Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Hanging Rock Battlefield - Part 5

Final Thoughts

The site I proposed for the British camps at Hanging Rock is a good match with participant accounts and military exigency -- more so, I believe, than other locales linked to the battle (cf. here and here). However, a caveat is in order. I have not hunted down every scrap of information on the battle of Hanging Rock. There are at least two important omissions of which I'm aware. One is that I have not read the so-called Sumter Papers [see Note 1], with the exception of an account by Joseph McJunkin that has been reproduced elsewhere. From what I know of the Sumter Papers, the accounts are primarily a good place to learn of memorable incidents involving particular individuals. (This has also been my experience reading transcribed pension applications). It would be good to know whether such accounts support the views I've adopted, but because the accounts I have read and will be using are especially likely to be trustworthy, I'm not sure that I would allow statements in the Sumter papers to "overrule" them if they offer a contradictory recollection.

The other concerns the activities of relic hunters in the area. I'm aware that artifacts that seem to date to the 18th Century (see here) have been found on or near the Battlefield Property. Do such findings prove that my description of the battlefield is incorrect? I don't believe so.

First, the area was not only the site of a military encampment in the summer of 1780, it was also used on a number of other occasions (including as recently as the Civil War) as a military encampment. The defensive alignment necessary in the summer of 1780 was not required on the other instances. Thus, some of the those other encampments could well have been nearer the Hanging Rock.

Second, the Hanging Rock was a well-known curiosity, and soldiers in the area would have visited it even when they were encamped elsewhere [see Note 2]. Likewise, civilians passing through the area (like Benjamin Lossing) were drawn to this spot. Because the rock formation lies on the far side of a ravine, it's not difficult to imagine that various persons would have left small items behind as they negotiated the difficult terrain.

Third, natural processes and human activity have removed from the environment most of the debris from Revolutionary War battles. While there are still relics to be found, what is left may not provide a clear picture of past events. This problem is well illustrated by a recent survey of the Eutaw Springs battlefield [see Note 3].


1. These are not Thomas Sumter's papers, but rather interviews with some of Sumter's men and other historians' notes gathered many years later.

2. Benjamin Lossing heard that some Provincials slept under the Hanging Rock the night before the battle; in my account, the closest troops were those of the Prince of Wales' American Regiment. Particularly striking is the account North Carolina militiaman Guilford Dudley gave of his retreat from the battle of Camden. As he rode north, along the Camden Road, he "at last gained the spot which I deemed to be in the immediate vicinity of the Hanging Rock." Although fleeing Tarleton's dragoons, he began "casting my eye on the right and left and in front, to see if I could discover the noted mass, called the 'Hanging Rock,' of which I had heard so much." (Unfortunately for Dudley, the rock formation could not be seen from the Camden Road).

3. Described in this issue (.pdf) of Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution (see page 35).

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