Battle of King's Mountain, 7 October 1780

Battle of King's Mountain, 7 October 1780

Battle of King's Mountain

Battle during the American War of Independence. In an attempt to conquer North Carolina and secure the south, Cornwallis began a march north on 9 September 1780. His western flank was guarded by 1,000 Loyalists, commanded by Major Patrick Ferguson, the only non-American present at the battle. A month into the march, three groups of American frontiersmen commanded by militia officers isolated this force on the heavily wooded King's Mountain. While the direct American attacks were repulsed with bayonet charges, the frontiersmen, armed with rifles, were able to snipe accurately into the Loyalist forces. After an hour of fighting, Ferguson was killed, and with his death the Loyalists surrendered. The entire force was lost. The loss of his flanking force decided Cornwallis against continuing his march north, and he returned to Winnsborough, South Carolina. The aftermath was also notable for the savagery of the Americans, who executed several of their prisoners, probably in revenge for loyalist actions at the earlier battle of Waxhaws.

See AlsoBooks on the American War of IndependenceSubject Index: American War of Independence


Battle of Kings Mountain

The Battle of Kings Mountain was a military engagement between Patriot and Loyalist militias in South Carolina during the Southern Campaign of the American Revolutionary War, resulting in a decisive victory for the Patriots. The battle took place on October 7, 1780, 9 miles (14 km) south of the present-day town of Kings Mountain, North Carolina. In what is now rural Cherokee County, South Carolina, the Patriot militia defeated the Loyalist militia commanded by British Major Patrick Ferguson of the 71st Foot. The battle has been described as "the war's largest all-American fight". [3]

Ferguson had arrived in North Carolina in early September 1780 to recruit troops for the Loyalist militia and protect the flank of Lord Cornwallis's main force. Ferguson challenged Patriot militias to lay down their arms or suffer the consequences. In response, the Patriot militias led by Benjamin Cleveland, James Johnston, William Campbell, John Sevier, Joseph McDowell and Isaac Shelby rallied to attack Ferguson and his forces.

Receiving intelligence on the oncoming attack, Ferguson decided to retreat to the safety of Lord Cornwallis's army. However, the Patriots caught up with the Loyalists at Kings Mountain near the border with South Carolina. Achieving a complete surprise, the Patriot militiamen attacked and surrounded the Loyalists, inflicting severe casualties. After an hour of battle, Ferguson was fatally shot while trying to break the Patriot line, after which his men surrendered. Some Patriots gave no quarter until their officers re-established control over their men they were said to be seeking revenge for alleged killings by Banastre Tarleton's militiamen at the Battle of Waxhaws, under the slogan "Remember Tarleton's Quarter". Although victorious, the Patriots had to retreat quickly from the area for fear of Cornwallis' advance. Later they executed nine Loyalist prisoners after a short trial.

The battle was a pivotal event in the Southern campaign. The surprising victory of the American Patriot militia over the Loyalists came after a string of Patriot defeats at the hands of Lord Cornwallis, and greatly raised the Patriots' morale. With Ferguson dead and his Loyalist militia destroyed, Cornwallis was forced to abandon his plan to invade North Carolina and retreated into South Carolina.


Battle of King's Mountain, 7 October 1780 - History

Major Ferguson was patrolling North Carolina with a force of over 1,000 Tory supporters attempting to pacify the countryside. 1,200 militia men, most from North Carolina gathered to stop Ferguson and his troops. Ferguson realized that they were overtaking him, he organized his defenses atop King's Mountain,On October 7, 1780 the militia arrived at the base of the mountain and surrounded it. The defenders' losses quickly mounted and, when Ferguson was killed, the fight went out of the remaining soldiers. Of the Tory troops, 157 were killed, 163 were severely wounded and 698 were captured. The patriot militia lost only 28 killed and 62 wounded.

After his back-to-back victories in Charleston and at Camden, Cornwallis was anxious to extend his control over North Carolina. He sent Colonel Ferguson, who commanded a force of American loyalists to the west, where he established a headquarters at Gilbert Town. His forces were being augmented with the arrival of additional loyalists. Ferguson's forces grew to 1,200 men. As his confidence grew, he issued an ultimatum, stating that they must " from their opposition to British arms' If not they would march, march, over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword", statement had the opposite effect from what he was hoping. Instead of cowing those opposing Great Britain, it galvanized support for them. Rebels gathered from far and near.

Fegurson realized he was in trouble and feared he would soon be outnumbered. He requested reinforcements from Cornwallis, but soon began marching his troops towards Charlotte and Cornwallis' additional soldiers.

Along the way Ferguson seems to have concluded that he would not be able to reach Cornwallis before being attacked by the colonials. He thus decided to make a stand on King's Mountain. He believed that despite being outnumbered the mountain would give his better train troops and advantage over attackers that would be forced to scale the mountain. On October 8th, 1780, the American rebels, led by Major Capbell, began an assault on the top of the mountain. 1,800 American rebels began their assault on the 1,000 Loyalists above.

Ferguson had assumed that the thick foliage surrounding the mountain would act as a natural barrier to the Americans scaling it. Instead it was the perfect camouflage. The Americans were able to climb the mountain while often maintaining cover behind trees and rocks. The Americans made there way up three sides of the mountain. When they reached the top they were able to put down withering fire on the unprotected loyalists. Within moments they tried to surrender. Ferguson tried to lead a charge down the mountain, but was cut down by fire within seconds.

The rebels showed no compassion towards the surrendering loyalists, killing many and even executing a few of the prisoners. King's Mountain was a major American victory. Over 300 loyalists were killed or wounded and over 600 were captured. Cornwallis was forced to abandon his plans to subdue North Carolina.


Battle of King’s Mountain – October 7, 1780

Darius Freeman cursed as a Tory musket ball smacked the maple beside him. Nearby, a pair of Patriots fired their long rifles, the guns’ crack lost amid the din of battle. The rifles’ smoke mixed with a hundred others on the slope, the acrid air tasting like copper on the back of his throat, the gauzy grey discharge clouds obscuring the blue autumn sky.

