Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Battle of Hill's Ironworks 2

Part 2: A Center of Resistance

The British Post at Rocky Mount:

Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull commanded the British outpost at Rocky Mount, South Carolina, with his New York Volunteers and Captain Christian Huck‘s company of British Legion dragoons [see Note 1]. The South Carolina Backcountry was a patchwork of different communities, some predominately aligned with the “American“ cause, or “Whigs,” while others were loyal to the Crown, or “Tories.” Within a given community could be found persons that preferred to stay out of the conflict or that supported (secretly perhaps) a different cause than their neighbors. It was Turnbull's responsibility to organize and support the Loyalists in his area and to suppress rebellion. Turnbull largely remained in Rocky Mount, relying chiefly on Captain Huck and the Loyalist militia (who, like the dragoons, were mounted) to control the countryside.

Turnbull had several bands of Loyalist militia at his disposal in early June, including companies commanded by Henry Houseman, James Ferguson, and John Owens. On June 15, Matthew Floyd joined the Rocky Mount garrison with around 30 men. Floyd was the rare man that was clearly committed to the Crown, influential among his neighbors, and experienced in war. Turnbull promptly gave him a colonel’s commission.

Soon after Floyd reached Rocky Mount, word arrived that the Americans were destroying the homes and property of Floyd and his men. Turnbull promptly dispatched Huck’s troop and all the Loyalists on hand (a mere 60 men) “to give these fellows [the Americans] a Check.” Either because of exhaustion or other pressing business, the newly-appointed Colonel Floyd did not participate in this mission. Instead, command of the Loyalists devolved on his son, Captain Abraham Floyd. Captains Huck and Floyd set off on the morning of June 16. They would "Check" the Americans by destroying Hill’s Ironworks, the chief center of American resistance in the area.

Hill’s Ironworks:

William Hill’s Ironworks was a well-known locale that included sawmills, a gristmill, and a blast furnace. The ironworks was the most productive in the state, supplying Backcountry settlers with plows, kitchen wares, and other implements. Once the war began, the ironworks were used to manufacture cannon, cannonballs, rifles, and other materials of war for the American army. As the British overran the Backcountry, proprietor William Hill turned the ironworks into an important center of resistance. On June 12, Hill spoke out against a British officer sent to the ironworks to take the submission of the area settlers, raising the spirits of his neighbors. Hill then encouraged them to reactivate the New Acquisition militia regiment, which had disbanded after the British advanced into the Backcountry. The men of this regiment then elected Andrew Neal as their colonel and William Hill as their lieutenant colonel [see Note 2].

American Forces at the Ironworks:

It is uncertain which American commanded the forces at the ironworks when Huck attack and what units were present. According to William Hill, Andrew Neal, colonel of the New Acquisition militia regiment, departed the ironworks to attack Floyd shortly before the battle, leaving 12-15 men behind. These men may have belonged to Captain Joseph Howe's company, to judge from the pension applications filed by Samuel Gordon and James Clinton. Two sources link John Thomas’ 1st Spartan militia regiment (see pension applications of Samuel Gordon and James McIlhenny) and Captain John Moffett’s company of militia (see James Collins’ autobiography and Robert Patteson’s pension application) to the battle.

William Hill did not indicate, in his memoir, either that he accompanied Neal's mission to stop Floyd's Loyalists, or that he was at the ironworks at the time of the battle. Michael Scoggins observed that a statement he wrote on behalf of Captain John Henderson implicitly places him at the battle. If Hill was present, he was arguably in command; Colonel John Thomas also could have held that position.

Christian Huck told George Turnbull that the Americans had 150 men when he made his attack. This number could be close to correct, but it's doubtful that he had either the opportunity to count the Americans for himself or that he would have obtained accurate information from the men he captured. Michael Scoggins conservatively accepted as present only the 12-15 men mentioned by Hill; Patrick O'Kelley estimated the total as 50 men.


1: “Huck” is the anglicized spelling of a German surname, most likely Houck or Hauck. Early writers sometimes called him Hook, or used other spellings; Huck is the spelling most often given, and it is the spelling that Huck chose for himself (for more, see this discussion on Marg Baskin’s Banastre Tarleton website; a longer biography appears in Michael Scoggins’ book on Huck‘s Defeat).

2. Neal was chosen colonel because he was experienced in war; Hill was not.


Michael C. Scoggins. (2005). The Day It Rained Militia: Huck's Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780. (link to

Patrick O'Kelley. Hill's Iron Works, South Carolina: The Presbyterian Rebellion -- 18 June 1780 (or June 9th or 11th) (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 6 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

Michael C. Scoggins. More on the Battle of Hill's Ironworks (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 7 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

Keith Krawczynski. Aera Ironworks (.pdf file). Article in Volume 2, Number 7 of the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine.

James Collins. (1859). Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier.

Robert S. Lambert. (1987). South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution. (link to

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Samuel Gordon (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of James Clinton (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the postwar memoir of William Hill (.pdf file)

Michael G. Williams transcribed the pension application of James McIlhenny (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Robert Patteson (.pdf file).

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