Monday, June 5, 2017

British Victory at Winnsboro

Battle of Winnsboro - British attack of American right wing. (click or double click all photos to enlarge)

The British army commanded by Lord Cornwallis defeated DeKalb's American army at the Battle of Winnsboro on March 30, 1780. A British oblique order attack on the American right wing, directed at the American militia in the town of Distow, was the key to the British success.

Cornwallis' preliminary inspection of the American deployment indicated that the American center, held by 4 South Carolina State regiments/Continental artillery, and the American left wing deployed around the town of Winnsboro, were both too strong for a frontal attack.

British scouts from Tarleton's British Legion cavalry, probed the American right wing and discovered that DeKalb had placed all 4 of his militia regiments as well as a squadron of South Carolina mounted militia, on his right wing. 

Andrew Pickens deploys the 1st and 2nd Spartanburg militia along a stone wall. Two other milita units are posted behind Distow in support.

Two battalions of British Light troops descend upon the militia line.

Accordingly, Cornwallis resolved to attack the militia on the American right wing of deployment. Two British Light Battalions spearheaded the attack, followed by three British regular regiments: the 4th, 5th and 55th regiments. The British movement to their left (American right) was screened by a hill in the center of the British deployment area. The Americans did not discover this troop movement and so they were surprised when the full weight of the British army attacked Distow. Cornwallis had "refused" his right flank by posted the von Mirbach regiment of Hessians on the hill, and the Queen's Rangers and British Legion cavalry on his right.

Opening phase of the battle showing the British attack on the American militia in Distow.

As the British attack developed, DeKalb reacted by shifting Brigadier General Isaac Huger's South Carolina State brigade to its right to back up the expected break of the militia at Distow. Simultaneously, Colonel John Eager Howard shifted two of his regiments, the 1st and 2nd Maryland, to their left as well. Howard retained the Delaware regiment and his cavalry, 1st & 3rd Continental Dragoons, in Winnsboro to guard the line of retreat back towards Charlotte, NC.

British attack on the American right. You can see two of Huger's regiments marching (above the horizontal road) towards Distow to shore up the American right.
1st Virginia (green and red flag) and 3rd South Carolina (grey hunting shirts and red flag) arrive to shore up  the American right.
Colonel Andrew Pickens' two Spartanburg Militia battalions faced the brunt of the British assault and they fiercely defended their ground through Turn 4, when the 1st Spartanburg routed away from the 1st Light Battalion. The 2nd Spartanburg got involved in a melee with the 2nd Light Battalion and miraculously held their position until Turn 6.

The two Spartanburg militia regiments rout and the 1st South Carolina falls back up the hill.  The 2nd Maryland Continental regiments marches to the right to fill in a gap in Huger's line.

Pickens' militia bought a little bit of time for Huger to shift his brigade to the right to counter the British assault.

The 2nd Spartanburg militia are shaken and fall back into the woods. A second battalion of milita (red flag) provide some support.

Once Distow was cleared of militia, the Light Battalions drove straight ahead to finish off the militia. At the same time, the three regiments of British regulars followed up behind the Lights and then wheeled to the right to confront the 1st and 2nd South Carolina State regiments near Distow. The Royal Artillery battery on the British hill pummeled the 1st South Carolina with round shot. This reduced the 1st SC's numbers ahead of a columnar assault by the 55th Regiment into the 1st SC. This drove the shalen (not routed) 1st SC back up the American hill, opening a large gap in Huger's line.

British Light battalions have cleared the wall of militia. Now the three British regular regiments (top of the picture above) move in to take on Huger's brigade of South Carolina State regiments.
The 2nd SC regiment was shaken so the British 55th Regiment closes in quickly, charging in column, to take advantage of the moment.

The British 55th Regiment breaks through Huger's line as the shaken 2nd SC falls back up the hill, leaving the 1st South Carolina regiment all by itself facing two British regiments plus bombardment from artillery at close and long range.

The 1st VA and 3rd SC regiments had just arrived at Distow, now Huger immediately orders them to return to the American center on the hill to close up the gap.

DeKalb realized that now was the time to commence the withdrawal of his army in order to save it for another day. Howard's Continenals deployed facing the British attack, which allowed Huger to extricate two (3rd SC and 1st Virginia) of his regiments from the battle line. The 2nd SC struggle back towards Howard but could not disengage. They were left behind as a forlorn hope that had to be sacrificed to allow the rest of Huger's brigade to retire behind Howard's brigade. Once Huger had broken free, Howard skillfully withdrew his Continentals, covered by the American light dragoons, back down the Charlotte Road and to safety.

DeKalb orders Huger to withdraw from the center towards the Charlotte Road. Howard's Continentals also fall back to cover the retreat of the rest of the army. The 2nd South Carolina provides a desparate rear guard.

Howard's Continenatals cover the withdrawal of Huger's brigade from the center.

Cornwallis wanted to pursue the Americans, but he needed time to reorganize his 5 regiments on his left befor they could be in any condition to pursue. Tarleton was eager to launch the British Legion at the retiring Americans and give them another taste of Tarleton's Quarter, however, this was thwarted by the presence of the veteran Delaware regiment of Continentals and William Washington's light dragoons.

DeKalb commenced his withdrawal towards the safety of the Santee River and Charlotte as shown in the map below.

Cook map of South Carolina circa 1773. Annotations show the key points in our campaign map. DeKalb will withdraw from Winnsboro north to the next red town below Gilbert Town.

A view of the campaign map post-battle of Winnsboro


  1. Awesome DaF! Thanks for sharing

  2. Great AAR and some wonderful photos to boot:)

  3. Beautiful looking game, as usual, well done.

  4. Splendid game and report. The 55th is my reenactment unit. In fact we have an event in Kenosha this weekend. However, loosing face at Princeton, we were rotting in the West Indies in 1780.

  5. Came here from TMP. Beautiful game and great AAR. Looking forward to following the campaign. Great work.