“Our Lord may well do that,” shouted his long-time friend Jethro Benis, “but first we must send them to him.”

As if in reply, Tory muskets thundered above them, their .75 caliber balls whipping through the branches over the men like angry hornets, showering them with cut twigs, and severed leaves.

Darius and Jethro ducked, pulling their heads down between hunched shoulders. Both were tall, rawboned men, clothed in doeskin, with moccasins covering their feet, long hunting knives belted at the waist. Each wore their hair long, tied back with leather cord. Wild beards grew from their cheeks and chin. They were mountain men, frontiersmen, from the west side of the Appalachians. Darius farmed corn and bean bushes outside the small village of Sycamore Shoals, along the bank of the Watauga River. Jethro trapped in the mountains to the east. They had mustered with hundreds more at the Shoals when asked by Isaac Shelby and John Sevier. The British had trounced Horatio Gates army at Camden, and when Lord Charles Cornwallis sent British Major Patrick Ferguson to clear out the Patriots from the remainder of the Carolinas, Darius, Jethro, and all the others mustered to protect their land, to protect their families, and to put paid to Ferguson and his army of Tory militia and Provincials.

Jethro rose from behind the boulder protecting him and aimed down the 40-inch barrel of his long rifle, resting the gun on top of the stone. One heartbeat, two heartbeats, and the rifle boomed, flames shooting at least 18 inches from the tip of the muzzle. The retort was loud, adding to the general cacophony of battle—the shouts, screams, and booming firearms almost deafening. Jethro slid to a sitting position to duck return fire as Darius turned to aim his weapon.

The Overmountain Men, as Darius and his like were called, had marched from Sycamore Shoals, south through North Carolina, and across the border of South Carolina. They had camped at Hannah’s Cowpens on the night of October 6, enduring a cold, autumn rain, and then at last cornered Ferguson and his troops on this rugged hump of ground—a hump of ground named Kings Mountain.

Darius caught a glimpse of red cloth through the trees. It was hard to be sure overgrowth clung thickly to the sloping sides of the hill. Winter had not yet come and the trees were far from sparse, the leaves of the maples brilliant orange and yellow, the oaks an aged green, and the pine needles fresh, still damp from the previous day’s soaking. The Overmountain Men’s enemies were like them, dressed in working clothes, but most with a rag of red tied to a sleeve or stuck into a hatband.

But not like us, mused Darius. We are not murderers.

All of them heard the news back home. They spoke in hushed tones at muster. “Did you hear ‘bout Lancaster?” one man asked, drawing on his corncob pipe, referring to the village north of Charleston.

Another spat on the ground, “Called it a battle they did, the Battle of Waxhaws.”

“Twern’t no battle,” Corncob replied. “It was a massacre. Them Continentals asked for quarter. Tarleton and his men slaughtered them.” It was Corncob’s turn to spit. “Tarleton’s Quarter.”

Tarleton’s Quarter. The words flamed in Darius’s mind. Again, he caught sight of the red cloth on the crest above them, and he squeezed the trigger. His long rifle bucked, spewing smoke and flame. The wind shifted, clearing the air, and the red cloth was gone.

Darius put his back to the maple and squinted through the canopy above. He figured it was about 3:15. They had been fighting a short while. Around him, the other hundred or so of William Campbell’s men fired hard at the Tory militia on the ridge above them. Many Overmountain Men were moving towards the crest, running from tree to rock. Darius couldn’t see where any of them were hurt yet. The Tories were terrible shots, their muskets inaccurate, but you needed to watch out for their volleys. One musket wasn’t much of a problem, but two hundred were.

William Campbell’s men fought on the southern tip of the boot-shaped mountain. Across from them, Darius could catch an occasional glimpse of John Sevier’s boys, shooting at the Tories in front of them. To their left, Isaac Shelby had a group advancing up the west slope.

Darius knew that there were about a thousand Patriots advancing on the hill. Campbell had got his men started first, but Sevier and Shelby had joined in pretty quick, and from what he heard while filling his canteen, a bunch of boys under the likes of Joe McDowell and Ben Cleveland were aiming to attack the hill’s northern “toes” as soon as they could get there.

His rifle loaded, Darius turned to search for another target.

Darius glanced at his friend, and Jethro motioned with his chin at the rising ground. Sure enough, Darius saw that most of Campbell’s men were further up the slope, running with a crouch toward the summit.

“Let’s go.” Darius took a step and then froze as a clap of thunder rolled across the sky. Only it wasn’t thunder. Smoke swirled on the slope, ahead of Darius several of the Overmountain Men writhed on the ground. The Tories had volley fired into the advancing Patriots. The realization no sooner struck Darius, than a war cry rose from the ridge, and British Redcoats charged down the slope, the sun glinting off their lowered bayonets. His hands grew sweaty on the rifle’s stock.

To his left a pair of men fired their long rifles at the Redcoats. Darius saw a soldier fall, but the formation advanced, a mounted officer at their fore, urging them on, blowing a silver whistle, and pointing his saber directly at Darius.

A hand pulled at Darius’s arm, and he turned, surprised to find Jethro pulling him back. Hadn’t they been advancing but a moment before? Darius’s heart beat like a drum. All around him, the Overmountain Men were running down the slope, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and those glinting bayonets, and without another thought, Darius ran.

Major Patrick Ferguson, formerly of the 71st Foot, commander of the Loyalist forces at Kings Mountain, glared at the retreating rifleman. Damn them to hell! Ferguson knew he could end this battle here and now if the backwoods colonists would stand and fight, but stand they would not. His Provincials’ charge had driven them from the mountain’s slopes, but now the frontiersmen melted into the woods at the mountain’s foot.

“Halt,” cried Ferguson. The sergeants yelled and bullied the Provincials about him into a line.

