Revolutionary War battles in our back yards

news@lakewyliepilot.comMay 31, 2011 

The years of 1780-1781 were critical for establishing our independent nation and the area surrounding present-day Lake Wylie was prominently involved in that great rebellion, the Revolutionary War. More battles were fought within 150 miles of our community than in all the rest of the colonies. The Southern Campaign, as the British called it, proved to be pivotal in the patriotic struggle for independence. We owe much to our ancestors who fought and died for the cause of liberty.

After an unsuccessful attempt to capture Charles Town in 1776, British Generals Clinton and Cornwallis laid siege to the port city and captured it in May 1780. Even worse, they captured and imprisoned 5,000 Continental soldiers. This military thrust into the Carolinas set the stage for victory or defeat for both the British and their loyal Tories and for the Continentals and Partisans. The Carolina backcountry quickly became the battleground of this epic struggle between tyranny and liberty.

Six key battles in that backcountry war occurred within 20 miles of Lake Wylie. These include, in chronological order, Hill’s Iron Works, Huck’s Defeat, Stallions’ Plantation, Bigger’s Ferry, the Battle of Charlotte and Kings Mountain.

Hill’s Iron Works

Col. William “Billy” Hill, a fierce lover of liberty and his partner Isaac Hayne owned and operated an iron works plantation on Allison Creek, which fed into Lake Wylie. When the British and their loyalist friends learned Hill’s Iron Works was supplying ammunition, cannons and swords to the Partisans, they ordered Loyalist Capt. Christian Huck of Col. Tarleton’s British Legion to destroy the place. Huck and his cavalry pillaged the backcountry in this area and made a surprise attack on the Iron Works on June 18, 1780, killing seven Partisans and capturing four. Hayne was captured and later released on parole. Hill escaped to fight Huck four weeks later at Brattonsville. In August, the British hanged Isaac Hayne for breaking his parole, which forbade him to take up arms against the British.

Hill’s Iron Works was located on the northeast side of the S.C. 274 bridge that crosses Allison Creek on the south end of Lake Wylie. An historic marker is located beside the road on the southeast side of the bridge.

Huck’s Defeat

Full of confidence, Capt. Huck and his cavalry again struck out to repulse the rebellious Partisans, largely Presbyterians who lived in family clans throughout the region. Col. William Bratton, who was the patriarch of one such clan located just south of present-day South Carolina Highway 322 southwest of Rock Hill. Bratton was serving under Col. Thomas Sumter and had become a target for the British because he commanded a Partisan force of more than 300 men. Huck and his force of 400 men surrounded Bratton’s house at Brattonsville on July 12, 1780. He forced Mrs. Bratton to fix a meal for him and his officers, and attempted to intimidate her into telling him where her husband and his men were located. She courageously refused to cooperate with Huck, even when threatened by one of his men with a reaping hook around her neck.

Fortunately, one of their servants named Watt rode off that evening, located Bratton and his men, and told him about the incident. Just before daylight, Bratton and his men sneaked up on Huck and his men who had camped about a quarter of a mile from the Bratton home. After surrounding the camp, they opened fire and won the day. Huck was killed while trying to escape. The Partisans suffered one loss while the 35 British were killed, 50 wounded and 29 captured. This was the first sizable battle won by the Partisans against the British and their Tories. Many more unaffiliated farmers then joined the ranks of the Partisans, thereby strengthening the cause of liberty, and Billy Hill got his revenge.

Brattonsville is located on Brattonsville Road, just off South Carolina Highway 322 near McConnells.

Stallions’ Plantation

The action at Stallions’ Plantation occurred in late July 1780. John Stallions owned a large plantation on Fishing Creek, south of present-day Lake Wylie, and was holding a recruitment meeting for local Tories in his home. Partisan Capt. Andrew Love, Stallions’ brother-in-law, learned about the meeting and persuaded Col. Thomas Brandon of the South Carolina Little River Regiment, to join him in routing out the Tories. Thomas Young, 16, who fought with his uncle, Thomas Brandon, described the skirmish.

“Before we arrived at the house in which they were fortified, we were divided into two parties. Captain Love with a party of sixteen, of whom I was one, marched to attack the front, while Colonel Brandon with the remainder, made a circuit to intercept those who should attempt to escape and also to attack the rear. Mrs. Stallions, on the approach of her brother, ran out and begged him not to fire upon the house. He told her it was too late now and that their only chance for safety was to surrender. She ran back to the house and sprang upon the door step, which was pretty high. At this moment the house was attacked in the rear and Mrs. Stallions was killed by a ball shot through the opposite door. At the same moment with Brandon’s attack, our party raised a shout and rushed forward. We fired several rounds which were briskly returned. It was not long, however, before the Tories ran up a flag, first upon the end of a gun, but as that did not look exactly peaceful, a ball was put through the fellow’s arm. In a few moments it was raised on a ram-rod and we ceased firing,” from “Backcountry Fury, A Sixteen-Year-Old Patriot in the Revolutionary War.”

