North Carolina and the American Revolution: Battles and Skirmishes
American Revolution battlefields and skirmishes
This National Park Service Visitors Center interprets and shares the history of the Battle of Kings Mountain, one of the most decisive battles during the American Revolutionary War. It was here on October 17, 1780 that American revolutionaries led by Col. William Campbell fought a contingent of American Loyalists under command of Major Patrick Ferguson. The Patriots defeated their Loyalist brethren in under an hour. The British loss at Kings Mountain set in motions the events leading up to the American victory at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. The federal government established the location of the Battle of Kings Mountain as a National Military Park on March 3, 1931. The park continues to preserve, promote, and educate the public about this significant event in American history. Since 1909, yearly commemorations of the battle have taken place either on the battleground or in the City of Kings Mountain.
Charlotte was of vital importance during the American Revolution as it lay directly on the invasion route, now Tryon Street. On 26 September 1780 General Cornwallis found himself pitted against a greatly outnumbered but rowdy bunch of North Carolina Patriots, commanded by General William Lee Davidson. Davidson ordered most of his force to retreat, and sent a detachment, under Col. William R. Davie, to delay Cornwallis at Charlotte, little more than a place of about 20 homes, two streets, at the intersection of the courthouse, present day Trade and Tryon Streets. British cavalry formed a line about 300 yards from Davie's men and charged. The Patriots held their fire until the cavalrymen were about 60 yards away. The musket fire stunned the British. Pulling back, Davie's men repelled two more charges. The British continued pressing, Davie moving back, his men covering each other. Davie continued withdrawing until his force crossed the Rocky River, 16 miles from Charlotte and four miles in front of Davidson's army. Though the Battle of Charlotte was not in itself decisive, it showed the stubbornness of the outnumbered Americans and symbolized the resolve of Mecklenburg County, leading to the area given a new nickname. Cornwallis, after 16 humiliating days in Charlotte, was heard to say that this place was a hornet's nest. Charlotteans were so honored to be dubbed in such a manner that they permanently adopted the nickname in perpetuity. The official city seal features a hornet's nest.
In 1771, local settlers protesting against taxation and other colonial regulations organized militias and adopted the name "Regulators." These men clashed with the militia who served the officers of North Carolina Royal Governor William Tryon. The Regulators were easily turned back, but their action helped to unite other colonists-especially in the South-in ways that influenced the American Revolution. Visitors to the Battleground can walk through forty acres of partially wooded land where the Battle of Alamance occurred. The site includes a number of historical signs as well as guides and docents who tell the history of the conflict from growing resentment in the Carolina colony against taxes, dishonest sheriffs, and controversial fees imposed by the representatives of the British Crown in the colony.
On 2 March 1781, Col. Henry Lee led his Patriot forces of local militiamen and Catawba Indians in a surprise attack on Banastre Tarleton in a well planned ambush near Clapp's Mill. Tarleton moved to cover as the first volley was fired. He deployed his troops against the Patriot forces. Under heavy fire, the second line panicked and retreated. Tarleton did not pursue them. The British had 21 casualties; the Americans, eight.
The historical marker for the Battle of LIndley's Mill is located at SR 1005 (Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road) at SR 2338 (Stockard Road) east of Eli Whitney, Alamance County. The largest engagement of the Tory War was the Battle of Lindley's Mill on 13 September 1781, an ongoing civil conflict following Lord Cornwallis' invasion of North Carolina. After the victory on 1 September by David Fanning, Loyalists were encouraged to rally in large numbers. He had received approval from Major James H. Craig for a raid on the capital at Hillsborough. The Whigs were led to believe that the Loyalists were going to attack Gen. John Butler's camp at Deep River. Fanning's army was sent to Hillsborough, undetected on the foggy morning of 12 September 1781. After a brief skirmish, the town was captured along with about 200 prisoners that included Governor Thomas Burke. While plundering their spoils, his men opened the liquor stores. By noon the unruly column left Hillsborough bound for Wilmington. Butler rode to intercept the Loyalist force at the ford of Lindley's Mill in present day Alamance County. On a plateau overlooking Stafford's Branch, Butler and Col. Robert Mebane laid an ambush. On 13 September the unsuspecting Loyalists were crossing the branch when a volley tore into the ranks. Fanning rode ahead to organize a flank attack on the Whigs, who stubbornly held their position but were eventually routed. More than 250 were killed and wounded on both sides, were buried and cared for by Quakers living in the area. This hard-fought battle was the bloodiest of the North Carolina War, with more casualties for the number engaged than at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. The Hillsborough raid and the ensuing battle proved to be a turning point, with the Loyalists expecting the Whigs to give in; quite the opposite happened. Angered by the raid on Hillsborough and the loss of the battle, the Whigs redoubled their efforts to win the war.
