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The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

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Lieutenant Crawford, cousin of Andrew Jackson, and Ensign
McClure, brother of the Captain, were severely wounded. Of
Captain John McClure Lossing thus writes :

"John McClure was one of the master spirits of South Caro-
lina. He was a nephew of the venerable Judge Gaston, and par-
took of that patriot's purity and zeal in the cause of Republican-
ism. Of him General Davie said : 'Of the many brave men with
whom it was my fortune to become acquainted in the army, he
was one of the bravest ; and when he fell we looked upon his loss
as incalculable,' He fell at the first fire of Bryan's Loyalists,
pierced by two buiicta, and ?t the same time four of his cousins,
sons of Judge Gaston, lay bleeding near him. When his friends
came to his aid he urged them to leave him and pursue the enemy.
After the battle he was taken, with other wounded soldiers, to
Waxhaw Church, where his mother went to nurse him. From
thence he was taken to Charlotte, and on the i8th, the very day
when his commander was surprised at Fishing Creek, he expired
in Liberty Hall, where the celebrated Mecklenburg resolutions
were drawn up. McClure was a native of Chester District, and
his men were known as the Chester Rocky Creek Irish. The first
wound which he received in the engagement was in the thigh. He
staunched it with wadding, when another bullet passed through
him at the breast. Two of the Gastons fell dead across each other,
a third was mortally wounded, and a fourth had a cheek shot

After his battle of Hanging Rock Sumter recrossed the Ca-
tawba, and on the 15th of August intercepted and captured a
British detachment conveying stores to their main army at Cam-
den, thus securing forty-four wagon loads of the necessaries of
war and at the same time liberating some American prisoners.

The next day the battle of Sanders Creek, near Camden, S.
C, took place, between the Americans under Gates and the Eng-
lish under Cornwallis, the former suffering the greatest and most
overwhelming defeat they had hitherto experienced on any field.

Baron de Kalb, the brave Bavarian who had come over with
Lafayette, had been sent forward by Washington to the aid of
General Lincoln, but he arrived too late, and now he joined forces
with Gates, who was on his way to attack the British at Camden
under Lord Rawdon.

Cornwallis was at Charleston, but when he heard of the ap-
proach of the Americans he hastened forward with fresh troops
to the aid of Rawdon. Gates was so lacking in his duties that he
did not know of his presence until after the battle had commenced.
Even then he scouted the advice of De Kalb, who thought it pru-
dent to retire to a more favorable battleground.


While the Americans were approaching, Cornwallis marched
to meet them, but neither army was aware of the close proximity
of its opponent until the advance guards met at 2 o'clock on the
morning of the i6th. In the battle that ensued at stmrise De Kalb
commanded the right wbg of the Americans, made up of Dela-
ware and Maryland regulars, and was driving the English before
him until the left wing, composed of inexperienced militia, gave
way and fled precipitately from the field. Gates allowed himself
to be virtually swept from the field by his retreating forces and he
did not stop in his cowardly flight until he was eighty miles from
the scene of action.

Though attacked on all sides, De Kalb and his brave Conti-
nentals continued the encounter, fighting bravely to tlie last. Bare-
headed and dismounted, with sword in hand, De Kalb engaged in
one personal encounter after another, encouraging his men with
his voice as well as his example, until he had received eleven
wounds. His lieutenant carried him from the field, but he died
three days afterwards and was buried in Camden.

After the battle there was nothing left of Gates' army.
More than one thousand of his men were either killed, wounded,
or taken prisoners, and all his artilery and supplies were captured.
All his generals escaped with the exception of General Ruther-
ford, who was compelled to surrender after being deserted by his
militia. This was the humiliating end of Gates and all his vain-
glorious boasting.

Sumter conducted his little army, together with the forty
loaded wagons he had captured, to what he thought was a safe re-
treat, but ne, too, was doomed to meet temporary defeat at the
hands of the enemy.

On the 1 8th of August, while he and his men were enjoying
a much-needed rest at Fishing Creek, entirely unaware of the
presence of the enemy, they were surrounded by Tarleton and his
dragoons and completely taken by surprise. Between three and
four hundrd of his men were killed and wounded without being
able to defend themselves, but Sumter himself, with three hundred
and fifty of his troops, made good their escape.

These reverses, which followed each other in quick succes-
sion, left South Carolina once more in possession of the British,
but it remained so only for a little while. The spirit of patriotism
soon reasserted itself, and the outrages perpetrated by the soldiers
and Tories caused the people to unite in little bands for the pro-
tection of their homes and families.

The country west of the Broad River and the section lying
between that stream and the Wateree, from Columbia northward


to the State line, was never really subdued, though Cornwallis
flattered himself that he had the entire State under his heel.

When he was leaving for North Carolina to reduce that State
to a like condition he detached Major Ferguson, a Scotchman, with
two hundred soldiers and tories to put the finishing touches on his
work, ordering him to embody the loyalists beyond the Wateree
and Broad rivers to crush any spirit of patriotism that might re-
main and to join him at Charlotte, in North Carolina, to continue
the good work in that yet rebellious State.

Ferguson kept up his march of desolation, collecting and arm-
ing all the Tories in his path, until the end of September, when
he encamped with more than a thousand men at Gilbert Town,
west of the Broad River, near the site of the present village of
Rutherfordton, the county seat of Rutherford, in North Carolina.
On his way there he captured two Mountain Men and sent them
forth, on parole, to inform the American officers on the western
waters that if they did not desist from their opposition and take
protection under his standard "he would march his army over the
mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste their country with
fire and sword."

These were not idle threats on the part of Ferguson, for he
was allowing the miscreants under his command to commit horrible
outrages on persons and property wherever they marched.

But their crimes soon brought vengeance on their heads, and
the battle of Kings Mountain, on October 7, 1780, ended their
bloody career.

This battle on Kings Mountain was one of the most important
in the Revolution, because it was a turning point, like Bennington,
where the patriots of the South made a splendid rally and admin-
istered a knockout blow to the English and their Tory allies. Pre-
vious to that battle they had met with reverse after reverse and
had been scattered through the mountains in small bodies under
no general command.

Colonel Charles McDowell, the son of an Irishman, was the
chief agent in uniting them. When he heard that Ferguson had
been sent against them by Cornwallis he went over the moun-
tains for the purpose of obtaining assistance. While there, in
consultation with Colonels Shelby and Sevier, the two Mountain
Men arrived, conveying Ferguson's dire message. But this sav-
age threat did not dismay the patriots. They decided to unite
their scattered bands and also agreed to ask Colonel William
Campbell, of Washington County, Virginia, to come to their as-
sistance with all the forces he could raise. Campbell, the son
of an Irishman, responded to their call without delay, bringing
with him four hundred men, and Colonel McDowell was sent to

the; IRISH IN the; American re;voi,ution. 549

hunt up General Gates to take command of the united forces.
Gates, as usual on such occasions, could not be found, and the
command devolved on Colonel Campbell, and it was under his
direction that the battle of Kings Mountain was fought and won.

The imited American forces consisted of sixteen hundred
men, but only about a thousand of the best mounted took part in
the action on Kings Mountain. Though Colonel Campbell was in
chief command, he allowed all the other colonels their own way,
and the tactics of the entire body is best described by the follow-
ing speech delivered by Colonel Cleveland as the battle was about
to commence:

"My brave fellows," he said, "we have beaten the Tories and
we can beat them again. They are all cowards. If they had the
spirit of men they would join with their fellow-citizens in sup-
porting the independence of their country. Wlien engaged you
are not to wait the word of command from me. I will show you
by my example how to fight I can undertake no more. Every
man must consider himself an officer and act from his own judg-
ment. Fire as quick as you can and stand as long as you can.
When you can do no better get behind trees or retreat, but I beg
of you not to run quite off. If we be repulsed let us make a
point to return and renew the fight. Perhaps we may have better
luck in the second attempt than in the first. If any of you be
afraid, such have leave to retire, and they are requested imme-
diately to take themselves off."

Not a man, however, took himself off. They all remained
and literally carried out these rough but effective directions of
border warfare. Ferguson fiercely attacked them with fixed
bayonets, and one group after another were compelled to retire,
but they only retreated a short distance, and, getting behind
trees and rodcs, they renewed their fire and swiftly shot down
their British assailants.

