Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Battle of Ramsour's Mill, 20 June 1780

Derick Ramsaur, who was among the first Germans (generally called Dutch [mistakenly for Deutsch]) emigrants to Tryon County, [North Carolina,] erected his mill prior to 1770 on the west bank of Clark's Creek, where the Morganton road bridge at Lincolnton now spans the stream. 
… After the battle of Alamance, Governor Tryon wrote the Secretary of State that the counties of Mecklenburg, Tryon, and western Rowan beyond the Yadkin River were contemplating hostilities and that he had sent General Wadell with the militia of those counties and some other troops to require the inhabitants to take the oath of allegiance. One of the points at which they were assembled for this purpose was Ramsaur's Mill.
—William A. Graham*
By mid-June of 1780, about 1300 Loyalist troops, under the commands of Lieutenant Colonel John Moore and Major Nicholas Welch, gathered at Ramsour's Mill near present-day Lincolnton, North Carolina. Colonel Charles McDowell was advised of their proximity and numbers. His brother Major Joseph McDowell, of Quaker Meadows, and cousin Captain Joseph McDowell, of Pleasant Gardens, were also on point regarding the situation. 
The friends of Britain in Tryon County were not confined to the Germans; there were probably as large a percent of the English Tories. Neither Moore nor Welch were German. Colonel Moore returned to the vicinity and appointed a meeting for June 10th at his father's (Moses Moore) residence on Indian Creek, seven miles from Ramsaur's. The place of the "Tory Camp" is still pointed out, and is on the Gaston side of the county line on the plantation which was owned by the late Captain John II Roberts. Forty men met him on that day. He delivered Lord Cornwallis' message, but before they dispersed a messenger informed them that Major Joseph McDowell [of Quaker Meadows] (who was one of the most ubiquitous officers of the North Carolina Patriot Militia during the Revolution) was in the neighborhood endeavoring to capture some of the men who were present. Moore, having a force double in number to that of McDowell, sought him and followed him to South Mountains, but did not overtake him. He then dismissed the men with directions to meet at Ramsaur's Mill on the 13th of the month.
—William A. Graham*
Colonel Charles McDowell dispatched Isaac Shelby and a number of his men to assist North Carolina militia from Mecklenburg, Tryon, and Rowan counties. Colonel Francis Locke led the approximately 400 patriot troops in their goal to dislodge Moore, Welch, and their troops. (General Rutherford, with Colonel William Davidson's infantry and Major Daire's cavalry, arrived from Charlotte too late to participate in the action.) The Loyalists had encamped at a strategically important position seated on a high ridge that sloped about 300 yards down to the mill on Clarke's Creek, and a similar distance to a creek branch at the bottom of the eastern slope.
Captain Joseph McDowell (of Pleasant Gardens) served as commander of one of Locke's companies. On 20 June 1780, he led the initial cavalry charge along Old Sherrill’s Ford Road which drove Moore's pickets back into their camp. Colonel Locke moved infantry into position in concert with the cavalry maneuver. 
The contest eventually became one of sharpshooting, as not much ground was gained in either direction. The patriots successfully picked off the enemy's officers one by one; the leaderless Loyalists eventually ceased firing and abandoned the ridge. As Locke's troops stood atop the ridge, a white flag was seen flying down by the far creek. About fifty prisoners were taken, those who had been unable to reach the bridge. Those who had successfully crossed, dispersed and escaped. 
The Battle of Ramsour's Mill exemplified the degree to which the summer's southern backcountry battles constituted civil war. Not a single British soldier or officer was present. Neither was there any regular army from either side. It was a battle of Patriot militia versus Loyalist militia. They were locals, for the most part, and many were related by blood and/or marriage.
*William A. Graham, The Battle of Ramsaur's Mill, June 20, 1780; booklet, volume 4, published 1904, E.M. Uzell, Printers; Raleigh, North Carolina