Militia Make A Token Resistance
County: Halifax, Nash
The coordinates put you in the parking lot for Log Home Park at Gold Rock, just north of Swift Creek.
Getting to a view of the bridge may be difficult for people with mobility issues. In that case, park on the shoulder on the other side of NC 4/48, between Beasley Road and the creek.
Walk between the creek and the pond by the parking lot. Stop near the highway where you can see across the bridge and down the road.
As the British army of Lt. Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis moves from Wilmington to Virginia in 1781, local Patriots have gathered to oppose him at two stream crossings. A company of militia from the Franklin County Regiment, part-time soldiers under Capt. Harry Hill, wait on this side of Swift Creek. Their position is well chosen: Given the bend in the creek, and the angle of approach taken by the dirt wagon road where NC 4/48 runs now, a significant stretch of the route is within the 50 yards or so that muskets of the day can be effectively aimed.
The “British Legion” of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton has been riding a day or two ahead of the main army to clear the path. On Monday, May 7, his 160 “dragoons” trained to fight from horseback, along with some 60 mounted infantry, ride toward the creek. The former are in green uniforms, while the latter are probably in red (hence the term “Redcoats” for British soldiers).
Records do not indicate whether there was a bridge here or just a ford. (The ravine is probably much steeper now, after more than two centuries of erosion.) Regardless, imagine the mixture of excitement and nervousness when the news comes of Tarleton’s approach. With their view limited by the distant rise you can see as you look down the highway, Hill likely put pickets (guards) on horseback past it. So Patriots galloping in this direction would have been the first sign of the British!
The number of Patriots here is unknown. They are draftees and volunteers with a range of battle experience, armed only with single-shot muskets that take at least 30 seconds to reload. They are no match for Tarleton’s dragoons, veterans of many battles and deadly with their swords.
Assuming the Legion gallop in, the Patriots can only fire one volley in the time it takes the front of the force to get in range, cross the creek, and turn to both sides with sabres drawn. The militia quickly disperse into the woods all around at the time, where the horses cannot easily maneuver.
Two days later, the remaining 1,600 men of Cornwallis’ army appear from the same direction as Tarleton’s. Over the course of hours they and hundreds of camp followers, formerly enslaved people, cannons, and supply wagons cross the creek—including two wagons with boats! These have been brought along after a slow crossing near fire-damaged Heron’s Bridge, north of Wilmington, in case they are needed at one of the several other rivers the British know they have to cross.
From Log Cabin Park, drive back to NC 4/48 and turn left. Drive 5.9 miles and park on the shoulder before the bridge over Fishing Creek (coordinates: 36.1502, -77.8043). As you do, you will be following the general route of both Tarleton and the main army.
Either Tarleton did not pursue the militia at Swift Creek, or more likely given the distance, part of the militia company was posted here at Fishing Creek. Regardless, an exact repeat of the Swift Creek action occurs here later on the same day.
Casualty numbers on both sides in the two skirmishes are unconfirmed, but Tarleton reports none on his side, and claims the militia suffered “some losses.”
Just as it did at Swift Creek, later on May 9 the main army crosses here. As Tarleton had before him, Cornwallis turns east toward Enfield and then his immediate destination of Halifax, perhaps marching where NC 481 runs today.
- Barefoot, Daniel, Touring North Carolina’s Revolutionary War Sites (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 1998)
Dunkerly, Robert M., Redcoats on the Cape Fear: The Revolutionary War in Southeastern North Carolina, Revised (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2012)
- Lewis, J.D., ‘Swift Creek & Fishing Creek’, The American Revolution in North Carolina, 2011 <https://www.carolana.com/NC/Revolution/revolution_swift_creek_and_fishing_creek.html> [accessed 19 September 2020]
- ‘Marker: E-15’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=E-15> [accessed 19 September 2020]
- Tarleton, Banastre, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America (London : Printed for T. Cadell, 1787) <http://archive.org/details/historyofcampaig00tarl> [accessed 19 September 2020]
 The state highway marker at Swift says the action took place “nearby” instead of “here,” probably because it was originally placed on Highway 301 a few miles to the east (Wegner, Ansely, N.C. Highway Marker Program, E-mail, 10/6/2020).
 Tarleton 1787.