On May 12, 1780, British forces under the command of Sir Henry Clinton took possession of Charleston, South Carolina after a six week siege. Returning north, Clinton left Charles Lord Cornwallis in command of British forces in the Southern theater.
To cement their control of South Carolina, the British established garrisons throughout the backcountry. These outposts were tasked with protecting and recruiting Loyalists for the British army and suppressing American partisans.
While the British sought to consolidate their gains, Patriot forces worked to weaken the enemy’s hold on the South.
In the summer of 1780, the Patriots became increasingly bold in their attacks, especially after guerrilla forces destroyed a British detachment commanded by Capt. Christian Huck on July 12.
In late July, Patriot leaders from across the Carolinas met to plan further operations. It was decided that Patriot forces would focus their efforts on British outposts in the Catawba River Valley.
On July 30 and August 1, 1780, Patriot forces under the command of Col. Thomas Sumter attacked the British outpost at Rocky Mount. Despite a determined effort, Sumter was unable to dislodge the enemy.
Meanwhile, American militia under Major William Richardson Davie marched on the British camp at Hanging Rock. Davie's objective was to create a diversion from Sumter's effort at Rocky Mount. Hanging Rock offered an enticing opportunity as the British had failed to fortify their position. Still, in keeping with his assignment, Davie decided not to attac the main Crown camp, but fell on a unit of Tory militia from North Carolina under Col. Morgan Bryan. Davie's command fell on Bryan within sight of the camp. The Americans inflicted a number of casualties, capturing horses and weapons. The surprise was so complete that Davie had successfully withdrawn before the British could offer aid to Bryan.
Several days later, Sumter and Davie decided to launch a larger attack on Hanging Rock.
The British commander at Hanging Rock, Major John Carden, had roughly 1,400 men fit for duty. His forces consisted of a mixture of regular troops and Loyalist militiamen. On the morning of August 6, 1780, Sumter split his forces, numbering roughly 800 men, into three columns and began advancing against the British outpost. Losing their way, the columns fortuitously converged on the weakest part of the British line. Once again, the Americans attacked Bryan's North Carolina Loyalists. Sumter and Davie soon gained the upper hand and drove the North Carolinians from the field and advanced toward the British camp. Upton their approach, the British Legion and Loyalists under John Hamilton engaged the Americans, however, the Patriots were able to maintain their momentum and the British line collapsed.
As Davie's men entered the camp, Tories from Col. Thomas Brown's Ranger unit counterrattacked. Brown's men threatened to turn Davie's flank but the Americans met the assault and sent the British reeling once again. In a last ditch effort, the surviving British companies formed a defensive square. Fortunately, the Crown force was aided by the fact that many of Sumter’s and Davie’s men were distracted from the fight by the opportunity for plunder. This gave Carden time to rally and prepare to reenter the fight. Davie, however, managed to maintain some discipline in his ranks and quickly dispersed the remainder of Carden's force
Considering the numbers engaged in the Battle of Hanging Rock, the engagement was one of the bloodier battles of the American, at least for the British, who lost 200 men killed and wounded out of 1,400 men engaged. One British unit, the Prince of Wales Regiment, was essentially wiped out. The Patriots, on the other hand, lost only 12 men killed and 41 wounded out of 800 engaged.
Although it was Sumter’s men who withdrew, Hanging Rock, in part due to the lopsided casualty figures, was in fact considered a Patriot victory, albeit an incomplete one. The victory at Hanging Rock served to further embolden Patriot efforts to dislodge the British. The battle was also significant because it represented the first military experience for a young messenger serving Davie: Andrew Jackson.
Join t Fight
Donate today to preserve Revolutionary War battlefields and the nation’s history for generations to come.