This morning my XO Bill Goodwin came over to help with the final touch-ups for our trip to Washington DC. As we talked, we got into history in our area of central NC, We are rich in history and Gillford County is were General Nathaniel Green turned the Revaluation around for the American Patriots. As we talked May 16th also has another meaning for folks in our area. I will teach a little history here. He lives just a couple miles from the Gillford Courthouse Battle Ground and I live just a stones throw away from the Alamance Battle Ground. What are the odds of two modern day Patriots making the trip to Washington DC to end tyranny again.
The Battle of Alamance was the final battle of the War of the Regulation, a rebellion in colonial North Carolina over issues of taxation and local control. In the past, historians considered the battle to be the opening salvo of the American Revolution and locals agreed with this assessment. However, modern historians reject this, since there does not seem to have been any intent to rebel against the king or crown, merely to protest taxation and corrupt local government. Named for nearby Great Alamance Creek, the battle took place in what was then Orange County and has since become Alamance County in the central Piedmont about six miles south of present-day Burlington, North Carolina.
Events prior to the battle
In the spring of 1771, Governor William Tryon left New Bern, mustering and marching approximately 1,000 militia troops west to address a rebellion that had been brewing in western counties for several years, but which had included only minor, scattered acts of violence, followed by refusal to pay fees, disruption of court proceedings, and continued harassment of government officials. About 2,000 so-called Regulators had gathered, hoping to gain concessions from the governor by intimidating him with a show of superior force. Funded by council member and wealthy merchant Samuel Cornell for £6,000, on May 11, Tryon left the county seat of Hillsborough with his militia to confront the Regulators, who had made camp south of Great Alamance Creek in western Orange County (present-day Alamance County).
Course of the battle
On the evening of May 15, Tryon received word that the Regulators were camped about six miles away. The next morning, at about 8:00, Tryon's troops set out to a field about one-half mile from the camp of the Regulators. He formed two lines, and divided his artillery between the wings and the center of the first line. The Regulators remained disorganized, with no leadership – no officer ranked higher than Captain – and no anticipation of an attack, expecting that their superior numbers would frighten Tryon's militia.
Tryon sent one of his aide-de-camps, Captain Philmore Hawkins, and the Sheriff of Orange County with a proclamation:
Alamance Camp, Thursday, May 16th, 1771.
To Those Who Style Themselves "Regulators": In reply to your petition of yesterday, I am to acquaint you that I have ever been attentive to the interests of your County and to every individual residing therein. I lament the fatal necessity to which you have now reduced me by withdrawing yourselves from the mercy of the crown and from the laws of your country. To require you who are now assembled as Regulators, to quietly lay down your arms, to surrender up your leaders, to the laws of your country and rest on the leniency of the Government. By accepting these terms within one hour from the delivery of this dispatch, you will prevent an effusion of blood, as you are at this time in a state of REBELLION against your King, your country, and your laws.
(Signed) William Tryon.
While the terms were being read, Tryon's troops began to move forward. Shortly after that, Tryon was informed the Regulators had rejected his terms. Herman Husband, a Quaker, realizing violence was about to take place, left the area.
By midday the hour had expired, Tryon sent one final warning:
GENTLEMEN AND REGULATORS: Those of you who are not too far committed should desist and quietly return to your homes, those of you who have laid yourselves liable should submit without resistance. I and others promise to obtain for you the best possible terms. The Governor will grant you nothing. You are unprepared for war! You have no cannon! You have no military training! You have no commanding officers to lead you in battle. You have no ammunition. You will be defeated!
Some of the Regulators petitioned the governor to give up seven captured Regulators in exchange for two of his men the Regulators had captured the previous day. Tryon agreed, but after a half an hour, the captured officers did not appear. He became suspicious that his positions were being flanked and ordered the militia to march within 30 yards of the Regulators. Shortly thereafter, a large crowd of Regulators appeared in front of the militia, waving their hats and daring the militia to open fire.
