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American Revolutionary War Battles

The Battle of Rocky Mount

August 1, 1780 at Rocky Mount, Lancaster County, South Carolina

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Facts about the Battle of Rocky Mount

  • Armies - American Forces was commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Sumter and consisted of about 600 militiamen. British Forces was commanded by Lt. Col. George Trumball and consisted of about 300 militia.
  • Casualties - American casualties were estimated to be 12 killed/wounded. British casualties were estimated to be 20 killed/wounded.
  • Outcome - The result of the battle was a Loyalist victory. The battle was part of the Southern Theater 1775-82.

Prelude

After the American victory at Williamson's Plantation, American patriots of the Catawba District soon became encouraged by this success and decided to head to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Sumter's standard. Sumter was soon able to gather up enough forces to undertake offensive operations in support of Major General Johann Kalb's American advance from the North against the British.

On July 17, Sumter wrote Kalb to propose operations against the British line of communications from Charleston to Camden and other interior British posts.

On July 30, Sumter, with 200 to 300 South Carolina refugees, and Colonel Robert Irwin with 300 Mecklenburg militia, rendezvoused at Davie's camp on the north side of Waxhaw's Creek. It was decided that Sumter, Neal, and Irwin, with their combined force of about 500-600 men, would assault Rocky Mount on the west side of the Wateree. Davie, meanwhile, was with about 40 militia cavalry and mounted infantry, was to make a diversionary attack at Hanging Rock about fifteen miles eastward.

Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton speaks of the fortifications at Rocky Mount consisted of two log houses and a loop hole building surround by a "strong" abbatis, on an elevation which was clear all around. Bass, on the other hand, describes the buildings as a shed and a great house. Defending Rocky Mount was Lieutenant Colonel George Turnbull with a force of 300, about half of which were some New York Volunteers, and the other some loyalist militia.

The Tories held a strong natural position. Their small fort was formed by 3 log cabins that had been loopholed and encircled by a ditch and abatis. Turnbull had learned from Tory spies that Sumter and his force was heading to this outpost. Turnbull prepared his men for this attack and they were ready for it.

At the same time of Sumter's advance, Major William Davie was ordered to advance to Hanging Rock and engage the Tory forces there. Both Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock were known as Tory outposts which served to protect the vital British base at Camden, about 25 miles to the south.

Battle Begins

On August 1, early in the day, Sumter appeared opposite of the Tory position. He sent a request to Turnbull for the Tory force to surrender. Turnbull sent back a response that said that if Sumter wanted the post, he would have to "come and get it."

Without any artillery to soften up the post, Sumter had no choice but to make a direct assault on it. Sumter sent Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Neal to make a charge. Neal succedded in pushing through the abatis and forced the Tories into the log cabins. In a brief fight, Neal and 5 of his men were killed. With the Tories inside their cabins, Sumter tried to burn them down. he tried unsuccessfully to set the log cabins on fire by having burning fagots thrown against them.

Next, Sumter rolled a burning wagon against the cabins. The Tories put up a white flag and was going to surrender. Just at that time, a torrential downpour appeared and the rain quickly put out the fire. The Tories withdrew their surrender request and engaged the Americans again.

Sumter soon gave up his assault and withdrew his forces to Land's Ford on the Catawba River.

Aftermath

Sumter's forces suffered relatively modest casualties, and Sumter went on to successfully attack Hanging Rock a few days later.