Capture, 3 July 1781, Capt. Eggleston vs. *Carolina Royalists
Opposed passage, 3 July 1781, Lt. Col. Henry Lee vs. *Lt. Col. F. Rawdon
Where: 33.938295, -81.033194 Congaree Creek
Maps: [map notes]
- 33.936055,-81.032684 Congaree Creek, Lt. Col. H. Lee's defenses opposing route of *Lt. Col. F. Rawdon, 3 July 1781 (JP)
- ACME Mapper.
- National Map
- Confidence: 4
- NBBAS:Three. p. 277-278.
Congaree Creek, South Carolina [i]
3 July 1781 [ii]
After Lord Rawdon abandoned Fort Ninety-Six he marched towards the coast, with Greene’s army shadowing his movements. Lee had been following the British trying to determine their exact numbers. Captain Joseph Eggleston initially had estimated that Rawdon only had 500 men, but on July 2nd he revised his estimate upward to 1,270 men after he interrogated a deserter.
Greene wrote to Sumter telling him that he needed to strike at Rawdon immediately before he could rendezvous with Colonel Stewart in Dorchester. Greene ordered Marion to combine his forces with Sumter’s, and Marion moved to the High Hills of the Santee to rendezvous their forces. Unfortunately Marion’s men did not want to leave their homes, and they did not want to serve under Sumter, so Marion’s force was not that large.
The message to Sumter may have been carried by Emily Geiger. James Chappel told Draper that after the siege of Ninety-Six “Emily Geiger was sent by Greene to search out Sumter…She was intercepted by Maxwell’s Tories and was given over to some of their women to search…she found the opportunity to chew up and swallow the written dispatches, consequently she was not shot as a spy. The next day she reached Sumter’s camp” at Cedar Springs. [iii]
Lee knew that Rawdon would need to send out foraging parties, so he dispatched Eggleston to ambush the foragers in the rich country south of Friday’s Ferry. On the night of July 2nd Eggleston rendezvoused with Captain Armstrong, who had been in the area on a reconnaissance. Eggleston bivouacked at a farm and waited for word from his scouts.
On the morning of July 3rd the South Carolina Royalists went out by themselves to forage, disobeying Lord Rawdon’s orders to stay with the army. Eggleston’s scouts reported the approach of a British wagon with the South Carolina Royalists escorting them. The dragoons saw the Continental cavalry scouts and mistook them for Sumter’s militia. They pursued Eggleston’s scouts into a well-planned ambush.
Three officers and forty-five men were captured with their horses, arms and equipment. Only one dragoon escaped, but most of the wagons were captured.
Lee was hoping either Greene or Sumter would intercept Rawdon, but he did not want the chance to slip by. Lee’s men felled trees across the road and destroyed a bridge over the Congaree Creek. He posted guards at the crossing site and camped his men within the route of Rawdon’s force. All of his preparations were in vain though, since Rawdon crossed the creek unopposed in another location.[iv]
[i] Also known as Congaree River. The site of the ambush is on modern S-32-66 (Old State Road), in Lexington County, close to Congaree Creek
[ii] Other references have this incident occurring on July 8th but that is unlikely since Rawdon rendezvoused with Stewart’s force on July 7th and had moved on to Orangeburgh by then
[iii] Chappel continued “Sumter traveled north west for a few days along the Santee River, came up with the British commanded by Major Frazier, where he defeated them.” This would have been Major Thomas Fraser of the South Carolina Royalists and he may have been describing the skirmish at Friday’s Ferry
[iv] Hayes, Saddlebag Almanac, Volume X, pp. 86-87; Garden, Anecdotes, pp. 123-125; Tarleton, History of the Campaigns, pp. 504-505; Moultrie, Memoirs, Vol. II, p. 290; Lee, Revolutionary War Memoirs, pp. 381-383; Pennsylvania Gazette, August 15, 1781; Draper, Sumter Papers, 11VV524-525
- JP: Eggleston vs. CA Royalists, 3 July 1781, 33.938473, -81.033456, per tour with Dean Hunt and Leo Redmond.
- JP: Lt. Col. H. Lee vs. Lt. Col. F. Rawdon, 3 July 1781, 33.936055, -81.032684, per tour with Dean Hunt and Leo Redmond.
- Sherman, "Calendar..." . Search for congaree creek. 3 returns. To avoid long downloads, use option to "Save and view this PDF in Reader".
- Tarleton, Banastre, History of the Campaigns ...:
Lord Rawdon, by forced marches, in order to surprize a body of militia, of which he had received some intelligence, arrived at the Congarees on the 1st of July, two days before the appointed time; a rapidity of movement which probably had no small effect upon the issue of Greene's scheme. He soon discovered that the enemy's light troops were in the neighbourhood, and took the necessary precautions [p505] on that account; but his cavalry, regardless of express orders to the contrary, went out by themselves to forage on the morning of the very day upon which Colonel Stuart was expected: They were soon surrounded by Lee's legion; and two officers, with forty dragoons, and their horses, were all taken without a blow. This, which in other circumstances would not have been much thought of, was, in the present, a most grievous stroke; and more particularly so, as the means of procuring intelligence in this crisis of so much danger was thereby cut off almost entirely. This loss, with the unexpected assemblance of the enemy, which had already been discovered in the neighbourhood, and the unexpected failure on Stuart's side, happily laid open at once to Lord Rawdon, all the danger of his own situation: He accordingly determined instantly to begin his march towards Orangeburgh, and to meet, or find Stuart wherever he was.
[Lt. Col. Henry Lee vs. Lt. Col. Rawdon]
The route lay across Congaree creek, at about three miles distance; a broad piece of water, in most parts deep, and enclosed by difficult banks. Colonel Lee, who had been appointed to the guard of this passage, having destroyed the bridge, and felled trees to render the ford impracticable, had then posted himself behind the creek, with a considerable body of cavalry, and some infantry of his legion. The intense head of the sun about noon, which seemed almost to disable every sort of motion, and in every species of animal, had thrown the Americans off their guard; and the unexpected arrival of the British forces in that critical period, served much to facilitate the passage. After the exchange of only a few ineffectual shots, a body of infantry were thrown over, who having dispersed the enemy without trouble, the troops soon cleared the fords, and passed them without interruption.
- Henry Lee, Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States, 1869, Oxford University, p.383. Account of Rawdon's crossing of Congaree Creek and rebuilding the bridge.
listing. Shown as Friday's Ferry (Congaree River) 7-3-1781. Shown as draw.
Eggleston's capture: Patrick O'Kelley. Location by PJO.
Lee vs. Rawdon: Jack Parker. Location by JP.
Confidence level: See above.