Cornwallis in making his way from Wilmington toward Virginia found the middle and eastern districts of North Carolina were more barren than described, and provisions very difficult to obtain. Since his leaving Wilmington on the 25th or 26th of April some of the Bladen County militia did broke down some bridges over creeks to retard his progress. Otherwise Cornwallis encountered no opposition till the 7th (possibly the 6th) when his advance parties of cavalry and light troops skirmished some N.C. militia at Swift Creek, and afterward the same day at Fishing Creek. In both instances, the N.C. militia were dispersed.
On May 7, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton commanded a British force and encircled the town of Halifax, coming in from the north. He attacked the Halifax Militia while they were assembling on a bridge. The militia soon retreated from the bridge, and occupied a redoubt on the other side of the Roanoke River. Tarleton noticed that the redoubt was overlooked by higher ground on the Halifax side. He ordered a cannon to be brought up there, thinking that it could drive the militia from the redoubt. The plan failed to drive them out, with the militia still firing at the British.
The British lost 3 wounded and a few horses killed, but again the Americans were routed, and 15 of Sumner’s draftees were taken. Some Continental supplies, including provisions and clothing were captured in Halifax, which had been the site of a relatively important American depot for the southern army. Active efforts to remove the supplies had not taken place till the 5th, and by then it was too late.
On May 11, Maj. Gen. Charles Cornwallis brought up his main force and occupied the town. He sent a British detachment across the river and finally managed to drive the militia away. The British troops ended up doing much looting of the town during their occupation.
Tarleton:“On this move the Americans at Swift creek, and afterwards at Fishing creek, attempted to stop the progress of the advanced guard; but their efforts were baffled, and they were dispersed with some loss. The British took the shortest road to Halifax, to prevent the militia receiving reinforcements, and recovering from the consternation probably diffused throughout that place by the fugitives from the creeks. The event answered the expectation: The Americans were charge and defeated in detached parties, in the environs and in the town, before they had settled any regular plan of operation: The ground about half a mile in front of Halifax afforded a strong position, of which they did not avail themselves; but they were surprised whilst assembling on the wrong side of the bridge over a deep ravine, and were routed with confusion and loss: The only useful expedient which they had adopted was the securing a number of the boats belonging to the inhabitants of the place on the other side of the river, where a party began to intrench themselves, and from whence they fired upon the British when they approached the bank: This circumstance, however, could only be a temporary inconvenience to the King's troops, because the Americans would be obliged to abandon that post on the arrival of the cannon, the eminence on the side of Halifax so perfectly commanded the opposite shore.
The damage sustained by the light troops in taking possession of Halifax amounted only to three men wounded, and a few horses killed and wounded. Some stores of continental cloathing and other supplies were found in the place. Without loss of time, guards were placed on all the avenues to the post, and spies were dispatched over the river above and below the town, to gain intelligence of General Phillips. These precautions and necessary proceedings were speedily completed, owing to the assistance of Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, who had formerly been connected with that quarter of North Carolina, and was a volunteer on this expedition.”