In this way the battle was continued until Ferguson was
forced to his last desperate charge, which is thus graphically de-
scribed by Senator William Campbell Preston, of South Caro-
lina, grandson of Colonel William Preston, of Donegal, of whom
we have already spoken: _ • . •

"Ferguson, with a gallantry which seemed to rise with his
desperate condition, rode from rank to rank and post to post,
cheering, driving, and encouraging his men, until he found his
army pressed, actually huddled together, on the ridge, and falling
as fast as the Americans could load and shoot. He deterniined on
one more desperate charge, and taking his position at the head of
his cavalry, in a voice that rose loud above the din of the battle,
he summoned his men 'to crush the damned rebels into the earth I'


The summons was heard by the Americans, and one round of their
rifles was stopped, and, instead of their roar, there was heard only
the cUck of the cock. It was the serpent's low warning of comin?
death. The pause was but for a moment, when Ferguson and
De Peyster, horse and foot, burst like an avalanche down the
mountain side; by the time they came within sixty paces every
rifle was loaded and under deadly aim. Ferguson fell at the
first discharge with seven mortal wounds. The patriots rushed
forward to meet the shock as De Peyster's regulars, with bayonets
set and sabers in rest, came crashing down upon them. Not
Agincourt or Cressy, with all their chivalry, ever felt a shock
more fearful than that, but had the heavens then rained British
bayonets it could not have stopped those patriots. The destinies
of America — perhaps of mankind — depended on their muscle.
Like martyrs they went to the death ; like lions they rushed to the
carnage ; officer and soldier — half naked, with bloodshot eyes and
parched 'tongues— pounced upon the charging enemy until their
hot breath and fierce glare was seen and felt by the craven Tory
and his bulldog master ; and as they crouched, gathering for the
last spring, a wild, terror-stricken shriek rose above the roar— a
yell for mercy — a white flag was run up, and God's champion
shouted 'Victory, liberty!'"

Of the eight colonels whose commands fought at Kings
Mountain four of them were Irish or Irish-Americans, namely,
Colonel Campbell, of Virginia; Colonel Charies McDowell,^ of
North Carolina, and Colonels Lacy and Hill, of South Carolina.
As Colonel McDowell had been sent to look up Gates, his place
during the battle was filled by his brother, Major Joseph Mc-
Dowell. . ^ r •

The McDowell family of North Carolma was noted for its
patriotism during the Revolution. It was founded by Joseph Mc-
Dowell and his wife Ellen, a woman of remarkable energy, who
emigrated from Ireland in 1730. They lived for a while in Penn-
sylvania and Virginia, but finally settled at Quaker Meadows, on
the Catawba River, North Carolina. Their family was called the
Quaker Meadow McDowells, to distinguish it from that of their
cousin John, who raised another large and distinguished family
in the same State.

Charles McDowell, the eldest son of Joseph, was an ardent
patriot at the beginning of the Revolution and was placed in
command of an extensive district in Western North Carolina^
When the British invaded that section in 1780 he organized
troops, fortified posts, and gained victories over them at Pacolet
River, Musgrave Mill, and Cave Creek. His wife, like his mother,
was a noted woman of the Revolution and was possessed of great
presence of mind and courage. She aided him in all his patriotic


works, and while he was secretly manufacturing in a cave the
powder that was afterwards used at Kings Mountain, she made
the charcoal in small quantities in her fireplace, carrying it to
him at night to prevent detection. A party of marauders hav-
ing plundered her house in the absence of her husband, she col-
lected her neighbors and pursued and captured the robbers, and
at the muzzle of a musket compelled them to return the stolen
goods. After the battle of Kings Mountain she visited the scene
of action and nursed the wounded, many of whom were bitter
Tories who had persecuted her family and neighbors.

Joseph and William McDowell were also active patriots and
shared the honors of their brother Charles in all his campaigns,
and both nobly distinguished themselves at Kings Mountain.