“Reload,” a lanky, red-coated lieutenant shouted. The Provincials responded by shaking powder in their measuring caps and pouring it in their Brown Bess musket barrels. The man next to Ferguson began to push the lead ball with his ramrod when suddenly he collapsed into the soldier behind him. Both fell, the front of the nearest man’s white smock covered in blood. Two more men flopped backward, and a sergeant screamed, a bloody flap of skin all that remained of his right ear.

Ferguson could see the woodsmen at the bottom of the slope, reformed, covering behind thick trees, firing their long rifles. Ferguson sheathed his saber and returned fire using the breech-loading rifle of his own design, but it was clear the Provincials were greatly outranged and couldn’t hope to withstand the colonists’ withering fire.

“Fall back,” Ferguson bellowed, “Back to the ridge!”

“What’s the point?” Jethro gasped. Darius slid behind a thick oak and reloaded, glancing at his winded friend as he did so. Blood seeped from a tear in Jethro’s doeskin coat. Three inches above his elbow, the ripped fabric bore mute testimony to a grazing musket ball, not serious enough to send Jethro to the rear, but aggravating, symbolic of the afternoon’s battle. Twice William Campbell’s riflemen had pushed within a dozen yards of Kings Mountain’s summit, and twice the British Redcoats had countercharged, driving them back to the bottom of the mountain. Once while catching his breath, Darius witnessed the Provincials do the same to Sevier’s boys.

Jethro was right, the skirmishing seemed futile, a stalemate. Darius drew a long breath, sucking in the smoke-laced air. His legs burned with fatigue, and the burning made him smile. He was in the best of shape, a mountain man and farmer, capable of wringing a living from this hard land. If he was tired, those Redcoats had to be exhausted. One more push might do the trick. He focused his grin on Jethro.

Ignoring Jethro’s quizzical expression, Darius stepped from the oak’s shadow. “The point is to kill them Tories.” He pulled his rifle to his shoulder, fired, and looked back at his friend. “Now let’s do it.”

Once again, Darius started up the hill.

In front of Ferguson, the loyalist militia’s firing intensified. Once again the mountain men were coming. Less than 170 of his Provincials stood ready to fight. Those in the ranks leaned on their rifles, those with water pulled heavily from their canteens, others tended to wounds on themselves or their neighbors. The southern “heel” of the mountain roiled under gun smoke, flaming muskets flashing within the swirling gray cloud. Ferguson blew hard on his silver whistle.

Ferguson wiped the sweat from his eyes and unsheathed his sword. If the rebels wanted another taste of the King’s steel, he would give it to them. His gaze swept the redcoats behind him, as proud of the Provincials from New York, as he had been of his Scotsmen in the 71st.

“Sergeants, forward … ” Piercing war whoops rose from the northern “toes” of the hill, drowning Ferguson’s words. Next came the popping of individual muskets, and then a moment later a ragged volley. Ferguson stood in his stirrups, craning his neck to see. Below him, the Provincials fidgeted uneasily, to their front the loyalist militia cried for help.

Through the churning smoke on the far, north end of the hill came Ferguson’s worst nightmare. Hordes of rebel militia swarmed over the crest on three sides, swamping the loyalists.

Darius heard the war whoops as clearly as Ferguson, and recognized them immediately. “It’s Mcdowell’s boys,” he yelled to no one. “They’re catching them Tories in the rear.”

Campbell’s men gave a lusty cheer, and charged the summit with renewed vigor. Beside Darius, a mountain man took a ball in the head, the impact’s force flipping him onto his back, dead before he hit the ground. Darius looked away, swallowing the bile in his throat. A group of Patriots fired their rifles in quick succession, and Darius saw several of the Tories crumble. The Overmountain Men were close to the crest now, no more than fifteen feet, and many Tories panicked, throwing down their muskets, running from the howling woodsmen. Darius’s tongue felt swollen, his throat dry as dust, but his blood thrummed through his veins, his senses capturing each instant as if it were a painting there, a Tory bloodied and dead, a black Bible clutched to his chest. There, a rifle discharged point blank into a fleeing Tory’s back. There, a blond-bearded frontiersman offered his canteen to a wounded Redcoat.

At the crest, Darius parried a Tory’s bayonet with his rifle, and drove the butt into his face, breaking his nose, and dropping him like a rock. Next to him, Jethro fired, the ball catching a green-coated Tory in the side of the head, felling the man like a tree. Darius stopped to reload, his eyes sweeping the chaos in front of him. Most of the Tory’s ran, some dropped their rifles and stood still others kneeled, screaming for mercy. The smoke parted, revealing a knot of Redcoats and Tory militia who still resisted, led by the sword-bearing British officer.

Several Patriot rifles cracked and the officer jumped as if stung by a bee. An instant latter he slid from his white stallion, landing hard on his back. Darius aimed at the supine figure, but the smoke hid the officer before he could fire.

“Quarter, give us quarter!” The fight was gone from the Tories now. Everywhere the Overmountain Men poured onto the hilltop. The Tories pleaded for mercy.

“They’re more of them up yonder,” a near-toothless woodsman yelled as he ran past. Darius followed, heading to the mountain’s northern summit. Sure enough, the toothless man was right. Hundreds stood surrounded by Overmountain Men. Redcoats and Tories alike, their enemy stood with their hands in the air or begged on bended knee for their life.

Darius lowered his rifle until the ball sights rested on a pleading Redcoat. “Tarleton’s Quarter,” Darius whispered, and he pulled the trigger.

Map of the Battle of King’s Mountain. Click to enlarge.

Historical Note
The Battle of Kings Mountain was short. Approximately a thousand Overmountain Men from Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina fought a similar number of Tory militia and red-coated Provincials, defeating them in a little over an hour on the afternoon of October 7, 1780.

Colonel William Campbell led the Overmountain Men, although the men tended to follow the leader that recruited them, be it Campbell, Shelby, Mcdowell, or whoever, into battle. Ferguson commanded the Tories, the only British soldier on Kings Mountain.

