The Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill (sometimes referred to as the Second Battle of Camden) was a battle of the American Revolutionary War fought on April 25, 1781, near Camden, South Carolina. A small American force under Nathanael Greene occupying Hobkirk’s Hill, north of Camden, was attacked by British troops led by Francis Rawdon. After a fierce clash, Greene retreated, leaving Rawdon’s smaller force in possession of the hill.
Despite the victory, Rawdon soon fell back to Camden and two weeks later found it necessary to abandon Camden and withdraw toward Charleston, South Carolina. The battle was one of four contests in which Greene was defeated, though his overall strategy was successful in depriving the British of all South Carolina except Charleston. The battlefield marker is located at Broad Street and Greene Street two miles north of the center of modern Camden.
After the Battle of Guilford Court House, Cornwallis‘s force was spent and in great need of supply. He therefore moved his army towards Wilmington, North Carolina where he had previously ordered supplies to be sent. Greene pursued the British force for a short time before deciding to take his forces into South Carolina. Greene hoped that by threatening the British garrisons in the state he could force Cornwallis to pursue him and then engage the British on ground favorable to his army. When informed of this strategy, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee replied on April 2:
I am decidedly of opinion with you that nothing is left for you but to imitate the example of Scipio Africanus.
When Cornwallis did not pursue the Continental Army, Greene chose to reduce the British garrisons scattered throughout South Carolina in order to force the British back into Charleston. To this end, Greene started his army of 1,450 men, made up of four Continental regiments, Lee’s Legion, Washington‘s Cavalry and Campbell’s Riflemen, as rapidly and secretly as possible towards Camden, which was at the center of the British line of posts in South Carolina. At the same time he hoped to secure the cooperation of the various partisan bands in South Carolina. The movement was part of an intricate campaign organised by Greene involving Continental and militia troops all across the colony. To that end, he sent Lee and his men to assist General Francis Marion, whose small band of militia was being pursued by 400 British troops under John Watson, in the hopes of preventing Watson and his men from reaching Camden before the battle. To that end he was successful, as the combined forces of Lee and Marion forced Watson to make a lengthy detour before eventually rejoining the British forces at Camden after the battle.
The Camden garrison under Lord Francis Rawdon included the 63rd (The West Suffolk) Regiment of Foot, the Loyalist Volunteers of Ireland, the King’s American Regiment, the New York Volunteers, the South Carolina Royalists and a small detachment of cavalry.
The town of Camden was situated on a gentle elevation. To the south and southwest lay the Wateree River and to the east was Pinetree creek. A ring of redoubts, constructed by the British during their year-long occupation of the town, stretched from the Wateree to the Pinetree and covered the northern approaches. Upon arrival on April 20, 1781 at Camden, it was apparent that the Continentals had lost the element of surprise as Rawdon’s forces were prepared on all fronts. Being unable to storm the town or surround the entire circle of fortifications, Greene chose to encamp his army about a mile and a half away on a small elevation called Hobkirk’s Hill, blocking Great Waxhaw Road. As he did not have enough men to besiege Camden, Greene, hoping to draw Rawdon into an attack on the position, organized the camp so that battle positions could be taken quickly in the event of an alarm.
The following evening, Greene’s intelligence indicated that a force of some four hundred British soldiers was marching to Camden to join Rawdon’s garrison. Greene detached some of the South Carolina militia under Colonel Carrington to the east with some of his artillery to cover the road from Charleston. Finding the terrain too marshy for the artillery, Carrington removed the cannon to a position of safety and awaited further orders. On April 24, having received updated information that the additional forces were not on their way to join the Camden garrison, Greene ordered Carrington back to Hobkirk’s Hill.
Early the next morning a Continental deserter, sometimes identified as a drummer, made his way into Camden. He was brought before Rawdon and informed the British commander of the Continental Army’s dispositions and that they had no artillery. Fearing that Generals Marion and Lee were on their way to join Greene and believing the Continental artillery was many miles away, Rawdon decided it was a judicious time to attack.