Monday, January 11, 2010

The Hanging Rock Battlefield - Part 3

The "Fish Hatchery" Hypothesis

As noted previously, there is some uncertainty about the site of the August 6, 1780, battle of Hanging Rock, South Carolina, and the Hanging Rock Battlefield Property may not be the site of the actual fighting. Mills' 1825 Atlas of the State of South Carolina places the fighting near a present-day fish hatchery on Hanging Rock Creek, and John A. Robertson et al.'s Global Gazetteer of the American Revolution places Samuel Bryan's camp in this vicinity as well. The map below shows the approximate positions indicated for the British camps. (See this post for the meaning of the numbers). The pink square with the number 2 shows the approximate site of the fighting per Mills' atlas; presumably this specifically indicates Bryan's camp. The pink square below it shows the site of Bryan's camp according to the Global Gazetteer. The two red squares correspond (if I'm interpreting the Gazetteer website correctly) with the other two camps.

Objective Assessment

Below I indicate how well this placement of the battlefield does on the scoring system I developed.

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 camps facing roughly northeast, 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. In this case, Bryan's camp was between 1.3 and 1.5 miles away from Hanging Rock. That may seem to be stretching the definition of near, but then again, the Cowpens battlefield was named after a locale 2 miles distant.

5) The hill on which Bryan was encamped curved in one place at nearly a 90-degree angle. 1 point. Neither of the possible hills 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. 0 points. This is clearly not true for the uppermost hill, where Hanging Rock Creek runs through a steeply-sided ravine. Not impossible is that a stream running across the lower hill had this property in 1780, but the ground seems to have a fairly steep slope in this area also.

7) Bryan's camp was about 1/4 to 1/2 mile from the center camp. 0 points. For the uppermost hill, the distance is about 1 mile; for the lowermost hill, the distance is about .7 miles.

8) The Provincials were encamped, in part, on or near "Cole's Old Field." 2 points.

9) The Provincials were encamped on or near the Camden Road. 2 points.

10) More than 1/4 mile separated the center camp from the left camp. 2 points.

Total Score: 13 points (65%).

Notably, this placement of the British camps would score just as well as the Battlefield Property interpretation if only the center camp were moved a bit further north along the Camden Road (cf. Item #7 in the 10-item list).

Subjective Assessment

This view of the position of the British camps does not score particularly well on the rating scale I developed, but it does have some strong features worthy of consideration. The Battlefield Property interpretation places the British in a relatively weak position. The British post was designed to defend the point where Camden Road crossed Hanging Rock Creek, but none of the camps are well positioned to do so, and the alleged orientation of the camps (facing eastward) leaves the point closest to the enemy, the northern flank of the line, vulnerable to attack. Worse, the least trained troops (the Loyalist militia) were placed on that exposed flank.

The "Fish Hatchery" hypothesis, entails a militarily stronger position. The British camps do not exactly face northward, but the Provincials are at least in a better position to defend the creek crossing, and the Loyalist militia are in a less vulnerable position.

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