The Tories set their defenses on the boot-shaped mountain’s edge. The Overmountain Men’s plan was simple: surround and overwhelm the Tories, and that’s what they did. Loose groupings of Overmountain Men from the same locale would advance up the slopes, the frontiersmen’s long rifle taking a terrible toll on the loyalists above.

Ferguson would organize a charge with the Provincials, and force the woodsmen back down the slope. This worked three times on the mountain’s southern slopes, but then several more contingents of Overmountain Men simultaneously attacked the northern face, and the Tory defenses were overwhelmed.

Brutality characterized the Revolutionary War in the south. In fact, it was a civil war, Tory against Patriot, and bloody reprisals, hangings, rape, and murder were commonplace. After the Tories broke and Ferguson died, the Overmountain Men slaughtered dozens of surrendering loyalists in retribution for Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s massacre of Continental soldiers at the Battle of Waxhaws, before Campbell and Sevier regained control.

Darius Freeman and Jethro Benis are typical, but fictitious Overmountain Men. I drew the characters from my imagination, loads of research, and thirteen years of experience living among their descendants. I also took a bit of poetic license with Major Ferguson’s death. Most historians place his wounding and subsequent death at the north end of the mountain. Darius appears to witness it just north of the southern crest.

This is the fourth of four articles about Southern battles of the American Revolution written exclusively for ArmchairGeneral.com by Mark H. Walker. Click here to read Guilford Courthouse, Cowpens, and Camden.

About the Author
Mark H. Walker is a former US Naval Officer, the author of 41 nonfiction books and three novels. He is a games editor for Armchair General magazine. He founded the award-winning game company Lock ‘n’ Load Publishing among its publications is Flintlock, Black Powder, Cold Steel—Vol. 1: Carolina Rebels, reviewed by ArmchairGeneral.com in October 2009.


Foundation Truths

A little family history:

The Battle of King’s Mountain has a very special place in history for me and my family. My father’s mother who was a King, her 4th Great Grandfather King owned King’s Mountain and it was named after her family. Another figure in the battle was Col/Gen William Campbell, who is/was a cousin. The King’s fought in the battle and many of them were in the Revolution as many of our family were, they fought bravely and honorably to further the cause of freedom in America. I am humbled, proud, and honored to have such men in my heritage. They inspire me and at the same time humble me with their bravery, sacrifice and perseverance, I can never do enough when I measure myself against them! I hope that I honor them, in the same way they honored all of us, in the creation of this Great Nation, that we all love, the United States of America!

The King family as one single family with it’s roots in Britain from what I have seen in doing genealogy seem to have played a great role in the founding of this Nation. I have done genealogy for one person who did not have a King from that line in their family. Different ones from that family came at different times in early America, they were spread out all up and down the eastern states. The first being Captain William King and his son John, both ships Captains, came in 1609 with my dad’s father’s 7th Great Grandfather, Captain James Davies/Davis. Those King’s did not stay in America at that time. Captain William King who was Rear Admiral at the time perished with his ship and all but one crew member on the way back to England as they were approaching the entry to the English Channel. Captain John, would return later to make a place for himself and his offspring.

God bless America! America thank God!

Overview:
Date: October 7, 1780
Location: King’s Mountain, South Carolina/North Carolina border
Victors: Patriot Militia Colonel John Sevier, Patriot Militia Colonel Isaac Shelby, Overmountain Men
Defeated: British Major Patrick Ferguson

Many historians consider the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780 to be the turning point in America’s War for Independence. The victory of rebelling American Patriots over British Loyalist troops completely destroyed the left wing of Cornwallis’ army. This decisive battle successfully ended the British invasion into North Carolina and forced Lord Cornwallis to retreat from Charlotte into South Carolina to wait for reinforcements. This triumphant victory of the Overmountain Men allowed General Nathanael Greene the opportunity to reorganize the American Army.

Summary:
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.

The Over Mountain Men came out of the mountains and pursued Major Ferguson. Along the way, they were joined by Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina militia. They caught up with Ferguson at King’s Mountain. The seven Patriot colonels came up with a plan to approach Ferguson’s position from four directions. Ferguson and his men found the higher position impossible to defend as they were in the open and the Patriots had cover to protect them. Ferguson and his all Tory force was soon defeated, forcing General Cornwallis to retreat from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Background:
On July 25, 1780, Maj. General Horatio Gates arrived in North Carolina and took command of the Southern Department. On August 16, 1780, he was routed at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina by Lt. General Charles Cornwallis. The loss at Camden and Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s subsequent victory over Thomas Sumter’s militia at Fishing Creek on August 17th decimated the rebel resistance in the South.

General Cornwallis appeared to now have a clear path all the way to Virginia. In September, Cornwallis invaded North Carolina and ordered Major Patrick Ferguson to guard his left flank. 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. David Ramsey, in his history of South Carolina, written in 1808, said, “hitherto these mountaineers had only heard of war at a distance, and had been in peaceable possession of that independence for which their countrymen on the seacoast were contending. They embodied to check the invader of their own volition, without any requisition from the Governments of America or the officers of the Continental Army. Each man set out with a knapsack, blanket, and gun. All who could obtain horses were mounted, the remainder afoot. ”

On Sept. 25th, Colonels William Campbell, Charles McDowell, John Sevier and Isaac Shelby left Sycamore Shoals in pursuit of Ferguson. The thoroughfare of their mission followed the only roadway connecting the backwater country with the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina.

