Ferguson was frustrated.
At the Battle of Wofford’s Iron Works (Spartanburg) on August 8, 1780 American Col. Isaac Shelby and his frontiersmen played cat and mouse with Cornwallis’ man and eluded his British force with taunts and jeers on a hillside out of musket range.(1) This came just a little over a week after Loyalists surrendered to Col. Shelby’s Indian fighters at Thicketty Fort without firing a shot.
That frustration would mount as on August 19th the Patriot bands of warriors under Shelby, SC militia Col. James Williams and Patriot Col. Elijah Clarke slipped in behind Ferguson\’s lines during a night-time ride and engaged Loyalists at Musgrove Mill (present-day southern, Spartanburg County) that morning. The American Revolutionaries numbered about 300 men at arms.
After halting in an open Indian field about a mile from the Ford of the Enoree River, scouts were sent out to gain intelligence on the enemy just before dawn. Shots were fired and the scouts, though some wounded, made it back to camp and reported enemy numbers to be over twice the anticipated force of 200.
Sometime during the night reinforcements, intended for Col. Ferguson, had arrived at the British camp and were anticipating joining up with the left wing of the Red Coat army on their march northward. Among these in camp at Musgrove Mill were two hundred Provincials from New York under the command of Colonel Alexander Innes.
Shelby was outnumbered, his horses were spent, and his enemy would be reinforced by Ferguson soon.
Shelby needed to draw again from his tactical skills forged in the furnace of Indian wars. He chose to fight. He ordered his men to build breastworks of fallen logs and brush across the expanse of the open field in a rough semi-circle. His plan to use cover and concealment during the battle would equal the playing field to the benefit of his men, as the British would be attacking a more fortified position without cover of their own. Shelby and his contingent of frontiersmen under the bold Josiah Culbertson were on the right. Williams and his South Carolina militia were in the center. Clarke’s courageous Georgia troops were on the left. Reserve troops were within earshot and hidden nearby; while the horses were staged in the rear.
The trap was set.
Now for the bait.
|Looking up towards the British encampment|
British Colonel Innes urged his reluctant peers in the war council to make haste and give fight to the rebel band who he had little regard for. Some in the council wished to finish their breakfast and wait for Ferguson, but Innes was insistent. As they made ready, Patriot Captain Inman and 25 men sallied in towards the King\’s camp and fired at the British from across the river, enticing them to give chase. Innes did not hesitate nor disappoint.
Innes’s whole force, save one hundred in reserve at the house, followed down and then up the hill on the heels of Inman and his party of Whigs; whom they believed represented the whole of the rebel band. Unknown to them, Josiah Culbertson\’s party were concealed on their flank as they moved up the hill.(2) The loyalists, answering the bugle calls, drums and shouts of their leaders, formed up and advanced to within 70 yards of the breastworks, bayonets at the ready.
|Looking up towards the Patriot breastworks|
Suddenly a deadly accurate fire was unleashed at the British just when they had let out a “Huzzah for King George!” The attacking British staggered but for a moment. They checked their lines and resumed their march. Disciplined and steady, they came on with bayonet and determination. The Patriot riflemen were much slower in their reloads than the British soldiers and their muskets. To make matters worse, the British cold steel was pressing in. These anxious moments were observed by Shelby and Clarke and orders were given with haste.
The forty men in reserve were called up and filled the ranks of the riflemen who were being pressed hard. At this critical juncture, Colonel Innes was killed by one of the Over the Mountain men and in the ensuing moments the tide changed for the advancing British.
The frontiersmen let out an Indian war cry and rushed into the fray of smoke and powder and into close quarter combat. The screams, the gun fire and the battle yell of charging wild warriors were all mixed with the smoke that made it impossible to see beyond 20 yards.
The loyalist militia in front of Clarke gave way and began to fall back. Soon it was a full-blown retreat as the British ran back down the road from which they had come. The dead and wounded lay scattered along the route as the Patriots were in hot pursuit and continuing to engage their enemy, even into the river ford.
One of the Tories, still bold despite the retreat, decided to drop his trousers and show his mooned cheeks to his pursuers as he made his way up the opposite hill. He was paid in full with a bullet to his pasty white backside and carried off in shame and discomfort.(3)
In just about an hour of heavy fighting the smoke clears, and Shelby is the victor. He has now beat the enemy three times in the field under less than favorable conditions, all within 3 weeks time.
The victory is short lived as an express rider comes in from Colonel Davie at the Waxhaws informing the victors of the defeat of Gates at Camden, SC.
Davie, who was riding to help in the battle at Camden, had observed Gates fleeing northward. Davie adjusted his own orders and turned back. He then prudently sent out messages to leaders still in the field, to include Thomas Sumter and Shelby\’s command structure. Sumter suffers defeat at Fishing Creek above Great Falls, SC and flees to Charlotte. Shelby and his army dispersed and seemingly vaporize into the mountains with their prisoners above present day Rutherford, NC. The reality is Shelby would not let them rest till they were safely in the mountain passes and many of his warriors were starving and fatigued when they got home.
As Ferguson arrives too late to assist in the battle it is evident that Shelby has eluded the British Colonel once again. His subsequent pursuit into the North State is met with equal results.(3,4)
But South Carolina is without a formal army to oppose the British and Cornwallis has his sights set on Charlotte and beyond. Cornwallis sends Ferguson into the mountains where he imprudently threatens to lay waste to Scots-Irish Patriot homes and hang their leaders.
General Washington sends Nathaniel Greene and Daniel Morgan south to raise an army and continue the fight.
The Over the Mountain men begin raising their own army and are helped in recruitment by the bold and aggressive talk of Ferguson.
A reckoning is coming!
(1)King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It, Draper, Allaire
(3)Before They Were Heroes at King’s Mountain, Randell Jones
(4)Parker’s Guide to the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, John C. Parker