If I were to ask you to name the first victory for the American patriots in the Revolutionary War, what you say? I seriously doubt that the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in North Carolina would have been among your first choices. In fact, have any of you ever heard of Moore’s Creek or know where it is?
It’s located in the swampy lands west of Wilmington, North Carolina. If you found it on a map, you would probably give it little thought because of its obscure location. Yet, what took place at the bridge over Moore’s Creek on this day, February 27, 1776, affected an entire state and the call for national independence.
Josiah Martin, the Royal Governor of North Carolina was a loyalist, devoted to the British crown. He feared that if the patriots took control of North Carolina that it would be disastrous for the crown. Martin had convinced the British of the importance of North Carolina as a strategic location for their advance on Charleston, South Carolina. He issued a call to all loyalists in the colony to rally together and march to Wilmington to welcome British forces. Much to Martin’s dismay, the patriots present at Martin’s call to arms, shouted him down. Fearing for his life, he fled and sought safety on board a British war ship.
At the time, a significant number of Highlanders from Scotland had settled in North Carolina. They were given land in exchange for the pledged loyalty to the British crown. Martin expected around 10,000 loyalists to respond to his call to arms, but only 1,600 Highlanders responded. Martin ordered General Donald MacDonald and Lt. Colonel Donald McLeod to capture Brunswick Town.
Learning of the Highlanders plans, Commander Richard Caswell led a force of 1,000 patriots to head off MacDonald and McLeod, forcing the Highlanders to split their forces. Through a series of events, Caswell realized that the only place left to stop the Highlander loyalists was at a bridge that crossed Moore’s Creek. Much of the surrounding area was swamp and at this time of year, it’s common for local flooding to occur as well.
Without the loyalists knowing, Caswell ordered the patriots to leave their campsite and march to the eastern side of Moore’s Creek bridge. They dug a protective berm from which they could fire at the loyalists when they tried to cross the bridge.
When McLeod found the abandoned campsite with fires still burning, he believed the patriots were fleeing his forces so he pursued after them. On February 26, McLeod camped his troops on the western side of the bridge.
In the early morning hours of February 27, McLeod’s forces stormed the bridge, expecting the patriots to continue their retreat. However, Caswell had established a well-protected defense and when the Highlanders began crossing they were met by a barrage of musket and cannon fire.
Three minutes after the battle began, the Highlanders retreated and fled. The loyalist forces suffered 30-50 casualties, depending upon what source you use, compared to only 1 patriot fatality. The patriots also captured nearly 850 of the Highlander forces.
This short three-minute skirmish in the swampy lands west of Wilmington had such an impact on the people of the North Carolina colony that the colony officially embraced the patriot call for independence. North Carolina then led the call for independence among the other colonies and were the first state to formally vote for independence from Great Britain.
In 1926, the Moore’s Creek Bridge and surrounding area was designated as a National Battlefield Park by the National Park Service.
Throughout history, we see that sometimes it’s the small events that greatly influence larger events and in the case of the Moore’s Creek Battle, it was the first patriot victory of the Revolutionary War. It influenced the entire colony and helped influence the entire nation.
If you ever get the chance to visit North Carolina or the Wilmington area, I hope you can take the time to visit this small but extremely important and influential Moore’s Creek Bridge National Battlefield Park.
Sources for the above include: Patriots score early victory at Moores Creek, North; Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge; Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge; American Revolution: Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge; The Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge; Moores Creek Bridge Monument, Moores Creek National Battlefield; Battle of Moores Creek Bridge.