Surprise at McIntyre’s or the Hornets at Work

After the British army had been in Charlotte about a week, and having, in the meantime, consumed the most of their forage and provisions, Lord Cornwallis was placed under the necessity of procuring a fresh supply. He had already experienced something of the “stinging” propensities of the “hornets” with which he was surrounded, and the fatalities of their attacks upon his sentries near his camp. In order to meet the emergency of his situation, he ordered out on the 3d day of October, 1780, a strong foraging party, under Major Doyle, consisting of four hundred and fifty infantry, sixty cavalry, and about forty wagons, who proceeded up the road leading from Charlotte to Beattie’s Ford, on the Catawba river, intending to draw their supplies from the fertile plantations on Long Creek.

Captain James Thompson, and thirteen others who lived in that neighborhood, anticipating the necessity the British would be under to forage, had early in the morning assembled at Mitchell’s mill, (now Frazier’s) three miles from Charlotte, at which farm the corn was pulled–at most other places it was standing in the field. Captain Thompson and his men were expert riflemen, and well acquainted with every place in the vicinity. At this place they lay concealed about an hour, when they heard the wagons and Doyle’s party passing by them and up the main road. As soon as the party had passed about half a mile, Captain Thompson and his brave followers started through the wood, and kept parallel with Doyle’s party, and “almost in sight”, reconnoitering the movements of the enemy until they reached McIntyre’s farm, seven miles from Charlotte. A boy plowing by the road-side, upon seeing the British soldiers pass by him, quickly mounted his horse, dashed through the nearest by-paths, and barely had time to warn the intervening families of the approach of the “red coats.” After the foraging party reached McIntyre’s, they left a part of their men and wagons to lay in supplies, while the other part passed on under Doyle with the expectation of proceeding two or three miles further. For this reason, Doyle was not “numbered with the slain” in place of his second in command.

Thompson’s party, finding some were halted at this place, moved directly towards the thicket down the spring branch, about two hundred yards from the house. The point of a rocky ridge, covered with bushes, passed obliquely from the road to the spring, and within fifty yards of the house which sheltered them from the view or fire of the enemy. They formed into a line about ten feet apart, and advanced silently to their intended positions. The British were soon engaged in their work of plunder; some were at the barn throwing down oats for the wagons, others were running after the chickens, ducks and pigs, while a third party were robbing the dwelling house, the inmates having previously fled out of danger. The soldiery, assisted by the dogs in chasing the poultry, had knocked over some bee-hives ranged along the garden fence. The enraged insects dashed after the men, and at once the scene became one of uproar, confusion and lively excitement. The officer in command, a portly, florid Englishman, laughed heartily at the gestures and outcries of the routed soldiers. The attention of the guard was drawn to this single point, while, at a distance in the fields, the wagons were seen slowly approaching with their cumbrous loads.

The owner of the plantation had cautiously approached, under cover, within gun-shot of his house; the rest of the party, his neighbors, with equal care, advanced sufficiently near for the sure action of their rifles. The distress and anger of the patriots were raised to the highest pitch when they saw the reckless merriment of their enemies, and the fruits of their industry thus suddenly withdrawn. Their feelings could now be no longer restrained while they were anxious to try the effects of their trusty rifles. “Boys,” cried one of the sturdy farmers, “I can’t stand this any longer–I’ll take the captain–each one of you choose his man, and look out for yourselves.”

These words were scarcely uttered in a suppressed tone, when the sight of his unerring rifle was drawn upon the expanded breast of the portly Englishman, who suddenly fell prostrate from the doorposts between which he was standing.

In two instances, where two of the patriots were firing at the same man, and seeing him fall, the second one had to quickly change from his “sighted object” and seek another. A sentinel placed near the spot to which they had advanced, appeared to be alarmed, although he had not seen them, probably thinking of the fate of others in his situation around the camp of Cornwallis in Charlotte. Nor were his fears unduly excited.

