The American Revolution in North Carolina

Lt. Colonel John Moore

1,000 Loyalists under Lt. Col. John Moore and Maj. Nicholas Welch were gathered at Ramseur's Mill in June of 1780 to receive arms and training. They were attacked by a force of 500 Patriot Militiamen under Col. Francis Locke, Lt. Col. Frederick Hambright, Lt. Col. Hugh Brevard, Maj. Joseph McDowell, and others. After more than an hour's fighting, mostly hand-to-hand, the Loyalists fled. 100 were estimated to have been dead and wounded on each side, and 50 Loyalists were captured.

The leaders of the Loyalists were Lt. Col. John Moore and Maj. Nicholas Welch. Col. Moore’s father came to this section of North Carolina from Carlyle, England as a pioneer and developed significant land holdings along Indian Creek, located eight miles from Ramseur’s Mill. Maj. Welch’s father was also a pioneer of the area and the next-door neighbor of the Moore family. John Moore and Nicholas Welch were good friends from an early age. These officers left the victorious British forces as they began their march from Charlestown, SC and returned home to Lincoln County, NC to raise a Loyalist company with the expectation of uniting with Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis as he moved through the uplands of South Carolina. They bore English commissions, were arrayed in splendid uniforms, and brought with them much gold to help raise troops for the Loyalist cause.

On June 10, 1780, Lt. Col. Moore called a meeting of Loyalists leaders at his father’s home, where about 40 men gathered. Those in attendance were directed to gather their forces and meet at Derick Ramseur’s Mill on June 13th in preparation for battle. Two hundred men were present at the mill on June 13th and they began grinding grain for march provisions. By June 19th, over 1,300 Loyalists had gathered at Ramseur’s Mill and were actively engaged in their organization and drill preparations for marching to join with Lord Cornwallis. Over three hundred of the number lacked weapons. They occupied a well-chosen and advantageous position on a high ridge that slopes three hundred yards to the mill.

Col. Francis Locke commanded the Patriot forces, composed of men from the Rowan County, Mecklenburg County, and other various militia units, including about one hundred mounted troopers. The four hundred Patriot troops met at Mountain Creek, sixteen miles from Ramseur’s Mill, on Monday, June 19th. They determined that the best chance for success, considering their inferior numbers, was to make a surprise attack with the one hundred mounted troops followed by the foot soldiers. That evening they began their march toward the mill.

At dawn on Tuesday, June 20th, Adam Reep, a noted scout, along with 20 Patriots, met Col. Locke and his forces about two miles from Ramseur’s Mill. Reep detailed to Col., Locke the position of the enemy and a plan of attack was formed. The mounted troops under McDowell, Brandon, and Falls would follow the road due west to the Loyalist camp and would not attack until Col. Locke and his foot soldiers could detour to the south and reach the base of the hill along the Tuckasegee Road. A simultaneous assault would then be mounted.

The initial contact between forces occurred when the mounted Patriots surprised a Loyalist picket placed six hundred yards in an advanced position. The pickets fired and retreated to the camp. Due to thick fog, the mounted Patriots were then able to advance within about one hundred feet of the Loyalist camp, where they opened fire with great results. The Loyalists were thrown into confusion and those without weapons immediately deserted the battle scene. As the Loyalists began to form a battle line, they discovered a force of only about one hundred Patriot horsemen and quickly covered the Patriots with heavy gunfire. The mounted troops were forced to retreat back through the Patriot infantry that had advanced six hundred yards up the hill to engage. Some of the Patriot infantry also took this opportunity to retreat and never return to the battle.

The Loyalists noted the disorganization in the Patriot line and charged from the hilltop in superior numbers. The fighting was spontaneous and thick for over an hour. The superior marksmanship of the Patriots gradually forced the Loyalists to retreat back to the hilltop and a little beyond, where they could renew the battle from cover. This advantageous position allowed the Loyalists to rain deadly fire into the Patriots on the open slope and force them back to the glade at the bottom of the hill.

The Loyalists then left their protected position and advanced part-way down the hill to pursue the battle. At that moment, Captain Hardin led a Patriot company onto the ridge from the south and poured a galling fire into the right flank of the Loyalists. The Loyalists again began a retreat up the hill, but this time found part of the summit occupied by Patriots. A fierce hand-to-hand battle ensued for almost another hour. Patriot Captain Sharpe led a few men beyond the crest of the ridge and began to pick off the Loyalist officers and men. None of the combatants had bayonets and so beat each other with the butt of their guns between rounds. Many men in each group recognized men in the opposing force, and as they battled, instigated exchanges of heated oaths and banter. There were no uniforms on the combatants, so the Loyalists wore green pine twigs in their hats. The Patriots were not as wise and had opted for a white piece of cloth in the hat. This white badge proved to be an excellent bull’s eye target as many Patriots were found shot in the head.

The Loyalists, fired upon from front and flank, and engaged in heavy hand-to-hand combat, eventually broke and fled down the backside of the hill toward the millpond. The Patriots regrouped on the summit of the ridge for another attack with only 110 men out of the original 400 available for combat. Fortunately, Lt. Col. Moore did not press the battle a third time and the Loyalists dispersed. The Patriot victory was secure and broke the Loyalist resistance in the area. Lt. Col. John Moore eventually joined Lord Cornwallis with only 30 men. Cornwallis put Moore under arrest and threatened to court-martial him for disobedience of orders, but eventually released him.

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