In the aftermath of a devastating defeat at the Battle of Camden, General Horatio Gates began to reorganize his forces in the Revolutionary War’s Southern Theater. Gates formed a new light corps in General Daniel Morgan’s brigade, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel William Washington, which combined survivors from the battles of Camden and Waxhaws with 70 other dragoons.
With 300 infantry under Morgan and 80 cavalrymen under Washington, the legion took care to protect their supplies while obtaining everything they could from the enemy. When a report arrived that Loyalists under Colonel Henry Rugeley were staying at his supply-laden plantation, Clermont, 10 miles north of Camden, Morgan sent Washington and his 80 cavalrymen to raid the property.
Upon the patriots’ arrival on December 4, 1780, Washington found Rugeley and as many as 112 loyalists within a heavily fortified barn, known as Rugeley’s Fort. In addition to the ditch and abatis surrounding the fort, the log structure was equipped for battle with makeshift embrasures for firing and a second tier for riflemen.
The chances for revolutionary success without artillery seemed slim, but Lt. Col. Washington had wit. He instructed his men to employ the “Quaker Gun Trick,” carving fake cannons from pine logs. Washington strategically placed the “cannons” within eyeshot of the men positioned in Rugeley’s Fort and then demanded that the soldiers lay down their arms. Fearing that the fort would not be able to withstand the Patriots’ artillery, Colonel Rugeley surrendered, allowing Washington to capture the 112 Loyalists, as well as the 90 muskets, 14 horses, and 4 wagons they were keeping inside. The fort was then burned, securing a clever and bloodless victory for the revolutionaries.