A Short Story on the Website of
the Red Dirt Writers Society

Sgt. George Eskridge
by Gordon Eskridge (Sep 2013)


Here I am, seventeen years old, standing on top of this hill looking out over a field of brown grass with 450 troops behind me and behind the hill the swollen churning fast moving Broad River. The air is cold and still and we have not had any new snow for several days, but there is still snow in the shade of the trees.

This morning is January 17, 1781 at 6:15 A.M. in a place called Cowpens, South Carolina. I am standing here stamping my feet to help keep them warm while holding Brigadier General Daniel Morgan’s horse’s halter. We are waiting in anticipation of the first opening volley of gun fire from the British troops. They will come flooding from those woods over there like a river of red and white charging our position.

A year ago at sixteen, I, George Eskridge and my friend Burges Ball, the cousin of my girlfriend, Frances Ball Kenner joined the regiment of Colonel Parker, a part of the Continental Army. My goals in life are to help win the war, marry my sweetheart, have several children, and be successful in life.

As a Private my first job was as an Orderly. I was to help the officer I worked for to look his best, and be on time with whatever he needed. Any time I was not helping the officer I spent working in the commissary making sure the supplies for my unit were available.

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan’s Brigade was made up of about 600 mixed forces of about 150 Dragoons, 300 Continental Infantry with 150 State Infantry. These men had seen a lot of battles and you could depend on them to stand and fight.

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan’s army had been on the run to keep from being trapped between the Northern and Southern British Armies. The Army of Lord Cornwallis was several miles to the North, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton was moving up from the South with eleven hundred and fifty of the best British troops in South Carolina. It was a mixed unit of seasoned cavalry and infantry.

Tarleton for his part, on the morning of the 16th of January received word of Morgan’s location and troop strength of about 600 to 800 troops and that Morgan was building boats to cross the Broad River. Tarleton made haste, by marching on at 3:00 a.m. instead of camping for the night. In the 48 hours before the battle the British had run out of food had less than four hours sleep and had a great deal of rapid marching trying to reach the Americans before they could escape over the river.

On the night of the 16th Colonel Andrew Pickens of the American North Carolina Militia had been patrolling the area and arrived with about 1300 militia without the English knowing, so General Morgan with 1900 men then decided to stand and fight rather than being caught while trying to ford the river.

Morgan knew that Tarleton was only 26 years old but that he had enjoyed a fast rise in rank. Lieutenant Tarleton with a small party of men had surprised and captured Patriot General Charles Lee. Tarleton had continued to serve with distinctive leadership in the Siege of Charleston and the Battle of Camden.

Morgan reasoned that Tarleton would use the standard form of British attack which was head on and fast. Morgan decided to draw the British troops in by facing him with three lines of defense. The first line would be 150 Skirmishers who were picked for their shooting skill, and who would fire once then join the second line.

The second line was 300 of the poorly trained militia who were unreliable in battle, especially when facing Calvary, so General Morgan asked that they only fire two volleys then withdraw behind the hill to meet with the rest of the militia.

The third line of men would be 450 of his best troops assembled on top of the hill to defeat the British cavalry who would be charging uphill. With the English in confusion Morgan would have his Calvary ride around through the woods and attack the back of Tarleton’s army. In the meantime the combined militia of 1300 would reappear from behind the hill on both sides and the battle would be over soon.

I was holding the general’s horse’s halter to help quite him, and we were watching from the top of the hill. The General Morgan signaled to his troops as Tarleton’s Dragoons attacked our first line of defense. The American skirmishers opened fire. The flash of the burning power fallowed by the smoke appeared and a moment later the sound reached us. We watched as 15 English Dragoons fell from their saddles. The rest of dragoons promptly retreated. The smoke from the rifles hung in the cold, still, air like a fog. Then without pausing to study the American deployment Tarleton ordered an infantry charge.

I had to hang on to my general’s horse with both hands, when he heard the first shots. The horse started dancing around wanting to charge into the thick of things as he had so many times before.

The skirmishers continued to fire while they withdrew to the second line of defense, 300 of Pickens’ militia. This time the British charge almost reached the militia men who as ordered fired two volleys into the British and withdrew quickly toward the back of the hill.

At 7:45 a.m. the fighting had been going on for over an hour and with 40 percent of British casualties being officers. The British Infantry was tired, confused and thought the Americans were in full retreat. They broke formation and charged, only to find Lieutenant Colonel John Eager’s Militia making an about face and at no more than thirty yards firing into the British with deadly effect. John Eager Howard then shouted “Charge bayonets”.

