MacDonald’s army had a shortage of firearms having only 520 guns for his 1,400 men. A company of cavalry was quickly formed and sent out to raid the Rebels in surrounding area for firearms of which they managed to obtain 130 more. Gun powder was seized from the Cumberland County Committee of Safety as well as some was purchased from local merchants. MacDonald’s army also obtained 150 broadswords and dirks which were handed over to 80 able-bodied Highlanders who were under the command of Captain John Campbell.
The Patriots, meanwhile, were aware of the Loyalists army forming at Cross Creek. In an attempt to block their march to the coast, Colonel James Moore and his 1st North Carolina Continentals along with some militia took up position at a crossing point over Rockfish Creek, seven miles south of Cross Creek. MacDonald soon moved out to challenge Moore marching his army out of Cross Creek on 18 February. That night they camped about four miles from the Rebels.
An officer carrying a flag of truce was sent into the Rebel position with a message from MacDonald threatening the Patriots that if they didn’t join the royal standard by noon on 20 February they would be attacked. With no intentions of joining MacDonald, Moore delayed for time stating he would give the Scot
an answer by the time designated. With the real possibility of a looming battle, some of the backcountry Tories deserted MacDonald. Then word reached MacDonald that 600 Rebel troops under Colonel Richard Caswell were marching to reinforce Moore. In light of this information and the desertion of some of his men, MacDonald decided to strike out for the coast to rendezvous with the British before the Rebels could block his avenues of escape.
At noon on 20 February Moore’s message arrived refusing to join the royal standard. MacDonald drew up his army and announced that those who were faint-hearted could leave. Twenty men who admitted their “courage was not war-proof” took him up on his offer and departed. The rest of his army, however, supported him with a cheer. While Moore awaited an imminent attack, MacDonald marched his troops off on the night of the 20th. After crossing the Cape Fear River and destroying the boats behind them, MacDonald’s army would soon be heading southeast toward Corbett’s Ferry located along the Black River.
It was not until noon the following day that Moore realized that the Tory army was gone. The Patriot commander quickly sent word to Caswell to march for Corbett’s Ferry to block MacDonald. Moore also dispatched Colonel Alexander Lillington with a 150 of his Wilmington Minutemen and 100 New Hanover Volunteer Company of Rangers from his force to secure another river crossing southeast of Caswell at the Moore’s Creek Bridge. Moore, meanwhile, led the rest of his army after MacDonald hoping to intercept him at Elizabeth Town. If Moore failed to intercept the Tories then he planned to follow after them until he could bring them to battle.
A hundred mounted Highlanders under the recently promoted Lieutenant-Colonel McLeod rode ahead of
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