George Hanger ― His Adventures in the American Revolutionary War end

Maj. George Hanger by Henry Pelham (Yale Center for British Art)

THE CHARLESTOWN CAMPAIGN

Beginning with the siege of Charlestown, the southern campaigns would prove to be Britain’s last throw of the dice in the Revolutionary War.

As preparations for the Charlestown campaign got under way, Hessian general orders on December 10, 1779 again sought volunteers for a chasseur company to accompany it under George Hanger’s command, serving, as he was, as a staff captain in the Jäger Corps.[1]  By the 19th they and the rest of the troops had embarked in a fleet of eighty transports to be escorted by ten ships of war and on the 24th the whole fell down to Sandy Hook.  The rendezvous for the fleet was the isle of Tybee near the mouth of the Savannah River, Georgia.  Despite a harrowing passage, almost all the 8,700 troops arrived safely by the end of January, but embarked on the Anna, George’s chasseurs did not fare so well, as he relates:  “In the violent gale of wind which arose about five days after we quit the harbour of New York, the ship ran foul of another in the night, which carried away both her main and mizzen masts.  Of course, having but the foremast remaining, she was compelled to put before the wind and make every wind a fair one.  She found herself unable to make either the American coast or bear down upon the West Indies.  Therefore, putting the troops and crew to a shorter allowance, she bore away right before the wind, it then blowing hard at north-west, and the first port she made was St Ives in Cornwall.  The oldest navigator must acknowledge this as a most singular event ― a ship dismasted, bound for Georgia, and driven to England.”  Yet George’s account does not adequately describe the full horrors of the voyage.  Provisioned for one month for only 100 men, the transport was in fact carrying 250 and famine soon set in.  The dogs were eaten;  bones were ground up and boiled with shavings from salt-beef barrels; and the master even went so far as to propose that they should cannibalise each other, beginning with the female camp followers ― a proposal rejected with disgust.  Having struck a rock off the Irish coast and sprung a leak, the vessel eventually reached St Ives, where, in answer to her signals of distress, two boats with a pilot and a carpenter put out to her assistance.  The carpenter was so frightened at the sight of the famished Hessians that he started off again for the shore as fast as his oars would take him.  The pilot succeeded in beaching the ship just as she was about to founder.

Fortunately for George he did not take passage in the Anna but in the John, having been requested by Clinton to see that proper attention was paid to three of his favorite horses.  After a tedious voyage beset by contrary winds and most violent storms, he arrived safely off Tybee.  Forlornly waiting for his chasseurs, he remained at Savannah as Clinton, Cornwallis and the bulk of the troops began their advance on Charlestown.  George joined up with them at the end of March as they were about to break ground on Charlestown Neck.

About his involvement in ensuing events George is not specific, commenting only briefly:  “My worthy friend Sir Henry Clinton, until an opportunity presented itself of employing me more actively, honoured me during the siege of Charlestown by continuing me in his family as one of his aides-de-camp.”  However, other sources reveal in part what he got up to.  He began, for example, to act as an emissary between Clinton, who was commanding the siege, and Cornwallis, who had been detached to the east of the Cooper River, but as the situation on the Neck became critical for the defenders, with the prospect that the town would soon be stormed, George came into his own.  He was ordered by Clinton to spy out the defences and recommend the point of attack.  Having studied fortification at Göttingen, he was considered eminently suitable for the job.  Very risky it proved to be, for, inevitably, he had to enter the advanced works, occupied by the jägers, amid a continuing barrage of cannon and musket fire from the enemy.  Men were being constantly killed or wounded around him.

It was at this point that a terrifying bombardment of the town and the threat of an imminent assault broke the will of the inhabitants, who petitioned Major General Benjamin Lincoln, the revolutionary commander, to capitulate.  He did so.  On May 12 the defenders marched out and delivered up the town together with a mass of ordnance, shot, powder, firearms and ammunition.  It was the greatest victory so far gained by the British in the war.

The Union Jack was raised on the ramparts and again flew over Charlestown.

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM

As Clinton was about to set sail for New York, leaving the command in the south to Cornwallis, George’s part in ensuing operations was settled, but sadly not much to his liking.  He was appointed deputy, with the rank of major, to Patrick Ferguson, the newly appointed Inspector General of Militia.  Of his appointment George has the following to say:  “When the siege of Charlestown was finished and the town taken, Sir Henry Clinton gave me a warrant in conjunction with my old friend Colonel Ferguson either jointly or separately, throughout the Provinces of South and North Carolina, to regulate, inspect, muster, etc. all volunteer corps, loyal militia, and others; to inspect the quantity of corn, cattle, etc. belonging to the inhabitants; and to report thereon to Lord Cornwallis, who commanded in the southern provinces.  The power and command vested in me by this warrant was very extensive.  It extended even so far as to empower me to join the race of Carolinians together in holy matrimony.”

George joined up with Ferguson and his men on May 25 as they marched through Charlestown after crossing the harbour from Fort Arbuthnot on Sullivan’s Island.  Next day, as part of a mixed corps of some 600 men commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Nisbet Balfour,[2] they got in motion about three o’clock in the morning on their way to Ninety Six[3], a village which lay to the south of the Saluda River some sixty miles west of its confluence with the Broad.

