William Richardson Davie
June 20, 1756 (England) – November 20, 1820 (SC)
The Insurgents on the West Side of the Catawba being entirely dispersed, General Rutherford marched to oppose or rather follow Colonel Bryan who had raised eight hundred of the Tories and was marching down the Yadkin, and Major Davie was ordered to take a position near the South Carolina line opposite to the Hanging rock that might enable him to prevent the enemy from foraging on the borders of the State adjacent to the Waxhaws and check the depredations of the Loyalists who infested that part of the Country; for this purpose he chose a position on the North side of the Waxhaw creek, his corps was reinforced by some South Carolinians under Major Crawford the Catawba Indians under their chief General Newriver, and a part of the Mecklenburg militia commanded by Lt Colo Heaggins. This ground being only eighteen miles from the Hanging-rock where the enemy were in force, skirmishes happened every day for some time, but as the Enemy were generally well received they soon became more cautious and respectful; small detachments of cavalry were sent out to scour the country; and the Tories were all soon driven into the lines, and the enemy prevented from foraging on that side. The British, who had considered the country entirely at their devotion, depended upon collecting their supplies from day to day. They had improvidently consumed all the grain between that post and Camden and were now obliged to draw their supplies from that place; to cut these off became an object of importance; with this view Major Davie left his camp on the evening of the 20th of July with a part of his dragoons and some volunteers to intercept a convoy of provisions spirits and clothing destined for the the enemy at Hanging-Rock, and by marching all night passed the enemys left flank & fell into the main Camden road miles below that post; a good position was readily found at Flat-rock where they waited the approach of the convoy. They appeared in the afternoon & were captured with little trouble, the spirits provisions and waggons being destroyed, the escorts and waggoners were mounted on the captured horses, and about dark the party commenced its retreat. During the march the preceding night which was principally through the woods, one of the men fell back, and stragled off, and as it was supposed he would be made prisoner in the morning, and the enemy gain information of the expedition, the guides were directed to take the most unfrequented route to prevent the attachment being attacked in the night, the whole country being covered with thick woods and dangerous defiles; the advance was formed of the guides and a few mounted infantry under the charge of Capt Petit, the prisoners were guarded by some dragoons commanded by Colo Polk, who acted as a volunteer and followed the advance guard, and as it was apprehended the enemy might pursue them on their trail, the night being light and clear enough for that purpose the remainder formed the rear-guard, marching in this order about 2' O clock in the morning they again turned the Enemys left flank, and reached a plantation situate on the principal branch of Beaver Creek, Capt Petit with the advance guard were ordered forward to examine the Houses and a narrow lane through which the road led, and also the ford of the Creek and with express directions to secure the family; as soon as this officer reported that he had executed his orders and all was well, the troops moved on, the rear guard had partly entered the lane when the officer of the advance hailed the enemy concealed under a fence and some standing corn; on challenging a second time he was answered by a discharge of Musquetry, which commenced on their right and passed like a runing fire towards the rear of the Detachment; the Major who had rode forward to the advance on the halt of the troops, repeatedly ordered the men to push thro' the lane, but by a mistaken instinct they turned back from the fire upon the loaded arms of the enemy; seeing this, and deeming it is duty to bring them off, he repassed the lane under the 2d fire of the ambuscade, and overtook his party retreating percipitately on the same road by which they had advanced; the detachment were caused to file off to the right and halted upon a hill which overlooked the plantation; Colo Polk with some of the guard had passed through the lane & the detachment was considerably reduced; but as the enemy were plainly observed passing about unguardedly with lights, every effort was made to tranquilize the men, and induce them to return the compliment on the enemy, but their spirits and confidence were dissipated and the ambuscade had produced all the effect of a complete surprise; all that could be done was to avoid another check by a judicious retreat, several of the prisoners were found to be mortally wounded, and were left on the Hill, the guides as usual had fled, and the Major was obliged at first to take a general direction through the woods, but a Tory who was taken from his bed and compelled to serve as guide enabled him to pass the enemys patroles and regain his camp the next day without any further reverse of fortune. The loss was slight considering the advantage of the British, Capt Petit and two men wounded and Liet killed; the fire fell principally among the prisoners, who were confined two upon a horse and mixed with the guard presented a larger object than a single dragoon; the advance guard with the prisoners nearly filled the lane, it was owing to these circumstances that the prisoners were all killed or wounded except three or four. The object of surprising the convoy was effected the slaughter of the prisoners could not be considered a loss; but the ambuscade might have been fatal to the whole detachment; a misfortune solely occasioned by the officer of the advance guard not having executed his orders; they may furnish a useful lesson to the officers of partizan corps who should never forget that every officer of detachment on command may at some moment have its safety and reputation committed to him, and that the slightest neglect of duty is generally punished by an enemy.
