The American Revolution in North Carolina

Trading Ford

February 3-4, 1781

Patriot Cdr:

Major David Campbell (VA)
British Cdr:

Brigadier General
Charles O'Hara




included in above


Original County: 

Rowan County
Present County:

Rowan County/
Davidson County

The "Race for the Dan" began after the British loss at the battle of Cowpens, SC. It was a known "race" because both armies moved as fast as possible to reach the Dan River, which ran through North Carolina and Virginia near the border.

If Major General Nathanael Greene reached it first he could cross, then Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis would have to remain in North Carolina, where he would be cut off from his supplies. If Lord Cornwallis chose to continue after Major General Greene he would be drawn further into Virginia and possibly annihilated. If Lord Cornwallis managed to reach the Dan River before Major General Greene, then he could probably eliminate Greene's army. The stakes were that high and both sides were fully aware of them.

Upon reaching Salisbury on February 3rd, Lord Cornwallis learned that Brigadier General Daniel Morgan was at the Trading Ford on the Yadkin River preparing to cross. Lord Cornwallis dispatched Brigadier General Charles O'Hara and his Brigade of Guards to go stop Morgan from crossing. Lord Cornwallis was certain that Morgan would be pinned against the Yadkin since more recent rainfall was causing all nearby rivers to overrun their banks. What Lord Cornwallis didn't and couldn't know was - Brigadier General Daniel Morgan was already on the other side.

At midnight, the British neared the Yadkin River and discovered some militia wagons stuck in the mud. One hundred of Major David Campbell's Virginians with fifty of Capt. Joseph Graham's cavalry were nearby laying in ambush on this tempting target. The Patriot riflemen were instructed to fire two shots then leave the ford. Their position was in a branch of the river under the darkness of the woods. In contrast, the British marched along the higher ground and were silhouetted against the sky.

When Major Campbell's men fired their two shots the British charged with bayonet affixed. The Patriots quickly withdrew, but two were killed and ten were unlucky enough to be captured. The rest retreated downriver to pre-positioned canoes, and they crossed the Yadkin River. The enemy had ten or twelve killed or wounded. The British catpured the wagons that were carrying the baggage of the defeated militia from Cowan's Ford.

The next morning, Lord Cornwallis brought up the rest of his forces and beheld a full view of Major General Greene's camp across the river. He had his field pieces brought forward and began firing into the Patriot camp. The only target they could hit was a cabin where Major General Greene had set up his headquarters. The round shot splintered the walls and shingles but did no real damage. During the brief cannonade, Major General Greene calmly sat inside the noisy cabin and wrote out new orders for his troops.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Major David Campbell (VA), with 100 men

Capt. Joseph Graham (Mecklenburg County)

Capt. Langhorn (Rowan County)

Capt. Joseph Rosser (Chatham County)

Brigadier General Charles O'Hara, with the Brigade of Guards, and unknown number of men



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