The victory at Kings Mountain was the most complete of the
entire war. Not a single man of the English force of eleven hun-
dred and five men escaped. Ferguson himself was killed and all
his men were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoners, while fif-
teen hundred stand of arms, which Ferguson carried for the pur-
pose of arming his Tory recruits, were also captured. Though
all the Tory prisoners were notorious marauders and had previ-
ously inflicted terrible injuries on their victors, not one of them
was maltreated after they laid down their arms. The morning
after the battle, however, ten of the most bloodthirsty of the lot
were tried by court-martial, found guilty of murder, and hanged.

This was the closing scene of the battle of Kings Mountain,
an event which created hope in the hearts of the patriots and dealt
a fatal blow to the royal cause in the South. It proved to Corn-
wailis that South Carolina was not conquered and made him has-
ten back from the North State to try his faltering hand once
more. On October 30, 1780, he established his headquarters at
Winnsborough, in Fairfield County, midway between the Broad
and Wateree rivers, and was thus in the center of a district mainly
settled by the Irish and consequently filled with the friends of
freedom and the hereditary enemies of English rule.

The rivers of South Carolina bear an important part in its
history, and along their banks many of the most hotly contested
battles were fought. The Santee River is formed by a union of
many noble streams flowing from the north and northwest. The
Catawba River, after its entrance from North into South Caro-
lina, is called the Wateree. Parallel to it, about thirty to forty
miles westward, flows the Broad River, whicli, after recciymg
many tributaries from the northwest— principal among which
are the Pacolet, the Tiger, and the Enorcc— joi"s the Saluda at
Columbia. The united stream is called the Congaree, and it m
turn joins the Wateree thirty miles below Columbia, and then be-
comes the Santee.


After his defeat at Fishing Creek, on the Catawba, Sumter,
with a small volunteer force which he collected in Mecklenburg
County, N. C, maintained a flying warfare and kept up the spirit
of liberty along the waters of the Broad River. He crossed that
stream and by rapid marches ranged the country watered by the
Enoree and Tiger rivers in the vicinity of the Broad. His men
were all mounted; they would strike a blow in one place to-day,
and to-morrow their power would be felt in a far distant section.
Marion, Pickens, the McDowells, and Lacy were engaged in sim-
ilar work elsewhere, and in the midst of it all at Winnsborough
Cornwallis was sorely puzzled as to the best direction in which to

He first sent Tarleton to find and subdue Marion, who was
out with the men of Williamsburg along the lower Santee, and
then dispatched Major Wemyss to prevent Sumter from attack-
ing the British fort at Ninety-Six, down near the Savannah River.
Sumter at the time was among the Chester Irish on the east side
of the Broad River, fifty-three miles above Camden. Wemyss,
with a considerable force of well-mounted men, reached his imme-
diate vicinity on the evening of November ii, 1780, and fearing
that Sumter might be apprised of his proximity before morning
and cross the river, he resolved to attack him at midnight.

About I o'clock in the morning Wemyss rushed upon Sum-
ter's camp, but that vigilant officer was prepared to receive him.
Tarleton had caught him napping once, but now he always slept
with one eye open. His horses were all saddled and bridled, ready
to retreat or pursue, as circumstances might require. His readi-
ness astounded the British, for they expected to find him and
his men asleep.

As soon as they were within rifle shot Sumter gave a signal,
when a deadly volley crashed into their ranks and twenty-three
of their number were laid dead upon the field. A skirmish en-
sued, but the British could not recover themselves and soon fled in
wild alarm. The next morning Major Wemyss was found among
the wounded, bleeding profusely. His blood was mercifully
staimched, and though he had been guilty of many cruelties to-
ward the patriots and in his pocket was a list of houses he had
burned, Sumter treated him kindly and allowed him to go to
Charleston on parole.

In this magnanimous action Sumter was merely showing the
difference between the civilization of the backwoods and that of
the English. Had Wemyss been successful in catching Sumter's
men asleep he would have murdered every one of them in cold
blood, as Tarleton did at Waxhaw,


Sumter now united his forces with those of Clarke, Twiggs,
and others from Georgia, and was prepared to advance on Ninety-
Six, but he had no sooner crossed the Enoree than he was inter-
cepted by Tarleton, who was recalled by Comwallis from his ex-
pedition against Marion and sent in pursuit of Sumter with all
possible speed.

