The Eutaw story

September 08, 2006|By David Paul Reuwer

CAMDEN, S.C. -- Eutaw Place was the height of urban sophistication in the 1880s, with rowhomes surrounding its boulevard and promenade. For what is Eutaw named? And what about Baltimore's streets of Williams, John, Eager, Howard, Greene and Belvidere?

All commemorate the brave Maryland Line soldiers who bled at Eutaw Springs, S.C., in defense of our nation's liberty, 225 years ago today.

On Sept. 8, 1781, more than 4,400 patriot and British soldiers clashed in a major Revolutionary War battle, turning an obstinate fight into a bloodletting. John Eager Howard commanded a Continental battalion of Marylanders under brigade commander Otho Williams. Nathanael Greene, George Washington's most able general and strategist, commanded the Southern Department of the Continental Army.

Colonel Howard volunteered service to the patriot cause in 1776, becoming a captain in the 2nd Maryland Regiment and winning promotion to lieutenant colonel of the 5th Maryland Regiment. He accompanied his 2nd Maryland troops south in 1780, fighting in major battles of the Southern campaigns: Camden, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk Hill and Eutaw Springs, where he was wounded.

Colonel Howard repeatedly distinguished himself in action and won praise for calmness under fire. He represented Maryland in Congress and then was governor from 1788 to 1791. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1796 to 1803 and was the Federalists' 1816 vice presidential candidate. He named his homestead "Belvidere" after the plantation land upon which he fought around Eutaw Springs.

Orphaned at 12, Otho Holland Williams clerked in Frederick and worked as a Baltimore merchant until 1775, when he joined the Frederick Rifle Corps as a lieutenant. He fought at Boston and in New York, attaining the rank of major by November 1776 before being wounded and captured when the British overwhelmed Fort Washington on the Hudson.

Held for 15 months under suspicion as a spy, Major Williams was promoted to colonel of the 6th Maryland Regiment while still a prisoner before being exchanged. He led Marylanders at Monmouth in 1778. His unit was sent to the Carolinas in 1780, where Horatio Gates appointed him deputy adjutant general of the Southern Army. General Williams fought at Camden and, when Nathanael Greene replaced Gates, he became General Greene's most trusted subordinate. Throughout 1781, he acted as Maryland commander and as Greene's deputy adjutant general. General Williams' outstanding performance at Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk Hill and Eutaw Springs got him promoted to brigadier general in 1782. Asked in 1792 to be second in command of the U.S. Army, he declined because of poor health.

General Greene led his Continentals down the Santee River road in the morning hours of a hot September day after a 17-day, 120-mile march chasing the British. Deployed in a loblolly pine forest, Marylanders struggled fiercely with the enemy.

Greene reported: "The Maryland troops under Colonel Williams were led on to a brisk charge with trailed arms [bayonets], through a heavy cannonade, and a shower of musket balls. Nothing could exceed the gallantry and firmness of both officers and soldiers upon this occasion. They preserved their order, and pressed on with such unshaken resolution that they bore down all before them. The enemy were routed in all quarters."

The patriots suffered 30 percent killed, wounded, captured or missing, with Marylanders bearing the brunt of those; the British exceeded 45 percent casualties.

This battle broke the British backcountry outposts, restricted maneuvers around Charleston, and dashed hopes of southern reinforcements realigning with Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. The Continental Congress proclaimed thanks for this most signal victory.

The U.S. Congress established this battlefield in 1936 to set apart this site for the benefit and inspiration of the people. Decades since, the battle has long been forgotten and the field overlooked - even wrongly believed to be under the waters of Lake Marion, created in 1941. It is relegated to a 2-acre park today. The roughly 1-mile-square core battlefield is extant, if half built-over. Hallowed ground of liberty can be so unnoticed or forgotten in our own backyards.

General Greene received for this victory one of only six Congressional Gold Medals issued during the Revolution. The brave Marylanders received street names. They sacrificed gravely at Eutaw Springs to embody Thomas Paine's 1776 call: "We have every opportunity and every encouragement before us, to form the noblest, purest constitution on the face of the earth. We have it in our power to begin the world over again."

David Paul Reuwer, a historic preservation attorney and historian practicing in Camden, S.C., co-edits the online magazine Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution. His e-mail is davidreuwer3@aol.com.

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