Leaving Sycamore Shoals, the column marched up Gap Creek to its headwaters in Gap Creek Mountain, and there turned eastward and then south, following around the base of Fork Mountain to Toe River, and on up that stream to one of its tributaries. Here the route continued in a southerly direction until the top of the mountain was reached, between Roan High Knob and Big Yellow Mountain. From the mountaintop, descent was made along Roaring Creek to the North Toe River. It is stated in the diary of Ensign Robert Campbell that “the mountains were crossed and descent to the other side was carted before camp was made for the night. Snow was encountered in the highlands, for an elevation of 5,500 feet was reached in this march. On the top of the mountain there was found a hundred acres of beautiful tableland, and the troops were paraded, doubtless for the purpose of seeing how they were standing the march, which was about 26 miles to this point”. Campbell’s diary states that the second night, that of the 27th, they rested at “Cathey’s” plantation. Draper places this at the junction of Grassy Creek and North Toe River. Tradition has it that on reaching Gillespie Gap the troops divided, one group including Campbell’s men, moving southward to Turkey Cove, the other going easterly to the North Cove on the North Fork of the Catawba. Ensign Campbell’s diary gives the information that the fourth night, the 29th, Campbell’s men rested at a rich “Tory’s”, near Turkey Cove.

The following day the men who had camped at North Cove marched southeast down Paddy Creek, while those from Turkey Cove marched southerly down the North Fork and then hastily down the Catawba near the mouth of Paddy Creek. They continued down the Catawba to Quaker Meadows, the home place of the McDowells, and promptly made camp. During the five days that had elapsed since leaving Sycamore Flats, about 80 miles had been covered. On September 30th, Colonel Cleveland joined the marching column of 1,040 men at Quaker Meadow with the men from Wilkes County and Major Winston with the men from Surry County. An additional 30 Georgians, under the command of William Candler, joined the Patriot force at Gilberts Town, making for a combined strength of approximately 1,400 men.

The seven Colonels chose Col. William Campbell to act as overall commander. The Overmountain Men moved south in search of Major Patrick Ferguson. From the Rebel spy Joseph Kerr, they learned that Ferguson was thirty miles to the north, camped at Kings Mountain. It is said that Isaac Shelby was especially delighted to learn that Ferguson was quoted as saying, “He was on King’s Mountain, that he was King of that mountain and that God Almighty and all the Rebels of Hell could not drive him from it.” Shelby was very familiar with the Kings Mountain region and knew that it could prove to be an almost impossible position to defend.

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 quickly made their way north. The combined force of Overmountain Men arrived at Kings Mountain the afternoon of October 7, 1780.

Having little insight into the methods and philosophies of warfare of the southern frontiersmen, Ferguson had chosen the position feeling no enemy could fire upon him without showing themselves. The Patriot force decided to surround the mountain and use continuous fire to slowly close in like an unavoidable noose.

When the Whig patriots came near the mountain they halted, dismounted, fastened their loose baggage to their saddles, tied their horses and left them under charge of a few men detailed for the purpose, and then prepared for an immediate attack. . . . The army was divided into two wings. The right center and right flank columns, numbering together 440, were under the direction of Colonel Cleveland.

‘This selection is published by the kind permission of the Macmlllan Company, New York.

The two wings were thus very nearly equal in strength. The plan of battle was that the two wings should approach upon opposite sides of the mountain and thus encompass the enemy. Cleveland’s and Sevier’s columns united at the northeast end of the ridge, Campbell’s and Shelby’s closing together at the southwest.

Before taking up the line of march, Campbell and the leading officers appealed to their soldiers, to the highest instincts of their natures, by all that was patriotic and noble among men, to fight like heroes, and give not an inch of ground save only from the sheerest necessity, and then only to retrace and recover their lost ground at the earliest possible moment Campbell personally visited all the corps and said to Cleveland’s men, as he did to all, that if any of them, men or officers, were afraid, he advised them to quit the ranks and go home that he wished no man to engage in the action who could not fight that as for himself, he was determined to fight the enemy a week, if need be, to gain the victory. Colonel Campbell also gave the necessary orders to all the principal officers, and repeated them so as to be heard by a large portion of the line, and then placed himself at the head of his own regiment, as the other officers did at the head of their respective commands. Many of the men threw aside their hats, tying handkerchiefs around their heads so as to be less likely to be retarded by limbs and bushes when dashing up the mountain. . . . From the nature of the ground and thick intervening foliage of the trees, the Whigs were not discovered by Ferguson till within a quarter of a mile, when his drums beat to arms, and his shrill whistle, with which he was wont to summon his men to battle and inspire them with his own courage, was heard everywhere over the mountain.

The right and left wings had been cautioned that the action was not to be commenced until the centre columns were ready for the attack. These were to give the signal by raising a frontier warwhoop, after the manner of the Indians, and then to rush forward to the attack. Upon hearing the battle shout and the reports of the rifles, the right and left wings were to join in the affray. The first firing was made by the enemy upon Shelby’s column before they were in position to engage in the action. It was galling in its effect, and not a little annoying to the mountaineers, some of whom in their impatience complained that it would never do to be shot down without returning the fire but Shelby restrained them. “Press on to your places,” he said, “and then your fire will not be lost.”

Before Shelby’s men could gain their position, Colonel Campbell had thrown off his coat and, while leading his men to the attack, he exclaimed at the top of his voice, “Here they are, my brave boys Shout like h—I, and fight like devils!” The woods immediately resounded with the shouts of the line, in which they were heartily joined, first by Shelby’s corps, and then the cry was caught up and ran along the two wings. Draper relates that when Captain de Peyster heard these almost deafening yells,—the same he too well remembered hearing from Shelby at Musgrove’s Mills,—he remarked to Ferguson, “These things are ominous these are the d—d yelling boys!” Ferguson was himself dismayed when he heard them.

The part of the mountain where Campbell’s men ascended to attack was rough and craggy, the most difficult of ascent of any part of the ridge but these resolute mountaineers permitted no obstacle to prevent their advance, creeping up the acclivity little by little, from tree to tree, till they were nearly at the top. The Virginians thus securing the summit of the hill, the battle became general. None of the Whigs were longer under the restraint of military discipline some were on horseback, some were on foot some behind trees, others exposed but all were animated with enthusiasm. The Virginians were the first against whom Ferguson ordered a charge of the bayonets by his Rangers and a part of his Loyalists. Some of them obstinately stood their ground till a few were thrust through the body but without bayonets themselves, with only their rifles to withstand such a charge, the Virginians broke and fled down the mountain. They were soon rallied, however, by their gallant commander and some of his more active officers, and by a constant and welldirected fire of their rifles they in turn drove back Ferguson’s men, and again reached the summit of the mountain. The mountain was covered with flame and smoke, and seemed to thunder. The shouts of the mountaineers, the noise of hundreds of rifles and muskets, the loud commands and encouraging words of the officers, with every now and then the shrill screech of Ferguson’s silver whistle high above the din and confusion of the battle, intermingled with the groans of the wounded in every part of the line, is described as combining to convey the idea of another pandemonium. .

