An Army Splits to Pick Up Speed
The coordinates mark where McCoy Road on the north, and Candlestick Lane 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 Candlestick, which loops to the left and crosses Scott Creek. There is a wide shoulder on the right just after the road rejoins the highway as Balsamview with, yes, an excellent view of Balsam Gap.
In either spot, everything can be seen from your vehicle.
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, 1,400 pack-horses, and a herd of cattle (see Davidson’s Fort for details).
Meeting a Need for Speed
The first sign of the army here was likely a “Light Horse” unit passing down the trail where the highway runs today, on Friday, September 6, 1776. All of Rutherford’s soldiers traveled on horseback, but these men were trained and equipped to fight while mounted like cavalry. One source says they were sent ahead to try to capture trader Walter Scott, a Loyalist, for whom the creek is named.
Later Rutherford and the rest of his men arrive. 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 warriors, without success, but found a gun they had left behind.
The army camped in the valley downhill of the Candlestick/McCoy intersection, which extended across the modern highway. The Light Horse returned around 7 p.m. They had surrounded Scott’s house, but soon realized he had fled.
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 the Light Horse. They left 90 minutes before dawn, hoping to move faster than the main army could with its pack-horses and cows. The rest left later in the morning.
After burning a dozen villages as far west as modern Murphy, 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 the left of McCoy Road and a branch running into modern Balsam behind you.
For Those on the Tour
Our Cherokee Campaigns 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 may not have stopped to destroy). 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 the Trace 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 will leave off, at NC 116 in Webster.
 Dean, Nadia, A Demand of Blood: The Cherokee War of 1776 (Cherokee, N.C.: Valley River Press, 2012).
 Hamilton, J. G. de Roulhac, ‘Revolutionary Diary of William Lenoir’, The Journal of Southern History, 6.2 (1940), 247–59.
 In addition to the 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”). See also: Swain, David, ‘Historical Sketch of the Indian War of 1776’, North Carolina University Magazine, May 1852, 132–36 (Museum of the Cherokee Indian Archive, 2010.253.0207, Rutherford Expedition: Miscellaneous).
 One eyewitness still with the main army, thus behind Lenoir, reports they came to Tuckaseegee and found it burned. They trampled the 16 acres of corn (per Dean, who says this was modern Webster, so the soldier mistook the river’s name for the town name). Lenoir says the advance unit “marcht to a little-Town on Tuckeyseagey River 8 miles thence toward watauger” (quoted in Hamilton), which matches the Webster location. He says nothing about burning the town, only indicating they spotted Cherokees there and followed them up the mountain.