Declaration by William Lenoir concerning his military service in the Revolutionary War
Lenoir, William, 1751-1839
Volume 22, Pages 135-142
In May 1833 he was residing in Wilkes County, N. C., and states he was born May 8th, 1751, in Brunswick County, Va., and lived, during his service in the war of the Revolution, in Surry (now Wilkes) County and he has resided there since. He was a volunteer in the service and that his commission as Lieutenant was signed by Governor Caswell, as he believes, but by whom his commission as Captain was signed he cannot say, as both are lost. After the said war he was promoted to higher rank in the Militia and gave no attention to the preservation of his former commission.
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In the year 1776 a requisition was made by the government, to raise a certain number of Militia, as minute men, and he volunteered as a private (although he was Lieutenant in the Militia Company of Capt. Joseph Herndon) under Capt. Jesse Walton, which was soon ordered to the eastern or lower part of N. C. to suppress an insurrection of the Scotch Tories. After he had proceeded about fifty miles assisted in the capture of the Tory, Colonel Gideon Wright, whose house was surrounded in the night, and conveyed him to the little town of Richmond, where he was disposed of in some manner not now recollected. After this event Lenoir was taken sick on the road rendering him unable to travel, and Capt. Walton discharged him. He made his way home with much difficulty. The calls for Militia from Surry County to suppress insurrection were repeated in quick succession and as soon as he was able to travel he volunteered as a Lieutenant of Militia Co. to which he belonged, commanded by Capt. Herndon, which marched to Shallow Ford on the Yadkin, distant 60 or 70 miles, from the place of rendezvous, when orders were received to return home. A very short time after the Company was ordered to the same point of destination as before and after marching the same distance, they were again directed to return home. In these two expeditions Lenoir was absent five weeks.
As Surry was a frontier County the inhabitants were much annoyed and alarmed by the frequent depredations of the Indians, it was necessary for the public safety and security that active measures should be adopted to effect that object and Lenoir was selected, by the Colonel of the County, to raise a Company of Rangers to patrol the frontier settlement and protect them from the incursions of the Indians. In obedience to this order he organized a Company which was stationed at a convenient point on the headquarters of the Yadkin River, from whence they ranged the country on the Blue Ridge for a considerable distance as well as west of it, between the water of the Yadkin and New River, the inhabitants of which localities, from depredations and the great danger of their exposure, were compelled to abandon their homes to seek security in the interior settlements. In this service, he believes, he was engaged as Captain of the Company for 6 weeks or upwards in the summer of 1776.
In August 1776 he volunteered as Lieutenant with Capt. Benjamin Cleveland in an expedition against the Cherokee Indians. His Company of Rangers having just returned from the expedition above
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mentioned, were not all prepared to join another, he accepted the position under Capt. Cleveland, who had a very large Company that required two Lieutenants, of which he was the first. He set out on the march under Colonel Martin Armstrong, the Colonel of the County, direct to the Pleasant Garden, in the County of Burke, where they joined General Griffith Rutherford to make the necessary organizations and other arrangements. From thence they went to the Cherokee Nation, the towns of which were generally abandoned, except by straggling Indians, women and children. Capt. Cleveland was stationed with a few men at the middle towns, while Lenoir was appointed to the command of the remainder of the Company, and marched, under Colonel Armstrong, to the Hiawassee towns, which they destroyed and killing some Indians. The S. C. Militia was to have met General Rutherford at the Middle Towns, but upon his arrival no intelligence could be obtained from them and he set out for the Hiawassee towns as before stated. After the departure of General Rutherford from the Middle towns, the S. C. troops arrived there and immediately started for Hiawassee with expectation of joining him at that place, but taking a different route they were attacked on the way by a party of Indians who had formed an ambuscade, but by the skilful and prudent conduct of their officers they were dislodged with a considerable number killed whom it is believed they carried off. The S. C. troops lost about 15 men who were buried in a swamp and upon whom they constructed a pole causeway, over which the Militia marched as they returned from the Hiawassee to the Middle towns. Lenoir served 20 days as Captain on this occasion. After having destroyed the Indian towns, with all their stock, corn, and other property that could be found, the troops returned to N. C. and their respective homes. Although but few were killed in this expedition, yet from the fatigue, exposure and privation, a great number died after they arrived home “much of which Lenoir suffered.” He believed he served 70 days as Lieutenant, making with the twenty days as Captain, three months. After his return home he was appointed Captain of the Company in the District where he resided, which rank he held until the close of the war. In 1777 Surry County was divided by an Act of the Legislature and Lenoir was included in that portion which is now Wilkes County, but his Company District was the same. Shortly after the division he was ordered by Colonel Benjamin Cleveland who was Colonel of the County,
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to march his Company down Hunting Creek to detect some outlying Tories and other suspicious characters. He was unsuccessfully employed for some weeks in the Spring of 1778. In the Fall of 1778 he, with his Company, accompanied Colonel Cleveland over the Blue Ridge and down New River to Virginia to detect and subdue some Tories who infested that section of the country and captured some of them and thus after restoring tranquility and apparent security to the settlements, recrossed the mountains for their homes. The Tories taken, after an examination, were permitted to go at large by promising future loyalty to the cause of independence. In some instances Colonel Cleveland administered the oath of allegiance. He was gone about 26 days. He was again ordered out with his Company to march across Brushy Mountain together with other troops under Colonel Cleveland, to subdue some Tories on Cowe’s Creek and its waters, who kept that neighborhood in a state of alarm. A Tory by the name of Williams was captured, from whom they endeavored to obtain information relative to suspected persons, but he refused to give any until Col. Cleveland adopted the expedient of hanging him to the limb of a tree, or a bent down sapling, which, however, did not produce the desired effect. This was repeated a second time with more severity, then only to give encouragement to the Whigs and alarm to the Tories. The result of the expedition was to restore a tolerable state of security in that part of the country. He was absent 20 days.
