By Thomas Buffenbarger, U. S. Army Military History InstituteSeptember 5, 2010
Today the Army is involved throughout the world serving alongside indigenous military forces in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. The Army provides those indigenous forces with highly trained, well armed, and well disciplined officers and soldiers who serve side by side with the local troops. During our American Revolution our Continental Army assigned a similar role to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lee's Legion, which provided support to the different southern partisan brigades which operated in small bands or could assemble into small irregular battalions. These irregular militia partisan forces (fellow Americans, to be sure, but not part of the Continental Army) played a key part in defeating British and Loyalist forces which had occupied fortified posts and towns throughout South Carolina and Georgia in 1779, 1780, and 1781.
Lee's Legion of well drilled mounted dragoons and infantry soldiers, numbered some one hundred and sixty officers and men. They provided support to the local partisan raiders and, as needed, rejoined the main Southern Continental Army under Major General Nathanael Greene as part of its advance light corps. Lee's Legion operated with the different partisan commands that attacked British-led convoys and garrisoned towns and redoubts throughout South Carolina and Georgia. These key fortified points protected the British army's supply routes that enabled their forces to occupy the interior of these states.
South Carolina state militia Brigadier Generals Andrew Pickens, Francis Marion, and Thomas Sumter commanded partisan brigades whose attacks wore down the British occupation forces. Francis Marion, the legendary "Swamp Fox," coordinated his small partisan brigade's efforts, as directed by General Greene, with Lee's Legion against British forces from his base in a coastal swamp in South Carolina. These partisan leaders attacked enemy troop movements and fortifications, keeping the British occupation forces and their Loyalist sympathizers in a constant state of defense. British efforts to capture the partisans, break up their brigades, and end the rebel insurgency operation had only worn down men and horses .
The British position in the upcountry grew even more precarious in mid-1781, as the main southern British army of General Charles Cornwallis moved northward through North Carolina into Virginia - ultimately toward Yorktown. His departure left the door open for Greene's Army, with the support of local rebel partisan brigades, to return from North Carolina to South Carolina, join the local rebel partisan brigades, and go on the offensive.
Cornwallis' departure left the British fortified interior "backcountry" camps isolated. In South Carolina the key fortified towns of Camden and Ninety-Six proved untenable, and the British withdrew south, closer to their main port of Charleston, South Carolina. Their control of this heavily fortified port and the Royal Navy's control of the sea provided an excellent logistical base. The British landed reinforcements and a new commander, who consolidated the British regulars and Loyalist regiments into a new British field army of 2,400 men with their camp at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina.
On the morning of September 8, 1781, Lieutenant Colonel Lee's cavalry and the state cavalry led Greene's 2100-man Army of Continental, state, and partisan brigades forward to attack the main British army camp at Eutaw Springs. The
irregulars of Marion's and Pickens' brigades formed part of the first line that advanced against the British main line of regulars and well trained Loyalists.
Greene's Army successfully forced most of the British from the field, but some of them retreated to a brick house and its fenced grounds. Neither Lee's nor Marion's men could dislodge them. The right flank of the American Army, having overrun the British camp, lost momentum when the soldiers turned to looting. After fighting for some four hours, Greene ordered his army to retire from the battlefield to their previous night's campsite. His men were in desperate need of water, and his army had to be reorganized, having lost several key leaders.
The Battle of Eutaw Springs was over. Lee's Legion and the partisan brigades had fought well. Greene may not have held the field, but yet again he won the campaign. The British abandoned the brick house and retreated towards Charleston.
Part of the legacy of today's Army is the tenacity and fortitude of Regular, National Guard, and Reserve Soldiers who operate and fight together to achieve victory.