Tory trap

As I mentioned last time, during our recent trip along the OVNHT my cousin and I managed to visit a site I’d wanted to see for a while now.  It’s not on the trail itself, but it’s inextricably tied to the story of King’s Mountain.

In the summer of 1780, as the British established outposts throughout the South Carolina backcountry and Maj. Patrick Ferguson began organizing Loyalist auxiliaries to fight alongside the Redcoats, bands of partisan militia coalesced to thwart their efforts. One of these bands—two hundred Whigs led by Isaac Shelby of present-day Tennessee, Elijah Clarke of Georgia, and James Williams of South Carolina—decided to attack a Tory post at Musgrove Mill near a ford on the Enoree River on August 19, thinking they were facing a force of equal numbers.  When they arrived in the vicinity, however, they discovered that 300 more troops had reinforced the Tories.  The Whigs were outnumbered by more than two to one, and the Tories knew they were in the neighborhood.

It was too late to retreat, and their numbers were too few to launch an all-out attack.  The only alternative was to make a stand.  One of the officers, Captain Shadrach Inman, devised a plan to draw the Tories into an ambush.  A small party would head to the ford and draw the Tories toward the main body, which was posted on a small ridge behind a breastwork of logs and brush.  The plan worked; when the Tories pursued the small force to the ridge, the main body of Whigs sprang the trap, opening fire from behind their makeshift fortification at very close range.

It was a stunning victory, but no sooner had it been won than the Whigs learned that an American army under Horatio Gates had recently been defeated at Camden.  Cut off from support, the Patriots retreated, Shelby taking his contingent back across the mountains.  In September, as the British pushed northward, Ferguson sent a threat to Shelby and his fellow mountaineers, informing them that if they continued interfering with the progress of British arms he would bring the war to their frontier homes. Instead of being cowed, the Overmountain Men came back in larger numbers than ever, wiping out Ferguson’s force at King’s Mountain in October.

Today the battleground where Shelby, Clarke, and Williams lured the Tories into a deadly ambush is part of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, the newest state park in South Carolina.  The visitor center has a small, one-room exhibit, parts of which were still under construction when we were there.  It includes displays of eighteenth-century weapons, along with information on the experiences of women in the wartime backcountry.  The centerpiece is a three-dimensional model of the battlefield, with a recorded narration of the fight illustrated with moving lights, similar to the larger electric map presentation formerly housed in the old visitor center at Gettysburg.

Two different trails allow you to see the battleground and the Musgrove property.  Each one is a little more than a mile long, winding among wooded hills with interpretive signage along the way.  One trail heads down toward the Enoree River to the mill site and past a small fishing pond.  The signage here tells the story of the Musgrove family, the mill, and the importance of the ford.

One thing you’ll encounter on this route is a monument to Mary Musgrove, daughter of the mill’s owner.  After her death, she morphed into the fictionalized heroine of the nineteenth-century novel Horse-Shoe Robinson, a story set in the backcountry during the Revolution.  Historians can’t substantiate the exploits attributed to her in the book, but Mary herself was quite real indeed.

The other trail, which starts a short drive away from the visitor center, takes you to the ridge where the militia lay in ambush.  This hike is a little more strenuous, but there are plenty of spots to rest.  Wayside signs describe the men who fought there and set up the story of the battle.  Tradition holds that Mary Musgrove hid a Patriot from marauding Tories at Horseshoe Falls, located near the trailhead.

Eventually, after ascending a few hills and passing alongside the roadbed used by the Tories in their pursuit of the Patriots’ advance party, you’ll come to the ridge where the main action took place.

Atop the hill is a small memorial to the Patriot dead.  One of those killed was Capt. Inman, who devised the plan that ended in a victory over superior numbers.

Musgrove Mill wasn’t a large engagement, but like many of the nasty firefights that erupted in the backcountry, its impact was considerable.  It demonstrated the capabilities of the Whig partisans, who could maul British detachments even in a province where American resistance was supposedly subdued.  For a small park, this site has quite a bit going for it; the battlefield is clearly interpreted, fans of the outdoors can take advantage of fishing and canoeing, and the scenery along the trails would make an afternoon hike here enjoyable even for those who aren’t into the Rev War.

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1 Comment

Filed under American Revolution, Museums and Historic Sites

One response to “Tory trap

  1. Matt McKeon

    Great post and pictures.

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