Advancing along what was once an Indian trading path, they marched by stages in the early mornings to avoid the excessive heat and thunderstorms of a Carolina day.  By June 4 they had covered seventy miles and lay at rest in the shade of woodland to the north of Nelson’s Ferry, where, it being the King’s birthday, they drank His health in captured wine.  By the 7th, as they were about to enter the backcountry, they had reached Thomson’s plantation a little to the south of the Congaree River and not far from its confluence with the Santee.  It was here that George came to a determination that was to affect his entire involvement in the war.

The backcountry is an amorphous expression describing the vast swathe of territory now to be entered by the British.  Of its settlers, living as they did in log cabins or primitive shelters on the edge of western civilisation, very many no longer conformed to accepted standards of behavior.  Criminality, immorality, and irreligion were rife, accentuated by the severe shortage of clergymen and the lack of education.  Admittedly, odd meeting houses were to be found, for example at Bush River, Camden, the Dutch Fork, Fair Forest, Fishing Creek, Turkey Creek, and the Waxhaws; itinerant preachers came and went; but in general the vast majority of the population caught neither sight nor sound of a minister.  “In the back parts of Carolina,” recalled George many years later, “you may search after an angel with as much chance of finding one as a parson; there is no such thing ― I mean when I was there.  What they are now, I know not.  It is not impossible, but they may have become more religious, moral, and virtuous since the great affection they have imbibed for the French.  In my time you might travel 60 or 70 miles and not see a church or even a schism shop.[4]  I have often called at a dog-house in the woods, inhabited by eight or ten persons, merely from curiosity.  I have asked the master of the house:  ‘Pray, my friend, of what religion are you?’   ‘Of what religion, sir?’  ‘Yes, my friend, of what religion are you ― or to what sect do you belong?’    ‘Oh! now I understand you; why, for the matter of that, religion does not trouble us much in these parts.'”  As to honesty, Cornwallis would soon observe, “I will not be godfather to any man’s honesty in this province.”

About half the backcountry settlers remained loyal to the Crown.  Now divided politically as well as in other ways, the region was a place where emotions often ran free, unrestrained by concepts of civilised behaviour.  A powder keg waiting to explode, it would be ignited by the coming of the British.

When we last left George, he was at Thomson’s plantation to the south of the Congaree.  Dismayed by the civil nature of much of his duties and sharing to some extent the regular army’s contempt for militia, he decided to seek the relinquishment of his office.  On June 7 he took leave of Ferguson’s men and rode over to Camden, where, supported by his good friends Colonel Francis Lord Rawdon and Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, he persuaded Cornwallis to appoint him major in Tarleton’s British Legion[5] in succession to the Hon. Charles Cochrane,[6] who was returning home on personal business.  Although Cornwallis had no delegated authority to make the appointment, he did so until Clinton’s pleasure be known, having earlier given George an assurance that he would be prepared to assist him if he could.  As George relates it, “Lord Cornwallis most kindly told me that, although I was separated from my old friend and protector Sir Henry Clinton, if it was in his power to make my situation pleasant, I had but to command him.  To serve under the command of so good-natured and brave a soldier could not but be pleasing to me and to every other officer who is acquainted with his goodness of heart.  I should be wanting in common justice if I did not testify his kindness and protection towards me, which, from that day to this moment, he has never withheld from me.”

On meeting up with George, Tarleton would have told him of his rout of Colonel Abraham Buford and 3 to 400 Virginia revolutionaries on May 29 at the Waxhaws.[7]

If we look to George’s Life, Adventures, and Opinions, we seek in vain his reasons for eagerly desiring to join the British Legion.  “I am not,” he declares, “going to fight over again the American war.  It is as much forgotten as the Trojan war and the recital of one would be full as interesting as the other.”  So we need to look elsewhere for clues.  Both he and Tarleton were good friends, having first met when both frequented London high society in the early 1770s, both were womanisers, and both in their private lives had much in common.  They were on the same wavelength.  As to their approach to the war, it must inevitably be assumed that George, humane as he was, agreed with Tarleton that severity was the surest means of ending the bloodshed ― otherwise why join the British Legion?[8]

For two months after the capture of Charlestown a false calm prevailed in South Carolina, broken only by the actions at Mobley’s Meeting House, Alexander’s and Beckham’s Old Fields, and Hill’s Iron Works.  Revolutionaries in great numbers allowed that the game was up and came in to submit.  All in all, the outlook could not have seemed brighter for consolidating and furthering British success in the south.

On June 21, having left the command at Camden to Rawdon, Cornwallis set out for Charlestown, where he arrived four days later.  Accompanying him were Tarleton and George.

THE STORM CLOUDS GATHER

As they set foot again in Charlestown, George and Tarleton were billeted in the houses of revolutionary families, who were excluded or confined to only one or two rooms.  Brief as his sojourn in town was, George left a lasting impression.  Playing fast and loose, he reverted to his womanising ways, ever mindful that for many of his calling life was short.  While, says Garden, ladies supporting the revolution kept their distance, “among those who, favouring opposite principles, became the intimate associates of the successful invaders there was a wide distinction of conduct and character:  mirth, revelry, and scenes of pleasure and dissipation” became the order of the day.  Of George’s conduct Garden provides the following critique, tainted as it is by political partiality:  “Where the exercise of peculiar severity was contemplated and the prevailing authorities wished to bend the haughty spirit of patriotism to submission or humble the constancy that bid defiance to oppression, the ready instrument of tyranny was at hand.  Who could hear of the wanton insults of Major Hanger, without the slightest regard either to decency or cleanliness, introducing into the best apartments of the most respectable families his cats, his dogs and his monkeys while revelling himself in every species of sensuality under the eyes of the unprotected females on whom he was billeted, and not lament that heaven had not spared some chosen bolt to punish his atrocity.  I cannot be more particular, for ―

‘T would fill each generous breast with wild amazement
To hear the story told.’.”

