The Battle of Blackstocks Plantation

November 20, 1780 at Blackstocks, Union County, South Carolina
(aka Battle of Tyger or Tiger River)

American Forces Commanded by
Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
420-500 3 5 ?
British Forces Commanded by
Lt. Col. Banastre Tarlton
Strength Killed Wounded Missing / Captured
270-400 92 100 54
Conclusion: American Victory

The position of the British in the "Up-Country" became precarious. Gen. Charles Cornwallis recalled Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton from his pursuit of Lt. Col. Francis Marion. Being worried about the safety of Ninety-Six, Cornwallis ordered Tarleton to take his force and find and scatter the 1,000-man American force. The American force was under the command of Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter, who had passed the Broad River, formed a junction with Clark and Brennan, and threatened Ninety-Six.

On November 19, Being reinforced with some Georgia troops, Sumter planned an attack on the Tory post located on the Little River, which was 15 miles from Ninety-Six. The post was commanded by Col. James Kirkland. Around midnight, the Americans had captured a British deserter, who informed Sumter that Tarleton was advancing towards the American camp. Sumter immediately ordered a withdrawal of his forces.

On November 20, at 10:00 A.M., At dawn Tarleton pursued his march, moving in advanced of the 71st and the artillery, with 190 of his dragoons and mounted infantry of his Legion, and 80 of the mounted 63rd. He came upon a force of Sumter’s at Enoree Ford (Newberry County. S.C.) which he dispersed with “great slaughter.” Bass states, however, that the group were some loyalists prisoners which had previously been under the charge of some riflemen of Sumter’s under Capt. Patrick Carr. Carr made his escape on Tarleton’s approach, and in the confusion Tarleton took the liberated loyalists to be rebels.

Tarleton discovered that Sumter was withdrawing his forces. Tarleton found the American force and pursued them all the way through the afternoon.

By 4:00 P.M., Tarleton knew that by using his entire force that he could not catch up with Sumter. Therefore, he decided to only take 190 dragoons and 80 mounted infantry to continue the fast pursuit and let the rerst of his force catch up on their own. Within an hour, he had finally caught up with the rear guard of Sumter's force. Sumter had made it to the Tyger River.

At 5:00 P.M., with the daylight fading, Sumter was worried about his predicament. However, a local woman who had been observing the British, rode into Sumter's camp and informed him that the British artillery and foot soldiers were still trying to catch up with Tarleton. Knowing that he was favored with a good defensive terrain, Sumter decided to make a stand at Blackstocks Plantation.

The river was to Sumter's rear and right flank, but on his left flank was a hill that had 5 loghouses belonging to the plantation located in an open field. He ordered Col. ?? Hampton and his riflemen to hold the houses, and Col. ?? Twiggs Georgia sharpshooters were posted along a rail fence extending from the loghouses to the woods on the left flank. On the wooded hill that rose to his rightfrom the main road, Sumter deployed most of the remainder of his troops. Col. ?? Lacey's mounted infantry were to screen the right flank and Col. Richard Winn was posted to the rear, along the river, as the reserve.

When Tarleton approached Sumter's position, he decided that the American line was too strong to attack alone without the rest of his straggling force. While waiting for the rest of the British force, Tarleton dismounted his infantry and sent them to his right flank which overlooked a creek that ran in front of Sumter's front. The dragoons were sent to his left flank. Sumter decided not to wait until Tarleton was reinforced to attack. Just before Tarleton arrived, Taylor’s detachment lumbered into the camp with wagons loaded up with flour taken on the raid on Summer’s Mills. Initially, Tarleton charged and threw back a group of Sumter’s men placed forward of the main body. However, Tarleton later stated that he had no intention at that time of engaging Sumter directly, but that the battle came about as a result of some of Sumter’s men (the Georgians) skirmishing his own. Sometime after 5 pm,

