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American Revolutionary War Battles

The Battle of Hanging Rock

August 6, 1780 at Hanging Rock, Kershaw-Lancaster County border, South Carolina

Battle Summary

The Battle of Hanging Rock was part of a campaign by militia General Thomas Sumter to harass or destroy British outposts in the South Carolina back-country that had been established after the fall of Charleston in May 1780.

Facts about the Battle of Hanging Rock

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Sumter and consisted of about 800 Soldiers. Loyalist Forces was commanded by Maj. John Carden and Col. Morgan Bryan and consisted of about 700-900 Soldiers.
  • Casualties - American casualties were estimated to be 12 killed and 41 wounded. British casualties were estimated to be 200 killed/wounded.
  • Outcome - The result of the battle was an American victory. The battle was part of the Southern Theater 1775-82.
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Prelude

Throughout 1779 and early 1780, the British "southern strategy" to regain control of its rebellious provinces in the Revolutionary War went well, with successful amphibious operations against Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, and a routing of the few remaining Continental Army troops in South Carolina at Waxhaws. The British, in complete control of both South Carolina and Georgia, established outposts in the interior of both states to recruit Loyalists and to suppress Patriot dissent.

One of these outposts was established at Hanging Rock, in present-day Lancaster County south of Heath Springs. The most northerly of the British posts, it was well fortified with more than 1,400 British troops, including the 500 man Prince of Wales American Volunteer Regiment, a Loyalist unit of the British Army, local Loyalist militia, and some dragoons from the British Legion. These forces were under the overall command of Major John Carden.

The Americans were under Brigadier General Thomas Sumter, commanding troops made up of Major Richard Winn's Fairfield regiment, Colonel Edward Lacey's Chester regiment, Colonel William Hill's York regiment and Major William Richardson Davie of the Waxhaws of Lancaster county with Colonel Robert Irwin's cavalry of Mecklenburg county, North Carolina.

On August 1, Sumter launched an attack on the British outpost at Rocky Mount, west of Hanging Rock on the Catawba River. As part of this attack, Sumter detached Davie on a diversionary attack on Hanging Rock. Davie attacked a fortified house, and captured 60 horses and a number of weapons, while also inflicting casualties on the British.

This, however, did not prevent the British from sending troops from Hanging Rock to reinforce the garrison there. After his assault on Rocky Mount failed, Sumter decided to make an attack on the weakened Hanging Rock outpost.

Battle Begins

Sumter decided on a plan of attack of assaulting the camp in three mounted detachments. The initial assault was made early in the morning where Winn's and Davie's men completely routed Bryan's corps. Captain McCulloch's company of the British Legion, after presenting a volley, was also routed by Sumter's riflemen.

The Prince of Wales Regiment also came under heavy fire and suffered very severe losses. Part of the Prince of Wales Regt then came up, and having cleverly deployed themselves in some woods, checked the rebel assault with a surprise crossfire. This allowed the British to draw up in a hollow square in the center of the cleared ground, and to further protect themselves with a three-pound cannon which had been left by some of Rugeley's Camden militia.

In the heat of the battle, Major Carden lost his nerve and surrendered his command to one of his junior officers. This was a major turning point for the Americans. At one point, Captain Rousselet of the Legion infantry led a charge and forced many Sumter's men back.

Lack of ammunition made it impossible for Sumter to completely knock out the British. The battle raged for three hours without pause, causing many men to faint from the heat and thirst.

Aftermath

The battle was interpreted by both sides as a victory for themselves: the British because they had fought off the Americans, the Americans because they had captured the British stores, took many prisoners, and withdrew in safety. The action lasted three to four hours, with many men fainting from hear and drought.