Battle of Ramsour's Mill
Anniversary Celebration and Dedication Ceremony
Lincolnton, North Carolina
These photos, taken during anniversary events in Lincolnton in 2006, at the site of the Battle of Ramsour's Mill, represent the reverence that 21st century citizens continue to hold the patriots who gave their lives for America's independence.
Photos by Derick S. Hartshorn
[click on image for enlarged view]
The Battle of Ramsour's Mill
June 20th 1780
The German Settlers along the South Fork River and its tributaries generally shied away from politics. But their attention to problems with government was probably aroused during the Regulator Rebellion and battle of Alamance in 1769. It is believed that the people of this region were in sympathy with the Regulators.
Certainly these farmers were aware of troubles with the mother country shortly after the first battle of the war in Massachusetts, in April, 1775. On August 14 of that year 49 men came forward to sign the "Tryon Declaration of Rights and Independence from British Tyranny," better known as the "Tryon Resolves." From then on the war was surely on most folks' minds, especially those families who had sons or husbands away fighting for one side or the other. And the fact that there was sympathy for both sides stirred up concern and created violence in communities.
Two residents of the farms along Indian Creek were making names for themselves on the British side. Col. John Moore and Maj. Nicholas Welch were away fighting with the British. In February 1779 Moore had led a party of Tories from Tryon County to Georgia.
After several years of fighting with indecisive results in the north, the British decided to move south. Their Southern Strategy was based on the assumption that British victories in the south would bring numerous British sympathizers to their side. This strategy apparently worked as Georgia and then lower South Carolina fell to the British, highlighted by the fall of Charleston on May 12, 1780, and the British victory in the Waxhaw settlement just 30 miles from Charlotte on May 29.
The British army, under the command of Lord Cornwallis, was relying on the local farmers for food and animal feed. Cornwallis thought it best to wait until the grain crops had been harvested before advancing into North Carolina.
But Moore and Welch did not wait. They returned to their home area and issued a call for the supporters of the English King to come to his defense. Around June 10 those responding to the call began assembling about one-half mile west of John Moore's home along Indian Creek in what is now Gaston County.
Their objectives are not clear. They were aware that the main body of Whigs or Patriots were under the command of Gen. Griffith Rutherford in Mecklenburg County and a small band under the command of Maj. Joseph McDowell was operating in the Lincoln County area. It is assumed that Moore intended to attack whatever enemy force he could find.
Within a few days Moore led his troops to Ramsour's Mill. By the evening of June 19 some 1300 had reported and most were camped across a hill 300 yards east of the mill on land belonging to Christian Reinhardt. It is surprising that from these sparsely settled backwoods so many men would have answered the call.
They may not all have qualified as men, however. It is known that a sizeable number of them were mere boys and others were surely too old to fight. Information that has been handed down indicates that only about three-fourths of them possessed guns and some of them would be going home to spend the night and not around for the battle the next day.
Meanwhile, Gen. Rutherford learned of the Tory gathering on June 14. He immediately issued orders to Col. Francis Locke of Rowan, Maj. David Wilson of Mecklenburg, and to Captains Falls, Knox, Brandon and other officers to raise men to disperse the Tories. On June 19 they assembled with 400 men on Mountain Creek near Anderson's or Little Mountain.
On Sunday, June 18 Rutherford marched with 800 men from his camp near Charlotte to Tuckaseegee Ford on the Catawba. That evening he sent a messenger to Colonel Locke advising Locke to meet him the following night at Col. Joseph Dickson's plantation about three miles north west of Tuckaseegee Ford (about 2 miles west of present Mt. Holly). On June 19, a rainy morning, Rutherford moved his troops to Dickson plantation to await the arrival of Locke.
Locke did not receive Rutherford's message. Instead, he and his officers debated their strategy and decided that the best course of action was to move immediately against the Tories at Ramsour's Mill. He dispatched a messenger to Rutherford, requesting that Rutherford meet him at the mill. Then Locke and his men, late in the afternoon, began the 16 mile march toward Ramsour's Mill.
About one-fourth of the men were mounted. It was decided that these men, under Captains Falls, McDowell, and Brandon should act on horseback and go in front. No other arrangements were made and it was left to the officers to be governed by circumstances after they reached the enemy.
Throughout the night they marched. An occasional dog barked at them as they passed houses along the route, but if any Tory sympathizers along the road had been aware of what was going on they failed to get the word to the Tory encampment.
Adam Reep apparently knew they were coming-or at least hoped they were. Anticipating a fight, he directed his brothers Rudolph and Michal to round up other Patriots and to meet him about midnight on June 19 at Ramsey's Ford. About 30 men joined the party.
Reep was a hunter and knew the country well. The men mounted their horses and led them around the Tory encampment to the road heading east of the mill, about two miles from the battlefield.
Shortly after daylight Locke's advance came up, and Reep provided Locke with details of the battlefield and the deployment of Tory troops. Reep had spent some time the previous evening in the Christian Reinhardt home observing the Tories as they laid out their camp across the hill.
The contact with the enemy was made by Captain Falls and his men as they came upon Tory pickets along the Tuckaseegee Road about 600 yards east of the main body of Tories. In the first moments of battle Captain Falls was wounded. He died in the arms of his young son.
