Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution


From one of the South's foremost historians, this is the dramatic story of the conflict in South Carolina that was one of the most pivotal contributions to the American Revolution.

In 1779, Britain strategised a war to finally subdue the rebellious American colonies with a minimum of additional time, effort, and blood. Setting sail from New York harbour with 8,500 ground troops, a powerful British fleet swung south towards South Carolina. One year later, Charleston fell. And as ...

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From one of the South's foremost historians, this is the dramatic story of the conflict in South Carolina that was one of the most pivotal contributions to the American Revolution.

In 1779, Britain strategised a war to finally subdue the rebellious American colonies with a minimum of additional time, effort, and blood. Setting sail from New York harbour with 8,500 ground troops, a powerful British fleet swung south towards South Carolina. One year later, Charleston fell. And as King George's forces pushed inland and upward, it appeared the six-year-old colonial rebellion was doomed to defeat. In a stunning work on forgotten history, acclaimed historian Walter Edgar takes the American Revolution far beyond Lexington and Concord to re-create the pivotal months in a nation's savage struggle for freedom. It is a story of military brilliance and devastating human blunders - and the courage of an impossibly outnumbered force of demoralised patriots who suffered terribly at the hands of a merciless enemy, yet slowly gained confidence through a series of small triumphs that convinced them their war could be won. Alive with incident and colour.

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Editorial Reviews

The State (Columbia
“Meticulously researched, a volume reminding us once again that the cost of freedom has always been very high.”
John Jakes
“A splendid chronicle...This one goes on my shelf of important works about the birth of our country.”
Emory M. Thomas
“This is a superb book...a great read.”
J. Tracy Power
“Musketry practically cracks on page after page.”
John Buchanan
“A lively and accurate account of the vicious partisan fighting in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War.”
William Hallahan
“A valuable addition to a too-small library on this chapter of the American Revolution.”
The State (Columbia))
"Meticulously researched, a volume reminding us once again that the cost of freedom has always been very high."
Rock Hill Herald
“Edgar paints in stark and realistic tones a portrait of the life and society of the backcountry.”
Mobile Register
“A significant contribution to Revolutionary history...Walter Edgar gives us a sobering sense of liberty’s price.”
The State (Columbia)
"Meticulously researched, a volume reminding us once again that the cost of freedom has always been very high."
Mobile Register
“A significant contribution to Revolutionary history...Walter Edgar gives us a sobering sense of liberty’s price.”
Publishers Weekly
Violence, endemic in a frontier society, was even more deadly in the Carolina back country. University of South Carolina historian Edgar, who has produced the well-regarded South Carolina: A History among eight other books, presents a quickly reconstructed account of the fratricidal civil war that took place in South Carolina during the American Revolution. Years before the Revolution, writes Edgar, patterns of terrible violence had already been set, as white settlers tried to maintain their hold on their lands, fighting among themselves and with the Indians they had displaced. But when the British captured Charleston in 1780 and set out on a policy of subduing the southern colonies, their efforts were doomed by the colonists' siege mentality. Lord Cornwallis, the British commander, misjudged the situation and tried to intimidate the population by repressive measures. His policy failed miserably and only enraged the rebels even more, Edgar shows. Partisan bands such as those led by Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion kept the enemy guessing, while Tories and rebels alike battled each other, killed family members, dispersed slaves, burned crops and houses, and generally kept South Carolina in a state of anarchy. Edgar's lucid, unflinching account shows the American Revolution in the south was truly the nation's first civil war. 8 pages of illus. and maps not seen by PW. (Nov.) Forecast: Regional sales of this title should be relatively strong, but without a compelling hook outside the Carolinas, national sales should be confined to buffs. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A useful study of the Revolutionary War as it played out in a remote-but critically important-region of the southern colonies. Though critics faulted Roland Emmerich's recent film The Patriot for attributing actions to the hated British Legion that were in fact those of the SS in WWII, Edgar (History/Univ. of South Carolina) writes that atrocities were many in the South Carolina backcountry: women and children slaughtered, prisoners executed without trial, whole towns put to the torch. Revolutionary Whigs, he allows, were likely to commit excesses in the name of their cause, but the British and their Tory allies were particularly bad actors; as Edgar writes, "if [their] actions had been committed in the 1990s instead of the 1780s, Lord Cornwallis and a number of his subordinates, such as Banastre Tarleton and James Wemyss, would have been indicted by the International Tribunal at the Hague as war criminals." The British campaign of brutality backfired, however; stirred by the butchery, the leave-me-alone Scots-Irish inhabitants of the backcountry organized and, in time, began to deliver crushing defeats to the once apparently invincible British and their loyalist militia. In the wake of disasters at places like Thicketty Fort, King's Mountain, and Cowpens, the British eventually retreated to the safety of Charleston, freeing southern armies to engage Cornwallis's troops in Virginia and eventually to defeat them at Yorktown. The historical facts behind Edgar's narrative are inherently interesting, but they suffer in the telling: there's far too much repetition, sometimes pointless anecdotes, and groaners along the lines of "the militia force melted away almost as rapidly as the WickedWitch in The Wizard of Oz." Still, by highlighting an often overlooked theater of battle, Edgar provides a solid addition to the Revolutionary War literature.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380806430
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/7/2003
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 226
  • Sales rank: 515,750
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Walter Edgar has authored or edited nine books on the American South, including South Carolina: A History. He is the George Washington Distinguished Professor of History at the University of South Carolina.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The South Carolina Backcountry:
Taming the Southern Frontier

