The history of the King's American Regiment is presented in 8 parts. Click below to skip to:
Part 1 - Introduction & Recruiting a Regiment
A History of the King's American Regiment - Part 6 of 8
To the South 1780/1781
While at Lloyd's Neck, the regiment was visited by Captain Patrick FERGUSON of the British 70th Regiment of Foot. FERGUSON was most famous for inventing a breech loading rifle and leading a rifle corps at the Battle of Brandywine.
FERGUSON had received permission to create a temporary corps of volunteers from the Provincial Regiments at New York, similar to that created by Andreas EMMERICH. FERGUSON raised in total about 175 officers and men from eight different battalions, including Captain Abraham DePEYSTER and a detachment from the KAR.
These men left Lloyd's Neck on 16 December 1779 and then sailed away under the command of Sir Henry CLINTON on Christmas Day to lay siege to Charlestown, South Carolina.62 FERGUSON and his corps (of which DePEYSTER was second in command) would take part in such actions as Monk's Corner and the seizing of Fort Moultrie, as well as the siege itself.
With the fall of Charlestown that May, the little corps continued under FERGUSON in South Carolina, assisting in the raising and training of Loyalist militia. Their successful career would end atop a place called King's Mountain, where FERGUSON and many of his men would be cut down in the famous battle of 7 October 1780.
DePEYSTER, taking the command after FERGUSON's death, surrendered what was left of his men. If he was worried how he would eventually return to his corps at New York, he needn't have been; the regiment was coming to him.
On 7 October 1780 the regiment embarked on board the transports Diligence and Peggy, under the command of Major General LESLIE.63 There were only nine companies serving under FANNING on the expedition, the light infantry company being detached to help form a corps of Provincial Light Infantry, commanded by Lt. Col. John WATSON of the Guards. This regiment was likewise on the expedition.
LESLIE's destination was Virginia, where they arrived off of Norfolk on 21 October 1780. From this date through 15 November 1780, the troops destroyed supplies, captured vessels and generally lived well between Norfolk and Portsmouth.
It was with deep regret they evacuated the colony and sailed for Charlestown, arriving there after almost a full month at sea, during which time they endured a terrible storm. After disembarking at Charlestown, the regiment marched for Georgetown, South Carolina, where it arrived on 24 December 1780.64
Georgetown was a post unlike any other the regiment had garrisoned. It was on the Santee River, about sixty miles from Charlestown. A brutal Civil War was being fought in the South, with few front lines, but enemies everywhere.
The regiment experienced this first hand when, not twenty four hours at their new post, Lt. Col. CAMPBELL and Lieutenant WILSON (of the Queen's Rangers cavalry) were wounded in a skirmish.65 CAMPBELL himself was appointed commanding officer of the post, which consisted of the KAR, a few Queen's Rangers cavalry, and some militia.66
The fortunes of war changed very quickly in the South, sometimes on a daily basis. In the middle of January CAMPBELL made several forays into the countryside with varying success. After losing three irreplaceable cavalry NCO's of the Queen's Rangers on 10 January 1781, CAMPBELL was thanked for having a detachment under Ensign Elisha BUDD recapture a sloop and beat off a Rebel privateer, inflicting many casualties on the Rebels on 23 January.67
Before CAMPBELL could enjoy his congratulatory letter, he was taken prisoner in Georgetown, along with Ensign John YOUNG and their new adjutant, John CROOKSHANKS, who was also "dangerously" wounded.68 The post had been surprised by the famous Continental Lt. Col. Henry Lee, although little other damage appears to have been done to the post and these being the only prisoners taken from the regiment.
After the departure of Major GRANT for Charlestown on 10 February 1781, the command of the post devolved upon Captain John SAUNDERS. FANNING sent SAUNDERS a note from Charlestown, where he flattered himself the regiment would "Cheerfully & gallantly do every thing in their power to entitle themselves to [his] favorable Opinion & report."69
SAUNDERS could not have had that favorable an opinion in his first opportunity to witness a detachment of the regiment in action at Black River on 14 February 1781. Under apparently unfavorable circumstances, Captain Lieutenant James DePEYSTER, Ensign BUDD, and twenty four men of the KAR were taken prisoner. The rest of the detachment returned to Georgetown after taking some militia and cattle prisoner.70
Insinuations were probably made after DePEYSTER's capture, probably similar to those made against Lt. McGUIN three years before, making him anxious to effect his exchange and clear his name. "I must request, I may be admitted...to Negotiate an Exchange for myself and Party, when I may Evince to the World, the mistake which at present injures my happiness and health" he wrote to SAUNDERS in March.71
DePEYSTER was still a prisoner on parole in April and afterwards is dropped from the rolls of the regiment. Whether he resigned under a cloud or was cashiered cannot now be determined.
The KAR left Georgetown on 24 February 1781, two months to the day after their arrival there. They had been battered and bruised in their first dealings with Southern Rebels, but it undoubtedly left the survivors stronger for the experience. Indeed, in their next major action, the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill on 25 April 1781, the regiment lost forty three killed wounded and missing, their highest casualties of the war, and yet Henry NASE recorded the losses as simply "inconsiderable."72
The Battle of Hobkirk's Hill was a result of Lord RAWDON boldly moving out of Camden to confront General Nathanael Greene and his Continental Troops, without waiting for Lt. Col. WATSON and 500 men under his command (including the KAR's Light Company). The battle was short and decisive. Greene's troops opened a devastating fire on the British while they formed for battle, but afterwards were routed from the field, losing many casualties.73
Out of only 900 troops under RAWDON, 256 officers and men were killed, wounded and missing, almost thirty percent of his force.74 Lt. Col. CAMPBELL, previously exchanged, received RAWDON's thanks in orders the next day. Indeed, the regiment had formed the front left flank of the line and had behaved superbly under fire. The regiment had come of age, but it was to be their high water mark.
62 Nase Diary, 16 December 1779, NBM.
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