Tag: American Revolutionary War

North Carolina and the American Revolution

Besides being a great place to ride with mountains, country roads, and seaside, North Carolina holds some of the coolest battlefield riding in such a compact area. Check out A Student of History’s dissertaion summary on North Carolina and the Revolutionary War.
Battlefield Biker rides; Moore’s Creek Bridge, Guilford Courthouse and nearby in South Carolina, Cowpens.
And for those of you who only think of the Civil War, Fort Fisher landings and assault.

Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina 17 January 1781

On 17 January 1781, the outlook for the British Army in America changed forever. A British Legion (combined infantry and cavalry) led by one of the British star, young officers, Banastre Tarleton, met its match on this day with a mixed force of one-third Continentals and two-thirds militiamen, led by what can only be called a “Good Old Boy,” Daniel Morgan.

American General Nathaniel Greene commanded the southern army and knew he couldn’t withstand a full encounter with the British, so he instructed his forces to split up and conduct operations against isolated British outposts. General Daniel Morgan commanded one of these smaller units. Tarleton was well known to the American forces for “Tarleton’s quarter.” Tarleton had a reputation, at least partly earned, for total war. He did not mind burning provisions and communities who supported the patriot cause. He also was reputed to have refused quarter to Americans at Waxhaws (Buford’s Massacre) by refusing surrender and continuing to assault.

Morgan had decided to attack Fort 96. Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton had set off to catch Morgan and prevent Morgan from disrupting the British / Loyalist forts and communities, like Fort 96. Tarleton had Morgan on the run and Morgan was attempting a ragged retreat when he decided to turn and face up to Tarleton in an area known a Cowpens (an open area of upland pasture) in northwestern South Carolina, near Gaffney. Tarleton had pushed his Legion hard through the night and they arrived at Cowpens ready to fight but tired.

Morgan had a plan to feign retreat after the intial exchange of rifle fire, knowing that Tarleton liked to take the initiative as fast as possible. When Morgan’s skirmishers fired and pulled back, Tarleton ordered his Legion forward to press the attack in hopes of a rout. Morgan had his skirmishers join his infantry line in fall back positions. What was planned and what just happened next is open to debate, but what is clear is that Morgan managed to envelope Tarleton’s Legion with infantry and cavalry and deliver withering fire into the British ranks whilst they were totally committed to a headlong rush. This may seem unusual, but much of the killing by the British Legions was by bayonet, so when they pressed the attack, they would have been mentally and physically committed to a bayonet charge. Taking heavy fire from an infantry line that was thought to have fled, whilst simultaneously having your flank rolled by cavalry might just make you want to drop your bayonet and run. That’s what Tarleton did with a handful of his command. Most of his force did not do so well with the majority being killed, wounded or captured.

Tarleton, 26 years old at the time, was rebuked and many older British officers felt it had been just a matter of time before the young rake’s risk taking had cost the British Army dear.

Motorcycle Ride

This is truly one of those perfect marriages of a great battlefield and a great ride. Here’s a beauty of a ride along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. It starts very near The Cowpens National Battlefield and makes it way through several state parks, lakes and geological sites.

Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina 15 March 1781

The early part of the American Revolutionary War was fought mostly in the North of the colonies, but after a series of defeats, the British decided to focus on the southern colonies in their persistent belief that Loyalist sympathies ran deeper there than the North. The British had built up a string of victories in the south by early 1781 by chasing down southern militias and defeating them one by one. General Washington sent one of his best Generals, Nathaniel Greene south to revive the Patriot effort. Greene had tried to separate his forces and hoped to catch the British off guard by making them attack him piecemeal. This had had some success, namely at Cowpens two months earlier, but it was getting harder and harder to avoid a major showdown with the British main force. After strategically retreating across South and North Carolina and preserving his force, Greene decided to turn and face his pursuer, Redcoat General Lord Cornwallis. Cornwallis was sure that if he could corner Greene’s force and inflict a decisive defeat on the Rebels, he could soon claim the American south for the British cause. The field for this critical battle was in the small hamlet of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina.

On the cold morning of 15 March 1781, Greene deployed his mixed militia and Continental Army force of approximately 4,500 in three lines in depth. The first line was North Carolina militia, the second Virginia militia and the final line was mainly Continentals. Cornwallis took his 1,900 British and German professional soldiers and attacked head on, breaking through the first line quickly, but with serious losses that he could ill afford. The second line held longer and bled the British further. However, the British broke through and finally reached the Continentals where a fierce give and take erupted with attacks and counter-attacks. The resulting mass of fighting men confused the situation to the point that Cornwallis felt that he needed to break up the two armies with grape shot fired into the middle of it. The artillery killed indiscriminately, but had the intended effect of separating the armies. At this point, Greene decided to pull away and save his force. Cornwallis stood victorious on the field, but strategically hamstrung.

From this victory, Cornwallis headed for the coast for re-supply for his depleted force. The condition of his army led him to begin his doomed Virginia campaign which would end later in the year with his surrender at Yorktown.

Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Check out this ride that leads to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park through the Colonial Heritage Byway.

Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, North Carolina 27 February 1776

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

Battle of Harlem Heights 16 September 1776

With American forces’ morale low and falling as they were reeling from the British landing at Kip’s Bay on Manhattan Island, General George Washington tried to hold a line, any line, against the British. Washington sent out rangers under Captain Thomas Knowlton to find and harass the advancing British forces. Knowlton did so and led the British into a fight. Washington sent another force to strike the British flank. For a few hours, the Americans were back on the attack and the British had to retreat a short way.

The engagement was not decisive and it did not much delay the British from taking most of New York in short order, but it was a much needed boost to morale for the American forces.

From the plinth in Riverside Park in New York, 121st Street and Riverside Drive; in grassy triangle south of Grant’s Tomb,


Map Credit – Public Domain, courtesy of the History Department, United States Military Academy

7 July 1777 – Battle of Hubbardton – American Revolutionary War

Before the transformational battles at Saratoga, things were not going so well for the Americans.

Try Vermont routes 100 and 30 and US highways 4 and 7 to get a feel for the area around Hubbardton, Vermont and the Green Mountain range. Try the Killington Ski Resort for some fun summer activities. Finally, try the Long Tail Brewery on the Ottauquechee River off U.S. Highway 4 near the intersection with Vermont Route 100A.

Image credit: By P. Gerlach, engraved by William Faden [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

8 December 1776 Washington Retreats Across the Delaware River

On 8 December 1776, after a long retreat through New Jersey under pressure from the British Army, American General George Washington crossed the Delaware River from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. The crossing completed one of the most successful retreats in history. Washington’s retreat enabled him to preserve what was left of the Continental Army’s strength and launch his famous surprise attacks later in the month. Fatefully, the British were satisfied with chasing the Americans across the river and decided to cease major operations for the winter.1

This is a great ride when visiting Philadelphia, New York, the northern Jersey shore, or anywhere in western Pennsylvania.

Try PA SR 32 from Kintnersville to Washington’s Crossing. Or, if you are in NJ, try NJ State Route 29 from Frenchtown, NJ to Trenton, NJ to follow the river, get in some nice twisties, and get a good idea of the task that faced Washington.

There are two state parks commemorating Washington’s crossings of the Delaware River; One in NJ and one in PA.

  1. 1776 by David McCullough, pp. 247-267.

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