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"Win" is often hard to assess when you look at actions by partisans. Often, they "lose the battle but win the war," and often they have their greatest victories when not fighting real battles at all.

For most of his time in independent command, Sumter was commander of the entire militia of the State of South Carolina. Rather than fighting battles, he was the superior officer of those who did. More often, the men under him raided enemy supplies, attacked isolated enemy outposts, and suppressed Loyalist activity in their respective neighborhoods. Such actions don't normally result in what are called "victories." They aren't really "battles" as such.

But Sumter did sometimes raise large bodies of men and fight British forces in the field. He seldom "won" those. I can list Fort Granby (February, 1781), Fishing Creek (a huge loss in August of 1780), and Quinby Bridge (July, 1781) among those accounted defeats.

In my judgment, his greatest "victories" were Blackstock's (November, 1780), Hanging Rock (July, 1780), and a campaign --- no single battle -- in support of Horatio Gates's move on Camden in August of 1780. The latter is often ignored because it was followed up by the crushing defeat at Fishing Creek. But in it, Sumter took control of the area east of the Wateree River, captured reinforcements and supplies headed for Camden, captured all the British outposts guarding the crossing of the river, and thoroughly suppressed any Loyalist activity that might have arisen in that region. All that, however, came to naught when Gates was defeated outside Camden, and Sumter was overtaken and defeated at Fishing Creek.

The former two were marked by Sumter's force's leaving the field of battle, enabling the British to claim victory. But at Hanging Rock, Sumter's men obliterated an entire enemy regiment, which never was able to function as a regiment again for the remainder of the war. He probably would have won an even greater victory had not his unsupplied men run out of ammunition, out of water, and into alcohol. He himself was wounded. When he sighted enemy reinforcements arriving, he realized it was time to pull his men away and fight again another day.

At Blackstock's, Sumter gave the infamous Banastre Tarleton his first repulse, some two months before the more famous one at Cowpens. Sumter himself, however, was severely wounded, and had to pass his command to someone else, who ordered the army to retreat from the field the night after the victory upon learning that British reinforcements were on the way.

Most of Sumter's fighting was of the irregular variety. He seldom engaged in open combat with organized enemy formations. His was a different kind of war which does not easily translate into "winning battles." But maybe this list can help a little.

Thomas L. Powers

Professor of History

University of South Carolina Sumter

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Q: What battles did Thomas Sumter win in the American Revolution?
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