A favourite resort of British officers, to which George would have repaired, was a farmhouse some two miles from town called Dewees’ Tavern.  It was often the scene of entertainments and splendid balls attended by large and elegant assemblies of officers and their partners.

Meanwhile, as George lingered in Charlestown and July progressed into August, British ascendancy in the rest of South Carolina began so soon to unravel in the face of internal uprisings and an external threat.  Among other things the communication between Charlestown and Camden soon became a matter of concern.  As Cornwallis observed to Rawdon, “The great difficulty of our communication is that we can have no fixt posts on any of the rivers, or indeed in any part of the lower country.  No way occurs to me but sending some of those loose corps to make incursions and intimidate.”  Accordingly Tarleton and George with thirty of the British Legion cavalry were placed under orders to march for this purpose, though ultimately bound for Camden.

In the late evening of July 31 the detachment set off, passing through the great gate of Charlestown covered by a strong horn-work of masonry constructed by the besieged and now being improved by Major James Moncrief as part of his strengthening of the lines.[9]  On they marched past the Quarter House, five and a half miles distant, a place of festivity and refreshment frequented by George and his lovers, before passing by the Eight-Mile-House, a tavern on the Goose Creek Road.  From there they began to make very slow progress indeed.  Battered by violent winds and heavy rains which had been raging for the past eight days, the low country was so completely flooded that the detachment, joined by a party of militia, did not cross the Santee at Lenud’s Ferry until August 6.[10]  Advancing to Black River, they began to punish those in that quarter who had revolted.  The detachment, but not the militia, then moved on to Camden, which they reached by the 10th.  There George found that the situation for the British was becoming critical.

Preparations had long been afoot for the autumn campaign in North Carolina, but by now all were at risk as Major General Horatio Gates menaced Camden.  Meanwhile Rawdon had concentrated his force and fallen back to the town, towards which Gates advanced from Rugeley’s Mills in the late evening of the 15th.  It lay only fifteen miles to the south.

As the British hold on South Carolina gradually weakened, Cornwallis was preoccupied in Charlestown with regulating the civil and commercial affairs of the town and country, endeavouring to form a militia in the lower districts, and forwarding the preparations for the autumn campaign.  After handing over the business to Balfour, who arrived as Commandant on August 3, he set out for Camden one week later.  In the night between the 13th and 14th he arrived there with a fixed resolution to attack Gates at all hazards.

Coincidentally, as Gates advanced south towards Camden, Cornwallis marched north to meet him.

THE GLORIOUS SIXTEENTH[11] AND THE ACTION AT FISHING CREEK

About two o’clock in the morning of the 16th the vans of the two armies collided nine miles north of Camden.

Forming Cornwallis’s van was a party of the British Legion’s cavalry and mounted infantry amounting in all to forty men, but whether George was in command of them or of the rest of the cavalry forming the rear guard we do not know.  Musketry was kept up for fifteen minutes or so, and then, as if by common consent, the firing ceased.  There was no moon, the air was sultry with the heat and humidity of an early morning in late summer, and neither side wanted to fight in the dark.

According to Colonel Otho Holland Williams, Gates had with him 3,052 rank and file fit for duty, of whom more than two thirds were militia.  If we allow for officers, NCOs and drummers, his total force came to some 3,500 men.  Cornwallis had had to leave behind at Camden near 800 men who were sick, so that his rank and file, and total force, amounted to some 1,850 and 2,170 respectively.

As the battle got underway, George remained in the rear with the Legion cavalry, formed in a column due to the thickness of the woods, their left flank to the right of the high road leading from Camden.  Apart from the sounds of battle, there was a dead calm with a little haziness in the air, which, preventing the smoke rising from the musketry and cannon, occasioned such thick darkness that the action ahead was obscured.  Hidden from view was the rout of Gates’s left, centre and reserve, leaving only the Continental brigade forming his right on the field of battle.  As the British right and left wings engaged it, Cornwallis ordered George and his men to charge its flank in order to complete the rout, which, according to Cornwallis, was performed with their usual promptitude and gallantry, great execution being done.  And so, despite the Continental troops displaying the utmost bravery, Gates’s army was demolished within the hour.

Yet for George and the Legion cavalry the action had not yet ended.  They were ordered by Cornwallis to continue the pursuit to Hanging Rock, twenty-two miles north of the battlefield, “during which many of the enemy were slain, a number of prisoners, near 150 waggons, a considerable quantity of military stores, and all the baggage and camp equipage of the rebel army fell into our hands.”  Charles Stedman, a British commissary at Camden, relates that the road for some miles was strewn with the wounded and killed who had been overtaken by the Legion in their pursuit.  “The number of dead horses, broken waggons and baggage scattered on the road formed a perfect scene of horror and confusion.  Arms, knapsacks and accoutrements found were innumerable, such was the terror and dismay of the Americans.”

