Ramseur's Mill, North Carolina

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Ramseur's Mill, North Carolina

RAMSEUR'S MILL, NORTH CAROLINA. 20 June 1780. Also known as Ramsour's, Ramsauer's, and Ramsay's Mill. The surrender of Charleston on 12 May 1780 and the establishment of British posts at Camden, Cheraw, and Ninety Six made it apparent that the Revolutionary War was about to move into North Carolina. During the four preceding years there had been only one military engagement in the state, the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, on 27 February 1776, and that humiliating Loyalist defeat had left the Patriots more or less in control of the state. But in the summer of 1780 the North Carolina Loyalists believed the time had come to rise up and even some scores. Although General Charles Cornwallis expressed the desire that the Loyalists delay their military activities until the wheat crop was harvested, thereby avoiding another premature uprising and also assuring provisions for his invading army, the North Carolina Loyalists did not wait. Colonel John Moore, returning to Ramseur's Mill in June after serving under Cornwallis in South Carolina, called a meeting of the area's leading Loyalists on 10 June at his father's house. Before the forty men left the meeting, at which Moore revealed Cornwallis's plan for pushing northward into the state, they learned that Major Joseph McDowell was approaching with a company of rebel militia. The Loyalists made an unsuccessful attempt to surprise McDowell. Moore then issued instructions for Loyalists to assemble at Ramseur's Mill. By 20 June he had thirteen hundred men, although one-quarter were unarmed.

The Patriots, meanwhile, had responded to General Griffith Rutherford's call for militia. While eight hundred gathered near Charlotte, Colonel Francis Locke assembled another four hundred at Mountain Creek, near Moore's camp, and on 19 June moved out to surprise the Loyalists. His column was led by three small groups of mounted men; the rest of his force, most of whom had never served in combat, followed in a double file.

Moore's men were camped on a hill about three hundred yards from the mill and half a mile north of the village later known as Lincolnton. At the approach of the rebel horsemen, a twelve-man outpost fired and fled six hundred yards to the Loyalist camp, which they threw into confusion. But the Loyalists had a clear field of fire facing downhill, and they easily repulsed the horsemen when the latter tried to charge up the hill. The unarmed Loyalists fled, but the others formed together and marched on the approaching militia. Neither side had much in the way of organization or command, and the battle consisted mostly of small groups clustering together, moving and firing at will. The Loyalists retreated back up the hill, followed by most of the rebels, some of whom worked their way around to the other side of the hill. Neither side had bayonets; lack of uniforms or insignia made it difficult to tell friend from foe, and many a skull was cracked by a "friendly" musket butt. Loyalist Captain Daniel Warlick rallied his men time and again to counterattack, but William Shays, seeing this, worked his way stealthily forward until he was in position to drop Warlick with a bullet. The Loyalist resistance faltered but rallied behind a creek at the base of the hill.

Locke could re-form only 110 of his original 400 men on the hill for the expected counterattack, and he sent an urgent message to Rutherford to hurry forward with the column from Charlotte. But the Loyalists had had enough. Moore joined Cornwallis at Camden with only thirty men.

Not more than 275 of Locke's 400 were actually engaged, but over 150 were killed and wounded; Loyalist losses were about the same, and they had approximately 700 engaged. Both forces dissolved after the battle; even the victorious Patriots simply drifted home afterward, and Locke was unable to organize any sort of pursuit.

Moore's abortive action was a disaster for the British cause, and Cornwallis threatened to court-martial him for violating instructions. When Cornwallis finally did get into North Carolina, most Loyalists were afraid to support him, and the British lost more by desertion than they gained in recruits.

SEE ALSO Moores Creek Bridge.

                          revised by Michael Bellesiles

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Ramseur's Mill, North Carolina

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