5 Surprises at Moores Creek Battlefield

I am the daughter of a history buff. Ironic that for most of my life, I didn’t care much for American history, European history, and outside of knowing which decade a world war took place, I have been oblivious. My father, an eighth grade history teacher at Mount Pleasant Junior High for most of my 1960’s childhood, would periodically take me along on his class trips to Gettysburg and Washington DC. I seem to recall caring more about how long the bus ride would be and if we would be able to have fast food (a luxury at the time) for lunch. I am surprised that now, in my late fifties, I have discovered an interest in history and have spent quite a few weekends and side trips traveling to Bennett Place, Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry and Spotsylvania. Some well-known, some not, but all landmarks in U.S. history. 

Moores Creek Bridge

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy and I traveled to Moores Creek National Battlefield well outside Wilmington, North Carolina. Here are some of the interesting surprises I found:

  1. Revolutionary War. I have had this crazy paradigm that the Revolutionary War was fought in New England and Pennsylvania. Until we arrived at Moores Creek Battlefield, I assumed that this was a Civil War location. Turns out this was a battle between the Loyalists (those loyal to the British crown) and Patriots in February of 1776. While most of the battle fields I have visited in North Carolina have been Civil War related, this battle took place before they had inked the Declaration of Independence.
  2. River Crossing. The Loyalists, led by General Donald MacDonald, were headed from Fayetteville to Wilmington where they were to join the British forces at the coast. All they needed to do was get across a river.  Seems rather benign by today’s standards. The Patriots under Colonel Richard Cashwell and Colonel James Moore had been able to stay ahead of the Loyalists forcing them to try to ultimately face off at Moores Creek Bridge in order to cross the bridge. It is amazing that so many waterways at the time were crossed by ferry or boat and that a bridge was so valuable.
  3. Highlanders.  Most of the Loyalists were Scot Highlanders. They came with bag pipes, drums and tartan plaid. I am surprised because in North Carolina, Highlanders are associated with the Piedmont and Appalachian Mountains, not the Coastal Plain. I’m also surprised that the displaced Scots would fight for the crown with their own acrimonious relationship with the British. It turns out there were Scots on the Patriot side as well. 
  4. Bridge.  The Patriots arrived at the bridge well in advance and had built earthworks on the east side of the bridge and armed them with cannons. A scout from the Loyalists had come to the camp the night before with a demand for surrender which the Patriots rejected. The scout had not crossed the bridge and did not see the encampment on the other side of the bridge. The Loyalists thought they had an easy fight to win. The Patriots retreated to the encampment, dismantled most of the bridge and left it covered in grease to impede the Loyalists. It almost sounds like a prank.
  5. Swords.  The Highlanders were known for their Broadswords. That’s what they brought to the fight as they managed to cross the swampy water full of Cypress Knees and a slippery dismantled bridge under the darkness of the morning hours of February 27th, 1776. Their field commander, Lieutenant Colonel McLeod, came across the bridge and declared, “King George and Broadswords.” He and his Loyalist troops didn’t realize that the Patriots were above them 50 yards away with muskets and cannons. They brought knives to a gun fight. It lasted 3 minutes. 30 Loyalists were killed instantly including McLeod. The remaining Loyalists retreated into the darkness.

North Carolina was fractured at the time and the British were trying to shore up their North Carolinian support in defeating the Patriots. This battle was a defining moment in the momentum for North Carolina to join the rebellion against the British. Patriots from North Carolina signed the Halifax Resolves on April 12, 1776, a document which gave the delegates of the colony sent to the Continental Congress the right to vote for Independence. North Carolina was the first colony to do so. This was fascinating from a woman born in Delaware, aka “the First State”, because the Delaware delegates were the first to arrive to sign the Declaration of Independence.

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