Friday, March 5, 2010

Battle of Hanging Rock 11

Part 11: Rousselet's Gallant Stand
Next: Stalemate

After the American militia charged the center camp, the Loyalists and Provincials on hand retreated to the south and west, taking their cannon with them. What happened next is not entirely clear because few American participants described the subsequent fighting [1] and British sources are mutually contradictory [2]. This much can be said with some certainty: During the retreat of the British, they continued to fire a cannon at the Americans. This gun was somewhat separate from the Provincials, and it was seized by a party of North Carolinians. A group of Provincials that had rallied then charged and retook the cannon. Another group, consisting of both Loyalists and Provincials, also attempted to rally, but they were dispersed by William Davie's dragoons.

The British Rally (two views; click to enlarge). A group of Provincials and Loyalists rallies in the open space south of the center camp, while a second group rallies on the edge of the woods. The British cannon is defended by Henry Rugeley's South Carolina Loyalist militia [3].

Joseph Graham of North Carolina described the seizure of the British cannon as follows:

"On the British retreat from their position after being forced from their camp on the right of their line they kept firing a three pounder. Captain James Knox of Mecklenburg, gave order to his men to load their guns, and when that piece fired the next time they would take it; on the discharge of the gun they started in full run, and before the artillerists could load got within forty steps and began to fire, the British retreated and Knox and party took the gun and turned her on their adversaries" [4].

Knox Has the Cannon (two views; click to enlarge). Knox's North Carolinians turn a cannon on the Provincials.

Knox’s seizure of the gun threatened to drive the British Provincials off the field of battle. At this moment of crisis, however, Captain John Rousselet of the British Legion, was able to rally his regiment. Fortunately for Rousselet and his men, Knox’s men did not know “how to manage or load” the cannon, although it was “in their possession several minutes” [5].

By standing their ground, these “gallant few gave time for a few of the scattered troops to rally and join the legion” [6]. Among the arrivals was the unengaged portion of the Prince of Wales’ American Regiment. They had by this time “recover[ed] from the consternation into which they had been thrown by the flight of Colonel Bryan, and they now joined [the Legion infantry] to defend the British encampment” [7].

Elements of the Royal North Carolina Regiment and Prince of Wales' American Regiment were added to the right of the British line [8], and the British then “came on with fixed bayonets and retook the gun" [9]. George Hanger claimed that when the British charged, John Rousselet accompanied them, and that "this officer, possessing happily not only valour, but also good conduct," did not permit the British to pursue the Americans "in a broken and irregular manner," but instead, "convinced of the advantage of the ground he had been attacked upon, he marched back and took possession of it again" [10].

Soon after this episode [11], William Davie managed to get his dragoons "collected and formed on the margin of the woods." However, he did not send his men into the open field to battle Rousselet and the British three-pounders. Instead, he set his sights on “a large body of the enemy, consisting of the legion infantry, Hamilton's regiment, and Tories... rallying, and formed on the opposite side of the British camp, near the wood." William Davie decided to attack this force with his dragoons, “lest they might be induced to take the Americans in flank.” To avoid the deadly open space, he “passed round the [center] camp under cover of the trees, and charged them with his company of dragoons.” As a result, the British “were routed and dispersed by a handful of men” [12].

Davie Charges Around the Camp (click to enlarge). Davie's dragoons charge through the woods, driving before them Loyalist militia and Provincial infantry.

Rousselet's Gallant Stand and Davie's Charge. As one group of Provincials holds off American attacks south of the center camp, a second group is routed by a charge of William Davie's dragoons.


1. Joseph Graham provided the clearest description. The accounts by William Davie and Thomas Sumter also provide invaluable insights, however, the latter two appeared to miss at least parts of this action. Of the other participants who wrote postwar narratives (these do not include pension applications), Richard Winn, William Hill, and Joseph Gaston were wounded elsewhere on the battlefield, and Joseph McJunkin was attending to the wounded and/or guarding prisoners.

2. Francis Rawdon, Banastre Tarleton, and George Hanger claimed that the British Legion was chiefly responsible for maintaining the resistance against the British during this period, while Charles Stedman, Roderick Mackenzie, and an anonymous officer of the Prince of Wales' American Regiment gave important roles to either the Royal North Carolina Regiment or the Prince of Wales' American Regiment.

A tentative resolution to these discrepant versions of events is as follows: The British Legion infantry was the first to rally after the center camp was lost and it was central to maintaining a British presence on the battlefield. After they rallied they were joined by other Provincials, and this combined force fought Sumter's men to a draw. Tarleton and Hanger were officers in the British Legion and their accounts probably reflect a certain degree of pro-British Legion partisanship (cf. Mackenzie). However, Rawdon observed that the British Legion infantry alone remained entirely on the battlefield after the action ended and that morale remained good among the Legion infantry, after it had fallen among the other British units fighting at Hanging Rock. Also, Stedman credited Captain John Rousselet of the Legion infantry with a special leadership role at around this point in the battle (cf. Hanger).

3. Braisted, ibid.

4. Graham, ibid.

5. Graham, ibid.

6. Hanger, ibid.

7. Tarleton, ibid.

8. Braisted, ibid.

9. Graham, ibid. It was perhaps at this time that, according to Mackenzie, ibid., that "Lieutenant [or Adjutant] Browne, of the North Carolinians... fell in a desperate charge, which the crisis of the action rendered inevitable."

10. Hanger, ibid.

11. Suggested by a comparison of Davie's and Graham's accounts. Davie seemingly missed the taking of the cannon and the subsequent British charge. His account states vaguely that “The remainder of a British line who had also made a movement, retreated hastily towards their former position.” This passage follows his description of the destruction of a detachment of the Prince of Wales' American Regiment, suggesting that his charge came subsequent to the charges by Knox and Rousselet.

12. Davie, ibid. As noted here and here, Davie's dragoons had scattered earlier in the battle.

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