The Tories had two killed, four wounded and 28 prisoners who were sent to Charlotte. The Partisans had only one wounded, Thomas Young’s friend and mess-mate, William Kennedy.

Stallions’ Plantation is located southeast of York, on South Carolina Highway 5 near Park Place Road.

Bigger’s Ferry

On Sept. 25, 1780, Gen. Earl Cornwallis and about 2,000 troops marched up the Camden to Charlotte Road from Winnsboro to capture Charlotte. Cornwallis learned Partisan commander Col. Thomas Sumter’s Brigade was camped on the east side of the Catawba River at Bigger’s Ferry. Cornwallis dispatched his legion Dragoons (cavalry) under Maj. George Hanger to attack Sumter’s camp. Fortunately, Sumter and his officers anticipated Cornwallis’s action and had many of their men ferried across the river while the rest rode across a nearby ford. When the British arrived that evening, Sumter’s men ambushed them from across the river. This skirmish lasted only a short while before the British returned to Cornwallis’s camp to prepare for the immediate invasion of Charlotte. This action prevented the British from capturing area Partisans who continued to pester Cornwallis and his troops in Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. More information can be found in “Parker’s Guide to the Revolutionary War in South Carolina,” Hem Branch Publishing, 2009.

The site of Bigger’s Ferry is under the water at the south end of Lake Wylie. If you follow North Youngblood Road to the lake, it would have been about one-third of the way across the lake at that point. There is an historical marker on the west side of the lake on Mason Ferry Road at a subdivision on the lake.

Battle of Charlotte

On Sept. 26, 1780, Lord Cornwallis and his troops invaded Charlotte by moving north up Tryon Street, which bears the name of the British Colonial Governor, to the town square at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets. It was here that Col. William R. Davie and about 150 cavalry militia made their stand around the old courthouse. British Dragoons charged the rag-tag Partisans three times before they fell back and sustained a moving fight for the next hour or more, north up Tryon Street and into the country toward Salisbury. Davie and his men delayed the British long enough for the Partisan infantry to escape to Salisbury and regroup. Several British and American Partisans died in this battle where the British outnumbered the Partisans by about 2,000 to 150 men.

Cornwallis remained at Charlotte for only two weeks before returning to his main camp at Winnsboro, south of Charlotte. His men were continuously harassed by Partisans as they attempted to forage for food and supplies and Cornwallis became ill. He moved his troops out of Charlotte in the dead of night and camped at Thomas Spratt’s plantation at Nations Ford on the Catawba River at the northwest side of the present-day Highway 77 Bridge crossing into Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Thomas “Kanawha” Spratt’s story is another wonderful legacy for our historical Lake Wylie area, but it will have to wait for another time. The Battle of Charlotte occurred at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets in downtown Charlotte. Historical markers are located there.

Kings Mountain

At the same time Cornwallis occupied Charlotte, British Maj. Patrick Ferguson sent couriers into the Carolina backcountry notifying them that unless they came under his standard and declared allegiance to the King, he would consider them rebels and would lay waste to their homes and farms with fire and sword. This declaration riled up Partisans from across the Carolinas, Georgia, over the mountains into Virginia, and present-day West Virginia and Tennessee.

These backcountry Partisans, including Thomas Young, and the “over the mountain men” rushed to meet Ferguson and defend their land and homes. They found him less than 20 miles from present-day Lake Wylie, camped atop Kings Mountain located between Charlotte, North Carolina and Gaffney. About 900 Partisan militia surrounded the small mountain on the afternoon of Oct. 7, 1780, and faced more than 1,000 British-trained Tories led by Ferguson. The Partisans, led by Col. William Campbell of Virginia, rushed up the mountain at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Thomas Young described the action in his memoirs, as stated in “Backcountry Fury”: “I well remember how I behaved. Ben Hollingsworth and I took right up the side of the mountain and fought our way from tree to tree, up to the summit. I recollect I stood behind one tree and fired till the bark was nearly all knocked off and my eyes got pretty well filled with it. One fellow shaved me pretty close, for his bullet took a piece out of my gun-stock. Before I was aware of it, I found myself apparently between my regiment and the enemy, as I judged from seeing the white paper which the Whigs (Partisans) wore in their hats, and the pine knots (evergreen sprigs) the Tories wore in theirs.”

After three attempts, the Partisans succeeded in reaching the top of the mountain and winning the battle. They killed Maj. Ferguson and 224 of his men. The American Partisans lost 28 men, including Thomas Young’s commander, Col. James Williams. Ferguson’s troops suffered another 160 wounded and 700 men were captured.

Many historians believe this battle was the beginning of the end for the Revolutionary War.

The January 1781 Battle of Cowpens, west of Gaffney, became another pivotal battle for the Americans. Both Kings Mountain and Cowpens are national parks and are open to visitors. The Kings Mountain battlefield is located just south of Highway 85 between the cities of Gastonia and Kings Mountain.

Dr. Zeiss is president of Central Piedmont Community College and lives on Lake Wylie. He has recently released his latest historic novel, which features Thomas Young, titled “Backcountry Fury, A Sixteen-Year-Old Patriot in the Revolutionary War.”

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