The American Revolution in South Carolina

Rocky Mount

July 30, 1780


Patriot Cdr:

Col. Thomas Sumter
British Cdr:

Lt. Col. George Turnbull
Killed:

4
Killed:

12
Wounded:

6
Wounded:

included in above
Captured:

2
Captured:

0
Old District: 

Camden District
Present County:

Fairfield County

Extract from Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America, (1787; reprint, North Stratford, NH: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1999), Chapter II, pp. 93-94.

An instance of treachery which took place about this time, ruined all confidence between the regulars and the militia:

The inhabitants in the districts of the rivers Enoree and Tyger had been enrolled since the siege of Charles Town, under the orders of Colonel Floyd; Colonel Neale, the former commanding officer, having fled out of the province for his violent persecution of the loyalists.

One Lisle, who had belonged to the same corps, and who had been banished to the islands, availing himself of the proclamation to exchange his parole for a certificate of his being a good citizen, was made second in command:

And as soon as the battalion was completed with arms and ammunition, he carried it off to Colonel Neale, who had joined Colonel Thomas Sumter's command in the Catawba.

This reinforcement, added to his former numbers, inspired Colonel Sumter with a desire of signalizing himself, by attacking some of the British posts upon the frontier.

Having gained the necessary information, he directed his efforts against the corps at Rocky Mount.

Near the end of July he passed the Broad River, at Blair's Ford, with about nine hundred men, and advanced upon Turnbull, whose force was composed of one hundred and fifty provincials, and as many militia.

The defenses of Rocky Mount consisted of two log houses, a loop-holed building, and an abbatis; placed upon an eminence, which commanded a view of the neighbouring country.

Col. Sumter having no cannon to destroy the abbatis, or the buildings, selected some of his bravest followers, to remove the former, and to endeavour to set fire to the latter, whilst his people, under cover of the trees and rocks, on the declivity of the mountain, maintained a heavy fire upon the garrison.

After three attacks, in the last of which some of the forlorn hope penetrated within the abbatis, the American commander retreated with loss and precipitation.

In the gallant defense of this post, Lt. Col.Turnbull had one officer killed, one wounded, and about ten men killed and wounded.


The British had a post at Rocky Mount, a strong position on the summit of a small hill of present-day Great Falls. It included two log houses with a frame building loop-holed for defense, surrounded by a ditch and abatis. Lt. Col. George Turnbull had about 300 provincials and Loyalists to defend the post.

Col. Thomas Sumter's informants claimed the frame structure only had clapboard siding, easily pierced by rifle balls. However, the British added another wall inside the building and filled in the intervening space with clay, making it impervious to gunfire.

Taking about 500 men, Col. Sumter moved against Rocky Mount on Sunday morning, July 30th, and sent a summons to Lt. Col. Turnbull, who had about 300 provincials and militia to defend his post. Lt. Col. Turnbull refused to surrender and Col. Sumter began the attack.

Three times, covered by riflemen, Col. Sumter's men tried to tear away enough of the abatis to approach the buildings and each time they had losses. The last attempt did penetrate the abatis, but not enough for any hope of a full-scale attack.

It was noticed that a large boulder near the buildings could shelter two men while they threw firebrands onto the rooftops, if they could reach it. Two men volunteered and strapped billets of lightwood around themselves to serve the dual purpose of makeshift armor and fuel for their flames. They dashed to the boulder, and one attempted to kindle a fire while the other kept watch.

Lt. Col. Turnbull realized what was going on and sent a bayonet sortie from one of the buildings. The two men behind the large boulder quickly retreated back to their lines. To prevent another bayonet sortie, Col. Sumter moved rifelmen into position, and the two volunteers once again found shelter behind the large boulder. With a fire quickly started it was not long before they began hurling flaming lightwood brands onto the buildings. Several small fires flared up, but a sudden rainstorm came up and doused the flames.

Frustrated by the elements, Col. Sumter called off the attack. The battle had lasted eight hours and cost the British one officer killed, another wounded, and ten other men dead or wounded. Col. Sumter's casualties were not reported.

During the withdrawal, the Patriots met two parties of the enemy marching to reinforce the post. In the following skirmishes, Col. Sumter lost 20 men but is said to have killed 60 of the enemy.


This is the first battle after the Fall of Charleston under the leadership of Thomas Sumter. Prior to the Fall of Charleston, Thomas Sumter had been a colonel in the SC 6th Regiment until his resignation in September of 1778. For almost two years, Sumter sat out the war at his home in the High Hills of the Santee.

