Battle of Hobkirk's Hill - Conflict & Date:
The Battle of Hobkirk's Hill was fought April 25, 1781, during the American Revolution (1775-1783).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Hobkirk's Hill - Background:
Having won a costly engagement against Major General Nathanael Greene's army at the Battle of Guilford Court House in March 1781, Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis paused to rest his weary men. Though he initially wished to pursue the retreating Americans, his supply situation would not allow for further campaigning in the region. As a result, Cornwallis elected to move towards the coast with the goal of reaching Wilmington, NC. Once there, his men could be re-provisioned by sea. Learning of Cornwallis' actions, Greene cautiously followed the British east until April 8. Turning south, he then pressed into South Carolina with the goal of striking at British outposts in the interior and reclaiming area for the American cause. Hampered by a lack of food, Cornwallis let the Americans go and trusted that Lord Francis Rawdon, who commanded around 8,000 men in South Carolina and Georgia, could deal with the threat.
Though Rawdon did lead a large force, the bulk of it consisted of Loyalist units which were scattered across the interior in small garrisons. The largest of these forces numbered 900 men and was based at his headquarters in Camden, SC. Crossing the border, Greene detached Lieutenant Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee with orders to unite with Brigaider General Francis Marion for a combined attack on Fort Watson. This combined force succeeded in carrying the post on April 23. As Lee and Marion conducted their operation, Greene sought to strike at the heart of the British outpost line by attacking Camden. Moving quickly, he hoped to catch the garrison by surprise. Arriving near Camden on April 20, Greene was disappointed to find Rawdon's men on alert and the town's defenses fully manned.
Battle of Hobkirk's Hill - Greene's Position:
Lacking sufficient men to besiege Camden, Green retreated a short distance north and occupied a strong position on Hobkirk's Hill, approximately three miles south of the Camden battlefield where Major General Horatio Gates had been defeated the previous year. It was Greene's hope that he could draw Rawdon out of the Camden defenses and defeat him in open battle. As Greene made his preparations, he dispatched Colonel Edward Carrington with most of the army's artillery to intercept a British column that was reportedly moving to reinforce Rawdon. When the enemy did not arrive, Carrington received orders to return to Hobkirk's Hill on April 24. The next morning, an American deserter incorrectly informed Rawdon that Greene had no artillery.
Battle of Hobkirk's Hill - Rawdon Attacks:
Responding to this information and concerned that Marion and Lee might reinforce Greene, Rawdon began making plans to attack the American army. Seeking the element of surprise, the British troops skirted west bank of Little Pine Tree Creek swamp and moved through wooded terrain to avoid being spotted. Around 10:00 AM, British forces encountered the American picket line. Led by Captain Robert Kirkwood, the American pickets put up stiff resistance and allowed Greene time to form for battle. Deploying his men to meet the threat, Greene placed Lieutenant Colonel Richard Campbell's 2nd Virginia Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Hawes' 1st Virginia Regiment on the American right while Colonel John Gunby's 1st Maryland Regiment and Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Ford's 2nd Maryland Regiment formed the left. As these forces took position, Greene held the militia in reserve and instructed Lieutenant Colonel William Washington to take his command of 80 dragoons around the British right to attack their rear.
Battle of Hobkirk's Hill - The American Left Collapses:
Moving forward on a narrow front, Rawdon overwhelmed the pickets and forced Kirkwood's men to fall back. Seeing the nature of the British attack, Greene sought to overlap Rawdon's flanks with his larger force. To accomplish this, he directed the 2nd Virginia and 2nd Maryland to wheel inward to attack the British flanks while ordering the 1st Virginia and 1st Maryland to advance. Reacting to Greene's orders, Rawdon brought up the Volunteers of Ireland from his reserve to extend his lines. As the two sides neared, Captain William Beatty, commanding the right-most company of the 1st Maryland, fell dead. His loss caused confusion in the ranks and the regiment's front began to break. Rather than press on, Gunby halted the regiment with the goal of reforming the line. This decision exposed the flanks of the 2nd Maryland and 1st Virginia.
To make the situation on the American left worse, Ford soon fell mortally wounded. Seeing the Maryland troops in disarray, Rawdon pressed his attack and shattered the 1st Maryland. Under pressure and without its commander, the 2nd Maryland fired a volley or two and began falling back. On the American right, Campbell's men began to fall apart leaving Hawes' troops as the only intact American regiment on the field. Seeing that the battle was lost, Greene directed his remaining men to retreat north and ordered Hawes to cover the withdrawal. Circling around the enemy, Washington's dragoons approached as the fighting was ending. Joining the battle, his horsemen briefly captured around 200 of Rawdon's men before assisting in evacuating the American artillery.
Battle of Hobkirk's Hill - Aftermath:
Departing the field, Greene moved his men north to the old Camden battlefield while Rawdon elected to fall back to his garrison. A bitter defeat for Greene as he had invited battle and been confident of victory, he briefly thought about abandoning his campaign in South Carolina. In the fighting at the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill Green lost 19 killed, 113 wounded, 89 captured, and 50 missing while Rawdon sustained 39 killed, 210 wounded, and 12 missing. Over the next few weeks both commanders reassessed the strategic situation. While Greene elected to persevere with his operations, Rawdon saw that many of his outposts, including Camden, were becoming untenable. As a result, he began a systematic withdrawal from the interior which resulted in British troops being concentrated at Charleston and Savannah by August. The following month, Greene fought the Battle of Eutaw Springs which proved the last major engagement of the conflict in the South.