Thursday, December 31, 2009


A brief note: I tend to be a bit perfectionistic in writing on the Revolution, but I can't possibly get everything I've written (and plan to write) polished up to a professional standard. Nevertheless, I do feel compelled from time to time to revisit something I've written and fix the more glaring problems. Recently I rewrote the first post to my Cowpens project, so as to provide some proper organization to the whole thing, and I also made editorial changes to a number of the posts within that project. (I may also revisit and tweak some of the other posts if time permits). Also, In preparing to write on Hanging Rock I stumbled across notes that, much to my consternation, I overlooked when writing on Rocky Mount. I therefore have gone back and made significant modifications to the second, third, and fourth posts on that battle. These modifications elevate the account of Rocky Mount from being merely passable to being quite good.

I don't expect that those that have already read those posts to now go back and re-read them, but, there it is, a description of what I've been doing in my spare time over the past week. One reason why I bother to make revisions to old posts is that I am confident that I will not always have to do so. I feel that I am becoming a more competent writer on the Revolution, and with additional practice, I will eventually reach a point where I essentially get an account right on the first take. Time will tell if I'm right. If I'm wrong I may end up adopting a less ambitious approach to the topics I take up.

Next up is Hanging Rock. I'll have my first post online in a day or two.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Prince of Wales' American Regiment

The Prince of Wales' American Regiment was raised by Monfort Browne in the winter of 1776-1777 at New York. For most of its early history, the regiment was used for garrison duty in New York and Providence, Rhode Island. During this time, the regiment participated in the Danbury Raid (1777), and formed part of the reserve at the battle of Quaker Hill (1778). Later, the regiment was transferred to the Southern theatre, where they played a minor role in the siege of Charleston, South Carolina (1780). Subsequently, the regiment was detailed to occupy the South Carolina Backcountry. The PoWAR was part of the British garrison that was attacked at Hanging Rock (1780) where half of the men in the battalion companies were killed, wounded, or captured. The light infantry company was destroyed at Cowpens (1781), while the grenadier company was captured at Fort Granby (1781). The remnants of the regiment performed garrison duty at Charleston and New York during the final years of the war.

The PoWAR is thought to have worn green coats with white facings early in the war while at New York, and red coats with blue facings while in the South. Katcher claimed that the late war uniforms were red coats faced blue and/or green

Below is a group of miniatures (click to enlarge) that will be used to represent the PoWAR and some other British infantry serving in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. All but one comes from a pack of Continental infantry with round hats (the other is from a pack of Continental infantry with floppy hats). Although intended to be Americans, the hats, sparse gear and coats with cut-down tails are appropriate to many regiments of British regulars and Provincial infantry.


René Chartrand (2008). American Loyalist Troops 1775-84. Osprey.

Philip R. N. Katcher (1973). Encyclopedia of British, Provincial, and German Army Units 1775-1783. Stackpole Books.

The On-Line Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies. A History of the Prince Of Wales' American Regiment. (Retrieved December 11, 2009).

Friday, December 18, 2009

100 Posts!

I've been blogging for almost 1 year, and this marks my 100th post. This seems like an appropriate time to step back for a moment and consider the big picture.

I'm not a historian, but I have been reading and reflecting on the Revolution for many years now, and this blog is a way for me to organize my thoughts on different topics and share them with others.

The first topic I chose to wrote about was the battle of Cowpens, and my initial posts on that subject were devoted to very specific topics concerning that battle: the military units involved, how the soldiers were arrayed, and the sequencing of different events during the battle -- even who John Savage shot. Eventually, I became disenchanted with this scattershot approach and elected to present a 25-post sequence that described, step-by-step, how I believe the battle was fought. I don't know if I was exactly trying to convince anybody that my original ideas were right -- I haven't made more than minimal efforts to call attention to this blog. Mainly it's that I like turning my ideas into something tangible. It's not impossible that I will eventually use this rough material as a starting point for a book. (However, writing one would entail a great deal more time and effort than I'm willing to expend in the foreseeable future). And if not, well, perhaps someone who is writing on these topics will find food for thought here.

On the whole I liked the way the Cowpens project turned out, although I did have some reservations, and I realized later there were other things I could have or should have said. Eventually, deciding to leave well enough alone, I embarked on a different project: Thomas Sumter's initial partisan campaign against British forces in South Carolina. I intended for this project to be modest in scale, but here it is 6 months later, and I'm still posting on the subject. I don't expect to wrap things up until the end of April.

I've continued to grow more concerned about organization and presentation, and so I put together a kind of master post for my Sumter project, with links to all of the posts so far, and an indication of everything that is yet upcoming. This master post may yet undergo some editing, because I sometimes change my mind about exactly what it is I want to say, but tentatively I plan on posting on the Loyalist Prince of Wales American Regiment later this month, and then about the battle of Hanging Rock throughout January, February, and March. I will wrap up the Sumter project with a treatment of the battle of Fishing Creek in April. I've been looking forward to writing about Hanging Rock for some time -- it is possibly the largest, bloodiest, and most dramatic battle in the 13 colonies to be largely ignored by historians.

One other thing I'll be doing is working to further improve the organization around here. Very likely, I will go back and impose some more order on my Cowpens project before the end of the month.

So what will I be once the Sumter project is complete? Again, all plans are tentative, but I can say that I am strongly inclined to write for awhile about the American invasion of Canada in 1775, and specifically the campaign to subdue the British fort at St Johns and capture the town of Montreal. I've done a fair amount of reading on this subject, and I've found the surviving letters and journals from that time (I've been reading transcriptions, of course) to be fairly riveting. What happens after that is an open question.

Which topics I take up are limited by my background knowledge and by the miniatures I own and/or am able to paint. With that said, if you have a "wish list" of topics you would like to see me write about, please leave a comment. I'm very interested in your opinion.

As a look back, below are some pics from the Cowpens project, which I haven't posted before. Each of these images depicts the "main line" fighting. Click to enlarge.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Catawba Nation

[Revised 12/12/2009]

The Catawba Nation in the 18th Century:

The Catawba Indians of South Carolina was one of a small number of Indian nations that sided with the newly formed United States of America over Great Britain. That the Catawbas chose to ally themselves with the Americans is notable as they had long been in conflict with their neighbors. Throughout the 18th Century, a steady influx of settlers moved into the traditional lands of the Catawbas. At first this movement was tolerable. In the words of historian James Merrell:

“A log cabin, a gristmill, a slave or two, a few cows: it all seemed innocent enough. But together these additions to the piedmont formed a powerful acid that ate away the Indians’ world.”

The Catawbas might have chosen to submit to this demographic tide or abandon their lands in the hope of finding a refuge among other Indian nations. Instead, the Catawbas determined to resist the settler invasion. By the mid-18th Century, a low-grade conflict was underway with white neighbors. The Catawbas initiated this conflict through the intentional destruction of settler property, and by killing and eating settlers’ cows and hogs when it became more difficult to subsist by hunting.

Merrill noted that “Efforts to stop the rash of thefts or settle any other disputes were doomed, for Catawba and Carolinian alike possessed a streak of independence that made them hard to rein in.” Even worse, “A common fondness for liquor often loosened what few restraints there were.”

Despite a number of ugly incidents, all-out war did not occur. Mutual antipathy was mitigated by trade and by common enemies (specifically, the Cherokees, Iroquois, Shawnees, and Tuscaroras).

A major shift in Catawba-settler relations occurred in 1759 when a party of Catawba returned from a campaign against the French. These men brought with them smallpox, and the resulting epidemic killed at least 60% of the Catawba nation. Losses among fighting-age men were so great that the approximately 300 warriors they had at the time of the French and Indian War was reduced to less than 100 afterwards. In the wake of this catastrophe, the Catawbas realized that resistance against the settlers was impossible. The Catawbas and the state of South Carolina largely resolved the conflict over land when the former agreed to live on a reservation. The establishment this reservation reduced, but did not eliminate, the encroachment of settlers. The Catawbas maintained their homes and farmlands in only a small part of the reservation, reserving the remainder for hunting. As time passed, the unoccupied areas attracted white settlers. The Catawbas resolved this issue in a novel manner. Rather than attempt to forcibly evict the whites from their reservation, the Catawbas allowed them to rent the land they had settled.

The Catawba Nation and the American Revolution:

In 1775, the Catawbas, like other Indian nations, were compelled to choose between the rebellious colonies and the British crown. The Catawbas chose to side with the colonists, and in turn, the new government of South Carolina agreed to continue to recognize the Catawbas’ reservation.

Catawba Indians were soon recruited to aid in the American war effort. For the most part, the Catawbas were organized in military bodies that were commanded by white officers, but otherwise distinct from the colonists’ militia regiments.

