Episode 060

Do You Smell what the Rock is Cookin’? – Battles of Hanging Rock, SC & Camden, SC

Shortly after Charleston we see yet another set of battles crop up between Patriots and Loyalists in the South Hanging Rock, SC and Camden, SC. Also, we'll have a brief mention of a man named John Andre.

Hanging Rock

Now here in the south, we like to name things like what they actually are, it just keeps things simple. Here in the North Carolina mountains, there’s a place called “Blowing Rock”, where the wind comes up the side of the mountain and it’s like the rock is actually blowing. Look it up, there’s some cool Native American stories around it as well. Now while I’ve never been to Hanging Rock in South Carolina, I do know that in fact the rock does appear to be hanging. I also know that the Battle of Hanging Rock was a timely but small victory in the fight against the British in South Carolina. Charleston had fallen to the British on May 12, 1780. Seventeen days later British General Banastre Tarleton slaughtered Abraham Buford’s colonials six miles east of Lancaster at Waxhaw Creek. Until the Tarleton slaughter, many of the up state Scotch-Irish were neutral in the conflict, but after the “massacre” the local sentiment began to change. The Battle of Hanging Rock was an indication of the growing strength of the colonials.

Outnumbered two to one, American Patriots, under the command of Major William Richardson Davie (NC) and Col. Thomas Sumter managed to overrun and almost annihilate a British Provincial regiment and took most of its supplies at the battle of Hanging Rock.
But events leading to the Hanging Rock skirmish actually began on July 30, 1780. That day, Col. Thomas Sumter split his forces into two groups. He led one to Rocky Mount, while Major Davie led his NC Patriots to Hanging Rock as a diversion.

Major Davie and his troops were dispatched to raid a British outpost near a spot where Stevens Spring Fish Hatchery is now located south of Heath Springs. With the element of surprise on Major Davie’s side, the raid was quite successful and many arms were captured.

Meanwhile, Col. Thomas Sumter, his South Carolina Militia, and a Catawba Indian party set about a raid at Rocky Mount, south of present-day Great Falls. Col. Sumter’s group tried to attack several log cabins used by British troops by setting the roofs on fire, but the raid was unsuccessful because a thunderstorm put the fires out.

Col. Sumter and Major Davie then met again at Lands Ford.

On August 5, the Wading Rock – a directional marker the Catawbas had taught to the settlers – was visible in the Catawba River shoals.

With the water down, the 600 Patriot soldiers made plans to attack British soldiers again at Hanging Rock. They marched to the encampment about two miles south of Heath Springs near the battle site along Hanging Rock Creek. The British troops were surprised and overrun in about four hours. Many did not survive and losses were estimated at 350 men. Others were wounded, captured and taken prisoner.

The Americans were successful in making the British abandon the Hanging Rock outpost and took many supplies, but it’s seen as an indecisive victory because Sumter, Davie, and their men withdrew.

The name Hanging Rock is somewhat misleading. The large boulder doesn’t hang, it is firmly planted and is more accurately described as an overhang formed as though a triangular slice had been taken out of the bottom leaving a peaked roof above. The opening is large enough to shelter over 50 men from the elements.
Around this landmark, Provincial Major John Carden established his camp. The garrison, about 500 strong, consisted of 160 men from Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s Legion, although he was not present. Col. Thomas Brownes regiment was also there – both camped at the center of the line, in and around some houses. The Prince of Wales Regiment (Provincials) secured the right side. The left side, separated from the center by some trees, was held by North Carolina Loyalists. Part of this unit had been cut to pieces by Major William Richardson Davie a week earlier.

The entire front of the camp was covered by an excellent natural defense – a deep ravine and creek.

Col. Thomas Sumter, frustrated from the skirmish at Rocky Mount a week earlier, had decided that he wanted to re-hit this place, now that he learned how it was defended from Major Davie. He halted his men around midnight on August 5th within two miles of the enemy camp and began marching his men at daylight the next morning. His command was divided into three columns, each planning to attack the corresponding enemy unit on the left, center, and right.

However, in avoiding enemy pickets, the guides became confused and the entire command struck the Loyalists on the left side of the camp. These immediately broke and ran to the center, hotly pursued by Patriots. The Legion infantry and some of Col. Brown’s men tried to make a stand, but they were over-run and soon joined the fleeing Loyalists.

Other companies of Col. Brown’s regiment took advantage of the trees between the center and the Loyalist camp and worked around to the flank of the Patriots and offered deadly fire. The Patriot riflemen concentrated on officers and within minutes none were left to give any orders. By this time, many of the Provincials had also fallen and the remainder, being offered quarter, surrendered.

The Provincials on the right, supported by two field pieces, formed a square. Col. Sumter’s men were out of range and refused to cross into a possible line of fire. Moreso, most were almost out of ammunition, and some were already looting the British camp. Col. Sumter decided to let well enough alone. He gave orders to loot the camps of anything needed, take paroles of the officers, and to prepare litters for the wounded.

Under the watchful eyes of the squared Provincials, Col. Sumter’s men began a leisurely retreat. Col. Sumter reported 20 dead, 40 wounded, and 10 missing. He estimated that the enemy had at least 130 killed and a proportionate number wounded, and he had captured 73.

Lyman C. Draper wrote, “Cornwallis was heard to say that no battle fell heavier on the British, condsidering the numbers engaged, the battle of Bunker Hill excepted.” The Prince of Wales Regiment was no longer considered an effective fighting force, having been virtually wiped out. The British Legion had sixty-two of their men killed and wounded. Many of the Loyalists militia simply fled from the field.

