Battle of Ramsour's Mill - Who Fought

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The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill
by
Matthew Borders
Historian
National Park Service
American Battlefield Protection Program

Ramsour’s Mill, fought June 20th, 1780, was typical of the internecine warfare that plagued the southern colonies during the American Revolution. Royalist and Rebel clashes were particularly brutal due to the ties of family and friendship that were often severed by competing political loyalties. These clashes also gave vent to personal grudges and grievances under the guise of the greater conflict. While Ramsour’s Mill is not well known outside Lincoln County, North Carolina, this small, but bloody action would be influential to the campaign of Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis as he moved north from conquered South Carolina in late 1780/early 1781.

On May 12th, 1780, Charleston, South Carolina fell to British forces after holding out for over a month. With the establishment of British outposts at Camden, Cheraw and Ninety-Six and the follow-up Battle of Waxhaws, sometimes referred to as the Waxhaws Massacre, the bulk of South Carolina was once again under Royalist control. A movement into Rebel controlled North Carolina was the next logical step and Cornwallis believed that he would receive significant local reinforcements from the North Carolina Tories. The British commander however hoped that the local Royalist militia’s would hold off assembling until after the wheat crop was in so that his army would be able to be better supplied as they moved through the territory.

This desire would go unfulfilled however as the Loyalist colonel, John Moore, returned to Ramsour’s Mill, North Carolina in June of 1780 after serving under Cornwallis in South Carolina. Moore assembled approximately 40 men at his father’s house on June 10th, revealed Cornwallis’s plan to move into North Carolina and began preparations to organize the local Tory population into militia units. Moore’s enthusiasm seemed to pay off, by the 13th recruits had started to arrive at Ramsour’s Mill, seven days later there was approximately 1,300 men loyal to the crown at the camp, a quarter of which were unarmed. The Patriots, also known as Whigs, were not ignorant of the Tory build up at Ramsour’s Mill. Thirty five miles away at Charlotte, North Carolina, Patriot Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford was organizing his own body of militia. Hearing of the Tory forces at Ramsour’s Mill, he ordered Colonel Francis Locke to raise a force of his own and scatter the Tories. Locke was able to assemble around 400 men near Mountain Creek and on June 19th moved out to attack Moore’s command on the morning of the 20th.

The resulting battle was a short, sharp action not lasting over two hours. Locke’s mounted elements succeeded in surprising the Tory camp, throwing it into an initial confusion. Moore’s men however were able to rally behind the crest of the hill on which they were camped and repulsed the Patriot horsemen. Locke then concentrated on moving his infantry into line and pressing the flanks of the Tory force. Fighting during this point was close, deadly and on several occasions hand to hand. Neither side was armed with bayonets and so musket butts were used liberally. Numerous officers on both sides were struck down and soon the resolve of Moore’s men began to crack. The Tories fell back across the Clark’s Creek and headed for Camden. Locke, expecting a counter attack rallied the remains of his small band on the top of the captured hill and sent a desperate message to Rutherford for support. This was not necessary however, the battle was over.

Rutherford’s command arrived around noon on the 20th and helped to tend to the dead and wounded of both sides. As for Moore he made it to Camden with a mere 30 men and was nearly court-martialed by Cornwallis for disobeying orders. The Patriot victory at Ramsour’s Mill greatly influenced the decision of Major General Horatio Gates to advance south with his army in August in an attempt to bottle the British up along the South Carolina coast, this advance however would result in the Patriot defeat at Camden on August 16th, 1780. The Royalist defeat at Ramsour’s Mill would also have a significant influence on the moral of North Carolina Tories later in the year when Cornwallis moved north into the territory. Cornwallis would not gain the hoped for support from the local Tory population and would actually lose more troops to desertion in North Carolina than he gained in Loyalist support.

Today the Ramsour’s Mill battlefield is nestled between three public schools. Though much of the battlefield’s integrity has been lost to this development there are numerous monuments and indeed even battlefield graves that are being interpreted at this site. Further preservation of the battlefield could improve these interpretive experiences for visitors and make the site that much more appealing to outside tourism. It would also show that the mistakes of the past, specifically building on a historic battlefield, are not being ignored but are being mitigated with continued preservation efforts for this site.

Works consulted:
Barefoot, Daniel W., Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites, Winston-Salem, North Carolina: John F. Blair Publishing, 1998.

Boatner III, Mark M., Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1994.

Rockwell, E.F., The Historical Magazine and Notes and Queries concerning the Antiquities, History and Biography of America. “The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill”, University of Michigan http://books.google.com/books?id=wCl6d0zBBXAC&pg=PA24&dq=Ramsour's+Mill&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

http://www.lincolncountyhistory.com/projects/ramsour/ramsour.html

http://www.ncssar.com/articles/BBRM07.htm

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