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The Shallow Ford on the Yadkin River, on the boundary that divides Forsyth County from Yadkin County, is a geographical landmark rich in history. The ford, a flat-bottomed section of the river used in the eighteenth century as a wagon crossing route, was the site of skirmishes during the Revolutionary War and Civil War. It was the place where Lord Charles Cornwallis led his troops across the Yadkin River in 1781.
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In the mid-1700s immigrants to western North Carolina began using Shallow Ford as a crossing point. The ford was rock-bottomed and safe for travelers under normal conditions. It was an integral part of the Great Wagon Road, which linked backcountry North Carolina with colonies along the eastern seaboard. The route, which retraced an ancient Indian trading path, extended from Pennsylvania to Georgia and contributed significantly to the settling of the Piedmont.
In October 1780, a skirmish between Surry County Loyalist militia and Patriot militia from North Carolina and Virginia took place on the banks of the Yadkin. On the 14th, the Loyalist militia of about 500 men under the command of Gideon Wright fought with Patriots from local counties and southern Virginia. The Patriots sustained one casualty and four wounded in the battle, while the Loyalists lost about fifteen men, as well as another thirty-five that were either wounded or taken prisoner. The Patriot victory ruined the organization of the Surry County Loyalists, which never amassed the same numbers.
Lord Charles Cornwallis crossed the Shallow Ford in February 1781 while following Nathanael Greene’s forces into Guilford County. Lord Cornwallis, commanding around 2,200 men, was in pursuit of General Greene and General Daniel Morgan’s troops following the defeat of British forces at Kings Mountain and Cowpens. As the Patriot forces retreated, Cornwallis led his men into the northern counties of North Carolina. On February 17, Cornwallis’s forces crossed the Yadkin River at Shallow Ford before marching to Hillsborough to rest. The fighting finally culminated in mid-March at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
Shallow Ford was the site of a skirmish during Stoneman’s Raid in April 1865. During the closing months of the war, Major General George Stoneman led about 5,000 troops through western North Carolina in hopes of expediting the end of the conflict. On April 11, 1865, part of Stoneman’s force, under the command of Colonel William J. Palmer, split from the main force and engaged in a skirmish with Confederate forces at Shallow Ford. The Confederate militia, outmatched and fearing defeat, quickly fled, easily giving the Union army control of the crossing of the Yadkin.
Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in North Carolina (2004)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
Adelaide Fries, Stuart Thurman Wright, and J. Edwin Hendricks, Forsyth: The History of a County on the March (1949)
William S. Powell, North Carolina through Four Centuries (1986)
John G. Barrett, The Civil War in North Carolina (1960)