What the History Books Say About the Skirmish at Trading Ford on the Yadkin River

Report of the British Lt. Col Banastre Tarleton

From A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America by Lieutenant Colonel [Banastre]Tarleton, Commandant of the Late British-Legion. London: Printed to T. Cadell, in the Strand. M.DCC.LXXXVII. [1787]

He [Earl Cornwallis] reached Salisbury on the 4th [actually it was February 3], where some emissaries informed him, that General [Daniel] Morgan was at the Trading Ford, but had not passed the river.  Brigadier General O’Hara was directed to march to that place, with the guards, the regiment of Bose [Hessians] and the cavalry. Owing to rain, darkness, and bad roads, the troops did not arrive at the Yadkin till near midnight.

After a skirmish, it was discovered that Morgan’s corps had crossed in the evening, leaving a detachment of riflemen to protect some wagons and stores belonging to country people, who were fleeing with their effects, to avoid the British army. General O’Hara having made a fruitless effort to get possession of the flats and large boats upon the river, took post with the infantry on the ground which commanded the ford and the ferry, and sent back the cavalry to Salisbury. A heavy rain swelled the Yadkin the succeeding day and night, and General Morgan remained on the eastern bank, facing the British troops.

Earl Cornwallis finding that he could not attempt the Trading Ford, on account of the advantageous position of the enemy and depth of the river, detached the cavalry, supported by the 23rd regiment, on the afternoon of the 6th, to reconnotire Grant’s Creek, and the country beyond it. 

The Cowpens-Guilford Courthouse Campaign,
Burke Davis, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, page 95.

On Feb. 3, after a hard morning’s march through overflowing creeks and on miserable roads, Cornwallis reached Salisbury. It was still raining, and the weather was bitterly cold at night. Tories told the British that General Morgan was still crossing the Yadkin seven miles to the north, at Trading Ford, and General O’Hara was hurried off with a special command: the Guards, the Bose Regiment, and the cavalry. His orders were to prevent Morgan’s crossing and to destroy captured baggage of the enemy.

The poor roads, rainfall, and darkness kept O’Hara on the march until midnight, when he reached the ford. Rifle fire broke out in the darkness, and the Guards were put into files and sent forward. The enemy disappeared, except for a few who were taken prisoner; these men gave O’Hara bad news: Morgan had already crossed the river and Greene with him.   The Americans had gone across on flatboats which had been gathered from up and down the river and were now on the far side, under a bluff which concealed the retreating army. The few wagons caught by the British belonged to the refugees, and the scattered rifle fire had come from a rear guard left to protect them. The last of the Americans had now gone to the north bank.

The Rowan Story: 1753-1953,
A Narrative History of
Rowan County, North Carolina,
by James S. Brawley,
1953, Salisbury, North Carolina, Rowan Printing Company, page 80.

The next day, February 3rd, Cornwallis arrived in town and sent General O’Hara ahead to intercept any of Morgan’s army that might not have crossed the river.  When O’Hara arrived at Trading Ford, it was getting dark.  Morgan had passed his regulars and baggage over by that time, but there remained 150 militiamen and some wagons of Davidson’s force from Cowan’s Ford. Perceiving the approach of the British, the militia formed a half-mile from the ford near a branch, and there awaited O’hara. 

As the Americans were crouched low along the branch, the silhouettes of the English against the darkening sky offered the militia good targets. The Americans commenced firing when the enemy came within 60 yards and were in turn fired upon by the British who coolly formed their battle positions. The militiamen after giving a good account of themselves easily made good their retreat across the river in the darkness.

More Sources on the Skirmish on the Yadkin and the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution:

Randolph County, 1779-1979,
published by the
Randolph County Historical Society, 201 Worth St., Asheboro, NC 27203, 1970.

Hugh F. Rankin, Greene and Cornwallis: The Campaign in the Carolinas.
Raleigh: NC Divison of Archives &
History, 1976

Phillips Russell, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War, Charlotte, NC: Heritage Printers, Inc. 1965