On May 28, 1780 he received word that British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton was headed his way in pursuit of Col. Buford's force, which he caught and massacred at Waxhaws the next day. Upon hearing this news, Sumter put on his old regimental uniform, kissed his wife and son goodbye, and rode off with his slave, named Soldier Tom.

Sumter went looking for the exiled governor of South Carolina, John Rutledge, whom he found in Salisbury, North Carolina. Governor Rutledge approved Sumter's plan to carry the war back into South Carolina and he provided Sumter with nineteen $1,000 certificates. Sumter and a few refugees headed down the Catawba River, where 200 Catawba Indians joined his force.

On June 15th, a group of South Carolinians held a backwoods convention and elected Thomas Sumter as their leader. Some went on to assert that he was now a "general," but this would require legislative backing, which Sumter did not have at this point in time. Sumter accepted their election as their leader, but considered himself a militia colonel, elected by those under him - which was the custom at that time.

Col. Sumter quickly built up his militia in the heavily wooded area near Hill's Iron Works at Clem's Branch. He camped there for a month and created a fort by ordering "the timber to be felled in different directions round the Camp some what in the form of an Abatis and the body of the trees split and leaned over a strong pole supported by forks or some hight stump, the other end on the ground at an angle of 30 degrees elevation and facing the avenues left through the brush or abatis for passage, so that they would answer the double purpose for the men to lay under and for defence. If the enemy's cavalry had come unless they were supported by a large body of Infantry or artillery, they could not have forced the Camp."

The Patriot victory at Williamson's Plantation earlier that month helped to increase Sumter's ranks, but he knew that this would not last. Draper wrote that Sumter lost men the longer he stayed at Clem's Branch. "While he kept moving and fighting the enemy his men kept with him, but when only attending routine duty and evening formations, they left for home." Sumter decided he needed to use his militia quickly in a strike against the post at Rocky Mount.

On July 28th, Sumter broke camp and headed towards Maj. William Richardson Davie's (NC) camp in the Waxhaws. The Waxhaw Meeting House had become a hospital for the eighty wounded survivors of Buford's Massacre. Since it was located between the two opposing armies it was unable to get any proper medical support and survived due to the assistance of the Patriots.

Capt. John McClure joined up with Sumter that night at Davie's camp at the Waxhaws with some prisoners from Williamson's Plantation. Sumter asked Maj. William Richardson Davie to join his forces and asked him to stage a diversionary attack on Hanging Rock while Sumter would be attacking Rocky Mount.

On July 29th, Sumter's army received "double rations and a suitable supply of ammunition" and began their march south to Rocky Mount. Maj. Davie's militia marched down the east side of the Catawba River "to place himself between the British posts at Hanging Rock and Rocky Mount." Sumter's group "took the road leading to Lansford, crossed the river at sunset, marched all night and invested Rocky Mount at sunrise."

When his force arrived on Sunday morning, July 30th, they ran into a camp of about 100 Loyalists. These were men who had arrived at the post late and had set up their camp outside the walls of the fort. Col. Richard Winn led the advance force and his men fired upon the Loyalists, who promptly ran off, many of them leaving their horses. The shots alarmed the garrison inside, who immediately returned fire upon Winn's Patriots.

Sumter then charged the fort. Col. William Hill wrote in his memoirs, "This was made under the impression that the Enemy was in a large framed house, the walls of which were only thin clap boards, and we supposed that our balls [would] have the desired effect by shooting through the wall. But... the enemy had wrought day & night and had placed small longs about a foot from the inside of the wall and rammed the cavity with clay.... we [could] injure them in no way, but by shooting in their port holes."

Sumter's men made three charges. Each time Capt. McClure's riflemen covered the Patriots as they cut away the abatis surrounding the building. Capt. Thomas Neel, Jr. was able to push through the abatis and drive the defenders into their cabins, but he was soon killed, along with two militiamen and a Catawba Indian. When Capt. Samuel Otterson charged forward "a bullet removed a lock of his hair, another cut his chin, and another his cheek." The same bullet that wounded Otterson in the chin cut off a lock of Lt. Joseph Hughes's hair and hit another man in the cheek. These men were able to get within thirty feet, but each attack was thrown back.

Col. Sumter moved his men to some rocks for protection and sent a note to Lt. Col. Turnbull demanding him to surrender the fort. Lt. Col. Turnbull requested that the fighting discontinue for one hour so he could consider the surrender. Before time was up, Lt. Col. Turnbull replied that "duty and inclination induce me to defend this place to the last extremity."

Col. Sumter noticed that there were some large rocks nearer the fort, so he asked for volunteers to cross the 100-yard gap between their position and these large rock. Hill wrote, "the undertaking appeared so hazardous that no two men of the army could be found to undertake it." Col. William Hill came forward and said, "that if any man would go with him he would make the attempt." Sergeant Jemmy Johnson volunteered.

