Friday, January 8, 2010

The Hanging Rock Battlefield - Part 2

Was the Battle of Hanging Rock Fought on the Hanging Rock Battlefield Property?

Although I recently raised the question of where the battle of Hanging Rock was fought, the site is presumably known. Today, the Hanging Rock battleground is public property, and visitors to the site can visit the eponymous rock formation and walk over the (alleged) battlefield.

Site of the Hanging Rock Battleground Property, as shown in Google Maps. (Click to enlarge).

A nomination form filed by the State of South Carolina for the National Register of Historic Places filed on December 31, 1974, described the battlefield and the events that took place there. The nomination form reads in part:

“The property nominated for Hanging Rock Historic Site includes the high ground around Hanging Rock, a portion of Hanging Rock Creek, and the plateau to the west of the creek that centers around county road 58. Hanging Rock itself, near which General Sumter’s men left their horses before going into battle, is east of the creek on a high bluff. The whole area on the east side of the creek is strewn with huge, rounded boulders and is heavily wooded with steep banks. To the west of the creek, the ground rises sharply and reaches a plateau, where the British and Tories camped. Bryan’s Tories were camped to the north, the British Legion troops immediately to the south, and Major Bryan’s [sic] troops south of the Legion. This plateau was partly wooded and partly open fields, some of which are still visible along road 58. On the extreme south end of the nominated property, along road 58, are several houses and the Mt. Zion Church and cemetery."

“North of Hanging Rock, on Hanging Rock Creek immediately above the county road bridge, is an old Indian ford. Large flat boulders in the creek bed connect the two banks at this point."

“The British garrison was held by 1,400 men under the command of Major Carden of the Prince of Wales Regiment. They were encamped on the west side of the creek, on high ground protected by a deep ravine formed by the creek. The British units lay in three divisions, from north to south along the ridge: about 900 Tories under Colonel Samuel Bryan on a hill south of Hanging Rock Creek, (separated from the center by a ravine and a band of woods; about 160 of Colonel Tarleton’s Legion and Hamilton’s Regiment in some houses at the center; and the British regulars under Colonel Brown in open ground to the south."

Bryan's "Tories" are North Carolina Loyalist militia, "Tarleton's Legion" are the British Legion infantry, "Hamilton's Regiment" is the Royal North Carolina Regiment, and "the British regulars under Colonel Brown" is the Prince of Wales' American Regiment. The map below illustrates the location attributed to these units. Bryan's North Carolina volunteers are represented by the uppermost red square, the Legion infantry and the Royal North Carolina Regiment are represented by the middle square, and the PoWAR is represented by the lower square.

British Dispositions at Hanging Rock, according to the State of South Carolina (click to enlarge).

Sumter's men were encamped in the lands of the Catawba Nation, miles to the northwest of the British encampment. A force moving to attack Hanging Rock would most likely advance from the north along the Flat Rock (then Camden) Road, running north to south through the middle of the map.

The disposition of British troops described here seems peculiar on several counts: 1) The least-experience troops, Samuel Bryan's North Carolina Volunteers, were placed in the position closest to the enemy, 2) none of the camps were well positioned to dispute a crossing of Hanging Rock Creek along the Camden Road, 3) the principle strength of the position lay on its eastern side, where a steep slope ran down to the creek, not facing the Americans to the north.

The nomination form describes the beginning of the battle as follows:

“Sumter’s surprise attack began at six o’clock, the men advancing across the creek against Bryan’s Tory militia. Sumter meant to attack the entire British line, but misjudged; the American units met instead the northern end of the British line. Within half an hour the Americans had taken the Tory camp, sending the Tories fleeing through the woods into the center of the British line."

Although Sumter's men presumably would have approached from the north along the Camden Road, this version of events indicates that they swung away from the road so as to approach the British post from the east (and towards its main strength).

The account places Sumter's brigade in the immediate vicinity of Hanging Rock at the start of the battle. On the other side of Hanging Rock Creek were two hills. On the northern hill was Samuel Bryan's North Carolina Volunteers. On the southern hill was the infantry of the British Legion and the Royal North Carolina Regiment. (The Prince of Wales' American Regiment was encamped further to the south). Sumter intended to attack the two camps closest to him simultaneously. Although the two camps were a short distance away, an error was allegedly made in crossing the creek, causing all of the troops to become engaged with Bryan's camp.

So far I have given a number of reasons why this description of the site of the fighting is improbable. However, I recognize that there could be good reasons (just not obvious ones), as to why events unfolded in this manner. A better way of assessing the validity of this account is to compare it against the 10 statements about the Hanging Rock battlefield I listed previously.

In this post, and in two upcoming posts, I will measure the validity of an account of the Hanging Rock battlefield using these 10 statements. In making this assessment, I will determine for each statement whether it is consistent with the alleged battle site. If the site and statement are consistent, I will award 2 points to the account. Each time the site and statement may be consistent, but there is some ambiguity, I will award 1 point to the account. Each time the site and statement are inconsistent, I will award 0 points to the account. In this manner, the claimed site of the fighting can earn between 0 and 20 points.

Here is the scoring for the site of the battlefield as described in this nomination form:

1) The three camps were on elevations. 2 points.

2) Colonel Samuel Bryan and his North Carolina volunteers were encamped on the right of the British position. 0 points. This account has the British facing eastward, with Bryan on the left of the line.

3) Bryan's men were encamped on a steeply-sloped hill bordering a creek. 2 points.

4) Bryan's men were encamped south and west of Hanging Rock Creek, near the "Hanging Rock." 2 points.

5) The hill on which Bryan was encamped curved in one place at nearly a 90-degree angle. 1 point. The hill does not obviously have this property; but who can tell what the terrain looked like at ground level in 1780?

6) To the left of Bryan's position there was a swampy patch of ground. 2 points. Swamp symbols appear to the left of Bryan along the banks of Hanging Rock Creek.

7) Bryan's camp was about 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the center camp. 2 points. The distance is about .28 miles.

8) The Provincials were encamped, in part, on or near "Cole's Old Field." 1 point. This field was likely nearer the road than the hill along the creek.

9) The Provincials were encamped on or near the Camden Road. 1 point. The center camp is not placed on the road, but on a hill bordering the creek. The account does have the Prince of Wales' American Regiment on the road, albeit to the south near modern-day Mount Zion Church.

10) More than 1/4 mile separated the center camp from the left camp. 2 points. In this case, the "left" camp is that of the Prince of Wales' American Regiment. They are located more than 1/4 mile from the center camp. The nomination form claims that during the battle "The British retreated further south to Colonel Robinson’s camp [i.e., the third camp], but Sumter moved in and took two-thirds of that camp also." This statement is broadly inconsistent with participant accounts.

Total Score: 15 points (75%).

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