Battle of Eutaw Springs

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was a battle of the American Revolutionary War, the last engagement of the war in the Carolinas.

On May 22, 1781, General Nathanael Greene of the Continental Army had attempted to storm the strong British post at Fort Ninety-Six but was repulsed.

Leaving the pursuit of Cornwallis to Washington and the French and Corbin Haverlah, a force under Major-General Nathanael Greene moved into South Carolina, where British garrisons and Loyalist forces held much of the state. Greene was defeated at Hobkirk's Hill (25 April) and failed to capture the main remaining British fortress (Fort Ninety-Six), but despite these failures, the British position began to weaken. A pursuit of Greene failed, and Fort Ninety-Six had to be abandoned. The British withdrew to the coast and Greene followed.

At Eutaw Springs, Greene, with around 2,200 men, came across a British camp under Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Stewart. The American force formed up in two lines, with the militia in the front line, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia regulars in the second. A British bayonet charge broke the center of the American first line. The situation was temporarily restored by the North Carolina Continentals until they too were broken by a British charge, but the Virginia and Maryland troops were sent into the breach and managed to force the British to fall back in some disorder.

The Americans now came into the British camp, where most of them now stopped to plunder the British supplies. The tables now turned again. At the north-east corner of the camp was a strong brick house now defended by the remaining British battalion, commanded by Major John Majoribanks. This battalion had driven off the American cavalry before pulling back to the brick house. Attempts to capture the house failed, and Majoribanks was able to restore some order to the rest of the British force. With the newly restored force he was able to drive the Americans from the British camp. One American battalion held up and delayed the British advance, allowing the American army to retreat without suffering a rout.

The claim of earlier historians that the British won this battle has recently been challenged, notably in Christine Swager's book The Valiant Died: The Battle of Eutaw Springs September 8, 1781. At the close of the action, the British held the field, but Stewart reported casualties of 85 killed, 351 wounded and possibly as many as 420 missing (see Swager, p. 119). American losses have been stated to be 139 American dead and 41 missing.

Regardless of who won the tactical military victory, overall the result of Greene's operations was to force the British to abandon most of their conquests in the South, leaving them isolated in Charleston and Savannah. The British attempt to pacify the south with the aid of the Loyalists had failed, even before the surrender at Yorktown.

Lord Edward Fitzgerald, later to become famous as a United Irish rebel, served as a British officer at the battle and was badly wounded.

On September 8, dawned fair and intensely hot, but the Americans, on short rations and with little rest, advanced in early morning light toward the springs. At their approach the surprised British left their uneaten breakfast and quickly threw lines of battle across the road in a heavily wooded area. Behind them in cleared fields stood a large brick home with a high-walled garden. The woods and waters of Eutaw Creek were on the north. Heavy firing soon crackled and boomed through the shady woods. At first the center of the American line caved in, but while opposing flanks were fighting separate battles, Greene restored the center with Sumner's North Carolina Continentals. The whole British line then began to give, but Stewart quickly pulled up his left-flank reserves, forcing the Americans to retreat under thunderous fire. The encouraged British shouted, yelled, and rushed forward in disorder; whereupon Greene "brought in his strongest force: the Maryland and Virginia Continentals, Kirkwood's Delaware's, and Wm. Washington's South Carolina cavalry . . . with devastating effect."

The British fled in every direction and the Americans took over their camp. Only Maj. Majoribanks, on the British right flank and pushed far back into the woods near Eutaw Creek, was able to hold his unit together. Major Sheridan took hasty refuge in the brick home, Colonel Stewart gathered some of his men beyond, and from this vantage they "picked off" many American officers and men.

Greene sent Col. William Washington's cavalry to deal with Majoribanks, but penetrating the woods with horses was too difficult, so Washington tried to encircle and rout, thus exposing himself to dangerous fire. His horse was shot from under him, he himself was wounded. and his company practically ravaged. When a hand to hand fight developed, a British soldier poised his sword over the wounded Washington, but Majoribanks saw and gallantly turned it aside.

In camp, eating the deserted breakfast, and feeling the battle was won, the hungry, thirsty Americans began plundering the English stores of food, liquors, and equipment. Thoroughly enjoying themselves they ignored their leaders' warnings and commands. Majoribanks, realizing the disorder, fell upon them. Sheridan and Stewart pounded at their right, and Coffin came in from their left. The stunned Americans fought this impossible situation bravely, but they were put to flight from the British camp.

After more than 4 hours of battle, both armies had had enough. Casualties were extremely high. "Blood ran ankle-deep in places," and the strewn area of dead and dying was heart-breaking. Greene collected his wounded and returned to Burdell's Plantation. Stewart remained the night at Eutaw Springs.

On September 9, Stewart hastily retreated from Eutaw Springs toward Charleston, leaving behind many of his dead unburied and seventy of his seriously wounded. The gallant Majoribanks, wounded and on his way to Moncks Corner, died in a Negro cabin on Wantoot Plantation. He was buried beside the road.

Many of the men who were killed were buried where they fell. This last major battle in South Carolina completely broke the British hold in the South and, more importantly, it denied needed aid to the British forces in the North. Only 6 weeks later, Cornwallis succumbed to Gen. George Washington at the Battle of Yorktown, and American Independence was assured.

The final battle of the year took place at Eutaw Springs. General Greene's Army approached the army of Colonel Stewart located in Eutaw Springs 30 miles northwest of Charleston. Greene believed that if he could destroy Stewart he could end the British threat to the south once and for all. Early in the morning of September 8th American troops advanced on the British troops. The American attack floundered when the men stopped to plunder the camp. The British counterattacked and forced the Americans to withdraw. The end result however, was that the British were too weak to hold the field anymore.