Archibald and Jordan Lacy, sons of Nathaniel Lacy, were
soldiers in the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War. The
following historical account of one battle was in a hand-written book of
William Jesse Camp.
Known as Gates' defeat, on August 1 l, 1779 at ten o'clock at night the English Army began to advance in two columns. Not knowing the plans of the British commander, General Gates resolved to move against the English and at the same hour left his position and in dead silence came hurrying on through the gloom. The muffled tread of the advancing battalions, the stifled words of command, and the low rumbling of artillery wagons, as the two unsuspecting armies rapidly approached each other, were the only sounds that accompamed their march.
They toiled on silently for four hours, when suddenly at two o'clock in the morning the advance guard of the British found themselves on the head of the American column. The dark mass wound backward til lost in the gloom, but the British boldly advanced to the attack.
Midnight was suddenly illumined by flashes of musketry and in their transcient light as far as the eye could see, the fields were filled with marching columns of cavalry. Flash followed flash in quick succession, and those two armies looked like huge black monsters in the gloom, spitting forth fire from their mouths on each other. Suddenly, as if by mutual consent, the uproar ceased and the darkness again mantled the hosts and silence rested on the scene. Both generals, unwilling to hazard a nocturnal combat, had resolved to wait for daylight to uncover their respective positions. The troops stood to their arms through the night.
Gates called a council of war. The brave DeKalb wisely advised a retreat to their position at Rugely's Mills and there await the attack of the enemy. Gates overuled this opinion and, carried away by some strange infatuation, resolved to give battle in his present position, though hemmed in between two swamps where his superiority of numbers would give him no advarnage in flank movements and everything must depend on the firmness of the opposing columns.
The road ran between the two marshes. Cornwallis divided his army in two portions, stretched one from the road to the swamps on the right, and the other from the road on the left, the artillery forming the connecting link. Behind each of these masses stood battalion as rear guard, while Tarleton's legion sat on their horses a little to the right of the road to take advantage of circumstances.
Gates divided his forces into three columns, the center one commanded by Caswell in the road and the other two, led by Stevens and Gist, on either side. The Continental troops of De1aware and Maryland composed the reserve, while Armand's cavalry were placed opposite Tarleton's legion. Thus the two armies stood.
When the warm August morning broke over the scene, a death-like calmness rested on the fields. Not a breath of air was abroad, the leaves hung motionless on their stems, and a summer haze veiled the sky and gave to the sun a bloodshot appearance as it rolled slowly into view. The Amencans looked calmly on the dense masses of scarlet uniforms before them and would doubtless have met the shock firmly, but for the downright madness of their general. Not exactly liking his order of battle, he endeavored to change the position of the left and center columns, right in the presence and within striking distance of his wary foe. He opened his columns and began to execute a movement with his undisciplined militia.
A smile passed over the face of Cornwallis when he saw it and he immediately ordered the right division to charge. Those undisciplined troops were modulating on the field in their slow effort to close up their ranks again, when the artillery opened upon them and the rapidly advancing columns poured a most destructive fire into their very faces.
They made a feeble effort to rally, when the Virginians broke and fled. In a moment the field was in an uproar. The artillery on both sides began to play furiously, while from the swamp it was one flash and peal of musketry as the two armies advanced on each other.
The smoke of battle would not rise in the dull air, but settled down on the field, and folded heavily on the contending columns.
The separate portions of the Armies thus became hid from each other, and shouted and charged through the smoke, ignorant of the state of the conflict about thern. Amid the intervals of the thunder of artillery and over the rattle of musketry, strains of martial music struggled up through the sulphurous cloud and all was confusion and uncertainty. But the two columns, assailed in the process of formation, could not recover their order and rapidly crumbled away and at 1ast began to stagger back in a broken mass over the ffeld. Tarleton, seeing the favorable moment, ordered a charge to sound. The blast of the bugles sent terror through disordered ranks and the next moment the fierce riders were among them, trampling down the fugitives without mercy.
All was now lost; the ruined army rolled backwards, and uncovered the reserves of Continentel troops standing firm as a wall of iron in their places. Letting the disordered tide of batt1e flow past them, as the rock the waters, they closed on the advancing battalions. DeKalb, the brave, the noble DeKalb, towered on foot at their head, with his drawn sword in his hand, while his hoarse shout was heard even above the uproar of theconflict.
Over the piles of dead bodies that obstructed his way, through the terrible fire that wasted his ranks, he led his galant band to the charge, and fell in such desperate valor on the enemy, that inch by inch they forced them back. The Britlsh rushed on at the point of the bayonet mingled in rapid intermediate volleys; but those resolute troops never shook, though rapidly crumbling away before the overwhelming fire that smote them.
Again and again did the calm stern voice of DeKalb carry them to the charge with terrible impetuosity, and three times in succession did they close sternly on the bayonet.
But the whole right wing of the English now left the pursuit of the fugitives and turned suddenly upon DeKalb and his brave Continentals. Enveloped in fire and smoke, fast melting away, the heroic band could not save the battle, but they could save the hour of the flag that waved over them.
Turning furiously on those fresh battalions that crowded upon them, they cleared a terrible path for themselves and stood a blazing citadel on the lost and bloody field.
Amid their thinned ranks Tarleton's cavalry now came at a fierce gallop and DeKalb saw that his hour had come. Shot after shot had struck him, and the blood was pouring from his side in streams, yet animated by that spirit which has made the hero in every age, he rallied his men for a last charge, and led them at the point of the bayonet on the dense rank
Striking a bayonet from his breast, and laying the grenadier that held it dead at his feet, he pressed forward and in the very act of cheering on his men, fell with the blood gushing from eleven wounds. His aides immediately covered him with their bodies, exclaiming, "Save the Baron DeKalb. Save the Baron DeKalb." Extract from J. T. Headley's book.
Archibald Lacy and his brother Jordan fought in this battle and made their escape after DeKalb's fa11. Often they told of the fearful carnage. They escaped into the swamp and were so hard pressed by tbe redcoats that they lay in the water under the logs that their pursuers were walking upon. They breathed through quills that they carried for drinking from streams.