This pension was copied by John T. Misskelley, from a book in Kip Carter’s collection, called The Revolution Remembered, an eyewitness account of the war for independence. Edited by John C. Dann. Pg. 177-185. Copied exactly as it appears in Dann’s book. With only one exception, where I put in brackets Brandon, instead of Brennan. This is a fantastic account of NAM’s early involvement in the Revolution.
James Fergus (1756-1837), of Scotch- Irish background, was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He resided in Sherman’s Valley, Cumberland County, when he first volunteered in 1776. After a brief residence in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, he moved to near Camden, South Carolina, in the fall of 1778.
He volunteered twice in the Pennsylvania militia, serving at Staten Island at the time of the battle of Long Island. He was at the battle of Princeton. After moving to South Carolina, he went out against a Tory company under Captain Coleman, and in 1779 he volunteered for the campaign against British-held Savannah, serving with 200 horseman for scouting and reconnaissance duty. He was present at the American rout at Briar Creek, and, like most of the dozens of pensioners who had been there, he was highly critical of General Ashe, the American commander. Fergus later was at Charleston and kept a journal that he reproduced in the pension narrative. He took sick, was treated in Charleston by Dr. David Ramsay, and was fortunate enough to be sent home before the British capture of the city.
The first half of his narrative, covering his tours of duty in the north, has been omitted here because of its length. In 1794 Fergus moved to Kentucky, and in 1832, he moved to Carroll County, Tennessee, from which place he successfully applied for a pension with this deposition.
In the autumn of the year 1778 my father moved to South Carolina and settled in what is now York County, then called New Acquisition, Camden District. Late in the season the Tories, hearing of the British coming to Savannah, rose in a place called Thicketty, south of Broad River, and embodied under a Tory captain Coleman. A Whig Colonel Brennan [Brandon?] in Fair Forrest settlement collected a company to oppose Coleman, but unfortunately Brennan was surprised in his camp by the Tories and defeated with the loss of four men killed. As soon as we heard of this defeat, about three hundred of us collected under the command of Capt. Andrew Love, to whose company I was attached, and marched to support of Colonel Brennan. On the way, before we got to Broad River, we met Colonel Brennan with about twenty men flying from the enemy, and all the art of Capt. Love could not prevail with the Colonel to turn back with us and pursue the Tories; nor did he, but went on over the Catawba River into North Carolina before he halted. We pursued on over Broad River to Thicketty and Fair Forrest but found Coleman and his Tories had gone off and joined the British in Georgia and was got too far ahead for us to overtake them, as we were not prepared for a long march. After burning a number of the Tories houses that were gone, we returned home.
In January 1779 there was a call for men to go to Georgia to assist that state against the English, who had got possession of Savannah, and to suppress the Tories who were joining them there. Colonel Neal, Lt. Colonel Watson, and Major Francis Ross were the field officers who commanded the regiment of militia at this time to which I belonged. Mounted men to scour the country and reconnoiter was the kind of troops called for; Two hundred men were quickly enrolled for marching. In this company I went a volunteer. Whether any was drafted or not, I do not now recollect. This detachment was commanded by Lt. Colonel Watson, and Major Francis Ross. Capt. James Martin was my company officer. There were besides the mounted men a number of foot with wagons loaded with provision and baggage. It was a very wet winter, the roads exceedingly deep. We had two hundred miles from where we started to Augusta, where we were to join General Williamson. We had a very uncomfortable march and a tedious time on the road. I think there was eight days on the way the sun never appeared to us; it sometimes rained incessantly, and frequently showery. This I can well remember— all that time, the clothes on my back was not dry, nor had I them off, for we had generally to encamp in the woods and always to take care of our horses. What time we got there, I cannot now recollect. However, General Williamson sent us on from Augusta to join General Ashe at Briar Creek time enough to get defeated.
Some days after we got there, we got intelligence of the English coming up the opposite side of the creek from Ebenezer, where they lay between us and Savannah. The river was very full by reason of the late rains; the backwater extended up the creek twelve miles at least to where it was fordable from where we lay. To ascertain the truth of this report, forty of us were ordered up the creek to reconnoiter. With this party I went. We set out late in the evening with a guide. About midnight we came to a house where was a woman and children. We pretended to be a party of loyalists from North Carolina coming to join the British and wished to know if she could inform us where they lay and how we could get to them. The woman seemed delighted and told us they were encamped about a half a mile from us on the bank of the creek; that they were on the way to drive the rebels out of the forks and would make us very welcome; her husband was then with them at the creek; that it would be best to wait till morning before we joined them, or at least till her husband came home, for fear they might mistake us for rebels. From her we got all the intelligence we wanted, and after giving our horses plenty of oats we returned to camp the next day and gave General Ashe the above account, and that we might expect them on us the next day at farthest.
