Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Joseph Graham's Letter

[to "The Hon. A. D. Murphey"]

VESUVIUS FURNACE, 20th Dec., 1827.

DEAR SIR: — Some time past, I forwarded you certain sketches relative to occurrences in the Revolutionary War in the Western part of North Carolina. I have since perused Johnson's History, of the life of Gen. Greene, and strictures on it by Lee, Jr., and would beg leave to correct some errors into which they have fallen.

1. It is stated, not only by these Historians, but by most others, that after Lord Cornwallis arrived in Charlotte, he attempted marching, to Salisbury. Tarleton's legion, and a battalion of infantry, after they had dislodged Col. Davie's command in the village, pursued six or seven miles, to Sassafras fields (where I was wounded), and returned the same evening. After this, no part of the British army went two miles on the Salisbury road, until they retreated from Charlotte, upon hearing of the disaster at King's Mountain.

2. It is stated, by the historians generally, that about and on, the first of February, 1781, the Catawba River was swollen and that this was the reason why Lord Cornwallis did not pursue Gen. Morgan more closely. The statement is erroneous. During the three days immediately preceding the 1st of February, my command of cavalry or portions of it, crossed the river at different fords; and it was not flusher of water than is usual at that season of the year, until the rain, which fell, on the evening of the first of February. This did occasion a rise in the Yadkin, which intercepted the British after Greene's army had passed, on the third of February.

3. Much is stated, and contradictory accounts are given, as to the part Gen. Pickens of South Carolina acted, in the campaign. The facts are these: After the retreat from Cowan's Ford, on the 1st of February, Gen. Pickens, with five or six South Carolina refugees, was in the route of our troops (North Carolina Militia) on the same day, by Tarleton's Cavalry at Torrence Tavern, six miles eastward of the river. Gen. Davidson, the commander of this force had fallen, and there were doubts and disputes among the field officers, as to who should succeed him. In this condition of affairs, while my cavalry were beyond the Shallow Ford of the Yadkin, hanging on the rear of the enemy, it was mutually agreed by the field officers to invest Gen. Pickens with the command of Davidson's troops, 
amounting to six or seven) hundred men. This was about the 11th of February, and the South Carolina refugees might then amount to twenty or thirty men. James Jackson, of the Georgia line, a Lieutenant, was appointed Brigade Major. He has since been a member of Congress and Governor of that State. After this organization, the Brigade proceeded, crossing the Shallow Ford of the Yadkin, through Salem, to Guilford Court House. Here intelligence was received of the movements of the enemy to Hillsboro and 
we took that direction, more condensed and cautious than before. Hitherto, the march had been regulated by detachments for the convenience of procuring subsistence.
Arrived at a mill, on Back or Stony Creek, some twelve or fifteen miles from Hillsboro, in the evening of the 17th of Feb., shortly after we had encamped the Brigade Major gave orders that Capt. Graham should furnish twenty dragoons, and Capt. Simmons, of 
Rowan, a like number of riflemen. As soon as these officers reported their quotas in readiness, Gen. Pickens himself came and gave these two officers orders, as follows, viz.: "YOU will proceed down the road towards Hlllsboro with the greatest caution and circumspection. If you find any detachment of the enemy out, inferior to your own, attack them. If you discover a larger party beyond supporting distance from their main army, and you can keep yourself concealed, give me notice, and I will come or send an additional force to assist you. But if you ascertain you are discovered by a larger party of the enemy return immediately. In any event, return early in the morning; for they will then hear of you from the inhabitants of the country. If I move from this place you will find my trail up the west side of this creek and may join me by ten o'clock to-morrow." There were four or five volunteers who went with the party besides those ordered; but none of them were present when the orders were given. Among others I recollect Maj. Micajah Lewis, (a continental officer who was killed a few days afterwards at Dickey's,) and his brother Joel. But though of superior rank, neither Maj. Lewis nor any other, assumed any command over the detachment, or the officers who had received the General's orders. The party set out between sunset and dark. After proceeding several miles on the Hillsboro road, and when it was fully dark, met Robert Fawcett (usually called, as I understood, mad Bob), and another person, whose name is not remembered. They were direct from Hillsboro, and gave us the first information of a picket at Hart's mill, supposed to be about thirty In number. We determined to attack them at light in the morning. Gen. Pickens certainly knew nothing of this picket being at the mill when he detached us, although it is otherwise stated by Johnson. Fawcett at first thought we were a party of the enemy. We compelled him to be our pilot. If he is yet living, I would beg leave to refer you to him for subsequent events. In the morning, when we approached the picket, their sentry fired; and a sergeant and file of men came immediately to his support. Simmons and his riflemen dismounting and tieing their horses, the sergeant and party fired in the direction of the noise, for they could not see us. Maj. Lewis, myself and six others crossed into the road leading towards Mebane's and charged down this road after the sergeant and party, who ran, until we came within sight of the picket. Maj. Lewis then suggested to me the advantage the riflemen might have, by passing to the right, under cover of the hill, until they should be masked by some out buildings (I think a stable and smithshop). We instantly returned and gave Capt. Simmons his instructions, and the cavalry moved off to the left, through an old field, above where buildings have since been erected, in order to attract the attention and fire of the enemy, until the riflemen should gain their destined position. The plan succeeded as we expected. Owing to the great distance, the cavalry sustained no damage from the enemy's fire; and as soon as the riflemen, at the distance of only fifty or sixty yards, in their concealed position, had discharged their pieces at the picket, the cavalry charged, and the whole, consisting of twenty-seven men, were instantly killed or taken.
Now, Johnson states, that this party was under the command of Col. Hugh M'Call, of South Carolina, and was of those who had been with him at the Cowpens. Some two or three volunteers were along besides the Lewises as above mentioned. If Col. M'Call was one of them, it is not remembered by me and others who were present, and of whom' I have made inquiry, since the appearance of this statement. But if he was present, certain I am he had no part, either in planning, or in the execution of the capture of the picket referred to. Nor did we consult respecting it with any other person, except Maj. Lewis (who was a real soldier). His counsels were deferred to by us, knowing, as we did, his past service and experience. But Capt. Simmons and myself gave the orders, and felt the whole responsibility. If M'Call was along, he was no more than a spectator. Several, yet living, can vouch for this. When the Brigade was organized west of the Yadkln, no officers from the south were recognized but Gen. Pickens and Maj. Jackson. For we had over our proportion of field officers from North Carolina, and did not need them. When our party and prisoners arrived in camp, the brigade immediately moved nearly a North course ten or twelve miles, and halted for forage, about mid-afternoon, at a farm with high fences, having left a strong guard in the rear. In half an hour, there was an alarm by a man from the guard, who reported "Tarleton was coming." It being too late to retreat, a disposition was made for battle by lining the fences with men, and making gaps at suitable places for cavalry to move as circumstances might require. By the time these arrangements were made a part of the rear guard and Col. Lee's legion moved in sight. Lee had come upon our trail a few miles back, and we were most agreeably disappointed in greeting him instead of Tarleton.
I am confident that this was the first interview between Lee and Pickens, during the campaign, and my impression always has been, that previous to this time neither Gen. Greene nor Col. Lee knew anything about where Pickens was, or what was his force; nor did Gen. Pickens know that any part of Greene's command had re-crossed the Dan.

