Friday, March 19, 2010

Battle of Hanging Rock 13

Part 13: Reinforcement and Retreat
Previous: Stalemate

The final British bayonet charge and the withdrawal to the center of the open area effectively brought the battle of Hanging Rock to an end. Nevertheless, the British remained apprehensive about another American attack. According to Charles Stedman, the outcome remained "doubtful," until:

"the appearance of a reinforcement changed entirely the fortune of the day. This reinforcement consisted of forty mounted infantry of the Legion who were returning from Rocky Mount: But the captains [Patrick] Stewart and [Charles] MacDonald, who commanded it, by ordering the men to extend their files, gave it the appearance of a formidable detachment. The bugle horns were directed to sound a charge: And the Americans, already kept at bay, were now fearful of being overpowered" [1].

Reinforcement. While the American militia plunder the center camp, the Provincials holding the open area receive an unexpected reinforcement.

Mounted Infantry Arrive (click to enlarge). Two companies of mounted Legion infantry advance up the Camden Road towards the Americans. The Provincials are in square formation.

William Davie and was dragoons "were returning towards the centre," after driving off a number of Provincials and Loyalist militia, when they saw that Stewart's and MacDonald's companies had "advanced up in the Camden road." Davie turned his men around and charged. The British "took the woods in flight, and one only was outdone" [2].

Davie's Final Charge (click to enlarge). The American dragoons send the mounted Legion infantry into the woods.

This repulse would seem to be the end of the affair, except that these green-jacketed mounted infantry were mistaken for the vanguard of Tarleton's dreaded British Legion dragoons [3]. According to Joseph McJunkin, Sumter remarked, "Boys, it is not good to pursue a victory too far," and began pulling his troops back [4]. A number of American participants and British commentators referred to this reinforcement as the cause of the American retreat [5].

Before the retreat was effected, "about an hour" was spent "plundering the [center] camp, taking the parole of the British officers, and preparing litters for the wounded" [6]. According to William Davie, "All this was done in full view of the British army, who consoled themselves with some military music [7] and an interlude of three cheers for King George" [8]. Hearing this, Sumter called out, "'Boys, can't you raise a whoop of victory?' Then the air was rent with the cry of victory" [9].

Plundering the British Camp (click to enlarge). The Americans raid the British Commissary's stores before abandoning the Hanging Rock battlefield.

Davie concluded, "The militia at length got into the line of march, Davie and his dragoons covering the retreat, but as the troops were loaded with plunder, and encumbered with their wounded friends, and many of them intoxicated, this retreat was not performed in the best military style. However, under all these disadvantages, they filed off unmolested, along the front of the enemy" [10]. Sumter claimed that he "brought off one hundred horses, two hundred and fifty stand of arms, with other articles of considerable value" [11].

The Americans had marched about a mile when a mounted British caught up to the rear of the column with a flag of truce, ostensibly to gain permission to bury their dead [12], but probably also to verify that the Americans were in fact retreating. Joseph McJunkin was near the rear of the column at this time, escorting the prisoners. Turning to Sumter he said, "You have through the Divine hand of Providence, achieved a great victory today." Sumter agreed, but ruefully noted that "it will scarcely ever be heard of, because we are nothing but a handful of raw militia, but if we had been commanded by a Continental officer it would have sounded loud to our honor" [13].

Sumter was correct: Hanging Rock was a remarkable battle, but destined to be mostly forgotten.


1. Charles Stedman. (1794). The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War, Vol. 2.

2. For William Davie's account, see The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [extract]. Davie's account also appears in, John H. Wheeler. (1851). Historical Sketches of North Carolina from 1584 to 1851, Vol. 1.

3. Cf. Davie, ibid., and Joseph McJunkin's account, in Will Graves. (2005). What Did Joseph McJunkin Really Saye? Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Volume 2, Issue 11.

4. McJunkin, ibid.

5. For example, among the Americans, Mark Jackson stated that "it being rumored that Tarleton’s Corps were coming we retreated." James Kincaid noted, "we failed of success by a reinforcement of the British Army from Rocky Mount but we marched off in order." Zachary Kitchens observed that "after a hard and long fight we retreated, upon being informed that a reinforcement was coming to the aid of the British." As for British commentators, the connection between the arrival of this reinforcement and the American retreat is made by Charles Stedman, Banastre Tarleton, and Anthony Allaire.

Other causes for the American retreat were mentioned previously.

6. Davie, ibid.

7. The British Legion had a regimental band. See the letter from Otho Williams to Dr. James McHenry, dated January 23, 1781, and summarized here.

8. Davie, ibid.

9. McJunkin, ibid. This cheer was recalled somewhat differently by others. According to Davie, ibid., "three cheers [were given] for the hero of America." Richard Winn claimed that Sumter "gathered his men and for victory three cheers was given by the true friends of America." For Richard Winn's account, see General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780, transcribed by Will Graves.

10. Davie, ibid.

11. Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 9, 1780.

12. McJunkin, ibid.

13. McJunkin, ibid.


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