Parties of Catawbas were used to search for runaway slaves in coastal South Carolina in 1775-1776, and a company of Catawbas commanded by Captain Samuel Boykin participated in the battle of Sullivan’s Island (June 28, 1776). Also that year, a company of Catawbas played a leading role in an expedition against the British-allied Cherokee nation. After the British threatened with South Carolina with invasion in 1779, a company of Catawbas commanded by Captain David Garrison went to Charleston to join the American forces under Major-General Benjamin Lincoln.

One exception to this form of service concerned Catawba Indian Peter Harris, who enlisted in the 3rd South Carolina regiment, and was wounded at the battle of Stono Ferry.

After the British captured the American army under Lincoln at Charleston, the British advanced into the South Carolina Backcountry and posed a direct threat to the Catawba nation. In June, 1780, British Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon promised the Catawbas protection if they would submit to royal authority. The Catawba response was courageous: rather than feign loyalty to the British or equivocate, they abandoned their homes, fields, and whatever livestock they could not take with them and headed for the Virginia wilderness. British provincials, or perhaps more likely, Loyalist militia antipathetic to the Catawbas, burned their homes and carried away everything of value.

Not all of the Catawbas fled to Virginia; a number of the men remained behind to join the growing American resistance to the British occupation. These men formed a company of 41 Catawbas under Captain Thomas Drennan on or around July 5th [see Note 1]. Like the earlier companies of Catawbas, this group was in the pay of the Americans and was commanded by a white officer. Whether Drennan was more than a nominal commander is difficult to gauge. Also with the company was the Catawbas’ General New River, who led his nation during this period. Drennan’s company was active for 98 days, and participated in the battles of Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, and Fishing Creek. Only 9 men served with the company for the entire time (including Captain Drennan and General New River). It is thought that between 12 and 35 Catawbas were at the battle of Hanging Rock.

One of the most important services that the Catawbas provided during this time was to help supply Sumter’s brigade. According to Colonel Richard Winn, "When we took the field after the fall of Charleston we often Encamped on their land for days together those friendly Indians drove to us Beef from their Own Stocks."

Later Years:

The Catawbas returned to their reservation in 1781, and due to their patriotism, relations with whites were substantially improved. On the death of King Frow, leadership of the Catawba was assumed by General New River. This end (at least symbolically) of monarchical rule among the Catawbas was in keeping with the spirit of the times and it became a public relations coup.

Nevertheless, the postwar years were not good to the Catawbas. The Catawbas did not increase in numbers or in wealth, rather, the nation became increasingly irrelevant, prone to exploitation, and impoverished. Few whites lived on the reservation at the time of the Revolution; in later years their numbers increased dramatically, and in 1840 the Catawbas were pressured into selling their reservation to their tenants. Afterwards, some of the remaining Catawbas went west to live among other Indian nations. Others continued to live alongside their white neighbors.


The Catawbas fighting with the Americans during the Revolution shaved their head except for heads except for a scalp lock that resembled “a cock’s comb.” Their faces were tattooed and they also wore face paint when going into battle. Both men and women wore a silver nose ring.

When the Catawbas embarked on the expedition against the Cherokees they wore deer tails in their hair so the Americans could better distinguish between men of the two nations.

Catawba men and women frequently wore the same clothes as their white neighbors. During the war, one of the leading Catawbas seems to have worn a “Greencloth Coat, with gold binding.”


1. According to a roster for this company, a Catawba by the name of Willis was killed at the battle of Rocky Mount (July 30, 1780); he had served 25 days with the company. Aside from Drennan, several other whites were affiliated with this company. It’s possible theses men were tenants of the Catawbas, but I don’t have any information on this matter. Some Catawbas traditionally regarded as having served in the Revolution during this period do not appear on the roll for Drennan’s company. Consequently, the number of Catawbas that served with Sumter at one time or another may have been considerably greater than 41, though the total was surely well below 100. Following Fishing Creek, the Catawbas remained intermittently involved in military operations against the British. Most notably, 30 or more Catawbas were attached to Major-General Nathanael Greene’s army in the Spring of 1781 and participated in the Guilford Courthouse campaign, including Pyle’s Defeat.


Douglas Summers Brown. (1966). The Catawba Indians: The Peoples of the River.

Will Graves transcribed General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780. (.pdf file).

James H. Merrell. (1989). The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal.

Michael C. Scoggins. (2006). A History of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment. In Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution newsletter. Volume 3, Number 12. (.pdf file).

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Battle of Rocky Mount 4

Part 4: "Come and Take It"

[Revised 12/31/09]

Come and Take It:

Brigadier-General Thomas Sumter's initial effort to take the British post at Rocky Mount had failed. British Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon, writing of the Americans, noted that "They kept possession however of the Redoubt, from which, and the cover of Rocks, Trees, etc, they continued to fire [on the post] for a long time."

A British officer, Lieutenant Anthony Allaire, heard that some of the Americans shouted for the British to "take back your ammunition again" as they fired their guns. Probably these were some of the men that James Lisle took with him when he defected to the Americans [see Note 1]. The British counterfire was also intense. Adjutant Joseph Graham of North Carolina wrote that: “The Enemy were under cover in the fortified buildings and sustained but little damage from the Americans and the Rocks were not so extensive as to shelter them from the fire of the British… Alexander Haynes [a North Carolina militiaman]… who having fired his Rifle twice from behind the Rocks had loaded his gun a third time, and peeping past the side of the black rock for an object, his face being white became an object for the enemys marksmen one of whom shot him close under the eye. The shot ranged under the brain but missed the vertebrae of the neck… he lost his Eye; it run out shortly [after] he was wounded."

Meanwhile, Sumter considered his options. In the words of Colonel Richard Winn, "Genl. Sumter finding nothing Could be done thought it best to refresh his Men for a Short time and bring on the Attack from another Quarter by Marching round the place." In this new position, the Americans were able, thanks to “the Cover of large Rocks” get to a position only "about 50 yards of [i.e., from] the Block H[ouse]." The American fire became so dangerous at this point that "the Enemy was prevented from firing on us as they dare Not come to their post Holes." Hoping to avoid another assault, "Genl. Sumter Directed Colo. Winn to demand a Sunder of the place.”

Winn approached the British post under a flag of true, and gave the following summons to the British [see Note 2]:

31 July 1780
I am directed by Genl. Sumter to Demand a Surrender of Rocky Mount, therefore you will Surrender this place with the Men &c under your Command which will be considered as prisoner of war. S[igned]/ R. Winn"

Winn claimed that the British commandant, Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull “required that Hostilities should Cease for one Hour for Consideration.” Sumter agreed. Turnbull had no intention of surrendering the post to the Americans, but perhaps valued a respite. Turnbull then had Winn deliver the following written response to Sumter:

I have considered your Summons & return for Answer that duty and Inclination induces me to defend this place to the last extremity. 31 July 1780 S/ Turnbull Colo. Comm[an]d[an]t"

Lieutenant Allaire heard that Turnbull’s message for Sumter was, that if he wanted the fort, “he might come and take it.”

The Americans were not impressed. According to Private James Clinton, “immediately [a] second assault was made.” This attack, like the one before, was repulsed by the garrison [see Note 3].

Desperate Measures:

After the second attack failed, Major William Davie claimed that “various strategems were essayed in vain to set the buildings on fire.” Of these, Lieutenant-Colonel William Hill described a remarkable series of events in which he was involved. Hill wrote that:

“the officers held a council & it was discovered that there was a large rock, and between this rock and the fort, stood a small house which might be fired by throwing fire brands over the rock, & that this house w[oul]d. communicate the fire to the house the Enemy was in [i.e., the blockhouse] and as we had the command of the water [the Americans were between the post and the Catawba River] they could not possibly extinguish the flames — From this ledge of Rocks where the army lay, to the rock near the house was about 100 yds. free of any obstructions.”

Unfortunately, whoever made this attack would have to run straight towards the blockhouse, “& it is well known that when any object is going from or coming to a marksman, the marksman had near as good a chance [to hit it] as if the object was stationary.”According to Hill, Sumter and some other officers “proposed… for 2 men to endeavor to fire that small house. but the undertaking appeared so hazardous, that no two men of the army could be found to undertake it After some considerable time was spent, y[ou]r. author proposed that if any other man w[oul]d. go with him he w[oul]d.: make the attempt, at length a young man, brother to the Johnsons... proposed to undertake with me.”