Nowithstanding this, General Ashe the next morning ordered the balance of our detachment that had not been out the day before, consisting of 160 men under Major Ross, to cross the creek and proceed towards Ebenezer to make what discoveries they could. A bridge was repairing but not finished. Ross and the men swam their horses over and went on. Two young men was likewise sent off with an express to General Williamson at the same time with an old man that had liberty to return home. By this time the British had got into the road between us and Augusta and was coming down on us, when they met our men that carried the express and took them prisoners. The old man that was with them, being some distance behind and riding a swift mare, escaped and came back to camp with the information that the enemy was coming on us. It appeared that General Ashe took no notice of this, nor was there any preparation made for action till the British vanguard was fired on by our sentries.
What of us that belonged to Major Ross’ detachment that had been on the scout up the creek and was left in camp lay about a quarter off from the main camp to take care of our horses in an old field. [We] had orders sent us to get our horses, mount them, and come into camp. This we did. The line was just formed as we arrived to the left wing commanded by Colonel Elbert, who had a company of Georgia regulars. We rode close along the rear of the line, when the first general fire was made; as we were on lower ground than the enemy, it passed chiefly over our heads. We had got to the extremity of the right wing where General Ashe commanded by the time the second fire was made. This was our post, but we had not time to give more than one fire, when the General wheeled and fled and the whole wing with him. He was gone 150 yards or more before our little party followed. The British left wing was advancing rapidly, and, as Colonel Elbert afterwards informed me, he knew not that the right wing was gone till he found the enemy in his rear, killing his men. Of course he and all his men that escaped death were made prisoners. (It was after Colonel Elbert was released that I met him in Virginia, and he gave this account and added that he fully believed General Ashe betrayed us to the British, and declared that if he ever met with him, one of them should die before they parted.)
General Ashe rode a good horse, left his men, and got round the enemy and made to a ferry above, crossed, and escaped, while the rest of us were drove into the swamp between the creek and the river. The banks of these were so steep and deep that the horses that went in could not get out again, and some men would have been drowned had not canes been put into their hands and helped them out. Here I left my horse and furniture, threw off my coat, and swam. We now got into a thick canebreak, and the enemy pursued us no farther. This was late in the evening. Twelve of us got together, and, as it was moonlight in the night, we formed a small raft of driftwood in the mouth of a lagoon, on which three of us with danger and much difficulty got over the river, after being carried above a mile down before we landed.
We got out of the bottom and wandered up the river till daylight, and fortunately, in the mouth of a branch, we found a large periauger loaded with corn in the ear. Opposite to us on the other bank we discovered a great number of the North Carolina men. We quickly rowed over and took in as many as the boat would bear and caused them to throw out the corn while we crossed back. By this means we got all our men that were there off before the enemy came down to the river. Major Ross, who had crossed the morning before, came in the night to the camp, not knowing of the defeat. They were fired on and drove back over the creek, passed to the river below the mouth of the creek, and there crossed a ferry, and the next day the remains of our detachment got together and moved up the river to General Williamson’s camp and joined the troops there. Many of our men were half naked, having stripped to swim the river. The third of March we were defeated, and that night there was a light frost, and many suffered with the cold, having nothing on but a shirt or breeches. Here we lay, I know not how long. Here I had the command of a brigade of twelve wagons given me and was sent with them to Saluda for flour, which I brought to camp.
About this time a party of our men with Major Ross crossed the river above Augusta in pursuit of some Indians and came up [on] them; had a small skirmish in which the Major received a mortal wound, was brought into camp, and died in a few days. Shortly after this we were discharged and returned home under the command of Lt. Colonel Watson. I think in the beginning of April. When we returned, we found a part of our regiment under the command of Colonel Neal was called out and gone on what was called the Stono campaign. As soon as I got clothed for the summer campaign, I volunteered again with a few others and followed on to Orangeburg and fell in with our regiment under Colonel Neal there. Colonels Wynn and Brown and some others were there with their men, all under the command of Colonel Senf, a foreign officer who it was said was sent out to discipline our southern men.
While we lay here, Colonel Senf laid off the ground for a fort and employed our men in cutting turf and working on it until we heard that the British had crossed Savannah River and got to Purysburg. I now, for the first time, began to keep a small journal in a memorandum book, which I continued until I was taken with the fever and carried into Charleston.
On the first day of May, 1778, we received intelligence that the enemy had got possession of Purysburg.
2d of May: Preparation for marching to meet the enemy was made, to set out on the following morning. Toward evening, twenty-eight or twenty-nine wagons from Charleston arrived, loaded with arms, ammunition, entrenching tools, two howitzers, shells, and cannonballs, etc. Governor Rutledge arrived also.
3d: The general “alarm” was beat early this morning and orders given for marching at a minutes warning. Preparations for marching completed. In the evening, the Governor reviewed us.
4th: Paraded and marched off early this morning. Took with us a great number of Tory prisoners and some of the Queen’s Rangers that were taken in Georgia and sent here. There were about three hundred of us commanded by the Governor and Colonel Senf. Went about ten miles and encamped.
5th: Marched to a place belonging to the Governor on Edisto River, crossed it there, and encamped on the bank.
