Military Exploits of James McCall
For use by McCall's State Dragoons Living Historians (AKA 3d CLD)
by Ron Crawley

James McCall was born August 11, 1741. His parents, James and Janet Harris McCall,  immigrated from Ireland, likely Scots Irish, and began farming on Conachcocheque Creek, Pennsylvania about 1730. The family moved to New River, Virginia about 1750 but left for Anson County, North Carolina about 1760 to escape Indian attacks in the area. James McCall, Sr. had a brother, Thomas, who settled in the same county (now Mecklenburg) on the Reedy Creek whose daughter, Elizabeth, married James McCall (Jr.) in 1763.

Around 1770, James McCall (Jr.) and Elizabeth, with three children, moved to the Calhoun settlement on Little River (a branch of Long Cane Creek) in what is now Abbeville County, South Carolina. It is said that James became a captain of “SC Minute Men” in 1774 and a captain of “SC Rangers” in 1775. Both units are likely to be part of the patrols that regularly guarded the Indian frontier in the Western Carolinas. James went on to fight for the Patriot cause in at least 18 engagements, in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, rising in rank from Captain to Lieutenant Colonel of SC State Troops, and was wounded during the battle at Long Cane. Elizabeth gave birth to five more children before her husband's untimely death of smallpox in April-May of 1781.

During the period of the American Revolution, James McCall and his men were in the engagements at Ninety-Six (1775), Cherokee Nation, the Third Florida Expedition, Kettle Creek (GA), Fort Anderson, Old Iron Works, Musgrove's Mill, Fishdam Ford, Blackstock's, Rutledge Ford, Augusta (GA), Long Cane, Hammonds Store, Cowpens, Harts Mill (NC), Pyle's Defeat (NC), Wetzel's Mill (NC), and Beattie's Mill as detailed below.

James McCall appears in a return of Whig militia and volunteers on duty in a fortified camp at Ninety-Six, 19 November 1775 under the command of Major Andrew Williamson. McCall commanded the largest single group (3 officers, 3 sergeants, and 48 privates) in this camp of 564 men.  The camp was under siege by Loyalists for two days after which Williamson agreed to a surrender and his men were sent home unmolested.  Note: In some accounts he is mistakenly identified as a commander of "Georgia Militia."

On 20 June 1776, Captain James McCall was entrusted with a mission to lead a party of 33 men into the Cherokee Nation to capture Alexander Cameron, the appointed agent by the British government for the Cherokees.  He was to proceed in a friendly and hospitable manner and, on 26 June, entered a large town (perhaps near modern Clemson) and arranged a conference with several leaders.  As the discussion began,  McCall and his interpreter were taken prisoner and two hundred warriors attacked the camp.  The men managed to cut their way out of the ambush and return home several days later but McCall was held for some weeks.  More than once, he was forced to witness executions of his men (one of whom was a 12 year old boy).  He effected his escape, traversing the mountains for 300 miles on horseback, riding without a saddle, until he entered Virginia and fell in with a body of Virginian troops and returned to SC.  (Click here for an account of this event from "South Carolina and the American Revolution")

In 1778, Georgia troops under Governor John Houston and South Carolina troops under Colonel Andrew Pickens, teamed with Georgia and South Carolina continentals under the overall command of General Howe and traveled toward St. Augustine in the Florida Expedition. Sporadic fighting began soon after crossing the St. Mary’s River.  Skirmishing occurred 29 - 30 June on the flanks of the advancing Whigs. Then, on 1 July,  a significant force of British Regulars surprised a group of Americans that were, essentially, rear echelon support. This was the biggest battle of the Third Florida Expedition. As the days wore on the food ran out and expected relief never showed up. Over a period of days in the middle of July the Whig forces began the long trip back to Savannah.