A lull seems to have developed in the fighting, and during this time, Hill and his comrade “had every assistance that c[oul]d. be obtained — Rich lightwood split & bound with cords to cover the most vital parts of our bodies, as well as a large bundle of the same wood to carry in our arms, being thus equiped we run the 100 yds. to the rock; Mr. Johnson was to manage the fire & y[ou]r. author was to watch the enemys sallying out of the house.” The two men evidently got inside the abatis – the only Americans to do so – and were vulnerable to a counterattack from the garrison [see Note 4].

Hill then related that “before the fire was sufficiently kindled the enemy did sally out with fixed bayonets; the same race was run again, to where the army lay, & under a heavy fire, not only from those who had sallied out [these would be some of Turnbull’s New York Volunteers], but like wise from a large number of Port holes in that end of the house.”

The Americans were encouraged by this small success, and a second attempt was made:

“It was then proposed that the whole of our riflemen sh[oul]d. direct their fire to that space between the small & great house, which was about 15 ft.; we being equipt as before mentioned, made the 2d. attempt. & the plan already mentioned, prevented the Enemy from sallying a 2d. time.” With a steady volume of American gunfire pouring on the building, “We then had an opportunity of making a large fire behind the rock, & throwing fire brands on the roof of the little house & we staid until that roof was in flames. & the heat of it had caused the wall of the great house to smoke — We then concluded the work, was done, & undertook the 4th. race, which was much more hazardous than the former ones, as the Enemy during the interval, had opened a great many more port-holes in that end of the building — And here I beg leave to remark that Providence so protected us both, that neither of us lost a drop of blood, altho' locks of hair was cut from our heads and our garments riddled with balls.”

Great Mortification:

Panting, Hill stood alongside his comrades-in-arms, waiting for the main building to go up in flames. However, "Scarcily had we time to look back from behind the rock where our men lay, in hopes to see the fire progressing, but to our great mortification, when the great house was beginning to flame — as heavy a storm of rain fell, as hath fallen from that time to the present, & which extinguished the flames" [see Note 5].

The rain ended the Americans' hopes for taking the fort [see Note 6]. In Hill’s words, "We were then forced to retreat under as great mortification, as ever any number of men endured." The Americans gathered up their wounded and prepared to retreat. Rawdon noted that the Americans "carried off all who fell, excepting three dead and one wounded who lay too near the Post." Among those left on the field was Andrew Neal, who had been killed before the abatis. Adjutant Graham wrote of Alexander Haynes that "It was thought he was killed, but seeing life was in him when they were about to retire, his acquaintances carried him off."

British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton claimed that “In the gallant defence of this post, Lieutenant-colonel Turnbull had one officer killed, one wounded, and about ten men killed and wounded.” The officer, evidently, was “Capt. Hulett” who “got wounded in the head,” according to Allaire.

The British did not know exactly how many men the Americans lost, because so many of the fallen had been carried off the field. Rawdon wrote that "Turnbull therefore cannot ascertain the Enemy’s loss; but imagines it to have been pretty severe."

American sources generally downplay the number of casualties they sustained, or give some very low total. James Clinton, for example, said that "Our loss at Rocky Mount was not great in numbers." Thomas Reagan stated that "During this engagement Sumpter's party were protected by the woods and the huge rocks situated near the log house consequently but few were killed of his men. This applicant thinks there were killed and missing about 14 or 15 men and among the killed were Col. Neel [Andrew Neal]—Capt. Jones and Capt. Burns who was shot in the Eye & fell close by this applicant." Thomas Sumter wrote 10 days after the battle that "My Loss, Kild and wounded did not exceed twenty" [see Note 7].


1. Allaire was not present, but his journal recorded information passed around among British officers serving in the South Carolina Backcountry at the time and is on the whole reliable. Most likely the quoted passage refers to this point in the battle, but it's possible the incident occurred somewhat earlier or later (the same is true of some of the other incidents described in connection with the battle). The defection of James Lisle was mentioned in Part 1, and is well described in Michael Scoggins' The Day It Rained Militia.

2. The flag of truce is mentioned by Lieutenant Allaire, and privates William Clark and James Clinton. Except where noted, the remainder of the quoted passages in this section are from Winn's memoir.

3. Other sources agreed that the Americans launched more than one attack. Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon wrote that after "The [surrender] proposal was rejected... the attack was repeated with as little success as at first." William Clark likewise stated that at this time "Sumter ordered a second attack, but as in the former attempt we were again repulsed." Arthur Travis recalled that “Sumter endeavored to storm [the British post], but failed after two attacks and some loss.”

4. British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton's history of the Southern Campaign notes that there were “three attacks, in the last of which some of the forlorn hope [evidently Hill and his comrade] penetrated within the abbatis.”

5. A letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, dated August 9, 1780, confirms part of Hill's tale. He wrote, "I Made an attempt to fire them [the British works] in the evening, and should have Succeeded, if the afternoon had Not proved excesively wet." Years later, Winn recalled, "the House could have been Easily Set on fire had it not been for the powerful rains that fell." William Clark stated, "It was possible for us to have set fire to the works, but a rain came on and prevented this last effort." Robert Fleming recalled, "the enemy were in the Fort which we set fire to but a shower of rain commenced falling in a short time which with the exertions of the enemy within extinguished the fire and we failed to drive them out."

6. This is not quite what Sumter claimed. He wrote to Pinckney, "My led [i.e., lead bullets] being exhausted, I withdrew a small distance." This statement implies that the Americans were able to keep their gunpowder dry and could have continued firing on the post longer had they sufficient ammunition. It seems unlikely, however, that a continuation of the Americans' sniping would have affected the outcome.

7. This total, 3%-4% of Sumter's force, belies the claim that Sumter had a "penchant for bloody and repeated frontal assaults" that were "unnecessarily costly."


Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website has a transcription of Tarleton's history.

William R. Davie, The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [excerpt]

Lyman Copeland Draper. (1881). King's Mountain and Its heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain. (Includes a transcription of Allaire's journal).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of William Clark. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of James Clinton. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Robert Fleming. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed William Hill's memoir. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Thomas Reagan. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Arthur Travis. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780. (.pdf file).

Michael C. Scoggins. (2005). The Day It Rained Militia: Huck's Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780.

William T. Sherman. (2009). Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781. 6th Ed. (.pdf file). [Contains a transcription of Rawdon's letter].

The website, The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, hosted by the University of North Carolina, includes a transcription of the Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 9, 1780.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Battle of Rocky Mount 3

Part 3: The Assault on Rocky Mount

[Revised 12/31/09]

Sumter's Plan of Attack:

Brigadier-General Thomas Sumter resolved to attack the British post at Rocky Mount, ahead of the American invasion of South Carolina. This British post was garrisoned by a force significantly smaller than his own, and any British force attempting to come to its relief would have to cross the wide Catawba River [Note 1]. Nevertheless, Rocky Mount would not be an easy post to take, especially as Sumter's militia had no artillery.

Sumter did not leave a written description of his specific plan of attack, but a reconstruction can be made on the basis of British and American statements. Sumter, it seems, planned to send small parties forward to clear the abatis surrounding the post and then set fire to the buildings while protected by covering fire from the rest of his force, which would be on the edge of the surrounding woods. Given that the Americans had a 2 to 1 advantage in numbers, they hoped to bring enough suppressing fire on the buildings to make the operation a success. To improve the odds of success, the American force was to get close to the fort the day before the battle and then make a surprise attack early in the morning. Further, when the Americans attacked they would do so from three directions at once [see Note 2].

The Attack Begins:

Sumter's plan of attack was sound, and he successfully brought his men close to Rocky Mount without detection. Before the Americans made their final advance, Sumter divided his men into three columns. According to Private William Clark, "The attack was made, by dividing the Army into three divisions, each of which was to approach in different directions. The commanders of these three divisions were Colonels [Andrew] Neal, Brannon [i.e., Thomas Brandon] & William Bratton. In line with this view, Private James Clinton remembered that "Sumter divided his men into two or three divisions and ordered the assault to be made from different directions." Likewise, Private Arthur Travis stated that "Our forces were divided into three divisions."

At the time that the Americans were making their final approach march to Rocky Mount, the British garrison was in a normal state of alert, but unsuspecting that Sumter's men were so near. According to Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon (who was not present, but who had received a letter from the post's commander immediately after the battle), "The New York Volunteers... were as usual at the hour standing to their arms." The horses of the British Legion dragoons had "been saddled all night, [and man and horse] were soon after Day-break ordered out to grass."

Rawdon wrote that the dragoons "had scarcely passed an abbatis which surrounded the Post, when they fell in with three large Columns of the Rebels by whom they were fired upon and dispersed" [see Note 3]. According to Sumter, the Americans took "several prisoners, a Great Number of excellent horses, Saddles, Guns, &c."

The firing alerted the post, and the New York Volunteers "were immediately thrown into some Log Houses constructed for the purpose of defence." Although the element of surprise had been lost, the Americans pressed gamely forward. North Carolina militiaman Joseph Graham described what the Americans saw once they reached the British defenses:

"The slope from the top of the hill was gradual, and nearly equal on all sides, and the land cleared. There was no swell in the ground to shelter them from the enemy's fire, only on the west side of a ledge of a blackish kind of rocks at the distance of one hundred and forty yards from the houses. The men were drawn up in a line below these rocks, and advanced up to them, and a party sent around on each flank."

In other words, the three American columns approached the post from the west, but then one column was sent to attack from the north, while another was sent to attack from the south. A comparison of the accounts by Colonel Richard Winn and Private William Clark suggests that Colonel Thomas Brandon led the northern column, Colonel Andrew Neal led the center column, and Colonel William Bratton led the southern column.

The advance of these columns unnerved the Loyalists stationed outside the abatis. According to Rawdon, "some Militia abandoning a Redoubt which they were appointed to garrison... ran into the Houses." South Carolina Militiaman Samuel Gordon claimed that the Americans "drove old Colonel Floyd, a Tory commander into the Fort."

"Blackish kind of Rocks." These boulders, on the western slope of Rocky Mount, are of the same type that the American militia sheltered behind. This image is a screen shot showing a Google Maps "street view" of the area. Appropriate to the American attack, this picture of Rocky Mount was taken in the morning, while the western slope of the hill was cast in shadow.

A Flanking Column Approaches Rocky Mount (click to enlarge). The representations of the battle in miniature on this page are intended to be evocative of the action, but they do not follow a set scale.

Neal's Assault:

With the Americans closing with the post from three directions, Sumter ordered an assault. According to British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Sumter "selected some of his bravest followers [see Note 4], to remove the [abatis], and to endeavour to set fire to the [buildings], whilst his people, under cover of the trees and rocks, on the declivity of the mountain, maintained a heavy fire upon the garrison."

William Clark, who was with the center column, noted that attack had to be made "through an old field about 200 yards to the house in which the enemy were posted and around which they had fixed huge timbers pointing outwards. On our approach, the enemy poured a destructive fire on us, and in this assault Colonel Neal, and several others were killed."

James Clinton, who was also present, recalled that "Colonel Neal was killed, not 5 feet from where I stood. I saw him fall & heard, and do now remember, his last words: 'I have received a mortal wound – God have mercy on my soul' and instantly died."

Richard Winn then took over. He wrote that, "being in a Clear Old field and finding his Men much Exposed Ordered a Retrt for a Small Distance." The other columns were also repulsed, although, apparently with fewer losses. Lieutenant-Colonel William Hill (with the southern column, according to Winn) wrote that, "we were forced to retreat behind a ledge of Rocks about a hundred y[ar]ds. from the house."

Attacking the Abatis. A party of militia (one of whom is carrying a torch), rush the abatis under covering fire from riflemen in the woods. According to William Clark, the abatis consisted of "fixed huge timbers pointing outwards."


1. Sumter took the precaution of detaching a large party of North Carolina militia, including Major William Davie's dragoons, to occupy the British post at Hanging Rock (the post most likely to send reinforcements to Rocky Mount). Davie's memoir records a successful raid on Hanging Rock the same day that Sumter attacked Rocky Mount.

2. This description of the Sumter's plan of attack is rather different than that which I've encountered elsewhere. Historian John Buchanan claimed the attack mostly entailed sniping and a single, disastrous, frontal assault. However, the present description is well grounded in accounts of the battle. Evidence of the use of covering fire is in the accounts by Major William Davie and Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton (neither of whom was present, but their histories of the Southern Campaign are generally deemed reliable). Evidence of the division of Sumter’s force into three parts is in descriptions of the battle by Colonel Richard Winn, Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon, Adjutant Joseph Graham, and Privates William Clark, James Clinton and Arthur Travis. My reading of the various sources has led me to believe that Sumter was a competent tactician, but that does not mean that he is above criticism.

Henry Lee (who was not present, but nevertheless is a good source of information) claimed in his postwar history that Sumter "approached Rocky Mount with his characteristic impetuosity." Lee had a point: My impression is that Sumter was eager to attack the enemy and chose not to wait until a piece of cannon became available, or for some fortunate circumstance to develop (e.g., foggy weather certainly would have helped). Much of the American plan of attack at Rocky Mount seems also improvised.

3. American Colonel Richard Winn was one that participated in this exchange. However, his memoir describes a very different incident. He wrote that we:

"Should have completely Surprised the place had it not have been for a Tory Colonel by the Name of Black with about 100 Tory Militia from Broad River to reinforce the Mount they getting to the place late encampt Out with intention of going on Early in the Morning these people we had no Knowledge until we were among them Winn being in the Advance gave them a fire & they Ran and left many of their Horses & Cloathing, this gave the alarm to the Mount, however in a few Minutes the place was attacked."

This discrepancy can be attributed to faulty memory on Winn's part. However, another, intriguing possibility is that the dragoons were not wearing their uniform jackets and the several dragoons captured by the Americans lied about their unit identification.

4. The privates claiming to have participated in this attack were from Neal's regiment, suggesting that his regiment, in whole or in part, constituted the assaulting force. Given the small size of the South Carolina militia regiments (see Note 1 in Part 2 of this series), it's possible the British would have mistaken his command for a picked force.


Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website has a transcription of Tarleton's postwar memoir.

John Buchanan. (1997). The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas.

William R. Davie, The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [excerpt]

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

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of William Clark. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of James Clinton. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Samuel Gordon (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed William Hill's memoir. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Arthur Travis. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780. (.pdf file).

Henry Lee. (1812). Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States.

William T. Sherman. (2009). Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781. 6th Ed. (.pdf file). [Contains a transcription of Rawdon's letter].

The website, The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, hosted by the University of North Carolina, includes a transcription of the Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 9, 1780.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Battle of Rocky Mount 2

Part 2: Sumter's First Target

[Revised 12/30/09]

At the end of July, several factors convinced Brigadier-General Thomas Sumter to lead his brigade of militia into the field against the system of British outposts in the South Carolina Backcountry. One factor was that the American army in the South was on the move, and aimed to capture the British post at Camden. This left Sumter the choice of either joining in the offensive, or being reduced to a spectator in the critical campaign to liberate his home state.

A second factor was the steady growth of his brigade in July, 1780. At the end of June, his brigade consisted of only a small cadre of South Carolinians (see Sumter's Brigade Forms). However, he had been joined by additional South Carolinians, dozens of Catawba Indians, and, in late July, hundreds of North Carolina militia. In all he commanded around 500-600 men [see Note 1] For the first time, Sumter’s force was large enough to hazard a major action with the British.

A third factor was that Sumter received valuable information about the nearby British post at Rocky Mount, South Carolina, that helped convince him it could be taken. Colonel Richard Winn claimed, in his postwar memoir, that he had seized Major John Owens of the Loyalist militia the night before the battle at Williamson’s Plantation, and that Winn “gave Owens a parole & employed him as a Spy without fee or reward to go to Rocky Mount Count the numbers of Men and report the State and Strength of the place.” Major Owens, either out of fear of what would happen if he was captured again, or to hedge his bets lest his side lost the battle for South Carolina, “punctually complied” with Winn’s request. The two of them secretly met on or about July 20th. According to Winn, Owens claimed that “Colo Turnbull [Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull] Commanded had about 300 Men and was posted in a Strong Block House two Stories high properly prepared for defense and sufficient abbates.”

Owens' report corresponds remarkably well with the description that British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton gave of the place [see Note 2]:

“The defences of Rocky mount consisted of two log houses, a loop-holed building [i.e., the blockhouse], and an abbatis; placed upon an eminence, which commanded a view of the neighbouring country.”

A letter from from Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Rawdon to Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis (dated July 31, 1780) notes that the site included "Log Houses constructed for the purpose of defence," and that an "abbatis... surrounded the Post." Rawdon also noted the presence of a nearby "redoubt."

The abatis lay a short distance from the houses and surrounded the post. Beyond the abatis lay an old field, which was quite extensive in some directions [see Note 3].

American accounts, like Winn's sometimes mention only the presence of a single building, suggesting that one large house or blockhouse was of particular importance to the defense [see Note 4].

Tarleton claimed that Turnbull's "force was composed of one hundred and fifty provincials, and as many militia." The provincials were Turnbull's own New York Volunteers; the militia are thought to have been commanded by Colonel Matthew Floyd. Rawdon's letter notes the presence of British Legion dragoons; these were probably the remnants of Captain Christian Huck's company, which had fought at Hill's Ironworks and Williamson's Plantation.

The site of the British post at Rocky Mount, as seen using Google Maps (click to enlarge). The post was situated on a high hill overlooking the Catawba River. A topographical view is on the left, a satellite view on the right. The red dot shows the approximate location of the British blockhouse (cf. John A. Robertson et al.'s Global Gazetteer of the American Revolution).


1. Sumter claimed that "With about five hundred men I attacked Rockey Mount" in a letter to Thomas Pinckney dated August 9, 1780. Other sources have credited him with more men. Among the principal commanders of the South Carolinians were Richard Winn, Andrew Neal, William Bratton, Edward Lacey, William Hill, and John McClure. The North Carolinians were headed by Colonel Robert Irwin, and the Catawba Indians were led by General New River.

The large number of senior South Carolina officers give the impression that South Carolinians constituted the bulk of Sumter’s brigade. However, as described previously, the South Carolina militia regiments operating with Sumter were quite small in size. Adjutant Joseph Graham of North Carolina made this point explicitly years later:

“From the number of the field officers from South Carolina under their command the reader would believe in the ranks of the former the principal force consisted of the militia from South Carolina, whereas, the fact was, that in the well fought battles of Rocky Mount & Hanging Rock the North Carolinians, under the command of Colos. Irwin and Huggins and Major Davie, constituted the greater part of his Command and the [South Carolina] field officers referred to had not sometimes each a Dozen of men with them.”

2. Winn’s memoir was written after Tarleton’s account of the battle was published, and not impossible is that Winn’s statement was influenced by Tarleton’s description. Some American histories (Davie, Lossing) clearly copied Tarleton’s language. Nevertheless, it is important to observe that Winn remembered Owens’ description as accurate.

3. Thomas Sumter wrote to Thomas Pinckney that "the action... was offten within thirty feet of their works." Because the Americans had difficulty penetrating the abatis, it can be inferred that Sumter believed the abatis was no more than 30 feet away from the buildings. Private William Clark claimed that to attack the post, his regiment had to "attack through an old field about 200 yards to the house."

4. Below are some of the statements made by American participants about the British defenses at Rocky Mount:

North Carolina militiaman Joseph Graham claimed that the British were ensconced in "log buildings... [that] had loop holes to shoot through.”

South Carolina militiaman Hugh Gaston stated that the "Tories & British took shelter in a large log house."

South Carolina militiaman Thomas Reagan said that the British were "in a large log house at a place called 'Rocky Mount' on the Catawba."

An exception to these descriptions appears in the memoir of Lieutenant-Colonel William Hill. He recalled that the British were stationed in “a large framed house: the walls of which were only thin clap boards.” Hill claimed the attack was made because “we supposed that our balls w[oul]d. Have the desired effect by shooting through the wall." But instead, "the Enemy had wrought day & night and had placed small logs about a foot from the inside of the wall and rammed the cavity with clay, and under this delusion we made the attack —; but soon found that we c[oul]d. injure them no way, but by shooting, in their port-holes." He attributed this erroneous information to a strengthening of the British post between Owens' report (about July 20) and the date of the attack (July 30). Hill's description is not compelling in light of the other accounts, and at the very least does not seem to accurately describe the main defensive building on the site.


Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website has a transcription of Tarleton's postwar memoir.

John Buchanan. (1997). The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas.

William R. Davie, The Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie [excerpt]

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

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of William Clark. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Hugh Gaston. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed William Hill's memoir. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Thomas Reagan. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780. (.pdf file).

Benson John Lossing. (1860). Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (Vol. 2).

David Paul Reuwer. Documentary Resources and Notes on Gen. Thomas Sumter and the North and South Carolina militias Attack on the British forward outpost at Rocky Mount, South Carolina (July 31 or August 1, 1780). In Volume 1, Number 1 of The Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution newsletter. (.pdf file).

Michael C. Scoggins. (2005). The Day It Rained Militia: Huck's Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780.

William T. Sherman. (2009). Calendar and Record of the Revolutionary War in the South: 1780-1781. 6th Ed. (.pdf file). [Contains a transcription of Rawdon's letter].

The website, The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina, hosted by the University of North Carolina, includes a transcription of the Letter from Thomas Sumter to Thomas Pinckney, August 9, 1780.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Battle of Rocky Mount 1

The Battle of Rocky Mount
Part 1: An American Offensive
Next: Sumter's First Target

The battle of Williamson's Plantation was a disaster for the British, not because of the British losses that were incurred, but rather because it cooled Loyalist ardor, greatly encouraged the Americans, and put to an end the previously-effective Provincial/Loyalist raids from Rocky Mount.

The most striking sign of this change in fortunes consisted of the defection of a body of Loyalist militia to the Americans. British Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton lamented that:

"An instance of treachery which took place about this time, ruined all confidence between the regulars and the militia: The inhabitants in the districts of the rivers Ennoree and Tyger had been enrolled since the siege of Charles town, under the orders of Colonel [Matthew] Floyd; Colonel [Andrew] Neale, the former commanding officer, having fled out of the province for his violent persecution of the loyalists. One [James] Lisle, who had belonged to the same corps, and who had been banished to the islands, availing himself of the proclamation to exchange his parole for a certificate of his being a good citizen, was made second in command: And as soon as the battalion was completed with arms and ammunition, he carried it off to Colonel Neale, who had joined Colonel Sumpter's command on the Catawba."

Also boosting American morale was the assemblage of a new American army in the South under the command of Major-General Horatio Gates and seconded by Major-General Johann de Kalb. This army consisted primarily of a division of Maryland and Delaware Continentals, backed up by large numbers of Virginia and North Carolina militia. Their mission was to liberate British-occupied South Carolina.

Brigadier-General Thomas Sumter, who commanded a brigade of militia based in the Catawba Nation, intended to loosely cooperate with this American army. Writing to de Kalb shortly after the action at Williamson's Plantation, Sumter boasted that:

"I having Collected a party of men, attacked and Dispersed the enemy, So As to Cleare two Regiments of them [see Note 1]."

For all this bravado, however, Sumter remained deeply concerned about the numbers of South Carolina militia potentially in British employment. He wrote that if the British "have an opportunity of Collecting the Tories and imbodying the militia, who they Compell to do Duty... they will... add above ten thousand men to their army—and thereby be come so strong as Not only to Keep possession of Charles Town, but also a Great part of the State besides."

Sumter advised de Kalb that the main American army should send "a Body of Light Troops" to sweep down the eastern portion of the state and "take post upon the South Side of Santee River, at Neilson's and Marigalutes Ferries." In this position they "woud effectually Cut of their [the British] Retreat to Towns [i.e., the eastern seaboard] and thereby prevent them from forcing the Militia to retreat with them, or from there Gethering to gether the Forces, and also from Striping the Country of all its Resources." Sumter believed that in one fell swoop, the British would be forced to abandon all of their posts in the BackCountry. Sumter's proposed advance would have been dangerous to the British, but such a force would have had numerous rivers to cross and could have been easily delayed. What's more, as the Americans advanced deep into British-held territory, they would themselves run the risk of being cut off and destroyed. Gates and de Kalb would ultimately adopt a much more conservative (and in my view, sensible) strategy.

Sumter had no intention of adding his numbers to the main American army, but rather saw their offensive as an opportunity when he might "be the better inabled to act aGainst the enemy With a probability of success."

Rocky Mount and Vicinity, July, 1780 (click to enlarge). 1) British post at Rocky Mount, 2) British post at Hanging Rock Creek, 3) site of the battle of Williamson's Plantation, 4) British post at Camden. Shaded area is the Catawba Nation. The dark line at the top of the map is part of the border between North and South Carolina.


1. Sumter is referring to the regiments of Ferguson and Floyd, which were routed at Willamson's Plantation.


Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website has a transcription of Tarleton's postwar memoir.

Thomas Sumter. Letter to Johann De Kalb, July 17, 1780. Colonial and State Records of North Carolina.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Bit of Perspective

Here is a look at a drummer of the 7th Regiment of Foot (Essex miniatures). To provide some sense of scale, I've posed him next to my index finger.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sumter's Continentals

Thomas Sumter's militia brigade was composed primarily of BackCountry South Carolina militia regiments, but it also contained North Carolina militia units, Catawba Indians, and even a few odd Continentals. The main American army in the South was captured at Charleston in May, 1780, but that does not mean that every Continental was captured or remained in captivity. Francis Marion famously missed the siege of Charleston due to an injury, and so could take the field after the American surrender and lead resistance in eastern South Carolina. Some of the rank and file also claimed, in pension applications filed after the war, to have subsequently taken up arms against the British.

