Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 23: The Deep South Regained; the Prudence of Greene (April 1781 to January 1782) - The Life of George Washington
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CHAPTER 23: The Deep South Regained; the Prudence of Greene (April 1781 to January 1782) - John Marshall, The Life of George Washington 
The Life of George Washington. Special Edition for Schools, ed. Robert Faulkner and Paul Carrese (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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The Deep South Regained; the Prudence of Greene (April 1781 to January 1782)
Greene invests Camden.—Battle of Hobkirk’s hill.—Progress of Marion and Lee.—Lord Rawdon retires into the lower country.—Greene invests Ninety-Six.—Is repulsed.—Retires from that place.—Activity of the armies.—Movements suspended by the heat.—They resume active operations.—Battle of Eutaw.—The British army retires towards Charleston.
1781In South Carolina and Georgia, the campaign of 1781 was uncommonly active.
When Lord Cornwallis entered North Carolina, the command of the more southern states was committed to Lord Rawdon.1 For the preservation of his power, a line of posts, slightly fortified, had been continued from Charleston, by the way of Camden and Ninety-Six, to Augusta, in Georgia. The spirit of resistance was still kept alive in the north-western and north-eastern parts of the state, by Generals Sumter and Marion; but neither of them was formidable.
April 1781Such was the situation of the country, when General Greene formed the bold resolution of endeavoring to reannex it to the American Union. His army consisted of about eighteen hundred men. The prospect of procuring subsistence was unpromising, and the chance of reinforcements precarious.
The day preceding his march southward, he detached Lee to join General Marion, and communicated his intention of entering South Carolina to General Pickens, with a request that he would assemble the western militia, and lay siege to Ninety-Six and Augusta.
Having made these arrangements, he moved from Deep river on the 7th of April, and encamped before Camden on the 19th of the same month, within half a mile of the British works. Lord Rawdon had received early notice of his approach, and was prepared to receive him. Being unable to storm the works, or to invest them on all sides, he contented himself with lying before the places, in the hope of being reinforced by militia, or of some event which might bring on an action in the open field. With this view, he retired about a mile and a half from the town, and encamped on Hobkirk’s hill.
While in this situation, he received information that Colonel Watson was marching up the Santee, with four hundred men. To intercept him while at a distance from Camden, Greene crossed Sandhill creek, and encamped on the road leading to Charleston. It being impossible to transport artillery and baggage over the deep marshes adjoining the creek, Colonel Carrington, with the North Carolina militia, was directed to convey them to a place of safety, and to guard them till further orders.
In a few days, Greene found himself compelled, by the want of provisions, to relinquish his position; and on the 24th, returned to the north side of the town, and again encamped on Hobkirk’s hill. Colonel Carrington was ordered to rejoin him. Before the arrival of that officer, a deserter informed Lord Rawdon that the artillery and militia had been detached. His Lordship determined to seize this favorable occasion; and marched out of town, on the morning of the 25th, at the head of nine hundred men, to attack the American army.
By keeping close to the swamp, and making a circuit of some distance, Lord Rawdon gained the American left, without being perceived. About eleven, his approach was announced by the fire of the advanced piquets, half a mile in front of Greene’s encampment; and the American line of battle was immediately formed.
The parties advanced in front were driven in, after a gallant resistance; and Rawdon continued his march through the wood, until he reached the road, when he displayed his columns.
Perceiving that the British advanced with a narrow front, Greene ordered Colonel Ford, from his extreme left, and Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, from his extreme right, severally to attack their flanks, while the regiments of Gunby and Hawes should charge them in front with the bayonet. To complete their destruction, Lieutenant-Colonel Washington was directed to pass their left flank, and charge their rear.
The regiments commanded by Ford and Campbell, being composed chiefly of new levies, did not perform the duties assigned to them with the requisite rapidity and precision; in consequence of which, Rawdon had time to extend his front, by bringing the volunteers of Ireland into his line.
This judicious movement disconcerted the design on his flanks; and the regiments of Ford and Campbell were thrown into some confusion by the abortive attempt.
