Book Review: All That Can Be Expected: The Battle of Camden and the British High Tide in the South, August 16, 1780


by Robert Orrison and Mark Wilcox

El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. xxviii, 164. Illus., maps, appends, online notes, biblio. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 1611216869

The Patriots’ Disaster at Camden

The Battle of Camden (August 16, 1780), was one of several devastating defeats suffered by the Americans in the early stages of the British military offensive in the South. After capturing Charleston in May 1780, British forces under General Lord Charles Cornwallis established a supply depot and garrison at Camden as part of their effort to secure control of the South Carolina backcountry.

In July, American Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, highly regarded as the victor at Saratoga, marched his army into South Carolina, intent on liberating the state from British control. Both the British and the American armies approached one another north of Camden early on the morning of August 16th. Gates formed his men for battle. He made a critical error in his deployment.

When the British advanced and presented bayonets, the Virginians immediately turned and ran, followed by the North Carolina militia in the center of Gates's line and the American position quickly collapsed. Nearly surrounded and overwhelmed, many joined their comrades in the retreat.

It was the worst American defeat in the field and left the British in temporary control of the southern colonies. Orrison and Wilcox make the important point that the British forces captured an entire army, including nine regiments of seasoned veterans of the Continental Line. While enhancing the reputation of Cornwallis, the battle ruined the career of Gates, who was replaced.

Cornwallis’s victory cleared South Carolina of organized American resistance and opened the way for him to North Carolina. About two months after Camden, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene accepted the command of the Southern Department, replacing Gates. Greene went on to play a critical role in the Carolinas, directing operations that eventually led to the American victory, actions in which American partisan rangers played a vital role.

A volume in the Savas series “Emerging Revolutionary War ,”, All that Can be Expected will appeal to anyone wanting a readable, informative, look at Camden and its importance in the Revolutionary War.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2, and Outwitting Forrest.




Note: All That Can Be Expected is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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