Battle of Fishing Creek (18 August 1780)

It has been previously stated that Col. Williams met Col. Sumter a few days after the Battle of Hanging Rock, that a part of Sumter's force united with Williams and were led by him to Musgrove's Mill and thence fell back toward North Carolina.  Sumter immediately went down the Catawba River in obedience to the requisition of Gen. Gates.  The latter seems never to have entertained a doubt of gaining a complete victory over the British Army at Camden.  And in order to cut off every facility for their retreat to ward Charleston he dispatched a small force under Col. Marion to destroy the boats on the river below that place.  At the same time he ordered Sumter to perform a similar service near the village; also to prevent their supplies from reaching the British camp.  These daring partisans did the duties assigned them with their accustomed intrepidity.  Sumter, in addition to the work of destruction and interception, attacked and defeated Col. Carey at the head of a strong body of Loyalists, captured foraging parties, &c., until he had in his possession forty wagons well loaded with military stores and 300 prisoners.

While engaged in this manner he received the intelligence of the defeat of Gen. Gates and the dispersal of the army under his command.  He made a forced march for several days up the river to get out of striking distance of the British Army.  At length, having reached the bank of Fishing Creek, on the west side of the Catawba, he halted to allow his men to refresh.  Here, as is generally known, he was overtaken, surprised, and his force dispersed by Col. Tarleton of the British Army.  The way in which this surprise was accomplished so completely was as follows:

The writer is indebted for this information to the late William Ashe of Franklin County, Ga., who was at the time with Sumter.  Mr. Ashe stated that the army was almost worn out with fatigue and watching when they stopped on the bank of Fishing Creek.  It was near noon and the heat excessive. Sumter had received no intelligence of the enemy since the retreat commenced and thought they might enjoy repose without danger.  No great attention was paid to order, but a guard was placed at some distance in the rear.

The wearied soldiers had leave to prepare food and take rest for several hours before resuming their march.  It happened that two Tory women passed the place soon after Sumter halted and went on in the direction whence Sumter had come.  They had passed the rear guard about half a mile when they met Tarleton's force.  They gave Tarleton precise information as to Sumter's position and the arrangement of things connected with his army.  They also informed him of a way by which he could leave the main road and fall into a road leading to Sumter's position at right angles to the main road. This way was taken by the British and hence came upon wholly unexpected.  The guard placed in that direction was small and near the army.  No alarm was given until the whole squadron was dashing up in full view.  "Here," said the late Samuel Morrow of Spartanburg District, S. C., "I seized my gun and shot a Capt. Campbell of the British light horse.  I looked around me and saw Sumter's men running in every direction.  I snatched up another gun and saw Col. Bratton rallying on a little eminence near me.  I joined the little band that stood with him, fired again and the man at whom I took aim dropped.  By this time the British were passed us in pursuit of those retiring and we saw no chance and our escape."

Mr. Ashe also stated that he was standing near Col. Sumter when the attack began.  Sumter was sitting in the shade of a wagon shaving and the operation was about half finished.  When the colonel saw the state of things around, he cut a rope with which a horse was tied to a wagon, dropped his razor, mounted the horse and made his escape without saddle or bridle.  Mr. Ashe also stated that he cut a horse loose and mounted without any means of guiding him except his gun.  His horse plunged into the thicket extending up the stream and lying between it and the road.  He rode some distance at a gallop when he was knocked off the horse by a piece of projecting timber and lay for some time in a state of insensibility.  When he recovered from the shock he heard the noise of battle in the road near him and escaped on foot.

This disaster completely dispersed Sumter's command for a season and left the Whig population once more completely exposed.  It is true that Williams and some other partisan leaders kept forces embodied, but without the power of even keeping up a show of resistance.  Hence they moved from place to place and to some extent checked the ferocity of the Tories.  The writer has often felt regret that Sumter was not with Gates when he met Cornwallis.  Sumter's militia differed widely from the raw recruits from North Carolina and Virginia that were present on that occasion.  His men had seen service in all its varieties and had recently learned that their equals were hard to find in the British Army.  Hence had they stood with the Continentals the result might have been different when the hero of Saratoga exchanged his Northern laurels for Southern willows.

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