The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill — A Critical American Victory in North Carolina

June 20, 1780

The Battle of Ramseur’s Mill was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain on June 20, 1780. The United States of America won the battle, hampering British efforts to take control of the state.

Battle of Ramsour's Mill, North Carolina, 1780, Historical Marker

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill historic marker. Image Source: North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program.

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill Summary

After the British captured Charleston, South Carolina, General Charles Cornwallis planned to invade North Carolina and take control of the state. He sent Lieutenant Colonel John Moore to North Carolina to recruit men to fight for the British and help defend the outposts against the Overmountain Men who lived west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Despite orders not to mobilize against the Patriots, Moore gathered roughly 1,300 men at Ramsour’s Mill, near present-day Lincolnton, North Carolina. General Griffith Rutherford responded by sending militia forces, under the command of Colonel Francis Locke, to engage the Loyalists and break up their camp. Aided by information from a local Patriot, Locke attacked Ramsour’s Mill on the morning of June 20. The battle was fierce, disorganized, and lasted around two hours. The Loyalists were eventually overwhelmed and retreated from Ramsour’s Mill. The American victory lowered Loyalist morale and hampered the British plan to capture North Carolina.

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill Facts

  • Also Known As: The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill is also known as the Battle of Ramseur’s, the Battle of Ramsauer’s Mill, and the Battle of Ramsay’s Mill.
  • Date Started: The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill started on June 20, 1780.
  • Date Ended: It ended on June 20, 1780.
  • Location: The battle was fought at Ramsour’s Mill, near present-day Lincolnton, North Carolina.
  • Theater: The battle took place in the Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War.
  • Campaign: The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill was part of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolutionary War.
  • Who Won: The United States won the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.
Charles Cornwallis, Portrait
This painting depicts General Charles Cornwallis.

Battle of Ramseur’s Mill Overview and History

After the Fall of Charleston in May 1780, British forces established outposts throughout South Carolina, including Camden, Cheraw, and Ninety-Six. Under command of General Charles Cornwallis, the British intended to invade North Carolina.

The War in North Carolina

Up to that point, American forces in North Carolina had only engaged British forces once — at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge on February 27, 1776. The Americans won a resounding victory in that battle, which allowed them to retain control of the state.

Loyalist Forces Gather at Ramsour’s Mill

After the British took control of South Carolina, General Cornwallis asked Lieutenant Colonel John Moore to return to his home in North Carolina and recruit Loyalist volunteers in western North Carolina. However, General Cornwallis asked him to delay any military action until after the harvest season, because he wanted Loyalists harvesting crops so he would have provisions for the army. He was also concerned if the Loyalists moved too soon, it would increase Patriot resistance in North Carolina.

Moore and Major Nicholas Welch left the British camp in South Carolina and traveled to Ramsour’s Mill. They arrived in June and called for a meeting at Moore’s father’s house, which was to be held on June 10. Around 40 men joined Moore and Welch at the meeting, where they informed them of Cornwallis’s plan to invade North Carolina and the request to delay taking action.

During the meeting, the Loyalists were informed a contingent of Patriot Militia, under the command of Major Joseph McDowell, was in the area. They decided to try to ambush them but were unsuccessful. Moore sent the men home with instructions to join him at Ramsour’s Mill on June 20 — and to gather recruits. 

Moore may have been inspired to gather his men due to the British victory at the Battle of Waxhaws, which took place on May 29, near present-day Buford, South Carolina, which was only 80 miles southeast of Ramsour’s Mill.

Battle of Waxhaws, 1780, Illustration
This illustration depicts the Battle of Waxhaws. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Patriot Forced Prepare to Attack Ramsour’s Mill

Alerted to the Loyalist forces, General Griffith Rutherford, the leader of the Patriot forces in western North Carolina, ordered Colonel Francis Locke to gather their men, march to Ramsour’s Mill, and attack the Loyalist camp. At the time, Rutherford was located south of Charlotte, 40-50 miles southwest of Ramsour’s Mill.

On June 19, 1780, Locke and Wilson gathered their men — around 400 militiamen primarily from Burke, Iredell, Mecklenburg, and Rowan Counties — at Mountain Creek, North Carolina. Early on the morning of the 20th, they started their march towards Ramsour’s Mill.

By the 20th, there were approximately 1,300 Loyalists in the camp, which was near Jacob Ramsour’s Mill, on a hill, about half a mile from the village which is now Lincolnton, North Carolina. However, nearly one-quarter of them were unarmed.

As the Patriots approached Ramsour’s Mill, Adam Reep, a local man who supported the Patriots, provided Locke with detailed information about the Loyalist camp. Rutherford, Locke, and Captain Galbraith Falls devised a surprise attack on the camp.

The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill Begins

The Patriot attack started early in the morning and was led by cavalry on horseback. The riders charged toward the camp, covered by fog, and moved up the east side of the hill. A Loyalist picket, about 600 yards outside of the camp, heard them coming. They fired on the Patriots and rushed up the hill to the safety of the camp. 

The Loyalists were surprised but quickly organized and repelled the attack. From the top of the hill, they were able to fire down on the Patriots. Some of the Patriot forces worked their way to the other side of the hill. Meanwhile, the unarmed Loyalists fled from the camp, running down the west side of the hill.

There was significant confusion because none of the men were wearing uniforms and the commanders were disorganized. The Patriots identified themselves by pinning a piece of white paper to their hats, while the Loyalists put green twigs in theirs. What followed was a brutal hand-to-hand fight that lasted around two hours. 

During the battle, Loyalist Captain Daniel Warlick rallied his men for a counterattack. However, a Patriot rifleman with the last name Sharp shot and killed Warlick, adding to the confusion in the Loyalist ranks.

Locke sent word a message to Rutherford, asking for reinforcements. However, the Loyalists gave up the fight and retreated from the camp. 

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill Outcome

In the aftermath of the battle, the Patriots disbanded and returned to their homes. Moore led what was left of the Loyalists — roughly 30 men — to Camden, South Carolina, where they joined Cornwallis.

The Patriot victory gave General Horatio Gates an incentive to gather his army and move south to engage Cornwallis at Camden on August 16, 1780. The battle was a disaster for Gates and the Americans, who were routed by the British. After the battle, British forces had complete control of South Carolina and prepared to advance into North Carolina.

However, the outcome of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill failed to inspire North Carolina Loyalists to rally and join the British ranks. When British forces under the command of General Charles Cornwallis prepared to invade North Carolina after Camden, he called for Loyalists to join the fight, however, the response was limited. Cornwallis invaded the western portion of North Carolina, but the lack of volunteers contributed to the American victory at Kings Mountain in October 1780, on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. The loss at Kings Mountain and lack of Loyalist support in eastern North Carolina forced Cornwallis to fall back into South Carolina and abandon his plan to capture North Carolina. 

Cornwallis returned to North Carolina early in 1781. Following the Battle of Cowpens, he pursued American forces under the command of General Nathanael Greene as they traveled through the countryside.

Battle of Ramsour’s Mill Significance

The Battle of Ramseur’s Mill is important to United States history because the outcome reduced Loyalist support in the southeast region of North Carolina. The outcome of the Ramsour’s Mill Battle had an impact on two significant battles that followed — Camden and Kings Mountain.

What happened at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill?

This video from My Lincoln Library provides a detailed overview of the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill — A Critical American Victory in North Carolina
  • Date June 20, 1780
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, American Revolutionary War, North Carolina, Charles Cornwallis, John Moore, Griffith Rutherford, Francis Locke, What happened at the Battle of Ramsour's Mill, Who won the Battle of Ramsour's Mill
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 5, 2024