Colonel Washington, too, was compelled, by the obstructions in his direct course, to make so extensive a circuit, that he came into the rear of the British at a greater distance from the scene of action than was intended; in consequence of which, he fell in with their staff, and with the followers of the army who took no part in the engagement. Too humane to cut his way through this crowd, he employed so much time in taking their paroles, that he did not reach the rear of the British line, until the battle was ended.
The artillery, however, which had arrived in the morning, with Colonel Carrington, played on the enemy with considerable effect, and the regiments of Gunby and Hawes advanced on the British front with resolution. This fair prospect of victory was blasted by one of those incidents against which military prudence can make no provision.
Captain Beaty, who commanded on the right of Gunby’s regiment, was killed; upon which, his company, with that adjoining it, got into confusion, and dropped out of the lines. Gunby ordered the other companies to fall back, and form with the two companies behind the hill the British were ascending. The retrograde movement was mistaken for a retreat, and the regiment gave way. The British pressed forward with increased ardor, and all the efforts of the officers to rally the Americans, were ineffectual. This veteran regiment, equally distinguished for its discipline and courage, was seized with an unaccountable panic, which, for a time, resisted all the efforts of their officers.
The flight of the first Maryland regiment increased the confusion which the change of ground had produced in the second; and, in attempting to restore order, Colonel Ford was mortally wounded. Lord Rawdon improved these advantages to the utmost. His right gained the summit of the hill, forced the artillery to retire, and turned the flank of the second Virginia regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Haines, which had advanced some distance down the hill. By this time, the first Virginia regiment, which Greene had endeavored to lead on in person against the left flank of the British, being also in some disorder, began to give ground. Greene, knowing that he could not depend on his second line, which was composed of militia, thought it most advisable to withdraw the second Virginia regiment.
The Maryland brigade was in part rallied; but Lord Rawdon had gained the hill; and it was thought too late to retrieve the fortune of the day. Greene determined to reserve his troops for a more auspicious moment, and directed a retreat.
Finding that the action was over, Colonel Washington also retreated, with the loss of only three men, bringing with him about fifty prisoners, among whom were all the surgeons of the army.
The Americans retired in good order, about four miles from the field of battle, and proceeded next day to Rugely’s mills. The pursuit was continued about three miles. In the course of it, some sharp skirmishing took place; which was terminated by a vigorous charge made by Washington, which broke a corps of horse that led their van; on which, the infantry in its rear retreated into Camden.
The loss of the Americans, in killed, wounded, and missing, was two hundred and sixty-eight; that of the British was stated at two hundred and fifty-eight, of whom thirty-eight were killed in the field.
General Greene remained in the vicinity of Camden; and, by the activity of his cavalry, straitened2 its communications with the country. The distress of the garrison for provisions had been considerably increased by the progress of Marion and Lee.
As soon as Lee could join Marion, they commenced their operations against the line of communication from Camden to Charleston, by capturing fort Watson. This acquisition enabled them to interrupt the intercourse between those places, and to obstruct the retreat of Lord Rawdon, should that measure become necessary. But his lordship was relieved from the difficulties of his situation on the 7th of May, by the arrival of Colonel Watson. That officer had eluded the vigilance of Marion and Lee (who, for the purpose of intercepting him, had taken possession of the fording places on the creeks it was necessary to pass) by returning down the Santee, crossing it near its mouth, and marching up its southern side until he had passed his watchful enemy.3 This reinforcement having given the British general a decided superiority, Greene, on the day of its arrival, withdrew from the neighborhood of Camden, and took a strong position behind Sawney’s creek. On the following night Lord Rawdon marched out of Camden for the purpose of attacking the Americans in their camp; but he found them so judiciously posted, that he despaired of being able to force it, and returned to Camden.
May 1781His lordship had been induced to relinquish his designs upon Greene by a conviction that a temporary surrender of the upper country had become necessary. Marion and Lee had crossed the Santee, and permitted no convoy from Charleston to escape them. On the 8th they laid siege to Mott’s house, which had been made the depot of all the supplies designed for Camden. The safety of the lower posts required that he should take a position which would enable him to support them. He had, therefore, determined to evacuate Camden, unless a battle with Greene should remove all fears of future danger. After failing in his hope of bringing on an engagement, he carried this determination into execution, and marched down the river to Neilson’s ferry, where he received the unwelcome intelligence that Mott’s house had surrendered on the 12th, and that its garrison, consisting of one hundred and sixty-five men, had become prisoners. The post at Orangeburg had surrendered to Sumter on the preceding day.
