This Day in History: Patriots rout Loyalists at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge
On this day in 1776, a group of Patriots rout Loyalist forces at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. To some, this battle was effectively the “Lexington and Concord of the South” because North Carolina voted for independence from Great Britain not too long afterwards.
The scene for the battle was set when the British Royal Governor of North Carolina, Josiah Martin, fled the state in 1775. Residents were becoming increasingly resistant to British authority, so the Governor found refuge on a British ship off the coast of Wilmington. Naturally, he wasn’t very happy with his exile, and he began looking for a way to retake North Carolina. He eventually settled upon a plan that would rely on British troops working together with recruited Loyalists. The Governor thought he could obtain the support of up to 10,000 Loyalists. (Depending on whose estimate you read: Some say he was aiming for 5,000.)
Needless to say, his estimates were a bit too optimistic. Despite offers of land and tax exemptions, only 1,600 Loyalists were recruited. Perhaps even worse for Martin, Patriots in the area learned of his plan and worked to keep the Loyalist and British troops from their rendezvous. The Patriots deployed troops to block one route, forcing Loyalists toward Moore’s Creek Bridge. More Patriots were established near the bridge.
The Loyalists sent a message under a flag of truce: Surrender, declare loyalty to the King, and receive a pardon. The Patriots would have none of that, of course. Instead, they returned a defiant message: “Take oath to support the Continental Congress or be treated as enemies of the constitutional liberties of America.”
They surely did not expect a positive answer to THAT?! Instead, the Patriots prepared for an attack. They pretended to leave their camp, so it appeared to be deserted when the Loyalists arrived at daybreak on February 27. However, the Loyalists caught a glimpse of some men on the other side of the bridge. They soon realized those men were Patriots. Troops were rallied and began to move across the bridge.
The Patriots were prepared. They’d removed some of the planks, and they had greased the railings. As Loyalists attempted to cross the bridge, they were met with cannon and musket fire from the Patriots. The battle was over within minutes. About 30 Loyalists were killed and 40 were wounded. Hundreds were captured. Only one Patriot died; another was wounded.
The American Revolution was well and truly on in North Carolina! And the Patriot cause was off to a great start.
Elizabeth Fries Ellet, The Women of the American Revolution (1850)
James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson: In Three Volumes (1860) (Vol. 1)
Janet Olson, Park Remembers Mary Slocumb as a heroic woman of Revolution (Star-News; Mar. 2, 1987)
John L. Smith, Jr., The Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge (Journal of the American Revolution (Jan. 6, 2014)
The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge (Moores Creek National Military Park, North Carolina; 1969)