Revolutionary War Battle in South Carolina
In part two of the American Guerillas series, we covered a revolutionary war battle that took place at Musgrove’s Mill. The Battle of Musgrove’s Mill was a significant, yet lesser known battle during the American Revolution. The battle happened on August 19, 1780, along the Enoree River, which is near present-day Clinton, South Carolina. American Patriot forces defeated Loyalist and Provincial soldiers. Furthermore, they used guerilla style tactics in the fight.
One thing to note is that the Loyalists and Provincials were from the American colonies. The Loyalists were part-time militia soldiers that fought for the Crown. The Provincials were the colonists that wore red coats and fought as full-time soldiers for Great Britain. For the sake of brevity, I will call them British only to designate that they fought for the British. But, by their origin, they were from colonial America.
Prelude to Battle
Prior to the battle, an intense civil war broke out between Patriots and Loyalists. In May 1780, the British seized Charleston, South Carolina. After taking Charleston, they launched a campaign deep into the heart of South Carolina. Furthermore, they captured key terrain and set up posts in an arc through the colony. General Charles Cornwallis commanded British troops. He was determined to control South Carolina and move further north into North Carolina. In response, Patriot militia units fought back. This included Colonel Isaac Shelby, Colonel James Williams, and Colonel Elijah Clarke from Georgia.
At Musgrove’s Mill, the American Patriot forces encountered 200 Loyalists on the night prior to the battle. Along the river was a gristmill owned by a man named Edward Musgrove, which is where the battle gets its name. Near the mill was a ford at the Enoree River. By morning on August 19, 1780, the 200 Loyalists had been reinforced by an additional 300 Provincials. The numbers were 500 on the British side compared to 200 on the American militia side.
Plan of Action
Recognizing that they were outnumbered, the American militia came up with a hasty plan. They placed themselves on the high ground north of the Enoree River. The Patriots’ were above a clearing. Running north to south was a wagon road, which crossed the ford at the Enoree River.
A Patriot Captain named Shadrach Inman rode to the ford, and engaged the British forces south of the river. He baited them into a pursuit. As the British followed Captain Inman, he withdrew back toward the American line on the high ground. After moving across the ford, the British trampled through the woods. The day was brutally hot, and they were moving up hill. The Provincials must have sweated in their red coats.
The Trap is Sprung
When the British emerged from the woods and pushed into the clearing, they spotted the Patriots along the high ground. They fired a volley. However, since their fire was outside effective range for musket fire, the shots were ineffective. Nevertheless, they charged up the hill toward the Patriot line.
When the British got within 70 yards, the Americans released a coordinated volley, which had a devastating impact. After this volley, the British fixed bayonets and attempted to charge the American right flank. However, the British commander, Alexander Innes, was shot and wounded. The loss of their commander was a tough blow for the British Loyalists and Provincials.
As the Loyalists got within ten yards of the American line, Colonel Clarke led a fierce counterattack, which repulsed the Loyalists on the American right flank. The picture shows the approximate location of the American right flank. The view looks down at where the British would have approached.
Winning the Day
After tough hand to hand fighting, the Patriot militia beat the British back to the Enoree River. It was a decisive victory for the Americans, who suffered only 16 casualties compared to 133 on the British side. It was an important victory that occurred only three days after the disaster at the Battle of Camden.
One of the most important impacts of the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill was the development of guerilla style tactics in the south. The Patriots sent a small unit forward to pull the British forces into the main engagement area. When the British were in the pre-determined area, the Patriots held their fire until the British were within effective range. This is called fire discipline in the defense. It is a critical part of command and control.
The Americans demonstrated tactical creativity. They understood how to use the terrain to their advantage. Furthermore, they rightly anticipated how the enemy would respond to their probing attack, which sucked the British into the fight.
Finally, the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill foreshadowed how the Patriots would fight at battlefields like Blackstock’s Plantation and Cowpens. Musgrove’s Mill remains an important battle to study how the war in the south was conducted. For military scholars, it is an exemplary case study in tactical ingenuity.
- Check out the latest podcast episode that covers the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill
- American Battlefield Trust article
- Gordon, John W. South Carolina and the American Revolution: A Battlefield History. Columbia, SC, The University of South Carolina Press, 2003. South Carolina and the American Revolution
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