The American Revolution in North Carolina

Cane Creek

September 12, 1780


Patriot Cdr:

Col. Charles McDowell
Loyalist Cdr:

Maj. Patrick Ferguson
Killed:

2
Killed:

1
Wounded:

2
Wounded:

2
Captured:

17
Captured:

0
Original County: 

Burke County
Present County:

Burke County

aka Bickerstaff's Ford or Cowan's Ford. Located in Burke County near McDowell County at Allen's Mountain.


Capt. James Dunlap was the commander of the advance party of Maj. Patrick Ferguson's army and as they moved towards the mountains there was constant skirmishing with the Patriots.

Alexander Chesney wrote, "We continued some time at the Iron Works, and whilst there, a party of loyalist with whom I was, defeated Col. Beauman, destroyed some of his party, and scattered the rest. I was present also, at a small affair at Fair Forest, the particulars of which, as well as numerous other skirmishes, having escaped my memory, scarcely a day passed without some fighting... we marched with horse and some foot past Gilbert's Town towards Colonel Grimes' who was raising a body of rebels to oppose us, when we succeeded in dispersing, taking many prisoners, and then joined the foot at Gilbert's town."

Chesney continued, "Colonel Ferguson soon got intelligence that Colonel McDowell was encamped at Cain and Silver Creeks, on which we marched towards the enemy, crossed the winding creek 23 tmes, found the rebel army strongly posted towards the head of it near the mountains."

Col. Charles McDowell had been riding along the Broad River and was retreating towards the Watauga settlements in what would later become east Tennessee. Col. McDowell learned that Maj. Ferguson was approaching and decided to lay in an ambush where the Loyalists would cross at Cane Creek Ford. Col. McDowell's men were positioned on a hill that "was a small round elevation about a quarter of a mile from the base of the South Mountain then covered with timber and surrounded by a soft swamp."

When the Loyalists crossed the ford, Col. McDowell sprung his ambush. Capt. Dunlap was severely wounded in the thigh. The American Volunteers under Ferguson counter-attacked and took seventeen prisoners along with twelve Patriot horses.

Maj. Joseph McDowell, the colonel's brother, hollered out to the men to never yield, and to stand with him and die. The Loyalists fell back from the spirited defense and retreated from the ford. Col. McDowell realized that his force was outnumbered and retreated across the mountains to Watauga. Maj. Ferguson's advance party withdrew back to Gilbert Town.

Anthony Allaire wrote in his diary, "We totally routed them killed one private, wounded a Capt. White, took seventeen prisoners, twelve horses, all their ammunition, which was only twenty pounds of powder, after which we marched to their encampment and found it abandoned by those Congress heroes. Our loss was two wounded and one killed. Among the wounded was Capt. Dunlap, who received two slight wounds."

As a result of this victory, Maj. Ferguson came to the erroneous and fatal conclusion that the resistance to the Crown in western North Carolina was at an end.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. Charles McDowell - Commanding Officer

Burke County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Charles McDowell and Maj. Joseph McDowell, with seven (7) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Alexander Irvin
- Capt. Thomas Kennedy
- Capt. Joseph McDowell
- Capt. James Reese (Mecklenburg County)
- Capt. John Sigman
- Capt. Joseph White (Wounded)
- Capt. Samuel Woods

Rutherford County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Andrew Hampton, with five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Aaron Deveny (POW/Paroled)
- Capt. Adam Hampton
- Capt. Richard Singleton
- Capt. Patrick Watson
- Capt. James Withrow

The following officers/men are also known to have participated:

Lt. William Walker (Rutherford County)
Ensign Henry Highland (Burke County)
Sgt. John Dysart (Burke County)
Cpl. Edward Harris (Burke County) (POW)
Pvt. Richard Ballew (Burke County)
Pvt. James Blair (Burke County)
Pvt. Joseph Dobson, Jr. (Burke County)
Pvt. William Dysart (Burke County) (Killed)
Pvt. James Hemphill (Burke County) (Killed)
Pvt. George Hodge (Burke County)
Pvt. Matthew Kuykendall (Burke County)
Pvt. Samuel Macke (Burke County)
Pvt. John McCullough (Mecklenburg County)
Pvt. James Murphy (Burke County)
Pvt. William Watson (Rutherford County)
Pvt. James Withrow (Rutherford County)

Maj. Patrick Ferguson - Commanding Officer

American Volunteers, led by Maj. Patrick Ferguson, with unknown number of Loyalists

Capt. James Dunlap (wounded)

Lt. Anthony Allaire

Tryon County Loyalist Militia, led by Col. Ambrose Mills with unknown number of men

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