About 700 Tories from South and North Carolina, under the command of Colonel James Boyd set up camp at Kettle Creek in Georgia on 14 February 1779.  An earlier skirmish at Vann's Creek alerted Colonels John Dooly and Andrew Pickens to the Loyalist's presence in Wilkes County.  With a combined force of South Carolina and Georgians, including Captain James McCall, totaling just 340 men, Colonel Pickens achieved a hard-fought victory for the Patriot cause.  (Click here for an excellent account of this battle, the tactics of which were studied afterwards by the US Army).

In June 1780, McCall and several small bands of Georgians, joined Colonel Elijah Clarke's forces who were again moving into South Carolina to join Thomas Sumter on the Catawba River. Sumter sent Clarke to aid in the suppression of Patrick Ferguson's men who were then operating west of the Broad River near Thicketty Creek.  At Cherokee Ford, McDowell, Shelby, Clarke, Hampton, and others gathered (some 600 in number) with the intention of taking Fort Anderson. The men holding the fort, 93 Loyalists and one British Sgt-Major, surrendered and were paroled on 30 July 1780.

Colonel McDowell detached Shelby, Clarke, and Graham (about 600 strong) to watch Ferguson's 1,800 troops in present day Union County. McCall and his men were again serving under Clarke at this time. They were soon forced, by superior numbers, out of the area and, on the evening of 7 August 1780, Clarke went into camp on Fair Forest Creek about 2 miles west of Cedar Springs.  He was compelled to fall back to the Old Iron Works on Lawson Fork on 8 August.  McDowell's total force now numbered about 1000 men which slightly outnumbered the advancing British forces under Major James Dunlop, provincial dragoons and mounted militia.  Dunlop commenced the conflict but was beaten back with some difficulty yet, after having been reinforced by Ferguson's entire command, it was soon the Patriots turn to withdraw. The stand-up fight was won by the Patriots but the overall victory fell to the British as they retained the field after forcing McDowell's withdrawal. Note: also known as "Wofford's Iron Works" or "Second Battle of Cedar Springs" or "The Peach Orchard" among other names.

On 17 August 1780, McDowell again detached Shelby and Clarke (including McCall), along with troops under Colonel James Williams who had recently joined the party at Smith's Ford on the Broad River (York County), to attacked Ferguson's garrison at Musgrove's Mill.  Some 200 men rode all night to arrive at Musgrove's at dawn the next day.  The small garrison had recently been reinforced by Colonel Alexander Innes who led 200 Provincial troops and 100 Tories.  The resulting battle ended in a complete rout of the British forces.  

After the battle at Musgrove's Mill, Colonel Clarke was determined to return to Georgia and recover a portion of the state which had been his home since 1765.  The weakened garrison at Augusta made a likely target and Lieutenant Colonel McCall later joined Clarke, hoping to raise 500 volunteer from his home around Ninety-Six.  The area proved to be a Tory stronghold and the few Whigs present were reluctant to violate the paroles that had resulted from their earlier capture. Instead of 500, McCall raised just 80 men and marched to Soap Creek in Georgia, joining Clarke whose command now numbered 350.  On 14 September 1780, Clarke was on the outskirts of Augusta and engaged the garrison, 150 Provincial troops and about 200 of their Cherokee allies, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Browne. Browne gained possession of Robert McKay's Trading Post, also known as the "White House", which Clarke surrounded and laid siege for four days until the morning of the 18th.  British reinforcements across the river compelled the Patriots to retire, the men scattering across the country side until they rendezvoused with Clarke later in the month.

On the evening of 8 November 1780, Colonel McCall and his party from Long Cane joined General Sumter's camp on the Broad River at Fishdam Ford in present Chester county. Despite the warnings of a reconnaissance party top withdraw across the river, Sumter maintained his camp but put his men on alert. Major James Wemyss and his 63rd Regiment, marching faster than expected, arrived at the ford early on the morning of the 9th and decided to proceed with an attack before sunrise. Driving in the pickets, Wemyss' dragoon found an empty camp with campfires blazing, and became excellent, silhouetted targets for Sumter's men. Wheeling about, the dragoon were joined by dismounted infantry but were forced to withdraw under heavy fire from the front and flanks. Wemyss was wounded early in the engagement and Sumter escaped an assassination attempt by dashing from his tent to the safety of the river bank, leaving both forces without an overall commander.  After a 20 minute fire fight  the British troops remounted and retreated.