In May or June 1779 information was received that the Tory Captain Whitson with a Company was committing great depredations on the waters of the Catawba, and Lenoir was ordered with his Company and some others to march under Col. Cleveland up the Yadkin River, and across the Catawba, in quest of Whitson. On the march down the Catawba, Colonel Larkin Cleveland, a brother of Colonel Benjamin, was badly wounded by a shot from a high cliff of rocks, supposed from a Tory, who made his escape. Capt. Lenoir, with a detachment of forty men, well mounted, was ordered to patrol the country between the Catawba River and the South Fork after Whitson, which they did all night without success. On their return Colonel Cleveland returned home, after an absence of about one month. A short time after this last service Colonel Cleveland received (late in the afternoon) intelligence that the Tories were embodying, towards the head of the Yadkin, whereupon he repaired
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immediately to Wilkes C. H., distant fourteen miles from his residence, where Lenoir with what men he could collect immediately joined in and by their united exertion succeeded in raising about 200 men, and at daybreak on the following morning had marched to the place where the Tories were said to be, a distance estimated at 21 miles, but the Tories had fled with great precipitation towards the south. They promptly pursued them with all possible speed as far as Lincolnton, but did not arrive until after the celebrated battle at Ramsour’s Mills, in which the Tories were triumphantly defeated (June 20th, 1780). Upon hearing of this event they returned home, absent about one month.
In August or September 1780 he was ordered by Colonel Cleveland to march with his Company southwardly against the British and Tories who were harassing the people to great extremities in Burke County, and Colonel Cleveland receiving information of the encampment of about 100 Tories at Little John’s Meeting House, a few miles in advance of his troops, directed him to select 25 men, well mounted, to approach the Tory camp until they fired upon him, with strict injunction to retreat without returning the fire, in order to lead them into ambuscade, which he, Colonel Cleveland, would form for that purpose. This arrangement was countermanded by an express which was received before the Tory Camp was reached, and all the men to return except five, to be selected by Lenoir, with whom he was to proceed to execute the original arrangement, but he found the camp abandoned. They, however, advanced considerably farther into Burke County, where they joined a regiment from Virginia under Colonel Campbell and some Militia from the Northwestern side of the Blue Ridge under Colonels Sevier and Shelby, together with the Militia of Burke County under Col. Charles McDowell. With these reinforcements the march was continued southwardly until reaching Rutherford County, when they were informed of the progress and advance of a large body of British and Tories, commanded by Colonel Ferguson. Upon this intelligence orders were immediately given for every man that had a horse, or could procure a suitable one, to be ready to march at sunrise the next morning to oppose Ferguson. “There being no regular officer or even soldier except two belonging to the troops (and they having joined as Militia men) nor no militia officer above the grade of Colonel, it was agreed that Colonel Campbell of Virginia should command the whole detachment.
