Ten minutes was all it took to hack to death over ninety men on February 24, 1781. Screams and pleas for mercy went unheeded as broadswords and bayonets cut through flesh, bone and any hope that Lord Cornwallis had of the masses coming to the King’s standard.
Just west of the Haw river in Alamance county, North Carolina along the current Hwy 49, a significant Tory force under Dr. John Pyle found themselves tardy to a meeting with British Commander “Bloody Ban” Tarleton. Tarleton had left the area, but the Patriots under General Andrew Pickens and “Light Horse” Harry Lee were more than willing to pose as British Cavalry and lure Pyle and his men into a trap.
Harry Lee’s green clad men rode into war prepared to pass themselves off as British dragoons when necessary and had red plumes at the ready for their helmets. When his forward scouts ran into the Tory scouts, the ruse was set into motion. Lee ordered one of the Tory scouts to stay with his troops while the other was escorted back to the main force. Lee sent word of welcome to Dr. Pyle and asked him to stand on the side of the road as they passed by.
Dr. Pyle was under the impression that this was the escort he had requested and saw nothing to be concerned about.
Lee’s cavalry rode forward with General Pickens and the militia some distance behind. Lee would nod in review to the Tories standing with slung rifles along the side of the road. Upon meeting Dr. Pyle near the end of the column he pulled up to shake his hand.
But somewhere along the line of militia the communication of the plan may have not been made so clear. If surrounding the enemy and making them prisoner was the intent, the reality was that not everyone got the memo. Fighting broke out when the Tories were recognized as the enemy. As the Tories claimed allegiance to the King, the Patriot militia began the assault that came to be known as Pyle’s Massacre, Pyle’s Hacking Match or the Battle of Haw River.
William Lenoir was right in the thick of the massacre on that day, breaking his sword during the hacking and having his horse shot out from under him. One horse seems a small consideration when over 90 enemy were killed.
Lord Cornwallis needed all the help he could get. He lost at King’s Mountain and Cowpens. He failed to catch General Greene in the race to the Dan River. Now; within ten minutes time, any hope of getting the local loyalist to assist was dashed.