Two ladies loyal to the King helped Tarleton put another jewel in his Crown while the “Gamecock” was saved by cattle, sheep and a low hanging branch.
On August 15, 1780, the day before Camden fell, Col. Sumter won at Cary’s Fort. Guarding the Wateree crossing, Cary’s Fort was located on the west side of the Wateree River in the general area of where I-20 crosses it. After the battle “The Gamecock” Sumter had the task of transporting 100 prisoners, over 40 wagons loaded with supplies and 300 head of cattle (and sheep) north towards the State line. Just on the other side of the river the Battle of Camden raged and was lost by Gates.
Sumter was in a precarious situation and he posted a rear guard as they slowly made their way towards Charlotte, hoping to go undetected. But Tarleton was sent by Lord Cornwallis to find his captured Loyalist men and supplies. Soon Tarleton and his Dragoons were able to observe Sumter’s camp fires from across the river. They caught up with them on August 18, 1780 just north of the present-day Fishing Creek Dam off Hwy 21 in Chester County. Sumter had managed to travel roughly 40 miles since his battle at the Wateree crossing.
Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s Dragoons were in no mood to play nice. They had been riding, marching and fighting for days without rest when they came upon Sumter’s force of over 800 men. Now they rode two to a horse to bring enough men to the fight. Aided by information from two Tory ladies, Tarleton was able to know Sumter’s location and disposition of the rebel forces. These ladies of the Crown also informed him of alternate avenues of approach to the Whig camp by way of some secondary roads.
They found Sumter and he had let his guard down! Sumter had stopped to rest in the rolling green hills along the banks of the Catawba river just above the Great Falls. The Patriot force had stacked their arms around noon and were bathing, eating, shaving and foraging. Indeed, some of the militia had found the rum in the wagons and were too drunk to fight. Two of Sumter’s men guarding the rear approach of the Patriot force were found and killed by saber, without drawing attention to the British Legion’s presence.
Tarleton, extremely outnumbered, boldly charged with his 100 mounted dragoons, augmented with but 60 foot soldiers. Whether by design, wisdom or chance he had played upon the psychology of the Patriot loss at Camden just two days before.
The cows and sheep grazed away as the human conflict flared. Sumter was caught by surprise as he was observed sleeping when the battle commenced. Sumter quickly took in the situation and yelled, \”Let every man take care of himself!” Leaving his coat and boots behind he jumped on an unsaddled wagon horse and rode out of camp in a flash. Riding furiously through the woods he was knocked from the horse by a low hanging limb and lay unconscious for some time after the battle.
Col. Bratton and a small band of Partisans fought valiantly as the rest of the militia ran in all directions.
Tarleton quickly inherited the shackles of baggage and livestock that Sumter had been relieved of. He could not pursue his foe for fear of losing that which he had just liberated. He turned his attention to his prisoners and spoils and turned south.
In the confusion of the round up and trek back to Cornwallis, several Patriot prisoners were able to make good their escape.
While Tarleton returned to Camden with added jewels to his crown, Sumter limped to Charlotte to regroup.
Thus our “Gamecock” though beaten by two ladies, a keg of rum and Tarleton, was saved by cattle, sheep and a low hanging branch!
With Gates and Sumter whipped in a matter of days and all his supplies intact, Cornwallis felt pretty confident. The British army seemed invincible. But rumors were in the air of a Loyalist defeat to the west. It was an omen that would haunt Cornwallis and a harbinger of things to come!
General Thomas Sumter
Parker’s Guide to the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, John C. Parker
Before They Were Heroes at King’s Mountain, Randell Jones
History of the Upper Country of S.C., Logan