Former Lincoln County Commissioner Buddy Funderburke deserves a warm round of applause from citizens — not just of Lincolnton and Lincoln County, but of this great country.
Funderburke recently stepped in to purchase a large parcel of land near Lincolnton High School and preserve it for posterity. The acreage in question is part of our national birthrite — part of the Revolutionary War battlefield of Ramsour’s Mill, a re-enactment of which was celebrated in recent days.
Ramsour’s Mill isn’t a household name, even among students of history. It was not a large-scale battle; it did not feature Redcoats or Hessians against Continental troops or their French allies. But in symbolic terms the battle resonates louder than many other engagements and proved a more certain step toward the ultimate victory for independence.
Having suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of Saratoga in New York, the British government decided on a Southern strategy to divide and conquer the upstart colonies. The British believed that most Southerners did not crave an end to British rule and would rise to welcome them back.
Once Charleston, S.C., fell to British invaders in May 1780, morale among American Patriots in the South reached a low point. Disheartened civilians, along with some opportunists of low moral character, determined to make a stand for the Crown. A number of them hailed from this region of North Carolina and in June 1780, about 1,300 Tories under the command of Col. John Moore were encamped in the area that would later become Lincolnton.
But other North Carolinians, including many from the same communities and families, felt quite differently. These formed the bulwark of irregular militias that would give the lie to the British hopes for a Tory uprising. In a bloody conflict that divided villages and households, these defenders of their newfound liberty would not be bullied by those who craved a return to high taxation and arbitrary rule.
On June 20, 1780, about 400 Patriot militia surprised the sleeping Loyalists near Ramsour’s Mill. As the engagement continued, the pro-British forces lost heart. Many were killed or wounded. Others were captured. The rest fled. The legacy of the little Battle of Ramsour’s Mill is this: the great Tory uprising in North Carolina came to naught.
In October 1780, about 30 of the same Loyalists joined others at King’s Mountain, S.C., where a smaller Patriot force surrounded and defeated them, ending for good any serious threat of an armed Loyalist insurrection in support of the British in the Carolinas. Had the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill not occurred, the group of Tories at King’s Mountain would have been far more numerous, perhaps by more than 1,000, and less likely to have been defeated.
After King’s Mountain, British regular troops were forced to cover their own flanks, while command of Patriot forces transferred to Gen. Nathanael Greene, who brilliantly seized the opportunity of operating on friendly turf and boldly divided his forces despite facing a numerically superior enemy. Operating deep in the western interior, the British fell for a tactical surprise by a group of mostly Southern militia under Gen. Daniel Morgan in January 1781 at the Battle of Cowpens. As Morgan’s victorious troops retreated north, British Commander Lord Cornwallis took the bait, launching a full-scale invasion of North Carolina. The British pursued Morgan’s and Greene’s forces, allowing their own supply lines to become precariously long. Once the divided Patriot groups had united under Greene, they turned and gave battle near Guilford Courthouse (today known, not coincidentally, as Greensboro). Despite withdrawing from the field, Greene’s troops dealt the British a stinging blow with heavy casualties. Deep inland in hostile territory and far from his base of supplies, Cornwallis was forced to head toward the coast, eventually allowing himself to be bottled up in Virginia between combined American and French Forces and surrendering to Gen. George Washington at Yorktown. Imagine how things might have gone if the small gains of Ramsour’s Mill had not squelched the Loyalist organizing effort in the backcountry of the Tar Heel state.
Was our Republic born at Ramsour’s Mill? Not hardly. But the little-known battle changed the nature of the conflict that was to come. Instead of American independence being lost to Loyalist militia, it was secured by Patriot militia, primarily from the Carolinas and Virginia — that is by the citizen soldiers who rose up to shake off the chains of tyranny.
For all of these reasons, our own piece of America’s history must be preserved. Let no one forget what happened here.
At let’s make we sure we never again return the reins of government to those who love taxes and despise freedom.