Captain Thompson, at the distance of seventy or seventy-five yards, killed him instantly, when his companions, with a precision of aim equally fatal, laid low on the earth his respective foe. To Captain Thompson is also ascribed the honor of mortally wounding the commanding officer, when he was standing near the barn door. He was conveyed to Charlotte, with several others in similar condition, in one of the foraging wagons, and died of the wound received, at the house of Samuel McCombs, two days after. When the smoke rose, after the first discharge of the rifles, the commander, nine men and two horses lay dead or wounded on the ground. The trumpets immediately sounded a recall. But by the time the scattered dragoons had collected and formed, a straggling fire from a different direction, into which the patriots had extended, showed the unerring aim of each American marksman, and greatly increased the confusion of the surprise. Perfectly acquainted with every foot of the grounds, the patriots constantly changed their position, giving in their fire as they loaded, so that it appeared to the British they were surrounded by a large force. When that portion of Doyle’s command who had proceeded forward to forage upon other farms heard the firing, they immediately returned to the assistance of his party at McIntyre’s branch. Every preparation for defense, attack and retreat was made by the Americans. The alternate hilly and swampy grounds and thickets, with woods on both sides of the public road, baffled the efficient action of the British dragoons. Some dismounted, while others called out to “set on the hounds” against a foe scarcely visible, except from their deadly effects. The dogs, at first, seemed to take the track, and were followed by the soldiers. The foremost hound approached very near one of the patriots who had just discharged his rifle, and was in full retreat after his companions; but as soon as the hound came near with open mouth, he was shot dead by a pistol drawn from the breast of the rifleman. The next hound stopped at the dead body, and, after smelling it, gave a whining howl, and the whole pack retreated from the contest.

A considerable number of the dragoons were killed. The leading horses in the wagons were killed before they could ascend the hill, thus blocking up the road. Many of the soldiers in charge of the wagons cut loose some of the uninjured animals, and galloped after their retreating comrades. The precise loss of the British is not known. It is believed, however, from reliable tradition, that they had at least twenty killed and “a few” wounded.

That a British detachment of four hundred and fifty infantry and sixty cavalry should be compelled to desist from a foraging expedition and return to Charlotte with only a small amount of provisions and a considerable loss of their number by a handful of patriots, well exemplifies the vigilance, pertinacity and courage of the “hornets” of Mecklenburg in endeavoring to protect their homes, and repel the invaders of their soil.

The country people, early advised of the advance of the foraging party, mounted their horses, rifle in hand, from every direction; and, occupying well protected positions along the main road, also faithfully endeavored to diminish the number of his Majesty’s forces, and hastened the retreat of the British into Charlotte, the survivors swearing after their arrival that “every bush along the road concealed a rebel.”

The names of this gallant band of patriots, of “Hornets’ Nest” notoriety, were: 1. James Thompson, captain; 2. Francis Bradley; 3. George Graham; 4. James Henry; 5. Thomas Dickson; 6. John Dickson; 7. George Houston; 8. Hugh Houston; 9. Thomas McLure; 10. John Long; 11. John Robinson; 12. George Shipley; 13. Edward Shipley.

Remarks.–Tradition says Francis Bradley was a large and very strong man, and a “terror” to the British as well as the Tories. The British officers were extremely anxious to take him as a prisoner, for his activity in harassing their scouts and foraging parties, and more particularly for the fatal aim of his rifle in “picking off” their sentries while their army was encamped at Charlotte. The rifle he carried for six years during the Revolution, and which did such “telling” execution, was the property of Major John Davidson (now in possession of one of his grandsons,) who, being a staff officer, could not make it perform, as it should, its death-dealing mission upon the enemies of his country. About three weeks after the gallant affair at McIntyre’s Branch, Bradley was attacked, overpowered and killed by four lurking and base-hearted Tories (said not to be natives of the county). His mortal remains now repose in the graveyard at Hopewell Church, where also sleep many of his illustrious compatriots in arms. On his gravestone are sculptured two drawn and crossed swords, and beneath them the motto, “Arma Libertatis”. The inscription reads thus:

“In memory of FRANCIS BRADLEY, A friend of his country, and privately slain by the enemy of his country, November 14th, 1780, aged 37 years.”

The two Dicksons moved to Tennessee; the two Houstons and McLure moved to Kentucky; Robinson settled on Crowder’s Creek, Gaston county.

Doyle, the British commander, before the close of the war was made a Colonel, and afterward a Brigadier-General. In 1816 he was styled Sir John Doyle, and Governor of the Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark, on the coast of France. Surely, it could not have been for his gallant behavior at McIntyre’s he acquired such honor and promotion!

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