On the evening of the 14th, Lord Rawdon marched to Monk’s Corner, a position which enabled him to cover those districts from which Charleston drew its supplies.
Meanwhile the American force was exerted with increased activity. Marion reduced Georgetown on the Black river; and Lee laid siege on the 14th to fort Granby, a post garrisoned by three hundred and fifty-two men, chiefly militia, who surrendered the next morning. He was then ordered to march against Augusta, while Greene invested Ninety-Six.
This post was fortified. The principal work, called the Star, was on the right of the village, and was surrounded by a dry ditch, fraize, and abatis. On the left was a block-house and a stockade fort. The garrison, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Cruger, was ample for the extent of the place.
On the 22d of May, the American army, consisting of about one thousand continental troops, encamped within cannon-shot of the place, and, on the following night, broke ground within seventy yards of the British works; but the besieged made a vigorous sally under the protection of their guns; drove the advanced party from their trenches, put several of them to the bayonet, and retired into the fort before Greene could support them. After this check, the siege was conducted with more caution, but with indefatigable industry.
On the 8th of June, Lee rejoined the army. The day after the fall of fort Granby, that active officer proceeded to join General Pickens, and lay siege to Augusta. On the 21st of May, he took possession of fort Golphin, immediately after which the operations against Augusta were commenced. The place was surrendered on the 5th of June; and the prisoners, amounting to three hundred, were conducted by Lee to the main army.
June 1781While the siege of Ninety-Six was pressed in the confidence that the place must soon surrender, Lord Rawdon received a reinforcement of three regiments from Ireland, which enabled him once more to overrun South Carolina. On the 11th, Greene received intelligence that his lordship was approaching at the head of two thousand men. Sumter, to whose aid the cavalry was immediately detached, was ordered to continue in his front, and to impede his march to the utmost. But his lordship passed Sumter below the junction of the Saluda and Broad rivers.
Greene, finding it impossible to draw together such aids of militia as might enable him to meet Lord Rawdon and fight him at a distance from Ninety-Six, hoped to press the siege so vigorously as to compel a surrender before his lordship could arrive. The garrison was reduced to extremities, when the approach of the British army was communicated to Cruger by a loyalist who passed through the American lines. The hope of obtaining a surrender by capitulation being thus extinguished, Greene determined to attempt carrying the place by storm. As preparatory to an assault on the Star, it was deemed indispensable to make a lodgement on one of the curtains of the redoubt, and at the same time to carry the fort on the left.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lee, at the head of the legion infantry and Kirkwood’s company, was ordered to assault the works on the left of the town; while Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell was to lead the first regiment of Maryland and the first of Virginia against the Star redoubt. The lines were manned, and the artillery opened on the besieged.
About noon on the 18th, the detachments marched to the assault. Lee took possession of the works on the left; but the resistance on the right was greater, and Campbell was less fortunate. Lieutenants Duval of Maryland, and Selden of Virginia, led the forlorn hope with great intrepidity. They entered the ditch; but the height of the parapet opposed obstructions not to be surmounted. After a severe conflict of more than half an hour, during which Lieutenants Duval and Selden were both badly wounded, and nearly all the forlorn hope were killed or wounded, the assault was relinquished, and the few who remained were recalled from the ditch. The next day Greene raised the siege, and, crossing the Saluda, encamped on Little river. The loss of the besieging army, in killed and wounded, amounted to one hundred and fifty-five men. That of the garrison has been stated at eighty-five.
On the morning of the 21st, Lord Rawdon arrived at Ninety-Six; and, on the evening of the same day, marched in quest of the American army. He pursued Greene, who retreated towards Virginia, as far as the Ennoree; whence he returned to Ninety-Six.
Still retaining the opinion that circumstances required him to contract his posts, he left the principal part of his army under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Cruger, to protect the loyalists while removing within those limits which were to be maintained, and with less than one thousand men, marched in person, on the 29th of June, towards the Congaree.