Colonels Sumpter and Neal with a number of the South Carolina Refugees and Colo Irwin with 300 of the Mecklenburg Militia rendezvoused near Major Davie's camp about the last of July, and a Council was immediately held by the officers to fix upon a proper object to strike at while this volunteer force was collected, Rocky-Mount and the Hanging-Rock presented themselves as not only the most important at the the time but lying within their reach and strength; and it was finally agreed Colo Sumpter should march with the Refugees & the No Carolinians under Colo Irwin to the Attack of Rocky-Mount, while Major Davie made a diversion to engage the attention of the corps at Hanging-Rock, and their Detachments marched the same evening. The defences of Rocky-Mount consisted of two log Houses calculated for defense, and a loop-holed building the whole secured by a strong Abbatis, the situation was considerably elevated, and surrounded by cleared grounds, Colo Sumpter arrived before this place early the next day, some small parties of rifle men were advanced under the cover of rocks and trees, and kept up a fire upon the Houses: several corps of this Detachment marched repeatedly thro' the old field to the attack with great intrepidity, but were repulsed by the Heavy fire of the garrison, various strategems were essayed in vain to set the buildings on fire, and having no artillery they were obliged to give over the attempt of taking the place, Colo Neale lost his life in one of the attacks near the Abbatis, this was an influential interprising officer and fell much lamented the loss was ["was otherwise inconsiderable four or five privates killed or wounded"]. The retreat was effected without interception.
Major Davies detachment consisted of 40 mounted rifle-men and about that number of Dragoons, and considering himself obliged to alarm the enemy in their camp at all events the same day, he approached the Hanging Rock about 1 O.clock, and fortunately while he was reconoitering their position to fix upon the point of attack, He received information that three companies of their mounted infantry returning from some excursion, had halted at a farmers house, situated in full view of the camp. The House was placed in the point of a right angle made by a lane of staked and ridered fence; the one end of which opened to the enemy's encampment, the other terminated in the woods, the Major advanced on that next to the woods, and as the riflemen were not distinguishable from the Loyalists, they were sent round to the other end of the lane with orders on gaining it, to rush forward & fire on the enemy. The dragoons were divided so that one half could occupy the lane while the other half entered the field. This disposition was made with such promptitude that the attention or suspicion of the enemy was never excited, the rifle company under Capt Flenniken passed the camp sentries without being challenged, dismounted in the lane and gave the enemy a well directed fire, The astonished Loyalists fled instantly the other way, and were immediately charged by the dragoons in full gallop and driven back in great confusion; on meeting again the fire of the infantry they all rushed against the angle of the fence where they were surrounded by the dragoons who had entered the field and literally cut to pieces: as this was done under the eye of the whole British camp no prisoners could be safely taken which may apologize for the slaughter that took place on this occasion ["and attached to the party the appelation of the bloody corps"]. They took sixty valuable Horses with their furniture and one hundred muskets and rifles; the whole camp beat to arms but the business was done and the Detachment out of their reach before they recovered from their consternation.
On the 5th of August these Detachments met again at Lands Ford on the Catawba, their strength was little diminished by the attack on Rocky-Mount and Major Davie had lost no men; the North Carolina Militia under Colo Irwin and Major Davie numbered five hundred effective men Officers and privates, and about three hundred South Carolinians remained with Colonels Sumpter, Hill, Lacy and others. It became of great importance to remove the enemy from these posts, and it was supposed if one of them was taken the other would be evacuated; and upon a meeting of the Officers it was resolved to attack the Hanging-Rock the next day; as this was an open Camp they expected to be on a more equal footing with the enemy, and the men whose approbation in those times was absolutely necessary, on being informed of the result of this council of war entered into the project with great spirit & cheerfulness.
