Monday, January 5, 2009

Otho Williams's Retreat to the Haw

A couple of years ago I thought about writing an account of the Battle of Weitzel's Mill, which happened March 6, 1781 between the forces of Cornwallis and some of Greene’s forces under the command of Col. Otho Williams and Harry “Lighthorse” Lee among others. But recently I found that my new friend Stewart Dunaway has written one already: One of the issues I struggled with, back when I was reading up on the matter, was the question of where Col. Otho Williams retreated to when he left Weitzel’s Mill?

Many modern writers suggest that Col. Williams crossed the Haw at High Rock Ford (see, for example, Thomas J. Edmonds' excellent booklet The Tactical Retreat of Gen. Nathaniel Greene), but when Col. Williams wrote to Gen. Green immediately after the battle, Williams made it sound as though his location was NOT at High Rock Ford.

Col. Williams wrote from “Camp near the Old Bridge on the Haw River” on March 7th, 1781: "We continued to retire about five miles, where we encamped, and were refreshing ourselves, when Major Burnet delivered the instructions from you, which induced me to cross the Haw river, and take post here."

Gen. Joseph Graham’s account of these events mostly agrees. He says that Williams sent a messenger to Greene to ask "whether it is his will that I file off to the right at a place he mentioned. Tell him that I shall keep along the road until I receive orders." Graham personally delivered this message to Greene and so we can assume that it is as accurate an account of the message as possible. Graham continued: "After examination it was decided that Colonel Williams's cavalry, and all of the light troops should file off at the place proposed, which led to Carthy's Bridge on Troublesome Creek, which they crossed about midnight and encamped."

Graham’s assertion that they crossed the river and camped about midnight is entirely consistent with William’s description (Williams was ready to camp south of the river, but moved across the river after hearing from Maj. Burnett, who presumable accompanied Graham). The only major inconsistency is that Graham says they crossed Troublesome Creek, but this is probably just a mistaken recollection on Graham’s part, as Troublesome Creek would have been much too far away to be correct. Also, Graham was writing decades later, whereas Williams’s letter was contemporaneous.

Late the day after the Battle of Weitzel’s Mill, Col. Williams wrote from “Rob Marlay’s”, to say that his men remain where Gen Greene left them because it is the only place in the area where they can get forage for the cavalry horses and that he has sent out parties to investigate a report that an enemy party “this afternoon” was near “the Old Bridge.”

So, it appears that Williams was camped at Rob Marlay’s, near the “Old Bridge” (which Graham calls Carthy’s Bridge, rightly or not). So where is that? It doesn’t seem like it would be at High Rock Ford because: 1) I don’t think there was a bridge there; it was a ford. 2) I think they would have called it High Rock Ford if that is where they were speaking of. 3) If Williams had asked whether to “file off to the right” and was ordered to do so, then he would have turned off of the road to High Rock Ford – to the right, i.e. to the East. So where was he?

I think he must have turned off along what is now more-or-less Troxler Mill Road and that they crossed the Haw at an old bridge that stood in that vicinity. Perhaps it would be informative to search for old deeds bearing the name Rob Marlay (or Marley) to see where he lived (if any such deeds exist).

1 comment:

  1. I have been researching this battle for a year. In 1990 I lived in a house on Lee Lewis Road. It is right next to Jug House road in troxler mill road. I was sent an e-mail from a editor that was writing a paper on the history of this location. She said that Jug house road was given this name because after the battle of the guilford county court house some of the solder's made their houses out of jugs. I have many questions that need answered by the experiences that I witnessed while living there.