This is a very fruitful Spot, thro' which the dividing Line between North and South Carolina runs — The Heads of P.D. [Pee Dee] River, Lynch 's Creek, and many other Creeks take their Rise in this Quarter — so that a finer Body of Land is no where to be seen — But it is occupied by a Sett of the most lowest vilest Crew breathing — Scotch Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland.

— Reverend Charles Woodmason, 25 January 1767

The "fruitful Spot" described by the itinerant Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason was the Waxhaws, a settlement along the border between the colonies of North and South Carolina. To Woodmason's friends in Charleston, the Waxhaws might as well have been on another planet. To the incredibly wealthy members of the South Carolina elite, the only world that mattered was their own — the fabled Carolina lowcountry — and it ended about fifty miles from the coast. In the lowcountry parish of St. George Dorchester was a crossroads called Parish End. The name said it all, except that it might have been more appropriately called World's End. The rest of the colony was dismissively referred to as the backcountry.

Much of the backcountry lay in the South Carolina piedmont — a land of rolling hills and lush valleys. The topsoil was rich, but it was only about twelve inches deep in most places, and beneath it was red clay. The forests were predominantly oak and hickorywith a scattering of pine and gum trees. Dogwood, red maple, and spice bush were the understory trees. In low-lying areas, were dense canebrakes. In the springtime, native azaleas, buttercups, honeysuckle, Indian pinks, trillium, iris, and violets brightened the fields and forests.

Dozens of streams of all sizes rived the land, creating the valleys to which early settlers were drawn. Although many of these creeks and rivers began as crystal-clear mountain rivulets, they were soon clouded by soil and vegetable matter.

In the fields and forests could be found all sorts of wild game: beavers, deer, turkeys, quail, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, bears, foxes, squirrels, wolves, geese, and ducks. In the streams were trout, bream, and catfish. Flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the sky, and the howls of panthers could still be heard. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, when European settlement eliminated them, buffalo still roamed. Ironically, it was the buffalo runs or paths, transformed into trading routes by Indians and Europeans, that became the highways that helped open up the backcountry to settlers.

In 1740 there were very few Europeans in the South Carolina backcountry. By the American Revolution, nearly one-half of the colony's total population, and 80 percent of its white population, lived there.

The migration of predominantly Scots-Irish settlers transformed the lower South and, in the final analysis, was key to America's triumph over Great Britain in the Revolution. The Great Wagon Road that served as the settlers' highway began across the Schuylkill River from Philadelphia. From the Pennsylvania capital it went west to Harrisburg and then turned south, following the great Shenandoah Valley through Maryland and Virginia into the piedmont of North Carolina. The road veered slightly southeastward to the Moravian settlements at Wachovia, and then almost due south to the South Carolina town of Pine Tree Hill (Camden).

The Great Wagon Road traversed the Catawba River Valley from north to south en route from Wachovia to Pine Tree Hill. The Catawba River, arising in North Carolina and continuing into South Carolina, was a slow-moving, muddy river. Its valley was broad and fertile. Because of its lushness and accessibility, it was the site of some of the first backcountry settlements in South Carolina. The Waxhaws, one of the larger backcountry settlements, was situated in the Catawba River Valley. In 1769 John Stuart, who was royal superintendent of Indian affairs for the Southern District, wrote that "near the Boundary, that Country is full of inhabitants, which in my memory was considered by the Indians as their hunting Ground, such is their rage for settling far back."

What was it that caused this veritable flood of new settlers into the South Carolina backcountry? Cheap and available land was the primary attraction. South Carolina had a more generous land policy for settlers than did either Virginia or North Carolina. Each male head of household could claim one hundred acres for himself and an additional fifty acres for each member of his family and each servant. All that was required was that the settler enter a memorial at the land office in Charleston (something that many settlers neglected to do). South Carolina also had a long-standing tradition of religious toleration. And for those who thought about growing crops for export, South Carolina had a major port. So, while some settlers from Pennsylvania stopped off in Virginia and North Carolina, other settlers from those colonies joined the migration southward.

