Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Description by Joseph Graham of military action in North Carolina
Graham, Joseph, 1759-1836
Volume 19, Pages 979-998


In the Histories of the Revolutionary War by Marshall, Ramsey & Lee the details given of transactions in this Section of Country are frequently inaccurate and several things which had a bearing on the general result entirely omitted. They had not the means of correct information, except Lee who did not join the Southern Army wtih his Legion until the month of February, 1781, after which his narrative may be generally relied on.

It may be remarked that there was a marked difference in the manner of conducting the revolutionary and the late war between us and Great Britain. In the latter the commandant of a party sent an official report in writing to his superior officer, or to the secretary of the War department, of every trivial combat with the Enemy. In the former of all the battles fought in the South, there were not more than three or four official reports ever published. The Historians had to collect some of their information from common fame and other precarious sources. The truth is that many of the officers of that time were better at fighting than writing and could make better marks with their swords than with their pens. Their object did not appear so much to have their names puff’d in the columns of a news paper as to destroy their Enemy or drive him from their Country and Establish its Independence.

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The Histories of Ramsey & Lee, which are the most in detail of the transactions in the South, are calculated to make an erroneous impression in reciting the operations under the command of General Sumpter in the months of July and August, 1780, and of General Pickens in the months of February & March, 1781. From the number of the field officers from South Carolina under their command the reader would believe in the ranks of the former the principal force consisted of the militia from South Carolina, whereas, the fact was, that in the well fought battles of Rocky Mount & Hanging Rock the North Carolinians, under the command of Colos. Irwin and Huggins and Major Davie, constituted the greater part of his Command and the field officers referred to had not sometimes each a Dozen of men with them.

In the folowing February when General Andrew Pickens was vested with the command of the troops, 6 or 700 in number Assembled in the rear of Lord Cornwallis on his march to Dan River, there was not more than 40 of the South Carolina Militia in his ranks and his men were chiefly from between the Yadkin and Catawba Rivers from the then Counties of Mecklenburg and Rowan (from which Iredell and Cabarrus since separated).

It may further be remembered that in the Brigade of State troops raised by the State of South Carolina in the spring of 1781, when each man furnished his own horse and military equipments, the Regiments commanded by Cols. Polk, Hampton & Hill and Middleton, were mostly raised in the Counties aforesaid.

It is admitted that some of both Officers and soldiers of the militia of South Carolina were as brave and enterprising as ever went to a field of battle, but those well affected to the cause of Independence were but few in number. The most of the lower districts (except Marion’s Brigade) were endeavoring to save their property either by moving to No. Carolina or Virginia, or the greater number by taking protection from the enemy. From the conduct of the few before alluded to Ramsey’s History gives character to the whole Militia of the State who were not disaffected, when it is well known a great majority of them saw little Military service. The Counties of Mecklenburg and Rowan not only furnished the greater part of the troops commanded by General Sumpter, but it was in all cases his place of retirement when menaced by a superior force of the

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enemy and from whence he mostly organised and set out on his several expeditions.

The writer finding those things unfairly represented has undertaken in his plain way to present a more correct account of several transactions than has heretofore been given and to take notice of some which had been entirely omitted, which in his opinion, are worthy of being preserved. For the truth of the facts he states he appeals to those who were present on the several occasions related, of whom it is believed more than 100 are yet living. Some of the details may appear minute and trivial but not so to those who were present, and it is expected the present generation will read with some interest the part their fathers and relations acted in those times, more especially when they have a personal knowledge of the very spot where each Transaction took place.


I wish to add the following notes as to the battle of Ramsour’s Mills, where, it is stated, the Tories were driven back the second time & the left of their line became mixed with the whigs. A Dutchman, of the Tories, meeting suddenly with an acquaintance among the whigs addressed him “Hey, how do you do Billy, I has known since you was a little poy and I would not hurt one hair of your head, because I has never known no harm of you only that you vas a rebel.” Billy, who was not so generous and much agitated & his gun being empty, clubbed it and made a blow at the Dutchman’s head which he dodged. The Dutchman cried out “oh stop, stop. I is not going to stand still and be killed like a damned fool nedder,” and raised the butt of his gun and made & shot the poor fellow dead.

