The American Revolution in North Carolina

Peacock's Bridge

May 6, 1781


Patriot Cdr:

Col. James Gorham
British Cdr:

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton
Killed:

0
Killed:

0
Wounded:

Unk
Wounded:

Unk
Captured:

0
Captured:

0
Original County: 

Wayne County
Present County:

Wilson County

While Lord Cornwallis's army was recuperating in the relative safety of Wilmington, Maj. Gen. Leslie's health took a turn for the worse and he departed Charlestown for New York. Brig. Gen. Charles O'Hara recovered from his wounds and was restored to command of the Guards. Captains Dunglass and Maynard of the Guards contracted fevers and both died.

Lt. Gen. Cornwallis had to decide what the next course of action should be, and he finally asked the opinions of his remaining officers. Their options were to return to Charlestown and build up their force again, or they could remain in Wilmington and possibly be surrounded by Patriot forces.

Lord Cornwallis did not agree with how Maj. Gen. Henry Clinton was fighting this war. The British strategy had been to take as many cities and as much ground as possible to deny the Patriots any place in which to operate, while at the same time the British never brought the Patriot army into a major engagement such that they could be defeated. The British did take cities and terrain, only to relinquish it back to the Patriots after a few months. Lord Cornwallis wrote to Maj. Gen. Clinton that it would have been better to give up New York and to move his army into the field where they could then find Maj. Gen. George Washington's army and destroy it.

He had tried this "search and destroy" strategy in North Carolina against Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, but in the end he did not have enough troops to be victorious. After the battle of Guilford Court House, he knew that there were not enough troops in both Carolinas and Georgia to subdue Greene's army. However, he calculated that he would have enough men if he combined his army with that of Maj. Gen. William Phillips on the banks of the James River in Virginia. He then decided to go directly against Maj. Gen. Clinton's orders and to combine the two armies - and at the same time splitting the northern and southern colonies.

To make this plan even more desirable, Virginia was a large area that had hardly been touched by the already long war. The Chesapeake Bay was a huge harbor and the whole of Virginia was essentially undefended except for some militia. There were a few regulars under LaFayette and Wayne, but their combined armies would be less than Phillip's force. Lord Cornwallis sent details of his plan to Phillips in a ciphered letter.

He then decided to head north without waiting for Maj. Gen. Phillip's response, and he dispatched Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton to go seize all the boats on the Cape Fear River. Capt. Ingles of the Royal Navy also sent boats from his nearby ships in the river. Lord Cornwallis and Lt. Col. Tarleton rendezvoused about fifteen miles above Wilmington, and the Cape Fear was crossed without incident. Two of the boats were then mounted on wagons so they could be used again in future crossings.

In front as usual, Lt. Col. Tarleton's Legion led the British army with 180 dragoons and a few light companies of the 82nd Regiment and the Royal North Carolina Regiment - all mounted. His orders were to gather intelligence and to force the mills along the way to grind grain for the British.

On the banks of Contentnea Creek, Col. James Gorham with four hundred men of the Pitt County Regiment of Militia tried to stop Lt. Col. Tarleton at Peacock's Bridge. The Patriots fired upon the dragoons as they galloped across the sturdy bridge, to no avail - the Patriots were scattered as soon as the enemy reached the opposite side.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. James Gorham - Commanding Officer

Pitt County Regiment of Militia - 400 men

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Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton - Commanding Officer

British Legion, with 180 men

82nd Regiment - two companies of mounted infantry

Royal North Carolina Regiment detachment of unknown number of men, all mounted



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