Shortly thereafter the main body of Whigs approached the battlefield from the south, crossed the branch, and began to advance up the hill, firing as they went through the thick morning fog.
The Tories were considerably demoralized at first, but seeing so few in the attacking party, rallied and poured such a volley into the Whigs that they retired to the bottom of the hill.
The Tories advanced down the hill and endeavored to disperse the Whigs before they could re-form. But the Whigs re-formed, filled in the gaps, and extended the line to their right and again advanced up the hill. The Tories retreated to the top of the hill and a little beyond so as to partly protect their bodies from enemy fire.
The Whigs pursued them, but the fire was so deadly and their losses so heavy that they in turn retreated down the hill to the bushes at the edge of the glade.
The Tories again advanced halfway down the ridge. At about this time Captain Hardin arrived behind the fence on the right flank of the Tories and opened fire. Captain Sharpe had extended the line until he turned the left of the enemy, and his company began firing from that direction.
The Tories, hard pressed in the front, fell back to the top of the ridge, and, finding that they were still exposed to Hardin's fire on the right, as well as to that of Sharpe on the left, broke and fled down the hill and across the creek, many being shot as they ran.
When the Whigs gained the hill they saw quite a force of the enemy over the creek near the mill and supposed the attack would be renewed. Forming line, they could only muster 86, and after earnest exhortations only 110 could be paraded. Two Whig officers were dispatched to hurry General Rutherford forward. However, the General, having received Locke's dispatch of the night before, had begun to march that morning and was met about 6 1/2 miles from the battlefield. They hastened toward the battlefield.
The Tories remained in line across the creek for only a short time. On hearing the shouts from Rutherford's advance about 11:30, they fell back to the top of the hill between Clark's Creek and the South Fork River, where they hung out a white sheet and sent an officer and three men to ask conditions of surrender. This was only a ruse, however, as Colonel Moore hurriedly moved off,, singly and in groups, with all his men. Earlier the Patriots had removed the planks from the bridge and these had to be replaced before the Patriot cavalry could take up pursuit. By this time the Tories were gone.
During the course of the battle the fog had begun to lift, revealing a terrible scene. There stood neighbor against neighbor, and in some instances brother against brother, shooting each other down in mortal conflict.
After the battle, the scene was indescribable-dead men here and there, broken skulls, a few were seen with gun-locks sunk into their heads; disabled men moving about seeking help, men with shattered shoulders, broken arms and legs, while others were breathing their last breath. Shortly after the battle many women, children, and old men came hunting for their loved ones. Christian Reinhardt's dwelling house and all outhouses were crowded with the wounded, dead, and dying. Clothing was scattered all around, the day was hot and the soldiers quickly discarded their hats and coats. Gun stocks and broken locks were strewn about and soldiers were seen moving about with bare gun barrels in their hands, having broken the stocks in hand-to-hand fighting.
The bodies of 30 or more soldiers who were killed in this action were taken to their homes and buried by friends while 70 dead bodies remained on the battlefield and were buried the next day in a long trench which was dug across the hill where the Tories made their last stand.
The loss on each side was about equal. Fifty-six lay dead on the side of the ridge where the heat of the battle was greatest. Many lay scattered on the flanks and over the ridge towards the mill. Several more later died from their wounds. Estimates of the number killed range from 70 to 112. About 100 on each side were wounded, 50 Tories were taken prisoners.
The loss of the Tories was greater in privates, but less in officers than the Patriots. Tory losses included Captains Nicholas and Philip Warlick, and Murray and Cumberland. Captain Peter Carpenter was wounded. Patriot losses, in addition to Captain Falls, included Captains Knox, Dobson, Smith, Bowman, Sloan, and Armstrong. Captain Daniel McKissick was wounded.
The men wore no uniforms, only common dress, and it was not possible to determine to which side many of the slain had belonged. To distinguish themselves, before battle the Tories stuck pine twigs in their hats and the Patriots attached slips of paper to theirs. These items, particularly the slips of paper, often became targets and an unusually large number of the dead had been shot through the head.
How could some 450 Patriots defeat twice their number? The element of surprise was important. The unusually heavy fog that morning probably helped. The attacking Patriots had been together longer, and most likely were better trained. The Tory leadership appears to have been weak.
How important was this scrap amongst North Carolina farmers in the waning years of the American Revolution? Historians ignored it. Local citizens, many embarrassed by the Tory defeat, the majority who came from old Lincoln County homes, tried to forget it. But, looking back, it is obvious that this one battle effectively ended Tory support for the British cause over a sizeable territory.
Some have called this battle the first and most important "act" in the battle of Kings Mountain, often considered the turning point of the war. The speculation is that if the battle had not been fought, or if the Tories had won, they would have been with the British on Kings Mountain. This leads on to speculation as to the outcome of that battle, and what would have been the final outcome of the war if Kings Mountain had gone the other way.
Whatever the case, Ramsour's Mill was an important battle in an important war, and by far the most dramatic event in the long history of Lincoln County.
[from The Battle of Ramsour's Mill, by William L. Carpenter, Lincoln County Historical Association and Lincoln County Museum of History, 1995]
Lincoln County Historical Association
403 East Main Street
Lincolnton, NC 29092
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