The Troops marched in the evening and about midnight halted within two miles of the enemy's camp, and a council was now called to settle the mode of attack; accurate information had been obtained of the enemys situation, who were pretty strongly posted in three different encampments the British Regulars, making about ___ commanded by ___ were encamped on the right, a part of the British Legion and Hamiltons regiment at some Houses in the centre, and Bryan's regiment with the other Loyalists about nine hundred some distance on the left, and separated from the centre-camp by a skirt of wood; the position of the regular troops could not be approached without an entire exposure of the assailants, and a Creek with a deep ravine covered the whole front of the Tory camp: Colo Sumpter proposed that the detachment should be divided into three divisions, and march directly to the centre encampment, then dismount and each Division attack its camp, this plan was approved by all the officers except Major Davie, who insisted on the necessity of leaving the horses at that place, and marching to the attack on foot, urging the confusion aways consequent on dismounting under a fire and the certainty of losing the effect of a sudden and vigorous attack; this objection was however over ruled, The divisions were soon setled, and as soon as day broke the march again commenced, the general command was conferred on Colo Sumpter as the Senior Officer — Major Davie led the column on the right, consisting of his own corps and some volunteers Major Winn's regiment and some detached companies of the So Carolina refugees; Colo Hill commanded the left composed of the So Cara refuges, and Colo Irwin the column in the centre formed entirely of the Mecklenburg militia; the army turned to the left of the road to avoid the enemy's picquet and patrole, with intention to return to it under the cover of a defile near the camp but the guides through ignorance or timidity led them so far to the left, that the right and center divisions fell together with the Tory encampment: — these devoted people were briskly attacked both in front & flank and soon routed with great slaughter; as the Americans pressed on in pursuit of the Tories who fled toward the center encampment they received a fire from 160 of the Legion Infantry and some companies of Hamilton's regiment posted behind a fence, but their impetuosity was not checked a moment by this unexpected discharge, they rushed forward, and the Legion Infantry immediately broke and mingled in the flight of the Loyalists, yielding their camp without another struggle to the Militia; at this moment a part of Colo Browns regiment had nearly changed the fate of the day, they passed by a bold and skilful manuevre into the wood between the centre & Tory encampment, drew up unperceived, and poured a heavy fire on the Militia forming, from the disorder of the pursuit, on the flank of the encampment; these brave men took instinctively to the trees and bush heaps and returned the fire with deadly effect, in a few minutes there was not a British officer standing, one half of the regiment had fallen, and others on being offered quarter threw down their arms; the remainder of the British line who had also made a movement to their right now retreated hastily towards their former position and drew up in the center of the cleared ground in the form of a Hollow Square. The rout of these different corps the pursuit & the plunder of the camps had thrown the Americans into great confusion, the outmost exertions were made by Colo Sumpter & the officers to carry the men on to attack the British square, about 200 Infantry with Davie's dragoons were collected and formed on the margin of the woods, and a heavy but ineffectual fire was commenced on the british troops, about 3 or 400 of the Enemy consisting of the Legion infantry Hamilton's regt with a large body of the Tories were observed rallying & forming in the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the British camp, and least they might be induced to take the Americans in flank Major Davie passed round the camp under the cover of the trees, and charged them with his company of Dragoons, these people under the impressions of defeat were all routed and dispersed by this hand full of men. The distance of the square from the woods and the constant fire of two pieces of field artillery prevented the militia from making any considerable impression on the British troops; so that that upon Major Davie's return it was agreed to plunder the encampments and retire; as this party were returning toward the center encampment some of the Legion Cavalry appeared drawn up on the Camden road, with a countenance as if they meant to keep their position but on being charged by the dragoons of Davie's corps they all took the woods in flight & one only was cut down. A retreat was by this time absolutely necessary — The commissary stores were taken in the center encampment, and numbers of men already inebriated, the greatest part were loaded with plunder and those in condition to fight had exhausted their ammunition, about an Hour was employed in plundering the camp, taking the paroles of the British officers, and preparing litters for the wounded; all this was transacted in full view of the British army who in the mean time consoled themselves with some military music & an interlude of 3 cheers for King George, which was immediately answered by 3 cheers and ___ the Hero of American Liberty; the militia at length got into the line of march in three columns, Davies corps covering the rear, but as they were loaded with plunder, encumbered with their wounded friends, and many of them intoxicated, it is easy to conceive that this retreat could not be performed according to the rules of the most approved tacticks, However, under all these disadvantages they filed off unmolested along the front of the Enemy about 1 O'clock.
The Americans had ___ commissioned officers killed, and ___ privates — ___ officers wounded ___ and ___ privates Major Davie's corps suffered severely The British lost three officers of the line and ___ privates killed & wounded.
It is the invariable trait in the character of Militia that they will only obey their own officers in the line of action, and this battle would certainly have been more decisive had not the militia fallen into confusion in the pursuit of the Loyalists & Legion Infantry; by which means the different regiments & companies became mixed & confounded. or Hd the Divisions of this Army disencumbered themselves of their horses and moved in such manner as to to engaged the encampments separately at the same time; a vigorous and unexpected attack might have prevented the British from availing themselves of their superior discipline, the other encampments must have been soon carried &, the corps would have remained distinct, and in a situation to push any advantage that Davie's column might have gained over the British line.
