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The Battle of Kings Mountain was a military engagement of the American Revolution fought on October 7, 1780, in York County, South Carolina, near the border with North Carolina. The battle took place on a low, narrow, isolated ridge called Kings Mountain. The American troops, some 900 frontiersmen under a divided command, trapped a force of about 1000 Loyalist militia at the top of the ridge. After an hour of heavy fighting, the British commander, Major Patrick Ferguson, was killed, and the British surrendered. The American casualties were 28 killed and 62 wounded, while the entire British force was either killed, wounded, or captured. The site of the battle is commemorated in Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Following the defeats of Maj. General Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston in May and then Maj. General Horatio Gates at Camden, British Lt. General Charles Cornwallis appeared to now have a clear path all the way to Virginia. In September, General Cornwallis invaded North Carolina and ordered Major Patrick Ferguson to guard his left flank. Ferguson provoked the Mountain Men living in the area by sending out a threat.
On September 2, Ferguson left for the Western Carolinas with seventy of his American Volunteers and several hundred Tory militia. Ferguson arrived at Gilbert Town, North Carolina on September 7. When there on September 10, Major Ferguson paroled a captured rebel and sent him into the mountains with a message to the leaders there, "that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, and take protection under his standard, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword." This threat proved to be his undoing.
The mountain men who lived in the Blue Ridge area were mostly isolated and kept to themselves, but a threat to their own moved them to action. A call to arms went out and they gathered at Sycamore Shoals. On September 25, Colonels William Campbell, Charles McDowell, John Sevier and Isaac Shelby left Sycamore Shoals in pursuit of Ferguson. Shelby and Elijah Clarke had previously skirmished with Ferguson on August 8 at Cedar Springs.
On September 30, they were joined by Colonel Benjamin Cleveland and Colonel Joseph Winston. When they reached Gilbert Town, Major Ferguson was gone. Sometime after this, the seven colonels had to decide on a chain of command until a Continental Army general officer arrived. They chose the youngest of them all, Colonel William Campbell to act as overall commander.
The Over Mountain Men moved south in search of Major Patrick Ferguson. On October 6, while camped at Cowpens, South Carolina, the Over Mountain Men were joined by Colonel James Williams and 400 South Carolinians. From a Rebel spy they now learned that Ferguson was thirty miles to the north, camped at King's Mountain. The colonels wanted to catch up with Ferguson before he reached Charlotte and Lt. General Charles Cornwallis' protection, so they chose 900 of the best men and horses and quickly made their way north overnight.
The combined force of Over Mountain Men under the temporary command of Colonel William Campbell arrived at King's Mountain about noon on October 7, 1780. Major Ferguson had chosen the position because he felt that no enemy could fire upon his position without showing themselves. The Patriot force deliberated and decided to surround the mountain and using continuous fire to slowly close in like an inescapable noose.
The force was divided into four columns. Colonel Isaac Shelby and Colonel Campbell led the interior columns, with Shelby on the left and Campbell on the right. The right flanking column was led by Colonel John Sevier. The left flanking column was led by Colonel Benjamin Cleveland. They moved into their respective positions and began moving toward the summit and Major Ferguson's position. The battle commenced at 3 o'clock with the middle two columns exchanging fire with Major Ferguson for fifteen minutes while the flanking columns moved into position. Ferguson used his Provincial Corps to drive back Colonels Shelby and Campbell with a bayonet charge, but then the Corps had to fall back under sharpshooter fire. Another bayonet charge repelled Shelby and Campbell.
Because of their exposed position, Major Ferguson's men were being overwhelmed. The sharpshooters were picking them off from behind the trees and brush that surrounded the summit, while their own aim was high as they shot downhill. The Over Mountain Men then gained a foothold on the summit, driving back the Loyalists. The net was now quickly closing in. Major Ferguson finally attempted to cut a path through the Patriot line so that his forces could escape, but this failed as Ferguson fell from his horse, riddled with bullets. Ferguson's second-in-command quickly raised the white flag of surrender. Following the request of surrender, it took a while for the firing to dissipate, with cries of 'Remember Waxhaws' and 'Buford's Quarter' spurring some men to continue for a time.
