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The Battle of Moore's Creek
Map of Battle area
This past Veterans Day, we went to visit the National Battlefield of Moores Creek Bridge. I had learned how this was an important battle in Middle School and would go on to study it again in college as a native North Carolinian it being in the curriculum. Not to mention that my ancestors were Highland Scots of the Stewart Clan who came to North Carolina from Argyle and Appin after the Battle of Culoden. They came to Wilmington and went up the Cape Fear to the Cumberland and Harnett County area. So this story is as much a history of our Independence as a nation as that as a history of my forefathers. As it turns out I am connected to this battle in many ways.
North Carolina a model of Independence
This past Veterans Day, we went to visit the National Battlefield of Moores Creek Bridge. I had learned how this was an important battle in Middle School and would go on to study it again in college as a native North Carolinian it being in the cirriculum. Not to mention that my ancestors were Highland Scots of the Stewart Clan who came to North Carolina from Argyle and Appin after the Battle of Culoden. They came to Wilmington and went up the Cape Fear to the Cumberland and Harnett County area. So this story is as much a history of our Independence as a nation as that as a history of my forefathers. As it turns out I am connected to this battle in many ways.
North Carolina during the late 1700's displayed open sentiments of American Independence and freedom from tyranny even though it's societal structure was indeed unevenly balanced on the notions of breaking from king and country. Nonetheless North Carolina's flag still shows this fervor by having two dates of independence. It bears the date May 20, 1775 for the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence and of the Halifax Resolves April 12, 1776. With this conflicting sentiment came the first military action in North Carolina at a way out of the way location called Moore's Creek.
American Revolutionary War; Southern Campaign; The Crown attempted to cut off supply lines for the North and choke out American agriculture and industry, ergo crippling Patriot forces ability to gain monetary support for the war effort; and to attack the Patriots from multiple fronts in an effort to quell rebellious spirits. The Patriots conducting blockade actions halted a rendezvous force from supplementing the Royal Governor James Martin from fortifying a position at the mouth of the Cape Fear River near Wilmington which would allowed a large naval landing force onto the mainlands of Southern America and a foothold against Patriot forces in the South.
Location: present day Currie, Pender County, North Carolina, then part of New Hanover County. A swampy/ creek area made cross-able by a small wooden bridge.
Patriots: Col. Richard Caswell 1,100 men; 1 kia, 1 wia, 0 pows
Loyalists: Gen Donald McDonald 1,800 men, 30 KIA, 20 WIA, 850 POWs
Importance: first Engagement in the Southern Campaign, significantly halted the Crown's efforts in the South. A first and motivating win for Patriot forces which gave them the hope needed to endure the struggle which lay ahead. American freedom.
A State Divided: The Start of the Impending Engagement
North Carolina like all of the colonies were divided between those loyal to the crown and those wanting independence. The North Carolina Militia was a poor fighing force they had little to no funding and were armed with mostly homemade broadswords, pikes and axes.
The Royal Governor Josiah Martin had fled to Wilmington from Tryon Palace in New Bern and later went to Fort Johnston at Southport which is at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Martin had manged to raise a force of 1600 including Shottish Highlanders commanded by Gen. Donald Mcdonald. The Fort however had fallen into the hands of the Patriots. On the days which led up to the conflict at Moore's Creek Col. Moore and his Patriot force had been camping on Rockfish Creek which is situated south of present day Fayetteville. Loyalist Militia comanders were there as well assembling a force to march to Wilmington. Moore's troops were acting as a blockading force.
Moore's position hindered the Loyalist's route and thereby had to cross the Cape Fear River and use a route that would then cross Moore's Creek. Upon discovering this battlefield intelligence Moore redirected Caswell to block their route and to fortify a position at Moores Creek bridge. The patriot's position near Elisabethtown was discovered by Mcdonald and he was able to outflank their position and completely bypass them all together continuing their route to Moores Creek.
When Two Opposing Forces Met
When the Loyalists finally arrived at Moore's Creek, they knew that a small force was there to meet them. The Patriots had removed all of the planks and greased the supports from the bridge and had fortified their position on the other side. To complicate matters further as mentioned before the Loyalists Highlanders were armed with pikes and broadswords the Patriots were armed with firearms of the time and artillery. The loyalist Commanders made a command decision to advance and gave the order shouting King George and Broadswords! Poised against a strong yet small force the Loyalist had no chance of success in their plan of a large scale charge and were overwhelmed by the shots of musket and canon.
Can you hear the bagpipes and drums now as the Loyalists crossed the bridge to meet their fate in a hail of gunfire? Kilts, Swords, the whole nine yards; screaming and yelling war cries. The anticipation, the seconds ticking by, waiting for them to be in range. Wait for it! Hold your fire boys, wait for it! They're get closer sir. Steady son! Make ready... Take Aim... The Highlanders ease closer across the struts swords held high, as their honor in executing their duty for the king. FIRE!!!!!! BOOOOOOMMMMMM!!! Pop! Pop! Pop! Bang! Thuuuuumph! One by one the Platoon of Highlanders become lead stoppers. AHHHHHH!!!! Uooie that smarts, dudn-it? Cap'n I'ma gon fer. Some killed on the spot.
Highlanders defeated but not Forgotten
This quick defeat earned the Patriots a victory and ended Loyalist advances for quite some time. This battle would be debated back and forth. Interestingly enough the Highlanders would come under constant scrutiny as to why they chose the be on the side of the Loyalists; to which there are many factors. I will not discuss them here but it is indeed an interesting topic for discussion.
Still despite being on the opposing side of the Revolutionary War; we must still give them recognition. They were after all performing their duty to the king, and acting in according to the established rule of English law. We Scots have not always been big fans of English rule. Especially since the regicide (murder of a king) which took place throughout the 1600's. In specific I am speaking of the Stuart (Stewart) dynasty that were executed, exiled and dethroned and replaced by Germanic royalty instead. Nonetheless, these Highlanders, which recently fought against the British government and the forces of Oliver Cromwell (who pretty much usurped the reigning monarch) as Prince Charles (Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria) Stuart or known as Bonnie Prince Charles rallied supporters to help him take back his crown in an uprising known as the Jacobite (from the Latin for James; ie: King James the patriarch of the Stewart Clan) Rebellion, decided to this time assist their "king" as they had to no doubt undergo a repatriation; which is all together another reason for their exodus from Scotland to America. They faced an advanced and overwhelming force head on with only swords in traditional Scottish style. Scots have prided themselves in their ferocity in combat, and they were indeed a hearty and brave lot that decided to cross that bridge and meet their certain death. And for that they must be remembered, as they too were fellow Americans (Colonists). And yes I am sort of biased as I am of Highland descent.
Dr. Bobby Moss in his book Roster of the Patriots in the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge tallies the following Stewarts/Stuarts in the roll call lists of those units engaged at that time. Some names however were simply never recorded; so it's hard to know for sure who participated.
Cumberland County Loyalist Militia
Lt. Kenneth Stuart, QM Donald Stuart, Capt. Alexander Stuart