The American loss was never actually ascertained in this action owin to the want of proper forms and many of the wounded being carried immediately home from the action.
Unfortunate Generals are always the subject of observations and undisguishing censure, success alone bestows either merit or fame upon a Military character; it is however the duty of the Historian who writes for the benefit of posterity, and not for the purpose of flattering the actors in the scenes he paints to expose with equal freedom and truth the blunders of the politician and the mistakes of the General.
The advanced situation of Caswells division, the ill-effect of a retrograde movement, and the situation of the country about Lynch's Creek appear to have impelled Genl Gates to move forward to Rugeleys mills —
This position taken by accident rather than choice was not so bad as has been generally represented, its neighborhood contains the strongest ground in that part of the Country. From this place must be dated the error of the General and the misfortunes of the Army; When he determined to approach Camden as near as Saunders Creek, the Enemy being there within surprising distance. He ought to have pushed forward his light troops with 2 or 3 pieces of artillery and taken possession of that pass early in the day, at this place There is a wide boggy morass passable only by the causeway, and the ground rises considerably on the Northern side — Had the light troops been in possession of this post, their patroles must have given early notice of the Enemys advancing in force The cause way might have been disputed & the light troops supported or withdrawn at pleasure and arrangements made for attack, keeping the Enemy in check, or avoiding a general action could have been easily made
As the recovery of the two Southern States and the security of the remainder depended upon the army then collected it was the grossest folly to stake the whole blindly upon a single throw of the die; the whole army were necessarily brought into action, the Enemys force was unknown, he might succeed but there was no certain data to calculate this success upon, the want of success was inevitably followed by a total defeat — nothing but the most desparate circumstances could warrant a General to stake so much upon a singel Hazard.
Three fourths of this army were militia, these alone might have been a match for the royal army if properly fought under such advantages as a country covered with woods morasses and broken grounds almost every where affords. There never was a necessity to attack the British army at any particular point or place and the militia allways behaved well when served up by detachment, and under the impulse of attack.
The center and left of the front line were composed of militia, these could not be expected to wait the shock of a charge made by regular troops, otherwise discipline would be useless and military tacticks a a farce. The consequence was this flank was immediately turned, the whole reserve could have been brought up in time would not have filled this fatal interval between Gists Brigade and the swamp, DeKalbs Division on the right was of course instantly overwhelmed, and the reserves soon involved in their fate
The Ground on which the armies met was not the choice of the general but the accident of the night, but being narrowed by swamps both on the right and left was particularly favorable to the inferior numbers of the royal army & leaving no advantage to the superior numbers of their opponents; and still too extensive and too open to fight the Militia to advantage.
General Gates had joined the army but a few days which time was employed in continual marches, he was entirely unacquainted with the character of the officers or the merits of the different corps which composed his army, and was ignorant of their numbers, having never received a return untill after the orders of the 15th were issued, the regular troops wanted rest and refreshment, the whole of the militia wanted arrangement and the ordinary preparation for a battle was intirely neglected among them, in Rutherfords Brigade there was scarce a cartridge made up, and their arms were generally in bad order; the consequence of continual marching & exposure. A man must have had more than ordinary good fortune to avoid a defeat under so many unfortunate circumstances.
Major Davie about an hour after Genl Gates passed him despatched a confidential officer to give him information of the misfortunes of the morning, the officers reached his Camp the same evening and Colo Sumpter with his Detachment consisting of 100 regr infantry a compy of Artillery 2 brass pieces & 700 militia began to retreat along the West bank of the river to gain the Upper Country and avoid the fate of the main Army; on the night of the 17th May  encamped at Rocky Mount, at this place Colo Sumpter received advice that the British Legion had reached the opposite bank of the Wateree river then called the Catawba and already occupied the banks and fords. He marched again at day break — and about 12 'Oclock the detachment halted having passed Fishing Creek and gained an open ridge on the No side of the creek, the Detachment halted in the line of march, the rear guard consisting of militia were posted at the Creek, the prisoners and part of the baggage were with the advance guard, the troops were permitted to stack their arms and indulge themselves in rest or refreshment, several strolled to a neighboring plantation, some went to the river to bathe, and numbers sought in sleep some refuge from their fatigue, in this unguarded and critical moment, Colo Tarleton approached the American Camp.
The disposition for the attack was simple and made in a moment, the Cavalry consisting of 100, and the light infantry about 60 were formed in a single line and giving a general shout advanced to the charge The arms and artillery of the continentals were immediately in the possession of the enemy, as the men started from their slumbers they were cut down, a general panic ensued no regular opposition was made; and all that could escape, sought their safety in immediate flight, the main guard joined the fugitives and the prisoners were instantly released.
