When a revolution starts, there eventually comes a time for everyone to start picking sides. For the southern colonies in the American Revolution, the time to choose came in 1776. Both loyalist and patriot armies began recruiting drives for soldiers to fight for their respective goals – would the colonies free themselves from tyranny or would the unruly Americans be put in their place?
In the months that followed the revolution’s start, the British hoped to recruit brave Scotsmen who were still loyal to the crown in North Carolina. The patriots weren’t going to just let that happen.
After the shooting battles at Lexington and Concord touched off the powder keg that would eventually become the United States of America, patriot and loyalist leaders scrambled to shore up their supporters, whether they were providing money, arms, or soldiers. In 1776, almost a full year after the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” North Carolina’s governor raised a militia of loyalist Scotsmen to join a force of British regulars in the Carolinas, then led by Gen. Henry Clinton. They were successful in raising the men, but the local committee of correspondence – the patriot shadow government and intelligence network – got wind of the plan and was determined to prevent the two groups from linking up.
North Carolina’s loyalist governor managed to raise an army of about 6,000 strong, which was no small feat. This militia force was supposed to meet 2,000 regulars and then march to the sea in preparation for fighting the patriots. But when the British didn’t make the rendezvous, loyalists began to desert the army rather than fight patriot militias every step of the way.
When the Committee of Correspondence got wind of the loyalist plans, they put a similar plan of theirs to work. The Continental Congress raised a force of Continental Army regulars while North Carolina raised forces of patriot militia – each in a hurry. Their goal was to meet the mixed British force before it could reach the coast. After some maneuvering, the two met at Moore’s Creek Bridge, a battle across a creek the British tried to avoid.
For both sides, that meant a war council to determine if fighting in that place was really the best course of action. They both decided that it was, but the patriots took it a step further. After night fell, they sabotaged and greased up the bridge, coating it with a layer of lard that the Scottish loyalist militia wouldn’t soon forget – those who would survive, anyway.
The Scottish troops approached the bridge and decided to identify themselves in the mists of the early morning. The only reply they received was a patriot sentry firing a shot to warn the patriot army that the British were on the move. The battle was on for the patriots, and the Scottish snipers’ leadership also decided this was the time and place. A force of 100 or more swordsmen hopped off their mounts and rushed the bridge.
When the Scots got within 30 paces of the bridge, a body of colonials hiding behind earthworks on the other side opened up on the loyalists, ripping through formations and devastating the army’s ranks. The leaders of the swordsman militia were torn to shreds by the musket fire, and the Scotsmen retreated in a hurry. The entire army dissipated and broke, never fighting another battle.
Even if the Scottish conscripts actually made their way to the Atlantic coast, there would have been no reinforcements to meet them. The British forces that were supposed to link up with them didn’t even make it to the Carolinas until May of 1776, a full three months later. As for the Scottish loyalists in North Carolina, their support was only vocal from that point forward. Never again would they answer the call to arms for the British.