**The following letter (bold/italicized) accompanies the article that follows**
Department of the Army
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTRAL 1 GABRESKI DRIVE
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC 29152
Staff Ride Participants
Welcome to USARCENT’s Battle of Camden Staff Ride.
This will be a terrific day as we all walk some hallowed and sacred ground. We will have time to reflect on the powerful events of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. This staff ride is a vehicle to deepen our understanding of strategic and operational challenges, to build our USARCENT team, and to explore the conditions of the counter insurgency.
We look forward to your insights and your thoughtful analysis of this pivotal engagement, as well as how we can apply lessons from our history to today’s fight. The attached Battle Book will give you the background necessary to understand this battle.
Please focus your thoughts and analysis and be prepared to discuss COIN doctrine as well as how our priorities relate to this and the current fight: Readiness, Protect the Force,
Communicate, Transitions. Also expect that you will be able to address issues relating to your directorate, for instance the G2 discuss the intelligence issues in a COIN fight, the G4 discuss logistics, the Surgeon discuss medical issues etc.
As we discuss these points, make sure you remember that staff rides give us a point of view of something important in history. To make the best use of history, we must learn the lessons and apply them—if applicable—to the situation we find ourselves in today.
I look forward to walking the ground at Camden with you, building our team, and discussing the challenges we face in the CENTCOM AOR.
Michael X. Garrett
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army
HISTORIC CAMDEN FOUNDATION IS PROUD TO ASSIST TODAY’S MILITARY!
Excerpt from US Army Central BATTLE BOOK 9/27/2017 with permission:
This Staff Ride is a vehicle to deepen our understanding of strategic and operational challenges…
Three years after Lexington and Concord, the American Revolution was at a stalemate. The British had the best trained and equipped Army in the world, but they were static in large cities with limited resources due to manpower shortages—the entire British Army only had 60k troops in 1778 and 1/2 of those were in the Colonies. Additionally, there was no joint command—naval and land forces operated independently. The government also had to deal with a huge budget deficit and divided political support. More importantly, France’s declaration of war in 1778 made the colonies an economy of force mission, secondary, particularly for the navy, to defending the West Indies and the home island. The British were undergoing American fatigue.
Hoping for a different outcome with a different approach, the British implemented a “Southern Strategy”: seizing the initiative in the Southern Colonies to capitalize on the supposed large population of Loyalists. The plan was to occupy Savanah, then Charleston, thus pacifying South Carolina and provoking the long-hoped for Loyalist uprising. Then maneuvering through North Carolina and Virginia, thus subduing the rebellion from South to North.
When Charleston SC succumbed to a siege in May 1780, the Brits captured the 5500 man Rebel Army—the greatest loss of the war. The rebellion was in disarray, on the verge of logistical collapse. Rebels across the state surrendered and all active resistance ended. However, after initially giving liberal parole, Lt. Gen. Clinton, Commander-in-Chief for North America, ordered all citizens to sign a loyalty oath and fight for the crown. Furthermore, he didn’t restore civil authorities, but installed a military government.
Clinton returned to New York City leaving his second in command, Lt. Gen. Cornwallis, with ~8,000 troops to occupy SC and GA as well as NC—total population of 500k and approximately the size of Iraq. The British/Loyalists quickly won a series of small battles, including a pursuit and “massacre” by their most aggressive and successful commander, Lt. Col. Tarleton. They occupied fortified outposts (Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts) along the coast from Savannah to Georgetown, and in an arc across central SC from Augusta to Camden.
Cornwallis led the occupation of Camden, then returned back to the main base at Charleston to command the Southern theater and attend to administrative duties. He left the capable Lord Rawdon in command of the interior posts. However, the British victories and occupation did not end the rebellion in South Carolina; instead their actions stirred up the ongoing brutal civil war between Loyalists and Rebels. Both sides employed information operations, and when the Rebels won several small battles, the rebellious spirit was kept alive and the Loyalist population was cowed into neutrality.
A small Continental Army force of 1,400 regulars was in Virginia moving south when Charleston fell, thus escaping that disaster. This force was both a dilemma and an opportunity for the British. As long as the rebels had a nucleus of regular troops, the occupied areas could never be properly garrisoned or pacified as British logistics and lines of communication remained a weakness throughout the campaign. Conversely, the Rebel army was a center of gravity that the British regulars were best suited to defeat.
Rebel Maj. Gen. Gates assumed command of the “Army of the South” in late July, and this force became the nucleus of a 4,000 man militia and Continental army. Within a week, Gates, ignoring advice from subordinates who knew the area of operations, immediately began marching into SC via a direct, unsustainable route, preparing to fight conventional forces in a conventional manner using mostly irregular troops.
Moreover, Gates ignored readiness, bungled transitions, communicated poorly, disregarded logistics, snubbed cavalry, and marginalized partisans. As his precipitous flight from the battlefield would show, he also lacked physical courage. All this contributed to the complete defeat at Camden, the second largest rebel defeat of the war, and the second loss of an army in SC in three months.
The Battle of Camden marked the high water mark for the British in the South. At this point, there was no longer any rebel Army in the South (only 700 rebel soldiers were able to regroup in NC after the battle), and Brits seemed to control the entire state. However, only one year after this conventional victory, the Rebels would engage again at Camden, the British would have compressed all forces remaining in SC into Charleston, and Cornwallis would be under siege at Yorktown.