The Butterfly Effect is defined as a phenomenon where local minute changes eventually lead to large effects elsewhere. History is a rife example where small insignificant events eventually lead to dramatic changes. One such event occurred 50 miles south of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune on a cold February morning in 1776 at Moore’s Creek Bridge.
April 1775, tensions between Britain and their American Colonies finally broke as shots were fired at Lexington, Massachusetts. Patriots and Loyalist in all 13 Colonies began to mobilize in support of their perspective causes. British generals planned an invasion of the southern colonies where a force would land near Wilmington, North Carolina.
The royal governor of North Carolina began efforts to organize Loyalist Militia to support this invasion. On February 18, 1776 a Loyalist Army numbering around 1,500 marched out of Fayetteville under the command of Gen. Donald MacDonald to support this British invasion of the South. Patriot Militia under the command of Col. Richard Casewell mobilized to stop this Loyalist army. Col. Casewell was soon able to maneuver his army to block the Loyalist approach to Wilmington at Moore’s Creek Bridge.
On the morning of Feb. 27, the Patriot Army had pulled all the planks off the bridge and dug defensive positions on the opposite banks of the creek. Believing they were facing a small force, General MacDonald ordered his Loyalist Army to attack across the bridge where they were immediately fired upon by almost 1,000 entrenched Patriots. The battle lasted a mere 3 minutes, with Loyalist casualties numbering 30-50 killed and over 850 captured. News of the battle was met with indifference by the British who viewed the battle as merely a minor skirmish between poorly trained militia armies.
However, the victory at Moore’s Creek Bridge gave the provincial government of North Carolina the confidence to adopt the Halifax Resolves. This resolution authorized the delegates representing N.C. at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to put forth the motion to declare independence from Great Britain. This was the first official act of independence by the colonies which quickly led to our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. Today, the Battle at Moore’s Creek Bridge is barely a footnote in the history of the Revolutionary War especially when compared to other battles such as Saratoga or Yorktown. However, the actions that occurred in a few minutes on that small battlefield triggered a series of events that directly lead to our Declaration of Independence. Defeat at Moore’s Creek also crushed the Loyalist morale in North Carolina for the remainder of the war to such an extent that it impaired General Cornwallis several years later during his campaign through the Southern colonies, his army received no support from those still loyal to the royal crown in the colony. This would be one of many reasons why Cornwallis would have to take his army to Yorktown, Virginia where history would be made.
Might we all learn a lesson from the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge? Many of us believe and live our lives as if our actions have little or no significance, but I would suggest quite the opposite. We can be extraordinary, just by being ordinary if we lead selfless lives as those patriots did so long ago at Moore’s Creek. Only if we lose ourselves will we truly find ourselves.