Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Joseph Graham to Archibald D. Murphey [Extract]
Graham, Joseph, 1759-1836
March 09, 1821
Volume 19, Pages 972-974


March 9, 1821.

Dear Sir:—In the sheets herewith forwarded it is omitted in its proper place to state that when Gen. Sumpter was on the expedition to Rocky Mount, Bryant’s tories near the British lines, &c., for the particulars I refer you to Lee’s account, and generally his statement of the Hanging Rock; but some incidents are omitted. When the men under Sumpter and Davie united had made their disposition of attack, their guides though well acquainted with the ground, were not with the position in which the enemy was encamped, and unfortunately led them on Bryant’s tories instead of the British. Their attack was so impetuous that the tories fled on the second fire, and the ardour of Davie’s cavalry was such they could not be restrained, but pursued them. On the first alarm, the British near a quarter of a mile distant, detached a party of about 100 men to support them; they arrived on the eminence just after the tories had left it, and commenced a fire by platoons in succession, overshot their opponents, who by taking steady aim, and in a half circle around the eminence, in a short time caused one third of them to fall; the

-------------------- page 973 --------------------
rest retreated to the main body, and were briskly pursued by Sumpter’s men. When the British joined their comrades the action became general. After a few discharges they retreated, taking their artillery with them for about 300 yards where they rallied, though somewhat scattered and out of order; and the action was renewed—the whigs more scattered, some intoxicated, others plundering in the British camp; however a respectable number still facing the enemy and pressing them closely, they were compelled gradually to give ground 200 yards further; at last formed a square, &c. I refer you to Lee’s statement for the rest. When the firing became slack and the enemy maintained his position, Gen. Sumpter had his men withdrawn a small distance and formed and as many stragglers collected as he could, intending to renew the action.

He rode along the line, personally inquiring of each man his stock of ammunition, it was found that they had not on an average three rounds per man, which was the true cause of his retreating. The great blunder committed in this action was in suffering Davie’s cavalry to charge tories in their retreat at so early a period, which neither Davie nor Sumpter could prevent; it was not doubted after it was over that if they had been kept in a compact body until the main body of the British were forced from their camp by the gallantry of the infantry, and had turned their backs for 300 yards, a charge of 70 cavalry would have made them surrender, but at that period but few of the cavalry had returned from pursuit of the tories and they were yet unformed. The whole number lost on each side was never ascertained. Of the Militia from Mecklenburg, Capt. David Reid, a man equally distinguished for his patriotism and piety, and eight others were killed, and Lieut. D. Flenigen, Ensign McClure and Ensign Flenigen, and twelve privates wounded. In no action were there more acts of individual heroism displayed, or more hair’s breadth escapes. Col. Robt. Irwin who commanded the North Carolina militia, had his clothes perforated with four separate balls, and escaped unhurt. Lieut. Geo. Graham, who commanded Capt. Reid’s company after he was killed, (early in the action) and many of the soldiers, had their clothes cut in like manner. On the British retreat from their position after being forced from their camp on the right of their line they kept firing a three pounder. Capt. James Knox of Mecklenburg, gave order to his men

-------------------- page 974 --------------------
to load their guns, and when that piece fired the next time they would take it; on the discharge of the gun they started in full run, and before the artilerists could load got within forty steps and began to fire, the British retreated and Knox and party took the gun and turned her on their adversaries, but unfortunately none of them knew how to manage or load her, though in their possession several minutes. The enemy rallied and came on with fixed bayonets and retook the gun. From this time until after Gates’ and Sumpter’s defeat on the 16th and 18th of August, I refer you to the details of Marshal, Ramsay and Lee as being more accurate than I can give.

∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
I am, Sir very respectfully,
A. D. Murphey, Esq., Atto., &c.