Great Cane Brake

Other names:
Cane Brake, Reedy River, Snow Campaign

Skirmish, *Col. William Thomson vs. Patrick Cunningham, Maj. Joseph Robinson, 22 Dec 1775

Where: 34.639563 -82.29013061306 Great Cane Brake

Maps: [map notes]


  • This was a surprise attack resulting in a running battle covering several miles. The locations provided are only a small portion of the area involved.

  • Terry Lipscomb, Names in South Carolina, Vol.XX, Winter 1973, , English Dept., University of SC, p.20-21,
    By this time an expedition under Colonel Richard Richardson was already on its way into the back country to arrest the leaders of the Royal party. Richardson decided that his mission was not affected by the truce signed at Ninety Six and proceeded to carry out his instructions.12 Receiving intelligence that the most active leaders of the opposition were encamped on Cherokee land, he dispatched a force under Colonel William Thomson, which surprised the Tories on the morning of December 22 and defeated them in the Battle of Great Cane Brake. Since this is the first mention of this officer, it will be appropriate to note that Thomson, and not Thompson, is the correct spelling of his name.13 Most of the Loyalist band were captured; Patrick Cunningham escaped to the Cherokee Nation. The Great Cane Brake was located on Reedy River in the southern portion of present Greenville County. The only location Colonel Richardson gives us is that the site was a long march of nearly twenty-five miles from his camp at Hollingsworth's Mill on Raborn's Creek (in present Laurens County, and the modern spelling is Rabon Creek).14 Luxuriant growths of cane were quite common in river valleys of the up country before the Revolution.

    This is in fact where Reedy River derives its name. It is also to be remembered that Greenville County was still Indian land at this time, and presumably had been spared the inroads of settlers, with their cleared fields and domestic animals. The place where Thomson and Cunningham had their action would have been one of those virgin cane brakes which so impressed the. first inhabitants of the back country.15 Two days before Christmas .of 1775, a snowstorm began in the northern part of South Carolina which lasted continuously for thirty hours. Colonel Richardson's men were compelled to march back to the Congarees through a fifteen inch accumulation of snow, many of them suffering frostbite as a result. The expedition has ever since been known as the Snow Campaign.16

    12 Gibbes, Vol. 1, pp. 222-223.
    13 Letter from William Thomson to Henry Laurens, November 28, 1775 (original manuscript in S. C. Archives Gibbes Collection).
    14 Gibbes, Vol. 1, pp. 242-244, 246-248.
    15 John H. Logan, A History of the Upper Country of South Carolina, pp. 9-10; Louis De Vorsey, Jr., The Indian Boundary in the Southern Colonies, 1768-1775, p. 133.
    16 Gibbes, Vol. 1, p..247.

  • Edward McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1775-1780, 1901, Macmillan & Co., Ltd., p.97
    At Cane Brake there was a camp of King's men which it was Richardson's object to break up. For this purpose he dispatched Colonel Thomson with about thirteen hundred men, who after a tedious march of near twenty-three miles on the 21st of December arrived within view of the Loyalists' campfires. Toward daylight of the 22d Thomson Amoved forward to attack, and had nearly surrounded the camp when his men were discovered ; and a fight immediately took place. Patrick Cuningham escaped on a horse bareback, telling every one " to shift for himself." Great slaughter, it is said, would have ensued had' not Colonel Thomson prevented it. Five or six of Cuningham's men were, however, killed, and one hundred and thirty were taken prisoners. Of Colonel Thomson's troops none were killed and only one was wounded.

    Colonel Richardson now regarding the object of the campaign as accomplished, dismissed the North Carolina troops and breaking up his camp marched homewards. From the snow which fell in the latter part of the expedition it was called the "Snow Campaign."1 The campaign was supposed to have completely broken up the King's party in the upper country, but its success to this extent was only apparent.

