As we prepare for our yearly celebration of Independence Day, it’s a good time to look back at the extraordinary fight for freedom that helped birth a country. South Carolina is rich with Revolutionary War history, and some of it was made right here on the land we call home.
The British Army was the most feared fighting force on the planet, and King George III had every reason to expect they would dispatch with the rebel colonists quite quickly. In October of 1780, British General Lord Charles Cornwallis could be found in Charlotte, the city having recently fallen into the hands of Crown forces. He was working on plans to continue marching north when word came that the rebels had bested British Major Patrick Ferguson’s troops at King’s Mountain and were headed his way. Cornwallis immediately changed his plans and ordered a retreat into South Carolina, planning to cross the Catawba at the Nation Ford.
A local gentleman presented himself as a loyalist and offered to lead Cornwallis to the Nation Ford Road. It turned out to be a trick that left the British stranded and hopelessly lost. Cornwallis finally arrived with his troops at the Nation Ford on October 14, where he was rejoined by his subordinate, the notoriously brutal Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. That’s when the wrath of Mother Nature took a hand in the war. Torrential rains pounded the area for three days. By the morning of the 15th, they found themselves trapped against a rising river that could not be crossed by wagons or ordnance. Fearing the arrival of Colonial Colonel William R. Davies’ troops and having no means of escape or defense with the river at their backs, Cornwallis ordered a retreat from the ford area. After a march of several miles, they camped for the night in Fort Mill. They departed the next morning, but not before enriching themselves with stolen livestock from the property of Thomas Spratt, Jr. Frustrated and reportedly ill with yellow fever, Cornwallis noted in his journal that dealing with area militia and local rabble was like “stirring up a hornet’s nest.” That turned out to be a good name for a basketball team.
The rain that turned the Catawba into a raging blockade and forced a retreat into Fort Mill was later determined to be part of the Great Hurricane of 1780. Thanks to so some crafty locals who played fast and loose with directions and a storm that poured its wrath into the river, Fort Mill can claim a piece of Revolutionary War history all its own.