On this day in 1780, American General Horatio Gates suffers a humiliating defeat at Camden, South Carolina.
Despite the fact that his men suffered from diarrhea on the night of August 15, caused by their consumption of under-baked bread, Gates chose to engage the British on the morning of August 16. Although the Continentals outnumbered the British two to one, the encounter was a disaster.
Gates seriously overestimated the number of soldiers he had available for combat; when he finally realized his mistake, it was too late to withdraw. In theory, the Continental forces numbered 4,000 to General Charles Cornwallis’ 2,239 Redcoats. In practice, however, only 3,052 Patriots were well enough to take the field. When the British charged with their bayonets, the militia that made up the Patriot front line, who did not have bayonets, ran. The remaining Continental soldiers fought bravely, but utterly failed to make any headway in the face of the British assault.
Continental Army Major General Baron Johann DeKalb, a German volunteer, received numerous wounds in the battle and succumbed to death a few days later. All told, over 900 Americans died and another 1,000 were captured. Additionally, 22 wagonloads of equipment, along with 2,000 muskets and a large amount of ammunition, fell into British hands. The British lost only 68 killed and another 245 wounded in the lopsided victory.
After the loss, General Gates covered 240 miles in three days in order to notify Congress from Hillsborough, North Carolina, of what he described as “total Defeat.” When British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton successfully ambushed the acclaimed Brigadier General Thomas Sumter two days later, it appeared that control of Georgia and the Carolinas might be lost to the British crown.