British Camp Interpretive Trail

Musgrove Mill State Historic Site (SC)


The year 1780 was not going well for the Patriot cause in the South. In May of that year General Charles Cornwallis and his army occupied the city of Charles Town (today's Charleston). After setting up his base of operations on the coast he set out to subdue the Carolinas by sending his troops into the Carolina backcountry where hopefully they would be reinforced by bands of loyalist militia. Then came what seemed to be the fatal blow to the Patriot cause in the South. On the 16th of August, near the South Carolina town of Camden, the British dealt the American Army under General Horatio Gates a humiliating defeat that would have almost certainly broke the spirit of the Patriot cause in the Carolinas if not for one seemingly minor event. That event was the Battle of Musgrove Mill.

Musgrove Mill was located (at the time) deep in the Carolina backcountry about midway between today's Spartanburg and Columbia along the Enoree River. A small mill, built by one Edward Musgrove, stood alongside a ford of the Enoree which provided the only suitable crossing for men and supplies for miles in either direction. Thus, this seemingly innocuous location became vital for the British to control if they hoped to subdue the backcountry. At the same time the British began their campaign of subjugation small bands of Patriot militia started popping up all over the region. Too small on their own to challenge the might of the British Army these roving bands of militia were content to harass the British through quick strikes against supply lines and remote outposts. Musgrove Mill was just such a remote outpost.

To secure the vital Enoree ford, the British had detached a force of around 200 loyalist militia who had encamped on the property of Edward Musgrove along the river. It was this camp that a similarly-sized force of 200 mounted Patriot militia under Colonels Isaac Shelby, James Williams, and Elijah Clarke hoped to surprise and attack. Unfortunately, unbeknown to the Patriots, the garrison at Musgrove Mill had recently been reinforced by over 300 Provincial (i.e. Loyalist) Regulars so when they arrived at the camp they were more than a little distressed to find themselves about to confront a force three time their number! A tactical retreat would have been prudent but British scouts discovered the Patriot force before they had a chance withdraw. With retreat out of the question and attacking almost certainly being suicidal the Patriot force's only choice was to somehow draw the British out for a defensive battle on ground of their choosing. On August 19, 1780 a small band of Patriots rode down, crossed the Enoree, and attacked the British camp. When the Loyalists formed up and counterattacked the Patriots feigned retreat drawing the Loyalists across the river and up the hills on the far side. Thinking they had won an easy victory the Loyalists continued their pursuit until suddenly they broke out into a large clearing where the Patriot "retreat" was suddenly recognized for what it was.

Awaiting their arrival was the remainder of the Patriot force arrayed along the ridge line ahead and barricaded behind hastily constructed breastworks. Despite the commanding position of the Patriots the Loyalists still had the advantage in numbers and they proceeded to advance and complete what they assumed would be a quick victory. The Loyalists opened fire first from 150 yards, long range for the period, and did little damage to the Patriots. Meanwhile the men atop the ridge waited patiently until the Loyalist line reached a point 70 yards away before opening up with a devastating volley of fire. Scores of Loyalists fell in this first volley but yet they came on. At a point only 10 yards from the Patriot lines, with a breakthrough nearly won, the Loyalist commander Colonel Alexander Innes was struck and mortally wounded. The Loyalist attack collapsed and the bloody rout back to the river began. Chasing them the entire way the battle degenerated into a hand-to-hand brawl that only ended when the Loyalists regained the relative safety of their camp on the far side of the Enoree. The battle had lasted little more than an hour yet the Loyalist forces had lost nearly 200 men, or almost 50% of their entire force. Against this the Patriots had lost only 4 men killed and 12 wounded. It was one of the most one-sided victories for the Patriot cause during the entire war. At first the intent was to follow up the battle with an attack that would finish off the Loyalists but then the devastating news of the American defeat at Camden arrived. Suddenly isolated in country now controlled by the British, the small band of Patriot militia prudently withdrew and headed back north across the mountains.

What at first seemed a lost opportunity, the overwhelming victory at Musgrove Mill helped dull the sting of the defeat three days earlier at Camden. Despite that humiliating defeat, the Battle of Musgrove Mill helped keep the Patriot fire smoldering in the Carolina backcountry and the men who had been forced to withdraw would, a short 6 weeks later, return as part of a much larger force of 'Overmountain Men' who would meet and defeat the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain which would in turn set off a chain of events leading to ultimate American victory.

Today the battleground has been preserved within the South Carolina State Park system. Though little remains of the original landmarks, man-made or natural, a small visitor center designed to resemble the old Musgrove home houses historic artifacts and gives a good overview of the events that took place here. Outside, a pair of interpretive trails circle the sites of the old Loyalist camp along the Enoree River and the battlefield itself. You can also see the remains of one of the old mills, the foundations of what may have been the Musgrove home, and beautiful if small Horseshoe Falls. Come along with me on a tour of one of the Revolutionary War's most significant, yet unknown, battlefields...


Patriot Army

Commanding Officer: Colonel Isaac Shelby, James Williams, Elijah Clarke           Strength: 200           Casualties: 16 or 8.0% (4 killed, 12 wounded)

Loyalist Army

Commanding Officer: Colonel Alexander Innes           Strength: 500           Casualties: 133 or 26.6% (63 killed, unknown wounded, 70 captured/missing)

5-3-2013