But at length the two wings of the mountaineers so pressed the enemy on both sides that Ferguson’s men had ample employment all around the eminence without being able to repair to each other’s relief. The Provincial Rangers and the Loyalists, though led by the brave De Peyster, began to grow weary and discouraged, steadily decreasing in numbers and making no permanent impression upon their tireless opponents. From the southwestern portion of the ridge the Rangers and Tories began to give way, and were doggedly driven by Campbell’s, Shelby’s and Sevier’s men, and perhaps others intermingled with them.

Ferguson, by this time, had been wounded in the hand, but he was still in the heat of the battle, and with characteristic coolness and daring he ordered De Peyster to reenforce a position about one hundred yards distant but before they reached it they were thinned too much by the Whig rifles to render any effectual support. He then ordered his cavalry to mount, with the intention of making a desperate onset at their head. But these only presented a better mark for the rifle, and fell as fast as they could mount their horses. He rode from end to end of his line, encouraging his men to prolong the conflict, and with his silver whistle in his wounded hand, with desperate courage he passed from one exposed point to another of equal danger. But the Whigs were gradually compressing his men, and the Tories began to show signs of yielding. They raised a flag in token of surrender. Ferguson rode up and cut it down. A second flag was raised at the other end of the line. He rode there, too, and cut it down with his sword. Captain De Peyster, his second in command, convinced from the first of the utter futility of resistance upon the position at King’s Mountain selected by Ferguson, as soon as he became satisfied that Ferguson would not abandon it and attempt to make his way to the relief for

which he had sent to Cornwallis, had the courage to advise a surrender but Ferguson’s proud spirit could not deign to give up to raw and undisciplined militia. When the second flag was cut down De Peyster renewed his advice, but Ferguson declared that he would never surrender to such a d—d set of banditti as the mountain men. At length, satisfied that all was lost, and firmly resolving not to fall into the hands of the despised Backwater men, Ferguson with a few chosen friends made a desperate attempt to break through the Whig lines on the southeastern side of the mountain and escape. With his sword in his left hand, he made a bold dash for freedom, cutting and slashing until he broke it. Colonel Vesey Husbands, a North Carolina Loyalist, and Major Plummer of South Carolina joined Ferguson and charged on a part of the line they thought was vulnerable. They all fell and perished in the effort.

Captain De Peyster, who had succeeded Ferguson in command, perceiving that further struggle was in vain, raised the white flag and asked for quarter. A general cessation of the American fire followed but this cessation was not complete. Many Patriots remembered that the notorious “Tarleton” had mowed down Patriot troops at Waxhaws despite the fact they were trying to surrender. With cries of ‘Remember Waxhaws’ and ‘Buford’s Quarter’ spurring some men to continue for a time, eventually, the fighting at Kings Mountain diminished.

The Aftermath:

The battle had lasted a little over an hour and not a single man of Ferguson’s force escaped. Though the number of casualties reported varies from source to source, some of the most commonly reported figures are that 225 Loyalists had been killed, 163 wounded and 716 were captured, while only 28 Patriots were killed, including Colonel James Williams, and 68 wounded. When General Cornwallis learned of Major Patrick Ferguson’s defeat, he retreated from Charlotte, North Carolina back to Winnsborough, South Carolina.

Historians agree that the Battle of Kings Mountain was the “beginning of the end” of British rule in its former colonies. In less than one hour of battle, the Overmountain Men not only captured the day but also undermined the British strategy for keeping America under its control. A defeat so crushing as that suffered by Major Patrick Ferguson is rare in any war. Although skewed, his position on Kings Mountain was thoughtfully selected using much experience and consideration. The plateau of the mountain was just large enough to serve as a battleground for his command and to provide space for his camp and wagon train. Water was near and plentiful. The slopes of the mountain would hinder the advance of the attackers. When attacked he expected that any retreat would be rendered perilous by flanking or encircling detachments, a condition he desired as his militia would be put to the task to stand and fight instead of having the choice to flee. From Patrick Ferguson’s point of view, a better position on which to take a stand could not have been found.

It can be assumed without a shred of doubt that Patrick Ferguson utterly underestimated the courage of the mountain men. Their apparent advantage in numbers did not discourage him from offering battle otherwise he would have continued his march on October 7th in the direction of Charlotte and Cornwallis. But had he known that these Overmountain Men would so aggressively stand and fight with a fierceness and conviction never before experienced in his southern campaign, I’m sure he would have been much more cautious and considerably less heroic.

Narrative of the Battle of King’s Mountain:

by Robert Campbell, October 1780, South Carolina

“In the fall of the year 1780, when the American cause wore a very gloomy aspect in the Southern States, Cols. Arthur and William Campbell, hearing of the advance of Colonel Ferguson along the mountains in the State of North Carolina, and that the Whigs were retreating before him, unable to make any effectual resistance, formed a plan to intercept him, and communicated it to the commanding officers of Sullivan and Washington Counties, in the State of North Carolina. They readily agreed to co-operate in any expedition against Col. Ferguson. Col. Arthur Campbell immediately ordered the militia of Washington Co., Virginia, amounting to near four hundred, to make ready to march under command of Col. Wm. Campbell, who was known to be an enterprising and active officer. Cols. Shelby and Sevier raised a party of three hundred, joined him on his march, and moved with forced marches toward Col. Ferguson. At the same time Cols. Williams, Cleveland, Lacey, and Brandon, of the States of North and South Carolina, each conducted a small party toward the same point, amounting to near three hundred. Col. Ferguson had notice of their approach by a deserter that left the army on the Yellow Mountain, and immediately commenced his march for Charlotte, dispatching at the same time different messengers to Lord Cornwallis with information of his danger. These messengers being intercepted on their way, no movement was made to favor his retreat.

