Sawney’s Creek, South Carolina
8 May 1781
After the battle of Hobkirk’s Hill General Greene fell back to Rugeley’s Mill, on the east side of the Wateree River, and stayed there for two days. He was disappointed and depressed by his loss at Hobkirk’s Hill. This was reflected in his letters to friends, and in his execution of five militiamen. Normally Greene would commute any death sentences, but after Guilford Courthouse he did not trust the militia. Before each battle there were always numerous desertions. After Hobkirk’s Hill the five militiamen were captured and he had them hanged to set an example for the others. This incident nearly caused a mutiny in his camp since the militia were not used to such rigid discipline.
Greene returned to his plan to win back South Carolina. On April 14th Major Eaton and his North Carolina Continentals were sent to Marion with an artillery piece to help reduce Fort Watson. On April 28th Captain Conyers with a few Continentals were sent to the High Hills of the Santee to insure that the cannon would arrive, and to give orders to Marion and Lee to cut off all supplies from the Low Country. They were also to intercept Colonel Watson before he rendezvoused with Lord Rawdon.
Greene was able to cut off supplies from Ninety-Six to Camden, and he also had a chance to intercept Watson on his return to the Camden garrison. On the 28th Greene moved back to the west side of the Wateree and camped on the ferry below Camden. Watson learned of Greene’s location and was able to move around his army.
Greene knew that Rawdon would strike at him as soon as Watson reached Camden, so when he learned that Watson had arrived at Camden on May 7th with 600 men and four pieces of artillery, he fell back to Sawney’s Creek. This was a strong and difficult high ground.
Rawdon marched to the Wateree Ferry on the morning of May 8th only to find that Greene had moved. Rawdon followed Greene to the lower side of Sawney’s Creek, a rough area of pine and oak, where his advance troops met the pickets of Washington’s dragoons. After a short but deadly skirmish with the pickets Rawdon paused to examine the ground that Greene had occupied.
Greene had organized the troops on the heights in full view of Rawdon with the North Carolina militia posted in the deserted houses near the ford of Sawney’s Creek. The militiamen soon discovered a second ford that the British could use to flank the Patriots, and advised Greene of its location. Greene did not have enough men to cover both fords, so he had the men withdraw four miles to Colonel’s Creek, leaving the cavalry, light infantry and pickets in place.
At the same moment that Greene was withdrawing his forces, Rawdon had his men withdraw back to Camden and prepared to abandon the town. He did not want to risk his men in an attack on the heights of Sawney's Creek. Both commanders had averted a major battle.
After Rawdon withdrew he destroyed most of Camden. He released the prisoners, fired the jail, burned the mills and many private dwellings. He set fire to all the remaining supplies leaving “the town a little better than a heap of ruins.” He collected his sick, except those too ill to travel, and set his army retreating down the road to Charlestown. On May 9th Camden was evacuated less than a year after the British obtained it. The next day Greene moved into Camden and had Sumter destroy what was left of the British redoubts while he continued the pursuit.
Rawdon had left thirty-one wounded Patriot soldiers from the battle at Hobkirk’s Hill. He also left fifty-eight of his own men, including three officers, who were all too badly wounded to be removed. The Loyalists, fearing reprisals, followed Rawdon to Charlestown. They built a village of crude huts outside the city’s walls and named it “Rawdontown.” These Loyalist would live there, despised by the Patriots and neglected by the British, for another year and a half.