As ever Garden has something to say about George’s involvement:  “A person requiring of this unfeeling man the particulars of Gates’ defeat, he replied, ‘Flushed with victory and eager in pursuit, my arm was too well employed to allow much time for observation, but overtaking the waggon of de Kalb[12] on which was seated a monkey fantastically dressed, I ceased to destroy and, addressing the affrighted animal, exclaimed, ‘You, monsieur, I perceive are a Frenchman and a gentleman.  Je vous donne la parole.’

‘Where were thy terrors, conscience?  Where thy justice?
That this bad man dare boldly own his crimes,
Insult thy sacred power, and glory in it.’
FRANCIS.”

Exhausted by the previous night’s march and by their part in the battle and pursuit, the Legion were only briefly spared from further exertions.  Cornwallis ordered Tarleton to move early next morning, the 17th, in quest of Brigadier General Thomas Sumter, who was leisurely returning from a foray down the west bank of the Catawba and Wateree.[13]  Reinforced by a detachment of the 71st Regiment’s light troops, making 350 men in all, Tarleton and George marched up the east bank through the woods till at dusk they came to the ferry near Rocky Mount, a slight eminence on the opposite side evacuated only a few days earlier by Lieutenant Colonel George Turnbull’s New York Volunteers.  In its vicinity, about a mile from the river, the enemy’s fires could be perceived.  Immediate care was taken to secure the boats and instant orders were given to pass the night without fires.  No alarm happened but at daybreak it was apparent that the enemy had decamped.  Captain Charles Campbell, who commanded the 71st’s detachment, was instantly dispatched across the river with a small party and instructed to hold out a white handkerchief if Sumter was continuing his march.[14]  In the meantime preparations were made for passing the river.  On arriving at Rocky Mount, Campbell displayed the appointed signal, whereupon the boats with the infantry at once pushed off while the cavalry crossed by swimming.

Dogging Sumter’s tracks, the troops at midday reached Fishing Creek, where Tarleton found that a large part of them simply could not continue, overpowered as they were by the fatigue of the last two days and the intense heat.  He therefore selected some one hundred cavalry and sixty infantry best able to bear further hardship and marched on, leaving the rest posted on advantageous ground to refresh themselves and cover the retreat in case of accident.  A few miles distant they came upon Sumter and his men in camp.  Whether George accompanied them or was left behind in command of those too fatigued to continue we do not know.  From the brow of a hill Tarleton saw Sumter’s men below resting on well protected ground while Sumter himself lay under a waggon in the shade with his horse nearby.  Weary from marching and four nights with little or no sleep, his men were drowsing in the heat or cooling themselves in the river.

With a shout Tarleton’s troops fell upon them.  Sumter cut loose his horse and tried to rally his corps, but pandemonium reigned and a brief defence from behind the waggons was soon over.  Of the men in the river some were drowned, “floating down like the corks of a fishing seine,” while those not killed or captured fled into the bushes until clothes could be borrowed from the country people.

Tarleton released all Sumter’s prisoners and burned what stores he could not carry.  Losing only sixteen men and twenty horses killed or wounded, he secured some 350 prisoners, 800 horses, 1,000 stand of arms, forty=four waggons loaded with baggage and stores, two ammunition waggons, and two 3-pounders.  150 of the enemy were killed or wounded, but the chief prize, Sumter himself, escaped unharmed.  Sadly, among the British dead was Charles Campbell.

All in all, the way now appeared open ― superficially ― for the invasion of North Carolina.

THE AUTUMN CAMPAIGN

As events would prove, the autumn campaign was a very risky venture indeed, yet despite the operational difficulties attending it Cornwallis saw no option but to go on to the offensive.

Against all the odds he managed to assemble a provision train of thirty-eight waggons by September 7 and at daybreak, accompanied by two 3-pounders, he marched towards Charlotte with the 23rd Regiment, 33rd Regiment and Volunteers of Ireland, leaving behind material numbers of their dead, sick and wounded.  Two days later he reached the border settlement at the Waxhaws and was joined by Colonel Samuel Bryan’s militia.[15]

On September 8 Tarleton and George crossed the Wateree at Camden Ferry and advanced with the British Legion and a detachment of the 71st’s light troops towards White’s Mill on Fishing Creek.  While there on the 17th, Tarleton fell ill of a violent attack of yellow fever.  His entire corps, the command of which had devolved on George, was now needed to protect him.  Fearful that they would be attacked by enemy militia, Cornwallis dispatched his aide-de-camp, Lieutenant John Money, on the 22nd to report back.[16]  Money noted in his journal, “The post was such that the cavalry in case of attack could not act.  Those who had carbines were dismounted and took post in a wood to the right, and every other precaution taken to strengthen the post and prevent a surprise.”  The next day, much to everyone’s relief, Tarleton had become well enough to be moved by litter to Blair’s Mill on the east side of the Catawba.  Crossing with him at the ford there, which was 600 yards wide and three and a half feet deep, George and the Legion joined Cornwallis.

On the 24th the Legion, 23rd, 33rd and Volunteers of Ireland marched at four in the afternoon towards Charlotte.  Halting at Twelve Mile Creek, they waited till the moon rose before proceeding towards Sugar Creek on the Charlotte road.  No certain intelligence having been received that Sumter had passed the Catawba, Rawdon was detached with the Legion and the flank companies of the Volunteers of Ireland to attack him.  On arriving at Bigger’s Ferry, they discovered that Sumter had passed the evening before and that Brigadier Generals Jethro Sumner and William Lee Davidson had retired from McAlpine’s Creek.[17]  After taking post at the ferry, the detachment marched at daybreak on the 26th and joined the rest of the troops at the cross roads within four miles of Charlotte.

