On the evening of August 18, two hundred mounted Patriot partisans under joint command of Colonels Isaac Shelby, James Williams, and Elijah Clarke prepared to raid a Loyalist camp at Musgrove’s Mill, which controlled the local grain supply and guarded a ford of the Enoree River. The Patriots anticipated surprising a garrison of about an equal number of Loyalists, but a local farmer informed them that the Tories had recently been reinforced by about a hundred Loyalist militia and two hundred provincial regulars on their way to join British Major Patrick Ferguson.
With their position compromised by an enemy patrol and horses unable to go on without rest, the Patriots understood that they must stand and fight despite being outnumbered better than two to one. At the top of a ridge across the road leading down to Musgrove Mill, the partisans quickly formed a semicircular breastwork of brush and fallen timber about three hundred yards long.
In the best tradition of guerrilla tactics, a band of about twenty men under the leadership of Captain Shadrach Inman crossed the Enoree and engaged the enemy. Feigning confusion they retreated back toward the line of ambush until the Loyalists were nearly on the Patriot line. When the Loyalists spotted the Patriot line, they fired too early. The Patriots, however, held their fire until the Loyalists got within killing range of their muskets.
Patriot musket fire operated “with devastating effect.” Nonetheless, the Tory regulars were well disciplined and nearly overwhelmed the Patriot right flank with a bayonet charge. (Frontiersmen had no bayonets.) Isaac Shelby ordered his reserve of “Overmountain Men” to support him, and they rushed into the battle shrieking Indian war cries. The Tories wavered, and when a number of their officers went down, they broke—although not before Captain Inman, who had a key role in implementing the Patriot strategy, was killed on the battlefield.
Patriots ran from their positions “yelling, shooting, and slashing on every hand.” The whole battle took perhaps an hour. Within that period, sixty-three Tories were killed, an unknown number wounded, and seventy were taken prisoner. The Patriots lost only about four dead and twelve wounded.