As argued in a recent post, some skepticism is in order when assessing pension applications. The pension application of Absalom Baker is a case in point: He claimed to have been, in 1780, captured at Charleston, exchanged 30 days later, and than served at the battles of Waxhaws, Ramsour's Mill, Hanging Rock, Camden (where he was allegedly wounded), and King's Mountain. (Waxhaws, notably, was fought 2-and-a-half weeks after Charleston fell). However, friends vouched for Baker's presence at Charleston, Hanging Rock, Camden, and King's Mountain).

William McMurry, of the 6th South Carolina Regiment, claimed to have been a Continental from about 1779 to 1782, yet stated he fought at Rocky Mount, Hanging Rock, and Camden. No explanation was given for why he was not in captivity after Charleston fell.

Jesse Harrison, of the 10th (and later 1st) North Carolina Regiment, was one to provide some account of how he escaped captivity. He claimed to have served as a North Carolina Continental "untill the fall of Charleston, at which place he escaped, being taken out with the waggons." Subsequently he served at Hanging Rock and Camden.

James Courson, of the 6th South Carolina Regiment, stated that he “was at the siege of Charleston & was taken prisoner then. Most of my comrades were put on board prison ships but there were a great many of the prisoners inoculated on account of the small pox I having had the small pox in my childhood was removed for the purpose of nursing the sick from which place I escaped after about a month. I joined Sumpter the day after the battle of Rocky mount & the next Sunday after we fought the battle of the Hanging rock.”

Robert Wilson, of the 3rd South Carolina Regiment, claimed that he served "until the capture of Charleston in May 1780 when he was surrendered a prisoner of war with General Lincoln's Army – was under a limited parole, on Haddrell's Point near Charleston, a few days before his parole was out, he made his escape, and came home.” However, he didn't remain free for very long: “a few days after his Return was taken prisoner by a party of Tories." After escaping a second time, he "immediately joined General Sumpter upon Clem's Branch in the State of North Carolina, and served until the British left Charleston, That during his Service under General Sumter he was in the Battle at Rocky Mountain, & Hanging Rock.”

A statement by Captain James Jamieson in Wilson's application vouches for this history: “although this deponent never belonged to the Continental establishment himself, yet he has no doubt from many circumstances, that Robert Wilson was captured at Charleston, South Carolina, and made his escape from the British at Haddrell's point, where he was confined on parole, not to go beyond a certain limit: that this was in the month of June, a sickly season of the year, when his life would have been lost by remaining in so unhealthy a place: that said Wilson escaped by breaking his parole, and returning home to Chester District where he was taken prisoner by a gang of Tories from whom he again made his escape, and fled to general Sumter, whose Army said Wilson joined at Haggler's branch, where said Wilson and this deponent served together under Sumter, until this deponent was disabled from further service, by wounds received at the battle of 'Hanging Rock.'"


Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Absalom Baker. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of William McMurry. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Robert Wilson. (.pdf file).

C. Leon Harris transcribed and annotated the pension application of James Courson. (.pdf file).

C. Leon Harris transcribed and annotated the pension application of Jesse Harrison. (.pdf file).

Friday, October 23, 2009

American Riflemen

The autobiography of James Collins contains a succinct description of the dress of the American militiamen fighting in the South Carolina BackCountry:

"It will be, perhaps, proper here to mention, that we were a set of men acting entirely on our own footing, without the promise or expectation of any pay. There was nothing furnished us from the public; we furnished our own clothes, composed of course materials, and all home spun; our over dress was a hunting shirt, of what was called linsey woolsey, well belted around us. We furnished our own horses, saddles, bridles, guns, swords, butcher knives, and our own spurs."

He also described wearing a helmet which was designed to protect the head against the sword blows of mounted opponents (more on this in a future post). Sometimes, however, his dress amounted to a simple “hunting shirt and hat.”

Esteemed artist Don Troiani has painted a number of depictions of American riflemen. These works are consistent with Collins' description and numerous other sources of information.

Links to Troiani paintings:
Morgan's Rifle Corps, 1775
North Carolina militiaman, 1776
Carolina militiaman, 1780

A number of manufacturers of 15mm miniatures have versions of the American rifleman. I have painted to date miniature riflemen produced by Essex Miniatures, Freikorps Miniatures, Musket Miniatures, and Minifigs. Below I show the ones I've painted to date and comment on the relative strengths of each manufacturers' models.

The pack of Essex riflemen I purchased included men in three well-selected poses: kneeling at ready, running, and standing and firing. The Essex riflemen have the longest barrel of the four manufacturers, and their clothing and gear seems historically accurate. These miniatures are robustly 3-dimensional and their facial features have excellent definition.

Essex Miniatures American Revolution riflemen (click to enlarge).

Freikorps riflemen come in four well-selected poses: kneeling and firing, standing and firing, ramming, and standing at ready (or perhaps cocking the gun). Of concern is that the miniatures seem to be based on popular depictions of the American mountainman: the miniatures appear to be wearing fringed buckskin, two of the poses have bearded faces, and one (not shown) is wearing a Davy-Crockett style fur hat. This dress is not a good fit for the average riflemen in American army. Fortunately, the beards can be filed down, and the clothes painted in a way that looks like cloth, not leather. The soldier standing at ready is wearing a decorative sash around the waist that can be painted to look like an officer's sash (and given the large number of officers in some units, this is useful).

Freikorps Miniatures American Revolution Riflemen (click to enlarge).

Musket Miniatures riflemen come in one "ready" pose, as is typical of this line. I like that there is some ambiguity in this pose -- it's easy to imagine the soldier is advancing, or raising the rifle to fire. The barrels on the rifles are relatively short, which is unfortunate. A strength of the line is that there are a number of small variations within each pack in terms of the hat and hair style.

Musket Miniatures American Revolution Riflemen (click to enlarge).

Minifigs riflemen come in one "running" pose. Packs include two officers, who are waving their rifle in one arm. The privates cannot be easily modified; one of the officers' arms can be bent without great difficultly. Overall, this is a good action pose, and the figure resembles Troiani's handsome painting of one of Morgan's riflemen. Like the Essex riflemen, these miniatures have well-selected gear and are robustly 3-dimensional. The lack of variety within a pack is the chief downside.

Minifigs American Revolution Riflemen (click to enlarge).

Perhaps the best way to create historically-realistic variety in a unit is to mix miniatures from several lines. The miniatures from these four manufacturers are all approximately same height, however, the Musket Miniatures riflemen seem small compared to those by Minifigs. Because of the small bases on the Essex and Musket Miniature riflemen, I mounted them on thin Litko bases (in most cases, cut in half). This makes the Musket Miniatures figures seem tall and gangly look when they are placed alongside the others.

The Combined Riflemen (click to enlarge).


James Collins. (1859). Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Reassessing Estimates with Pension Applications

This blog is devoted to exploring battles of the American Revolution. One of the most vexing problems in examining a given battle is determining exactly who were the participants and in what numbers they were present. Precise counts were not always made or preserved, and the estimates made by commanders or other participants may have been subject to any number of errors and biases. For this reason I am interested in the possibility that some other, more "objective" means of estimating troop totals might be possible. I read with great interest the methods described by Lawrence Babits in his history of Cowpens (Devil of a Whipping), in which he relied upon, among other things, the number of pension applications filed by survivors as a means of estimating the numbers of American militia that were present. However, I ended up strongly criticizing the estimates produced by these methods for Cowpens, as well for a second battle, Williamson's Plantation.

To reiterate a point I've made before, the logic behind the methods is sound. Babits reasoned that something like 1 in every 3 or 4 survivors of the battle would have lived long enough to file a pension application. Thus, the number of pension applications filed for a given unit multiplied by 3.5 should provide a reasonably good estimate of the number of participants in that unit. The problem, however, is that the resulting estimates seem to be too high. For example, in the case of Williamson's Plantation, this method yields an estimate that is approximately 50% greater than the likely historical total.

My feeling is that there are two basic reasons why estimates derived from pension applications are too high: 1) some pension applications contain intentionally false information about participation in a given battle, and 2) some pension applications contain inadvertently false information about participation in a given battle.

In regards to the first possibility, it can be noted that every era has its "bad apples," and it would be surprising if some false claims were not filed. Indeed, the incentives to file a false claim were likely considerable during the first part of the 19th Century (a relative dearth of social support for older and disabled adults), while the likelihood that a false statement would be detected was low (claims were often filed far from the place of original service; records for some forms of service were not well preserved).

Even today, when the incentives for making false claims presumably are less and the odds of discovery are better, false claims about military service nevertheless are not uncommon. Consider the following excerpt from a New York Times article published earlier this year:

August 2, 2009
In Ranks of Heroes, Finding the Fakes
By Ian Urbina

Last August, the Texas Department of Transportation started asking applicants for more documentation after discovering that at least 11 of the 67 Legion of Merit license plates on the roads had been issued to people who never earned the medal.