These several corps of American volunteers, amounting to near one thousand men, met at Gilbert Town, and the officers unanimously chose Colonel Campbell to the command. About seven hundred choice riflemen mounted their horses for the purpose of following the retreating army. The balance being chiefly footmen, were left to follow on and come up as soon as they could. The pursuit was too rapid to render an escape. practicable. Ferguson, finding that he must inevitably be over-taken, chose his ground, and waited for the attack on King’s Mountain. On the 7th of October, in the afternoon, after a forced march of forty-five miles on that day and the night before the volunteers came up with him. The forenoon of the day was wet, but they were fortunate enough to come on him undiscovered, and took his pickets, they not having it in their power to give an alarm. They were soon formed in such order as to attack the enemy on all sides. The Washington and Sullivan regiments were formed in the front and on the right flank the North and South Carolina troops, under Cols. Williams, Sevier, Cleveland, Lacey, and Brandon, on the left. The two armies being in full view, the center of the one nearly opposite the center of the other-the British main guard posted nearly half way down the mountain-the commanding officer gave the word of command to raise the Indian war-whoop and charge. In a moment, King’s Mountain resounded with their shouts, and on the first fire the guard retreated, leaving some of their men to crimson the earth. The British beat to arms, and immediately formed on the top of the mountain, behind a chain of rocks that appeared impregnable, and had their wagons drawn up on their flank across the end of the mountain, by which they made a strong breast-work.

Thus concealed, the American army advanced to the charge. In ten or fifteen minutes the wings came round, and the action became general. The enemy annoyed our troops very much from their advantageous position. Col. Shelby, being previously ordered to reconnoitre their position, observing their situation, and what a destructive fire was kept up from behind those rocks, ordered Robert Campbell, one of the officers of the Virginia Line, to move to the right with a small company to endeavor to dislodge them, and lead them on. nearly to the ground to which he had ordered them, under fire of the enemy’s lines and within forty steps of the same but discovering that our men were repulsed on the other side of the mountain, he gave orders to advance, and post themselves opposite to the rocks, and near to the enemy, and then returned to assist in bringing up the men in order, who had been charged with the bayonet. These orders were punctually obeyed, and they kept up such a galling fire as to compel Ferguson to order a company of regulars to fact them, with a view to cover his men that were posted behind the rocks. At this time, a considerable fire was drawn to this side of the mountain by the repulse of those on the other, and the Loyalists not being permitted to leave their posts. This scene was not of long duration, for it was the brave Virginia volunteers, and those under Col. Shelby, on their attempting rapidly to ascend the mountain, that were charged with the bayonet. They obstinately stood until some of them were thrust through the body, and having nothing but their rifle, by which to defend themselves, they were forced to retreat. They were soon rallied by their gallant commanders, Campbell, Shelby and other brave officers, and by a constant and well-directed fire of their rifles, drove them back in id-lei I turn, strewing the face of the mountain with their assailant: and kept advancing until they drove them from some of their posts.

Ferguson being heavily pressed on all sides, ordered Capt. DePeyster to reinforce some of the extreme posts with a full company of British regulars. He marched, but to his astonishment when he arrived at the place of destination, he had almost no men, being exposed in that short distance to the constant fire of their rifles. He then ordered his cavalry to mount, but to no purpose. As quick as they were mounted, they were taken down by some bold marksmen. Being driven to desperation by such a scene of misfortune, Col. Ferguson endeavored to make his escape, and, with two Colonels of the Loyalists, mounted his horse, and charged on that part of the line which was defended by the party who had been ordered round the mountain by Col. Shelby, it appearing too weak to resist them. But as soon as he got to the line he fell, and the other two officers, attempting to retreat, soon shared the same fate. It was about this time that Col. Campbell advanced in front of his men, and climbed over a steep rock close by the enemy’s lines, to get a view of their situation, and saw they were retreating from behind the rocks that were near to him. As soon as Capt. DePeyster observed that Col. Ferguson was killed, he raised a flag and called for quarters. It was soon taken out of his hand by one of the officers on horseback, and raised so high that it could be seen by our line, and the firing immediately ceased. The Loyalists, at the time of their surrender, were driven into a crowd, and being closely surrounded, they could not have made any further resistance.

In this sharp action, one hundred and fifty of Col. Ferguson’s party were killed, and something over that number were wounded. Eight hundred and ten, of whom one hundred were British regulars, surrendered themselves prisoners, and one thousand five hundred stand of arms were taken. The loss of the American army on this occasion amounted to thirty killed, and something over fifty wounded, among whom were a number of brave officers. Col. Williams, who has been so much lamented, was shot through the body, near the close of the action, in making an attempt to charge upon Ferguson. He lived long enough to hear of the surrender of the British army. He then said, “I die contented, since we have gained the victory,” and expired.

The third night after the action, the officers of the Carolinas complained to Col. Campbell, that there were among the prisoners a number who had, previous to the action on King’s Mountain, committed cool and deliberate murder, and other enormities alike atrocious, and requested him to order a court-martial to examine into the matter. They stated that if they should escape, they were exasperated, and they feared they would commit other enormities worse than they had formerly done. Col. Campbell complied, and ordered a court-martial immediately to sit, composed of the Field Officers and Captains, who were ordered to inquire into the complaints which had been made. The court was conducted orderly, and witnesses were called and examined in each case. The consequence was that there were thirty-two condemned. Out of these, nine who were thought the most dangerous, and who had committed the most atrocious crimes, were executed. The others were pardoned by the commanding officer. One of the crimes proven against a Captain that was executed was, that he had called at the house of a Whig, and inquired if he was at home, and being informed by his son, a small boy, that he was not, he immediately drew out his pistol and shot him. The officers on the occasion acted from an honorable motive to do the greatest good in their power for the public service, and to check those enormities so frequently committed in the States of North and South Carolina at that time, their distress being almost unequaled in the annals of the American Revolution.”