This Victory cost the British very little, Capt Cambel killed, and 15 privates killed and wounded. The Americans lost 150 officers and privates killed and wounded, 10 Continental offs 100 soldrs, a large no. of mila officers & 200 privates were made prisoners, The Artillery, 1000 stand of arms, 46 waggons loaded with valuable stores fell also in to the British possession.
In this action Colo Tarlton had the merit of audacity and good fortune but the glory of the enterprise was stained by the unfeeling barbarity of the legion who continued to hack and maim the militia long after they had surrendered, scarce a man was wounded until he considered himself a prisoner, and had deprived himself of the means of defence. Numbers of these were old grey headed-men, who had turned out to encourage & animate the younger citizens, but their hoary honors were not respected by the British sabre.
Colo Tarlton with only 160 men, presented himself before the American camp, without either information, or a moments reflection proceeded to charge them, had the Commanding officer taken any of the ordinary precautions to resist an attack, Tarlton must have suffered severly for this boyish Temerity; the conflict was nothing, the fighting was entirely on one side, and the slaughter among the defenceless.
Colo Sumpter recd information that the British Legion crossed near Rocky-Mount that morning, and that they were hanging on his rear, and yet marched only 8 miles before he halted & strangely neglected the necessary precautions to prevent a surprise and every means to resist an attack — The Detachment was halted in the line of march upon an open ridge, no advantage was taken of waggons, the rear guard was posted so near that it was not distinguished by the enemy from the main body; the whole security of the army rested upon two videttes whose fire was disregarded or not heard by a slumbering camp; if a halt was absolutely necessary after a march of only 8 miles, a position should have been taken most unfavorable to the action of Cavalry, the army should have been posted or formed in order of battle, and the waggons so disposed as to have covered the troops from the charge of British Cavalry, these precautions dictated by common practice and common prudence would have enabled him to have repelled five times the Enemys force.
If a proper patrole had been sent down the road towards the Enemy, and the rear guard had been sufficiently strong & posted at the usual distance, and the men had been ordered to remain in Camp near their arms, Colo Sumpter might have been beaten, but he would not have been surprised; or have yielded eight hundred men and two pieces of artillery as easy prey to 160 light troops: The listless and slumbering security in which this Detachment were caught at Mid-day under the eye of an enterprising enemy admits of neither apology nor explanation — Colo Sumpter who was asleep under a waggon when the action commenced, fortunately made his escape amidst the general confusion and reached Major Davie's camp at Charlotte two days afterwards without a single follower.
N. You will observe in a letter from Govr Nash to the North Carolina Delegates dated 23d of Aug. 80. He says that " General Caswell made a stand at Charlotte and called in upwards of a thousand fresh men that he added these to Sumpters party of about seven hundred and gave him the command while he (Caswell) came on to the Assembly." This you know is a damnable lie, Caswell did not stay to collect one man — and followed Genl Gates before Gist, Smallwood and the other officers abandoned the Town, and Sumpter did not arrive till several days after Caswells departure, and then alone, riding bare-back, without hat or saddle, or even a servant. Genl Gates in his letter of the 30th repeats this falsehood. It becomes the Historian to correct such shameful risrepresentations calculated to screen certain characters from just censure and attribute to themselves and others merit they never deserved.
subsequent to the 16th of August & Sumpters surprise.
Vol. 3 pa 105:
Mr Gordon mentions Major Anderson as the only man whose efforts to rally the men were any way effectual
Major Anderson was the only Man who did not appear to be affected by teh panic of the day. I passed him on the morning of the 17th about 40 miles from the field of battle with a corporal and eight men eating his breakfast with great composure on the roadside having had the good fortune to fall in which his own baggage waggon.
The Truth is, about 9 'O clock on the 19th news arrived of Sumpters defeat, accompanied wt reports of the approach of the British Cavalry; the officers determined precipitately upon retreating to Salisbury — I assured them that my patroles were several miles down the roads and the British Horse could not be within many miles. I entreated them to remain, as it wd give more confidence &c to the militia; and urged the bad consequences of retiring &c to no purpose — in a few minutes there was none left but Gist & Smallwood, who parted with me, requesting me to proceed down the road and endeavour to save Anderson — I immediately marched and met Anderson in a few miles, his party had increased to 15 or 20 — he could not help expressing his surprise and indignation, and promised to remain in Charlotte until my return — I examined the Country below the Waxhaws and found the Enemy had fallen back to Camden; on my return to Charlotte I found Major Anderson there, and at my instance he wrote to Genl Smallwood for orders to remain at that place.
Created for this extracted version by John Robertson.