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Battle of Ramsour's Mill

The Battle of Ramsour's Mill took place on June 20, 1780 in present-day Lincolnton, North Carolina, during the British campaign to gain control of the southern colonies in the American Revolutionary War. The number of fighters on each side of the battle is still an issue of contention, but Loyalist militiamen (many of them German Palatine emigrants and settlers in the local area) outnumbered Patriot militia and had captured a group of Patriots who they were planning to hang on the morning of June 20.

Battle of Ramsour's Mill
Part of the American Revolutionary War
Memorial to Loyalist John Martin Shuford at Ramsour's Mill.jpg
Dedicated in 1997 by the Lincoln County Historical Association and descendants of John Martin Shuford.
DateJune 20, 1780
Location
Result Patriot victory
Belligerents
United States Patriot militia Kingdom of Great Britain Loyalist militia
Commanders and leaders
United States Francis Locke
United States John Dickey[1]
Kingdom of Great Britain John Moore
Kingdom of Great Britain Nicholas Warlick
Kingdom of Great Britain Abraham Keener
Strength
400 1,300
Casualties and losses
Around 150 killed/wounded 150 killed/wounded
50 captured

The one to two-hour battle during the foggy morning of June 20 did not involve any regular army forces from either side and was literally fought between family, friends, and neighbors with muskets sometimes being used as clubs because of a lack of ammunition. Numerous cases of fratricide occurred during the battle. William Simpson, a patriot scout, rushed to the battle to kill his brother Reuben, and Peter Costner, a loyalist, was killed by his brother Thomas who buried his sibling's corpse after the fight.[2] Despite being outnumbered, the Patriot militia defeated the Loyalists.[3]

The battle was significant in that it lowered the morale of Loyalists in the south, weakening their support of the British.

Contents

BackgroundEdit

On June 18, 1780, Patriot General Griffith Rutherford, who was camped near Charlotte, North Carolina, learned that a large force of Loyalists was assembling at Ramsour's Mill, near present-day Lincolnton.[4] Rutherford began moving his troops in that direction, and on June 19 he sent orders to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Locke and other local militia leaders to call up their militia.

Locke gathered a force of 400 cavalry and infantry at Mountain Creek,[5] about 16 miles (26 km) to the northeast of Lincolnton.[6] Their intelligence showed that the Loyalist force was more than three times their size, but it was decided to attack early the next morning without waiting for Rutherford's forces to join up due to a fear of reinforcements to the British force. At daybreak on June 20, they were one mile from the Loyalist camp, located on a hill about 300 yards (270 m) east of the mill belonging to Jacob Ramsour.[6]

Loyalist recruitingEdit

Loyalist John Moore had served with the British at the Siege of Charleston and returned to his home a few miles from Ramsour's Mill with tales of battle. He called together a group of about 40 Loyalists on June 10 and shared with them instructions from Cornwallis that for safety they should avoid organizing before British troops entered the area. News came to the meeting that a group of about twenty Patriots was looking for Moore and other Loyalist leaders. Moore and his men decided to find and confront them, but were unsuccessful. Moore then told his men to return home, and instructed them to join him in a few days at Ramsour's Mill. On June 13, 200 men arrived there, and the number grew in the following days, buoyed by news of the British victory at Waxhaws. By June 20 the Loyalist camp had grown to about 1,300 men.[7]

BattleEdit

When the cavalry leading the Patriot column approached, the Loyalist sentries on the road fired at them and retreated to their main body. After an initial cavalry charge, the Patriot infantry moved up. In the confusion of the battle, the Patriots were able to turn the Loyalists' flank and gain control of the ridge. General Rutherford, then only a few miles from Ramsour's Mill, received word of the action and immediately dispatched his cavalry to assist and hurried the infantry along.

Patriot Colonel Francis Locke was unable to reform his line on the ridge and ordered his men to fall back. However, Captain John Dickey refused and led his company to higher ground, where the rifle marksmanship of Captain John Hardin's men turned the battle into victory. When ordered to retreat by Colonel Locke, he had soundly cursed (Presbyterian elder though he was), saying he would not retreat. Captain Dickey was credited with saving the day at the battle.

Neither side in the battle wore military uniforms. Tories wore a green pine twig in their hats, and Whigs wore a piece of white paper (flag) in their hats. Several of the Whigs were found shot through the head afterwards, leading to speculation that the flags were used by the Tories as targets for their musket fire.[8]

The Patriot soldiers composed a ballad, which for many years was sung about the countryside in Captain Dickey's honor. Only one verse is preserved in the National Archives in Washington:

"Old Colonel Locke kept pretty well back,
While brave Captain Dickey commenced the attack.
He, Colonel Locke, ordered us to retreat and reform,
Which made our old hero mightily storm."

One affidavit in the National Archives Pension Files tells that Captain Dickey called out, “Shoot straight, my boys, and keep on fighting. I see some of them beginning to tumble.”[9] According to the most reliable account of the battle, by General Joseph Graham in 1825,[10] the fighting between family, friends, and neighbors was often brutal and intense:

When the Tories were driven back the second time, and the left of their line became mixed with the Whigs, a Dutchman (of the Tories) meeting suddenly with an acquaintance of the Whigs addressed him, "Hey, how do you do, [B]illy? I has known you since you was a little boy, and I would not hurt one hair of your head, because I has never known no harm of you, only that you was a rebel." Billy, who was not so generous, and was much agitated, and 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 neder," and raised the butt of his gun and made a blow at Billy's head, which he missed, and one of Billy's comrades, whose piece was loaded, clapped his muzzle under the Dutchman's arm and the poor fellow fell dead...