The American Cavalry led by William Washington, General George Washington’s cousin, charged toward the rear of the British army. The 550 fresh Continental troops marched down the hill and the shock of the returning balance of 1300 American militiamen coming from behind the hill on both sides proved to be too much for the British Loyalists who fell to the ground whether they were wounded or not.

The British had 110 killed, 200 wounded and 712 captured but Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and a few of his officers got away. The Americans had 25 killed and 124 wounded. This battle was the beginning of the end of the war in the south. I watched as the British surrendered their weapons and flags to General Morgan.

Two months later in March 1781, I found myself a corporal attached to General Richard Butler’s Regiment in North Carolina, part of General Nathaniel Green’s Army. Following the Battle of Cowpens, Lord Cornwallis of the English Army was determined to destroy Green’s Army. Cornwallis burned his own supplies so that his army would be eager to catch Green’s Army to get more. The race to the Dan River was on but Green with the help of loyal Americans and their boats escaped across the flooded Dan River to safety in Virginia.

Cornwallis made camp at Hillsborough, North Carolina, in an attempt to forage for supplies and recruit North Carolina’s Tories. On March 14, 1781 he heard that General Richard Butler with 3,000 Virginia Militia was marching to defeat his Army. General Green had without notice joined with General Butler’s Army and now was a force of four to six thousand men. During the night further reports told Cornwallis that Butler was at Gilford Court House only 12 miles away. Cornwallis had only 1,900 men at his disposal but they were seasoned troops and Butler’s army was home grown militia who as often as not when the first shots were fired would turn and run away.

General Green had setup his combined army in three lines of defense. The first line was made of North Carolina Militia with his backwoodsman sharpshooters on each flank to pick off the British officers. His second line was the Virginia Militia with two six pound cannons in the center of this line. The third was peopled by his Virginia Regiment, his strongest line.

On the morning of March 15, 1781 it was clear and cold with a light frost on the ground that crunched when I walked across my company’s grounds for breakfast. I had heard that the British would be here before noon. The battle would be near this backwoods isolated farming community of Piedmont on the major east west road through North Carolina.

As the sun appeared the frost melted away and the ground underfoot became soft and spongy. In the damp woods the Americans camped, dressed in various uniforms and a mix of homemade clothing waited for battle.

The British arrived and fought with their usual tenacity when faced by superior numbers. While they were tactically the victors, and the battle lasted only ninety minutes, it has been said “Another such victory would ruin the British Army.”

During the battle I stayed with William Washington’s Light Dragoons who had to race to rescue the raw troops of the 5th Maryland Regiment who had buckled under the furious assault of British Grenadiers. I picked up a wounded young man near my own age and threw him on the back of my horse and led him back to safety behind our lines where I applied first aid and waited for the battle to end.

Out of 4,400 men America had 79 killed, 185 wounded and 971 were missing. The British with 1,900 men had 93 killed 413 wounded and 26 missing.

This backwoods county seat of Gilford Courthouse, North Carolina was a decisive battle that would lead to the liberation of the English from North Carolina and move the British General Lord Charles Cornwallis to take the road to Yorktown seven months later.

With the war front moving to Virginia closer to my home, I was given leave to visit my folks and the Kenner family who lived nearby. I had known Frances Ball Kenner nearly all of her life and she was growing into a very lovely young lady of seventeen years. I arrived just before her birthday in February and was invited to the party. I gave her an engagement ring for her birthday present because she said yes. We are to be married after the war was over which hopefully would not be long now.

On July 6th the French and American armies met at White Plains, New York. General Rochambeau of the French Army had forty years of experience fighting war, but he deferred to Washington’s leadership saying “I have come to serve, not to command.”

I returned to my unit in March and fought in number of small skirmishes during the next four months and on the 24th of July I turned eighteen. I was advanced to the rank of Sergeant in the army and I led a squad of men with two corporals and ten privates. The two corporals were older than me but they had not been in the army as long as I had.

The French Fleet of Admiral De Grasse sealed off the Chesapeake Bay stopping supplies and replacements for the English which allowed the Americans and French to begin formal siege of Yorktown on September 30 and by the 9th of October the artillery bombardment began.

Cornwallis soon pulled back from all his outer defenses. My unit and I helped in the building of the American redoubts and trenches. We worked at night so the English could not see what was happening. To mark our path we used the white pine bark from the trees nearby which reflected the moon light and enabled us to move to and from work. The Americans were able to move their earth works at night closer and closer to the British lines. Soon the American gunners were able to shell not only the fortifications and town but the ships in the harbor beyond.

After 3 weeks of constant bombardment Cornwallis surrendered and on the 19th of October 1781, he had his troops marched out and he lagged behind fainting illness. The English troops were marched to the central parts of Virginia and Maryland and held there till the official end of the war.