Assigned to form the van with the Legion, George says, “Earl Cornwallis ordered me to be very cautious how I advanced as he expected a very large body of militia to be either in the neighbourhood or … Charlotte.”  Skirmishing with a small party of the enemy along the Steele Creek Road, George halted within sight of the village that the rest of the troops might close up, and in the meantime he endeavored to reconnoiter.

Charlotte lay on rising ground and contained about twenty houses built on two wide streets which crossed each other at right angles.  At their intersection stood the court house, a frame building raised on eight brick pillars ten feet from the ground.  Between them a stone wall had been erected three and a half feet high, the open basement serving as a market house.  On the left of the village as George faced it was an open common while on the right were one or two houses with gardens.  “Determined to give his Lordship some earnest of what he might expect in North Carolina,” Lieutenant Colonel William Richardson Davie occupied the village with his corps of 150 men and a few revolutionary militia commanded by Major Joseph Graham.[18]  One company was posted in three lines under the court house behind the stone wall whereas the rest were drawn up on either side of it or advanced behind the houses and gardens on George’s right.

The Legion cavalry under George’s immediate command were the first to enter the village.  It was now about ten in the morning.  Proceeding at a slow pace till fired on by an advanced party of the enemy, they then came on at a brisk trot to within fifty yards of the court house.  There the enemy’s first line moved up to the stone wall and fired, wheeling outwards and down the flanks of the second line as it advanced.  Believing the enemy was retreating, the Legion cavalry rushed up to the court house only to be met with a full fire from the enemy posted on either side of it.  Immediately they wheeled about and retreated back from where they came, being fired on by the second line at the court house, but at rather too great a distance to have much effect.  George freely admits that militarily it was not his greatest day:  “I acknowledge that I was guilty of an error in judgment in entering the town at all with the cavalry before I had previously searched it well with infantry, after the precaution Earl Cornwallis had given me.”

Yet George did manage to retrieve the situation, as he himself explains:  “We had a part of the Legion infantry mounted on inferior horses to enable them to march with the cavalry, ready to dismount and support the dragoons.  These infantry of their own accord very properly had dismounted and formed before the cavalry were near out of the town.  I ordered them to take possession of the houses to the right, which was executed before the light infantry and the remainder of the Legion infantry came up, who were left behind with Earl Cornwallis to march at the head of his column.”

Reinforced, the Legion infantry pressed ahead under cover of the houses and gardens, exchanging a hot fire with the enemy, whose advanced parties had been withdrawn.  Eventually the enemy’s position became untenable and Davie ordered a retreat by the Salisbury road.  Ordered by Cornwallis to pursue with the Legion cavalry and infantry, George declares, “This service they performed with spirit, alacrity, and success.  We had not moved above one mile in search of the foe when we fell in with them, attacked them instantly whilst they were attempting to form, dispersed them with some loss, and drove them for six miles, forcing them even through the very pickets of a numerous corps of militia commanded by General Sumner, who, supposing a large part of the army to be near at hand, broke up his camp and marched that evening sixteen miles.”  From the enemy’s standpoint Joseph Graham has one or two words to offer that would have been undoubtedly pleasing to George’s ear:  “The enemy seemed to understand this Parthian kind of warfare and manœuvred with great skill, the cavalry and infantry supporting each other alternately as the nature of the ground or opposition seemed to require.  They taught us a lesson of the kind which in several instances was practised against them before the end of the war.  During the whole day they committed nothing to hazard, except when the cavalry first charged up to the court house.”

Returning at sunset to Charlotte, the Legion encamped across the street by which they had first entered the village.  The rest of the troops encamped to the east, south-east and west of the court house.  A veritable hornet’s nest of opposition was now stirred up, as Tarleton makes clear:

Charlotte town afforded some conveniencies blended with great disadvantages.  The mills in its neighbourhood were supposed of sufficient consequence to render it for the present an eligible position, and in future a necessary post when the army advanced, but the aptness of its intermediate situation between Camden and Salisbury and the quantity of its mills did not counterbalance its defects.  The town and environs abounded with inveterate enemies;  the plantations in the neighbourhood were small and uncultivated; the roads narrow and crossed in every direction; and the whole face of the country covered with close and thick woods.  In addition to these disadvantages no estimation could be made of the sentiments of half the inhabitants of North Carolina whilst the royal army remained at Charlotte town.  It was evident, and it had been frequently mentioned to the King’s officers, that the counties of Mecklenburg and Rowan were more hostile to England than any others in America.  The vigilance and animosity of these surrounding districts checked the exertions of the well affected and totally destroyed all communication between the King’s troops and the loyalists in the other parts of the province.  No British commander could obtain any information in that position which would facilitate his designs or guide his future conduct.

The foraging parties were every day harassed by the inhabitants, who did not remain at home to receive payment for the produce of their plantations, but generally fired from covert places to annoy the British detachments.  Ineffectual attempts were made upon convoys coming from Camden and the intermediate post at Blair’s Mill, but individuals with expresses were frequently murdered …  Notwithstanding the different checks and losses sustained by the militia of the district, they continued their hostilities with unwearied perseverance, and the British troops were so effectually blockaded in their present position that very few out of a great number of messengers could reach Charlotte town in the beginning of October to give intelligence of Ferguson’s situation.

