The American Revolution in North Carolina

The North Carolina Militia

 

In September of 1775, the Third Provincial Congress divided the state into six military districts. These districts were each comprised of a number of counties surrounding a significant town and corresponded with existing judicial districts: Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough, New Bern, Salisbury, and Wilmington. Later, one additional district was added, further dividing the mountainous western part of the state, which was much later ceded to Tennessee.

At this point in time, the North Carolina legislators were not too keen on the idea of the traditional Militia, which had been around since the colony was first founded over one hundred years earlier. Therefore, no Militias were actually "authorized" - the Provincial Congress opted for Minutemen - a full time army paid for by the province. In September of 1775, six battalions of Minutemen were established - as Provincial Troops - for a trial period of six months.

However, most of the ardent leaders within each existing county took it upon themselves to start assembling their local Militias - long before the Provincial Congress even got around to considering their official moves. In October of 1774, the Johnston County Militia was mustered and began training. In March of 1775, both the Brunswick County and the New Hanover County Militias were organized. Most other counties followed suit and their Militias were in place and operational prior to the Provincial Congress's choice for Minutemen.

As a result, the Province suffered considerable confusion when the legislation was issued in September of 1775. Two regiments of Provincial Troops (later to be put on the Continental Line), six battalions (regiments) of Minutemen, and thirty-five (35) county regiments began competing for able-bodied young men to fill their quotas. Each county was also required to supply the men required to field Minutemen units.

When the six-months were up, the Minutemen were disbanded. Legislators quickly realized that they were more expensive than Militia, which could be called up and sent home, thereby cutting costs - instead of paying for a standing army that got paid whether it fought or not. Furthermore, the handful of Militia units that had gotten involved in the Province's few skirmishes and the major battle (Moore's Creek Bridge) during this six-month period had acquitted themselves rather well - so, what the heck's wrong with Militia?

Well, confusion simply cannot walk away. Since some counties had previously had a Colonel in charge of Minutemen and another Colonel in charge of Militia - now what do they do with two (or more in some cases) Colonels? Tell one to go home? Of course not. Both - keep mustering your Militia as long as you're willing to. If not, then go home - or - turn it over to someone else to be another Colonel. From mid-1776 on, the many different Militia units within North Carolina evolved as the State civil authorities did its best to keep the troops clothed, fed, and equipped.

The North Carolina government did require each county regiment and all district brigades to prepare muster rolls, however very few currently exist. Through some herioic efforts by numerous amateur and professional historians, there are several muster rolls and pension lists available in books and on the web. But, few are 100% complete. What is presented herein is the culmination of several years of research attempting to sort them all out, along with a comprehensive review of over 5,500 federal pension applications created in the early 1800s. Errors will certainly continue, but hopefully over time as new information becomes available, the collective "we" will get things more and more accurate.

By September 9, 1775, the 35 Counties Fielded Their Regiments of Militia:

Anson County Regiment

Beaufort County Regiment

Bertie County Regiment

Bladen County Regiment

Brunswick County Regiment

Bute County Regiment

Carteret County Regiment

Chatham County Regiment

Chowan County Regiment

Craven County Regiment

Cumberland County Regiment

Currituck County Regiment

Dobbs County Regiment

Duplin County Regiment

Edgecombe County Regiment

Granville County Regiment

Guilford County Regiment

Halifax County Regiment

Hertford County Regiment

Hyde County Regiment

Johnston County Regiment

Martin County Regiment

Mecklenburg County Regiment

New Hanover County Regiment

Northampton County Regiment

Onslow County Regiment

Orange County Regiment

Pasquotank County Regiment

Perquimans County Regiment

Pitt County Regiment

Rowan County Regiment

Surry County Regiment

Tryon County Regiment

Tyrrell County Regiment

--

Wake County Regiment
On October 22, 1775, the NC Provincial Congress split the Rowan County Regiment into two separate and distinct regiments of Militia. The existing Rowan County Regiment was called the 1st Rowan County Regiment, and the new regiment was called the 2nd Rowan County Regiment
On December 22, 1775, the NC Provincial Council split the Pasquotank County Regiment into two separate and distinct regiments of Militia. The existing Pasquotank County Regiment was called the 1st Pasquotank Regiment, and the new regiment was called the 2nd Pasquotank County Regiment.
In February of 1776, as the Highland Scots were communicating with Royal Governor Josiah Martin, Col. John Ashe, Sr. created his own small regiment of hand-picked men - the Volunteer Independent Rangers. They were disbanded not long after the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776.
On April 22, 1776, the NC Provincial Congress authorized the creation of the Northern Orange County Regiment, and it renamed the existing Orange County Regiment as the Southern Orange County Regiment.
On May 3, 1776, the NC Provincial Congress authorized the creation of two special regiments of Militia in anticipation of a rumored British invasion along the Cape Fear - the 1st Battalion of Militia and the 2nd Battalion of Militia. These units were hastily assembled and marched to Wilmington and Brunswick. The British bypassed the Cape Fear and went on southward to Charlestown, SC. After building a large barracks complex in Wilmington, these units were disbanded soon thereafter, on August 13, 1776.
On May 4, 1776, the NC Provincial Congress established a Brigade of Militia in each of the six (6) districts. All existing county regiments were now a part of a larger brigade. These brigades continued until the end of the war.

The Six (6) New Brigades of Militia Created on May 4, 1776:

Edenton District Brigade

Halifax District Brigade

Hillsborough District Brigade

New Bern District Brigade

Salisbury District Brigade

Wilmington District Brigade
On November 23, 1776, the NC Provincial Council created two new special regiments of Militia in anticipation of yet another British invasion that never materialized - the 1st Battalion of Volunteers and the 2nd Battalion of Volunteers. Administratively, these regiments were placed under the command of the Halifax District Brigade of Militia, but they mostly served in camp just outside of Camden, SC, drilling and marching until they were disbanded on April 10, 1777. 
On December 23, 1776, the NC Provincial Congress authorized the creation of the Washington District Regiment of Militia. This district was renamed as a county on December 18, 1777.
On May 9, 1777, the NC General Assembly created three new counties. The 2nd Pasquotank County Regiment became the newly-created Camden County Regiment. The 2nd Rowan County Regiment became the newly-created Burke County Regiment. The Northern Orange County Regiment became the newly-created Caswell County Regiment. The Southern Orange County Regiment reverted back to simply the Orange County Regiment. There were now 39 counties and 39 regiments of Militia within the State.
On December 9, 1777, the NC General Assembly authorized the creation of the Wilkes County Regiment. On December 17, 1777, the NC General Assembly authorized the creation of the Nash County Regiment. On December 18, 1777, the NC General Assembly renamed the Washington District as the Washington County. Somtime during December of 1777, the NC General Assembly transferred the Martin County Regiment out of the Edenton District Brigade of Militia into the Halifax District Brigade of Militia. There were now 41 counties and 41 regiments of Militia within the State.
On November 18, 1778, Governor Richard Caswell appointed John Ashe, Sr. as the state's first Major General over all NC Militia and State Troops. Major General John Ashe, Sr. assembled nearly 2,000 men from all over the state and marched with them into South Carolina, where he met up with Continental Major General Benjamin Lincoln near the Savannah River. On March 3, 1779, Major General John Ashe, Sr. led the NC Militia at the battle of Briar Creek, GA, where the Patriots were badly defeated. Major General John Ashe, Sr. and two Brigadier Generals of the Militia resigned not long thereafter.
On January 30, 1779, the NC General Assembly created four new counties and their associated regiments of Militia - the Franklin County Regiment of Militia, the Gates County Regiment of Militia, the Jones County Regiment of Militia, and the Warren County Regiment of Militia. Bute County and its associated regiment was abolished. On February 2, 1779, the NC General Assembly authorized the creation of the Randolph County Regiment of Militia. On February 8, 1779, the NC General Assembly created another three new counties and their associated regiments of Militia - the Lincoln County Regiment of Militia, the Montgomery County Regiment of Militia, and the Rutherford County Regiment of Militia. Tryon County and its associated regiment was abolished. There were now 47 counties and 47 regments of Militia within the State.
On October 30, 1779, the NC General Assembly created two new counties and their associated regiments of Milita - the Richmond County Regiment of Militia and the Sullivan County Regiment of Militia. One November 2, 1779, the NC General Assembly authorized the creation of the Wayne County Regiment of Militia. On November 7, 1779, the NC General Assembly authorized splitting the Mecklenburg County Regiment into two separate and distinct regiments, thereby creating the 2nd Mecklenburg County Regiment. This regiment was disbanded in 3Q 1780. There were now 50 counties and 51 regiments of Militia within the State.
On April 10, 1780, the NC General Assembly appointed Richard Caswell as the second Major General over all NC Militia units. He marched with a large group towards Charlestown, SC, but learned of the town's surrender and returned to Cross Creek. After Major General Horatio Gates took over the Southern Department of the Continental Army, Major General Richard Caswell linked up with Gates and they were soon defeated at the battle of Camden, SC on August 16, 1780. He returned to his home in Dobbs County with some unnamed illness.
On June 2, 1780, the Council of State authorized the creation of two special regiments of Militia since the British had recently captured Charlestown, SC - the 1st NC Regiment of Militia and the 2nd NC Regiment of Militia. Administratively, these two new regiments were under the command of the Edenton District Brigade of Militia. These units were hastily assembled and some marched in time to join up with Major General Horatio Gates in the defeat at the battle of Camden, SC on August 16, 1780. Many units were too late and they retreated to Salisbury until their discharge on September 2, 1780, some even later since they were so far from home.
In June of 1780, Maj. William Richardson Davie was given command of a special unit of Light Horse, mostly men from Mecklenburg County. This unit was called the Independent Corps of Light Horse and remained in existence through August of 1780.
In July of 1780, Lt. Col. William Polk was authorized to create his own militia unit, to be known as Polk's Regiment of Light Dragoons, which included officers and men mostly from Mecklenburg County, but also from Lincoln County and the New Acquisition District of South Carolina. From July of 1780 to April of 1781, this unit was subordinated to Col. Robert Irwin and the Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia. On April 1, 1781, this unit was sanctioned as South Carolina State Troops assigned to Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter for ten months. It remained on active duty well after its ten months were up.
In August of 1780, the Council of State authorized the creation of a new special regiment of Light Horse, the Mounted Volunteers, under Col. Philip Taylor of Granville County. This unit was disbanded in December of 1780.
On September 5, 1780, the NC General Assembly appointed Maryland Continental Brigadier General William Smallwood as the third Major General over all NC Militia units. They never bothered to inform Major General Richard Caswell - who later resigned on October 21, 1780. Major General William Smallwood's appointment was met with great dismay and animosity by many NC military leaders. When Major General Nathanael Greene took over the Southern Department in December of 1780, he quickly realized that Smallwood's appointment was a bad idea and he sent him back to Maryland in January of 1781. Soon thereafter, Richard Caswell was re-appointed as Major General over all NC Militia, a position he retained until the end of the war in 1783.
As of January 1, 1781, there are 50 counties and 50 regiments of Militia within the State. All the special regiments of Militia are now disbanded and there were no counties now with two regiments.
On May 1, 1782, the NC General Assembly decided that the Rowan County Regiment must once again be split into two separate and distinct regiments, and the 2nd Rowan County Regiment was recreated for the duration of the war. On May 17, 1782, the NC General Assembly decided to split the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia into two separate and distinct brigades, and they created the Morgan District Brigade of Militia. There were now 50 counties, 51 regiments of Militia, and seven (7) brigades of Militia within the State.
On April 26, 1783, the NC General Assembly authorized the creation of the Greene County Regiment of Militia. On May 16, 1783, the NC General Assembly authorized the creation of the Davidson County Regiment of Militia. There were now 52 counties, 53 regiments of Militia, and seven (7) brigades of Militia within the State.
On September 3, 1783, the final peace - the Treaty of Paris - was signed. The long, bloody war was finally over.


© 2013 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved