As a young girl in PA I remember my dad dragging my mom and me off to historic sites across the area. My dad was a history buff, particularly military history such as the Revolutionary War, WWII, and Vietnam. PA and the mid-Atlantic region is full of historic sites – Valley Forge, Washington’s Crossing, Philly, and Fort McHenry (War of 1812 prominence) – to name a few. As a young girl I got to see them all.
Begrudgingly I went with my family on these historical treks. History did not hold a special place in my young heart at the time, but who was I to say “no?”
As time passed I found that history was fascinating, and these places and time spent with my dad came to mean the world to me. I also thought I knew some things about American history. Nope.
It turns out that I don’t know quite a few things. Ironically, it wasn’t until recently that I began to learn of the role of North and South Carolina, in particular, in the Revolutionary War. It’s certainly not taught in school and isn’t in any textbooks my kid brought home, and he was schooled right here in North Carolina.
When you think about the American Revolution what comes to mind? The Boston Tea Party? Lexington and Concord? Trenton? Washington’s Crossing where Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Eve of 1776? Probably. These are the common conflicts we are all taught in school. The Revolutionary War was fought in the north, right?
Wrong. So wrong. Sure a lot of Revolutionary battles and events happened in New England and the mid-Atlantic colonies. That is not the only place the war was waged. What about the Halifax Resolves? The Mecklenburg Declaration? The Battle of Guilford Courthouse? The Battle of Camden (South Carolina, that is)? Not ringing a bell?
It’s really no surprise because it’s not taught in schools. You have to dig in order to find out about such things. My first introduction into the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War was in Charlotte. The Patriots were long into the war by 1778 and between then and 1781 the South was embroiled in events that proved to be key in defeating the British later.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team. Do you know why they’re the hornets? I sure didn’t, but it’s an interesting fact as to how Charlotte became known as the “Hornet’s Nest” city, which led to many references to hornets or hornet nests across the area. You see, way back when, Charlotte was a “back woods” part of North Carolina. In 1780 Charlotte was merely a couple dozen houses located on a few streets with a courthouse in the middle at what is now Trade and Tryon Streets. Sometimes feisty things come in small packages.
The Battle of Charlotte was not a military victory for the Patriots. In fact, Cornwallis captured the city and held it for 16 days before giving up, stating “Let’s get out of here; this place is a damned hornet’s nest.” The plucky residents loved it. After that, the City of Charlotte was thusly referred to as the Hornet’s Nest due to the spirited resolve of the inhabitants and today the official city seal is a hornet’s nest.
Learning of all the Revolutionary activity in the South led me to the Moores Creek National Battlefield in Currie, NC (near Whiteville). This tiny, off-the-beaten-path battlefield is quite interesting on many levels. Although most of the battles were fought late in the war, the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge was early in the war: 27 February 1776.
It was not a big battle, but it was quite significant. The battle was mostly a match-up between local loyalists and patriots. Here is the Mindy’s Digest (short) version:
January 1776: the Royal Governor of North Carolina, Josiah Martin, actively recruited persons loyal to the Crown ahead of the arrival of British soldiers in North Carolina. Governor Martin sought out loyal Scots, former Regulators, and sympathetic colonists in his quest to raise troops.
Loyalist Scots recruiters gathered in Cross Creek, or present-day Fayetteville, and prepared to march recruits towards the coast of Wilmington where they would meet General Henry Clinton (of England).
Meanwhile, Patriot forces of the 1st North Carolina Regiment, under the command of Colonel James Moore along with militia from Wilmington (led by Alexander Lillington) and New Bern (under Richard Caswell) started to move with the intent of halting British and other Loyalist forces from reaching the coast.
As the Loyalists marched they inevitably meet the Continentals and Militia at Moores Creek after the Patriots blocked Brigadier General Donald MacDonald’s (Loyalist) path from Cross Creek. With the route blocked General MacDonald was forced to cross at the Moores Creek Bridge.
He [MacDonald] sent a party to tell the Patriots to surrender, and, of course, to scope out the area and the Patriot forces. Caswell set up a faux encampment to throw off MacDonald and his troops. Tactically this encampment did not offer a good defense. When asked to surrender, the Patriots told MacDonald’s men to surrender or to get packing. Neither side surrendered.
Thinking he had the tactical advantage, General MacDonald marched on the Patriots the early morning of 27 February 1776. Little did he know that he was marching his troops, mostly Scots, into a trap set by the clever Patriots.
These crafty Patriots removed the planks from the bridge and greased the remaining wooden rails to prevent a quick advance by their opponents. They were also busy digging earthen berms around their position on the far side of the creek.
When MacDonald’s men arrived the Patriots were gone from the faux encampment. Thinking they fled, the men cautiously issued a challenge, and no call was returned. MacDonald’s men opened fire. The Patriots fired back.
This is where it gets interesting. The Scots carried broadswords to battle. Broadswords. Those big, clunky, heavy swords. Not guns, swords. And then they proceeded to cross the slick bridge in a charge. Many were injured or drown in the deep blackwater of the creek. Keep in mind that it was in February, which means it was probably pretty darn cold and they were wearing kilts. About 30-50 overall were killed. Obviously broadswords were no match for the artillery and firepower of the Patriots.
The Patriot side saw one killed and one injured. The battle did not last long and the Loyalists retreated. Several days later many were found and arrested by the Patriots, who seized weapons, equipment and gold from the Loyalists. Most of the Loyalists arrested were release, however the ringleaders of the Loyalist movement were sent to Philadelphia for imprisonment.
Sure there were more people and many more details, but you can visit the park yourself and get the finer points of the battle. This is the Mindy’s Digest version, remember?
Today, this location is a National Battlefield, and the very spot where Highland Scots used a broadsword in battle for the last time. It was also the first major Patriot victory in the Revolutionary War.
The location of the bridge and other key spots for the battle are still there. Earthen berms line the Patriot position even now. What is also included on the grounds are several memorials to various individuals and campaigns, including the Women’s Memorial. All in all, this park, while small, is quite lovely for taking a stroll on the grounds.
The visitor’s center is chock full of history from North Carolina, as well as history on a national level, with the two overlapping so you can see how things transpired on a national and local level. Numerous artifacts are also on display. This small park packs a big punch. Take a picnic and plan on having a lunch after taking in the scenery and learning about this interesting and key Revolutionary War battle.
Moores Creek National Battlefield is located 20 miles northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina.