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American Revolutionary War Battles

The Battle of Musgrove's Mill

August 18 or 19, 1780 at Musgrove's Mill, Union and Laurens County border, South Carolina

Battle Summary

The Battle of Musgrove Mill occurred near a ford of the Enoree River, near the present-day border between Spartanburg, Laurens and Union Counties in South Carolina. During the course of the battle, 200 Patriot militiamen defeated a combined force of approximately 300 Loyalist militiamen and 200 provincial regulars.

Facts about the Battle of Musgrove's Mill

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Col. Elijah Clarke and Col. Issac Shelby and consisted of about 200 Soldiers. British Forces was commanded by Maj. Patrick Ferguson and consisted of 0ver 400 Soldiers.
  • Casualties - American casualties were estimated to be 4 killed and 8 wounded. British casualties were estimated to be 63 killed, 90 wounded, and 70 captured.
  • 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

A company of militia was placed under the command of Brigadier General Francis Marion in the wake of the Battle of Ramsour's Mill. Marion then engaged in a series of guerrilla actions to harry elements of the British force and its Loyalist supporters. Following their victory at Camden the British sent out contingents to secure the countryside and capture prominent Revolutionary leaders like Marion. These activities reduced company morale, and the hunt for Marion caused men to leave his company, until he only had about 60 left and was forced to retreat into hiding in the swamps of the border between North and South Carolina.

The British then traveled across South Carolina, plundering and destroying Revolutionary properties. This prompted Marion to move into South Carolina, where Revolutionaries angered by the British action signed up in large numbers. He was alerted to the presence of a large number of Loyalists near Black Mingo Creek, then 15 miles away. While the reports indicated that the Loyalist numbers were larger than his own, the enthusiasm of his men prompted him to agree to an attack.

Battle Begins

On the evening of August 18, 200 mounted Patriot partisans under joint command of Colonels Isaac Shelby, James Williams, and Elijah Clarke prepared to raid a Loyalist camp at Musgrove’s Mill, which controlled the local grain supply and guarded a ford of the Enoree River. The Patriots anticipated surprising a garrison of about an equal number of Loyalists, but a local farmer informed them that the Tories had recently been reinforced by about 100 Loyalist militia and 200 provincial regulars on their way to join British Maj. Patrick Ferguson.

With their position compromised by an enemy patrol and horses unable to go on without rest, the Patriots understood that they must stand and fight despite being outnumbered better than two to one. At the top of a ridge across the road leading down to Musgrove Mill, the partisans quickly formed a semicircular breastwork of brush and fallen timber about three hundred yards long.

In the best tradition of guerrilla tactics, a band of about 20 men under the leadership of Captain Shadrach Inman crossed the Enoree and engaged the enemy. Feigning confusion they retreated back toward the line of ambush until the Loyalists were nearly on the Patriot line. When the Loyalists spotted the Patriot line, they fired too early. The Patriots, however, held their fire until the Loyalists got within killing range of their muskets.

Patriot musket fire operated “with devastating effect.” Nonetheless, the Tory regulars were well disciplined and nearly overwhelmed the Patriot right flank with a bayonet charge. Isaac Shelby ordered his reserve of “Over the Mountain Men” to support him, and they rushed into the battle shrieking Indian war cries. The Tories wavered, and when a number of their officers went down, they broke—although not before Inman, who had a key role in implementing the Patriot strategy, was killed on the battlefield.

Patriots ran from their positions “yelling, shooting, and slashing on every hand.” The whole battle took perhaps an hour.

Aftermath

The action as a whole, from the approach of Innes to the retreat of his forces to the Mill lasted about an hour. Much of the disparity in losses is attributed to the Provincials and Loyalist over shooting their targets. Following the battle, Clark, Shelby and Williams withdrew in a northwesterly direction, traveling 60 miles, to re-join McDowell at Smith's Ford. In their flight, they came within five miles of Ferguson.

Ferguson pursued, but was unable to catch up with partisans. Prisoners taken were sent to Hillsborough. Clark subsequently returned to Georgia and secreted himself in the woods of Wilkes County, where he was supplied with food from friends. Shelby, meanwhile, returned to the Holston and Watauga settlements, the term of his men’s service having expired.

Accounts of the numbers involved and casualty estimates of forces at Musgrove’s Mill differ. Col. James Williams, cited in Draper, gave the Whigs strength as 200, the original Loyalists at the mill at 200, who were then reinforced by 300. The Whigs lost 4 killed and 7 or 8 wounded, while the loyalists lost 60 killed while taking 70 prisoners.

Major James Sevier reported the Whig’s strength as 250, as learned from participants. Major Joseph McJunkin gave Clark, Shelby and Williams force at about 150, and the British who participated as 300. Ripley calculates the Patriots as numbering from 250 to 700, Tories 200 to 1,300, preferring the lower figure in each case.

 

Allaire:

"Saturday, 19th. Lay at Winn's plantation…{Allaire here speaks about Camden]…We received orders to pursue Sumter, he having the only remains of what the Rebels can call a corps in these parts at present. At six o'clock in the evening our wagons were ordered forward that we might pursue Sumter with vigor. At seven we got in motion. That very moment an express arrived from Col. Innes', who was on his way from Ninety-Six to join us, informing us that he had been attacked by a body of Rebels at Musgrove's Mills on Enoree river; that himself, and Major [Thomas] Fraser of his regiment, were wounded, as were Capt. Peter Campbell [N.J. Volunteers], Lieuts. Chew and Camp, of Col. [Isaac] Allen's regiment. He wished for support as many of the militia had left him. This, to our great mortification, altered the course of our march. At eleven at night, we got in motion; marched all night; forded Broad river at sun-rising."

Chesney:

"....we received an express that the rebels had defeated Col. Ennis [Alexander Innes] at Enoree [Musgrove's Mill]; this occasioned a rapid march that way. The main body having crossed the Enoree, I was left behind in command of the rearguard and being attacked in that situation [August 20] we maintained our ground until the main body recrossed to our support; the Americans retreated [August 21] after suffering some loss."