On 27 February 1776, British Loyalists, made up predominantly of Scottish Highlanders, decided to take on a known Patriot force near Currie, North Carolina. The Loyalists were handed their hats at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge in an action that destined North Carolina to be one of the first colonies to push for a declaration of independence from the Crown.
In early 1776, the British were preparing to put down a full scale rebellion in the north of the North American colonies. At the urging of the North Carolina governor, they saw an opportunity to put the fledgling rebellion in the south to rest early and secure a good base for northern operations. A Scottish clan leader, named Donald MacDonald was appointed Brigadier General and raised a Scottish Highlander militia of 1,600 from the interior of North Carolina to fight for the Loyalist cause. They marched to the North Carolina port town of Brunswick, south of present day Wilmington, to meet the British forces of Cornwallis and Clinton in late February 1776. On route, they received word that local Patriot forces were gathering around Moores Creek, but the Highlanders figured they could take them and proceeded to battle.
The Patriots in three separate forces, led by Colonels Alexander Lillington, Richard Caswell and James Moore, arrived from 25 February 1776 and began earthen works on the east and west sides of the bridge. By the morning of the 27th, they had consolidated behind the eastern works with two cannons known as “Old Mother Covington and her Daughter.”
MacDonald led his force from the west and decided to charge headlong across the bridge with a lead element of Highlanders, screaming “King George and broad swords.” Behind the works, the Patriots waited until the lead Scots crossed the deliberately slippery and rickety bridge, then let loose with a volley of musket, followed by the limbering up of the elderly mum and her hot progeny. One could imagine the Patriot reply of “General George and redneck hordes.” The Patriot rifles and gunners put such a world of hurt on the bagpipe serenaded Loyalists that the whole offensive failed immediately. The losses to the lead element were horrendous, but the longer term damage was from the rounding up of 850 prisoners that had been dispersed by the action.
The British plans to subdue the south and then on the north were superceded by one determined force of North Carolina militia. The Brits were not to focus on the south again until 1780.
Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
Here’s a ride to show you part of North Carolina, much like it was in colonial times. Start in Wilmington, North Carolina and head down to the Orton Plantation, which is near the historical site of Brunswick, to which the Loyalists were heading to meet with British Regulars and more Loyalists on that fateful day. Then cut up through the Green Swamp and finally down to the Moores Creek National Battlefield.
Photo Credit: By NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons