The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill: An Annotated Online Bibliography

A fork in the road between Sherrills Ford and the old Kühner plantation, facing Ramsour’s Mill. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).
“A warm and obstinate fight insued…” — General Rutherford

In light of the upcoming performance of Thunder Over Carolina and this year’s reenactment of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, I‘m making my updated (but still draft) annotated bibliography about this “understudied battle” of the American Revolution (Smith, 2010) available for free online. The final version of this annotated bibliography and additional reflections on the battle itself will be included in the second edition of my book on the Kühner (Keener) genealogy and local history, which will be published this summer in both eBook and paperback formats.

Coverage of ‘Thunder Over Carolina’ in the Denver Weekly (Lake Norman, N.C.).

The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill took place on the foggy summer solstice morning of 20 June 1780 in what is present day Lincolnton, North Carolina (“L-Town”) — where my German paternal ancestors settled in the mid-18th Century and where “history, arts, culture…all find a home” today (from the town’s motto). About 1300 Tories had been organized by John Moore and were camped near the mill with some Whigs who they had captured and were planning to hang on that morning. The battle “did not involve any regular army forces from either side and was literally fought between family, friends, and neighbors with muskets sometimes being used as clubs because of a lack of ammunition” (Wikipedia).

Yet the Loyalists, at least a quarter of them unarmed, were eventually routed by about 400 local Patriot militiamen. Moore managed to escape uninjured and later participated in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Legend claims that he later escaped to England, but a “more reliable source is probably the statement of a North Carolina Loyalist — published in the Political Magazine of London (April 1783) — that Moore was captured by Colonel Wade Hampton near the Wateree and hanged” (Dictionary of North Carolina Biography via NCPedia).

Snip: Lincoln Progress, May 17, 1879 — via Newspapers.com.

Patriot soldiers later composed a ballad to honor Captain John Dickey, who refused an order by Francis Locke to retreat and is credited with saving the day for the Patriot militia. The ballad contained the following verse which is the only one preserved in the National Archives in Washington (Wikipedia):

“Old Colonel Locke kept pretty well back,
While brave Captain Dickey commenced the attack.
He, Colonel Locke, ordered us to retreat and reform,
Which made our old hero mightily storm.”

While Joseph Graham provided the oldest and probably most reliable account of the actual battle, based on interviews with some of the participants, I leveraged a variety of sources for my own book. Austin William Smith’s 2010 paper at the University of Arizona was the most helpful by far in understanding the broader context (and locating the primary bibliographical references of interest here), and I’ve just started Professor Rebecca Brannon’s new book on the Loyalists in South Carolina —which appears very helpful in understanding the context for the white colonialists both during the war and in its aftermath (although Loyalist reintegration was somewhat different in North Carolina, the same “vicious civil war between families and neighbors” played out in South Carolina at the time). Update (July 4, 2017): I’ve just started Holger Hoock’s new book that write the violence back into the story of this first American civil war.

I also leveraged Nadia Dean’s book on the Cherokee War of 1776, which Smith believes is important context to understanding the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. In addition to recent conflict with the Cherokee, and widespread fear of slave revolts (in support of the British), a civil war was also brewing within the white European community.

Mass grave at Ramsour’s Mill. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2017).

John Moore, the Loyalist officer at the battle and a native of Tryon (now Lincoln) County, had his property confiscated by the General Assembly in 1774, and Isaac Wise, the seventeen year old son of a local Tory, had declared his allegiance to the Patriot cause in 1776 and was hanged by a band of Tories from a nearby tree. Smith quotes a local Patriot soldier at the time to help set the tone for the Carolina Backcountry in 1780.

“At this time the country was overrun with Tories and the neighborhood in constant alarm.” — Henry Wakefield, Patriot soldier in the Carolina backcountry (Smith, 2010).

While I have just started reading her book, I think Brannon has hit on one of the main reasons so few of us locally (or nationally) know very much about this particular battle. Brannon starts her book with a quote that echoes my own uncle’s advice about “not digging too deep” into our family history. 👌

“He that forgets and forgives most…is the best citizen.” — Christopher Gadson to General Francis Marion, Nov. 17, 1782 (Brannon, 2016).

While forgiveness is certainly admirable, Dean opens her book with what I think is a salient quote about one of the dangers of forgetting—and a reminder that truth is necessary for any true reconciliation.

