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The Battle of Charlotte

By William Lee Anderson III

Anderson grew up in Charlotte and is very involved in Charlotte’s experience in the Revolutionary War. He has written several articles about the Revolutionary War and led the campaign to get two historical markers placed and helped to save an over 200-year-old Patriot cemetery.

The Battle of Charlotte marked the beginning of a turning point in the southern campaign of the American Revolution (1775-1783).From September 11 to 24, 1780 Lord Cornwallis assembled his troops along the Waxhaw Creek, in South Carolina, preparing to invade North Carolina. Under Major General Jethro Sumner and Brigadier General William Davidson, American forces camped along McAlpine Creek, near present-day Old Providence Road. On September 24, 1780, Cornwallis marched his troops over state lines towards Charlotte.

American forces had no realistic expectation of stopping Cornwallis and many withdrew northward towards Salisbury. Earlier, Sumner had ordered Colonel William R. Davie to keep his 150 cavalrymen in Charlotte and to shield the retreating American foot soldiers from the advancing British cavalrymen. Mecklenburg and Lincoln County militia cavalrymen under Captain Joseph Graham and Major Joseph Dickson joined Davie. Davie posted these cavalrymen at the Charlotte courthouse in three ranks. 

About noon on 26 September, Cornwallis’ 2000-man army entered Charlotte along present-day South Tryon Street. The British Legion horsemen under Major George Hanger led the column. When within musket range of the courthouse, the Americans fired a volley forcing the British Legion to fall back. Twice more, the British attacked and were repulsed as Davie ordered each rank forward. Lord Cornwallis appeared and admonished the British Legion that their reputation was at risk.

As the main body of the British Army approached, Davie had no choice but to retreat. Facing overwhelming numbers, he managed an organized retreat. For the rest of the day and for many miles, Davie’s soldiers skirmished with the British cavalry. Near the “Cross Roads”, present-day Eastway Drive, Captain Graham was severely wounded and left for dead while, farther down the road, Lieutenant George Locke from Rowan County was killed. Fortunately, Davie succeeded in protecting the remaining American foot soldiers.

No doubt, Cornwallis was pleased with his invasion of North Carolina. He set up his headquarters in Colonel Thomas Polk’s house and issued a celebratory proclamation. However, the battle of Charlotte was indicative of the region’s violent resistance. Within just 16 days, the entire situation was reversed and Cornwallis retreated back to South Carolina. According to tradition, Cornwallis referred to Charlotte and Mecklenburg County as a “hornet’s nest of rebellion.”


Anderson, William Lee, "Where Did Cornwallis's Army Invade North Carolina?" 2008.

Graham, William A., General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1904).

Morrill, Dan L., Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution (Baltimore: Nautical & Aviation Publishing Company of America, 1993).

Stedman, Charles., The History of the Origin, Progress, and Termination of the American War (London: J. Murray, 1794).

Robinson, Blackwell P., Revolutionary War Sketches of William R. Davie (Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1976).

Tags:   American Revolution  |   Meck Dec

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