Moore's Creek Bridge
In the days of my youth in Durham, North Carolina, we would often visit the many historical sights of the region.
Places like the Bennett farm, Guilford Courthouse, Bentonville, and historic Hillsborough, where 6 Regulators were hanged and buried following the battle of Alamance, are but a few of the many locations of historical interest to visit in North Carolina's Raleigh/Durham area.
However, one relatively little known site has remained embossed in my memory since those years of my youth, Moore's Creek Bridge near Wilimington.
Family Visit to Moore's Creek
At the time of our visit to the Moore's Creek battlefield park, it was still very small, as was I. Though only about 6 years of age, I was fairly astute with history, especially regarding the Revolutionary War.
The park consisted of a visitor's center with taped informational recordings, light-boxes containg various displays, illustrations and relics, and the park itself, which was very isolated, densely wooded, and didn't seem to be too extensive. Many of the monuments were secluded and I don't recall seeing them at all.
I was still somewhat unclear as to the specifics of the battle, as the factions involved seemed a little vague to me then. The narratives spoke of Scottish Highlanders, militia, loyalists, patriots and rebels, but none of the traditional elements like minutemen fighting the redcoats as I had learned to associate with the American Revolution.
Formation of North Carolina
North Carolina was of major importance long before the birth of the United States. It was home to the original European settlement along the eastern coast of North America later to become the 13 colonies. The settlement was founded on Roanoke Island but mysteriously disappeared. When the governor of the new colony, John White, returned from England after their first re-supply mission, they found the new settlement vacated with only the word "Croatoan" carved into a tree trunk. It came to be known in history as "the Lost Colony."
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, European settlers from Virginia migrated southward along the eastern seaboard and into the Cape Fear region, establishing Brunswick in 1727 and Wilmington in 1740.
The Carolinas were originally one entity until 1729, when North Carolina became a separate royal colony.
The Revolutionary War in North Carolina
As the rift between King George III of Britain and the colonies became more pronounced, North Carolina's population began to divide into 3 distinct factions. Like the other colonies, colonists became either loyal to the king, pro-rebellion, or neutral. Many of the Scottish Highlanders were loyal to Great Britain.
In 1774, tensions had risen to the point that Royal Governor Josiah Martin dismissed the royal assembly, abandoned the colonial capital at New Bern, and took refuge on a British ship off the coast.
By 1775, North Carolina's population consisted of approximately 265,000 whites and 80,000 blacks, most of which were slaves. It was during this period that Scotch Irish, German, Scottish Highlander, Welsh, and English settlers began to move inland from the coast.
After the initial battles at Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill opened the Revolutionary War, the colonial British army began campaigning in the northern colonies. When that plan stalled, the British command devised a strategy to begin a new campaign in the southern colonies, which were to punch northward and join up with the forces in the north.
The southern strategy by the British involved an invasion from the coast of North Carolina that would secure control of the colony, before turning south towards the primary target, the South Carolina port of Charleston.
The invasion force off the coast would consist of seven regiments under Lord Charles Cornwallis sailing from Ireland and 2,000 troops sailing from New England under Sir Henry Clinton. They were to converge near Brunswick Town on the Lower Cape Fear River and await the arrival of local loyalist forces before moving inland.
Approach to Moore's Creek
As North Carolina loyalists proceeded down the Cape Fear River to link-up with the invading British troops, Patriot militia groups moved to intercept them.
On February 25, 150 Wilmington militiamen under Colonel Alexander Lillington arrived at the bridge over a creek named for an early settler and subsequently known as Moore's Creek.
Arriving before the loyalists, the Wilmington militiamen built breastworks anticipating the arrival on the next day of Colonel Richard Caswell and his additional 800 militia.
February 27, 1776
Consisting mostly of Scottish Highlanders armed with broadswords, the loyalists arrived on February 27th and proceeded to charge across the Moore's Creek Bridge. The bridge had been partially dismantled the night before by the Patriots, who were quietly awaiting on the east side of the creek.
Instead of the expected small Patriot force, the loyalists encountered nearly one thousand Patriot militia, who opened fire with cannon and musket, sending the loyalists reeling. Receiving between 30 and 70 casualties, including the death of their commander Lt. Col. Donald McLeod, those loyalists who didn't retreat in great haste, surrendered.
It is widely considered to be the last charge using the antiquated broadsword in history.
Contingent upon strong support from the colony's loyalists, British plans in North Carolina were thwarted, moving them to alter the course of their southern campaign.
The battle at Moore's Creek Bridge was the first true victory by the Patriots of the Revolution, resulting in the nullification of English rule in North Carolina, and vastly influencing the course of the war.
North Carolina hence became the first colony to vote for independence from Great Britain.
National Register of Historic Places
The site at Moore's Creek Bridge was established as a National Military Park on June 2, 1926. Since September 8, 1980, the park has been a National Battlefield managed by the National Park Service.
Like the Guilford Courthouse and Alamance battle sites of the Revolutionary War in "The Tar Heel State", Moore's Creek National Park features a reenactment of the battle, usually falling in the last week of February.
This year's reenactment took place on February 23rd through the 24th and marked the 243rd anniversary of the actual conflict.
Effect of Florence - 2018
In September of 2018, hurricane Florence submerged many parts of the National Battlefield Park shutting it down to visitors. Park officials announced that the park would resume normal operations starting Monday, October 15, 2018, approximately a month after the storm.
The importance I put on the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge as a youth, increased dramatically as I became more enlightened to the facts over the years.
As long as people are involved in their history, they will remain active in the preservation of historic sites like Moore's Creek National Park. There is always a need for volunteer work, reenactors, and contributors of all kinds. Let us keep our history alive by instilling the desire to preserve it in our youth!
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Steve Dowell