Battle of Hobkirk's Hill
On the morning of April 25, 1781, Rawdon was still under the impression that the Continental army was without its artillery.
At approximately 9am he left the security of the Camden fortifications with 900 troops.
However, Carrington had returned to Hobkirk's Hill that morning, together with the artillery and provisions which were distributed to the Continental troops. At around 11 am, while many of the Continentals were occupied with cooking and washing clothes, the advanced pickets detected the British forces which had gained the American left by a long march skirting a swamp next to the ridge occupied by the Continental Army.
The advanced pickets, under Captain Robert Kirkwood, were able to delay the British advance giving Greene time to give orders and address his forces distribution. He placed the Virginia Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Campbell on the extreme right with another Virginia Regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Hawes to their left. On the extreme left, Greene placed the 5th Maryland under Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Ford, with the 1st Maryland commanded by John Gunby to their right. The artillery was placed in the center with North Carolina militia in the rear.
Having extricated his forces from the woods and forced back the pickets, Rawdon arranged his forces and slowly advanced up the ridge towards the waiting Continentals. Greene, perceiving the British forces were presenting a narrow front, ordered an attack. He instructed Campbell on the right to wheel his men to the left and engage the British on their flank with Ford to take his men and make a similar movement on the left. Greene ordered the two remaining regiments in the center to advance with bayonets and confront the enemy head on, while Washington was to take his cavalry around the British left flank and attack the enemy in the rear.
During the advance of the 1st Maryland on the British left, Captain William Beatty jr., who was in command to the right of the 1st Maryland regiment, was killed causing his company to stop their advance. Gunby ordered his men to stop their advance and fall back with the intention of reforming their line. At this time, Benjamin Ford of the 5th Maryland was mortally wounded throwing his troops into disorder. Finding their flank in disarray and being threatened by a company of Irish troops Rawdon had brought up to strengthen his flank, the Maryland troops rallied briefly to fire a few rounds and then left the field in disorder. Seeing this, Rawdon quickly rallied his flagging troops and advanced, taking the field. It is notable that the future seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, witnessed the battle. He was being held by the British at the Camden District jail as a prisoner of war.
On April 25, just before dawn, Rawdon led 900 troops northwest from Camden toward Hobkirk's Hill. He moved his force along the swamp on the eastern side of the road. They formed for battle facing uphill and northwest with a strong front. Rawdon formed his force: three regiments were in the first line; the second line was a mobile reserve made up 50 convalescents on the left and 140 Volunteers of Ireland on the right; and the third line was comprised of 60 New York Dragoons on the left and 130 South Carolina Tories on the right. A few dozen militia were divided and placed on either flank. Two 6lb. artillery pieces moved north with Rawdon. The British advanced quietly until skirmishers opened fire on the Patriots just southeast of Hobkirk's Hill.
The initial British firing surprised the Patriot force. They were not expecting the British to attack that morning. They quickly formed into a single line of battle along the brow of the hill facing south by southeast. This line was comprised of 930 men. Brig. Gen. Issac Huger's two Virginia regiments were on the right side of the road (Lt. Col. Samuel Hawes's 1st Virginia Regiment formed the extreme right and Lt. Col. Richard Campbell’s 2nd Virginia Regiment formed the right center), and Col. Otho William's two Continental Regular Maryland regiments were on the left side (Lt. Col. Benjamin Ford's 5th Maryland Regiment occupied the extreme left and Col. John Gunby's 1st Maryland Regiment formed the left center). Behind Williams was a reserve of 250 North Carolina militiamen and Col. William Washington's 85-man cavalry detachment. Before the fighting started, 3 6lb. artillery pieces unlimbered in the road facing south between the Virginia and Maryland troops.
Perceiving that the British advanced with a narrow front, Greene saw this weakness and advanced his lines. The plan was to have the center attack the British directly, the Virginia and Maryland troops would wheel respectively on the British flanks and envelope them, and the cavalry would ride around to the east and attack the British rear. When Rawdon realized what Greene was doing, Rawdon had time to extend his front by ordering up his reserves, making the British front longer than the Patriot front. This nullified Greene's plan of attack and would throw it in disarray.
When the battle began, the Virginians began forcing back the British left. On Greene's eastern flank, Gunby became confused and pulled his regiment back to reorganize. The British launched a bayonet charge against Grunby, which panicked the Marylanders, who were soon routed from the battlefield. On the left flank, Ford was leading his men when he was severely wounded. His regiment soon retreated in confusion without executing their orders.
On the west side of the road, Campbell's left flank was exposed and the British quickly attacked. Campbell's troops could not stand the brunt of the British attack and fled.
The British troops broke through the Patriot center, advanced to the summit of the ridge, brought their whole force into action on the best ground. This British movement sealed the fate of Greene's attack and forced him to order a general retreat for his entire command. Luckily on the right side of the road, Hawes's regiment held on long enough to prevent what could have been the destruction of Greene's army. Washington's cavalry reached the British rear and captured a number of noncombatants. When he learned that most of the army was retreating from the field, Washington ordered his men to withdraw and assist in the withdrawal. They arrived in time to save the 3 artillery pieces from capture.
The Patriots withdrew a few miles and went into camp near Camden. The American defeat at Hobkirk's Hill was blamed on Gunby. The tactical mistake he made by pulling back his men to reorganize his regiment started an unfortunate chain of events. A court of inquiry found him guilty with causing the defeat, but did not call for his removal from command.
On April 25, 1781, Greene placed his men on Hobkirk's Hill, a pine-covered ridge running east and west a mile north of Camden, South Carolina. Lord Rowden attacked the American position, and some of the Continental soldiers broke and ran, thus destroying the integrity of the American defensive line. Although the Battle of the Hobkirk's Hill was a tactical British victory, Rowden was forced to withdraw.