Early in July, Greene marched with the utmost expedition for Friday’s ferry, at which place Lord Rawdon had arrived two days before him. As Greene drew near his enemy, a detachment of the legion4 under Captain Eggleston, announced his approach by attacking a foraging party within a mile of the British camp, and bringing off a troop consisting of forty-five men. Rawdon retreated the next day to Orangeburg, where he formed a junction with a detachment from Charleston, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart.
On the Congaree, Greene was reinforced by Sumter and Marion, with a thousand men; and, on the 11th of July, marched to Orangeburg with the intention of attacking the British army; but found it so strongly posted as to be unassailable.
At this place, intelligence was received of the evacuation of Ninety-Six, and that Cruger was marching down to Orangeburg. The north branch of the Edisto, which was passable only at the place occupied by Rawdon, interposed an insuperable obstacle to any attempt on this party; and Greene thought it most advisable to force the British out of the upper country by threatening their lower posts. On the 13th, Sumter, Marion, and Lee were detached on this service, and, on the same day, the residue of the army moved towards the high hills of Santee.
The detachments ordered against the north-eastern posts held by the British, were not so completely successful as their numbers, courage, and enterprise deserved. Some sharp skirmishes were fought; several prisoners were made; a considerable quantity of ammunition was taken; and baggage and military stores, to a large amount, were destroyed. But Sumter, though brave to excess, did not display the combining talents of Greene. After being disappointed in the hope of getting possession of Monk’s Corner, some discontents prevailed among the several corps. Marion returned to his swamps, Sumter recrossed the Santee, and Lee rejoined the army, July 18th.
The intense heat demanded some relaxation from unremitting toil. From the month of January, the southern army had been engaged in one course of incessant fatigue and hardy enterprise. All were entitled to great praise; but the successful activity of one corps will attract particular attention. The legion, from its structure, was peculiarly adapted to the partisan war of the southern states; and, being detached against the weaker posts of the enemy, had opportunities for displaying all the energies it possessed. In that extensive sweep which it made from the Santee to Augusta, which employed from the 15th of April to the 5th of June, this corps, acting in conjunction, first with Marion, afterwards with Pickens, and sometimes alone, had constituted an essential part of the force which carried five British posts, and made upwards of eleven hundred prisoners.
The whole army had exhibited a degree of activity, courage, and patient suffering, surpassing any expectation which could have been formed of troops composed chiefly of new levies; and its general had manifested great firmness, enterprise, prudence, and skill.
The suffering sustained in this ardent struggle for the southern states, was not confined to the armies. The inhabitants of the country felt all the miseries which are inflicted by war in its most savage form. Being almost equally divided between the contending parties, reciprocal injuries had sharpened their mutual resentments, and had armed neighbor against neighbor, until it became a war of extermination. As the parties alternately triumphed, opportunities were alternately given for the exercise of their vindictive passions.
Greene was too humane, as well as too judicious, not to discourage this exterminating spirit. Perceiving, in its progress, the total destruction of the country, he sought to appease it, by restraining the excesses of those who were attached to the American cause.
At the high hills of Santee, the reinforcements expected from North Carolina were received; which augmented the army to two thousand six hundred men: but its effective force did not exceed sixteen hundred.
Aug. 1781Lord Rawdon, having been induced by ill health, to avail himself of a permit to return to Europe, the command of the British forces in South Carolina devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart.5 He again advanced to the Congaree, and manifested a disposition to establish himself, at the junction of that river, with the Wateree.
Early in September, Greene broke up his camp at the high hills of Santee, and, crossing the Wateree near Camden, marched towards his enemy. On being informed of his approach, the British army retired to Eutaw, where it received a reinforcement from Charleston. Greene followed by easy marches. In the afternoon of the 7th, he was joined by Marion; and determined to attack the British camp next day.
Sept. 1781At four, in the morning of the 8th, the army moved from its ground, which was seven miles from Eutaw, having the legion of Lee and the troops of South Carolina in advance. About four miles from the British camp, the van fell in with and attacked a body of horse and foot, who were escorting a foraging party. The British were instantly routed. Several were killed, and about forty, including their captain, were made prisoners. Supposing this party to be the van of the English, Greene formed his order of battle.