4. As I anticipated in the introduction to the sketches I furnished you, the historians of that War have greatly failed to do justice to the troops of North Carolina, For example, everything that was done by Gen. Sumter's force at Hanging Rock, Rocky Mount, &c., while he commanded North Carolinians in 1780, and by that of Pickens, while he commanded Davidson's Brigade in 1781 as above related, is placed to the credit of South Carolina from the circumstances of the two Generals commanding. Judge Johnson even states that at the battle of Cowpens, Maj. Jo. McDowell and his command from Burke County in this State were from South Carolina.

5. Col. Lee having written his Memoirs upwards of thirty years, after the transactions he relates, has omitted to mention many things, and of others he must have forgotten the circumstances; though upon the whole, he is more correct as far as I had a personal knowledge, than any other historian I have read. You may recollect that in his memoirs he passes unnoticed the skirmish at Clapps Mill, although he had command of the party engaged. Col. Otho Williams calls it "the skirmish on the Alamance," and says we had but three killed. On the day after the action, Pickens and Lee detached me with a party to the battle ground, and I got the inhabitants to bury eight of our men (all militia, and two of my own company). I beg leave to refer you to what I have written before on this subject.

6. Johnson's History is the only one I have seen, which notices the fact that, on the second night after the affair at Clapp's Mill, on Alamance, a detachment of British cavalry fell in with a party of Tories on their march to join the British, and that mistaking each other for adversaries, a number of the Tories were killed or wounded, before the mistake was discovered. But he appears to know nothing of our party teazing the British in the afternoon: and at night charging and dispersing their patrol, and capturing its commander, and that these were the reasons why a large body of horse were dispatched up the Salisbury road, which met the Tories and occasioned the mishap he mentions. This you will find in the Sketches.

7. Lee states that at Pyle's defeat the action was commenced by the firing of the Tories on the Militia, in his rear. Whereas, the fact was that I riding in front of the Militia dragoons, near to Capt. Eggleston who brought up Lee's rear, at the distance of forty or fifty yards, pointed out to him, the strip of red cloth on the hats of Pyle's men, as the mark of Tories. Eggleston appeared to doubt this, until he came nearly opposite to the end of their line, when riding up to the man on their left, who appeared as an officer, he inquired, "Who do you belong to?" The answer was promptly given, "To King George," upon which Eggleston struck him on the head with his sword. Our dragoons well knew the red cloth on the hats to be the badge of Tories, but being under the immediate command of Lee, they had waited for orders. But seeing the example set by this officer, without waiting for further commands, they rushed upon them like a torrent. Lee's men, next to the rear, discovering this, reined in their horses to the right upon the Tory line, and in less than one minute the engagement was general. Col. Lee being in front, and at the other end of the line, say forty poles, from where the action commenced, might have believed the Tories first attacked us. If, however, he had inquired of Capt. Eggleston, he could have informed him otherwise.

As to other events, of which I have a personal knowledge there are misrepresentations, but it is not convenient for me to point out of all them.

I am, sir, very respectfully, 
Your most obedient,

The Hon. A. D. Murphey.