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home : community : e-community September 21, 2021

5/29/2021 8:13:00 AM
The Battle of Ramsour's Mill
5th in a series of articles

Jennifer Baker
Vesuvius Furnance Chapter, DAR

When the 13 colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 became the impetus for an expansion of the  war that many historians say really began in April 1775.  The war lasted until the early 1780s--some say it ended with Cornwallis' surrender in October 1781; others say with the treaty that was signed in September 1783.  

The country wasn't known as the United States of America until the second Continental Congress adopted that name on September 9, 1776, but the date of July 4, 1776, the day the united colonies declared their independence, has been universally recognized as the birth of our country.

Our area played an important part in the War for Independence, also known as the Revolutionary War.  Most are familiar with the Battle of Ramsour's Mill fought near Lincolnton.  Another major battle was at Kings Mtn.  Last year, the pandemic caused cancellations of celebrations, and in an abundance of caution, the play “Liberty Mountain: The Revolutionary Drama” that usually happens each summer in Kings Mountain has also been cancelled for 2021.  

The celebration of Ramsour's Mill will be held.  The 241st Anniversary of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill will be sponsored by the Catawba Valley Chapter of the NC Sons of the American Revolution will be on Saturday June 5th.  CLICK HERE for more information.  

The play that relates to that battle, "Thunder Over Carolina" returns for 2021 with a new home and updated script.  It will be performed  une 17, 18 & 19 on WoodMill Winery’s brand new outdoor stage.  Visit the Facebook page at to learn more.

The Battle of Ramsour's Mill was for those from this area the first occasion where patriots gave their lives in battle for their country.  For that reason, it is entirely appropriate that they, like our other fallen heroes, be remembered this Memorial Day.

Next Saturday (June 5th), the Catawba Valley SAR will be hosting a commemoration event at the gravesite (behind Lincolnton High School).  This virtual and in-person event will begin at 10:00 AM Saturday morning.

While many people think of the Civil War as the occasion where brother fought brother, it happened at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill 80 years earlier. Here is a bit of history behind the events…

When many envision the Revolutionary War, the image of professional soldiers, arranged neatly and in distinct uniforms, comes to mind. As drums sound off, the first line of the Continental Army advances, marching briskly to engage the first British line across the battlefield. In reality, most of the skirmishes and full battles of the War for Independence fought in North Carolina pitted Loyalist militia against their counterparts for the Patriot cause. Few participants had ever received formal military training, and often, the only distinguishing feature between a Tory and a Whig were small adornments in their hats. Farmers, not soldiers, determined the outcome of most Revolutionary War battles fought in North Carolina, and like the battles at Kings Mountain and Moore’s Creek Bridge, the Battle at Ramsour’s Mill was no exception.

The Revolutionary War battle at Ramsour's Mill in Lincoln County took place on 20 June 1780. With the American surrender of Charles Towne (present-day Charleston, SC) on 12 May 1780, British military control of South Carolina and Georgia was virtually complete. North Carolina, which had been spared warfare since the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge four years earlier, appeared to be the next objective of British commander Lord Charles Cornwallis and his 8,345-man army.

Cornwallis was content to spend the summer in Charles Towne, giving his troops an opportunity to rest and resupply. Lt. Col. John Moore and Maj. Nicholas Welch, two of his American officers, were anxious to pave the way for the invasion of their home state. In early June, Moore and Welch returned from service in South Carolina and promptly set about organizing a band of Loyalists, or Tories, to aid in the British conquest of North Carolina.

In hopes of supplementing Cornwallis’s British force at Camden with volunteers from the North Carolina countryside, on June 13, 1780, militia Major John Moore gathered a force of 1,300 Tories on the grassy meadows near Derick Ramsour’s Mill on the north side of present-day Lincolnton, about seven miles west of the homes of Moore and Welch. On receiving the news of the massing Loyalists, Gen. Griffith Rutherford sent word to Col. Francis Locke of Rowan County and Maj. Robert Wilson of Mecklenburg County to gather a force to disperse the Loyalists. On the night of 19 June, with 400 poorly trained, ill-equipped militiamen from Rowan, Mecklenburg, and Lincoln Counties, Locke set out from his camp on Mountain Creek for Ramsour's Mill, some 15 miles away. Meanwhile, the number of Tories camped on the wooded hill 300 yards from the mill had grown to 1,300, although one-fourth of them had no weapons.

As he neared the site of the Tory encampment in the predawn hours of 20 June, Locke was greeted by Adam Reep, a local Patriot who had scouted and monitored the Loyalists' activities. Once Reep had supplied him with information about enemy troop strength and local terrain, Locke decided to launch an attack against the unsuspecting Tories.

With cavalrymen out front, the Patriots began their ascent of the east side of the hill at first light. Fog limited visibility to 50 feet. Although momentarily caught off guard, the Tories rallied, and a savage battle raged for almost two hours. Brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, the men fought in mortal hand-to-hand combat. In this civil war, there were no uniforms. To identify themselves, the Patriots pinned white paper on their hats while the Tories stuck green twigs in theirs.

The fighting at Ramsour’s Mill soon degraded into little more than a killing field. The participants, mostly farmers lacking military discipline, broke ranks and some used their rifles as blunt instruments to split heads and crush bones. In the chaos of close quarters combat, many a friend was mistaken for foe, since nothing but a twig in the hat of a Loyalist, or a piece of white paper in that of a Patriot, distinguished one from the other. As a Whig present at the battle related: “In this battle neighbors, near relations and personal friends fought against each other, and as the smoke would blow off from time to time, they would recognize each other.” Even though the Loyalists outnumbered the Patriots almost four-to-one, many Tories discarded twigs in their hats and ran from the fields.

Although they outnumbered the Patriots by more than three to one, the Tories were routed and fled down the west side of the hill toward the mill. When the fog lifted and the smoke cleared, the battlefield revealed more than 70 dead and 200 wounded, equally divided between the two sides. The unclaimed dead were buried in a mass grave on the hill.

The battle was indecisive at best but was illustrative of how the Patriot militia played a significant role in the war, throughout the south in general, and North Carolina and effectively disrupted Tory support for the British war effort in the region. Not only did it rob Cornwallis of badly needed Loyalist assistance when he crossed into North Carolina; it also provided the impetus and inspiration for the crucial Patriot victory that was to follow less than 30 miles away at the Battle of King's Mountain on 7 Oct. 1780.

Although much of the battlefield is now covered with public school buildings, the mass grave site and the graves of several of the officers who fell in the battle have been marked through the efforts of historical groups and individuals.

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