Captain Machisick was wounded early in the action, shot through the tip of his shoulder, and finding himself disabled & the result being at the time uncertain, he went from the battle ground about 80 poles to the west; about the time the firing ceased he met 10 of the Tories coming from a neighbouring farm where they had been until the sound of the fire started them, they were confident

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their side was victorious & several of them knew Capt. Machisick, insulted him, would have used him ill but for Abram Kiener, Senr., one of his neighbors, who protected him & took him a prisoner, and marching on towards the battle ground Kiener kept lamenting that a man so clever & such a good neighbor and of so good sense should ever be a rebel, continued his lecture to Capt. Machisick until they came where the Whigs were formed. Kiener looking round saw so many strange faces said, “Hey poys, I believe you has cot a good many prisoners here,” still thinking his party had beat; immediately a number of guns were cocked and Capt. Machisick, tho’ much exhausted by loss of blood, had to exert himself to save the lives of Kiener and party.


When General Rutherford reached the battle field at Ramsour’s Mill on the 20th of June, 1780, (the same day of the battle) he had under his command upwards of 1200 men. Davie’s Cavalry and others were dispatched through the Country in search of the fugitives who had dispersed in every direction; they found a number of them and brought them to camp, all of whom were admitted to return to their homes on bail, except a few of the most active and influential characters who were kept in confinement and sent to Salisbury Gaol. The men who were with him as volunteers, as well as those under Col. Lock, considered themselves at liberty to return home after the battle, except those who had been designated to serve a tour of duty of 3 months, (the usual term of service at that period) and some were furloughed for a short time. By this means by the 22nd his numbers were reduced to less than 200 men. On that day he received information by an express that the Tories were assembled in considerable force in the forks of the Yadkin, in the north end of Rowan County adjoining Surry, about 75 miles North East of Ramsour’s, under the command of Colo. Bryant who lived a few miles below the Shallow Ford on the west side of that River, and had persuaded his neighbors and acquaintances to rise in arms; for that after the capture of Charleston & the defeat of Beauford, the only regular troops in the South, the Rebellion was certainly crushed. The same day Genl. Rutherford ordered Major Davie’s Cavalry to march and take a position in advance of Charlotte

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on the Camden road, near Waxhaw Creek, to keep under the disaffected and watch the motions of the British in that quarter. He marched with the infantry that were with him the direct route towards Bryant, and sent orders to the officers on each side of his line of march to join him, with all the men they could raise. On his way, after crossing the Catawba River, his force began to increase and when he arrived within 15 miles of the tories his force was augmented to upwards of 600 men and he prepared to attack Bryant the next day. Colo. Bryant anticipated his design. He had heard of the defeat at Ramsour’s and of General Rutherford coming against him with a large force. On the 30th of June he and party crossed over the Yadkin to the east side, and continued his route down the river through the settlements which were disaffected, many of the inhabitants joined him on his march and when he passed Abbot’s Creek his force was reputed to amount to 7 or 800 men. By this movement it was evident that his intention was to form a junction with Major McCarthen, whom Lord Cornwallis on his arrival at Camden had sent on with the first Battalion of the 71st Regiment, about 400 men, to the Cheraw Hill on the P. Dee for the purpose of preserving in submission the country between that river & Santee and corresponding with the Scotch settlements on the Cape Fear, which were generally attached to the British.

General Rutherford being apprised of Bryant’s intention took the nearer route down the west side of the river by Salisbury and the old Trading ford, endeavoring to get in his front before he reached Salisbury. He there found that Bryant by rapid marches had passed before him. From this place he detached Colo. Wm. L. Davidson with a select party down the west side of the River for the purpose of intercepting Bryant, should he attempt to pass it before he reached McCarthen, and the main body pursued Bryant thinking if he halted or delayed they would overtake him. But he and party were so panic struck with the result of the affair at Ramsour’s that they marched night and day down the east side of the Yadkin & P. Dee until they came opposite the British force under Major McCarthen and passed over the river and formed a junction with him. Rutherford finding it impossible to overtake the Tories left off the pursuit & returned.

