The Moores Creek battlefield manages to look simultaneously well manicured and primordial. Encompassing only 87 acres, it’s a landscape from before the dinosaurs that happens to have a rubberized pathway winding through its tall, thin pines.
Tucked away in a forest some 22 miles northwest of Wilmington, North Carolina, the battlefield sits along a darkwater creek that spills its banks into even darker patches of swamp. This is Moores Creek itself, where, in February 1776, Patriots and Loyalists squared off with muskets, broadswords, and a pair of cannons. (And, yes, I did say “broadswords.”)
A sign warns of alligators and the park brochure of “several species of poisonous snakes.” I see more monuments than reptiles, though (monuments 6, reptiles 0).
The battle of Moores Creek took place early in the Revolution, February 27, 1776, but it capped off years of tensions between wealthy colonial rulers along the coast and more independent-minded frontiersmen in the western part of the state. The state’s community of Scottish Highlanders, recent immigrants, aligned themselves with the Loyalists.
A Loyalist party of 1,600 men marched toward Wilmington to join up with a British naval force as part of a larger effort to subjugate the increasingly unruly colony. At Moores Creek, a group of Patriots intercepted their advance. As day broke, an advanced party of Loyalists charged—some of them with broadswords drawn—and were cut down by cannon fire and musketry fire. Thirty Loyalists died, forty were wounded, and the rest of the party dissipated.
“The battle was small, but the implications loomed large,” the Park Service brochure says. “The victory showed the surprising patriot strength in the countryside. It discouraged growth of loyalist sentiment in the Carolinas and spurred the revolutionary feeling in the colonies.”
I knew nothing about the battle, to be honest, but the battlefield was just a convenient few miles off the interstate. I was additionally lured by the park’s website, which touted the battle thus: “This battle marked the last broadsword charge by Scottish Highlanders and the first significant victory for the Patriots in the American Revolution.”
Last broadsword charge? I mused. Had to see it.
And I’m glad I did.
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The Negro Head Point Road trace is one of the few original remaining features of the battlefield still remaining.
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From along the eastern leg of the park’s 0.7-mile History Trail, a monument to James Moore, an early president of the Moore Creek Battlefield Association, stands like a bright sentinel in the distance.
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The park’s path turns into a boardwalk that winds through a swamp of dark beauty.
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The bridge over Moores Creek proved to be the area’s key position. When Patriots took control of the area, they stripped the planks from the bridge and greased the beams, making it impossible for Loyalists to quickly cross in force.
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When Loyalists crossed the stream and emerged from the woods, their road led straight into a set of Patriot earthworks that sat atop a short rise. The works, recreated in the late 1930s, not only commanded the road but also protected the Patriots’ flanks by anchoring on the stream on one side and a swamp on the other.
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Private John Grady was the only Patriot killed in the battle. A monument in his honor was erected in 1857.
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Loyalists got their own monument in 1909. It honors those who “did their duty as they saw it.”
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The final monument along the History Trail is the Women’s Monument, which pays tribute to the women of the Cape Fear region who contributed to the war effort on the homefront.