NORTH CAROLINA IN 1776
August 15, 1860 Issue of the WEEKLY STANDARD (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Transcribed and Posted by Myrtle Bridges
March 08, 2003
The expedition to the Carolina never met the approval of Howe, who condemned the activity of the
southern governors, and would have had them avoid all disputes, till New York should be recovered.
When Lord Dunmore learned from Clinton that Cape Fear River was the place appointed for the meeting
of the seven regiments from Ireland, he broke out into angry complaints, that no heed had been paid
to his representations, his sufferings, and his efforts; that Virginia, "the first on the continent
for riches, power, and extent," was neglected; and the preference given to "a poor, insignificant
colony," where there were no pilots, nor a harbor that could admit half the fleet, and where the army,
should it land, must wade for many miles through a sandy pine barren before it could reach the inhabited
part of the country.
But Martin, who had good reason to expect the arrival of the armament in January or early February,
was infatuated with the hope, that multitudes, even in the county of Brunswick, would revolt "from their
new-fangled government;" and "his unwearied, persevering agent," Alexander Maclean, after a careful
computation of the numbers that would flock to the king's standard from the interior, brought written
assurances from the principal persons to whom he had been directed, that between two and three thousand
men, of whom about half were well armed, would take the field at the governor's summons. Under this
encouragement he was sent again into the back country, with a commission dated the 10th of January,
authorizing Allan Macdonald of Kingsborough, and eight other Scots of Cumberland and Anson, and seventeen
persons who resided in a belt of counties in middle Carolina and Rowan, to raise and array all the king's
loyal subjects, and to march with them in a body to Brunswick by the 15th of February. Donald Macdonald,
then in his sixty-fifth year, was to command the army as brigadier; next him in rank was Donald Macleod.
The first return to Martin represented that the loyalists were in high spirits; that their force would
amount even to six thousand men; that they were well furnished with wagons and horses; and that by the 20th
or 25th of February at furthest they would be in possession of Wilmington, and within reach of the king's
ships. On receiving their commission, Wm. Campbell, Neil MacArthur, and Donald Macleod issued circular
letters inviting all their associates to meet on the 5th of February at Cross Creek, or, as it is now
called, Fayetteville. At the appointed time all the Scots appeared, and four only of the rest. The Scots,
who would promise no more than seven hundred men, advised to await the arrival of the British troops; the
other royalists, who boasted that they could bring out five thousand, of whom five hundred were already
embodied, prevailed in their demand for an immediate rising. But the Highlanders, whose past conflicts
were enobled by their courage and fidelity to one another, whose sorrows, borne for generations with
fortitude, deserved at last to find relief, were sure to keep their word' from a blind instinct of kindred,
they took up arms for a cause in which their traditions and their affections had no part; while many of the
chiefs of the loyalists shrunk from danger to hiding places in swamps and forests. Employing a few days to
collect his army, which was composed chiefly of Highlanders and remnants of the old regulators, Macdonald,
on the 18th, began his march for Wilmington, and at evening his army, of which the number was very variously
estimated, encamped on the Cape Fear River, four miles below Cross Creek.
On that same day Moore, who, at the first menace of danger, took the field at the head of his regiment, and
lay in an entrenched camp at Rockfish, was joined by Lillington, with one hundred and fifty minute men from
Wilmington, by Kenan with two hundred of the Duplin militia, and by Ashe with about a hundred volunteer
independent rangers; so that his number was increased to eleven hundred.
On the nineteenth the royalists were paraded, with a view to assail Moore on the following night; but
his camp was too strong to be attempted; and at the bare suspicion of such a project, two companies of Cotton's
corps ran off with their arms.-On that day Donald Macdonald , their commander, sent Donald Morrison with a
proclamation, prepared the month before by Martin, calling on Moore and his troops to join the king's standard,
or to be considered as enemies. Moore made answer instantly, that "neither his duty nor his inclination permitted
him to accept terms so incompatible with American freedom;" and in return, he besought Macdonald not to array
the deluded people under his command, against men who were resolved to hazard every thing in defense of the
liberties of mankind. "You declare sentiments of revolt, hostility, and rebellion to the king and to the
constitution." Was Macdonald's prompt answer; "as a soldier in his majesty's service, it is my duty to
conquer, if I cannot reclaim, all those who may be hardy enough to take up arms against the best of masters."
But knowing that Caswell, at the head of the gallant minute men of Newbern, and others to the number
of six or eight hundred, was marching through Duplin county, to effect a junction with Moore, Macdonald
became aware of the extremity of his danger; cut off from the direct road along the Cape Fear, he resolved
to leave the army at Rockfish in his rear, and by celerity of movement, and crossing rivers at unexpected
places, to disengage himself from that larger force, and encounter the party with Caswell alone. Before
marching, he urged his men to fidelity, expressed bitter scorn of "the base cravens who had deserted the
night before;" and continued: "If any amongst you is so faint-hearted as not to serve with the resolution
of conquering or dying, this is the time for such to declare themselves." The speech was answered by a
general huzza for the king; but from Cotton's corps about twenty men laid down their arms. The army then
marched to Fayetteville, employed the night in crossing the Cape Fear, sunk their boats, and sent a party
fifteen miles in advance to secure the bridge over South River. This the main body passed on the twenty
first, and took the direct route to Wilmington. On the day on which they effected the passage, Moore detached
Lillington and Ashe to re-enforce Caswell, or, if that could not be effected, to occupy Moore's Creek bridge.
