Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sumter’s Brigade Reforms

Sumter’s brigade was broken by the battle of Fishing Creek (August 18, 1780). According to one participant, "the troops dispersed in every direction each taking care of himself." Sumter, on horseback, headed north. On August 19, he reached William Bratton’s house, near Williamson’s Plantation. From there, a handful of men saw him safely across the North Carolina border. He rode alone into Charlotte on August 20 [1].

Fishing Creek and Camden returned British control over northern South Carolina to the same state that it had been in June, before Sumter took the field. So unsafe was it in this area that "orders were then given out that there should be no assembling of companies even of a few men." However, Sumter's defeat also did not end the broader resistance to the British occupation of South Carolina. During Sumter’s campaign, South Carolina partisans organized in the western part of the state under James Williams and in the eastern part of the state under Francis Marion [2].

In North Carolina, now exposed to British invasion, a debate began over whether the conflict should be continued. Joseph Graham recalled that "several aged and respectable citizens insinuated that further resistance would… only produce more certain destruction to themselves and [their] families… But this was indignantly repelled by a great majority, and especially those who had been in action at Hanging Rock. Several of them stated that they then had seen the British soldiers run like sheep, and many of them bite the dust; that they were by no means invincible; that under suitable commanders and proper arrangements, they would at any time risk a conflict with them, man to man" [3].

Although Sumter bore ultimate responsibility for the debacle at Fishing Creek, he does not seem to have lost the esteem of those that had fought under him. It seems to have been generally understood that the defeat stemmed largely from some rather exceptional circumstances. According to Colonel Richard Winn (at the time recuperating from the wound he received at Hanging Rock), the most important factor was "the inattention of his patrols and rear guard Commanded by Major Crofford." Tarleton agreed: Although Sumter "had sent patrols to examine the road... fortunately for the British, they had not proceeded far enough to discover their approach." Indeed, the two Loyalist women that told Tarleton how to gain Sumter’s flank met the British commander just ½ mile in front of the American rear guard [4].

As Summer turned to Fall, Sumter's brigade reformed and returned to the field. Among the returnees was John Murphey, who had lived in the neighborhood of Fishing Creek, and was captured at the battle there. In early September he was released from the Camden jail upon making the following pledge:

"I John Murphy of Fishing Creek acknowledge myself a prisoner on parole to a detachment of his Majesty's troops under the command of the right Honorable Lieutenant General Earl of Cornwallis and I do promise that I will not act directly or indirectly against his Majesty's Government nor stir up others so to do, that I will not speak or say anything that shall be prejudicial to his Majesty's interest and will confine myself to my own plantation not exceeding one mile from thence until further enlarged."

However, Sumter "persuaded him that no good man and patriot would be bound by such a promise," upon which Murphey "tore up his parole and joined General Sumter" [5].


1. The pension application of Samuel Watson, transcribed by Susan K. Zimmerman and R. Neil Vance. The pension application of George McLain, transcribed by Will Graves. The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [extract].

2. The pension application of Zachary Kitchens, transcribed by C. Leon Harris. John Buchanan. (1997). The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas.

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

4. General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780, transcribed by Will Graves. "Major Crofford" is very probably Major Robert Crawford of South Carolina. Banastre Tarleton. (1787). A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781. James Hodge Saye. Memoirs of Major Joseph McJunkin, Revolutionary Patriot.

5. The pension application of John Murphey, transcribed by Will Graves.

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