Sumter sent Col. Elijah Clark and 100 men to turn Tarleton's right flank and block the reinforcements from joing him. Clark's force fired on the British too early and the British counterattacked and drove Clark back. At the same time, Sumter ordered Col. ?? lacey to attack the British left flank. He was able to get within 75 yards of the British, who were busy watching the fight going on to their left, and opened fire. His men quickly killed 20 British dragoons. The British reformed and drove Lacey back. While riding from his right flank back to the center, Sumter was hit by a musketball. It went through his right shoulder, along the shoulderbalde, and chipped the backbone. After finding out that Sumter was wounded, Twiggs assumed overall command. The advance of the British reinforcements were stopped while Tarleton's men were being shot up on their flanks. Tarleton and his men were in a precarious position and suffered severely from the whigs’ fire. In this moment of peril, Lieut. John Money led a gallant bayonet charge which drove Sumter’s men back in confusion: Money himself being mortally wounded in the attack by Col. Henry Hampton’s riflemen. Tarleton then fell back two miles to join up with his relief column. In the British retreat from Blackstock’s, Maj. James Jackson and his Georgians captured 30 rider-less horses, apparently those of the 63rd.

By the time Tarleton had joined forces with the 71s it had grown dark and begun to rain. Maj. James Jackson in later years reported that the fighting had lasted three hours. Col. John Twiggs, who took immediate command from Sumter who had been badly wounded, left Col. Winn to keep some camp fires burning, while the remaining whigs made their’ retreat over the Tyger River. Sumter himself had to be drawn off the field on a litter. For the next three days Tarleton endeavored to pursue Sumter. Though he managed to take a handful of prisoners, most of Sumter’s men managed to escape in separate groups. What remained of Sumter’s brigade was placed in charge of Lieut. Col. William Henderson,who, taken at Charleston, had recently been exchanged. Cornwallis reported to Clinton on December 3rd: “(A)s soon as he [Tarleton] had taken care of his wounded, pursued and dispersed the remaining part of Sumpter's corps; and then, having assembled some militia under Mr. Cunningham, whom I appointed brigadier general of the militia of that district, and who has by far the greatest influence in that country, he returned to Broad river, where he at present remains; as well as Major M'Arthur, in the neighbourhood of Brierley's ferry.”

As darkness finally enveloped the battlefield, both sides withdrew to the safety of the positions. Both sides later claimed victory from the battle. Thge Americans claimed victory because they had picked the fight and repulsed the British. tarleton claimed victory because he succeeded in his initial mission of keeping the American force away from Ninet-Six and dispersing the Americans. He also put Sumter out of commission for a while.

Sumter returned to field command within 3 months after being wounded. Tarleton continued to pursue the Americans for 2 more days, harassing them at every opportunity. He captured some of the American stragglers and collecting British soldiers from other local battles.

On December 1, Tarleton and his force returned to the British base located at Brierly's Ford. Though Tarleton had succeeded in dispersing Sumter’s force, thus claiming a victory, the recklessness of his advance and relatively heavy losses did not go unnoticed or un-criticized, while, at the same time, Sumter, by February, had sufficiently recovered from his wound, and was back again in the field with his men -- though not at that later time with all his old comrades. As Bass states: “Many of [Sumter’s militiamen] did not return to the field again during the Revolution.”

AMERICAN FORCES AT BLACKSTOCKS

  • Commander: Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter, Col. John Twiggs, second in command
  • South Carolina Militia: 800-900, Col. William Bratton, Col. Henry Hampton, Col. William Hill, Col. Edward Lacey, Col. Charles Myddleton, Col. Thomas Taylor, Col. Richard Winn, Lieut. Col. James McCall
  • Georgia Militia: 100, (Twiggs), Col. Elijah Clark, Maj. William Candler, Maj. James Jackson
  • TOTAL: 900 to 1,000 (McCrady gives Sumter’s force as 420)

BRITISH FORCES AT BLACKSTOCKS

  • Commander: Lieut. Col. Banastre Tarleton
  • British Legion, cavalry and infantry (mounted): 190, (Tarleton)
  • Detachment of the 63rd Regt. (mounted): 80, Lt. John Money
  • TOTAL: 270 (Johnson: "There can be little doubt that Tarleton had with him a much greater number of the 63d than he admits. The Annual Register asserts that he had the whole; and if he took with him all his men who were mounted, this is probably the correct number; for in a letter of Cornwallis to him, of the 10th November, we find these words: 'The 63d are well mounted for infantry, and may occasionally ride in your train.' These were the men who accompanied him in pursuit of Sumpter; he admits their number to have been but eighty; but it would be supposing in their commander madness, and in his followers more resolution than falls to the ordinary lot of man, to have charged with so small a number as eighty, the American force advantageously posted on a commanding eminence. The Americans assert their number approached nearer 200. Tarleton admits his cavalry to have been 170 (Cornwallis says 190) and this brings the number near to the American 400 on the British side. Three hundred more are said to have remained in the rear with the artillery. Not less variance exists as to the number of the Americans. Tarleton makes it 1,000; but the Americans reduce their number to 420 or at the utmost 500." )

CASULATIES

AMERICAN

  • Tarleton later reported Sumter as losing 100 killed and wounded (including three colonels killed), 50 made prisoner, and the rest of his corps of militiamen being dispersed.
  • Cornwallis in his letter to Clinton of 3 December 1780, speaks of three of Sumter’s colonels being killed, and 20 men killed wounded or taken, with Sumter being wounded also.
  • Col. Charles Myddleton gave Sumter’s losses as 3 killed, and 4 wounded, including Sumter.
  • Col. Elijah Clark was also among the wounded.

BRITISH

  • Tarleton gave his own casualties as 50 killed and wounded. Lieutenants Gibson and Cope of the 63rd were among those killed. Lieut. John Money, who had been an aide and favorite of Cornwallis, was wounded, but at the time it was thought the wound was not serious. He died from it, however, a few days later.
  • Wemyss later said the casualties of the 63rd alone amounted to half of that units detachment, or 40 men.
  • Col. Charles Myddleton reported Tarleton’s losses as 92 dead and 100 wounded.


Pension statement of Levin Watson (of Anson County, N.C. (who served with the Georgians): “[Watson’s unit] turn[ed] for the head of the Tiger River a Col. Candler as he believes his name joined Col. Clark with sixty men mounted and at a Place called Blackstocks had a Battle with the British Dragoons and defeated them Col. Clark was shot through the arm with ball and did not brake the bone[.] [H]e was with Genl. Sumpter short time left him and went to the State of Georgia and some time after was Discharged by his officers served seven months and twenty too days his service as five Years but Short Terms except as above stated he at that time received a Discharge from Col. Clark.”

Lossing: “Sumter's left flank, where the hill was less precipitous. Here he was met by a little band of one hundred and fifty Georgia militia, under Twiggs and Jackson, who, like veterans of many wars, stood firm, and made a noble resistance for a long time, until hoof, and saber, and pistol, bore too hard upon them, and they gave way. At that moment, the rifles of a reserve, under Colonel Winn, and a sharp fire from the log-barn, decided the day. Tarleton fled, leaving nearly two hundred upon the field. Of these, more than ninety were killed, and nearly one hundred wounded. The Americans lost only three killed and five wounded. Among the latter was General Sumter, who received a ball in his breast early in the action, and was taken to the rear, when Colonel Twiggs assumed the command.”

Col. Charles Myddleton, from his after battle report: “The conflict was warm, and the enemy were repulsed; they rallied, made a second charge, and were repulsed again; they made a third, and the people in front were obliged to yield to the impression, but the fire from the eminence gave them such an effectual check, that they quitted the field in great disorder, and retired with the utmost precipitation. We pursued, but the approach of night prevented our taking advantage of their plight.”

Tarleton, in a letter to Cornwallis of 22 November, wrote: “It was difficult for me to maneuver for want of intelligence and I had to pass the Enoree three miles before I could strike at Sumter – You will see my Lord by my letter of yesterday that I could only bring up 80 of 63rd and 190 cavalry – I did not mean to attack Sumter, only to harass and lie close to him till I could bring up the rest of the Corps, as he could never pass the Tyger if I attacked. The 63rd were attacked by the Enemy which brought on the affair.”

Tarleton: “The whole position was visible, owing to the elevation of the ground, and this formidable appearance made Tarleton halt upon the opposite height, where he intended to remain quiet till his infantry and three pounder arrived: To encourage the enemy to do the same, he dismounted the 63d to take post, and part of the cavalry to ease their horses. Sumpter observing this operation, ordered a body of four hundred Americans to advance, and attack the 63d in front, whilst another party approached the dragoons in flank. A heavy fire and sharp conflict ensued: The 63d charged with fixed bayonets, and drove the enemy back; and a troop of cavalry, under Lieutenant Skinner, bravely repulsed the detachment which threatened the flank. The ardour of the 63d carried them too far, and exposed them to a considerable fire from the buildings and the mountain. Though the undertaking appeared hazardous, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton determined to charge the enemy's center with a column of dragoons, in order to cover the 63d, whose situation was now become dangerous. The attack was conducted with great celerity, and was attended with immediate success. The cavalry soon reached the houses, and broke the Americans, who from that instant began to disperse: The 63d immediately rallied, and darkness put an end to the engagement. A pursuit across a river, with a few troops of cavalry, and a small body of infantry, was not advisable in the night; a position was therefore taken adjoining to the field of battle, to wait the arrival of the light and legion infantry.

An express was sent to acquaint Earl Cornwallis with the success of his troops, and patroles were dispatched over the river at dawn, to discover if any part of the enemy remained in a body: Intelligence was soon brought across the Tyger, that the corps was entirely dispersed, except a party of one hundred, who remained in a compact state, in order to escort General Sumpter, who was wounded in the action. This news, and some rumours of approaching reinforcements, impelled Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton to follow the late advantage, by pursuing the fugitives; which would prevent their rallying to assist their friends, if the report was true concerning their advance. Accordingly, leaving a guard to protect the wounded, he again commenced his march: The men who had remained with their general since his misfortune, upon hearing of the approach of the British, placed him in a litter between two horses, and dispersed through the woods. After a toilsome pursuit of three days, in which a few stragglers were secured, intelligence was obtained that General Sumpter had been conducted across the country by five faithful adherents, till he was removed out of danger. Tarleton upon receiving this news, and having no farther information of an advancing enemy, retired slowly to Blackstock's.”

MacKenzie: “Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, without waiting for the rest of his detachment, made a precipitate attack with one hundred and seventy dragoons, and eighty men of the 63d regiment, upon the enemy, under the command of General Sumpter, strongly posted on Blackstock Hill, and amounting to about five hundred. That part of the hill, to which the attack was directed, was nearly perpendicular, with a small rivulet, brush wood, and a railed fence in front. Their rear, and part of their right flank were secured by the river Tyger, and their left was covered by a large log barn, into which a considerable division of their force had been thrown, and from which, as the apertures between the logs served them for loop holes, they fired with security. British valour was conspicuous in this action; but no valour could surmount the obstacles and disadvantages that here stood in its way. The 63d was roughly handled; the commanding officer, two others, with one-third of their privates, fell. Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, observing their situation, charged with his cavalry; unable to dislodge the enemy, either from the log barn or the height upon his left, he was obliged to fall back. Lieutenant Skinner, attached to the cavalry, with a presence of mind ever useful in such emergencies, covered the retreat of the 63d. In this manner did the whole party continue to retire, till they formed a junction with their infantry, who were advancing to sustain them, leaving Sumpter in quiet possession of the field. This officer occupied the hill for several hours, but having received a bad wound, and knowing that the British would be reinforced before next morning, he thought it hazardous to wait. He accordingly retired, and taking his wounded men with him, crossed the rapid river Tyger, while the victorious Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton retreated some distance, Parthian like, conquering as he flew. The wounded of the British detachment were left to the mercy of the enemy, and it is but doing bare justice to General Sumpter, to declare, that the strictest humanity took place upon the present occasion; they were supplied with every comfort in his power.

You have been previously apprized, that the American historian [Ramsay], laudably, takes every opportunity to celebrate the actions, and record the death of those of his countrymen who fell in battle. He has, indeed, mentioned the wounds of General Sumpter, but is silent on the fall of the three Colonels described by our author [Tarleton.] The real truth is, that the Americans being well sheltered, sustained very inconsiderable loss in the attack; and as for the three Colonels, they must certainly have been imaginary beings, ‘Men in buckram,’ created merely to grace the triumph of a victory, which the British army in Carolina were led to celebrate, amidst the contempt and derision of the inhabitants, who had much better information.”

22 November. Cornwallis, at Winnsborough, wrote to Tarleton: “I have ordered [Maj. Archibald] M'Arthur [with the 71st Regt.] to proceed [from Brierly’s Ferry] to Calley's ford on the Ennoree, and to wait orders with his battalion, sen

[Extract from Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre TARLETON, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America, (1787; reprint, North Stratford, NH: Ayer Company Publishers, Inc., 1999), Chapter III, pp. 175-180.]

ON the evening of the 18th, TARLETON obtained information, that General Sumpter, with upwards of one thousand men, was moving towards (a.) Williams' house, a post occupied by friendly militia, fifteen miles from Ninety Six.

At daybreak next morning the light troops directed their course for Indian creek, marched all day with great diligence, and encamped at night, with secrecy and precaution, near the Ennoree.

Another day's movement was intended up the banks of that river, which, if completed without discovery, would, perhaps, give an opportunity of destroying General Sumpter's corps by surprise; or certainly would prevent his accomplishing a retreat without the risk of an action.

This encouraging hope was frustrated in the evening by the desertion (b.) of a soldier of the 63d, and the American commander at twelve o'clock at night obtained intelligence of his danger. TARLETON pursued his march at dawn, and before ten o'clock in the morning had information of the retreat of General Sumpter: He continued his route to a ford upon the Ennoree, where he expected to gain farther intelligence, or perhaps meet the Americans.

On his arrival near that place, he found that the advanced guard and main body of the enemy had passed the river near two hours, and, that a detachment to cover the rear was waiting the return of a patrole: The advanced guard of the British dragoons charged this body, and defeated them with considerable slaughter. From prisoners it was learned, that the sudden movement of the Americans was owing to the treachery of the deserter, by whose information General Sumpter had fortunately escaped an unexpected attack, and had now the option to fight or retire.

THOUGH greatly superior in number, he did not wait the approach of the British, but by a rapid march endeavoured to cross the rivers in his rear; beyond which, if pressed to extremity, he could disband his followers in the woods, and without great detriment assemble them again at an appointed quarter to the northward of the Pacolet.

The march already made by the British infantry, he imagined must soon render them unable to keep up with the cavalry; which circumstance, he flattered himself, would impede the advance of Lieutenant-colonel TARLETON, or, at the worst, produce only a partial engagement.

Influenced by such reflections, he continued an indefatigable march, which was followed without intermission by the British. TARLETON, unwilling to divide his corps, and risk an action against a great superiority with his dragoons and the 63d, pressed forward his light and legion infantry, and three pounder, in a compact body, till four o'clock in the afternoon; at which time it became evident, that the enemy would have an opportunity of passing unmolested the Tyger river before dark, if he did not alter his disposition:

He therefore left his legion and light infantry, who had made meritorious exertions during the whole day, to march on at their own pace, whilst he made a rapid pursuit with one hundred and seventy cavalry of the legion, and eighty mounted men of the 63d. Before five o'clock the advanced guard charged a detachment of the Americans, who gave ground after some loss, and retreated to the main body.

Sumpter now discovered, that he could not with safety immediately attempt to pass the Tyger, and that the ground which he possessed on its banks gave him a favourable opportunity to resist the efforts of the cavalry. Regular information of his being pressed at this period by the mounted part of TARLETON's corps had been communicated to him; which, without such report, he might have calculated by the distance and duration of the movement: A woman (c.) on horseback had viewed the line of march from a wood, and, by a nearer road, had given intelligence that the British were approaching without infantry or cannon. DECIDED by these considerations, the American commander prepared for action, and made a judicious disposition of his force:

He posted the center of his troops in some houses and out-houses, composed of logs, and situated on the middle of an eminence; he extended his right along some rails, which were flanked by an inaccessible mountain; and he distributed his left on a rugged piece of ground that was covered by a bend of the river; a small branch of water ran in front of the whole rising ground, which was called Blackstock's hill: The great road to the ford across the river passed through the center of the Americans, and close to the doors of houses where the main body were stationed.

The whole position was visible, owing to the elevation of the ground, and this formidable appearance made TARLETON halt upon the opposite height, where he intended to remain quiet till his infantry and three pounder arrived: To encourage the enemy to do the same, he dismounted the 63d to take post, and part of the cavalry to ease their horses. Sumpter observing this operation, ordered a body of four hundred Americans to advance, and attack the 63d in front, whilst another party approached the dragoons in flank.

A heavy fire and sharp conflict ensued: The 63d charged with fixed bayonets, and drove the enemy back; and a troop of cavalry, under Lieutenant SKINNER, bravely repulsed the detachment which threatened the flank. The ardour of the 63d carried them too far, and exposed them to a considerable fire from the buildings and the mountain. Though the undertaking appeared hazardous, Lieutenant-colonel TARLETON determined to charge the enemy's center with a column of dragoons, in order to cover the 63d, whose situation was now become dangerous. The attack was conducted with great celerity, and was attended with immediate success.

The cavalry soon reached the houses, and broke the Americans, who from that instant began to disperse: The 63d immediately rallied, and darkness put an end to the engagement. A pursuit across a river, with a few troops of cavalry, and a small body of infantry, was not advisable in the night; a position was therefore taken adjoining to the field of battle, to wait the arrival of the light and legion infantry.

AN express was sent to acquaint Earl CORNWALLIS with the success of his troops, and patroles were dispatched over the river at dawn, to discover if any part of the enemy remained in a body: Intelligence was soon brought across the Tyger, that the corps was entirely dispersed, except a party of one hundred, who remained in a compact state, in order to escort General Sumpter, who was wounded in the action. This news, and some rumours of approaching reinforcements, impelled Lieutenant-colonel TARLETON to follow the late advantage, by pursuing the fugitives; which would prevent their rallying to assist their friends, if the report was true concerning their advance.

Accordingly, leaving a guard to protect the wounded, he again commenced his march: The men who had remained with their general since his misfortune, upon hearing of the approach of the British, placed him in a litter between two horses, and dispersed through the woods. After a toilsome pursuit of three days, in which a few stragglers were secured, intelligence was obtained that General Sumpter had been conducted across the country by five faithful adherents, till he was removed out of danger.

THREE of the enemy's (d.) colonels fell in the action, and General Sumpter received a severe wound in the shoulder. Upwards of one hundred Americans were killed and wounded, and fifty were made prisoners.

On the side of the British, Lieutenants GIBSON and COPE, of the 63d, were killed; and Lieutenant MONEY, aid-de-camp to Earl CORNWALLIS, who had commanded the detachment of mounted infantry, with great gallantry, was mortally wounded:
Another officer of the 63d, and two subalterns of the British legion, were likewise wounded. The former corps had also thirty, and the latter fifteen, non-commissioned officers and men, with thirty horses, killed and wounded.

GENERAL Sumpter made proper use of the good fortune which had manifested itself in his favour previous to the action; and if he had waited in his strong position at Blackstock's till dark, without advancing a corps to attack the 63d, and the cavalry, he might have withdrawn, in all probability, without his adversaries' knowledge; but, he would have been completely protected in the operation, even if they had notice of his intention; owing to the superiority of his numbers, and the advantages he derived from the situation of the ground, and the river; which could not be approached, after dark, by the British, till the light and legion infantry arrived; previous to which event, the rear guard of the Americans might certainly have passed the Tyger.

The light troops made very great exertions, to bring General Sumpter to action, and the hazard incurred by the cavalry, and 63d, was compensated by the complete dispersion of the enemy.

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