Monday, December 26, 2011
For one thing, Patriot forces won decisively. Routing a much larger, better trained, and better equipped Loyalist force through courage and unconventional tactics. This battle demonstrated decisively that Patriot forces could defeat their better equipped and better trained adversaries. Certainly a morale booster for the Patriot side! More on that in a moment.
Timing too was critical. London’s “Southern Strategy” seemed to be working in early August 1780. Savannah, an important Southern port, had fallen to British forces at the end of 1778. The British, on their second try, had even occupied Charleston by mid-May 1780.
Then, on the 16th of August, just days before the Musgrove Mill engagement, British General Cornwallis and his commanders decisively whipped a considerably larger Patriot force led by General Gates. General Gates, as in “General Horatio Gates, the Hero of Saratoga”! With nearly 2,000 Patriot casualties. Gates, it turned out, was a crackerjack administrator, but not much of a battlefield commander.
So by mid-August, 1780, there was little to encourage Carolinians with Patriot inclinations. Prudent American Colonists, it seemed, should simply accept the inevitability of British rule. Confirming London’s assumption that many Southern American Colonists held Loyalist sympathies.
Little, that is, until Colonel Isaac Shelby, together with Colonels James Williams and Elijah Clarke, led 200 or so Patriot troops south through the woods from their camp on the Broad River. With instructions to clean up 200 or so Loyalist troops camped near Musgrove Mill on the Enoree River. The troops were there defending a ford across the Enoree on an important north-south wagon road.
Shelby planned to ford the Enoree at daybreak and surprise the camp. But a Loyalist patrol discovered them soon after their arrival on the high ground north of the river. Worse, Shelby and his commanders learned that 100 Loyalist militia and around 200 better trained and equipped Provincial Regulars had recently reinforced the Musgrove Mill camp. So Shelby’s Patriots now faced a better armed and better trained Loyalist force of over 500. Impossible odds for his travel-weary men and horses.
What to do? The temptation to forget the whole thing and slip back through the woods to their better fortified Broad River camp must have been intense. But retreat was unrealistic. Rested Loyalists were certain to overtake and slaughter Shelby’s travel-weary contingent if they attempted to flee.
The Patriot commanders might simply ignore the recent intelligence and order a morning attack across the Enoree, as planned. At least demonstrating courage, and hoping for a miracle. Again, a prescription for near-certain disaster. The encamped Loyalists were expecting them. They’d be set up and ready to slaughter Shelby’s troops as soon as they left the water on the south side of the River. So, what to do?
Colonels Shelby, Williams, and Clarke ultimately agreed to a daring, unconventional plan said to have been suggested by Captain Shadrach Inman. Inman volunteered to lead 20 or so of his best troops across the river, there to fire on the Loyalist encampment, and then to retreat back up the hill on the other side. This unconventional military move was intended to tempt the larger Loyalist force into pursuit. Once the Loyalists were across the river, running up the hill, the remainder of the Patriot force would mow them down. Firing from cover and concealment on both sides of the road.
In preparation, the Patriots quickly threw up rough breastworks on both sides of the wagon road leading up to the higher ground. There, with weapons primed and cocked, they awaited their unsuspecting prey. A highly visible line of troops stood in traditional formation across the road at the crest of the hill. In clear sight of the advancing troops. This created a U-shaped kill zone into which Inman and his troops hoped to lure their Loyalist adversaries.
Captain Inman’s plan worked. He and his men made their raid and quickly retreated. The unsuspecting Loyalists took the bait and pursued Inman’s retreating band up the hill, straight into the Patriot trap. There the Loyalists encountered deadly Patriot fire from both sides of the road. Their commander and nearly all of their officers were soon killed or wounded. Lacking leadership and confused by the Patriots’ unconventional tactics, the larger Loyalist force broke ranks within an hour and ran for their lives.
The heavily outnumbered and out-gunned Patriots that morning sacrificed only four killed and twelve wounded, against Loyalist losses of 63 killed and 70 captured. A decisive victory against great odds. Unfortunately, those killed included Captain Shadrach Inman, the real hero of the Battle of Musgrove Mill.
So What? You might reasonably ask. Why all the attention? Musgrove Mill was a minor, and hardly decisive, engagement. Better to move on to subsequent battles, like King’s Mountain, Cowpens, or even Guilford Courthouse. Battles that really mattered.
