Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Battle of Musgrove's Mill, August 1780

From The Annals of Newberry: In Two Parts, by John Belton O'Neall, John Abney Chapman, pub. 1892, Aull & Houseal, Newberry, SC, pp. 263-266:

In August, 1780, General John McDowell [sic, actually Colonel Charles], of North Carolina, commanded about two thousand militia, who were stationed at Smith's ford, on Broad River, which was about fifteen miles below the Cherokee ford. Colonel Isaac Shelby, of North Carolina, commanded a regiment under General McDowell. The term of service for which the men had enlisted was just about expiring. It was ascertained that there were about seven hundred tories camped at Musgrove's Mill, on the Enoree River, a few miles distant from the camp of [British] Major [Patrick] Ferguson. Col. Shelby conceived the plan of breaking up this camp and routing the tories. For this purpose, having obtained leave from General* McDowell, he raised about seven hundred volunteers from the army, without regard to rank; very many field officers having volunteered, Col. [Elijah] Clarke, of North Carolina [actually Georgia], was made second in command. 
To effect their design, it was necessary that the affair should be conducted with both secrecy and despatch. Accordingly, Shelby's force left General McDowell's camp on the 18th of August, a short time before dark. They traveled on through the woods until dark, and then fell into the road and proceeded on all night, passing within three or four miles of Ferguson's camp, and going beyond it to the tory camp at Musgrove's Mill. This post was forty miles from McDowell's camp.
Soon aftar daylight, when Shelby had arrived within half a mile of the camp, a citizen was taken prisoner, from whom he learned that the night previous the Queen's American regiment, commanded by Colonel [Alexander] Emines [sic, Innes], from New York, had reached the post at the mill, and that the enemy were then from twelve to thirteen hundred strong. Just as this information was received, the enemy's patrol fell in with the advanced corps of Shelby's force. The patrol was immediately fired on, and driven in with the loss of seven men. This gave the enemy the alarm. Although the tory force was so much larger than had been expected, neither Shelby nor his men thought of anything but meeting them. Ground was selected for an engagement, stretching at right angles across the road, about half a mile from the Enoree River. The army was formed, Shelby taking command of the right wing, and Colonel Clarke of the left. Colonel [James] Williams, of South Carolina, was stationed in the road in the centre, though without a separate command.
Whilst the tory force was forming, Shelby and his men were not idle. Immediately after taking their places in line, and securing their horses, they commenced making breastworks of logs. In half an hour they had one breast high. So soon as this was completed, Shelby sent Capt. [Shadrach] Inman, with a company of mounted men in advance, to make a false attack on the enemy. This feint was well executed. lnman and his men charged on the enemy, fired their pieces, and then, as directed, fled in apparent confusion. The enemy's centre, on whom the false attack had been made, seeing the light of this force, immediately pressed forward in pursuit, in considerable disorder, shouting, "Huzza for King George.'' On approaching the breast-work, they were unexpectedly met with a deadly fire. The superiority of the enemy in numbers emboldened them to press forward their attack, not withstanding the advantage which our troops possessed by the breast-work. After an hour's hard fighting, the left wing of the enemy, composed of the Queen's regiment, drove our right wing, under Shelby, from their breast-work. Our left wing, which was opposed by the tories, maintained its position. The battle was maintained some time longer, the right wing gradually giving way, whilst the left flank retained its connection with the centre at the breast-work. At this juncture, Col. Clarke sent his reserve, consisting of forty men, to Shelby's aid. Shelby thereupon rallied his men and ordered a charge, which was well seconded by officers and men, and the enemy were broken and fled in confusion. The rout now became complete along the whole line, and the enemy were pursued to the Enoree River, with great slaughter. Above two hundred of the enemy were killed, and two hundred prisoners were taken. On our side, Capt. Inman, who had conducted himself most gallantly, and thirty men, were killed.
The broken forces of the enemy having crossed the Enoree, it became necessary to follow up the pursuit on horseback. Shelby called back his forces, and mounted with the intention of pursuing the scattered tories, and then turning against Fort Ninety Six. While consulting with Col. Clarke, a messenger arrived from General McDowell, bringing a letter from Gov. Caswell to McDowell, informing him of Gates' disastrous defeat at Camden, on the 16th of August, and advising all officers commanding detachments to retreat, or they would be cut off.
    Col. Shelby, perceiving the hazardous position in which he was placed by this unexpected calamity, with Cornwallis in front and Ferguson on his flank, immediately ordered a retreat. Taking his prisoners with him, he traveled all that day and the ensuing night, without rest, and continued their march the day succeeding, until an hour by sun, when they halted and fed their horses. Although they had thus been marching and fighting incessantly for forty-eight hours, the indomitable energy of their commander permitted his troops no rest, when there was danger of losing all by delay. Halting, therefore, no longer than was required to feed their horses, the line of march was resumed. It was well it was so; for the news of the defeat of the tories at Musgrove's Mill had reached Ferguson, who had despatched a strong detachment to intercept Shelby and release his prisoners. By making a hard forced march, this detachment reached the spot where Shelby and his men had fed their horses within thirty minutes after they had left it. But not knowing precisely how long Shelby had been gone, and the detachment being entirely exhausted, the pursuit was relinquished and Shelby reached the mountains in safety with his prisoners. 
The time of service of the men having expired, and there being no opportunity of doing any immediate active duty by a partisan corps, when they reached the road which led to Col. Shelby's residence, he and the men from his neighborhood returned home; the prisoners being left in charge of Colonel Clarke. After going some distance, Col. Clarke in like manner returned home, giving the prisoners in charge of Col. Williams, who conducted them to Hillsborough. At this place Col. Williams met with Gov. Rutledge, who, finding him in charge of the prisoners, supposed he had commanded the expedition in which they were taken, and as a reward for tho gallant achievement gave him a brigadier general's commission. Without detracting from the merits of Col. Williams, who was a gallant officer, is it right to say that this is an example too frequent in military history, where the rewards of a bold achievement fall on the wrong shoulders? 
Col. Shelby described the battle at Musgrove's Mill as the hardest and best fought action he ever was in. He attributed this to the great number of officers who were with him as volunteers. Considering the nature of the march and the disparity of numbers, the action at Musgrove's Mill must be considered as one of the most brilliant affairs fought by any partisan corps during the revolution.
*Blogger's note: During the Revolutionary War, Charles McDowell of Quaker Meadows, Burke County, North Carolina, served as a district commander with a Colonel's rank in the western Carolina patriot militia. Post-war, he gained the rank of General, serving as head of the Morgan District Brigade in the North Carolina Militia.