At the end of the war I walked home and had a great Christmas with my father George Eskridge III, mother Hannah Damourville and my brothers and sisters, Thomas, William, Mary, and Elizabeth. My plans were to marry my childhood sweetheart, Frances Ball Kenner, in Westmoreland, Virginia. On February 17, 1782 we got married at the Yeocomico Church near Tucker Hill, Virginia. Frances and I soon had two children, William Kenner Eskridge born December 10, 1782, and Molly Eskridge, born December 15, 1783.

Many of the large Tobacco planters were seeking fresh land after the Revolutionary War. Tobacco production had decreased, as plantation owners moved south in search of fresh soil. Northern farmers replaced the plantation owners. Their crops were most often corn, wheat, and dairy farms. These farms were less dependent on slave labor. The plantations shipped tobacco by ships and the farms shipped most of their produce by land. In 1785 our family moved to Prince William County.

When we arrived at a town called Belmont in Prince William County, Virginia. I met a man by the name of David Mason running a ferry across the Occoquan River that was built in 1684 by his fourth great grandfather Colonel Mason. The major transportation route was the Potomac Path, which generally ran north-south along the waterfront. The Mason’s ferry at Belmont was considered part of the route of the Potomac Path. Because it was used as an early mail route, it came to be known as the King’s Highway.

David Mason the fourth great grandson of Col. Mason needed help running the ferry and hired me to help him. I found the work fascinating and the pay was very good. Frances, the two children William and Molly, and I lived in the town of Belmont. Where we planted gardens, raised chickens and had a milk cow named “Bessie.”

In 1791, George Washington met with near catastrophe at this site. While crossing on the ferry in a four-horse carriage, one of the horses became partially loose, and succeeding in pulling all four harnessed horses and the carriage overboard some 50 yards from shore. A number of local folks waded into the water and helped me successfully unharness the horses, saving the horses and carriage, my wife, Frances, and the children waded in and helped recover the harness and other baggage.

Frances and the children walked home in their wet clothing where she quickly bathed the children fed them and put them to bed. Frances was still wearing the wet clothing when I got home. She caught a cold which quickly changed to pneumonia and in three days she passed away leaving me with a broken heart and two small children to raise.

Nathaniel Anderson’s family lived next door and so I would leave the children with Elizabeth Anderson, one of Nathaniel’s daughters, when I had to go to work on the ferry. Over the weeks and months the children soon learn to love Elizabeth and Elizabeth loved them and very soon the children convinced me that I needed a new wife.

My mother and father came to visit in early February 1792 and were very impressed with Elizabeth. Her father Nathaniel had seen how well Elizabeth and I got along together and he gave his blessing for our marriage. George Eskridge Sr. and Nathaniel went to Belmont Bay to the courthouse and posted the marriage bonds on February 17, 1792.

Elizabeth and I were soon married and lived in Belmont we added three children to our family, Nancy Nash Eskridge 1792, Mary Frances Eskridge 1794, and Alfred A. Eskridge 1795. In 1796 I bought the ferry, the large farm house and land from David Mason. Our ever growing family moved to the country. In 1798 Nathaniel Eskridge was born. Eliza Eskridge in 1800, Joseph Wilson Eskridge in1802 and young Henry Eskridge was born and died in 1807. We had not named a boy after me so the next boy born in, 1810 was named George Henry Eskridge.

During 1810, I found out that Prince William County was planning to build a bridge crossing the Occoquan River so we sold out and made plans to move. I spent three months scouting the Kentucky territory with my older sons, William and Alfred. Alfred being the artist in the family drew pictures of the Rough River area of Kentucky and upon our return home William and Molly decided to stay in Virginia with their grandparents the Kenners, while Elizabeth and I and the other children chose Kentucky.

Alfred and I showed the pictures that Alfred had drawn of the Rough River Site to some friends. Then in 1811 we formed a Settlers Crew and I was elected Captain to take them to Grayson County, Kentucky. Our family settled on the banks of the Rough River and built a log cabin near the falls. With some help from our neighbors we built a ferry across the river connecting the Eskridge Ferry Road with the road to Hardinsburg, Kentucky. On September 19, 1813, Elijah Eskridge our eight child was born in the log cabin on the banks of the Rough River near the falls.


Sergeant George died in Grayson County, Kentucky on August 18, 1827, and is buried at the falls of the Rough River. In his will, he bequeathed his land, slaves, livestock, and furnishings to his wife Elizabeth. In 1977 the state of Kentucky dedicated a highway marker honoring Sergeant George Eskridge, Patriot, Pioneer, and Builder at the falls of the Rough River State Park, Kentucky.

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