The militia, commanded by Marion and Pickens, composed his first line. The second consisted of the continental infantry. The North Carolina brigade, commanded by General Sumner, was placed on the right; the Virginians, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, formed the centre; and the Marylanders, commanded by Colonel Williams, the left. The legion of Lee was to cover the right flank, the state troops of South Carolina, commanded by Colonel Henderson, the left; and the cavalry of Washington, with the infantry of Kirkwood, formed the reserve. Captain-Lieutenant Gaines, with two three-pounders, was attached to the first line, and Captain Brown, with two sixes, to the centre.
The British line, which was also immediately formed, was drawn up across the road, in a wood on the heights, having its right flank on Eutaw creek. It was also covered by a battalion commanded by Major Majoribanks, which was posted in a thicket. The left was protected by the cavalry, commanded by Major Coffin, and by a body of infantry, held in reserve. A corps of infantry was pushed forward about a mile.
As the American van encountered this advanced party, the first line was ordered up, and the legion, and the state troops of South Carolina, formed on its flanks. The advanced party was soon driven in; and the Americans, still pressing forward, were engaged with the main body. The militia, having many of them frequently faced an enemy, and being commanded by generals of experience and courage, exhibited a degree of firmness not common to that species of force, and maintained their ground with obstinacy. When they gave way, Lee and Henderson still maintained the engagement on the flanks. General Sumner was ordered up to fill the place from which Marion and Pickens were receding; and his brigade came into action with great intrepidity. Stewart ordered the corps of infantry posted in the rear of his left wing into the line, and directed Major Coffin, with his cavalry, to guard that flank. About this time, Colonel Henderson received a dangerous wound, and the command of his regiment devolved on Colonel Hampton.
After sustaining the fire of the enemy for some time, Sumner’s brigade began to give way, and the British rushed forward in some disorder. Greene then directed Williams and Campbell to charge with the bayonet, and ordered Washington to act on his left. Williams charged without firing a musket. The soldiers of Campbell’s regiment, being chiefly new levies, returned the fire of the enemy, as they advanced. In this critical moment, Lee, perceiving that the American right extended beyond the British left, ordered Captain Rudolph, of the legion infantry, to turn their flank, and give them a raking fire.6 This order being executed with precision and effect, the British broke successively on their left, till the example was followed by all that part of their line. The Marylanders had already used the bayonet; and many had fallen on both sides, transfixed7 by that weapon.
The British left retreated towards Eutaw creek, near which stood a brick house, surrounded with offices, into which Major Sheridan threw himself with the New York volunteers.8 The Americans pursued them closely, and took three hundred prisoners and two field-pieces. The legion infantry pressed their rear so eagerly, as to make a serious struggle to enter the house with them. The door was shut in their faces, and several British were excluded, who were made prisoners; and, being mixed with the Americans, saved them from the fire of the house, while retiring from it.
As the British left gave way, Washington was directed to charge their right. He advanced with his accustomed impetuosity; but found it impossible, with cavalry, to penetrate the thicket occupied by Majoribanks. In attempting to force it, Lieutenant Stewart, who commanded the leading section, was wounded, his horse killed under him, and every man in his section killed or wounded. Captain Watts fell, pierced with two balls. Colonel Washington was wounded, and his horse was killed. They fell together; and before he could extricate himself, he was made a prisoner.
After a large portion of the regiment was killed or wounded, the residue was drawn off by Captain Parsons, assisted by Lieutenant Gordon. Lieutenant-Colonel Hampton and Captain Kirkwood soon afterwards came up and renewed the attack on Majoribanks; but finding it impossible to dislodge him, they relinquished the attempt.
Greene ordered up the artillery to batter the house in which Sheridan had taken refuge. The guns were too light to make a breach in the walls; and, having been brought within the range of the fire from the house, almost every artillerist was killed, and the pieces were abandoned.
The firm stand made by Majoribanks, and the disorder among a part of the American right, gave Stewart an opportunity to rally his broken regiments, and bring them again into action. Perceiving that the contest was maintained under circumstances extremely disadvantageous to the Americans, Greene withdrew them a small distance, and formed them again in the wood in which the battle had been fought. After collecting his wounded, he retired with his prisoners to the ground from which he had marched in the morning, determined again to attack the British army when it should retreat from Eutaw.
