With the surrender of Charles Towne (modern day Charleston, S.C.) on May 12, 1780, Lord Charles Cornwallis controlled South Carolina and Georgia. Lord Cornwallis and his 8,300 man army set their sights on North Carolina as the next colony to securefor the British crown. Lt. Colonel John Moore and Major Nicholas Welch, two American Loyalists, led the first British attack on the North Carolina colony.
Lord Cornwallis, satisfied with his army’s successes decided to rest his weary soldiers in Charles Towne before advancing northward to North Carolina. However, Moore and Welch, ambitious Tories, sought to strike first in their home territory. On June 13, 1780, the two Loyalist leaders organized recruits at Jacob Ramsour’s Mill near Clark’s Creek in Lincoln County.
General Griffith Rutherford, leader of the Patriot forces in western North Carolina, heard about the gathering of Loyalists soldiers in Lincoln County. Rutherford alerted Colonel Francis Locke and Major Robert Wilson to assemble the militia and break up the Loyalist camp. Four hundred militiamen primarily from the Burke, Iredell, Mecklenburg, and Rowan Counties gathered at Mountain Creek on June 19. A battle between Tory and Patriot neighbors and brothers soon occurred.
As the Tory number reached nearly 1,300 soldiers, General Rutherford, Colonel Locke, and Captain Galbraith Falls planned a surprise attack. Locke led his the poorly-equipped militia to Ramsour’s Mill in the early hours of June 20, 1780, to meet Adam Reep, a Patriot scout with detailed and beneficial information regarding British troop location and strength.
When the sun began to rise on Ramsour’s Mill, the Patriot forces advanced through the early morning fog to surprise the Loyalists. The Tories were confused until they were organized by Moore and Welch to repel the Patriot attack. The battle lasted for nearly two hours between the Patriots and Loyalists. As Daniel W. Barefoot noted, neither side had uniforms to distinguish who was friendly and who was foe, and many soldiers were forced to fight with their hands because they did not have weapons. Barefoot writes, “to identify themselves, the Patriots pinned white paper on their hats while the Tories struck green twigs to theirs” (Encyclopedia of N.C., p. 946).
Even though the Patriots were outnumbered, they soundly defeated the Tories at Ramsour’s Mill. The battle took seventy lives and wounded left two hundred. Most of the perished soldiers, Patriot and Loyalists, were buried in a mass grave.
The Patriot victory at Ramsour’s Mill, although poorly coordinated, left Cornwallis stricken for recruits when he later invaded the western section of North Carolina. In addition, Patriot morale was increased following their victory, indirectly leading to the later victory at King’s Mountain on October 7, 1780.