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The Skirmish at Cane Creek (First)

September 12, 1780 at Cane Creek, McDowell County, North Carolina

American Forces Commanded by
Col. Charles McDowell
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
200 1 1 17
British Forces Commanded by
Major Patrick Ferguson
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
140 1 2 ?
Conclusion: British Victory

On September 12, Ferguson led a group his men in an attempt to attack Col. Charles McDowell's force of about 160 to 200 men. McDowell, however, at Bedford Hill and Cane's Creek, a few miles southwest of Quaker Meadows, set an ambush. Recovering from the back-country men's first fire, Ferguson launched a counterattack under Maj. Dunlop which drove them back. According to Draper, the latter, though outnumbered at least more than two to one, nonetheless regrouped and continued firing at Ferguson's column when it finally continued on its way to Gilbertown. Having followed him at distance in this manner, McDowell's force, mounted, retreated over the mountains toward the Watauga settlement.

McDowell who had not been at Musgrove's retreated with his 200 men to Gilbertown, the rest (about a 100 or more) had dispersed back over the mountains. Alternatively, he had only 160, with approximately 40 having dispersed. McDowell lost 1 killed, 1 wounded, plus 17 prisoners and 17 to 20 lbs of powder. Ferguson lost 2 wounded, including Dunlop who after being sent to a nearby home to recuperate, ultimately made his way back as an invalid to Ninety-Six. By March 1781, he had recovered and returned to the field only to be later murdered by some vengeful. A short while after the action, McDowell later proposed they return to Gilbertown and submit to British protection, as a means, though only temporary, of protecting the local cattle from falling into British hands. Some of his officers agreed and took protection in order to save the cattle, though their motives for doing so were later impugned. Others made efforts to have the cattle driven into or over the mountains for concealment.


"Tuesday, 12th. Maj. Ferguson, with forty American Volunteers and one hundred militia, got in motion at two o'clock in the morning, and marched fourteen miles through the mountains to the head of Cane creek, in Burke County, in order to surprise a party of Rebels we heard lay there. Unfortunately for us, they had by some means got intelligence of our coming, in consequence of which, Mr. McDowell, with three hundred infamous villains like himself, thought it highly necessary to remove their quarters. However, we were lucky enough to take a different route from what they expected, and met them on their way, and to appearance one would have thought they meant sincerely to fight us, as they drew up on an eminence for action. On our approach they fired and gave way. We totally routed them, killed one private, wounded a Capt. White, took seventeen prisoners, twelve horses, all their ammunition, which was only twenty pounds of powder, after which we marched to their encampment, and found it abandoned by those Congress heroes. Our loss was two wounded and one killed. Among the wounded was Capt. Dunlop, who received two slight wounds. After the skirmish we returned to one Allen's to refresh ourselves. We got in motion about four o'clock in the afternoon, and countermarched about six miles to a Rebel Mr. Jones', where we halted all night."


"Colonel Ferguson soon after got intelligence that Col McDole [Charles McDowell] was encamped on Cain and Silver Creeks; on which we marched towards the enemy, crossed the winding Creek 23 times, found the rebel party strongly posted towards the head of it near the mountains. We attacked them instantly and after a determined resistance defeated them and made many prisoners. The rest fled towards Turkey Cove in order to cross the mountains and get to Holstein. On this occasion I commanded a division, [September, 1780] and took the person prisoner who was keeper of the records of the County, which I sent to my father's as a place of safety. We then fortified Colonel Walker's house as a protection to the wounded, and proceeded in pursuit of the rebels to the Mountains at the head of Catawba River, sending out detachments to scour the country and search the caves. A fight happened in the neighborhood between a detachment of ours and the Americans who were posted on a broken hill not accessible to Cavalry, which obliged us to dismount and leave our horses behind. Whilst employed in dislodging the Americans another party of them got round in the rear and took the horses, mine amongst the rest; but it was returned by the person who was my prisoner in the last affair; about a week before he had been released, as was usual at this time with prisoners. At this period the North Carolina men joined us fast."

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