The two men - a colonel and a sergeant - strapped "riched lightwood split & bound with cords to cover the most vital parts of our bodies, as well as a large bundle of the same wood to carry in our arms." Both men made it to the large rocks with their wooden "armor." Col. Hill pulled security duty as Sgt. Johnson tried to start a fire. Lt. Col. Turnbull saw what was about to happen, so he sent out a large detail with bayonets affixed to run the two men off. Sumter's riflemen fired upon the enemy and drove them back into the fort.

A young Patriot, Alexander Haynes, was hiding behind some dark rocks, and he fired his rifle twice. As he was loading for his third shot, he looked around the rocks and was shot from the fort. "The shot ranged under the brain and missed the vertebrae of the neck; it was thought he was killed, but seeing life was in him when they were about to retire, his acquaintenances carried him off." Haynes lost one of his eyes but he did not lose his life.

On the second attempt, Col. Sumter's men directed their fire on the fort while the two volunteers again ran to the large rocks. This time, they managed to set a small house on fire, and the volunteers returned to the main group, this time under heavy fire from the fort. Hill wrote, "Providence, so protected us both, that neither of us lost a drop of blood, altho' locks of hair was cut from our heads and our garments riddled with balls.

Unfortunately, a heavy rainstorm erupted and soaked the enemy's fort before a decent fire could start. After eight hours, Col. Sumter called off the attack in frustration. He had lost three men killed, six wounded, and two captured. As the rain drove down upon them, he and his men marched away in defeat. That night they camped at Fishing Creek.

Lt. Col. Turnbull reported that he had one officer killed, one wounded, and ten men killed or wounded.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Col. Thomas Sumter - Commanding Officer

New Acquisition District Regiment led by Col. Andrew Neel, with twelve (12) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Samuel Adams
- Capt. John Allison
- Capt. Hugh Bratton
- Capt. Walter Carson
- Capt. John Hawthorn
- Capt. Joseph Howe
- Capt. James Jamieson
- Capt. Thomas Neel, Jr. (killed)
- Capt. Richard Sadler
- Capt. Thomas Starke
- Capt. Robert Thomson
- Capt. Thomas Woods, Sr.

Turkey Creek Regiment led by Col. Edward Lacey, Lt. Col. John Nixon, with ten (10) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Henry Bishop
- Capt. James Johnson
- Capt. Hugh Knox
- Capt. John McClure
- Capt. Patrick McGriff
- Capt. John Miller
- Capt. John Moffett
- Capt. Alexander Pagan
- Capt. John Steel
- Capt. John Thompson

Kershaw Regiment detachment led by Col. John Marshall with six (6) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Deason
- Capt. George Dunlap
- Capt. Thomas Glaze
- Capt. Benjamin Haile
- Capt. Marshall Jones
- Capt. William Simpson

2nd Spartan Regiment detachment led by Lt. Col. James Steen, Maj. John Moore, with four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Benjamin Jolly
- Capt. Joseph McJunkin
- Capt. Samuel Otterson
- Capt. John Walker

Hill's Regiment of Light Dragoons led by Col. William Hill, Lt. Col. James Hawthorn, with four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Jacob Barnett
- Capt. John Hollis
- Capt. Thomas Howe
- Capt. Thomas Shannon

Camden District Regiment detachment of five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Hugh Coffee
- Capt. Henry Coffey
- Capt. James Coiel
- Capt. John Graves
- Capt. Richard Tucker

Fairfield Regiment detachment led by Col. Richard Winn, with five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James Davis
- Capt. Samuel Lacey
- Capt. John Land
- Capt. John McCool
- Capt. James Reid

Orangeburgh District Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. John McKenzie

Lower District Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Joseph Humphries

Little River District Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Pendleton Isbell

Lower Ninety-Six District Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. John Purvis

Mecklenburg County Militia (NC) detachment led by Col. Robert Irwin and Lt. Col. William Polk, with five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Alexander
- Capt. William Hutchison (Lincoln County Regiment)
- Capt. James Nathaniel Martin
- Capt. George Reed
- Capt. Richard Springs

Total Patriot Forces - about 500

Lt. Col. George Turnbull - Commanding Officer

NY Volunteers led by Lt. Col. George Turnbull with 150 men in the following known units:
- Colonel's Company - Maj. Henry Sheridan
- Capt. William Johnston
- Capt. Bernard Kane

Camden District Loyalist Militia, Rocky Mount Regiment detachment led by Capt. Matthew Floyd with 150 men

Total British/Loyalist Forces - about 300

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