The Guilford Courthouse National Military Park commemorates and memorializes the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, which took place on the site in March of 1781. Twenty-eight monuments within the park honor Revolutionary soldiers, statesmen, heroes, and heroines. The National Park Service now maintains the battlefield, preserving it as a national military park. Visitors can tour the site and visit the educational center which provides interpretive literature on the battle, figures involves, and repercussions of that day.
Weitzel's Mill Historical Marker is located at the intersection of North O. Henry Boulevard (U.S. 29) and Hicone Road, on the right, traveling north on North O. Henry Boulevard. The marker is located o a grassy strip between U.S. 29 and the northbound exit ramp to Hicone Road. The Battle of Weitzel's Mill was fought 6 March 1781 between General Nathaniel Greene's Continental army and militia and Banastre Tarleton's Loyalist troops in Guilford County. Greene, while awaiting additional troops, was looking to avoid Tarleton. Greene sent Williams and several hundred men to watch Lord Cornwallis' movements. Cornwallis realized Williams could be separated from Greene's army by the Reedy Ford Creek. Tarleton and about 1,200 men headed toward the mill. On 6 March, they tried to sneak up on Williams. After a short skirmish, the two groups headed toward the ford. Williams left Light Horse Harry Lee to bring up the rear, reaching the ford ahead of Tarleton. Williams made a stand at the crossing. Tarleton's first attempt to cross was repulsed; the second succeeded, leaving Williams to retreat.
The Battle of Cowan's Ford was the last battle of the American Revolution fought in Mecklenburg County on 1 February 1781. Original battle sites are under Lake Norman. A memorial to the battle and General William Lee Davidson are located across from Duke Energy's McGuire Nuclear Station, east of the Catawba River bridge and Lincoln County line. General Cornwallis, pursuing General Nathaniel Greene, engaged in fighting at Cowan's Ford on the Catawba River. Cornwallis and his army had encamped at Ramsour's Mill before reaching the river. He planned to cross at either Beattie's Ford or Cowan's Ford. To deceive Greene, Cornwallis sent part of his troops to Beattie's Ford and the rest to Cowan's Ford. Greene anticipated the plan ad sent General William Lee Davidson, along with about 500 militia, to Cowan's Ford. Cowan's Ford had two different fords, one for wagons, one for horses. Both fords entered the river at the same place, with the horse ford longer than the wagon ford. Davidson determined that Cornwallis would send his troops through the horse ford, placing his men about 200 yards away. Cornwallis saw campfire light about 1:00 a.m. and sent his troops through the wagon ford, ordering them not to fire until safely on the other bank. A volley of fire sounded from the Whigs. Davidson was killed by when he rode to the bank to rally his men. The patriots began to scatter. The skirmish proved successful for the British. Cornwallis pursued Greene for six more weeks, eventually meeting at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
A historical marker is found at 115 Mount Mourne (Iredell County) near present day Mooresville. After the Cowan's Ford and Beattie's Ford incidents, General Cornwallis sent Banistre Tarleton on patrol to look for informants on the Patriots and militia. As he made his way toward Salisbury, he ordered his men to wait due to heavy rain and muddy roads. He learned that militia from Rowan and Mecklenburg Counties were meeting at Torrence's (Tarrant's) Tavern just down the road. Tarleton saw an opportunity to make a significant impact on the rebels. As they approached, Tarleton noted the militia was vigilant and prepared for an attack. As Tarleton told it, his troops directly charged through the center of the rebel positions. He claimed to have killed 50, and wounded many more in the ensuing chase. Over 500 rebels dispersed into the area. Tarleton also claimed to have broke into small groups and dispended such fear among the inhabitants that the troops passed through the most hostile spot in North Carolina without the militia firing a shot. General Joseph Graham begged to differ with Tarleton's account. Graham said a large group of refugees and militia from Beattie's Ford and Cowan's Ford were at the tavern. They were wet, cold, and hungry. The road was crowded with wagons and people to the point it was hard to move along. The alarm was given that Tarleton was coming. Graham said Capt. Nathaniel K. Martin and several others rode to meet the enemy, and called for the other men to get over the fences and face the enemy. Most of the men started moving off. Martin was captured while Tarleton's troops charged through the lane. Graham said about 10 were killed, some of whom were unarmed old men who just happened to be there looking for news. After pursuing the militia, the British returned to the tavern and burned the remaining wagons, and ripped up the beds of the refugees until the road was littered with feathers. Tarleton spared the tavern but Cornwallis ordered it burned when he arrived the next day. Unknown to him, Tarleton just missed capturing General Greene by a few minutes.
The Revolutionary War battle of Ramsour's Mill took place on June 20th 1780 in Lincoln County, NC. Much of the battlefield is now covered with public school buildings, the mass grave site and the graves of several of the officers who fell in the battle have been marked through the efforts of historical groups and individuals.
Site of a Revolutionary War skirmish, the Alston House in Sanford, NC is a historical location that represents an often overshadowed aspect of the Revolutionary War period. This brief engagement between Tory and Whig Militia serves as an example of the inter-societal struggle of the Colonial South that can be categorize as a civil conflict due to combatants of both sides often being natives of the locations they fought in. Furthermore, the Alston House provides visitors insight into the realities of the American Revolution as it was frequently fought not in distant battlefields but amongst families on private property.
The historical marker for Raft Swamp is located at NC 211 at SR 1505 (Old Lowery Road) southeast of Red Springs in Robeson County. After the battle of Lindley's Mill, Loyalists in the southeastern part of the state joined their forces together. On 15 October 1781, Whig militia led by Griffith Rutherford assaulted the Troy stronghold, destroying the forces in the area.
The historical marker for the Battle of Elizabethtown is located at NC 41/87 (Broad Street) in Elizabethtown, NC. The Tories found themselves crushed on 27 August 1781, in one of the great ruses in North Carolina's Revolutionary War history. Balden County was in the hands of the Tories, where 300-400 men were headquartered. The Patriots, a small group of 60-70, had been driven out of their homes, estates and property ravaged, and homes burned or plundered. Knowing that they must rely on cunning, strategy, and sneakiness, they were led by Cols. Thomas Brown and Thomas Robeson, taking the fight to the British. Brown and Robeson came upon a plan by which their forces would be masked by false commands to "phantom" soldiers, to be heard by their enemies, making the Patriot numbers seem larger than they actually were. When the battle started, the Patriots went on the offensive, crossing the Cape Fear, and surprising the Tories into a disorganized retreat. Tory commanders John Slingsby and David Godden were mortally wounded, their troops scattering into the dark. Many fell headlong into a ravine near the river, known since as "Tory Hole." Seventeen Tories were dead of mortally wounded. Patriots? Not a single life was lost, four were wounded. The battle is considered to be one of the Cape Fear's most important American Revolutionary War battles, second only to the Battle of Moore's Creek in Pender County. The victory ended Tory control of the area, leaving Loyalists to never regain any foothold.
This historic site is where a decisive battle—the Battle of Moores Bridge—took place early in the American Revolutionary War. On the morning of February 27, 1776, a British loyalist militia force of around 800 men consisting of mostly Scottish Highlanders, who wielded broadswords, charged across the bridge to fight a contingent of North Carolina patriots (they were part of a much larger force of 1,000 men). With their cannons and muskets, the patriots easily defeated the loyalists, killing or wounding about 30 to 70 of them. The battle, which saw the last Scottish Highland broadsword charge, ended British hopes of regaining control of North Carolina and terminated British plans to invade the colony at Brunswick Town. It also spurred the colony to become the first one to vote for independence and encouraged the other colonies to follow suit. The site is managed by the National Park Service. There are trails and a visitors center open. Tours are given by reservation from Wednesday until Sunday.
The historical marker for the Battle of Rockfish is located on NC 11 south of Tin City. Located in Duplin County, the Battle of Rockfish was a limited military engagement. It took place on 2 August 1781 between Major James H. Craig and his British forces and the Duplin County militia under Col. Thomas Kenan, supported by General Richard Caswell. It was part of a campaign by Craig throughout the Cape Fear in the late summer of 1781. It resulted in clear defeat of the Patriots, but proved of no importance with Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown in October 1781. Lacking proper equipment and supplies, the Patriots withdrew, easily defeated, poorly armed and lacking experience. About 60 Patriots were killed, Craig took 20-30 Whigs captive. The militia continued harassing Craig; no further battles or skirmishes followed.