    1 Memoirs of the Revolution (Drayton), vol. II, 126, 132.

  • Harry M. Ward, The War for Independence and the Transformation of American Society, 2000, Routledge, p.77
    Cofell and scofellites (eventually all backcountry loyalists wer called by the term) formed the core of backcountry resistance to the Revolution. Initially the scofellites counted Cherokee Indians as their allies. Colonel Richard Richardson, in December 1774, defeated a group of backcountry loyalists at Great Cane Brake in Cheokee country, taking 136 prisoners, of whom six were "scopholite" officers (one of whom was "colored" and another "mulatto"). Some scofellites were among "white Indians" captured in the Cherokee War of 1776.

  • John Belton O'Neall, Colonial and Revolutionary History of Upper South Carolina: Embracing for ..., 1897 Shannon and Co., p.79-80
    The presence of such a large army had a good effect on the feelings of the disaffected people in that part of the colony. They were much terrified and came in with fear and trembling, giving up their arms with deep contrition for their late conduct. The spirit of discord was much abated. Most of the captains came in with a good portion of their companies. The District of Ninety-Six was now clear of any organized body of insurgents, but a camp of the principal aggressors still existed four miles beyond the Cherokee boundary line, at a place called the Great Cane Brake, on the Reedy River, about twenty-five miles from Hollingsworth's Mill. Colonel Richardson determined to break up this nest of sedition and turbulent spirits and for this purpose he detached from this army at Hollingsworth's Mill, about thirteen hundred cavalry and infantry under the command of Colonel William Thomson. All of these were volunteers, and among them were Colonels Martin and Rutherford, Neel, Polk and Lyles and Major Williamson and other officers of distinction. This command set out in the night on the 21st of December and after a tedious march of near twenty-three miles, Colonel Thomson with his command got within sight of the camp fires of the insurgents at a distance of about two miles. A halt was taken for a short time, after which, towards daylight on the 22d of December, they moved forward to attack the camp. They had nearly surrounded it when they were discovered. A flight immediately took place from the side which-had not yet been surrounded. Patrick Cunningham escaped on a horse barebacked, telling every one as he galloped away " to shift for himself."

    The troops were much enraged against the insurgents or King's men, as they preferred to call themselves, and had it not been for the humanity of Colonel Thomson, great slaughter would have taken place. The pursuit was continued for some distance and five or six of the insurgents were killed. Their camp consisted of about two hundred men, about one hundred and thirty of whom were taken prisoners. All their baggage, arms and ammunition remained in possession of the victors. None of the colonial troops were killed and only one was was wounded. This was a son of Colonel Polk, a youth of promise, who was shot through the shoulder. On the 23d of December, Colonel Thomson with his detachment returned to Richardson's camp. Soon after this it commenced snowing and continued without intermission for thirty hours. The account says, (see Drayton's Memoirs, vol. ii, page 122), that the ground was generally covered for two feet. The army was without tents. Their shoes and clothing being much worn, they were badly prepared to encounter such dreadful weather.

  • John B. McLeod, "Battle Of The Great Cane Brake Or All-American Skirmish On The Reedy", Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Vol.2, No.11, Nov. 2005. p.13-16

  • There is supposedly an account or response from a loyalist viewpoint to the action in Samuel Curwen, Journal And Letters Of The Late Samuel Curwen, Judge of Admiralty, etc., a loyalist-refugee in England, during the American Revolution.. p.?. I was unable to locate such a letter.

    An article referring to Curwen's version is found in Ward, George Atkinson, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol.12, Issue 7, July 1846, beginning at the very bottom of p.391. If you have trouble accessing, go here and click on item 7, then on "The Civil Warfare in the Carolinas..", then proceed to p.391. This can also be viewed in plain text or pdf.

  • NBBAS:One p.71-72.
    Online. p.72-73.

  • RevWar75 RevWar75  
  • Dec 1775 listing   12/22/1775 Cane Brake (Great Cane Brake, Reedy River). Per Heitman, Peckham, O'Kelley.

Related locations:
Indian Line,  

Confidence level::See above.