“What the mind can’t remember, the blood can’t forget.” — Unknown (Dean, 2014)

So here is my first attempt at a comprehensive annotated bibliography about the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill (which includes my own book). What am I missing? Is there a good source on the African American experience in North Carolina during the American Revolution? Were there any African Americans, Cherokee, or Catawba people involved in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill?

Cabin at Ramsour’s Mill site in Lincolnton, N.C. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2017).

Tory Captain Abraham Kühner (Keener), my 63-year old fünfte Urgroßvater, saved — and was then saved by — a wounded Patriot Captain and friend fleeing the battlefield, and one year later his oldest son (John E.) was “delivered…to serve in the Continental Army, a Satisfaction to his country for being with the British Army.” In 1786, Captain Abraham Kühner (with Lemuel Sanders, Michael Butts, Robert Johnson, Michael Engle, Henry Slinkerd, John Finger, Devalt Crouse, Elias Moyer, Peter Crites, Matthew Goodson, and Phillip Cansler) was ordered by the Lincoln County, NC Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions to help “lay off a road from Beaties Ford to Lincolnton” as punishment for his participation in the battle. His Patriot sons were eventually granted, or later inherited, most of his land.

Kühner Annotated Bibliography (* indicates text is available online):

  • Brannon, Rebecca. From Revolution to Reunion: The Reintegration of the South Carolina Loyalists. University of South Carolina Press (2016).
    Written by an Associate Professor of History at James Madison University, this book documents the author’s modern historical analysis of the path to reconciliation between White Patriots and Loyalists in South Carolina after the war. While it does not cover events in North Carolina (or the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill) specifically, the conditions in the North Carolina Backcountry were very similar to those in South Carolina — a “vicious civil war fought between families and neighbors.” And this “complex and nuanced interpretation of the reconciliation process in post-Revolutionary South Carolina” frames the process in the larger historical context by comparing South Carolina’s experience with that of other states (including North Carolina). You can listen to a recent interview with the author here.
  • Dean, Nadia. A Demand of Blood: The Cherokee War of 1776. Valley River Press, Cherokee (2014).
    Written by a journalist and research historian from Columbia, S.C. who lived in Baghdad for two years until her family evacuated at the start of the Six-Day War in 1967, this book documents “the war fought in the shadows of the American Revolution…[through] first-hand accounts from British Indian agents, Cherokee headmen, and colonial militia.” As Austin William Smith notes, the Cherokee aided the British and the Loyalists in the American Revolution, and the Cherokee War of 1776 is important context for understanding the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. In this historical narrative, Dean documents the Cherokee “fight for freedom against the inroads of intruding illegal immigrants” in a powerful “story of heroism and fear, of bravery and concession, of tenacity and defeat.”
  • DeMond, Robert O. The Loyalists in North Carolina During the Revolution. Duke University Press (1940).
    Written by a graduate student in history at Duke University in 1940, this book documents the story of the loyalists in North Carolina. Includes appendices containing incomplete: (1) lists of soldiers and civilians who supported the Crown throughout the Revolution; (2) lists of Loyalists who suffered land confiscation; (3) lists of Loyalists who made application to Great Britain for compensation for loss of office or property; and (4) lists of North Carolina Loyalists who received pensions from Great Britain.
  • Freeze, Gary. The Catawbans: Crafters of a North Carolina County, 1747–1900. Catawba County Historical Association; First Edition (1995).
    Written by a historian at Catawba College and the official historian for Catawba County, this book includes a short overview of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill (1780) through the lens of official history for a county that was formed (from the Old Lincoln County) over 100 years later.
  • Graham, Major William A. General Joseph Graham And His Papers On North Carolina Revolutionary History. Edwards & Broughton, Raleigh (1904).* (online version)
    Published by the son of a Revolutionary soldier, politician, and iron entrepreneur in Lincoln County, this book contains the oldest and most reliable account of the actual battle based on General Graham’s interviews of the surviving participants. Graham was a young Scotch-Irish neighbor of Abraham Kühner (Keener), a Loyalist Captain at Ramsour’s Mill, and later served on a committee to settle his estate in 1799. Graham’s Vesuvius Furnace home is now a wine vineyard and wedding venue in Lincoln County.
  • Hoock, Holger. Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth. Crown (2017).
