The evening before the battle, a small scouting party approached the bridge and saw only a small encampment on the north side of the bridge. They were not aware of the much larger force hidden behind the earthworks on the south side of the bridge. They reported their findings back to Lt. Colonel McLeod, who then believed they would encounter little to no resistance when crossing the bridge.
At dawn on February 27, 1776, the Highland Scots, under the command of Lt. Colonel McLeod and Captain John Campbell, arrived at the bridge to find it blocked by Americans, commanded by Colonels Alexander Lillington and Richard Caswell.
The Loyalists rushed at the bridge, only to be met by heavy Patriot fire at point-blank range. The Scots, armed only with broadswords, stood little chance against the rifles of the Patriots. With the whole attacking party cut down in just three minutes, the Americans rushed across the bridge in a counter-attack, forcing the remaining Highlanders and Loyalists to flee.
The Patriots were victorious, having had only one man killed and one wounded, while inflicting about 70 casualties, including the deaths of both McLeod and Campbell, upon their enemy and preventing the planned rendezvous with the British regulars. Private John Grady of Duplin County was the first North Carolinian killed in battle during the American Revolution. Over 850 Loyalists were captured over the next few days.
On February 27, at 1:00 A.M., the loyalists set out on their march, with a party of 75 picked broadswordsmen under Capt. John Campbell in the lead. By now MacDonald had fallen ill, and Donald McLeod was in command. The going was slow, for the route lay through thickets and swampy ground. During the night Caswell abandoned the camp and withdrew across the creek. Once on the other side, Caswell's men removed the planks and greased the girders. Posting artillery to cover the bridge, they waited in darkness for the advancing Scots.
An hour before dawn, the loyalists came upon Caswell's deserted camp and found the fires burning low. Moving on to nearly woods, McLeod regrouped his men and passed the rallying cry - "King George and Broad Swords" - along the line. There, they waited for daybreak. Suddenly gunfire sounded near the bridge. Though it was not yet light, McLeod couldn't wait any longer. Three cheers rang out - the signal for the attack - and the loyalists rushed the partly demolished bridge with broadswords out and bagpipes skirling. Picking their way over the bridge and onto the opposite bank, they got within 30 paces of the American earthworks before they were met by a withering fire of musketry and artillery. Nearly all the advance party were cut down, and the whole force soon retreated. It was all over in a few minutes. Pursuit turned the repulse into a rout.
Within weeks, the Americans had captured "all suspected person" and disarmed them. The spoils included 1,500 rifles, 350 "guns and shot-bags," 150 swords and dirks, and £15,000 sterling. Some 850 "common Soldiers" and most of the loyalists were captured. The leaders were imprisoned or banished from the colony. The soldiers were paroled to their homes.
Though the battle was a small one, the implications were large. The American victory demonstrated the surprising strength in the countryside, discouraged the growth of loyalist sentiment in the Carolinas, and spurred revolutionary feeling throughout the American colonies.
(February 27, 1776), in the American Revolution, battle in which North Carolina Revolutionaries defeated a force of North Carolina loyalists, in part thwarting a British invasion of the southern colonies. General Donald McDonald, who had amassed some 1,600 Scottish Highlanders and North Carolina Regulators, marched toward Wilmington, North Carolina, to join British troops coming by sea from Boston and England. A rebel militia, about 1,000 strong, under Colonels Alexander Lillington and Richard Caswell, was assembled and positioned at Moore’s Creek Bridge, 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Wilmington. The loyalists attacked the rebel force at the bridge but were quickly defeated. The rebels, of whom only one was killed and one wounded, captured or killed more than half of the loyalist forces and seized arms, supplies, and £15,000 sterling.