Battle of Hanging Rock

“Catawba’s waters smiled again To see her Sumter’s soul in arms! And issuing from each glade and glen, Rekindled by war’s fierce alarms, Thronged hundreds through the solitude Of the wild forests, to the call Of him whose spirit, unsubdued, Fresh impulse gave to each, to all.”

On the 5th of August, 1780, the detachments of the patriots met again at Land’s Ford, on the Catawba. Major Davie had not lost a single man in his last dashing exploit. The North Carolina militia, under Colonel Irwin and Major Davie, numbered about five hundred men, officers and privates; and about three hundred South Carolinians under Colonels Sumter, Lacey and Hill. The chief command was conferred upon Colonel Sumter, as being the senior officer. Early in the morning, Colonel Sumter marched cautiously, and approached the British camp in three divisions, with the intention of falling upon the main body stationed at Cole’s Old Field. The right was composed of Major Davie’s corps, and some volunteers, under Major Bryan; the center, of the Mecklenburg militia, under Colonel Irwin; and the left, of South Carolina refugees, under Colonel Hill. General Sumter proposed that the detachments should approach in their divisions, march directly to the centre encampments, then dismount, and each division attack its camp. This plan was approved by all except Major Davie, who insisted on leaving their horses at their present position, and march to the attack on foot. He urged, as an objection against the former plan, the confusion always consequent upon dismounting under fire, and the certainty of losing the effect of a sudden and vigorous attack. He was, however, over-ruled, but the sequel proved he was right in his opinion. Through the error of his guides, Sumter came first upon Bryan’s corps, on the western bank of the creek, half a mile from the British camp. Colonel Irwin’s Mecklenburg militia, commenced the attack. The Tories soon yielded, and fled toward the main body, many of them throwing away their arms without discharging them. These the patriots secured; and, pursuing this advantage, Sumter next fell upon Brown’s corps, which, by being concealed in a wood, poured in a heavy fire upon the Americans. The latter also quickly availed themselves of the trees and bushes, and returned the British fire with deadly effect. The American riflemen, taking deliberate aim, soon cut off all of Brown’s officers and many of his soldiers; and at length, after a fierce conflict, his corps yielded, and dispersed in confusion. The arms and ammunition procured from the enemy 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 too freely of the liquor found there. 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 Major Davie’s cavalry, could be brought into immediate action. Colonel Sumter, however, was not to be foiled. With his small number of patriots he rushed forward, with a shout, 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 for a while the contest was severe. At length, just as the British line was yielding, a reinforcement under Captains Stewart and McDonald, of Tarleton’s Legion, made their appearance, and their number being magnified, Colonel Sumter deemed it prudent to retreat.

All this was done about mid-day, but the enemy had been so severely handled that they did not attempt a pursuit. A small party appeared upon the Camden road, but were soon dispersed by Davie’s cavalry. Could Sumter have brought all of his forces into action in this last attack, the rout of the British would have been complete. As it was,

“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!”

This 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 killed were the brave Colonel McLure (lately promoted to that rank), of South Carolina, and Captain Reid, of North Carolina; Colonel Hill, Captain Craighead, Major Winn, Lieutenants Crawford and Fletcher, and Ensign McLure were wounded.

Colonel McLure, being mortally wounded, was conveyed under the charge of Davie’s cavalry to Charlotte. He lingered until the 18th of August, on which day he died in Liberty Hall Academy. “Of the many brave men,” said General Davie, “with whom it was my fortune to become acquainted in the army, he was one of the bravest; and when he fell we looked upon his loss as incalculable.”

The British loss was much greater than that of the Americans, sixty-two of Tarleton’s Legion were killed and wounded. Bryan’s regiment of Loyalists also suffered severely.

Major Davie’s corps suffered much while tying their horses and forming into line under a heavy fire from the enemy, a measure which he had reprobated in the council when deciding on the mode of attack.

Having conveyed his wounded to a hospital in Charlotte, which his foresight had provided, Major Davie hastened to the general rendezvous at Rugely’s Mill, under General Gates. On the 16th of August, while on his way to unite his forces with those of General Gates, he met a soldier in great speed, about ten miles from Camden. He arrested him as a deserter, but soon learned from him that Gates was signally defeated by the British on that day.

Major Davie then retraced his steps and took post at Charlotte. On the 5th of September, he was appointed by Governor Nash, Colonel Commandant of Cavalry, with instructions to raise a regiment. He succeeded in raising only a part, and with two small companies, commanded by Major George Davidson, he took post at Providence.

