In The Quaker and the Gamecock, Andrew Waters explores the dichotomy of two very different characters leading the Patriot war effort in the South during the American Revolution. The Quaker, Nathaniel Greene, commanded the Regular Army with all that entailed for an 18th Century general. The Gamecock, Thomas Sumter led the Irregular Militia, the backwoodsmen, waging a guerrilla war upon which much of the southern war effort rested. The two did not get along.
Sumter was an opportunist and adventurer who found his home as a merchant among the fiercely independent back country settlers of South Carolina. In 1776, he recruited a regiment of troops for the Revolution. He resigned his commission in 1778 to become a politician and businessman but took up arms again in 1780, leading the militia against Banastre Tarleton who had burned down his house. From there, Waters follows Sumter through the ups and downs of his military career.
Greene was an autodidact in military matters whose meteoric rise to Major General in the Continental Army is something of a mystery. His first few efforts at battlefield command produced mixed results. His business experience, however, made him an invaluable aide to General Washington as a logistics expert. Greene became Quartermaster for the army but chafed at the politics involved and his own ambition as a combat commander. His chance came when Washington appointed him to command the Southern Army. He arrived at an opportune time because Sumter had just been wounded, giving Greene a free hand at least in the beginning.
Greene had little time for the militia, but he developed a strategy, probably Sumter’s, that depended on them. Sumter had little time for Greene, or Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, who seems to have had little time for him too. Waters narrates the fractious relationship among these commanders while they worked on clearing the British out of the Carolinas. He detours to describe the economic and social background of South Carolina, ending in Sumter’s Law, a system of enlistment payable in captured slaves. Watson turns next to the War of Posts, the attacks on British forts and bases in South Carolina, and the dramatic Battle of Hobkirks Hill. Waters blames Greene for that defeat but praises his tenacity in rising again to fight on. Greene failed again, this time to take the British Fort at Ninety-Six. The American militia continued the war, Sumter threatening Charleston, but received a sharp check at Shubrick’s Plantation. However, Greene’s subsequent drawn battle at Eutaw Springs ended the British war in South Carolina: Sumter wasn’t there for reasons that never became clear. Greene was organizing another campaign when news of the surrender at Yorktown came through, ending the war. Waters tracks Greene and Sumter through the reorganization at the end of the war and their widely divergent fortunes afterwards.
In The Quaker and the Gamecock, Andrew Waters tells an engaging story, though one familiar to many readers of the American Revolution. His focus on command relations, however, provides an interesting angle. He also nimbly juggles his historical characters without creating confusion, an easy mistake he could have made with such strong personalities. His unnecessary and jarring passing references to President Trump and modern terrorism aside, this is a well-written and useful book for understanding the war in the South.