On 20 November 1780, Sumter was encamped at Blackstock's farm near the ford on the Tyger River. Tarleton detached 170 Legion cavalry and 80 mounted Infantry of the 63rd Regiment from his force in an effort to engage the Patriots before they could gain safety by crossing the river. He met a numerically superior (420 men) and well deployed force. McCall and other South Carolinians, led by Sumter himself, held the ground to the right of the house and gained the flank of the attacking infantry.  Col. Edward Lacey's mounted infantry dealt a serious blow to the onrushing Legion cavalry and the men of Col. Henry Hampton, secure within the farm buildings, mauled the 63rd. In the end, 192 of Tarleton's men were killed or wounded while Sumter's force suffered one dead and three wounded, one of the wounded being Sumter.  That evening, the Patriots slipped across the river and Tarleton claimed the field, and a victory, the next morning.

After the action at Blackstock's Farm, Sumter's command, now under Colonel Edward Lacey, established a camp at Liberty Hill on Turkey Creek (York County).  Clarke and McCall took leave of Lacey and were determined to move on Ninety Six and, after a few days rest at Wofford's Iron Works, they headed toward a Loyalist party at Hoil's (or "Hoyles") Old Place on the Saluda River. Upon learning that the Patriots were approaching, the Tories abandoned the location and crossed the Saluda at Rutledge's Ford (or Fort Rutledge), seventeen or eighteen miles down stream. The opposing parties fought a skirmish across Rutledge Shoals at rifle range. Although they were separated by the Saluda River, this affair was conducted in such deadly earnest that several people were killed on both sides (including Captain Benjamin Hatcher of the Patriot side).  The date of the engagement is not know but has been said to be 1 December 1780.

On their way to the area of Long Cane, (or "Long Canes") Clark and McCall were joined by Colonel Benjamin Few of Georgia who took command of the group, now about 500 in number.  Concerned about the Patriot presence in the area, Colonel John Harris Cruger commanding the garrison at Ninety Six dispatched Lt. Col. Isaac Allen and 450 men.  The were within three miles of the Long Cane camp on 11 December 1780 when Few sent Clarke and McCall to engage the enemy while he brought up the main force.  At the head of just 100 men, Clarke and McCall initially forced the retreat of the Loyalists but both men were wounded and carried from the field, along with Major Lindsay, leaving the Patriots without a leader.  When the expected support from Few failed to materialize, the remains of Clarke's command retreated and were charged by enemy dragoons.  Upon returning to camp, the men found Colonel Few and his main force under orders to retreat and ready to move out, apparently never intending to make good on the promise of reinforcements. The 14 killed and seven wounded were all from Clarke and McCall's commands while the British force had three killed and three wounded.

On Christmas Day 1780, General Daniel Morgan established a camp at Grindall Shoals on the Pacolet River (Union County) where Andrew Pickens, with McCall, joined him with about 100 men.  Still recovering from his wounds at Long Cane, Clarke was absent and his men were led by Major John Cunningham.  A body of Loyalists under Colonel Thomas Waters had been preying on the Fair Forest Creek area of the nearby Spartanburg District and Morgan sent Col. Washington with 75 cavalrymen, along with McCall at the head of 200 mounted volunteers of his own men and Clarke's Georgians, to dislodge them. The Loyalists, hearing of the force sent to destroy them, moved off about 20 miles to Hammond's Store on the Bush River, in Laurens county. After a 40 mile ride, Washington and the Patriot force charged the Tories on 30 December 1780 killing and wounding 150 and taking 40 prisoners.

