CROSS ANCHOR — Everyone likes a rivalry.
Clemson vs. Carolina. Kennedy vs. Nixon. Duke vs. North Carolina.
That is what the Battle of Blackstock was. It was British Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton vs. American Brigadier Gen. Thomas Sumter, also known as the Gamecock. Both of these leaders were loved by some and hated by others. Tarleton was a master tactician while Sumter was a great motivator. This second and final meeting of the two turned out to be a game changer.
The Battle of Fishing Creek
Their first battle did not go well for Sumter.
The Battle of Fishing Creek took place on Aug. 18, 1780. It was a decisive victory for the British. Tarleton was able to completely surprise Sumter’s camp. The battle was devastating and produced over 150 Patriot casualties as well as over 300 captured.
Sumter, who according to some accounts was either asleep or just plain drunk under a wagon when the attack began, was nearly captured but managed to ride away into the night. Badly beaten, his army in disarray, Sumter did what he did best. He used Fishing Creek to motivate local militia to join his cause and raised a force of over 1,000 men.
The Battle Of Blackstock
The Battle of Blackstock took place on Nov. 20, 1780.
Tarleton was sent by his superior, Lord Cornwallis, to track down and deal with Sumter. For several days, Tarleton tracked Sumter, trying to engage and destroy him once and for all. Finally locating Sumter, Tarleton made a critical decision to press on without his artillery piece and much of his infantry. He doubled up people on horseback and road ahead without his full force, arriving at Blackstock with 300 men.
The problem for Tarleton was that directly in front of him was Sumter’s Patriot force of 1,200 men. Tarleton did not want to engage Sumter immediately, but instead wait for the rest of his army to arrive.
Sumter, however, had other ideas and sought to provoke Tarleton into a fight by engaging his right flank.
Tarleton’s infantry was soon bogged down, sustaining huge losses, presenting Tarleton with the critical decision of how to save his infantry. To do so, Tarleton led a charge of his dragoons up the hill toward the Patriot positions to draw the fire away from his infantry to allow it to advance.
Although this accomplished his goal of freeing up his infantry, Tarleton’s decision placed his beloved dragoons in the hornets nest of fire. At one point, the road was clogged by the piles of dead British soldiers and dead horses.
Night fell and the retreats began, but history had been written. Tarleton has lost the momentum.
Tarleton later claimed he only lost 50 men at Blackstock, but most historians put the number at 100 British soldiers killed along with 30 of their horses.
While he won the battle, Sumter himself did not escape unscathed. He suffered a severe buckshot wound and had to be carried out of the area on a makeshift litter made of animal skins. His wound would leave him sidelined until the spring of 1781.
The Battle of Blackstock — in my opinion as well as many others — was the single most important battle of the entire war. It was important because it was the first time that Tarleton’s feared Dragoons were defeated. It showed that Tarleton could be beat. It was important because after Camden and many other setbacks the Patriots needed a tactical victory to rally support. It was important because this Patriot victory led to something bigger, The Battle of Cowpens and an even greater Patriot victory.
The victory at Cowpens convinced Cornwallis to leave South Carolina, setting him on a path that led to Yorktown in Virginia and defeat by George Washington, essentially bringing an end to the American Revolution and securing America’s independence.
On Nov. 17, 2012, a memorial was held to mark the Battle of Blackstock. Park Ranger Brian Robson was on hand to welcome visitors and answer questions. Various groups from around the state laid wreaths at the monument.
History teacher Michael Burgess of the Lexington County School District was on hand to set the stage for a beginning to the end walk through of the battle. Mr. Burgess has been visiting Blackstock for years with his father and now with his two sons.
Today, Blackstock sits in pure, raw woodlands. Robson stated that the park service wanted to eventually put facilities in and restore the battlefield to its original 60-acre open field. He explained that funds are not available at this time to do these improvements.
This battlefield is a wonderful place to hike, see nature, and spend time reflecting on what happened in present day Union County some 232 years ago.