Friday, November 23, 2007

Hanging Rock: A Pictorial History

From Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Vol. II, by Benson J. Lossing, 1850, Chapter XVII:
Leaving Charley to dine upon the verge of the stream, I proceeded to Hanging Rock, of whose immensity I had heard frequent mention. It is a huge conglomerate bowlder, twenty or thirty feet in diameter, lying upon the verge of the high east bank of the creek, nearly a hundred feet above the stream. Around it are several smaller bowlders of the same materials. It is shelving toward the bank, its concavity being in the form of the quarter of an orange paring, and capacious enough to shelter fifty men from rain. Beneath its canopy, let us turn to the record of history.
Near the Hanging Rock, on the western bank of the creek, Lord Rawdon, the British commander in that section, had established a post, which was garrisoned by the infantry of Tarleton’s legion, part of Brown’s corps of South Carolina and Georgia Provincials, and Colonel Bryan’s North Carolina Loyalists; the whole were under the command of Major Camden, with the Prince of Wales’s American regiment, in number about five hundred. The greater portion were Loyalists, the remainder were regulars. In the formation of the camp, the regulars were on the right; a part of the British legion and Hamilton’s regiment in the center; and Bryan’s corps and other Loyalists some distance on the left, Hanging Rock Creek being in the rear. As we have seen, Major Davie proceeded to an attack upon this post, simultaneously with Sumter’s assault on Rocky Mount. Davie, with his cavalry, and some Mecklenburg militia, under Colonel Higgins, marched toward Hanging Rock. As he approached, he was informed that three companies of Bryan’s Loyalists, returning from a foraging excursion, were encamped at a farm-house. He fell upon them with vigor, in front and rear, and all but a few of them were either killed or wounded. The spoils of this victory were sixty horses with their trappings, and one hundred muskets and rifles. This disaster made the garrison exceedingly vigilant.
We have observed that after the assault on Rocky Mount, Sumter crossed the Catawba, and proceeded toward Hanging Rock [6 August 1780]. He marched early in the morning cautiously, and approached the British camp in three divisions, with the intention of falling upon the main body, stationed upon the plain at Coles’s Old Field. The right was composed of Davie’s corps and some volunteers, under Major Bryan; the center, of Colonel Irwin’s Mecklenburg militia; and the left, of South Carolina regulars, under Colonel Hill. Through the error of his guides, Sumter came first upon Bryan’s corps, on the verge of the western bank of the creek, near the Great Rock, half a mile from the British camp. Irwin made the first attack. The Tories soon yielded and fled toward the main body, many of them throwing away their arms without discharging them. These the Americans seized; and, pursuing this advantage, Sumter next fell upon Brown’s corps, which, being on the alert, poured a heavy fire upon him from a wood. They also received him with the bayonet. A fierce conflict ensued, and for a while the issue was doubtful. The riflemen, with sure aim, soon cut off almost all of Brown’s officers and many of his soldiers; and at length his corps yielded and dispersed in confusion. The arms and ammunition procured from the vanquished were of great service, for when the action commenced, Sumter’s men had not two rounds each.
Now was the moment to strike for decisive victory; it was lost by the criminal indulgence of Sumter’s men in plundering the portion of the British camp already secured, and drinking freely of the liquor found there. A similar cause plucked the palm of victory from the hands of Greene at Eutaw Springs. Sumter’s ranks became disordered; and while endeavoring to bring order out of confusion, the enemy rallied. Of his six hundred men, only about two hundred, with Davie’s cavalry, could be brought to bear upon the remaining portion of the British, who were yet in some confusion, but defended by two cannons. Sumter was not to be foiled. With a shout, he and his handful of brave men rushed forward to the attack. The enemy had formed a hollow square, with the field-pieces in front, and in this position received the charge. The Americans attacked them on three sides, and the contest was severe for a while. At length, just as the British line was yielding, a re-enforcement, under Captains Stewart and M‘Donald, of Tarleton’s legion, returning from an excursion toward Rocky Mount, appeared, and their number being magnified, Sumter deemed a retreat a prudent measure. This was done at meridian, but the enemy had been so severely handled, that they did not attempt a pursuit. A small party appeared upon the Camden road, but was soon dispersed by Davie. Could Sumter have brought all of his forces into action in this last attack, the rout of the British would have been complete.

"He beat them back! beneath the flame
Of valor quailing, or the shock!
He carved, at last, a hero’s name,
Upon the glorious Hanging Rock!"

With his few prisoners and booty, Sumter retreated toward the Waxhaw, bearing away many of his wounded. The engagement lasted about four hours, and was one of the best-fought battles, between militia and British regulars, during the war. Sumter’s loss was twelve killed and forty-one wounded. Among the former were the brave Captain M‘Clure, of South Carolina, and Captain Read, of North Carolina; Colonel Hill, Captain Craighead, Major Winn, Lieutenants Crawford and Fletcher, and Ensign M‘Clure, were wounded. The British loss exceeded that of the Americans. Captain M‘Cullock, commander of the legion infantry, and two officers and twenty privates of the same corps, were killed, and forty were wounded. Brown’s regiment also suffered much. Bryan’s Tories did not stop to fight,
"-------------------- but ran away,
And lived to fight another day."