On February 27, 1776, Loyalist forces commanded by Colonel Donald McDonald discovered a Patriot encampment near Moores Creek that, unbeknownst to them, had been abandoned. They were confused because the campfires were left burning.
A Loyalist force of almost 2,000, many of whom were former Scottish Highlanders, prepared to pursue an army believed to be retreating across the narrow bridge over Moores Creek. At the same time, a Patriot force of more than 1,000 men commanded by Colonels James Moore, Richard Caswell and Alexander Lillington greased planks along the bridge and built platforms above the creek to ambush the enemy. Just after sunrise, the Loyalists, led by Lieutenant Colonel Donald McLeod, stormed the bridge. In the subsequent ambush, confusion gave way to slaughter as 900 Loyalists were killed, wounded or captured.
The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge was pivotal to the Patriot cause, and is often referred to as the “Lexington and Concord of the South.” Without Loyalist forces to protect the colonial government of Governor Josiah Martin, the royal system collapsed, allowing Patriot leaders the chance to establish a fledgling state government. The Patriot victory also denied Britain use of North Carolina’s ports, which were logistically significant.
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