Matters were so bad that according to Charles Stedman, who was there, one half of the entire army one day, and the other the next, was needed to protect the foraging parties and cattle drivers.  George himself states that the foraging parties were attacked by the enemy so frequently that it became necessary never to send a small detachment on that service.  “Colonel Tarleton, just then recovered from a violent attack of the yellow fever, judged it necessary to go in person, with his whole corps or above two-thirds, when he had not detachments from the rest of the army.  I will aver that when collecting forage I myself have seen situations near that town where the woods were so intricate and so thick with underwood (which is not common in the southern parts of America) that it was totally impossible to see our videttes or our sentries from the main body.  In one instance particularly, where Lieutenant Oldfield of the Quartermaster General’s Department was wounded,[19] the enemy under cover of impervious thickets, impenetrable to any troops except those well acquainted with the private paths, approached so near to the whole line of the British infantry as to give them their fire before ever they were perceived.  Charlotte town itself, on one side most particularly, where the light and Legion infantry camp lay, was enveloped with woods.  Earl Cornwallis himself, visiting the pickets of these corps (which from Tarleton’s sickness I had the honour of commanding at that time) ordered me to advance them considerably further than usually is the custom and connect them more closely one with the other …  As to the disposition of the inhabitants, they totally deserted the town on our approach.  Not three or four men remained in the whole town.”

When asked by a journalist what would throw his administration off course, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan replied, “Events, my dear boy, events.”  It was now at Charlotte that unforeseen events conspired to terminate the autumn campaign.

The first of these was ― as we have seen ― the entirely unexpected ferocity with which the inhabitants of the locality continued resolutely to oppose the occupation of Charlotte itself, threatening the communication with South Carolina.  Cornwallis nevertheless contemplated advancing as late as October 11, but as Rawdon later explained, the lack of communication, the uncertainty of cooperation with a diversionary force intended for the Chesapeake, and the possible consequences of a second event of calamitous proportions convinced him that he had to turn back.  He quit Charlotte at sunset on the 14th.

The second event was the defeat of Ferguson.  Taking post on October 6 at King’s Mountain, fifty miles east of Charlotte, he was totally defeated by a band of revolutionary irregulars the next day.  He was killed and his entire party consisting of the American Volunteers and some 800 militia was captured or killed.

Nothing is so certain as the unexpected, and it was the unexpected, magnifying the risks of losing territory to the south, that ultimately put paid to the northward invasion.

Cornwallis and his men arrived at Winnsborough on the 29th, less the 7th Regiment and the sick, who had been sent to Camden.  Among the sick was George, as he recounts:  “I caught the yellow fever at Charlottebourg.  Tarleton was just recovering from it as I sickened.  When the army marched from that town, myself and five officers who had the same disorder were put into waggons and carried with the army.  They all died in the first week of our march and were buried in the woods as the army moved on.  My sickness happened in the autumn, at which time the rainy season sets in, when small rivulets, which generally the soldier may walk through and not wet him above the ankles, swell in a few hours to such an height as to take a man up to the neck and oftentimes for some hours impede the march of an army.  In passing several of these small brooks the straw on which I lay in the waggon was often wetted.  Kind nature had endowed me with a constitution much stronger than the generality of mankind, or the damps I encountered must have killed me.  The fatigue of travelling alone brought the other five officers in a very short time to their graves.  I took the advantage of the escort of a regiment which was ordered to leave the army and march down out of North Carolina to Camden in South Carolina, where I arrived safe and all but dead.  I had travelled over a great extent of country in a waggon, so that from the roughness of the roads and the general debility of my whole frame I was reduced to something very like a skeleton.”  George would never see active service again.

RECUPERATION FROM YELLOW FEVER TERMINATION OF THE WAR

Prostrate at Camden, George began very slowly to recover.  “I was,” he says, “so weak that I could not turn myself but was forced to be moved by my attendants when I wanted for ease to change my posture.  In this miserable situation I lay so long, first on one side, then on the other, and then on my back, that the bones of my back and each hip came fairly or rather freely through the skin.  I then had no other posture to lay in but on my stomach with pillows to support me.”  It may be thought “that I exaggerate the miseries I suffered, for surely no man ever endured more, but I pledge my honour that all I relate is strictly true.  I will give additional testimony to my own, for, having the honour to dine at Lord Moira’s house[20] in St. James’s Place about two years after my arrival in England, where His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Sir Henry Clinton, General Vaughan, General Crosbie and many other officers who had served in America were present, his Lordship could not refrain from observing how surprising it was that a man should be sitting in that company whose bones he had absolutely seen at Camden come through his skin.  The disorder at last fell down into my legs, which I am of opinion saved my life, as that moment I began to recover.  Till that circumstance I had taken nothing to support me but opium and port wine for three weeks as nothing else would stay on my stomach.  I now began to have an appetite and by degrees I recovered but for a long time could not walk without the assistance of one crutch.  If I do not actually owe my life to Earl Moira, I certainly am indebted to him for the more speedy recovery of my health from the many comfortable and nourishing things he sent me every day from his own table, which my servants could not make and were not to be purchased; and the butcher’s meat killed at that time of the year is absolutely little better than carrion at Camden.”