The 17 January 1781 engagement at Cowpens was a massive Patriot victory led by General Daniel Morgan and resulted in the complete rout of Banastre Tarleton.  McCall's two companies of horsemen who were equipped as dragoons were commanded during the battle by Captains Alexander Luckie and Samuel Taylor.  McCall was put in command of 45 additional mounted troops who were provided with sabers the night before. These men were hand picked from Pickens's command, were mostly South Carolinians although some Georgians were also present. The mounted forces were assigned to William Washington and served alongside his 80 man Continental cavalry regiment. At the end of the battle, 184 of the British force was either killed or wounded and 600 of them were prisoners.  Morgan lost just 11 killed and 61 wounded. [There is no better account of the role of the cavalry in this battle than Lawrence Babbits' A Devil of A Whipping]

General Greene directed the militia, now led by recently promoted General Andrew Pickens, to operate in the rear of Cornwallis' army as it moved through North Carolina. About one-half of Pickens command had been allowed to return home when the militia left their home state but he was joined by riflemen from NC and VA, and his strength was now about 360 men.  Pickens detached Colonel McCall and his 45 horsemen to strike the British picket post at Hart's Mill, about 2-1/2 miles from Hillsboro.  On 17 February 1781, McCall's men swept up the picket, killing or capturing the entire command.

General Greene detached General Pickens and Lt. Colonel Lee to watch Tarleton's movements in the area which resulted in an encounter known as Pyle's Defeat (also "Pyle's Massacre", "Pyle's Hacking March", or "Haw River") which occurred on February 25, 1781.  The Patriot force, about 200 in number, surprised a body of recently recruited Tories led by Colonel John Pyle near the Haw River.  Due to confusion created by the distinctive uniforms of Lee's Legion, Pyle's men believed the Patriots to be loyalist friends and were caught completely by surprise. 

There is considerable reason to believe McCall may have been in the encounter at Wetzel's Mill, NC (also Weitzell's Mill, Whitsell's Mill, or Reedy Fork Creek). During General Greene's march to the Dan River, Colonel Otho Williams commanded a force of 700 light troops formerly under General Daniel Morgan which included William Washington's dragoons, "Light Horse Harry" Lee's Legion, and Andrew Pickens militia. On 6 March 1781, Williams received notice of the approach of 1200 men led by Lord Cornwallis and intent on harassing the American forces.  Choosing to avoid a fight, Williams employed his dragoons to cover the retreat.  Often times the rear guard found themselves on the flanks of the rapidly approaching force as the Patriots raced for the ford over the Reedy Fork Creek.  At the crossing, Williams again selected the dragoons and the militia under Colonel Andrew Pickens to provide covering fire while the Continentals crossed the creek. Once on the other side of the creek, they covered the withdrawal of the rear guard. After suffering 50 casualties, the Americans continued their retreat, having inflicted a loss to the British force of only 21.
Some accounts state that due to the large Loyalist force remaining in the state, and news of possible unrest among the Indians, General Greene ordered General Pickens back to the SC.  Another version suggests the idea came from the Militia troops in response to their disgust at being used to cover the retreat of William regular troops at Wetzel's Mill and the fact militia was seldom called on to fight so far from home.  In any case, on his return, Pickens was joined by Colonel Clarke's command and received the news that Major James Dunlop with 75 British dragoons had been sent out from Ninety-Six on a foraging expedition. He at once detached Clarke and McCall and, on 24 March 1781, they met Dunlop at Beattie's Mill on Little River (thought to be the present Martin's Mill in modern Abbeville County). Dunlop entrenched himself in the mill and outbuildings and resisted for several hours. After 34 of his men had been killed and others wounded, himself among the latter, he sent out a flag of truces and surrendered. By the next day, Dunlop was dead, apparently murdered by his captors while enroute to Watuga. The encounter is also known as "Dunlop's Defeat."