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They accordingly took up the line of march at the appointed time (leaving behind all those who had been unable to procure horses) and on the way were joined by some militia from South Carolina under the command of Colonel Williams, which augmented their number to about 700, according to the best calculation which he (Lenoir) could make (the footmen who were left behind amounting to about 1500). They continued their march all day that day and all night, it being very dark and rainy, and on the next day (being the 7th October 1780) attacked Colonel Ferguson on King’s Mountain near the line between North and South Carolina, and after a hot engagement, which lasted about three-quarters of an hour, achieved the total defeat of Colonel Ferguson and his whole army, every man of whom was in camp at the commencement of the action, being either killed or taken. The killed on the side of the enemy being estimated at 250 and on the side of the Whigs at 32. The remainder of the army amounting to about 937, according to the best estimate which could be made from the papers of the commander, were detained as prisoners of war. In this action, he (Lenoir) received two wounds from bullets, one in his side and the other in his arm and a third bullet passed through his hair above where it was tied.
The next day the American army started on their return with the prisoners (of whom as counted by Capt. Lenoir, 725 were embodied men) who, exclusive of officers, wounded, sick, etc., were compelled to carry the guns that had been taken, many taking two guns each and proceeded on until they met with the footmen who had been left behind. Together they marched to and halted in Rutherford County, where a court martial, composed of field officers, selected about 32 of the most obnoxious of the Tories who had been taken, and ordered them to be hung. After executing three at a time until nine were executed, the remainder were respited. The army then left Rutherford County with the prisoners for the Moravian towns in Stokes County, where they were stationed a considerable time guarding them, until relieved by other troops, then Capt. Lenoir with his Company returned home. Absent three months.
About the time, but before, Lord Cornwallis arrived at Salisbury from S. C., Capt. Lenoir, with his Company volunteered and also six other Captains from Wilkes County with their Companies, marched to join Gen. Greene, as they expected, at Salisbury. On the way, there being no Field Officers with the troops, a dispute arose be
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tween Lenoir and Capt. Benjamin Herndon respecting their seniority, or who was entitled to assume the command, and being unable to determine it themselves, agreed to leave it to the soldiers to make choice of a commander for that tour, when all but six followed Lenoir, and he assumed command accordingly. Before reaching Salisbury he was informed Gen. Greene had marched toward Virginia, and Cornwallis was in or near Salisbury and he changed his course towards Salem, crossing the Yadkin at Enoch’s Ferry. On the way he succeeded by stratagem in retaking three British officers, who had been captured by General Morgan at the battle of the Cowpens, but had made their escape from the guard. Several outlying Tories were also taken who were in the Company of the British officers. In pursuing his march they camped all night near the old Moravian town, where he learned that the British Army was then in that place. Not knowing where to find Gen. Greene he turned his course up the country to effect a junction with General Pickens, which took place near Mitchell’s River in Surry County. Selecting about forty mounted infantry he joined him and leaving the remainder of his troops which were under his command, under the command of Capt. Herndon, immediately set out with General Pickens towards Hillsboro, at which place Cornwallis was. Gen. Pickens having understood that Tarleton with his dragoons and infantry had crossed Haw River, set off immediately in pursuit, after being joined by Colonel Lee with his cavalry. They crossed Haw River at Batler’s Ford, but before overtaking Tarleton, fell in with a body of Tories under Doctor Pyles, a Tory Colonel, with whom they immediately engaged and literally cut them to pieces, some, however, made their escape and some were taken prisoners. When the conflict first commenced it was believed that they were a part of Col. Tarleton’s infantry, but they were not. Lenoir escaped without a wound himself, but had his horse wounded and his sword broken. General Pickens learning that Tarleton was encamped at Colo. O’Neil’s Mill detached Capt. Lenoir with a few men to reconnoitre his camp, by which means he learned that Tarleton had decamped about midnight going on the road towards Hillsboro. General Pickens being apprised of this movement, started forthwith in pursuit, but finding that he could not be overtaken before arriving at Hillsboro, it was abandoned and he turned his course up the north side of Haw River. On the following second or third night it was learned that the whole British Army was after General Pickens and near at
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hand, Colonel Lee, with his dragoons, having left General Pickens. Major Micajah Lewis a Federal officer went out to reconnoitre, as well as to ascertain the facts, but unfortunately approaching too near to Tarleton’s dragoons, believing them to be Lee’s, he received several wounds that terminated his life. General Pickens continued his march and joined General Greene near the High Rock Ford on Haw River.
At this time Lenoir being Clerk of the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions for Wilkes County, and the session of the Court coming on in a few days, it was necessary for him to return home. He accordingly obtained leave of absence from the service. Absent six weeks. This last expedition terminated his military service during the war, although considerable other service was performed which has not been enumerated herein. He died May 6th, 1839. In a letter dated Fort Defiance May 16th, 1833, he states that he was commissioned Colonel of cavalry of the 5th Division of N. C. Militia, and Major General of said 5th Division in January, 1795.