6th: Went down Edisto about fifteen miles to the sawmills and crossed the river back again, finding that the enemy were likely to get between us and Charleston on this route. Cooked fresh beef and rice, ate, and moved on in the evening across the country and marched all night. Three of the prisoners made their escape; one was a Lieutenant of the Queen’s Rangers (who came and gave himself up to us the next day).
7th: About nine o’clock, halted and took breakfast; moved on to the Four Hole’s Bridge. The carriage of the fieldpiece broke down. The piece was hid in the swamp. This evening, the artillery that was with us left us and pushed on for town, fearing the enemy might get before them. Note: they were part of the Charleston train.
I pass over the eighth and ninth days; on the tenth we got into town and hoped to have a night’s rest after our fatiguing march, but an alarm took place, and we had to lie on the lines all night.
May 11th: This day Count Pulaski with his troop of horse arrived. And in the evening the enemy came before the lines, after they had driven in our picket guard and Pulaski’s horse together with a company of light infantry, who had a severe skirmish with the van of the British army, in which it is said we lost of horse and foot about eighty-five men. At night, a little after dark, a party of our men went out to set fire to tar barrels that were placed in front of our lines to give light during the night. At this time an alarm was given, and heavy firing of cannon and small arms took place on the lines from one river to the other; also from the armed vessels in Cooper and Ashley Rivers. This was unfortunate for the party out firing the tar barrels. Major Huger and two others, I think, were killed and several wounded by our firing.
12th: Flags of truce passed between us and the enemy the chief of this day; nothing done. Four men, two white and a mulatto and Negro, were taken outside the lines and brought in, supposed to be deserting to the enemy. The Governor, coming by at the time, was asked what should be done with them. He said, “Hang them up to the beam of the gate,” by which they were standing. This was immediately done, and there they hung all day.
13th: Last night, the enemy retreated silently and crossed Ashley before morning. Our light horse brought in a number of deserters and some prisoners that were straggling behind this day. From this time to the twenty-first of this month we lay here and kept guard on the lines and then marched off to join General Lincoln, which we did on the twenty-third at Dorchester.
May 24th: This morning, perhaps two hours before day, I joined a regular company of forty men who went as the advance guard of the army. The army followed in the morning. In the evening we got to the church at Bacon’s Bridge, the plank of which was taken off. Drove the British picket from the opposite shore; kept under arms all night.
25th: This morning, a party from our army with a fieldpiece came down and repaired the bridge, returned back, and we, the advanced guard, passed over to the side next the British camp, set out sentries, and remained there till evening, when Pulaski with his horse came over with forty foot who joined us. The light horse passed us on the road leading to the British camp. We quickly formed and run after them, till the British picket fired on them and killed four of the guard and drove them in. At this time we were formed in his rear to cover his retreat, and he came slowly back by us, and we wheeled about and followed after. Before we got to the bridge, we found our army had passed it and was formed in an old field on our right. The British, however, did not choose to quit their entrenchments but laid still. We did not stop or join the army, but marched by and kept marching and countermarching all night, often formed in line, and again moving on till near daylight, when we came to our army drawn up in a line of battle in front of the British entrenchments. We were then formed with the line on the extremity of the right wing and had liberty to sit down. At this time General Lincoln was examining the situation of the British, and it no doubt appeared to him that they were to strongly posted for him to force their works without losing too many men or perhaps failing altogether, and so he moved back over the bridge to the old camp early in the morning. This was the third day from [when] we left Dorchester before day and had no sleep or rest, drinking bad water and enduring the scorching sun by day and the chilling dews by night.
26th: This day, in the evening, I was taken with a high fever and was carried over the river to our baggage wagons by Capt. Andrew Love and his brother.
May 27th, 1779: Here ends my journal.
I send into Charleston to Dr. David Ramsay, who I understood was principle of the hospital in the city, for some medicine. He sent it, but advised me to be brought into the hospital. I replied I had seen the hospitals in Philadelphia, Princeton, and Newark and would prefer dying in the open air of the woods rather [than] be stifled to death in a crowded hospital.
I had a relation living in the city who, hearing of me, sent for me to be brought to his house to lie there. I was taken there in a wagon, and by the time I got in I was partly insensible. My friend brought the doctor to see me, and he ordered what he thought proper and called duly morning and evening to see me until the fever was broke. How long that was, I know not now. It appears like a dream to me now. To the great care and attention of the humane and kindhearted Dr. Ramsay, under God, I am indebted for my being a living, though infirm, old man at this day.
The fever was broke on me at the time there was a sham burying of Count Pulaski with the honors of war in this city, for I can recollect the firing of cannon all day, and what it was for as I was told. I continued in a convalescent state a long time. I left the city sometime in the winter to go see my parents in the upper part of the state and was told afterwards that the British landed about a week after I left it. Thus I have given in detail an account of the four tours I served in the army regularly. After the fall of Charleston, to the end of the war, I did duty as a partisan under General Sumter and others in the upper part of the state, dispersing and keeping down the Tories. Of the time I spent in this way, I am now unable to give a particular account. It was a perilous time, and we were in continual state of warfare until after Cornwallis surrendered, in which warfare I had my share.