An Army Splits to Pick Up Speed
The coordinates mark where McCoy Road on the north, and one end of Candle Stick Circle on the south, intersect with US 23/74. For a better sense of what the area looked like at the time, smaller vehicles can take McCoy a short distance and park where the road forks into two private driveways. That is the end of the public right-of-way.
Turnaround space there is limited, so larger vehicles will be better off on Candle Stick, which loops to the left and crosses Scott Creek. There is a wide shoulder on the right just before the road rejoins the highway.
In either spot, everything can be seen from your vehicle.
A faction of Cherokees had attacked European-Americans along the border due to repeated treaty violations and threats by the Americans to invade. Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford’s army of part-time militia soldiers is marching to retaliate by destroying Cherokee villages. It includes around 2,400 men on horseback, 1,400 pack-horses, and a herd of cattle (see Davidson’s Fort for details).
Meeting a Need for Speed
On Friday, September 6, 1776, Rutherford’s men camped in this vicinity. They had “‘marcht (sic) in a very Rough way’” from Richland Creek (at modern Waynesville) over Balsam Gap, according to Lt. William Lenoir. No doubt progress was slowed by driving cows and pack horses over two mountain passes in two days.
Lenoir reported that somewhere along this day’s route, a scout in the lead from the Mecklenburg County Regiment spotted five Cherokees. The scout ran from them and back to the vanguard of the army column. With reinforcements the man chased the natives, without success, but found a gun they had left behind.
Apparently Rutherford felt the army was moving too slowly. He also may have feared that the Cherokees from earlier in the day would warn the towns of the militia’s approach. Overnight he and the officers created a detachment of 1,000 mounted infantry, plus some riders trained to fight from horseback as cavalry. They left 90 minutes before dawn, hoping to move faster than the main army could with its horses and cows. The main army left later in the morning.
After burning dozens of villages as far west as modern Tennessee, the army passed back up the road much faster on Tuesday, October 1. Apparently they were living off the land, eager to get home: Lenoir says they covered the distance from the Tuckaseegee River back to the Pigeon River, two stops earlier on the way here, in a single day.
What to See
This area obviously is not well suited to an army campsite, even a militia camp without the equipment of a regular army. The men and animals would have crowded into any relatively flat space along this side of the gap, between Scott Creek at the base of the ravine to your left (if you are on McCoy Road) and a branch running into modern Balsam behind you.
For Those on the Tour
Our Cherokee Tour follows the army as far west as Franklin. Both units basically took the route of today’s US 23, except for a detour to a village where Webster is now (which they did not destroy, for unrecorded reasons). But the tour turns south, and nearly five years ahead, to a campaign against the village of Tuckaseegee.
If you’ve been following the Rutherford Trace, your mapping app will likely stay on it before and after Tuckaseegee: The most direct route there uses the Trace as far as Webster, and the one from Tuckaseegee to Cowee/Watuaga Gap backtracks to the Trace where you left off, at NC 116 in Webster.
 Hamilton, J. G. de Roulhac, ‘Revolutionary Diary of William Lenoir’, The Journal of Southern History, 6.2 (1940), 247–59.
 In addition to any other footnoted sources, “Stop” information comes from one of two guidebooks; NCpedia; the online essay for the relevant North Carolina Highway Marker; and related Sight pages (see “About Sources“).