Orangeburg massacre



During the summer of 1781, the chief commanders of the Patriot and Loyalist armies changed their relative positions. As the post of Ninety-Six could not be held, Rawdon ordered its abandonment. Leaving Cruger and the garrison to assist the loyalists in fleeing to Charleston from the wrath of their incensed neighbors, he pushed on toward Orangeburg, with about a thousand men, pursued by General Nathaniel Greene, but avoiding a contest with him. Greene sent a message to Marion and Sumter, then on the Santee, to take a position in front of the enemy and impede his progress. His messenger was Emily Geiger, daughter of a German planter. No man in the army was willing to attempt the hazardous service, for the Tories were on the alert. The brave young girl was not more than eighteen years of age. She volunteered to carry a letter to Sumter. With his usual caution Greene told her its contents, so that, in case she might find occasion to destroy it, she could still bear the message to the partisan. The brave maiden mounted a fleet horse, crossed the Wateree at the Camden Ferry, and while passing through a dry swamp on the second day of her journey, she was arrested by some Tory scouts. As she came from the direction of Greene's army, she was suspected of being a messenger. They took her to a house on the edge of the swamp, and with proper delicacy employed a woman to search her person. No sooner was she left alone than she ate up Greene's letter, piece by piece. The matron who was sent for searched in vain for any scrap of paper. Her captors made many apologies for detaining her, and Emily passed on to Sumter's camp. Very soon he and Marion were co-operating with Greene in sorely pressing the troops of Rawdon. Emily Geiger afterward married a rich planter on the Congaree.

When Greene approached Orangeburg, he found Rawdon reinforced and so strongly intrenched that he did not deem it prudent to attack him; and as the heats of summer were approaching, he crossed the Congaree and in July encamped his army on the High Hills of Santee, famous for the salubrity of the air and the purity of the water. Then Rawdon, leaving the troops at Orangeburg in command of Colonel Stewart, went down to Charleston, and complaining of ill-health soon embarked for England. A short time before he sailed, he was a party to an inhuman transaction. Among those who took protection after the fall of Charleston was Isaac Hayne, a planter in the low country. When the British were driven out of his section, by Greene's troops, they could no longer give him protection and feeling himself relieved from the obligation which it had imposed, he took command of a regiment of South Carolina militia. While in arms he was made prisoner. Colonel Balfour, then in command at Charleston, hesitated in disposing of him; but when Rawdon arrived, that officer, pursuant to the spirit of Cornwallis's orders, directed Hayne to be hung. This was done without even the form of a trial. Not even the prisoner anticipated such harsh treatment, until he was informed that he had not two days to live. The patriot's children, the women of Charleston, the lieutenant-governor of the province, all pleaded for his life in vain. The savage sentence was executed, and Isaac Hayne has been embalmed in history as a martyr. After Balfour's death, Rawdon tried to fix the ignominy of the act on that officer. It aroused the fiercest indignation even among moderate men who were inclined to feel kindly toward British rule; and the patriotic women of Charleston could not, at times, restrain their feelings of contempt for British officers after that. One day when Colonel Balfour was walking in the garden of Charles Elliot, in Charleston, with the wife of that gentleman, he pointed to a chamomile flower, and asked its name. "The rebel flower," said Mrs. Elliot. "And why is it called the rebel flower?" inquired Balfour, "Because," replied the patriotic woman, "it always flourishes most when trampled upon."

Greene did not tarry long on the High Hills of Santee. He was reinforced there by North Carolina troops early in August, and toward the close of that month he crossed the Congaree with a greater part of his force, and marched upon Orangeburg. Stewart had just been joined by Cruger and the garrison of Fort Ninety-Six, but he immediately fled eastward forty miles and pitched his tents at Eutaw Springs, near the Santee. So secretly and skillfully was he pursued by Greene, that he was not fully aware that the republicans were after him until they were close upon his heels; and near the Springs a severe battle was fought on the 8th of September, 1781. Greene had moved before the dawn in two columns so stealthily that it was almost a surprise. The centre of his first line was composed of North Carolina militia-men, with a battalion of South Carolina militia on each flank commanded respectively by Marion and Pickens. The second line consisted of North Carolina regulars led by General Sumner, on the right; an equal number of Virginians under Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell in the centre, and Marylanders commanded by Colonel Williams, on the left. Lee's legion covered the right flank, and troops led by Lieutenant-Colonel Henderson covered the left. Washington's cavalry with Kirkwood's Delawares formed a reserve, and each line had artillery on its front. Skirmishing commenced at eight o'clock in the morning, and very soon the fight became general and very severe. The British were defeated and driven from the field with much loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. The victory was complete, when the Americans, like those under Sumter at Hanging Rock, spread over the deserted camp of the enemy, eating, drinking, and plundering. Very suddenly and unexpectedly the British renewed the battle, and after a terrible conflict for about five hours the Americans, who had lost heavily, were compelled to give way. Stewart felt insecure, for the partisan legions were not far away; so, that night, after breaking up a thousand muskets and destroying stores, he retreated toward Charleston. Early the next morning (September 9, 1781) Greene sent parties in pursuit, who chased the fugitives far toward the city by the sea, and then took possession of the battle-field. Although the advantage lay with the Americans, neither party could claim a victory. In killed, wounded and prisoners, the British lost full eight hundred men; the Americans lost about five hundred and fifty. Lieutenant-Colonel Washington was severely wounded in the second battle on that day, and was made a prisoner. For his good conduct on that occasion, Greene was presented by Congress with a vote of thanks, a gold medal, and a British standard taken in the fight. Having a large number of sick soldiers, he left Eutaw Springs a few days after the battle, and again encamped on the High Hills of Santee, where he remained until the middle of November, when he marched his army into the low country, where he might obtain an abundance of food. Meanwhile his partisan corps under Marion, Sumter, Lee and others had been driving the British force from post to post in the low country, and smiting Tory bands in every direction. The British finally evacuated all of their interior stations and retired to Charleston, pursued almost to the verge of the city by partisan troops. Greene's main army occupied a position between that city and Jackson-borough, where the South Carolina legislature had resumed its sessions. That able and skillful leader had not won victories in the field, but had accomplished the objects for which he fought. In the course of nine months he had recovered the three Southern States, and at the close of 1781, he had all the British troops below Virginia hemmed in the cities of Charleston and Savannah, General Wayne and his little army becoming the jailers at the latter place at the opening of 1782.





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