However, there are also some examples of compassion on both sides of the battle:

Captain M'Kissick was wounded early in the action, being shot through the top of the shoulder; and finding himself disabled, went from the battleground about 80 poles to the west. About the time the firing ceased he met ten of the Tories coming from a neighboring farm, where they had been until the sound of the firing started them. They were confident their side was victorious, and several of them knowing Captain M'Kissick, insulted him and would have used him ill, but for Abra[ha]m Keener, Sr., one of his neighbors, who protected and took him prisoner. While marching on towards the battle ground Keener kept lamenting, "That a man so clever and such a good neighbor and of such good sense should ever be a rebel." He continued his lecture to Captain M'Kissick until they came where the Whigs were formed. Keener looking around and seeing so many strange faces, said, "Hey, boys, I believe you has got a good many prisoners here." Immediately a number of guns were cocked, and Captain M'Kissick, though much exhausted by loss of blood, had to exert himself to save the lives of Keener and party.[11]

The Loyalists were soon in disarray, and many fled. When Colonel Rutherford reached the field he was met by a white flag, and the Loyalists requested a truce to treat the wounded. Rutherford, whose entire force had yet to arrive, instead demanded an immediate surrender. As the discussions went on, most of the remaining Loyalists fled, and only about 50 were taken prisoner.

AftermathEdit

Casualties were difficult to assign since almost no one was wearing any sort of uniform. Estimates of dead on each side were between 50 and 70, with about 100 wounded on each side. The battle, in which muskets were sometimes used as clubs because of little ammunition, was fought between "neighbors, near relations, and friends".[12] Many bodies lay scattered over the hill in the aftermath, and many dead we buried on the hill by their grieving wives, mothers, and children.[13]

Loyalists were imprisoned, and their property was seized in the aftermath. Six years after the battle, Abraham Keener was summoned by the Sherriff to help build a road from Beatties Ford to Lincolnton as punishment for his involvement in the battle.[14] However, according to one account of the battle's aftermath published in 1979 by Robert O. DeMond: "Of the Tories captured, all were paroled except a few who had committed serious depredations, and these were placed in the Salisbury jail. Those who were paroled were as honest now in keeping their new pact as they had been before in keeping their former one to the King. Many of us believe that Abraham Keener was one of this group who changed his allegiance and became a loyal Patriot."[15]

Loyalist James Karr wrote to his old friend Patriot General Griffith Rutherford, who he had served with in the Cherokee War of 1776, for reconciliation and help in regaining his confiscated property and reuniting with family. Rutherford rebuffed his request, telling Karr: "As to your General Conduct an Honest Neighbor you have cause to think you desarve my countenance, but as an open enemy you must know that you desarve none."[10]

Their defeat so badly demoralized the Loyalists that they never organized again in that area. Moore and about 30 men managed to reach Cornwallis at Camden, where Cornwallis threatened him with charges for disobeying his orders. Lieutenant Colonel Turnbull wrote to Cornwallis that "had it not been for the Weak Silly man Moore who led a Parcell of those poor Innocent Devils of North Carolina into a Scrape, we should have been now in Perfect Peace on this Frontier." As for the majority Scots-Irish inhabitants of the Catawba River Valley, Turnbull wrote: "I wish I could say something in their favor. I Believe them to be the worst of Creation - and Nothing will Bring them to Reason but Severity."[10]

Historic PreservationEdit

The Lincoln County Historical Association has done some historic preservation of the site (behind what is now Lincolnton High School) and an archaeological investigation of the mass graves has been completed.[16] In 1997 the Lincoln County Historical Association and descendants of Loyalist John Martin Shuford dedicated a new monument to Shuford's memory and moved his original grave marker to the Lincoln County Museum of History.[17]

NotesEdit

  1. ^ National Archives Revolutionary War Pension and Service Records
  2. ^ Smith, Austin William (2010-05-01). ""Neighborhood in Constant Alarm": The Battle of Ramsour's Mill and Partisan Divisions in the Carolina Backcountry Communities During the American Revolution".
  3. ^ "The Battle of Ramsaur's Mill • The North Carolina Booklet 4:2 (1904)". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
  4. ^ Moore; p. 266
  5. ^ Note:The rendezvous site is now beneath the headwaters of the Cowens Ford dam system forming Lake Norman.
  6. ^ a b Ramsour's Mill; webpage; Lincoln County History online; accessed Oct. 2013
  7. ^ Russell, pp. 153-154
  8. ^ "The Battle of Ramsaur's Mill • The North Carolina Booklet 4:2 (1904)". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
  9. ^ Revolutionary War Pension; application # W3962
  10. ^ a b c Smith, Austin William (2010-05-01). ""Neighborhood in Constant Alarm": The Battle of Ramsour's Mill and Partisan Divisions in the Carolina Backcountry Communities During the American Revolution".
  11. ^ "Full text of "General Joseph Graham and his papers on North Carolina Revolutionary history; with appendix: an epitome of North Carolina's military services in the Revolutionary War and of the laws enacted for raising troops"". archive.org. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  12. ^ Russell, p. 154
  13. ^ "The Battle of Ramsaur's Mill • The North Carolina Booklet 4:2 (1904)". penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
  14. ^ October Court Order 1786 - Lincoln County, NC, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions
  15. ^ DeMond, Robert (1979). The Loyalists in North Carolina During the Revolution. pp. 125–127.
  16. ^ "Projects -the Lincoln County Historical Association & Museum - Lincolnton, NC". www.lincolncountyhistory.com. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
  17. ^ "The John Martin Shuford Gravesite Historical Marker". Retrieved 2016-08-24.

ReferencesEdit

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