Elsewhere events began to turn markedly in the revolutionaries’ favor as Major General Nathanael Greene superseded Gates on December 4.  Moving with the bulk of his troops to the Pee Dee, he detached Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and a combined force of Continentals and militia to South Carolina’s backcountry beyond the Broad River.  As evinced by Ferguson, the war had shown that distant detachments beyond the reach of support were fraught with danger, but in Morgan’s case the risk would pay off.  He defeated Tarleton at the Cowpens on January 17, 1781, killing or capturing all of Tarleton’s men except 200 of the British Legion cavalry who fled.  Cornwallis nevertheless continued with the winter campaign in North Carolina, gaining a pyrrhic victory over Greene at Guilford, but was so crippled that by early April he had had to retire to Wilmington to refit.

For a time, as Cornwallis advanced, Rawdon maintained the British position in South Carolina and Georgia.  He was first tested in mid February when he frustrated an attempt by Sumter to excite a revolt along the Congaree.  He was next tested by Greene’s arrival before Camden on April 19.  Unable to detach and protect the country or draw supplies from it, Rawdon saw the necessity of retiring within the Santee, but it was no longer in his power to do so.  “I therefore conceived some immediate effort necessary,” he observed, “and indeed I did not think that the disparity of numbers was such as should justify a bare defence.”  He therefore proceeded to attack Greene on the 25th and defeated him at the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill.  He then evacuated Camden on May 10 and passed the Santee on the 13th and 14th.  Accompanying him was George, who pays him the following tribute:  “I was witness to the arduous task to which this nobleman, young in years but a veteran in abilities and military science, was appointed and from which he extricated himself with so much honour to his talents and advantage to his country.”

“From Camden,” says George, “I went down to Charlestown, where I found my old friend Doctor Hayes, physician general to our army, who assured me that, notwithstanding the great debility I laboured under, my stamina was sound and unimpaired and that if I would go to sea for two or three months and take my passage to the northward so as to quit for a short time that baneful climate, I should be as good a man as I ever was in respect to health.  Captain George Montague, an intimate friend of mine, who commanded the Pearl frigate, was ordered by the Admiral with the Iris frigate, Captain Dawson, to cruise off the Bermuda islands and he kindly took me on board.”[21]

George set sail on May 25, the two frigates escorting off coast a fleet of transports carrying revolutionary prisoners who had enlisted for service under Lord Charles Montagu on the Spanish Main.  Parting with the transports on June 8, the frigates made land at Bermuda on the 17th and 29th.  Later, bearing away, they captured two vessels, the Betsey bound from Philadelphia for Hispaniola and a French poleacre out of Cape François on its way to Marseilles.  On July 16 they called at Sandy Hook, where the Pearl replenished her supplies before sailing on August 8 for Cape Sable and Nantucket, arriving back at New York on September 5.  George recalls, ” I remained at sea above three months and so beneficial was the sea voyage, and bathing every morning in salt water, that before three weeks were passed I had laid aside my crutch … The time for our cruise being expired, Captain George Montague bore away for the Chesapeake Bay.  We made the Capes about two o’clock pm and were standing into the bay.  It was my intent to land at the first British port and proceed to join my regiment, the British Legion … A privateer, however, fortunately bore down to us and informed us that the Count de Grasse with a French fleet lay at anchor up the bay.  If it had not been for this intelligence, we should have anchored at night in the middle of the French fleet, as we imagined we should find the British fleet there.  We stood out a great distance to sea that night in order to avoid the track of another French fleet coming from Rhode Island to join Count de Grasse and then made the best of our way to New York.”

Cornwallis in the meantime had entered Virginia and, as now discovered by George, had become entrapped at Yorktown.  Besieged by the revolutionaries and the French, he capitulated on October 19.  “I sailed from New York,” states George, “in my friend Montague’s frigate with that fleet of men of war which took on board ten thousand chosen troops, the prime of the British and Hessian forces, under the command of Sir Henry Clinton with the intent to relieve Lord Cornwallis’s army.  This force unfortunately arrived three or four days after Lord Cornwallis’s army had capitulated.  The fleet returned to New York.  This misfortune drew the war to a conclusion.”

As peace negotiations progressed towards a treaty in which the independence of the United States was to be recognised by Britain, George assumed command of the freed Legion troops captured at Cowpens and Yorktown, Tarleton having returned home.  In September 1783 we find George in Nova Scotia, arranging for lands to be allotted to those soldiers of the Legion who had chosen to remain and settle in North America.  All but eighty of the regiment accompanied him, the rest taking passage for England.  “I landed,” says George, “at Halifax and from thence sailed to Port Roseway[22] and the River Jordan as well as to many other places.”  On the 20th John Parr, the Governor, reported, “Hanger seemed very happy to have Port Mouton allotted for the Legion.”  On October 10 the corps was disbanded.

Of Nova Scotia George has little complimentary to relate:  “This country may be described in a few words:  there is seven months’ intense hard winter; during the other five the inhabitants live without any intermission in a thick fog.  One happiness the poor settlers enjoy, and I know of no other ― in one day they can catch enough codfish to salt, without going above four or five miles from the shore, to supply two or three families for a twelvemonth.  With a small patch of potatoes, therefore, they can never starve.  I saw nothing here worthy of observation excepting a perpetual continuation of rocks and stony mountains and an iron-bound coast frightful and dangerous to the mariner.  I was very near being cast away on making Port Roseway harbour.  If the fog had not cleared up a little, in half an hour more we should have been driven by the current on the breakers, for then we were lying to, having had a faint view of the land through the fog early that morning.  From Halifax I returned to New York on board a frigate commanded by my old friend Captain Hawkins, now Admiral Witshead.”

