The Battle of Hanging Rock
August 6, 1780 at Hanging Rock, Kershaw-Lancaster County border, South Carolina
Lt. Col. Thomas Sumter
Maj. John Carden and Col. Morgan Bryan
After making plans and arrangements on the 5th, Sumter with 300, mostly mounted, men under Col. William Hill, Maj. Richard Winn, Capt. Edward Lacey, and Capt. John McClure and about 500 North Carolina (mostly Mecklenburg) militia under Col. Robert Irwin, which included some 80 cavalry and mounted militia under Maj. William Richardson Davie, moved to attack the British post at Hanging Rock. Sumter did not yet have formal rank as Brigadier General, but was selected the senior officer among the group. Hanging Rock, an "open camp" located in a settlement, was occupied by Maj. John Carden with 500 provincials, including 160 of British Legion, under Capt. Kenneth McCulloch and Capt. John Rousselet, a detachment of the Royal North Carolina Regiment, a detachment of the King's Carolina Rangers, and Carden’s own Prince of Wales American Volunteers, posted in some houses, plus at least two cannon. A separate force of Col. Samuel Bryan's regiment of North Carolina Volunteers, a militia/provincial regiment, and some other loyalists, totaling about 700 to 900 were at a position near some woods separated from Carden's main by a creek with a deep ravine. Sumter decided on a plan of attack of attacking the camp in three mounted detachments. Davie, on the other hand proposed leaving the horses behind before making their approach, "urging the confusion consequent on dismounting under fire and the certainty of losing the suddenness and certainty of attack." He was, however, over ruled.
The American and British versions differ not a little, hence the extensive quotations given below. The initial assault was made early in the morning where Winn's and Davie's men completely routed Bryan's corps. Capt. McCulloch’s company of the British Legion after presenting a volley was also routed by Sumter’s riflemen. McCulloch himself was killed, which possibly accounts for their flight. The Prince of Wales Regt. also came under heavy fire and suffered very severe losses, including Carden who was badly wounded. The King’s Carolina Rangers then came up, and having cleverly deployed themselves in some woods, checked the rebel assault with a surprise crossfire. This allowed the British to drew up on a hollow square in the enter of the cleared ground, and further protected themselves with a three-pounder which had been left by some of Rugeley’s Camden militia. At one point, Capt. Rousselet of the Legion infantry, led a gallant charge and also forced Sumter’s men back. This allowed the British to drew up on a hollow square in the enter of the cleared ground, and further protected themselves with a three-pounder which had been left by some of Rugeley’s Camden militia. Since Carden was wounded command devolved on Capt. Rousselet. 40 mounted Legion infantry, under Capt. Charles McDonald and Capt. Patrick Stewart, who were on their way to Camden from Rocky Mount, rode to the scene after hearing shooting. These, along with some of Hamilton’s N.C. provincials, after arranging themselves to appear as if greater in number than they actually were successfully charged Sumter’s militia. They were, however, driven back by a counter-charge from Davie’s dragoons. While the main British force held up in the square, many of the whig units lost order and began looting the camp, not a few becoming intoxicated in the process by availing themselves of the British rum. Sumter, out of ammunition, and finding Rousselet’s position now too strong to attack, took his men, now "loaded with plunder," and retreated.
The battle was interpreted by both sides as a victory for themselves: the British because they had fought off the Americans, the Americans because they had captured the British stores, took many prisoners, and withdrew in safety. The action lasted three to four hours, with many men fainting from hear and drought. Sumter reported British losses at Hanging Rock as 250 killed and wounded, and that he also took 70 prisoners. Sumter lost 20 killed, 40 wounded, 10 missing. Capt. John McClure, one of the most active partisan leaders in the summer of 1780, was mortally wounded, Col. Hill and Maj. Winn were also wounded but not seriously. According to William Hill in his memoirs, Sumter lost 40 killed and 3 wounded. Tarleton states that the British Legion, alone, lost 22 killed, upwards of 30 wounded, and that the Americans left 100 dead on the battlefield. As well as Capt. McCulloch, the Legion also lost Lieut. Ralph Cunningham. According to a Loyalist source, the Prince of Wales Regt., out of 181 officers and men present, 93 were killed, wounded or missing. The same source says the Royal North Carolinians lost 50 officers and men. Allaire records the King’s Carolina Rangers suffering over 100 lost, mostly of this number taken prisoner. Though not so catastrophic, Davie’s corps suffered significant casualties. Boatner gives Carden’s losses as 192 killed and wounded, while Sumter’s were 12 killed and 41 wounded. The extreme heat only aggravated the suffering of the wounded of both sides. Following the battle, Rawdon at Camden sent the 23rd Regt., under Major Mecan, from Rugeley's to Hanging rock. This allowed Bryan time and room to collect his dispersed force. A historian for the Prince of Wales Volunteers maintains that many of the British prisoners lost at Hanging Rock, were recovered after the battle of Camden.
"[Sumter's] right and center divisions fell together with the left upon the Tory encampment: -- these devoted people [the Tories] were briskly attacked both in front & flank and soon routed with great slaughter; as the Americans pressed on in pursuit of the Tories who fled toward the center encampment they received a fire from 160 of the Legion and some companies of Hamilton's Regiment posted behind a fence, but their impetuosity was not checked a moment by this unexpected discharge, they rushed forward, and the Legion Infantry immediately broke and mingled in the flight of the Loyalists, yielding their camp without another struggle to the Militia; at this moment a part of Col. [Thomas] Browns regiment had nearly changed the fate of the day, they passed by a bold and skilful maneuvre (sic) into the wood between the center & Tory encampment, drew up unperceived, and poured a Heavy fire on the Militia forming, from the disorder of the pursuit, on the flank of the encampment; these brave men took instinctively to the trees and bush heaps and returned the fire with deadly effect, in a few minutes there was not a British officer standing, one half of the regiment had fallen, and the others on being offered quarters threw down their arms; the remainder of the British line who had also made a movement to their right now retreated hastily toward their former position and drew up in the center of the cleared grounds in the form of the Hollow Square. The rout of these different corps the pursuit & plunder of the camps had thrown the Americans into great confusion, the utmost exertions were made by Col. Sumter & the other officers to carry the men on to attack the British square, about 200 Infantry with Davie's dragoons were collected and formed on the margin of the woods, and a heavy but ineffectual fire was commenced on the british [sic] troops, about 3 or 400 of the Enemy consisting of the Legion Infantry Hamiltons regt with a large body of Tories, were observed rallying and forming on the edge of the woods on the opposite side of the British camp under cover of the trees, and charged them with his company of Dragoons, these people under the impressions of defeat were all routed and dispersed in a few minutes by this handful of men. The distance of the square from the woods and the constant fire of two pieces of field artillery prevented the militia from making any considerable impression on the British troops; so that upon Major Davie's return it was agreed to plunder the encampments and retire; as this party was returning toward the center encampment some British Legion Cavalry appeared drawn up on the Camden road, with a countenance as if they meant to keep their position but on being charged by the dragoons of Davie's corps they all took the woods in flight & one only was cut down. A retreat was by this time absolutely necessary -- The commissary stores were taken in the center encampment, and numbers of the men were already inebriated, the greatest part were loaded with plunder and those in a condition to fight had exhausted their ammunition, about an Hour was employed in plundering the camp, taking the paroles of the British officers, and preparing litters for the wounded; all this was transacted within full view of the British army who in the meantime consoled themselves with some military music & an interlude of 3 cheers for King George which was immediately answered by 3 cheers and the Hero of American Liberty; the militia at length got into the line of march in three columns, Davie's corps covering their rear, but as they were loaded with plunder, encumbered with their wounded friends, and many of them intoxicated, it is easy to conceive that this retreat could not be performed according to the rules of the most approved military tactics, However under all these disadvantages the field off unmolested along the front of the Enemy about 1 O'clock."
"Our loss was not ascertained, from the usual inattention to returns prevalent among militia officers; and many of our wounded were immediately carried home from the field of battle. The corps of Davie suffered most. Captain [John] McClure of South Carolina, and Captain Reed of North Carolina, were killed; Colonel [William] Hill, Major Richard Winn and Lieutenant Crawford, were wounded as were Captain Craighead, Lieutenant Flenchau, and Ensign McClure of North Carolina. The British loss exceeded ours. Captain [Kenneth] McCullock, who commanded the legion infantry with much personal honor, two officers, and twenty men of the same corps, were killed and nearly forty wounded. Many officers and men of Brown's regiment were also killed and wounded and some taken."
