insurgency that soon led to the Anglo-Irish treaty and formation of the Irish Free State. The Brits at the time thought they were just defending the empire, and the Irish Republicans thought they were throwing off 700 years of British oppression. Violence was committed by both sides amidst great anguish and anger, but the British were forced again to relent. Just as they were forced to relent in India after World War Two. The only way to maintain an empire is to oppress one’s subjects and to play the bad guy. To not do that is to voluntarily give up an empire. Empires are rarely relinquished without a fight.

    People naturally want to be free of foreign domination if they believe they will better off on their own, and in order to preserve their own cultural pride. To attempt to force people to remain subservient against their will is, ultimately, the practice of evil … it has always been so. That is true even when the practitioners of such evil believe fervently they are simply exercising their rights as owners – or as their “subjects” would say, they are behaving as “oppressors”.

    1. Duane, I think you need to read the preface to vol I of “The Cornwallis Papers” (2010). You may then surmise my response.

  • Ian, thank you for this thoughtful analysis based on your extensive research.

    It is always refreshing to obtain a reassessment of the performance of military officers based on primary source material. The British Government clearly held different views than many American authors on a number of the men addressed in this article. As outlined, a number of these men continued to serve the Crown and went on to positions of increased responsibility; several became general officers after the Revolution. If their performance and conduct was as poor or criminal as inferred by some, they would never have achieved the promotions and increased responsibility assigned to them. However, we must be careful not to apply 21st century standards to 18th century men and circumstances.

    Civil wars are perhaps the worst kind of wars and the southern campaigns of the American Revolution provide a window into the complexities faced by military officers attempting to reestablish civil government in an unstable security environment. The large numbers of often well led irregular rebels presented the British Government with a significant challenge. Had the British employed a sufficient numbers of forces needed to secure the population and defeat the rebels in the south, the historical record would read much differently. The problems experience by the British in the southern campaigns link to a lack of understanding of the operational environment and a cohesive and properly resourced strategy to subdue the rebels.

    We continue to relearn this important lesson in the contemporary operational environment. Ian mentions Northern Ireland; I would add Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, in defeat, it is easier to blame individual officers rather than the policy makers and senior military leaders who often placed them in untenable positions. Effective national and military strategy involves balancing ends, ways, means and risk. These elements were out of balance in the southern campaigns, ultimately contributing significantly to Cornwallis’s defeat at Yorktown and American independence.

    1. Patrick, thank you for your comments, all of which I agree with. Presumably you have read my 2 articles appearing in Sept and Oct in the JAR. They address the big questions and the answers to them inferable mostly from my commentary in “The Cornwallis Papers”. For example, was the war in the south winnable by the British and was the strategy sound? If not, why not, but if so, what were the critical mistakes that led to disaster? There is nothing akin to their analysis in the multitude of works on the war that I have read.

      On Dec 6 the JAR will upload a further article of mine on certain revolutionary actors and events. It will be followed in Dec and Jan by 4 others, 3 of which comprise a biographical essay on Major George Hanger, second in command of Tarleton’s British Legion during the summer and autumn of 1780. The fourth will address the precise date and location of Hanger’s famous anecdote about the prowess of American riflemen, a mystery that has yet to be solved.

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