Well, in any war, morale and perceptions mean a great deal. Especially during civil wars, with neighbor fighting neighbor, brother fighting brother. That was certainly true at Musgrove Mill. Of the 700-some combatants at Musgrove Mill, only one was a British regular. All of the others were American colonists.
London’s “Southern Strategy” during the American Rebellion relied heavily on Loyalist support from American Colonists. Indeed, it appeared unlikely that Britain would prevail without it.
News of Shelby’s victory at Musgrove Mill over an overwhelmingly stronger Loyalist force provided encouragement for Patriot sympathizers, and gave Loyalist and “neutrals” something to think about. Should the Patriots ultimately prevail, Loyalists, and even “neutrals” like mill owner Edward Musgrove, could expect little sympathy from the victors. Better to back a winner. And the Battle of Musgrove Mill demonstrated that the Patriots just might win!
Stay tuned. In the next two episodes we’ll walk through the area of the Loyalist encampment, have a look at the Enoree River, and then tour the site of the battle on the north side of the river.
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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Table of Contents for This Series
- Introduction to the Historic Site
- The Battle of Musgrove Mill
- British Camp Trail, Mary Musgrove Monument, and Enoree River
- Horseshoe Falls and the Battlefield Trail
The I-26 four-lane SuperHighway is one of the most heavily traveled in South Carolina. Can’t say I enjoy it, but I’ve been up and down it hundreds of times, on the way to and from destinations in the western part of the State.
The past decade or so, a respectable-looking roadside sign near the I-385 turn-off toward Greenville has advertised “Musgrove Mill State Historic Site.” Looked interesting. Last month I finally found time for a visit. “Visit” indeed. I ended up making three trips from Columbia in as many days. Now, that’s a lot of extra miles on my elderly Town Car. But well worth it.
Next time you’re in the area and have some extra time, turn off and follow the signs for about six miles along Highway 56. It will take you through pretty, rolling farm country, just west of the Sumter National Forest. A treat in itself.
If it’s near lunchtime when you visit, stop at that big filling station on the corner to pick up a Subway sandwich and drink. I know; I know. But the sandwiches there are really good! Maybe even one or two of those tempting macadamia nut cookies ….. Then, fortified with two – or maybe three – of the four major food groups, on to Musgrove Mill!
The State acquired 360 or so acres of this important Revolutionary War battlefield site back in the mid-1970s. But tight Park System budgets seem to have delayed its opening until May of 2003. Now, we can all visit and enjoy.
As at most State Historic Sites, it’s best to stop first at the Visitor’s Center for orientation before tramping around. Musgrove Mill maintains a good one. The building you see above was designed, to the extent possible, to resemble the original house located here. At least from the outside.
You’ll find several inviting rocking chairs on the wrap-around porch, and even a picnic table.
So go around back and eat that Subway sandwich while looking out over some beautiful woods. Now, woods scenes like the one you’ll see don’t just happen. They require a LOT of work. I don’t know how many people it takes to maintain this Park, but it must be quite a few!
And here’s another. We may take displays like this for granted, not recognizing the challenges confronting those responsible for telling the story of an important historical site like this in such a small space.
We’ll consider the importance of the Battle of Musgrove Mill for the course of the Revolutionary War in the next post.
But briefly, this battle demonstrated that Patriot troops using irregular tactics could best highly trained and equipped Loyalist troops. A point with significance for both sides as that nightmarish War ground on in the South. More on all this later.
But look at that map! The Enoree River divides the Park into two sections. This means Park personnel must drive several miles along Highway 56 to get from one section to the other. Talk about a maintenance and management nightmare!
Much more to say about South Carolina’s Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, but we’re out of time. Stay tuned for more posts to come!
Oh, something else. A long-time CarolinaConsidered reader suggested that I add a feature that allows those interested to sign up for e-mail notification whenever a new article is posted to the site. So I have! Look in the upper right-hand corner of this page for the link. All free, of course.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Doesn’t seem possible. But my last post here was more than a month ago. No excuse for the long gap. Just been busy, traveling and collecting material. So, here’s a preview of upcoming CarolinaConsidered programs.
There you have it. Four programs on four different Must-Visit places in South Carolina coming soon. So, stay tuned!