When a Sword Just Isn't Enough

The Battle of Moores Creek Bridge
Katherine RivardNPF Blog
Moores Creek National Battlefield - NPS Photo

Imagine you’re a Scottish Highlander living in North Carolina in 1776, defending the King of England. Sure, the Scots and English have had a troubled past, but you and your fellow Scotsmen here tonight have recently moved to North Carolina. You support the king, having taken an oath to stay loyal to the British government. This all started when you were recruited to fight for the Loyalist militia. Brigadier General Donald MacDonald and Lieutenant Colonel Donald McLeod offered you free land with no land taxes, in addition to 20 years of tax exemption, no duties outside of North Carolina, and forgiveness of any transgressions against the crown. It sounded like a good deal at the time, so you signed on.       

Living historians as British Loyalists at Moores Creek National Battlefield

Living historians as British Loyalists, Moores Creek National Battlefield

NPS Photo

But now it’s 5:30 a.m. and you’ve been up all night in this swampland. You and most of your Scottish friends from around Upper Cape Fear Valley didn’t even receive a gun. You’re stuck with your dirk, a dagger, and your broadsword. MacDonald rounded up 1,600 Highland Scots and Loyalists on February 9 at Cross Creek. The plan was to head to Wilmington, then on to Brunswick for more supplies and to meet the British warships. With the Patriots nearby, you’ve been changing routes all month. Yesterday, you finally crossed the Black River, but then General MacDonald got sick, so Lieutenant Colonel McLeod took over tonight. General MacDonald had already sent his messenger with a warning telling the Patriots to surrender, to no avail. So now it’s February 27 and the sun will be rising any minute, and you’re here in the muddy swamps after it has been raining for three weeks. You’re about to come upon Colonel Caswell’s camp and surprise those Patriot troops while they sleep!


Now imagine you’re a Patriot serving in the American militia. It’s the middle of the night on February 27 when you receive orders to pack up your few belongings and quickly leave camp. Fires are left with embers still smoldering and tents are still partially standing. You quickly cross the muddy land and pass over the Moores Creek bridge with your fellow soldiers. Once everyone is over the bridge, you set to work dismantling the bridge before greasing the remaining boards with soft soap to make it even more difficult to pass. Then you quickly move to some higher ground and wait.

Living historians fire Old Mother Covington cannons at Moores Creek National Battlefield

Living historians with Old Mother Covington, Moores Creek National Battlefield

NPS / Nate Toering

Listening in, you hear the Loyalists arrive. Their leader is speaking with the two guards and claiming to be a friend … but of the king. At this point, the guards return to your camp, as the general calls something after them in another language (probably Gaelic, knowing how many Scots live around here). Suddenly, you hear the roar of “King George and Broadswords” as the Loyalist troops charge across the “fixed” bridge, many of them wearing kilts and brandishing swords.

Living historians as British Loyalists at Moores Creek National Battlefield

Living historians as British Loyalists, Moores Creek National Battlefield

NPS Photo

The fighting does not last long. Old Mother Covington and Her Daughter (your nicknames for your two-and-a-half pound cannon and the half-pound swivel gun), quickly obliterate the Loyalist troops. The Scots, with their swords and lack of firearms, are no match for the Patriots. While only one Patriot is killed, some 30 to 50 Loyalists are left dead. Among the casualties lies Donald McLeod — leader of the troops, now lifeless and riddled with nine musket balls and 24 swan shot. Your troops capture almost 850 Loyalists and force them to sign documents swearing to never fight the Patriots again. In addition, you’ve found a wealth of valuables, including medicine, guns, wagons, and gold.

This battle at Moores Creek decided North Carolina’s fate and ended any chance of the British government re-establishing control in the state. This win and the success at Sullivan’s Island would prevent the British from entering the South for several years. It also severed any Loyalist ties to the colony so that North Carolina became the first colony to call for total independence from England via the Halifax Resolves. Moores Creek National Battlefield — home of the first Patriot victory in the American Revolution — highlights the South’s importance in the American Revolution.


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