Trading Ford in report prepared on historic war sites protection
The National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program recently released its “Report to Congress on the Historic Preservation of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Sites in the United States.”
Trading Ford was included in the survey, along with other historic sites that comprise the “Race to the Dan River,” which is included in the “Roads, Trails and Waterways Needing Further Study” section of the report.
Realizing that many historic sites of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 were at risk from rapid urban and suburban development, Congress authorized the study in 1996. The goals of the study were:
– To gather current information about the significance of, current condition of and threats to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites and;
– To present preservation and interpretation alternatives for the sites.
A sub-committee of the National Park Service Advisory Board gave each resource a ranking. “Race to the Dan River” received an A, meaning it’s a site of a military or naval action with a vital objective or result that shaped the strategy, direction, outcome or perception of the war.
Paul Hawke, chief of the American Battlefield Protection Program, said, “The ‘Race to the Dan,’ and all of its contributing resources, are considered among the most significant sites we looked at.”
During the early days of winter 1781, Nathanael Greene, Southern commander of the U. S. forces, divided his forces, baiting Lord Cornwallis and the British to follow suit.
After a decisive victory at Cowpens, S.C., on Jan. 17, Greene and his generals began a strategic retreat that would lead both armies 230 miles across the heart of the North Carolina Piedmont.
The patriots lost beloved General Davidson at Cowan’s Ford on the Catawba. Dispirited but forging on, they reached Salisbury on Feb. 2, then moved on to cross the Yadkin at the Trading Ford. The British arrived at the end of the day on Feb. 3, in time to have a brief encounter with Greene’s rear guard, only to find that the the rest of Greene’s forces were safely across the now-swollen river, and that all the boats were on the far shore.
On the morning of Jan. 4, the British furiously cannonaded the Americans before giving up their attack and marching north to the Shallow Ford to cross the river. The pursuit continued until Greene and his army crossed the Dan River at Irwin’s Ferry in Virginia, Feb. 13, again leaving a swollen river facing the British army who lacked the boats to follow.
Greene had led Cornwallis away from his base of supply in Charleston and provided himself with time for reinforcements to reach him. The stage was set for the encounter between the two armies which would occur at Guilford Courthouse on March 15.
Historians widely consider the Race to the Dan to have been a masterful strategic maneuver. Among the North Carolina sites included in the route are: Gilbert Town; Ramseur’s Mill; Cowan’s, Beattie’s and Sherrill’s Fords on the Catawba River; Trading Ford and Shallow Ford on the Yadkin; the Moravian towns of Salem, Bethabara, and Bethania; Abbott’s Creek; campsite at Guilford Courthouse; and Bruce’s Crossroads. In Rowan County, the report also mentions Grant’s Creek and Savitz Mill as sites of interest.
Salisbury historian Ann Brownlee, having surveyed the Shallow Ford site, led a group of volunteers, who surveyed the Trading Ford site in 2000 and 2001 under the auspices of the Carolinas’ Backcountry Alliance. The CBA Revolutionary War Sites Inventory Project was funded by a grant from the ABPP and was supervised by professional landscape consultant Susan Vincent. The Trading Ford site was submitted as potentially eligible for the National Register.
“The Trading Ford survey opened the door to the discovery of a wealth of historic sites concentrated in the Trading Ford area” commented Brownlee, who subsequently founded the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association to work toward the preservation of these historic sites.
The Trading Ford area, ignored for decades by both historians and development, has seen its share of battles since, as Brownlee and the Trading Ford organization have advocated its preservation in the face of several threats which have emerged along with the increased recognition of the importance of the history of the area.
“I don’t know how it will turn out,” Brownlee continued. “But I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t do everything I can to preserve this irreplaceable heritage. This has the potential to be developed into a high-quality heritage tourism destination which would truly enhance the area and enrich us all. We’re not against development, but we need a balance which also includes historic preservation. It’s time for us to rise to the occasion, before it’s too late.”