During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army heavily relied on supplies from the southern colonies. The British realized this and set forth to capture a swath of land across South Carolina to cut off the southern colonies and supplies. They believed that if they could divide the northern and southern colonies that the remainder of the southern colonies would surrender and the lack of southern supplies would force the northern colonies and George Washington’s Continental Army to give up.
On April 2, 1780, the British succeeded in the first part of their strategy by capturing Charleston, South Carolina. From there, they tried to move further inland, but found far more resistance than they anticipated, in addition to finding it extremely difficult to advance in the South Carolina swamps. Part of the difficulty experienced by the British was the guerilla warfare of South Carolina militia leader Colonel Francis Marion, also known as the Swamp Fox for his knowledge of the swamp country.
On September 7, 1781, approximately 2,000 British troops, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart, were camped at Eutaw Springs, about 45 miles northwest of Charleston. The spring provided cool fresh water which was welcomed by the British as the general area was part of the swamps along the Santee River. The woods also provided some refreshing shade as it was still quite hot and humid. Stewart was positioning his troops to help cut off any attempts of Patriot forces trying to move north to join up with General George Washington at Yorktown.
On September 7, 1781, approximately 2,100 to 2,200 Patriot forces under the command of Major General Nathaniel Greene moved into position near Eutaw Springs. Under Greene’s command were officers Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, Henry Lee and William Washington. Greene camped his forces, which were poorly clothed, trained and supplied, about 7 miles from the British at Eutaw Springs.
On this day, September 8, 1781, the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, guided the Patriot forces through the swampy terrain during the very early hours. The British, who had no idea the Patriots were so close, were leisurely starting to enjoy their breakfast when the Patriots attacked. The surprise attack caused many of the British to scurry away, but not without some fighting. The hungry Patriots believed the battle was over and sat down to enjoy the freshly cooked breakfasts abandoned by the British.
In the meantime, the British regrouped and mounted an attack on the Patriots in the British encampment. After over 4 hours of fierce fighting, Stewart withdrew his troops, Greene withdrew his troops and the fighting ended. Even though there weren’t great numbers of troops involved in the Battle of Eutaw Springs, it is often described as one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War. One person described the scene as having to stand in 4 inches of blood in some areas of the battle field. Greene’s Patriot forces suffered 138 killed, 375 wounded and 41 missing or captured. Stewart’s British forces suffered 85 killed, 351 wounded and between 500 to 800 captured or missing.
The battle of Eutaw Springs was declared a victory for the British, but since Stewart pulled his troops back to Charleston and remained there, it was also considered to be of great strategic advantage for the Patriots. Many historians believe that if Stewart had pressed on against the Patriots that he most likely would have prevailed and the British could have continued their plan to divide the colonies. It turned out that the Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major battle in South Carolina and the southern colonies in the Revolutionary War and effectively ended the strategic plans of the British to divide the north and south.
Sources for the above includes: Battle of Eutaw Springs; The Battle of Eutaw Springs; American Revolution: Battle of Eutaw Springs; Eutaw Springs; Bloody Battle Begins at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina; Francis Marion at the Battle of Eutaw Springs; Battle of Eutaw Springs September 8, 1781