On the following days the Scots and Regulators drew near to Caswell, who perceived their purpose and
changed his own course the more effectually to intercept their march. On the twenty-third day thought to
overtake him, and were arrayed in the order of battle, eighty able-bodied Highlanders, armed with broadswords,
forming the center of the army; but Caswell was already posted at Corbett's Ferry, and could not be reached
for want of boats. The royalists were in extreme danger; but at a point six miles higher up the Black river
a Negro succeeded in raising for their use a broad shallow boat; and while Maclean and Fraser, with a few men,
a drum and a pipe, were left to amuse Caswell, the main body of the loyalists crossed Black River near what
is now Newkirk Bridge.
On the twenty-fifth Lillington, who had not as yet been able to join Caswell, took post with his small
party on the east side of the bridge over Moore's Creek. On the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, Caswell reached
its west side, and raising a small breastwork and destroying a part of the bridge, awaited the enemy, who on
that day advanced with-in six miles of him. A messenger from the loyalists, sent to his camp under the pretext
of summoning him to return to his allegiance, brought back word that he had halted upon the same side of the
river with themselves, and could be attacked with advantage; but the wise Carolina commander, who was one
of the best woodsmen in the province, as well as a man of superior ability, had no sooner misled his enemy,
than lighting up fires and leaving them burning, he crossed the creek, took off the planks from the bridge,
and placed his men behind trees and such light entrenchments as the night permitted to be thrown up.
The loyalists, expecting an easy victory, unanimously agreed that his camp should be immediately assaulted.
His force at that time amounted to a thousand men, consisting of the Newbern minute men, of militia from
Craven, Johnston, Dobbs, and Wake counties, and the detachment under Lillington. The army under Macdonald,
who was himself confined to his tent by illness, numbered between fifteen and sixteen hundred. At one o'clock
in the morning of the twenty-seventh, the loyalists, commanded by Donald Macleod, began their march; but it
cost so much time to cross an intervening morass, that it was within an hour of daylight before they reached
the western bank of the creek.-There they had expected to find Caswell encamped; they entered the ground in
three columns without resistance, for Caswell and all his force had taken post on the opposite side. The
Scots were not within less than twenty miles of Wilmington; orders were directly given to reduce the columns,
and for the sake of concealment to form the line of battle within the verge of the wood; the rallying cry
was, "King George and broadswords;" the signal for the attack, three cheers, the drum to beat and the pipes
to play. It was still dark; Macleod, who led the van of about forty sentinels, asking at the bridges by the
Carolina sentinels asking: "Who goes there?" He answered: "A friend." "A friend to whom?" "To the king."
Upon this the sentinels bent themselves down with their faces towards the ground. Macleod then challenged
them in Gaelic, thinking they might be some of his own party who had crossed the bridge; receiving no answer,
he fired his own piece, and ordered those with him to fire. Of the bridge that separated the Scots and the
Carolinians, nothing had been left but the two logs, which had served as sleepers; only two persons therefore
could pass at a time. Donald Macleod and John Campbell rushed forward and succeeded in getting over;
Highlanders who followed with broadswords, were shot down on the logs, falling into the deep and muddy water
of the creek. Macleod, who was greatly esteemed for his valor and his worth, was mortally wounded; and yet
he was seen to rise repeatedly from the ground, flourishing his sword and encouraging his men to come on,
till he received twenty-six, or as some say thirty-six galls in his body. Campbell also was shot dead. It
was impossible to furnish men for the deadly pass, and in a very few minutes the assailants fled in
irretrievable despair. The Americans had but three wounded, one only mortally; of their opponents, about
thirty, less than fifty at most, were killed and mortally wounded, most of them while passing the bridge.
The routed fugitives could never be rallied; during the following day the aged Macdonald, their general,
and many others of the chief men, were taken prisoners; amongst the rest, Macdonald of Kingsborough and one
of his sons, who were at the first confined in Halifax jail and afterwards transferred to Reading, Pennsylvania.
Thirteen wagons, with complete sets of horses, eighteen hundred stand of arms, one hundred and fifty swords,
two medicine chests just received from England, a box containing fifteen thousand pounds sterling in gold,
fell to the victors; eight or nine hundred common soldiers were taken, disarmed, and dismissed.
A generous zeal pervaded all ranks of people in every part of North Carolina; in less than a fortnight
more than nine thousand four hundred men had risen against the enemy; and the coming of Clinton inspired
no terror. They knew well the difficulty of moving from the sea into their back country, and almost every
man was ready to turn out at an hour's warning. Moore, under orders from the council, disarmed the highlanders
and Regulators of the back country, and sent the ringleaders to Halifax jail. Virginia offered assistance,
and South Carolina would gladly have contributed relief; but North Carolina had men enough of her own to
crush the insurrection and guard against invasion; and as they marched in triumph through their piney
forests, they were persuaded that in their own woods they could win an easy victory over British regulars.
Martin had promised the king to raise ten thousand recruits; the storeship, with their ten thousand stands
of arms and two millions of cartridges, was then buffeting the storms of the Atlantic; and he could not
supply a single company. North Carolina remained confident, secure, and tranquil; the terrors of a fate
like that of Norfolk could not dismay the patriots of Wilmington; the people spoke more and more of
independence; and the provincial Congress as its impending session, was expected to give an authoritative
form to the prevailing desire.
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