The battle had lasted a little over an hour and not a single man of Ferguson's force escaped. 225 Loyalist had been killed, 163 wounded and 716 were captured, while only 28 Patriots were killed, including Colonel James Williams, and 68 wounded. When Lt. General Charles Cornwallis learned of Major Patrick Ferguson's defeat, he retreated from Charlotte, North Carolina back to Hillsborough, South Carolina.
The Battle of King's Mountain was a pivotal and significant victory by American Patriots over American Loyalists during the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. The battle destroyed the left wing of Cornwallis' army and effectively ended Loyalist ascendance in the Carolinas. The victory halted the British advance into North Carolina, forced Lord Cornwallis to retreat from Charlotte into South Carolina, and gave General Nathaniel Greene the opportunity to reorganize the American Army.
Historians consider the Battle of Kings Mountain to be the "turning point in the South" in America's War for Independence. The victory of Patriots over Loyalist troops destroyed the left wing of Cornwallis' army. The battle also effectively ended, at least temporarily, the British advance into North Carolina. Lord Cornwallis was forced to retreat from Charlotte into South Carolina to wait for reinforcements. The victory of the Overmountain Men allowed General Nathaniel Greene the opportunity to reorganize the American Army.
When British General Henry Clinton learned of his men's defeat at Kings Mountain, he is reported to have called it "the first link of a chain of evils" that he feared might lead to the collapse of the British plans to quash the Patriot rebellion. He was right. American forces went on to defeat the British at Cowpens. A little more than a year after Kings Mountain, Washington accepted Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown, Virginia.
The following is a first hand account of the Battle of King's Mountain written by Benjamin Sharp, another militiaman from Washington Co. Virginia.
"As well as I can remember, some time in August, in the year 1780, Col. McDowel of N. Carolina, with three or four hundred men, fled over the mountains to the settlements of Holstein and Watauga, to evade the pursuit of a British officer by the name of Ferguson, who had the command of a large detachment of British and Tories. Our militia speedily embodied, all mounted on horses, the Virginians under the command of Colonel William Campbell, and the two western counties of North Carolina (now Tennessee) under the Colonels Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, and as soon as they joined McDowel, he recrossed the mountains and formed a junction with Colonel Cleveland, with a fine regiment of North Carolina militia. We were now fifteen or eighteen hundred strong , and considered ourselves equal in number, or at least a match for the enemy, and eager to bring them to battle; but Colonel McDowel, who had the command, appeared to think otherwise, for although Ferguson had retreated on our crossing of the mountains, he kept us marching and counter-marching for eight days without advancing a step towards our object. At length a council of the field-officers was convened, and it was said in camp, how true I will not pretend to say, that he refused in council to proceed without a general officer to command the army, and to get rid of him, the council deputed him to General Green, at headquarters, to procure a general. Be this as it may, as soon as the council rose Colonel McDowel left the camp and we saw no more of him during the expedition.
As soon as he was fairly gone the council reassembled and appointed Colonel William Campbell our commander, and within one hour we were on our horses and in full pursuit of the enemy. The British still continued to retreat, and after hard marching for some time, we found progress much retarded by our footmen and weak horses that were not able to sustain the heavy duty. It was then resolved to leave the foot and weak horses under the command of captain William Neil, of Virginia, with instructions to follow as fast as his detachment could bear. Thus disencumbered we gained fast upon the enemy. I think on the seventh day of October, in the afternoon, we halted at a place called the Cow Pens, in South Carolina, fed our horses and ate a hearty meal of such provisions as we had procured, and by dark mounted our horses, marched all night and crossed the Broad River by the dawn of the day, and although it rained considerably in the morning, we never halted to refresh ourselves or our horses. About twelve o'clock it cleared off with a fine cool breeze. We were joined that day by Colonel Williams, of South Carolina, with several hundred men who informed us that they were just from the British camp, that they were posted on the top of King's Mountain, and that there was a picket-guard on the road not far ahead of us. These men were detained least they should find means to tell the enemy of our approach, and Colonel Shelby, with a select party undertook to surprise and take the picket; this he accomplished without firing a gun or giving the least alarm, and it was hailed by the army as a good omen.
