Greased Logs and Broadswords at Moore’s Creek Bridge

Flora MacDonaldFlora MacDonald, the Jacobite heroine who had saved the life of Bonny Prince Charlie after his defeat at the battle of Culloden, and her husband Allan MacDonald, who had fought on the side of the English against the Prince, arrived in the Cape Fear Valley of North Carolina in 1774.  They were accompanied by a large group of relatives, like themselves the families of tacksmen from the Isle of Skye, and by a larger number of desperately poor countrymen, emigrating in groups organized by the tacksmen. They did not have time to be corrupted by the Americans’ fatal notions of liberty.  The Revolution was already on the way.

In April, 1775, the Second Provincial Congress assumed control of the North Carolina government.  The royal governor, Josiah Martin, fled from the capital at New Bern to a warship anchored at Wilmington, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.  From his floating headquarters he called on the “friends of the Government” to unite in support of the Crown.  The first and most enthusiastic response came from the most recently arrived Highlanders.

In 1775, a small group of Highlanders, with Allan MacDonald as one of their leaders, made their way downriver to Wilmington.  They offered to raise an army to assist in putting down the rebellion, assuring the governor that they would be able to provide two to three thousand men.  The governor optimistically estimated that five thousand former Regulators would also rally to the defense of the government.

Only 1,300 Highlanders actually showed up, along with about 200 Regulators.  By the time they actually marched out of the mustering place at Cross Creek, in February of 1776, their number was down to about 900.  Even with this reduced number, many of them were without arms and some even without shoes.  About eighty of them, lacking guns, were given broadswords – the same weapons carried by the defeated army at Culloden.  The men who carried those swords were placed in the middle of the column, to protect them from American rifles.

Marching down the east side of the Cape Fear River, the Highlanders encountered the Patriot force, about a thousand strong, at Moore’s Creek Bridge on February 27.  The Americans, armed with cannon, had thrown up entrenchments on the south side of the creek.  They had also removed the planks of the bridge, leaving only the two logs that had supported them, and then greasing those logs with soap.  In order to cross what was left of the bridge, the Highlanders had to walk single file across the two greased logs.

Two captains, both young and inexperienced, led the way, and were immediately shot, as was every man who followed them.  The rest of the army broke and ran.  The officers were taken prisoner.  The common soldiers were released, but over the next few years their farms were repeatedly raided and pillaged by their Patriot neighbors, and many of the men were forced to hide out in the swamps for the duration of the war.

It was the last formal battle in North Carolina for the next four years.  But things were about to get much, much worse.

Further reading: a richly detailed account of these events is given in Ruairidh H. MacLeod,  Flora MacDonald: The Jacobite Heroine in Scotland and North America.

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