The Battle of Musgrove Mill, South Carolina, in 1780

August 18, 1780

The Battle of Musgrove Mill was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain on August 18, 1780, during the American Revolutionary War. American forces won the battle, which is most famous for the role played by Isaac Shelby and the Overmountain Men.

Isaac Shelby, Governor, Officer, Portrait

Isaac Shelby. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of Musgrove Mill Facts

  • Also Known As — The Battle of Musgrove’s Mill.
  • Date — August 18, 1780.
  • Location — Present-day Laurens County, near Cross Anchor, South Carolina.
  • Opponents — United States of America and Great Britain.
  • American Commanders — Isaac Shelby, James Williams, and Elijah Clarke.
  • British Commanders — Alexander Innes, Daniel Clary, Abraham DePeyster.
  • Winner — The United States won the Battle of Musgrove Mill.

Key Moments

  • In late 1779, the British started their Southern Campaign and systematically took control of Georgia and South Carolina and established outposts in South Carolina to maintain control of the Backcountry.
  • British forces won a significant victory at the Battle of Camden (August 16, 1780).
  • West of Camden (see map), British forces, primarily Loyalists, were guarding a passage over the Enoree River.
  • American militia forces attacked the Loyalist camp on August 18.
  • After a brief skirmish, both sides regrouped and the Loyalists launched an assault on the Americans.
  • The Americans were able to withstand the assault, allowing Issac Shelby and his Overmountain Men to attack. 
  • The Loyalists were routed and forced to flee.

Battle of Musgrove Mill Significance

The Battle of Musgrove Mill was significant because the American militia forces proved they were a threat to the British, who were trying to establish complete control of the Southern Colonies in America. General Charles Cornwallis responded by sending Colonel Patrick Ferguson out to the frontier, which eventually led to the Battle of Kings Mountain (October 7, 1780).

Battle of Musgrove Mill Overview and History

On August 18, 1780, two days after General Horatio Gates and the Southern Army suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Camden, American militia forces fought with British forces at Musgrove Mill, north of present-day Clinton, South Carolina. 

American Militia Forces

American forces were led by Colonel Isaac Shelby, Colonel James Williams, and Colonel Elijah Clarke. Shelby and his men were from the Watauga Association, near present-day Elizabethtown, Tennessee, and were known as “Overmountain Men,” because they came from the western side of the Appalachian Mountains.

Loyalist Forces at Musgrove Mill

The Americans were alerted to the presence of a contingent of Loyalist Militia near Musgrove’s Mill, on the Enoree River, led by Colonel Alexander Innes and Colonel Daniel Clary. The Loyalists were guarding the ford over the river, and some of them were on their way to reinforce Major Patrick Ferguson.

Battle of Musgrove Mill, 1780, Map
This map shows the location of Musgrove Mill. Image Source: The Revolutionary War in the Southern Back Country by James K. Swisher, 2008.

The Battle of Musgrove Mill Begins

The Americans approached the camp and intended to launch a surprise attack. However, there were more Loyalists in the camp than they expected. The Loyalists saw the Americans, moved out to engage them, and a brief skirmish took place.

The Americans were forced to retreat to a ridge above Musgrove Mill, where they formed a defensive line, and built a small breastwork to defend themselves. Determined to engage the Loyalists, the Americans devised a plan to lure them into battle.

About 20 men, led by Captain Shadrach Inman, attacked the Loyalist camp and quickly retreated. The Loyalists followed and moved right into an ambush the Americans had set up. The Americans opened fire and inflicted heavy casualties.

The Loyalists were able to mount an assault on the right side of the American line but were overwhelmed by Shelby and the Overmountain Men. The Loyalists were routed and forced to flee across the Enoree River.

Battle of Musgrove Mill Casualties

After an hour of fighting, the Americans suffered roughly 16 casualties, including four men killed. The British suffered significantly heavier casualties, including 63 killed.

Battle of Musgrove Mill Outcome and Aftermath

Following the victory, the Americans considered moving on to attack the British fort at Ninety Six, South Carolina. However, they learned about the defeat at Camden and were alerted to the presence of Ferguson and his force heading in their direction.

Shelby and his men went back over the mountains, with Ferguson in pursuit. Ferguson was on a mission to subdue militia forces in the Overmountain Districts and protect the left wing of the British Army as it invaded North Carolina. Ferguson followed Shelby to Gilbert Town, North Carolina, near present-day Rutherfordton.

Ferguson issued a proclamation and threatened the communities in the Overmountain Region, saying, “If you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.”

When Shelby received the proclamation, he rode to the home of John Sevier at Plum Grove to discuss what to do about Ferguson. They agreed to gather the militia, cross back over the mountains, and engage Ferguson, leading to the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title The Battle of Musgrove Mill, South Carolina, in 1780
  • Date August 18, 1780
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Musgrove Mill, Southern Theater, British Southern Campaign, Isaac Shelby, Overmountain Men
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 15, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 26, 2024