We then moved on and as we approached the mountain the roll of the British drum informed us that we had something to do. No doubt the British commander thought his position was a strong one, but the plan of our attack was such as to make it the worst for him he could have chosen. The end of the mountain to our left descended gradually to a branch; in front of us the ascent was rather abrupt and to the right was a low gap through which the low road passed. The different regiments were directed by guides to the ground they were to occupy, so as to surround the eminence on which the British were encamped; Campbell's to the right, along the road; Shelby's next to the left of him; Sevier's next, and so on till last the left of Cleveland's to join the right of Campbell's, on the other side of the mountain at the road.
Thus the British major found himself attacked on all sides at once, and so situated as to receive a galling fire from all parts of our lines without doing any injury to ourselves. From this difficulty he attempted to relieve himself at the point of the bayonet, but failed in three successive charges. Cleveland, who had the farthest to go, being bothered in some swampy ground, did not occupy his position in the line until late in the engagement. A few men, drawn from the right of Campbell's regiment, occupied this vacancy; this the British commander discovered, and here he made his last powerful effort to force his way through and make his escape; but at that instant Cleveland's regiment came up in gallant style; the colonel, himself, came up by the very spot I occupied, at which time his horse had received two wounds, and he was obliged to dismount. Although fat and unwieldy, be advanced on foot with signal bravery, but was soon remounted by one of his officers, who brought him another horse. This threw the British and Tories into complete disorder, and Ferguson seeing that all was lost, determined not to survive the disgrace; he broke his sword, and spurred his horse into the thickest of our ranks, and fell covered with wounds, and shortly after his whole army surrendered with discretion. The action lasted about one hour, and for most of the time was thick and bloody.
I cannot clearly recollect the statement of our loss, given at the time, but my impression now is that it was two hundred twenty five killed, and about as many, or a few more, wounded; the loss of the enemy must have been much greater. The return of the prisoners taken was eleven hundred and thirty three, about fifteen hundred stand of arms, several baggage wagons, and all their camp equipage fell into our hands. The battle closed not far from sundown, so that we had to encamp on the ground with the dead and wounded, and pass the night among groans and lamentations."
The following is an extract from a letter from an officer, dated Charlestown, January 30th, 1781. This gentleman went from New York with a detachment drawn from the Provincial Brigade, which was commanded by Major Patrick Ferguson. This letter gives the most circumstantial account yet received of the action at King's Mountain, in South Carolina, Oct. seventh.
"I think the last letter I wrote you was from Fort Moultrie, which I left a few days after.
We marched to a place called Ninety Six, which is about two hundred miles from Charleston; we lay there about a fortnight in good quarters, after which we proceeded to the frontiers of South Carolina, and frequently passed the line into North Carolina, and can say with propriety, that there is not a regiment or detachment of his Majesty's service, that ever went through the fatigues, or suffered so much, as our detachment.
That you may have some faint idea of our suffering, I shall mention a few particulars.
In the first place we were separated from all the army, acting with the militia; we never lay two nights in one place, frequently making forced marches of twenty and thirty miles in one night; skirmishing very often; the greatest part of our time without rum or wheat flour-rum is a very essential article, for in marching ten miles we would often be obliged to ford two or three rivers, which wet the men up to their waists.
In this disagreeable situation, we remained till the seventh of October, when we were attacked by two thousand five hundred Rebels, under the command of Gen. Williams.
Col. FERGUSON had under his command eight hundred militia, and our detachment, which at that time was reduced to an hundred men.
The action commenced about two o'clock in the afternoon, and was very severe for upwards of an hour, during which the Rebels were charged and drove back several times, with considerable slaughter.
When our detachment charged, for the first time, it fell to my lot to put a Rebel Captain to death, which I did most effectually, with one blow of my sword; the fellow was at least six feet high, but I had rather the advantage, as I was mounted on an elegant horse, and he on foot.
But their numbers enabled them to surround us and the North Carolina regiment, which consisted of about three hundred men.
Seeing this, and numbers being out of ammunition which naturally threw the rest of the militia into confusion, our gallant little detachment, which consisted of only seventy men, exclusive of twenty who acted as dragoons, and ten who drove wagons, etc., when we marched to the field of action, were all killed and wounded but twenty, and those brave fellows were soon crowded into an heap by the militia.
Capt. DePEYSTER, on whom the command devolved, seeing it impossible to form six men together, thought it necessary to surrender, to save the lives of the brave men who were left.
