The Battle of Musgrove's Mill
The Battle of Musgrove's Mill
August 18 or 19, 1780 at Musgrove's Mill, Union and Laurens County border, South Carolina
American Forces Commanded by
Col. Elijah Clarke and Col. Issac Shelby
Missing / Captured
British Forces Commanded by
Maj. Patrick Ferguson
Missing / Captured
Conclusion: American Victory
On 17 August, Col. Elijah Clark, Col. Isaac Shelby and Col. James Williams with 200 mounted men (from Georgia, the over-mountain settlements, and South Carolina respectively) rode from Col. Charles McDowell’s camp on Smith's Ford to attack loyalists at Musgrove's Mill. On the morning of the 18th, some of Clark's, Shelby's, and Williams' men skirmished with an outlying party of the loyalists at Musgrove's Mill, in which both sides lost sides suffered some wounded, and the loyalist one killed. The firing alerted Lieut. Col. Alexander Innes and Major Thomas Fraser who were staying in the Musgrove's residence nearby.
A council was held, and rather than wait for a patrol of 100 mounted who had gone out a short while earlier, it was decided to attack the rebels immediately, who meanwhile had moved to a wooded ridge about a half mile from the mill. For to the back-countrymen's surprise, the loyalist had the previous night been reinforced from Ninety-Six with 200 Provincials under Lieut. Col. Alexander Innes, and another 100 loyalists recruits for Ferguson. Innes reinforcement included a detachment of New Jersey Volunteers under Captain Peter Campbell, a company from 1st Bttn. Delancey, under Captain James Kerr, plus 100 mounted men of Innes’ own South Carolina Royalists. Some accounts speak of some New York Volunteers also being present, but this seems unlikely. The original garrison there was under the command of Maj. Thomas Fraser of the South Carolina Royalists. Present also were Capt. Abraham DePeyster of Ferguson’s corps, and Capt. David Fanning, and Col. Daniel Clary head of the loyalists of that region. Another hundred, apparently all or mostly loyalist militia, were out patrolling. Maj. Patrick Ferguson with a sizable force was not many miles away to the east. Innes left 100 of his men to guard his camp, and went to attack Shelby and Clark with the rest, not counting the 100 out patrolling. While awaiting Innes, Shelby and Clark's men built an impromptu redoubt in some thirty minutes. Then Capt. Shadrack Inman led a party of 25 men to lure Innes' force into an ambush. The stratagem, proposed by Inman, succeeded. The Provincials and loyalists attempted to take the backcountry men with the bayonet, and almost succeeded, but most of their officers, including Innes, himself, were wounded at the critical moment. Disorder set into their ranks and they fled, Inman, however, was killed. Being informed of Camden, the Whigs then mounted and headed northeast toward North Carolina. Prisoners were distributed one for each three Americans who alternated riding double with the enemy. Each prisoner was forced to carry his rifle or musket, with the flint removed so that it could not fire. They avoided the roads and moving as quickly as possible, were thus able to reach the safety of McDowell’s camp at Smith’s Ford.
The action as a whole, from the approach of Innes to the retreat of his forces to the Mill lasted about an hour. According to Draper British lost 63 killed, 90 wounded, 70 prisoners. The back-country men lost 4 killed and 8 or 9 wounded. Much of the disparity in losses is attributed to the Provincials and Loyalist over shooting their targets. Following the battle Clark, Shelby and Williams withdrew in a northwesterly direction, traveling 60 miles, to re-join McDowell (there with about 200) at Smith's Ford. In their flight, they came within five miles of Ferguson. Ferguson pursued, but was unable to catch up with partisans. Prisoners taken were sent to Hillsborough. Clark subsequently returned to Georgia and secreted himself in the woods of Wilkes County, where he was supplied with food from friends. Shelby, meanwhile, returned to the Holston and Watauga settlements, the term of his men’s service having expired. Accounts of the numbers involved and casualty estimates of forces at Musgrove’s Mill differ. Col. James Williams, cited in Draper, gave the Whigs strength as 200, the original Loyalists at the mill at 200, who were then reinforced by 300. The Whigs lost 4 killed and 7 or 8 wounded, while the loyalists lost 60 killed while taking 70 prisoners. Major James Sevier reported the Whig’s strength as 250, as learned from participants. Maj. Joseph McJunkin gave Clark, Shelby and Williams force at about 150, and the British who participated as 300. Ripley calculates the Patriots as numbering from 250 to 700, Tories 200 to 1,300, preferring the lower figure in each case.
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