The party under Colo. Davidson who went down the west side of

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the river the second day after they left Salisbury heard of a party of Tories at a farm in the vicinity of Colson’s Mill, near the junction of Rocky River with Pee Dee, marched rapidly to endeavor to surprise them. When they arrived near the farm he divided the party so as to attack them in front and the flank, by which it was known they would attempt to retire, at the same time. Colo. Davidson’s party arrived at their station first and was discovered by the Tories and when he was deploying his party into line they commenced firing on him. His party came steadily to the position required without confusion or returning the fire, when formed they advanced briskly; Colo. Davidson in front, having on his uniform, was conspicuous. The enemy’s marksmen aimed at him, one of whom wounded him severely. However, this had no effect on the result of the action. The disposition had been so correctly made and all moving on at full charge with trailed arms, and the party sent round the flank attacking at the same instant, the enemy fled after having 3 killed and 4 or 5 wounded and 10 taken prisoners. Being in their own neighborhood where they knew the Country most of them escaped. Their numbers somewhat exceeded that of the assailants, which was about 250. On the part of the Whigs no person was injured but Colo. Davidson and one other wounded. He was confined by his wounds for 2 months which was much regretted by the Militia, as the few weeks he had been vested with a command among them had inspired a confidence nothing could shake. As no other party of Tories was known to be collecting and it was unsafe to go nearer McCarthen after being reinforced by Bryant, Colo. Davidson and party returned home, and General Rutherford after staying a few days near Salisbury, marched with those serving a tour of duty to join General Gates who was advancing near the Pee Dee.

Scarcely had the volunteers who had been out on these several Expeditions returned when they were alarmed by the enemy approaching in another quarter. On the 7 of July it was understood that a party of British and tories were marching up the west side Catawba River, and it was ordered that the men in the west of Mecklenburg should attend publick worship at Steel Creek Church, with their Arms, on Sunday the 9th. After sermon, parting with their familys, the men were organized and marched down the east side of the River. The enemy advanced the same day as far as Hill’s iron

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works, about 10 miles below said Church on the west side. They set the works on fire. In the Evening when our party approached within 4 miles of the works on the hills above Biggars’ ferry they saw the smoke ascending and heard the enemy was there. At night our men were joined by other companies from the north of Mecklenburg and a few South Carolina Refugees under the command of General Sumpter. He being the officer highest in grade was invested with the command of the whole party. Next morning had information by our patrols that after the enemy had burnt the iron works they marched towards where Yorkville now stands.

General Sumpter moved 7 miles to the So. East where the road from Charlotte to the old Nation ford crosses Hughes’ branch, near Spotts farm in the Indian Land; others joined in the course of the day and on the 12th he had upwards of 500 men. The position being favored for collecting supplies of provisions he determined to occupy it for a few days; but doubtful of being visited by the Enemy’s cavalry, the ground being hilly and covered with oak timber, the General ordered the timber to be felled in different directions round the Camp some what in the form of an Abatis and the body of the trees split and leaned over a strong pole supported by forks or some high stump, the other end on the ground at an angle of 30 degrees elevation and facing the avenues left through the brush or abatis for passage, so that they would answer the double purpose for the men to lay under and for defence. If the enemy’s cavalry had come, unless they were supported by a large body of Infantry or artillery, they could not have forced the Camp.

Major Davie at his station near Waxhaw Creek, by his Scouts discovered a party of the British were advancing up the road from Camden and immediately sent an express to Genl. Sumpter, who by this time had intelligence that the party on the west side of the River had retired to Rocky Mount. On the 17th July marched to Waxhaw and formed a Junction with Davie’s Cavalry. The place being unfavorable for support, on the 18th marched down Waxhaw Creek on the South side, past Waxhaw meeting house1 to a Doctor

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Harper’s plantation, who was said to be disaffected. The Horses were turned into a green corn field not having provender for the whole, upwards of 700. Early on the 19th the party of observation near the enemy communicated that they had marched from below the Hanging Rock Creek the road towards Charlotte. The Horses were caught in great haste and marched briskly to gain the ford on Waxhaw Creek before the enemy (there being no convenient fords below); they halted at noon about 6 miles further on. It was expected they would move on in the evening or night and disposition was made for their reception. Major Davie’s Cavairy and 100 Gun men were placed opposite the ford on the north side of the creek & upwards of 500 South of the Creek, about 30 poles west of the Road, in a thick wood where Cavalry could not act & continued in this position until next morning, but the enemy did not move. If they had advanced we were to have let them pass until they encountered the party with Major Davie when those with General Sumpter were to have moved from their concealed position and attacked them in flank & rear. From the nature of the ground and the disposition of the American force they must have been destroyed, neither Cavalry nor Artillery could have been of service to them.

It was thought unadvisable to attack the enemy at his Camp and as Lord Rawdon when here before had consumed the forage at the neighbouring farms, General Sumpter moved back on the road to Charlotte 16 miles to Clem’s branch and encamped where he could draw his supplies from the fertile settlement of Providence on his left.

He continued in this place near a week with the number of his men daily diminishing. When he kept moving and they expected to meet the enemy they kept with him but when ever they came to attend only to the dull routine of camp duty such as mounting, relieving and standing guard and enduring privations, they became discontented and those in a convenient distance went home and others to the houses of their acquaintances, having no camp equipage or utensils but what each man brought with him; tho’ the Officers had rolls of their Companies they were seldom called and they could not tell who were present only as they saw them in camp.

This was the first practical lesson to our Commanders of Militia showing that while they kept in motion and the men’s expectations

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were kept up that something would be done, they continued with the army; but a few days stationed in camp they became discontented and would scatter, and of those who staid the careless and slovenly manner in which their duty of guards was performed afforded no security to the camp; of this experience General Sumpter and other officers availed themselves afterwards to the end of the war. By the 25 of August he had not with him more than 100 men and he sent some of them through the adjoining settlements giving notice to all to repair to Camp, that he intended to attack the enemy. By the 28th such numbers joined as induced him to march. It was known that the main party of the enemy were at Hanging Rock Creek and a detachment at Rocky Mount on the west of the Catawba. He decided on attacking the latter and crossed over the Catawba with that view.

On the 5th day of August he arrived at that place. It is situated on the top of a high hill on the west side of Catawba, just below the mouth of Rocky Creek (3 miles below where now stands the United States establishment). The base of the mount is bounded by the river on the east and the Creek on the north. The log buildings which were fortified with abatis and had loop holes to shoot through, stood on the summit of the mount and was held by Colo. Turnbull with a party of British & some Tories, supposed 150 in the whole. The slope from the top of the hill was gradual and nearly equal on all sides and the land cleared; no swell in the ground to shelter them from the Enemy’s fire, only on the west a ledge of a blackish kind of Rocks at the distance of 140 yards from the houses. The Men were drawn up in line below these Rocks and advanced up to them and a party was sent round on each flank; a brisk fire commenced on both sides which lasted a considerable time and great exertions were made by the assailants to discover some point where they might carry the works but found them equally difficult at all points. The Enemy were under cover in the fortified buildings and sustained but little damage from the Americans and the Rocks were not so extensive as to shelter them from the fire of the British. The General finding it impossible to take the place without artillery to batter the Houses ordered a retreat. Col. Andrew Neal (of York) a young man of much promise and much regretted, and two others were

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killed and 6 wounded.2 The enemy did not attempt to annoy him on the retreat. He moved up the river and the next day crossed at Landsford where he met Colo. Irwin from Mecklenburg, with a considerable reinforcement, who had not time to join after the orders issued at Clem’s branch, 25 July. By slow movements he kept up Waxhaw Creek until he forwarded his wounded to the hospital at Charlotte. Some other small parties continued to join and he determined to attack the Enemy at Hanging Rock. He had discovered that his men, while marching and fighting and fighting and marching would keep with him, but to encamp and remain stationary he might calculate with certainty his force might diminish; therefore if he fialed in his enterprise the loss to the Country would only be those who were killed and wounded, the remainder might be organized in a short time as formidable as before. If he succeeded it would considerably weaken the Enemy’s effective force and have considerable weight in the operations which he expected shortly would take place. Having made all the necessary arrangements circumstances would permit the General ordered the troops to march on the evening of the 5th of August with a view to attack the enemy early on the next morning; the Enemy’s force was estimated at more than 500 and upwards of half were Regulars. General Sumpter marched in the night 16 miles and early on the 6th of August the sound of Horse Bells and the smoke settled along the valley of Hanging Rock Creek apprised them they were near the Enemy’s encampment.



1 Waxhaw meeting house was at this time the Hospital for the survivors of those who were wounded at Buford’s defeat, about 80 in number who being between the two armies were neglected and needed medical assistance and suitable provisions; perhaps a more complicated scene of misery in proportion to their number was never exhibited in the whole war.

2 Among the wounded was Alexander Haynes, yet living in the south end of Mecklenburg, who having fired his Rifle twice from behind the Rocks had loaded his gun a third time, and peeping past the side of the black rock for an object, his face being white became an object for the enemys marksmen one of whom shot him close under the eye. The shot ranged under the brain but missed the vertebrae of the neck; it was thought he was killed, but seeing life was in him when they were about to retire, his acquaintances carried him off. He was cured, tho’ he lost his Eye ; it run out shortly he was wounded.