Last September, the House of Representatives passed a bill naming a post office in Las Vegas after a World War II veteran who, it later turned out, had lied when he claimed he had been awarded a Silver Star. The legislation was rescinded.

In May, one of the most prominent veterans’ advocates in Colorado was detained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after it was discovered that his story about heroic service in Iraq and severe injuries from a roadside bomb was an elaborate hoax.

Military imposters are nothing new. But the problem has grown or at least become more obvious as charlatans are easily able to find fake military documents, medals and uniforms on auction Web sites.

At the same time, the Internet has also stepped up the cat-and-mouse game, allowing watchdogs to uncover fraudulent claims much faster and mobilize a more effective response.

“Public opinion of the military went up after the Sept. 11 attacks,” said Thomas A. Cottone Jr., who from 1995 to 2007 ran the F.B.I. unit that investigates cases of military service fraud, “and as more people joined the military and were being publicized winning medals, more phonies were getting ideas.”

Mr. Cottone said that in 2007 he received about 40 to 50 tips per week, roughly triple the number before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Nonetheless, verifying claims of military service and awards remains difficult because no official and comprehensive database exists. The problem has recently led to a number of embarrassing and potentially costly blunders by organizations with much at stake in policing the issue.

In April, The Associated Press found that the Department of Veterans Affairs was paying disability benefits to 286 supposed prisoners of war from the Persian Gulf war of 1991 and to 966 supposed prisoners of the Vietnam War. But Defense Department records show that only 21 prisoners of war returned from the gulf war, and that fewer than 600 are alive from the Vietnam War.

Last month, The Marine Corps Times found 40 erroneous profiles in this year’s Marine Corps Association Directory, including false claims of 16 Medals of Honor, 16 Navy Crosses and 8 Silver Stars.

In response, some members of Congress are calling for an investigation of the veterans department. Katie Roberts, a spokeswoman for Veterans Affairs, said the agency was working with the Defense Department “to analyze and verify the accuracy of the data.”

In regards to the second possibility, it can be noted that pension applications were often filed 50 years or more after the war. A lot can happen to memory in that time. Even memories that seem to be remembered vividly can change over time.

For example, consider the application filed by Anthony Shoto, who claimed to have been present at the battle of Rocky Mount, South Carolina (July 30, 1780):

"One Captain Middleton Asbel then took command of the company of Capt Land a few days after they made an attack, one Sunday morning on Rocky Mount about sunrise, and after a warm contest compelled the enemy to retreat and took the fort. Not many killed or wounded. the enemy retired to Camden and the Americans followed on to the Big Wateree creek, where they halted and remained a short time."

In this case, it's possible to detect a problem, because the applicant didn't simply claim to have been in the battle, but he also provided a few details. The battle of Rocky Mount was fought on a Sunday, and the attack did occur at sunrise, but the fort was not taken. It sounds instead like he conflated the action at Rocky Mount with Sumter's capture of Carey’s Fort in mid-August. So what does this mean – was Shoto actually at Rocky Mount? Possibly yes – it could be that his memory for the action at Rocky Mount became intermixed with his memory for the action at Carey’s Fort, with the result that the two memories became blurred into one.

Alternatively, maybe Shoto was only at Carey’s Fort, but he misremembered the details because of information he was exposed to in later years. Imagine, for a moment, that long after the war he is reminiscing with another old timer and he asks “What was the name of that fort General Sumter attacked?” “Why that was Rocky Mount,” his companion declares. “And when did that occur?” “I don’t reckon I know the exact date, but I do know it was on a Sunday morning.” And so when the time came to submit a pension application, the veteran provided this muddle of information.

I don't know of course which pension applications (beyond individual exceptions) are accurate descriptions of service during the war and which are not. I believe that most pension applications are basically correct and for this reason I cite them often. However, that some proportion of applications may be unreliable certainly complicates efforts to use pension applications to determine troop totals.


Lawrence Babits. (1998). A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens.

C. Leon Harris transcribed and annotated the pension application of Anthony Shoto. (.pdf file).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Battle of Williamson's Plantation 5

Part 5: Aftermath
Previous: Huck's Defeat

The British force at Williamson's Plantation was surprised by the early morning American attack and utterly routed. American losses were perhaps limited to one man and certainly did not exceed several men (see Scoggins' history for details). By all accounts, British losses exceeded those of the Americans. However, there is some uncertainty as to the exact numbers.

Estimates of British losses in pension applications filed long after the war express considerable differences in opinion on this subject. Some claimed only that "Capt. Hook a British officer was killed. Several of the enemy were killed & some taken prisoners" (Gaston), or that the British lost "Capt. Hook and Col. Furguson with several others" (Neely). Others, however, claimed that "Huck was killed and many others" (Morrow) or that "a considerable number" were "killed & wounded," plus "near thirty prisoners" were taken (Patton).

Perhaps the most trustworthy American estimates come not from participants but rather from other American officers that wrote about the battle not long after the event. Major Thomas Blount wrote that "Ferguson, Hook, a Lieut. and 11 others were killed on the ground, and a major, 2 Lieuts. & 27 taken, many of whom are since dead of their wounds; the remainder are dispersed.... Our loss was only one man wounded." Colonel Thomas Sumter wrote that "The enemy's loss, Kild upon the Spot, was one Col., one Capt. & Twelve others; one Majr., one Lt. & Twenty-Seven others taken prisoners, Since Which the Number found Dead a Mounts to Twenty-one; the Loss very considerable among the Dragoons."

These statements indicate that 13-14 men were killed outright, and another 7 men later succumbed to their wounds. Approximately another 23 men were captured. Of those captured, some were undoubtedly wounded during the fighting; however, at least several Loyalists were taken before the battle (cf. Winn's memoir), and perhaps some were taken afterwards as well.

A final source of information is two letters that Lieutenant-Colonel George Turnbull wrote to Colonel Francis Rawdon some hours after the battle.

In one he wrote that "Capt. Huck... is killed. Cornet Hunt is wounded and supposed to be prisoner. Lt. Adamson and Lt. McGrigor of the New York Volunteers, and all our Twenty [here and below, 'our' refers to the New York Volunteers] are Missing. Ens. Cameron of the New York Volunteers, Lt. Lewis of the Militia and Twelve Dragoons and Twelve Militia are Returned." In the second letter he reported that “Nine of our missing men have come in, and one Dragoon... Lt. Adamson Fell of[f] his horse Being much bruised is taken prisoner... seven of ours and a sergt. And two of the Dragoons are Likewise wounded and taken Prisoners. Lt. McGregor and Cornet Hunt we suppose have made their Escape But have not yet arrived--Capt. Huik is the only Person who was killed Dead on the Spot.”

British and American statements, taken in conjunction with Lieutenant Hunt's statements about British strength, suggests that British losses were as follows:

British Legion: Captain Huck killed, Lieutenant Hunt wounded and captured, 2 dragoons wounded and captured, 3 dragoons missing in action. (Twelve dragoons escaped).

New York Volunteers: 1 sergeant and 7 rank and file wounded and captured, 1 rank and file missing in action. (Lieutenant McGrigor, Ensign Cameron, and 9 rank and file escaped). Turnbull claimed that Lieutenant Adamson of the Volunteers was wounded and captured, but according to Michael Scoggins, Adamson was in fact serving with the Loyalist militia.

Loyalist militia: "Colonel" James Ferguson killed; between 3 and 23 men of other ranks were killed or wounded & captured. A number of militia (at least 12 and possibly considerably more) escaped capture and returned to Rocky Mount.

The representation of the battle in miniature is consistent with these totals. With 1 miniature representing 5 participants, 1 casualty was shown for the British Legion, 2 for the New York Volunteers, and 3 for the Loyalist militia.


Thomas Blount. Letter to Abner Nash, July 23, 1780. Colonial and State Records of North Carolina.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Hugh Gaston. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Joseph Morrow (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of George Neely (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of John Patton (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780. (.pdf file).

Michael C. Scoggins. (2005). The Day It Rained Militia: Huck's Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780. (Includes transcriptions of Turnbull's letters to Rawdon).

Thomas Sumter. Letter to Johann De Kalb, July 17, 1780. Colonial and State Records of North Carolina.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Battle of Williamson's Plantation 4

Part 4: Huck's Defeat
Next: Aftermath

The American force spent the night of July 11-12, 1780 searching for Captain Christian Huck's British force. It wasn't until the early hours of the morning that they learned that Huck was encamped near Colonel William Bratton's plantation. By this time the Americans were doubtlessly exhausted, but they remained committed to the attack.