The British prisoners and wounded were taken to Charlotte to keep them out of striking distance of the British Regulars. The badly-wounded Major John McClure was also taken to Charlotte, where he died two weeks later. Major William Richardson Davie later wrote that his corps, “suffered much while tying their horses under a heavy fire from the Tories.” He vowed he would never serve under Col. Thomas Sumter again.


Fought on August 16, 1780, the Revolutionary War Battle of Camden, South Carolina, pitted American forces under Major General Horatio Gates (Despite the proliferation of dysentery among his men) against a small British field force commanded by Lieutenant General. Charles, Lord Cornwallis. Despite numerical superiority, the Patriot forces suffered a humiliating rout, one of the worse defeats in American military history.

After capturing Charleston in May, 1780, British forces established a number of posts in the interior of South Carolina to exert control over the state and to quell rising Patriot militia activity. One of their main bases was at Camden, an important transportation and communications hub in the center of the state. Opposing them by late July were several groups of South Carolina partisans, North Carolina militia troops, and a small nucleus of Maryland and Delaware Continentals. Gates, who three years earlier had stopped another major British invasion at Saratoga, New York, commanded all these Patriot forces.

The British were commanded at Camden by Lord Rawdon, Cornwallis having returned to Charleston. Rawdon advanced from Camden to meet the Americans and took a position on a creek to the North-East of the town. On Gates’ approach Rawdon fell back to Camden.

On 14th August Cornwallis joined his troops in Camden with the determination to attack Gates. He made a night advance which collided with the Americans who were also advancing to make an assault.

The battlefield lay between two swamps which narrowed the front and secured the flanks. Cornwallis formed his army in two brigades, Colonel Webster on the right with the companies of Light Infantry, the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 33rd Foot and on the left Lord Rawdon on the left with the Irish Volunteers, Tarleton’s infantry and some loyalist provincial units. Two battalions of Fraser’s 71st Highlanders provided a reserve.

Gates drew up his army with the regiments of the Continental Army on the right under Gist, Kalb’s 2nd Maryland and a Delaware regiment, his centre under Caswell of North Carolina militia and his right under Stevens of Virginia militia. Smallwood commanded the reserve of the 1st Maryland.

Gates ordered his left wing of militia to attack the opposing British units. As they began to move forward the British launched a counter attack along the whole line. Ill-trained and largely without bayonets with which to conduct close quarter fighting, the American militia retreated off the field leaving Webster’s regiments to turn on the flank of the American right wing where the Continental units were putting up a stiff fight and continued to do so for some time. Tarleton’s cavalry finally attacked the American right wing in the rear causing the units to break. The British cavalry pursued the retreating Americans for some twenty miles.

Gates, the American commander appears to have left the battlefield with the first of the militia and ridden a considerable distance before drawing rein, leaving his subordinate commanders to fight on with the right flank. His reputation was destroyed. Baron Von Kalb, a German in the American service, particularly distinguished himself before being killed.

The British lost 324 killed and wounded, 100 being from the 33rd. The American casualties were 1,000 killed and wounded and 1,000 lost as prisoners. 7 guns were taken with all the American stores and baggage.

The battle ensured the British hold on South Carolina for the time being. But as with all the British victories in the war, Camden provided only a short respite before the inexorable course of American success continued.

Next week will be a big episode, we’ll be talking about King’s Mountain. A battle that a vast majority of historians tend to cite as the turning point of the war. But rather than muddy that episode with this story, I’ll share it now, it’s about a man named John Andre

John Andre

John André was born in London, England, on May 2, 1750. By 1771, André had joined the British Army and was sent to serve in Canada in 1774. In November 1778, André was promoted to major and named adjutant general by General Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief. At this point in the American Revolution, Clinton was aware of the significance of the American position at West Point. He knew that taking West Point would remove the Hudson River from colonial hands and force Washington’s army into New Jersey. This would cut New England off from the rest of the colonies and leave the American-allied French army in the vicinity vulnerable to British capture.

As Clinton’s adjutant general, André corresponded with disenchanted American General Benedict Arnold, commander of West Point, to negotiate for West Point’s surrender. To ensure Arnold’s cooperation in the scheme, André met with him on September 20, 1780. Arnold supplied André with a map of West Point and with Washington’s war council minutes from September 6. He also provided André with a pass stating that André, using the undercover pseudonym John Anderson, was on business for Arnold and should be allowed free travel in the region.

On September 23, André was returning to British lines when he was stopped by three members of the New York militia. The men interrogated André, whose answers, along with his pass from Arnold, aroused their suspicions. The men then searched André and discovered the map of West Point. André was arrested and transported to the nearest military post.

André’s confiscated documents were then sent to General Washington. Before these materials reached Washington, however, the General was already making his way to visit Arnold. Not finding Arnold at home, Washington proceeded to the fort only to discover that Arnold had not fortified it as ordered. Returning to the Arnold residence, Washington received the confiscated André’s papers and it became clear that the American cause had been betrayed.

Washington ordered Arnold’s arrest, but Arnold had already reached the safety of British lines. As for André, Washington organized a court of fourteen military generals to examine the case. After questioning the prisoner, the board decided that he should be executed as a spy. Washington accepted this determination, though he offered the British the opportunity to save André’s life by exchanging him for Arnold. The British refused, lest it dissuade others from deserting to the British cause. As a result, Washington ordered André’s execution which took place on October 2, 1780 at Tappan, New York. Though André had requested an honorable execution by firing squad, Washington denied this request, insisting that André hang to fit the crime of espionage.

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