When he arrived in America in June, Lt. General Charles Earl Cornwallis almost immediately tried to resign. On June 28, 1778, he participated in the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey, where he led a failed assault on the right wing of the Continental Army, which was brilliantly commanded Maj. General Nathanael Greene. He again returned to England in December 1778 bearing an urgent message from Lt. General Henry Clinton asking for reinforcements.
When he arrived home, Cornwallis found that his wife was ill. He immediately resigned his position to stay at his wife's side. In February 1779, she died. Cornwallis turned to military command to give his life purpose and returned to America without Clinton's reinforcements. Clinton then submitted his resignation, expecting to be replaced by Cornwallis. In March 1780, he learned that his resignation had been declined. Communication between Cornwallis and Clinton now all but ended.
The Southern Campaign: 1780
In December 1779, General Clinton decided to sail south and capture Charleston, South Carolina, in hopes of gaining Tory support to supplement his army. General Cornwallis and Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton joined him in the operation. After landing in February 1780, a lengthy approach march was undertaken. Finally as siege operations on the city proper began in April, General Clinton ordered Cornwallis into the countryside to cut off supply lines and hasten the fall of Charleston. On May 12, 1780, the Siege of Charleston ended when Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered to General Clinton.
On June 5, General Clinton sailed back north, leaving Cornwallis in charge of southern operations. Cornwallis had detachments at Savannah, Augusta and Ninety-Six. He also established outposts extending in the Carolina backcountry in a ring around Charleston at Camden, Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, Cheraw and Georgetown. He planned to mop up South Carolina, move north through North Carolina and meet Clinton in Virginia.
In the months following the fall of Charleston, the only Patriot resistance was focused around Thomas Sumter. In August 1780, General Cornwallis learned that two regiments of the Continental army led by new Southern Department CommanderMaj. General Horatio Gates, the Hero of Saratoga, were moving south. Cornwallis marched from Charleston to meet them. The armies ran into each other just north of Camden. At the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, a Continental force numbering 3,000, many of whom were untested militia, was routed by Cornwallis' lesser forces. Cornwallis then sent Lt. Colonel Tarleton after Sumter. Tarleton surprised and dispersed Sumter's force at Fishing Creek, South Carolina on August 17, 1780.
On September 26, General Cornwallis occupied Charlotte, North Carolina after being harassed by Colonel William Richardson Davie. Not long after, an American Loyalist force of 1,000 commanded by Major Patrick Ferguson which was serving as Cornwallis' flanking force was wiped out at the Battle of King's Mountain, South Carolina on October 7, 1780. Because his flank for now exposed to a new threat, Cornwallis was forced to retreat back into South Carolina. For the next few months he had to concentrate on keeping his supply lines open and dealing with South Carolina militia bands led by Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens and Thomas Sumter, who had resurfaced in October with a reorganzied force.
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