Saturday, April 3, 2010

Battle of Fishing Creek 1

The Battle of Fishing Creek
Part 1: Sumter's Third Target
Next: Cary's Fort and Camden

[This account follows an earlier series of posts describing the battle of Hanging Rock. Some earlier posts provide useful background information, see especially Occupied South Carolina, Sumter's Brigade Forms, and Rawdon's Defense of South Carolina].

Rawdon's Dilemma

On the evening of August 6th, 1780 a trickle of Provincials and Loyalist militia arrived in Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon's camp at East Lynche's Creek. These men described how Thomas Sumter had routed their units and seized the British post at Hanging Rock. The news was a shock. Sumter had evidently cleared a route towards his base of operations at Camden. Worse, Sumter’s men were mounted; his were on foot.

Rawdon knew that even if Sumter could not seize Camden, he could at least get in rear of his command. This was a most unwelcome prospect because the main American army under Major-General Horatio Gates was simultaneously approaching from in front.

Deciding that no time was to be lost, Rawdon decided to abandon his strong post and make a night march towards Camden. He thought the situation might even turn in his favor if he could catch and defeat Sumter before Gates appeared. In the morning (August 7), however, he learned the truth of the battle of Hanging Rock: The British Legion infantry, aided by other detachments, had held their ground, forcing Sumter to withdraw. By now, the movements of Gates' army made it too hazardous to reestablish the post at East Lynche’s Creek. Rawdon therefore settled on a new (and weaker) defensive line closer to Camden. The troops at Hanging Rock were withdrawn to Rugeley’s Mill, and Rawdon's command encamped at West Lynche’s Creek. The post at Rocky Mount was not in imminent danger, but on August 12 Rawdon gave orders for it to withdraw as well to a more secure position [1].

Sumter Advances

Although Sumter was forced to withdraw from Hanging Rock, he took comfort in the fact that in the following days, "both British and Tories" were "pannick struck," by the Americans' gains [2]. As Gates' army closed with Rawdon's new position, Sumter wished to contribute to his operations by cutting the flow of men and supplies into Camden. To accomplish this, he proposed to march his brigade down the western side of the Catawba/Wateree River [3] and take control of key ferry crossings south of Camden [4]. On about August 13, Sumter's brigade set out on this mission. Sumter's brigade was much reduced in size by this time: in addition to the men killed and wounded at Hanging Rock, he lost the services of all of his North Carolina troops [5]. Some of his South Carolinians also left him in order to protect the western part of their native state from the Loyalist militia [6].

Rawdon's New Defensive Line: 1) British base at Camden, 2) British post at Rugeley's Mill, 3) British post at West Lynche's Creek. The arrow at upper left shows route of Sumter's advance (Sumter was in the marked area on or about August 14). The arrow at upper right shows Gates' advance (Gates' vanguard was in the marked area on August 8). (Compare with this map).

On August 14, Sumter informed Gates that a wagon train bringing men, ammunition, and clothing was approaching Camden from the south and that he was poised to capture it. By this time, Gates had maneuvered Rawdon out of his second defensive line and had become confident of his ability to take Camden. To support Sumter's small force (now only about 250 men), Gates lent him 100 Continentals, 300 North Carolina militia and 2 pieces of artillery. These men left Gates' army the night of August 14-15 and joined Sumter at daybreak [7].


1. Letter from Francis Rawdon to Colonel McMahon, January 19, 1801. Letter from Josiah Martin to George Germain, August 18-20, 1780. Journal of Lieutenant Anthony Allaire, in Lyman Copeland Draper. (1881). King's Mountain and Its heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain.

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

3. The river is known as the Wateree in the vicinity of Camden, but as the Catawba at Rocky Mount and points further north.

4. Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 9, 1780. Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 12, 1780.

5. William A. Graham (1904). General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History.

6. Will Graves. (2005). What Did Joseph McJunkin Really Saye? Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Volume 2, Issue 11.

7. Letter from General Gates to the President of Congress, August 20, 1780. Otho Holland Williams. A Narrative of the Campaign of 1780. Journal of Johann Christian Senf [extract].

The Continental infantry was drawn mainly from the Maryland line, although there were also a few of the 1st Delaware and a company-sized detachment of Armand's Legion. The whole was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Woolford of the 5th Maryland. Two 3-pounder cannon, accompanied by a small crew, were detached from the Continental artillery. The North Carolina militia were commanded by Colonel Elijah Isaacks.

See: Prisoners Taken at Catawba Fords. Pension application of Peter Scrum, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris. Letter from General Gates to the President of Congress, August 20, 1780. Pension application of Thomas Bartley, transcribed and annotated by C. Leon Harris.