Although virtually every high ranking officer with the Americans would be credited by at least one source with holding the overall command, it seems more likely that decisions were made by committee. Colonel Richard Winn (who claimed to have been the American commander in his memoir), described the Americans' approach in some detail. The Americans, on horseback, were travelling along a road on or near the path of today's Brattonsville Road. He wrote that "it was then about one hour to day brake here Colo Winn Ordered the party to file off to the Left of the Road & Dismount and immediately had the whole paraded then Capt. Read a bold daring Officer was Ordered to pick Out twenty five Men and file off to the left of Col. Brattons plantation and as soon as the Action begun in front he was to attack the rear of the Enemy & take all Straggling parties..." The Americans were as of yet unfamiliar with how Huck and his men were deployed, but sent Read's group off into the woods to attempt to surround the Bratton house.

According to Winn, "at the same time Capt Read received his Orders the Remaining part of the Men Commenced their march to bring on the Action." The main part of the American force expected to encounter the British at any moment. However, "on coming to the fork of the Road was informed by two Tories in Search of their Horses that Colo. Ferguson with his party lay in the Edge of a field which was in advance of the British Horse about three Hundred yards." In other words, when the Americans reached the point where Williamson's Lane began, they learned that the British were not at Bratton's plantation, but at Williamson's neighboring plantation. There, "Capt. Hook who Commanded posted himself in a Strong log House around him prepared to Mount in a moment if Required."

The Americans paused and worked out a new plan of attack. Again, the tactical plan was to send a detachment in rear of the British position. Winn wrote, "you must Understand when I took the two Tories I halted for a short time and sent Capt. McClure with his Company Round Williams plantation to attack the Enemy as soon as he heard the first firing." Not mentioned by Winn is whether an effort was made to recall Read or redirect his movements [see Note 1].

The Americans approached the plantation from the west. Evidently, visibility was poor. Although the Loyalists and provincials were awake and their equipage packed, they did not see the Americans before they had closed to within rifle range. Winn wrote, "the Sun was about to rise and notwithstanding I marched in 10 or 15 Steps for at least 200 yards of Colo Fergusons party [i.e., Loyalist militia] I was not discovered until they were fired on Colo Ferguson and some of his Men was killed the first onset the rest ran and Chiefly left their Horses tho saddled and ready to Mount." John Craig likewise remembered Ferguson as being among the first to fall. He "stood at the end of the lane and was shot down, and his clothing was blackened with the gun powder." This description suggests that the Americans very quickly closed with the Loyalists. This rapid headlong rush sent first the Loyalist militia and then the New York Volunteers into headlong flight.

The Americans Attack (click to enlarge). Here and below, 1 miniature represents 5 participants in the battle.

John Craig remembered that "We heard the words, 'boys take over the fence,'" "and our men rushed after the Tories and British as they fled before us." Lieutenant-Colonel William Hill wrote that "there were many of their carcasses found in the woods some days after." Hill's statement implies that the fleeing soldiers did not rush down the lane en masse (which would have made them easy targets), but many instead fled through the fields and into the woods with a number of the Americans in pursuit.

"Take Over the Fence" (click to enlarge). Loyalists and Provincials flee before the American surprise attack.

At the same time that British resistance collapsed on the west end of the plantation, a second American force emerged from the woods behind the Williamson house. Militiaman James Collins, a 16-year-old armed with an obsolete shotgun, was with this force.

Collins wrote, "Not long after sunrise, we came in sight of their headquarters, which were in a log building. In the rear of the building was a large peach orchard; at some distance behind the peach orchard we all dismounted and tied our horses [see Note 2]; we then proceeded on foot through the orchard, thinking the peach trees would be a good safeguard, against the charge of the horsemen. We had not proceeded far until the sentinels discovered us--fired on us and fled. The troops were soon mounted and paraded. This, I confess, was a very imposing sight, at least to me, for I had never seen a troop of British horse before, and thought they differed vastly in appearance from us--poor hunting-shirt fellows. The leader drew his sword, mounted his horse, and began to storm and rave, and advanced on us; but we kept close to the peach orchard. When they had got pretty near the peach trees, their leader called out, “disperse you d--d rebels, or I will put every man of you to the sword.”

"We Did Not Stop One Minute" (two views; click to enlarge). The main American force advances from the west while a detachment approaches the Williamson house through the orchard.

Under ordinary conditions, this American detachment would have been overwhelmed by the British Legion dragoons. However, the dragoons didn't have the opportunity to mount a charge. At the same time that Huck responded to the danger in his rear, the main American force pressed towards the Williamson house. Winn wrote that "here we did not stop one Minute [after driving off the Loyalists and Provincials] but went on to commence our Attack on the British horse in a clear open old field we was paraded in About one Hundred yards from them." Collins, in the peach orchard, watched as "Our rifle balls began to whistle among them." John Craig, who was with the main American force claimed that "John Carroll led the way, I was next to him, and Charles Miles next." Huck was doomed. "We halted to fire and both Miles and Carroll fired at the same time, and brought down the Captain of the British Dragoons."

Collins saw that "Hook was shot off his horse and fell at full length; his sword flew out of his hand as he fell and lay at some distance, and both lay till some of his men gathered about him and around him two or three times. At length one halted and pointed his sword downward, seemed to pause a moment, then raising his sword, wheeled off and all started at full gallop. We then moved on to the house without opposition, but all had disappeared. There Collins saw two more dragoons that had been struck. "In the yard sat two good looking fellows bleeding pretty freely, their horses standing at no great distance: one of whom was shot through the thigh."

Huck's End. Huck lies in the yard of the Williamson house, his command scattered.

With that, the battle of Williamson's Plantation was over [see Note 3].

Winn reflected that "we was in full possession of the field in five Minutes without the loss of a Single Man Either Kild or Wounded, as I am well convinced the Enemy during the Action Never fired a Single gun or pistol." Another participant, Hugh Gaston, likewise believed that "The action continued but a few minutes."


1. Given the small size of the companies and regiments it seems surprising that Captains Read and McClure would be charged with commanding these important detachments and not one of the higher-ranking officers that were present. It may be that each of the senior officers regarded himself as the rightful commander of the main force and so chose to remain with it (Sumter was not present and he seemingly had not designated a second in command). Perhaps the several colonels eschewed command of a secondary force because it would serve as tacit acknowledgment of one's subordinate position. Alternatively, rank was sometimes determined by political considerations rather than by military ability (such was the case with Lieutenant-Colonel William Hill); perhaps Read and McClure were given these commands because they were recognized as especially active and able.

2. On this detail, accounts differ. According to Winn, the Americans had all dismounted some time earlier.

3. Or perhaps not. Winn described the the British fleeing eastward and wrote that "as they ran by Capt. McClure he gave them a fire but was not near enough to do them much damage he had the misfortune to lose one Man being a little advanced before the rest was I was inform kild by One of his Own party." Winn believed there were two groups of Americans on the battlefield: the main body, with which he served, and McClure's party. Winn wrote ruefully, "I do believe had I have not lost the Service of Capt. Read but few of the British or Tories would have been able to have Escaped." If Winn's account is accurate, then the group of Americans in the peach orchard must have been commanded by Captain McClure. The representation in miniature shows how Winn's account can be connected to Collins': the fleeing Loyalist militia and New York Volunteers cross the path of the Americans in rear of the house, allowing the Americans to have given them a fire before approaching Huck and the British Legion dragoons. Collins wrote that "For my own part, I fired my old shot gun only twice in the action. I suppose I did no more harm than burning so much powder." He did not mention seeing a group of retreating British infantry -- only some sentries and the British Legion dragoons. Rather than conclude that Collins omitted an important detail, Michael Scoggins concluded that Winn was mistaken about Read's absence. Scoggins placed Read's group (including Collins) behind the Williamson house, and McClure's group further to the east. The representation in miniature is consistent with this interpretation as well -- it just doesn't show such a third group, because it would have encountered the fleeing British outside the area I modeled.

William Hill's account of the battle touches somewhat on this issue. He wrote: "The plan was to attack both ends of the Lane at the same time, but unfortunately the party sent to make the attack on the east end of the lane met with some embarrassments, by fences, brush, briars &c. that they could not get to the end of the lane until the firing commenced at the west end." His account places two forces of Americans in the battle, which is consistent with the view that Collins was with McClure. However, he places the second group near the road, rather than behind the house, which is consistent with the view that Collins was with Read.


James Collins. (1859). Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Hugh Gaston. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed William Hill's memoir. (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed General Richard Winn's Notes -- 1780. (.pdf file).

Michael C. Scoggins. (2005). The Day It Rained Militia: Huck's Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry, May-July 1780. (Includes transcriptions of statements by many participants).