Location: Clinton, South Carolina
Webpage: South Carolina State Park
General Description: General Cornwallis had defeated one Continental Army at Charleston in March, 1780 eliminating the main revolutionary resistance in South Carolina. His tactics were no to secure South Carolina, recruit additional loyalists to the army, and establish secure supplies. As far as the Continental Army was concerned there was nothing between Cornwallis and North Carolina. That is, except the local patriot militias. These were backwoodsmen used to fighting Indians using guerrilla hit and run tactics to raid supplies and cause as much damage to the loyalists and red coats as possible. These small groups of militia were constantly on the lookout for small groups of loyalists that they could raid. The British were establishing outposts for recruitment and supplies at strategic locations in the backwoods of South Carolina. Musgrove Mill was chosen for such an outpost due to its location at a ford across the Enoree River and the Musgrove Mill which could be used to supply their army. About 300 local loyalist militia had set up camp at Musgrove Mill when on August 19, 1780, they were targeted for a raid from 200 patriot militia under the commands of Shelby, William, and Clarke. They had hoped to surprise the loyalists, but a local farmer told them the loyalists had been reinforced by about 300 Provincial Regulars and additional militia on their way to join Major Ferguson. Running into a patrol eliminated the element of surprise and they were then committed to fight even though they were outnumbered by over 2 to 1. On August 19, 1780, they prepared for battle by hastily building a breastwork of trees and brush across the road leading down to the ford in a semicircle across the ridge. In true guerrilla fashion they sent 20 soldiers on horseback down and across the river to engage the British. When the red coats gave chase they jumped on their horses and ran away up the hill. The loyalists gave chase, although nearly all of them were on foot and charging uphill. When they saw the line of patriots at the tree line along the ridge, the formed up and charged. They fired their muskets while still out of effective range with the hopes that the patriots would fire back allowing them to close before they could reload. However, the patriots held their fire until they were in effective range and fired with devastating effect. Even then the patriots were almost overrun on the right flank from a bayonet charge. Shelby ordered his Overmountain men reserve to support the right flank and they charged in shrieking like Indians. They broke the loyalist charge killing most of the officers. The loyalist then tried to retreat back across the river being pursued by the patriots. While not a large battle, the battle at Musgrove Mill is a good example of the tactics used by the patriots to harass the British forces during the fall of 1780 causing Major Ferguson to make his ultimatum that patriot leaders must lay down their arms or have their “lands laid waste by fire or sword”, which in a few months led to his defeat by the Overmountain men and other patriot militias at Kings Mountain in October. The Visitor Center at Musgrove Mill contains a few exhibits about the battle and a topographic table of the battlefield with lights showing troop movements. The State Historic Site also includes two trails, one around the British encampment at Musgrove Mill and another that takes visitors from the ford through the site of the battle. Both include interpretive signs providing details of the battle and the soldier’s lives at the time.
1) The Visitor Center is very small with only a couple of exhibits about the battle. The only attraction is the topographic table that includes a prerecorded description of the battle with accompanying lights showing the troop movements. While we were there they were working on the electrical components of the other exhibits and the table was turned off. However, the Park Ranger provided us an excellent description using the table to illustrate his description.
2) The two trails are well marked and the interpretive signs very informative. I especially liked the progression of the information around the battlefield, beginning with descriptions of the forces involved, followed by the three phases of the battle.
3) The battlefield trail begins with a view of Horseshoe Falls, which is very nice even if it is not very big. It would likely be more impressive following a heavy rain.