George remained at New York until it was evacuated on November 25.  “With that fleet I took my passage for England and arrived in the Downs after near seven years’ absence.” [23]

 

Bibliography

Allaire, Anthony, “Diary,” Appendix to Lyman C. Draper, King’s Mountain and its Heroes (Cincinnati, 1881)

Bass, Robert D., Gamecock: The Life and Times of General Thomas Sumter (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961)

Bridenbaugh, Carl, Myths & Realities: Societies of the Colonial South (Reprint, New York: Atheneum, 1976)

Captain’s and Master’s Logs of HMS Pearl (Kew: UK National Archives)

Davie, William R., The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie, edited by Blackwell P. Robinson (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1976)

Eelking, Max von, Die Deutschen Hülfstruppen im Nordamerikanischen Befreiungskriege (Reprint, Charleston, SC: Nabu Press, 2010)

Garden Jr., Alexander, Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War (Charleston, 1822)

Gilchrist, Marianne McLeod, Patrick Ferguson: “A Man of Some Genius” (Edinburgh: NMS Publishing, 2003)

Graham, Joseph, “Narrative,” in William Henry Hoyt ed., The Papers of Archibald D. Murphey (Raleigh: Publications of the North Carolina Historical Commission, 1914)

Gregorie, Anne King, Thomas Sumter (Columbia, SC: R L Bryan Co, 1931)

Hanger, George, 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)

idem, The Life, Adventures, and Opinions of Col. George Hanger (London, 1801)

Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on American Manuscripts in the Royal Institution of Great Britain (London, 1904 et seq.)

Lowell, Edward J., The Hessians and other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War (Reprint, Whitefish, Mont: Kessinger Publishing, 2010)

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

Nelson, Paul David, General Horatio Gates: A Biography (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976)

Robinson, Blackwell P., William R. Davie (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957)

Saberton, Ian, 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)

Simcoe, John Graves, A Journal of the Operations of the Queen’s Rangers (Exeter, 1787)

Stedman, Charles, History of the Origin, Progress and Termination of the American War (London, 1792)

Tarleton Banastre, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America (London, 1787)

Uhlendorf, Bernhard A., ed. and trans., The Siege of Charleston (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1938)

Williams, Otho Holland, “A Narrative of the Campaign of 1780,” Appendix B to vol. I of William Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene (Charleston, 1822)

 

[1]   For the start of George’s service during the war, see Ian Saberton, “George Hanger ― His Adventures in the American Revolutionary War begin,” Journal of the American Revolution (December, 2016).

[2]   For a biographical assessment of Balfour, see Ian Saberton, “The Revolutionary War in the south: Re-evaluations of certain British and British American actors,” Journal of the American Revolution (November, 2016).

[3]   Ninety Six was so named because it lay within 96 miles of Fort Prince George on the Keowee River, a fort constructed in 1753 above and opposite to the Cherokee town of Keowee.  Situated on an eminence it was at this time, before its fortification by the British, a village containing about twelve dwelling houses, a courthouse, and a jail.  Around it the land had been cleared for a mile.

[4] meeting house.

[5]   The Legion was a composite regiment of cavalry and infantry raised on the British American establishment.  The men were American loyalists, whereas the principal officers were British.

[6]   For a biographical note on Cochrane, see 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”), 6: 39.

[7]   For a biographical note on Buford, see CP, 1: 52.

[8]   For a full explanation of Tarleton’s approach to the war, see Ian Saberton, “Was the Revolutionary War in the south winnable by the British?” Journal of the American Revolution (October 10, 2016).

[9]   For a biographical note on Moncrief, see CP, 1: 58.

[10]   Lenud’s:  pronounced “Lenew’s”.

[11]   The Glorious Sixteenth is an apt description of a momentous day in the annals of the British Army.  First used in The Cornwallis Papers by Balfour, the expression began falling into disuse as considerations of political correctness sadly intruded.  Yet militarily it remains from a British perspective as accurate as ever, and in this sense it is high time that we saw its revival.

[12]   A German, Major General Johann Kalb had acted for many years in the service of the King of France.  Where his ultimate loyalty lay, whether to the King or to the revolutionaries, has never been satisfactorily determined.  He had commanded Gates’s right wing, being mortally wounded in the battle.

[13]   For a biographical assessment of Sumter, see 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”), 1: 149-50 (“CP”) and Ian Saberton, “The Revolutionary War in the south:  Re-evaluations of certain revolutionary actors and events,” Journal of the American Revolution (November, 2016).

[14]   For a biographical note on Campbell, see CP, 1: 227.

[15]   For a biographical note on Bryan, see CP, 1: 168.

[16]   For a biographical note on Money, see CP, 2: 45.

[17]   For biographical notes on Davidson and Sumner, see ibid: 45 and 100.

[18]   For a biographical note on Davie, see ibid: 45.

[19]   For a biographical note on John Nicholls Oldfield, see CP, 2: 75.

[20]  At this time Rawdon had not in fact succeeded to the Earldom of Moira, but would do so in 1793.

[21]  For biographical notes on Hayes, Dawson and Montagu, see CP, 1: 65; 2: 137; and 4: 128.

[22]   Soon to be renamed Shelburne.

[23]   George was in fact in North America for only 5½ years.

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