After the encounter at Beattie's Mill, Col. Clarke returned to Georgia and took McCall and a portion of his regiment with him.  On or about 12 April 1781, both men contracted smallpox. Clarke turned his command over to his Lt. Col. and eventually recovered but McCall, after returning to Abbeville County, succumbed to the illness and died the following month.

According to the James McCall Chapter of the DAR (Washington, D.C.) yearbook history:

Col. James McCall "was born in 1746;  Prior to the Revolution, he served in an Indian uprising as captain of the South Carolina Rangers. On June 26, 1776, he was taken prisoner by the Indians at Cherokee Town, D.C. Shortly afterward he made his escape. During the Revolution, he served as Lieutenant Colonel of SC Troops under General Thomas Sumter. In December 1780, he was wounded twice; on the 4th, in the area at Rugley's Mills, on the 11th at Long Cane, S.C. Later he narrowly escaped death by entanglement with his falling horse when it was shot from under him. In May  1781,  at the age of 35 years he died of small pox. Mrs. Ells Marcus Bull was the Organizing Regent of our chapter which was named after her great grandfather.

(cf.  Heitman's Register,  pp.383:  History of Georgia by Capt. Hugh McCall, written in 1784, McCall, Tidwell and Allied Families by Ettie T. McCall)

[Note: Most accounts show McCall was born in 1741 and NOT 1746.  Cherokee Town is obviously not in "D.C." and is believed to have been in vicinity of modern Clemson, SC.  McCall was mostly likely not at Rugeley's Mill but this encounter may have been mistaken for Rutledge Ford.]

This from


James McCall, Jr., son of James McCall and Janet Harris McCall, was born in Pennsylvania in 1741.  He was taken by his parents to southwestern Virginia about 1750 and then to Mecklenburg County about 1760.  He was married there in 1763 to Elizabeth McCall, his cousin, daughter of Thomas McCall and Margaret Greenfield McCall.  In 1771 they removed to Calhoun Settlement, South Carolina.  In 1774 he was a captain of the South Carolina Minute Men.  In 1775 he was a captain in the "South Carolina Rangers," a militia company.  He served under Gen. Elijah Clarke in the siege of Augusta, Georgia.  He fought in 17 battles, was wounded in the Battle of Long Cane, South Carolina and emerged a lieutenant colonel in the Continental army.  He fought with Gen. Marion in the Battle of Cowpens, Battle of 96, Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the Battle of King's Mountain.  He died of smallpox April 16, 1781 in Georgia at the age of 40.

[Note: It is believed that McCall's commission was NOT in the Continental Army, but rather a state commission from the SC governor. McCall never fought under Francis Marion, although at times he served under Pickens, Clarke, Sumter, Wm. Washington, and possibly Henry Lee. He was NOT present at Kings Mountain, although he may have been mistaken for a James McCall from Washington County VA who did fight in that engagement. The date of death is questionable but other accounts show he contracted smallpox in GA but died in SC near the home of Dr. Joseph Swearington (or Swearingin).]

This from :

Born 11 Aug. 1741 - Died 1 Apr 1781 (May)
Married 1760 to Margaret McCall (his cousin), Born 1745 - Died 1805
James McCall moved to South Carolina during the war years around 1771-1772. He served as a captain in the rangers and was taken prisoner at Cherokee Town on 26 June 1776. Shortly thereafter, he escaped from the Indians. He became a lieutenant colonel in the state troops and was wounded during the battles at Rugeley's Mill on 4 December 1780 and at Long Cane on 11 December, 1780. In addition he was in the siege of Augusta and the battles at Fish Dam Ford, Blackstock's Plantation, Ninety Six and Cowpens. He died during May, 1781, of smallpox.

[Note: With the exception of the mention of "Rugeley's Mill", this seems to an accurate, although far from complete, account]


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