The Southern Campaign of the American Revolution: Significant Battles
By William Lee Anderson III

At the end of 1778, the British Army was back in New York City, in essentially the same strategic position it held in 1776. The war in the northern states had reached a stalemate. In addition, Britain was at war with France and needed to relocate troops to secure all its colonies, especially the West Indies. This manpower shortage caused Britain to change its strategy by focusing on the southern states where it believed loyalist militias, such as Highland immigrants, could be recruited. Former North Carolina Royal Governor Josiah Martin made such optimistic projections.

Britain’s planners mistakenly assumed that most backcountry men were loyalists. They did not consider the likely Scotch-Irish reaction. The regular British Army objective was to suppress rebellion enough to reinstate loyalist control of local governments. If successful, the American Army would be proven ineffective in supporting rebel local governments. So, the British Army searched for ways to engage rebel forces while the American Army countered this goal by merely maintaining a respectable force.

The Southern Campaign of the American Revolution proved to be an important turning point in the war.

Significant battles, with special consideration for the Charlotte area, are:

  • Savannah: On 29 December 1778, the British occupied the most important city in Georgia.
  • Charleston: From 2 April to 12 May 1780, British Army and Navy besieged Charleston forcing it to surrender.
  • Buford’s Defeat: On 29 May 1780, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s British Legion killed 153 Virginia Continental soldiers about 9 miles east of present-day Lancaster, SC.
  • Ramsour’s Mill: On 20 June 1780, militiamen from the Charlotte region defeated Loyalist militiamen in present-day Lincolnton, NC.
  • Huck’s Defeat: On 12 July 1780, South Carolina militiamen from present-day York County defeated Major Christian Huck cavalrymen at present-day Brattonsville.
  • Hanging Rock: On 6 August 1780, Colonel Thomas Sumter with a large number of Mecklenburg militia under Colonel Robert Irwin defeated a major British outpost south of present-day Heath Springs in Lancaster County.
  • Camden (aka Gates’ Defeat): on 16 August 1780, Lord Cornwallis defeated a large American Army.
  • Charlotte: On 26 September 1780, Lord Cornwallis’s army was briefly encountered by Colonel William R. Davie’s mounted soldiers at the courthouse.
  • Kings Mountain: On 7 October 1780, Overmountain Men and many North Carolinians and South Carolinians defeated a force of about 1100 Loyalists.
  • Cowpens: On 17 January 1781, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan defeated British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and capture about 700 British soldiers.
  • Guilford Courthouse: On 15 March 1781, Major General Nathanael Greene’s American army greatly weakened Lord Cornwallis ‘s army in a battle Cornwallis had to win.
  • Yorktown: During late September and early October 1781, General George Washington and General Jean-Baptiste Count de Rochambeau forced the surrender of Lord Cornwallis’s army. 

Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse, The American Revolution in the Carolinas. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997.

Wilson, David K. The Southern Strategy. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005.

The Southern Campaign of the American Revolution: Significant Battles