(August 18, 1780). After the Battle of Camden, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British legion pursued the patriot general Thomas Sumter and his troops in the hope of recapturing British prisoners and stores taken by Sumter in a raid just prior to the battle. After an aggressive pursuit, Tarleton’s legion neared Sumter’s force along the Catawba River in South Carolina. Although Sumter was aware of the British presence across the river, he continued marching up the west bank of the river throughout the morning of August 18, 1780. In the meantime, Tarleton secured boats and sent his command across the river and then continued on a forced march after the enemy.
Sumter, feeling safe in the belief that the British were far enough away on the other side of the river, halted his command to rest at noon at Fishing Creek. The march had been a hard one, under intensely hot and humid conditions and over numerous steep hills, and his men had pushed themselves hard. After posting sentries outside the camp, Sumter allowed his men to stack arms and do as they pleased. Some men napped and some swam in the river, while others lounged around getting drunk.
As Sumter’s men relaxed, Tarleton’s legion continued their forced march. Many were overcome with the heat, and when they insisted that they could go no further, Tarleton decided to push forward with 160 men, although the enemy force numbered nearly 800. When Tarleton reached the confines of Sumter’s camp, he easily subdued the sentries and then swiftly attacked the rebels. His lightning-fast attack made it impossible for the Americans to fight back and left them no choice but to run for their lives. The Americans suffered heavy losses during the fight, including 150 men killed or wounded, 350 captured, and the loss of their British prisoners and plunder and their arms, ammunition wagons, baggage, and other stores. Tarleton’s force had just 16 men killed or wounded. Coming on the heels of the humiliating defeat at Camden, the rout of Sumter’s force at Fishing Creek marked the low point of the patriot cause in South Carolina.
Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas. New York: Wiley, 1997.
Morrill, Dan L. Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution. Baltimore: Nautical & Aviation Publishing, 1993.
Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000.