“Thursday, 10th…By the express heard that Sumter had attacked Hanging Rock the 6th instant. The North Carolinians were first attacked; they gave way. Brown's corps came up, but were obliged to give way. The Legion Cavalry came in the Rebels' rear, and soon gained the day. Brown's corps suffered much-three officers killed, and three wounded-an hundred men taken prisoners. “
“Colonel Sumpter crossed Broad river, and retired to his former camp in the Catawba settlement; where, reinforcing the numbers he had lost at Rocky mount, he was soon in a condition to project other operations. This active partizan was thoroughly sensible, that the minds of men are influenced by enterprize, and that to keep undisciplined people together, it is necessary to employ them. For this purpose, he again surveyed the state of the British posts upon the frontier, and on minute examination he deemed Hanging rock the most vulnerable: He hastened his preparations for the attack, because a detachment of cavalry and mounted infantry had been ordered from that place to reinforce Rocky mount. On the 6th of August, at seven o'clock in the morning, he approached the flank of the post, which was entrusted to the North-Carolina refugees, under the orders of Colonel [Samuel] Bryan. This loyalist, with his undisciplined people, though opposed by troops equally undisciplined, soon retreated from his ground, and Colonel Sumpter directed the weight of his attack against the legion infantry, which resisted his efforts with great coolness and bravery. The example of courage exhibited by one hundred and sixty men of the legion, who charged the Americans twice with fixed bayonets, to save their three pounder, made a detachment of Colonel Brown's regiment recover from the consternation into which they had been thrown by the flight of Colonel Bryan, and they now joined their endeavours to defend the British encampment. Colonel Sumpter still persevered in his attack, and very probably would have succeeded, if a stratagem employed by Captains [Patrick] Stewart and [Charles] M'Donald, of the British legion, had not disconcerted his operations. These officers, with forty mounted infantry, were returning the same morning from Rocky mount, and on the route heard the cannon and musketry at Hanging rock; on a nearer approach to their post, they judiciously left the Rocky mount, and made a circuit to get into the main Camden road, to reinforce their companions: When they arrived in sight of the Americans, the bugle horn was directed to sound the charge, and the soldiers were ordered to extend their files, in order to look like a formidable detachment. This unexpected appearance deranged the American commander, and threw his corps into a state of confusion, which produced a general retreat. Captain [Kenneth] M'Cullock, who command the legion infantry with so much distinction, was killed, with two other officers, and twenty men: Upwards of thirty of the same corps were wounded. The detachment of Colonel Brown's regiment [King’s Carolina Rangers] had, likewise, some officers and men killed and wounded, and a few taken prisoners. Colonel Bryan's North-Carolina refugees were greatly dispersed, but did not suffer considerably by the fire of the enemy. About one hundred dead and wounded Americans were left on the field of battle. Colonel Sumpter rallied his men not far from Hanging rock, and again fell back to the Catawba settlement, to collect more men from the Wacsaws, and to receive refugees, who flocked from all parts of South Carolina. The repulses he had sustained did not discourage him, or injure his cause: The loss of men was easily supplied, and his reputation for activity and courage was fully established by his late enterprizing conduct."
"In our author's [Tarleton's] description of the action at Hanging Rock, the partiality which he entertains for his own corps is evident; the gallantry of officers, and of a detachment with which he was not immediately connected, is consigned to oblivion. This assertion is justified by his silence on the loss of Lieutenant Brown of the North Carolinians, who fell in a desperate charge, which the crisis of the action rendered inevitable; and besides him, not less than seventy men of the same regiment were killed and wounded, of which, however, no mention is made, as it would appear a participation of the credit ascribed to the legion. To the names already specified, those of many American Loyalists might have been added; men, whose integrity was incorruptible, undismayed in the hour of danger, who sacrificed their private interest to publick good, and who, though they knew that the internal peace of their families was destroyed, by the ravages of relentless war, fought and bled with manly spirit; maintained their allegiance to their latest moments, and evinced a probity of mind under every reverse of fortune, which must endear them to posterity."
"Colonel Bryant's [Samuel Bryan’s] militia were attacked by General Sumpter, were beat, and driven out of the field -- the North Carolinians suffered nearly the same fate. The loss of the Prince of Wales's regiment sustained was heavy; that corps, both officers and men, were nearly destroyed. The British legion were then attacked by the whole American force. Captain M'Cullock, before the attack became general, was mortally wounded: the command of the legion devolved on Captain [John] Rousselet. He charged the enemy; repulsed, and drove them. This officer, possessing happily not only valour, but also good conduct, joined with it, instead of permitted his victorious troops in a broken and irregular manner to pursue the enemy, (which in cases I could mention, has proved fatal, where British valour, intoxicated with a momentary success, has lost sight of discipline, regularity and order; which neglect of regularity may in future wars, if not corrected, be more severely felt) halted, convinced of the advantage of the ground he had been attacked upon, he marched back and took possession of it again. Sumpter renewed the attack; he was again and again beat off, charged, and pursued, but with regularity. These operations of a gallant few, gave time for a few of the scattered troops to rally and join the legion, which the approach of the detachment under Captains [Charles] M'Donald and [Patrick] Stewart, &c. &c. as related by Colonel Tarleton, obliged General Sumpter to quit the field, and desist from any further attack on that post."