The American Revolution in North Carolina

The NC State Legion Regiment

Date Established:


Known Lt. Colonels:

August 1781

Col. Robert Smith

None Known

Date Disbanded:

Known Majors: 

Known Adjutants:

November 1781

 Maj. John Carruth
Maj. Joseph Graham
Maj. James White

None Known

Miscellaneous Players:


None Known


Known Captains:

William Bell

William Bethel

John Bickerstaff

? Bumgardner

John Carruth

Joseph Chinn

John Cleveland 

John Cummings

Gabriel Enochs

Peter Forney

James Gains

John Gillespie

Robert Hill

William Hill

Thomas Kennedy

Jesse Knighton

? Lilly

John Lopp 

Charles Maddie

Hugh Morgan 

Philip Null

William Penny

Charles Polk

David Ramsey 

John Rogers

Richard Simmons

Frederick Smith

Minor Smith

? Summerville

Isaac White

Robert White

Daniel Wright

? Wynn

Known Privates / Fifers / Drummers, etc. - Captain Unknown:

 Reuben Hood

William Queery

John Sparks

Brief History of the Regiment:

Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford was captured by the British at the battle of Camden, SC on August 16, 1780, and he was held until June 14, 1781, but he did not get home until early August. Upon his return home, he immediately decided it was long past time for the Patriots to expel the British garrison in Wilmington led by Maj. James H. Craig.

In August of 1781, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford appointed Col. Robert Smith of Lincoln County, and formerly an NC Continental Captain as well as a Captain in the Mecklenburg County Regiment, to command a new regiment in the Salisbury District. Since Col. Robert Smith's regiment included both Infantry and Cavalry, it was styled very similar to a "Legion" such as that led by Lt. Col. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee of Virginia and the infamous British Legion led by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.

For the sake of convenience, this Author chooses to call this new regiment the NC State Legion. It is currently unknown what the contemporaries of the time called the regiment. However, on October 7th, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford appointed Joseph Graham, formerly a Captain from Mecklenburg County, to be a Major in Col. Robert Smith's "legionary corps in my brigade." The "Wilmington Expedition" was well underway.

Some historians assert Robert Smith was a Lt. Colonel of Militia, whereas others assert he was a full Colonel of NC State Troops. Based on records of many surviving pensioners in the 1830s, this Author leans towards accepting that Robert Smith was a full Colonel over NC State Troops since so many of his captains were from all over the state and not just the Salisbury District. However, since there are no records found of anyone serving as a Lt. Colonel in this regiment, it is entirely possible that Robert Smith was only a Lt. Colonel and not a full Colonel. Once again, the rank of Lt. Colonel vs. full Colonel bites history.

Brigadier General Rutherford quickly sent Maj. Joseph Graham and his dragoons forward to overtake the Loyalists and to keep them occupied while the remainder of his army marched on to Wilmington. The Loyalist leaders wisely decided to avoid a fight and to fall back to a more defensible position.

On October 15th, the Loyalists decided to make a stand on a hill near the Raft Swamp in what is present-day Robeson County (Cumberland at the time). This hill overlooked a causeway that emerged from the swamp. To slow down the Patriot cavalry, they removed the planks of the bridge. While they were preparing their defenses, Maj. Joseph Graham's dragoons surprised them and rode right into the swamp, not bothering to even use the bridge.

After the battle at Raft Swamp, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford moved his growing army down the northeast side of the Cape Fear River towards Wilmington. He divided his troops and sent Col. Robert Smith and his NC State Legion along the southwest side of the river, paralleling Rutherford's route on the opposite bank. Col. Robert Smith then dispatched Maj. Joseph Graham on towards Wilmington along the Cape Fear River.

At Alfred Moore's Plantation (known as Buchoi), a mile below the ferry at Wilmington, Maj. Joseph Graham and his troops surprised a group of about 100 Loyalists on November 14th. He raced his cavalry onto the plantation grounds and scattered the Loyalists without any serious loss. The Loyalists had twelve men killed and thirty men wounded. No later Patriot pensioners mentioned this engagement, except for Maj. Joseph Graham.

On November 15th, the divided Patriot army reunited not far from the British post just opposite Wilmington, known as the Brick House. This post consisted of a house, abatis, and about fifty (50) British soldiers. Many of Brigadier Genereal Rutherford's officers did not want to attack the "fort" but after traveling all that distance, most of the rank and file soldiers certainly did. The officers decided to attack against their better judgement.

The NC State Legion moved upon the fort and Capt. Thomas Kennedy was ordered to demand their surrender. The British immediately declined. There was a brief skirmish and after suffering one man killed and several wounded, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford ordered his men to withdraw.

That same afternoon, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford ordered Maj. Joseph Graham and part of the NC State Legion to go out and reconnoiter the British defenses around Wilmington. Around midnight, Maj. Graham and his men were patrolling deep into Brunswick County, south of Wilmington, at a place named Seven Creeks, along the Waccamaw River, not too far north of the South Carolina border.

South Carolina Loyalist Maj. Micajah Gainey detected the Patriots and ambushed them. Maj. Graham immediately charged, killing one of Maj. Gainey's men and wounding two others. Lt. Clark of Maj. Graham's force was killed, as were several horses. Maj. Graham later wrote that Maj. Gainey was under truce with Brigadier General Francis Marion in South Carolina at the time, "but it appears he does not consider it binding in North Carolina."

In mid-November, Lt. Col. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee (of Virginia) arrived at Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford's camp and told him about the surrender of Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. Rutherford's camp erupted into joyous celebration and the men fired their guns into the air. On that same day, November 17th, the camp received more good news-the British under Maj. James H. Craig were evacuating Wilmington, after a ten-month occupation. British Major General Alexander Leslie had sent orders to Maj. James H. Craig to evacuate by sea back to Charlestown, where he was originally stationed in 1780.

Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford stopped the celebrations and ordered his men to move across the Cape Fear River and march towards the occupied town. That night, his large army camped within four miles of Wilmington. There was no resistance, since the British were preparing to leave. Within the Patriot ranks were men who still wanted revenge for the destruction of their homes, and for the murders of their friends.

Soon after sunrise on November 18th, the British formed columns and marched down to the transport ships along the docks, leaving their horses behind. Suddenly, there was "a cloud of dust arising on the hill" and the thunder of hooves could be heard approaching the town. "It is the Whig Light Horse, who came thundering down the street, and at full speed."

One of the local Loyalists stood in the road holding out his hand as if to salute the troops. One of the cavalrymen, Thomas Tyler, "left ranks, drew his hanger, rushed upon him, and with one blow by a vertical cut laid his head open, the divided parts falling on each other." Tyler's father had been hanged earlier that year by that now-dead Loyalist in the road.

One column of the British had not made it to the boats when the cavalry "dashed thro' this like lightning, hacking and hewing to the right and left, receiving in turn a scattering of fire from the broken column, which did but little mischief; slightly wounding two or three of the horsemen." The departing British ships fired upon the town, but the Patriot cavalry had already ridden away.

As the troopships were just leaving the Cape Fear River, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford marched his shrinking army into the town. One of his officers was shocked at the violence being directed at the Loyalists and he placed a dragoon at the door of each of the Loyalist families. This slowed down the locals' anger, but it did not stop it.

Brigadier General Rutherford's men rounded up all the Loyalists they could and put them into a pen made of rails "near the Episcopal church, where they were exhibited to the public gaze, and received the scoffing taunts of boys."

Also on November 18th, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford authorized Maj. Joseph Graham to "take command of the whole of the dragoons and mounted infantry of Col. Smith's corps, who are now on the leftward of the Northwest."

There are no further accounts about the NC State Legion under Col. Robert Smith. It is assumed that this unit was discharged immediately after the British evaucated Wilmington and sent home. Various company commanders resumed their affiliation with their home county regiments.


Known Battles / Skirmishes:


Raft Swamp


Moore's Plantation


Brick House


Seven Creeks


Evacuation of Wilmington

© 2012 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved