By the spring of 1780 the war for America’s independence, begun five years earlier in Massachusetts, had moved south. Following decisive victories in Georgia and South Carolina, the British army under the command of Lord Cornwallis was poised to enter North Carolina.
In early June, Lieutenant Colonel John Moore and Major Nicholas Welch, native sons of Lincoln County from the Indian Creek settlement, returned home and issued a call for local residents to assemble and support the British. Moore and Welch had earlier joined with the British to help organize Loyalist militia units. By the evening of June 19, over 1,000 men and boys, many of them unarmed, camped on the east bank of Clark’s Creek on the land of Christian Reinhardt. One the west bank of the creek, opposite Reinhardt’s farm, was a gristmill operated by Jacob Ramsour.
While the Loyalists were assembling on Clark’s Creek, a Patriot force of some 400 men was being gathered to disperse them. Composed primarily of men from Rowan, Burke, Iredell and Mecklenburg counties, these militia units, commanded by various officers, had been together for some time. On the evening of June 19, the Patriot force, about one-fourth of the men mounted cavalry, assembled on Mountain Creek that was located sixteen miles northeast of Ramsour’s Mill.
In a discussion of possible action, cavalry officers Major James Rutherford and Captain Galbraith Falls proposed making a surprise attack. After considerable debate by other officers, a decision was made to attack the Loyalist encampment at daybreak. The Patriot militia units left Mountain Creek and made a night march to Ramsour’s Mill.
At dawn on Tuesday, June 20, 1780, a heavy fog blanketed Christian Reinhardt’s farm. Led by their cavalry, the Patriots marched to battle, coming close to the encampment before being discovered. The surprise attack caught the Loyalists off guard, but they quickly rallied and opened a destructive fire. In the first charge, Captain Gilbraith Falls was mortally wounded. Fighting became fierce, often hand to hand, but gradually Patriot forces gained the advantage. The Loyalists retreated down the ridge toward the mill, crossing to west side of the creek where they quickly dispersed into the countryside. In less than two hours, all fighting had ceased.
As the morning fog lifted, the scene revealed many dead and wounded men scattered across the battlefield. An estimated seventy men had been killed and two hundred wounded, some so severely that they died within days. Casualties were about equally divided between the two sides, although the Patriot loss in officers was quite high.
By midday, a large force of Patriot militia commanded by General Griffith Rutherford reached the battlefield. Work began at aiding the wounded and burying the dead. While the bodies of some men killed in the battle were returned to their homes for burial, the majority of the dead were placed in a deep trench on the west side of the hill. Unable to distinguish Loyalist from Patriots since the men wore no uniforms, the dead were respectfully buried together. As men continued to die from their wounds in the coming days, other graves had to be opened.
Today, the 1780 farm of Christian Reinhardt contains three modern public schools, athletic fields, playgrounds, streets, and parking lots. Dotted among them are four known burial sites.