Every corps engaged in this hard-fought battle received the applause of the General. Almost every officer whose situation enabled him to attract notice was named with distinction.
The loss on both sides bore a great proportion to their respective numbers. That of the Americans was five hundred and fifty-five, including sixty officers. One hundred and thirty were killed on the spot. Seventeen commissioned officers, including Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell, were killed, and four mortally wounded.
The loss of the British was stated by themselves at six hundred and ninety-three men, of whom only eighty-five were killed in the field. This disparity in the killed is to be ascribed to the carnage of the Americans during their unavailing efforts to dislodge the enemy from the house, and strong adjoining grounds.
Each party had pretensions to the victory. If the consequences be taken into the account, it belonged to Greene. The result was, the expulsion of the hostile army from the territory which was the immediate object of contest.
The thanks of Congress were voted to every corps in the army; and a resolution was passed for “presenting to Major-General Greene, as an honorable testimony of his merit, a British standard and golden medal emblematic of the battle and of his victory.”
On the succeeding day, Colonel Stewart marched from Eutaw to meet Major M’Arthur, who was conducting a body of troops from Charleston. This movement saved M’Arthur from Marion and Lee, who had been detached in the morning to intercept any reinforcement from below. Stewart was followed to Monk’s Corner by Greene, who, on reconnoitring the numbers and position of his enemy, returned to the high hills of Santee.
The ravages of disease were added to the loss sustained in battle, and the army remained for some time in too feeble a condition for active enterprise.
Nov.–Dec. 1781As the cool season approached, disease abated in the American camp, and Greene marched towards the Four Holes, a branch of the Edisto. Leaving the army to be conducted by Colonel Williams, he proceeded in person with a detachment of cavalry and infantry against the British post at Dorchester. Though his march was conducted with the utmost secrecy, intelligence of his approach was given, and the garrison, after burning the stores, retired with inconsiderable loss to the Quarter House, where their main body was encamped. Greene returned to the army at the Round O, where he purposed to wait the arrival of the reinforcement marching from the North under General St. Clair.
1782On the 4th of January, that officer arrived; and, five days afterwards, General Wayne with his brigade, and the remnant of the third regiment of dragoons commanded by Colonel White, was detached over the Savannah for the recovery of Georgia.
General Greene crossed the Edisto, and encamped on the Charleston road six miles from Jacksonborough, for the purpose of covering the legislature who were convened at that place. Thus was civil government re-established in South Carolina, and that state restored to the Union.
It is impossible to review this active and interesting campaign without feeling that much is due to General Greene. He found the country completely conquered, and defended by a regular army estimated at four thousand men. The inhabitants were so divided as to leave it doubtful to which side the majority was attached. At no time did his effective continental force amount to two thousand men; and of these a considerable part were raw troops. Yet he could keep the field without being forced into action, and, by a course of judicious movement and hardy enterprise, he recovered the Southern states. It is a singular fact, well worthy of notice, that, although well-merited victory was uniformly snatched by fortune from his grasp; he obtained to a considerable extent, even when defeated, the object for which he fought.
A large portion of this praise is unquestionably due to the troops he commanded. These real patriots bore every hardship and privation, with a degree of patience and constancy which cannot be sufficiently admired, and never was a General better supported by his inferior officers.
[1. ]Cornwallis moved into Charlotte, North Carolina, late in September 1780. Francis Rawdon-Hastings (1754–1826), at the time Lord Rawdon, had been on the staffs of Generals Clinton and Cornwallis, and by 1778 was a Lieutenant Colonel in the British army.
[2. ]Distressed, perplexed.
[3. ]Parentheses have been placed in this long sentence in order to follow its sense more easily.
[4. ]I.e., Lee’s Legion.
[5. ]Alexander Stewart (c. 1741–94), Lieutenant Colonel in the British army, in command of the Third Foot Regiment.
[6. ]Fire along the length of a position or body of troops.
[7. ]Run through with a pointed weapon.
[8. ]One of three battalions of Provincials (Loyalist troops) raised by Oliver De Lancey (Sr.) of New York, the senior Loyalist officer in America (Brigadier General in the British army); also known as “De Lancey’s New York Volunteers” or “Refugees.”