The initial group that headed south was made up almost entirely of Scots-Irish. These were ethnic lowland Scots who, because they were Protestant, had been encouraged by the English government to settle in northern Ireland. For years religious intolerance has been given as the reason for the Scots-Irish immigration. But the real reason was economics. In the early eighteenth century, absentee landlords began to raise rents and shorten leases. And in the 1770s, the linen industry was beset with difficulties. With very little hope of prospering in Ulster, the Scots-Irish immigrated to Pennsylvania. There, they ran afoul of the Quaker government, which had little concept of what was occurring on the Pennsylvania frontier. If there were problems, the Quakers in Philadelphia were sure that it was the settlers and not the Indians who were responsible.

Having little patience with governments with which they disagreed, the Scots-Irish decided to leave. They were a determined bunch, characterized by one historian as "undisciplined, emotional, courageous, aggressive, [and] pugnacious." But, he allowed, "they..."

Partisans and Redcoats. Copyright © by Walter Edgar. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Introduction: America's First Civil War: The South Carolina Backcountry, 1775-1782 xiii
1 The South Carolina Backcountry: Taming the Southern Frontier 1
2 In the Eye of the Storm: The Revolution in South Carolina, 1775-1779 26
3 The Storm Surge Hits: The Revolution in South Carolina, 1779-1780 48
4 The Tide Turns: The Battle of Huck's Defeat 66
5 July-October 1780: The Beginning of the End 88
6 "No Quarter!": The Desperate Struggle in the South Carolina Backcountry 122
7 Huck's Defeat and American Independence 139
Chronology 147
Glossary 151
Biographical Information 155
Notes 161
Index 189
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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2006

    an important contribution to Revolutionary War history

    I would take issue with some of the reviews of Edgar's book that have been posted here. While he writes from the perspective of the partisan or anti-British party in the Carolinas, Edgar does not whitewash the rebels. He makes it clear that they were just as savage as their opponents. An example is Edgar's account of the British surrender of Thicketty Fort, whose commander deemed discretion to be preferable to valor after considering what would (not might) happen to him and his men if the fort was successfully stormed. And when Edgar comments that 'it can be argued that it was the conduct of the British army of occupation that caused the savagery to descend to lower levels' (p. 123), he offers that observation as an explanation, not as an excuse. More important is Edgar's basic point: if Cornwallis and his commanders had not needlessly antagonized the anti-Tory faction in the Carolina piedmont, the members of that faction might well have acquiesced to formal British control of the Carolinas after the fall of Charleston, with obvious implications for not just American but also world history. It was the decision to impose actual control over a fractious and violent population of Carolina backwoodsmen prior to defeat of the American armies in the field and the destruction of the revolutionary government that, according to Edgar, doomed the British effort to subjugate its rebel colonies. As a final point, Partisans and Redcoats has significance beyond local history. Cornwallis' army successfully captured the capital of South Carolina, put the rebel government in that colony out of business, and achieved formal control of the territory in a brief, three months campaign in early 1780. Then, by failing to understand the motives and interests of the members of a violent and divided society, the British were sucked into a partisan war that they could not win. The parallels between South Carolina during the American Revolution and Iraq today are way too close for comfort.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2002

    Loyalist Devils and Patriot Saints

    A lively but heavily biased account of partisan warfare in 1780 South Carolina. Professor Walter Edgar,in his introduction, paints the actions of Lord Cornwallis and his subordinate commanders, Lt Col Banastre Tarleton of the British Legion and Major James Wemyss of the British 63rd Regiment, that had they been committed in the 1990's, would very likely have caused them to be hauled before the International Court at the Hague as war criminals. He states that the british and their loyalist allies committed numerous atrocities. They took civilians as hostages; they wantonly and unlawfully destroyed and appropriated property not justified by military necessity: they deprived prisoners of war and civilian of the right of fair trials: they compelled prisoners of war and civilians to serve in the forces of a hostile power; they unlawfully confined civilians; they destroyed and willfully damaged institutions dedicated to religion; they plundered public and private property. Against a civilian population, they committed torture, imprisonment, murder and other inhumane acts. He considers the cruel acts of the patriots in return as simple frontier justice, not cruelty. Edgar uncritically quotes from patriot sources to support his pro-patriot position. British and Loyalist version of events are generally either ignored or treated as self serving or hypocritical. For those who want a more balanced version of events in 1780 South Carolina, I would recommend 'The Road to Guilford Courthouse' by John Buchanan, a far superior book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2002

    a very interesting book

    An account of the Revolutionary war in the South, it is a part of the war that is not often spoken of. It is a very different account of the Revolution, one which talks about the dirty little secret of partisan warfare in the South. A good read

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