Sunday, June 27, 2010

Deception in War: Pyle's Hacking Match

The deception which opened the way for Light Horse Harry Lee and "Pyle's Hacking Match."

So this morning I was doing some quick reading about the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, where the RTC rally is being held in August and I ran across mention of "Pyle's Hacking Match." Intrigued because I had never heard of it, I did some quick searching.

Here's Wikipedia:

Pyle's Massacre, also known as Pyle's Hacking Match, was a battle that took place during the American Revolutionary War in Orange County, North Carolina (present-day Alamance County, North Carolina), on February 24, 1781, between Patriot and Loyalist North Carolina militia troops.


Dr. John Pyle, Sr., a native of Chatham County, had previously fought against the colonial government in the War of the Regulation but did not serve at the Battle of Alamance. After the battle, however, Pyle responded to General Charles Cornwallis' call for Loyalists in the Revolution, and he served in the militia against the American Patriots as a colonel. After being captured, Dr. Pyle took an oath of loyalty to the Provincial Congress. However, with General Cornwallis' army encamped at nearby Hillsborough, Dr. Pyle gathered between 300 and 400 troops and sent a request to Cornwallis for an escort. Cornwallis sent Banastre Tarleton with his cavalry and a small band of infantry to escort these men.

At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee—father of Robert E. Lee—and Brigadier General Andrew Pickens were in the area with orders to harass the enemy. They had sent out scouts to locate Pyle's army. Upon learning of their location, they made plans to rendezvous with those forces with the objective of attacking Tarleton's dragoons and infantry, which would deal a major blow to Cornwallis.

At noon on February 24, Lee and Pickens captured 2 British staff officers and learned through interrogation that Tarleton was only a few miles ahead. In the waning hours of the day, Lee's Legion, who wore short green jackets and plumed helmets, encountered 2 of Pyle's men, who mistook them for Tarleton's dragoons who wore similar uniforms. Lee used this confusion to his advantage and learned that Pyle's army was located nearby. Lee's troops trotted into the camp in full salute. Lee exchanged customary civilities with Colonel Pyle and began shaking his hand when the sounds of battle commenced.


The most commonly accepted account of the battle, pieced together from reports from Lee and Captain Joseph Graham, indicates that Lee's deception was purely chance, and that he had originally intended to avoid the Loyalists, intending instead to encounter Tarleton's Dragoons, the more important objective. The sounds of battle apparently commenced when the militia at the rear of Lee's Legion, recognizing the strips of red cloth on the hats of Pyle's men as the badge of Loyalists, alerted Captain Eggleston, who was new to the South and was not familiar with local Whig and Tory badges. When he asked one of the Loyalists which side he was on, the man replied "King George," and Eggleston responded by striking him on the head with his sabre. Seeing this, the militia joined in the attack. The Loyalists, believing the attack to be a mistake, continued insisting they were on King George's side, to no avail. After 10 minutes, the remaining Loyalists had fled, and ninety-three Loyalists were known to be dead, certainly more were wounded and others were seen being carried off by friends. According to local legend, John Pyle was badly wounded in the battle and crawled into a nearby pond where he concealed himself until he could be rescued. After recovering from his wounds, he surrendered to the local militia. Later they were pardoned as a result of Pyle's care for wounded patriots.


Lee's and Pickens' ultimate goal of encountering Tarleton was foiled when Tarleton received orders on the night of February 24 ordering him to return to rejoin the main army. Though pursued, Tarleton eventually got too close to the main British army for Pickens and Lee to attack safely.

The British were quick to denounce the massacre. Cornwallis, in a letter to Lord George Germain, reported that most of Pyle's force were "inhumanly butchered, when begging for quarters, without making the least resistance."

The battle occurred a few weeks before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and was a contributing factor in weakening British troop numbers and morale as that battle approached.

As late as 1850, local residents could point out the location of the battle and of the mass graves of those killed during the skirmish; at least one alleged known mass grave has been recently relocated. The site is marked with periwinkle and cedar trees and at one time had a stone marker (placed in 1880), which has since been removed from the site; the marker's current location is unknown.


MamaLiberty said...

I suspect that it will sometimes - if not often - be very difficult to know friend from foe in our coming struggle. And I don't really know what we might do about it, aside from having worked and trained with those around us, of course.

Uniforms or "badges" are certainly no guarantee, especially for the sort of battles in which we will be engaged. This would seem to be a good topic for discussion.

I'm sure you have gone over this before, but I have so far missed it. References wouldn't hurt... :)

Toastrider said...

Sun Tzu said it best: all warfare is deception.

III more than them said...

MamaLiberty said it well. "I don't really know what we might do about it...." If the lines are not clear, bad mistakes can happen. I would feel horrible if, in an honest fight for liberty, I screwed up. Just plain, freakin' horrible. Maybe I'm a wuss in that regard, but I'll make no adjustments to limit that fear. I just can't. Plenty of others have done so, and killed innocents with that unholy preparation. It's abhorrent to me.

If I have to, I'll set it down and take a pass. Opportunities may abound. When the contest is clear, so must our aim be.

van der Graf said...

The revolutionary war in the Carolinas is, unfortunately, an insufficiently studied aspect of those times. Many of the battles were smaller and not as sexy as the ones up north but they were important all the same. Thank God for that lot of hard scots irish men and women that beat back Tarlton, Huck, Ferguson, and all that lot AND their Tory traitors.

Anonymous said...

Uncle John says,

The war in the South may be considered to be the first American civil war, fought without quarter and where the normal rules of engagement are thrown out.Harry lee saw the killing of civilians, women and children. He actually called for Greene to impose military rule to bring some order. Civil wars are the worst types, and whether this was or was not a deliberate massacre, it did the job in destroying loyalist support in the area.