About this time, two men left Tryon's camp who had been attempting to negotiate a peace between the two sides: Reverend Dr. Caldwell and Mr. Robert Thompson. Caldwell made it to the field between the two lines, but was warned by the Regulators who sensed the governor was about to open fire. Thompson was detained by Tryon as a prisoner. Tryon, in a moment of anger, took a musket from a militiaman and shot Mr. Thompson dead. Realizing what he had done, he sent a flag bearer named Donald Malcolm with a white flag in hopes of calming things quickly. The flag bearer was himself fired upon by the Regulators, who called out, "Fire and be damned".
The Regulators lacked the leadership, organization, and ammunition that Tryon had, but the early course of the battle went well for them. They employed what was referred to as "Indian style" fighting, hiding behind trees and avoiding structure and lines. This allowed two of the Regulators, brothers named McPherson, to capture one of Tryon's three cannons. Unfortunately for them, the Regulators had no ammunition and it could not be used.
A man considered one of the principal military leaders of the Regulators, Captain Montgomery, was killed by a shell at about the same time a bullet hit Tryon's hat. The governor sent a second white flag, but the aide-de-camp was killed while Regulator Patrick Muller called for his fellow insurgents to cease fire. Outraged at the disregard of a second white flag, the governor rallied his troops against the insurgents, whose ammunition was running out. Many of the Regulators fled the field. Delays prevented the 300 reinforcements under Captain Benjamin Merrill from arriving in time. Some of the Regulators remained behind to continue firing upon the milita. Tryon ordered the woods to be set on fire.
Losses for both sides are disputed. Tryon reported nine dead and 61 wounded among the militia. Other historians indicate much greater numbers, between 15 and 27 killed. Both sides count nine dead among the Regulators and dozens to over one hundred wounded.
Tryon took 13 prisoners. One of them, James Few, was executed at the camp, and six were executed later in nearby Hillsborough. Many Regulators traveled on to frontier areas beyond North Carolina. The governor pardoned others and allowed them to stay on condition they pledge an oath of allegiance to the royal government.
The battle took place in what was then Orange County. During the American Revolution a decade later, the same section of Orange County (subdivided into Alamance County in 1849) saw several minor skirmishes, including the infamous Pyle's Hacking Match in 1781. Recent archaeological studies at the site have shown that the area now known as Alamance Battleground was also the site of another skirmish in the Revolutionary War and of a Civil War era Confederate encampment.
Participants in the battle
According to Governor Tryon's journal, the following men served under his command:
Major-Generals: John Ashe and Thomas Lloyd
Lieutenant-Generals: John Rutherford, Lewis Henry DeRosset, John Sampson, Robert Palmer, Benjamin Heron, and Samuel Strudwick
Majors of Brigade: Abner Nash and Robert Howe
Colonels: Alexander Osborne, Edmund Fanning, Robert Harris, James Sampson, Samuel Spencer, James Moore, and Maurice Moore
Lieutenant-Colonels: John Frohock, Moses Alexander, Alexander Lillington, John Gray, Samuel Benton, and Robert Schaw
Majors: William Bullock, Walter Lindsay, Thomas Lloyd, Martin Fifer, and John Hinton
Alexander Lillington and James Moore were both American patriots at the Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge
Richard Caswell was delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, one of the principal authors of the 1776 constitution of North Carolina, and the first governor of the newly independent state
Francis Nash, whose guilt for extortion precipitated the War of the Regulation, fought and died as an American Patriot in the Revolution
Griffith Rutherford served as a Brigadier General in the Continental Army
The following individuals were numbered as members of the Regulators:
James Hunter – So-called "General of the Regulators", whose 1901 statue is now found at Alamance Battleground
James Few – executed at camp after the battle
The following were excepted from pardon by Governor Tryon:
Simon Dunn, Jr.
Benjamin Merrit (Merrill)
James Wilkerson, Sr.
Six men were found guilty of treason, but were pardoned at Tryon's behest:
Hermon (or Harmon) Cox – his powder horn is now on display at Alamance Battleground
Six men were found guilty of treason and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, although in practice, they were only hanged:
Robert Matear (Matter)
2 Unknown men
so the dance starts again