We lost in this action, Maj. FERGUSON, of the Seventy-first regiment, a man strongly attached to his King and country, well informed in the art of war, brave, humane, and an agreeable companion-in short, he was universally esteemed in the army, and I have every reason to regret his unhappy fate.
We lost eighteen men killed on the spot-Capt. RYERSON and thirty-two Sergeants and privates wounded, of Maj. FERGUSON's detachment.
Lieutenant M'GINNIS of ALLEN's regiment, Skinner's brigade, killed; taken prisoners, two Captains, four Lieutenants, three Ensigns, one Surgeon, and fifty-four Sergeants and privates, including the wounded, wagoners, etc.
The militia killed, one hundred, including officers; wounded, ninety; taken prisoners about six hundred; our baggage all taken, of course.
The Rebels lost Brig.-Gen. Williams, and one hundred and thirty-five, including officers, killed; wounded nearly equal to ours.
The morning after the action we were marched sixteen miles, previous to which orders were given by the Rebel Col. Campbell (whom the command devolved on) that should they be attacked on their march, they were to fire on, and destroy their prisoners.
The party was kept marching two days without any kind of provisions. The officers' baggage, on the third day's march, was all divided among the Rebel officers.
Shortly after we were marched to Bickerstaff's settlement, where we arrived on the thirteenth.
On the fourteenth, a court martial, composed of twelve field officers, was held for the trial of the militia prisoners; when, after a short hearing, they condemned thirty of the most principal and respectable characters, whom they considered to be most inimical to them, to be executed;
and, at six o'clock in the evening of the same day, executed Col. MILLS, Capt. CHITWOOD, Capt. WILSON, and six privates; obliging every one of their officers to attend at the death of those brave, but unfortunate Loyalists, who all, with their last breath and blood, held the Rebels and their cause as infamous and base, and as they were turning off, extolled their King and the British Government.
On the morning of the fifteenth, Col. Campbell had intelligence that Col. TARLETON was approaching him, when he gave orders to his men, that should Col. TARLETON come up with them, they were immediately to fire on Capt. DePEYSTER and his officers, who were in the front, and then a second volley on the men.
During this day's march the men were obliged to give thirty-five Continental dollars for a single ear of Indian corn, and forty for a drink of water, they not being allowed to drink when fording a river; in short, the whole of the Rebels' conduct from the surrender of the party into their hands is incredible to relate.
Several of the militia that were worn out with fatigue, and not being able to keep up, were cut down, and trodden to death in the mire.
After the party arrived at Moravian Town, in North Carolina, we officers were ordered in different houses. Dr. JOHNSON (who lived with me) and myself were turned out of our bed at an unseasonable hour of the night, and threatened with immediate death if we did not make room for some of Campbell's officers;
Dr. JOHNSON was, after this, knocked down, and treated in the basest manner, for endeavoring to dress a man whom they had cut on the march.
The Rebel officers would often go in amongst the prisoners, draw their swords, cut down and wound those whom their wicked and savage minds prompted.
This is a specimen of Rebel lenity-you may report it without the least equivocation, for upon the word and honor of a gentleman, this description is not equal to their barbarity. This kind of treatment made our time pass away very disagreeably.
After we were in Moravian Town about a fortnight, we were told we could not get paroles to return within the British lines; neither were we to have any till we were moved over the mountains in the back parts of Virginia, where we were to live on hoe cake and milk;
in consequence of this, Capt. TAYLOR, Lieut. STEVENSON and myself, chose rather to trust the hand of fate, and agreeable to our inclinations, set out from Moravian Town the fifth of November, and arrived at the British lines the twentieth.
From this town to Ninety Six, which was the first post we arrived at, is three hundred miles; and from Ninety Six to Charlestown, two hundred, so that my route was five hundred miles.
The fatigues of this jaunt I shall omit till I see you, although I suffered exceedingly; but thank God am now in Charlestown in good quarters."
The Royal Gazette, (New York), February 24, 1781.
William R. Bean, II's Timeline
February 8, 1754
Augusta County, Province of Virginia
Burke Co., N.C.
Burke County, North Carolina, United States
January 10, 1778
Boone's Creek, Washington, Tennessee, United States
Burke Co., N.C.
April 3, 1779
Burke Co., N.C.
Burke Co., N.C.