On the 21st day of September, Colonel Davie attacked a body of Tories at the plantation of Captain Wahab (now written Walkup), in the southwestern corner of Union county (then a part of Mecklenburg), killed fifteen or twenty of their men, wounded about forty, and retreated in good order without any loss. In this dashing exploit, Davie brought off ninety-six horses, one hundred and twenty stands of arms, and reached his camp the same evening, after riding sixty miles in less than twenty-four hours.

Generals Sumner and Davidson, with their brigades of militia, reached his camp in Providence on the same evening. On the advance of the British army these officers retreated by way of Phifer’s to Salisbury, ordering Colonel Davie, with about one hundred and fifty men, and some volunteers under Major Joseph Graham, to hover around the approaching enemy, annoy his foraging parties, and skirmish with his light troops.

On the night of the 25th of September, Colonel Davie entered the town of Charlotte, determined to give the British army, which lay a few miles from that place, a “hornets-like reception”. The brilliancy and patriotic spirit of that skirmish was appropriately displayed on the very ground which, in May, 1775, was the birth-place American independence. (See “Skirmish at Charlotte.”)

On the next day, Colonel Davie joined the army at Salisbury, where the men and officers to raise new recruits had assembled. Generals Davidson and Sumner continued their retreat beyond the Yadkin River, while Colonel Davie returned to Charlotte, around which place the activity of his movements, dashing adventures, and perfect knowledge of the country, rendered him extremely useful in checking the incursions of the enemy, repressing the Tories and encouraging the friends of liberty.

Lord Cornwallis sorely felt the difficulties with which his position at Charlotte was surrounded, and, on hearing of the defeat and death of Colonel Ferguson, one of his favorite officers, he left that town late on the evening of the 14th of October, in great precipitation, recrossed the Catawba at Land’s Ford, and took position, for a few months, at Winnsboro, S.C.

The signal defeat of the British and Tories at King’s Mountain–the conspicuous turning point of success in the American Revolution, and the retreat of Cornwallis, after his previous boast of soon having North Carolina under royal subjection, greatly revived the hopes of the patriots throughout the entire South.

General Smallwood, of Maryland, who had accompanied General Gates to the South, had his headquarters at Providence, and, in a short time, several thousand militia, under Generals Davidson, Sumner, and Jones, joined his camp. Colonel Davie, with three hundred mounted infantry, occupied an advanced post at Land’s Ford.

When General Greene took command of the Southern Army in December, 1780, he and Colonel Davie met for the first time. The Commissary Department having become vacant by the resignation of Colonel Thomas Polk, General Greene prevailed upon Colonel Davie to accept this troublesome and important office. Although the duties of the office would prevent him from displaying that dashing patriotism so congenial to his chivalric spirit, yet he agreed to enter upon its arduous and unthankful responsibilities.

Colonel Davie accompanied General Greene in his rapid retreat from the Catawba to the Dan River. He was present at the battle of Guilford, in March, 1781; at Hobkirk’s Hill, in April; at the evacuation of Camden, in May; and at the siege of Ninety-six, in June.

The war, having ended, Colonel Davie retired to private life and his professional pursuits. He took his first circuit in February, 1783, and near this time he married Sarah, eldest daughter of General Allen Jones, of Northampton county, and located himself at Halifax Courthouse, where he soon rose to the highest eminence in his profession.

Colonel Davie was a member of the Convention which met at Philadelphia, in May, 1787, to form the Federal Constitution. The late Judge Murphy, in speaking of Colonel Davie, bears this honorable testimony to his abilities:

“I was present in the House of Commons, when Davie addressed that body (in 1789,) for a loan of money to erect the buildings of the University, and, although more than thirty years have elapsed, I have the most vivid recollections of the greatness of his manner and the power of his eloquence upon that occasion. In the House of Commons he had no rival, and on all questions before that body his eloquence was irresistible.”

In December, 1798, he was elected Governor of the State. After fulfilling other important National and State trusts, and losing his estimable wife in 1803, Colonel Davie, under the increasing infirmities of old age, sought retirement. In 1805 he removed to Tivoli, his country seat, near Land’s Ford, in South Carolina, where he died, in 1820, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. He had six children:

  1. Hyder Ali, who married Elizabeth Jones, of Northampton county, N.C.
  2. Sarah Jones, who married William F. Desaussure, of Columbia, S.C.
  3. Mary Haynes.
  4. Martha.
  5. Rebecca.
  6. Frederick William.

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