    A deeply researched and elegantly written account of the “profoundly violent civil war” of the American Revolution by the J. Carroll Amundson Professor of British History and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. Hoock “writes the violence back into the story” and “examines the moral dilemmas posed by this all-pervasive violence, as the British found themselves torn between unlimited war and restraint toward fellow subjects, while the Patriots documented war crimes in an ingenious effort to unify the fledgling nation.” You can watch a recent interview with the author here.
  • Hunter, C.L. Sketches of Western North Carolina, Historical and Biographical. The Raleigh News Steam Job Print (1877).* (online version)
    Cyrus Lee Hunter was a physician, scientist, and historian, born in Lincoln (now Gaston) County who married Sophia Forney, the youngest daughter of General Peter Forney. He was one of the incorporators of the Historical Society of North Carolina, and in 1877 he published these original historical and biographical sketches which condensed information from John H. Wheeler’s Historical Sketches of North Carolina and information Wheeler had provided Hunter from the records of the Pension Bureau relating to the military service of several Revolutionary War soldiers. Includes a section on the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.
  • Kühner, Wilhelm. Who knows why the geese go barefoot? Kommentar an Amerika; First Edition. (2017).
    My book documents the Kühner (Keener) family immigration to Amerika, their participation (and punishments) for “being with the British” at Ramsour’s Mill, their response to the Trail of Tears, their participation in the Civil War, and later family-related local history through a narrative influenced by my own experience as a life-long resident of the area.
  • Moore, John Wheeler. History of North Carolina: from the earliest discoveries to the present time, Volume 1. Alfred Williams (1880).*
    Written by a Confederate veteran and historian who published the “standard school history of the state” in 1879, this late 19th Century history includes a narrative on the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.
  • Preslar, Charles J., Jr. “A History of Catawba County.” Catawba County Historical Association (1954).
    An early history of Catawba County, compiled by the Catawba County Historical Association. Includes lists of those who served in the wars (Revolution, 1812, Civil, & World wars) and information about early agriculture, religious life, education, transportation, trades & industries, and the history of post offices in the area.
  • Reinhardt, Wallace M. “Eye Witness Account of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.” (circa 1835).*
    An early 19th Century account of the battle from “jotted down notes” by a “lad at 17” who “wandered over the battlefield many times with these leading characters in the great drama and he got from them this first-hand account of the outstanding incident which occurred on the memorable day of June 20th, 1780.”
  • Schenck, David. North Carolina, 1780-’81: Being a History of the Invasion of the Carolinas by the British Army Under Lord Cornwallis in 1780-’81. Edwards & Broughton (1889).* (free eBook)
    Written by an lawyer, judge, solicitor for Lincoln County and the youngest delegate to the NC Secession Convention (as well as a Klansman after the war), this patriotic narrative about the “British invasion” includes a narrative about the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill as part of what was “the first comprehensive attempt to put the Revolutionary War campaigns of Nathanael Greene and Lord Charles Cornwallis into perspective” (NCPedia).
  • Scoggins, Michael C. The Day it Rained Militia: Huck’s Defeat and the Revolution in the South Carolina Backcountry May-July 1780. Arcadia Publishing (2005).
    An account of the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation (“Huck’s Defeat”) in the South Carolina Backcountry (July 1780) by a historian for the Culture & Heritage Museums (CHM) and a research director of the Southern Revolutionary War Institute (SRWI) in York, South Carolina. This historical account is drawn extensively from first-person accounts and military correspondence and includes some narrative about the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.
  • Sherrill, William L. “Sherrill’s History of Lincoln County.” The Lincoln Times (1937). *
    A series of newspaper articles published from June 27, 1935 to June 15, 1936 in the Lincoln Times documenting the history of Lincoln County through the eyes of a local historian. Includes a narrative and details about the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.
  • Smith, Austin William. “’Neighborhood in Constant Alarm’: The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill and Partisan Divisions in the Carolina Backcountry Communities During the American Revolution.” The University of Arizona (2010). *
    This is the only piece of modern scholarship I have found specifically on the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, and it provides essential context needed to understand the battle and the local (Old Lincoln County) environment at the time. If you don’t read anything else about the American Revolution’s impact locally, you should read this!
  • Yoder, George M. “A Condensed History of the Early Settlers of [the] Catawba Valley.” (date uncertain but sometime prior to 1899)*
    Written by a local Patriot Colonel, this short narrative on Catawba County history provides some details about the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.

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