Tarleton's design was to get in the rear of Sumter and cut
oft his retreat, but the latter was too quick for him and rapidl\' re-
treated until he reached Blackstock's plantation on the Tiger
river, in the extreme western part of Union County. Though
closely pursued by Tarleton, Sumter here decided to give him
battle without waiting to be attacked. Suddenly descending from
the hill upon which he had drawn up his forces, he poured a well-
directed volley upon the English. Recovering from this attack,
they rushed upon the Americans with great fury, but were twice
driven back in confusion. Amazed at this result, Tarleton with-
drew his forces, but suddenly wheeled and made another desperate
charge. This time he was met by the Georgia militia, under Col-
onels Twiggs and Jackson, who bravely held him back until the
deadly volleys of Winn's reserved riflemen spread consternation
in his ranks and brought complete victory to the Americans.

Tarleton fled in dismay, leaving two hundred of his men on
the field, more than ninety of whom were killed and one hundred
wounded. The Americans lost only three killed and five wounded.

Though Sumter was seriously wounded in the breast and had
to relinquish the general command to Colonel Twiggs, he was not
completely disabled, and continued active to the end of the battle.
As soon as he had buried the dead and made the wounded of the
enemy as comfortable as possible, he forded the swift-flowing
Tiger and retired into North Carolina until his wounds were
healed, when he again came forth to give battle to the enemies of
his country.

Owing to the readiness he displayed in givmg battle and the
quickness with which he rallied from defeat. Sumter was deserv-
edly called the Gamecock of the South. Cornwallis was obhged
to speak of him as the most troublesome of his enemies, which
was the highest compliment he could pay him, and on January
13 1781, dongress passed a resolution of thanks to him and his
men, in which his victory at Hanging Reck and his defeat of
Wemyss and Tarleton are particularly mentioned.

Though Washington was much cast down b)^ the abject fail-
ure of Gates in the South, he was far from givmg up hope of
final victory in that section. Knowing well the brave spirit ot the
Carolinians and Virginians, and believing they would yet retrieve
their fallen fortunes under more competent leaders, on October


14, 1780, he appointed General Greene as their chief commander,
being empowered by Congress to supplant Gates.

Washington also induced Colonel Daniel Morgan to join the
Southern army, though he at first declined to do so because Con-
gress failed to promote him, and he was unwilling to serve under
Gates, whom he personally disliked on account of his treachery
to Washington. But after the great disaster at Camden he de-
clared that it was no time to let personal considerations influence
him, and he joined Gates at Hillsborough in September. Con-
gress, too, awoke to a realization of its duty by making him a
brigadier general on October 13, 1780, and it was not long before
it had reason to congratulate itself upon this tardy act of justice,
which resulted in placing Morgan in a situation where his great
powers could be made of the utmost service to the country.

Greene assumed command of the Southern army at Char^
lotte, N. C, on December 2, 1780, and forthwith set to work to
improve its condition. He found only fifteen hundred men fit for
duty, and these were dispirited by defeat, only half fed, and
scantily clothed. Opposed to him was an army of 3,224 men,
mostly veterans, abundantly supplied with all the requirements of
war, and led by an able and unscrupulous general. Though the
task before him was enough to daunt the boldest spirit, he was
cheered by the presence of the dashing Morgan and other kindred
spirits, and assumed his duties with sanguine hope.

This was the condition of afifairs immediately preceding the
battle of the Cowpens, on January 17, 1781, an event which proved
another of those important victories which bore the American
cause onward and pointed plainly to its final triumph.

Twenty-six years ago, when the centennial anniversary of
the great event had just been celebrated, Michael Cavanagh wrote
a glowing description of the battle of the Cowpens for the Celtic
Monthly. As the battle was waged mainly by men of Irish blood
in behalf of American freedom, and against the old enemy of
their race, we follow Cavanagh's account as much as possible,
embodying as it does the true spirit of Irish and American patri-

The battle ground of the Cowpens, so called from its previous
use as a common pasturage, is situated in the vicinity of Spartans-
burg, a small town in the northwestern portion of South Carolina,
near the North Carolina border. Greene's first step in reorganiz-
ing his army was to divide it into two detachments, the largest
of which, under himself, was stationed on the east side of the
Pedee River, seventy miles from the headquarters of Cornwallis,

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 58 of 67)