Martin Gambill’s Ride:

First, to set the stage, let me explain a bit about the times. Militias existed in many areas. These Militias worked in concert with the Continental Forces commanded by General Washington and others. These forces were the “home guard” much like the National Guard of our times. According to what I have read, the British General Cornwallis had much of his army near present day Charlotte, NC. He wanted to move North to either flank, or come behind Washington’s Continental Troops, who were not having much success battling Clinton’s forces in New York. He was somewhat afraid of the mountain Militias who could be a real thorn in his side once he began his northward march. Cornwallis selected a Major Patrick Ferguson to neutralize this threat from the mountain Militias. The mountain Militia leaders were expecting Ferguson, and had devised an early warning system. Brush piles were made on key, higher mountain tops. If Ferguson was seen moving west, fires would be lit to warn of his advance. It just so happens that Colonel Shelby from Tennesse had called many of the militia leaders to a meeting at the home of Colonel John Sevier (later an organizer and governor of the state of Franklin in NE Tennesse) near present day Boone, NC. As the meeting was in progress, the leaders saw the signal fires lit on distant peaks. Ferguson had begun his march. Several of the Virginia leaders were not present. (Captain Enoch Osborn, and Colonel Campbell to name two) In a day with no phone or telegraph, and very poor roads, it was necessary for a rider to be dispatched to warn the Virginia Militia leaders. Martin Gambill volunteered for this duty. In 24 hours he rode over 100 miles of poor trails, crossed rivers and creeks, and lost at least 3 horses to exhaustion. He lost one horse as he crossed the New River where Captain Enoch Osborn was plowing a field. Captain Osborn sent the exhausted rider up to the house for breakfast, while he removed Martin’s saddle and placed it on one of the plow horses. Martin continued up the New River to the Mouth of the Fox Creek, which he followed upstream, and through Comer’s Gap eventually to the Holston River, and downstream to Colonel Campbell. Martin’s remarkable ride enabled the Militias to meet in 7 days at Sycamore Shoals in Ashe County, NC.


Rather than intimidate, Ferguson's words sparked outrage in the western settlements. In response, Shelby, Colonel John Sevier, and others gathered around 1,100 militia at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River. This force included around 400 Virginians led by Colonel William Campbell. This rendezvous was facilitated by the fact that Joseph Martin had cultivated positive relations with the neighboring Cherokees. Known as "Overmountain Men" because they had settled on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains, the combined militia force made plans to cross Roan Mountain into North Carolina.

On September 26, they began moving east to engage Ferguson. Four days later they joined Colonels Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston near Quaker Meadows, NC and increased the size of their force to around 1,400. Alerted to the American advance by two deserters, Ferguson began withdrawing east towards Cornwallis and was no longer at Gilbert Town when the militias arrived. He also sent a dispatch to Cornwallis requesting reinforcements.


Battle of King's Mountain

The stunning victory won by a force of about 1,800 backcountry "Overmountain Men" over approximately 1,000 Tories at King's Mountain on 7 Oct. 1780 has been justly described as a key turning point in the American Revolution. According to British commander Henry Clinton, the American victory "proved the first Link of a Chain of Evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America." The Tory force at King's Mountain was commanded by Maj. Patrick Ferguson, the son of a Scottish judge. At the Battle of Brandywine, Ferguson's right arm had been shattered. However, he practiced so assiduously that he learned to wield his sword with his left hand, earning him the nickname "Bulldog" in the process.

A few weeks before King's Mountain, Ferguson, who guarded Lord Charles Cornwallis's left flank, led a foray to the vicinity of Old Fort in North Carolina. At about that time he bluntly warned the local revolutionaries that if they did not cease their rebellion he would march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste their settlements with fire and sword. This brought an indignant reaction from the backcountry forces and a conference between Cols. Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, who agreed that they should take the offensive. They called a rendezvous at Sycamore Shoals (now in Tennessee) for 25 September. On that day Sevier and Shelby arrived with 240 troops each to join Col. Charles McDowell, who was already there with 160 North Carolina riflemen. They were heartened when Col. William Campbell marched in with 400 Virginians.

While the little army was marching over Roan Mountain, two of Sevier's troops, James Crawford and Samuel Chambers, were reported missing. Suspecting that they would warn Ferguson, Sevier changed the march plans. On 30 September the American force reached Quaker Meadows in Burke County, where it was joined by Col. Benjamin Cleveland and 350 North Carolinians. By 1 October the Americans were camped just south of King's Mountain. Rain kept them there a day while the officers elected Campbell commander.

Ferguson was also slowed by rain and never reached Charlotte to join Cornwallis, as was his apparent plan. He had not intended to install his army atop King's Mountain, which had allegedly been named for a farmer who lived at its foot and not for King George III. The mountain, with its short and relatively level summit, must have impressed Ferguson as a good defensive position he wrote to Cornwallis, asking for reinforcements and boasting that he was on King's Mountain and could not be driven off.

Early on the afternoon of 7 October, the Americans arrived at the foot of King's Mountain, near where it extends into South Carolina. They launched a four-pronged attack, with two columns on each side of the mountain, led by Colonels Campbell and Sevier on the right and Shelby and Cleveland on the left. Ferguson and his men apparently were taken by surprise by the boldness and rapidity of the Overmountain Men's aggression. Over the roar of the battle could be heard intermittently a shrill shriek from the silver whistle Ferguson used to direct his troops. It was soon silenced, however, as Ferguson was killed while leading a desperate sortie by a few of his men to break out of the mountaineers' cordon. Capt. Abraham DePeyster, the second in command, almost immediately raised a white flag. However, several minutes elapsed before the surrender could take effect, and during that period several more Tories were killed. Some Americans kept firing because they did not understand what was going on, and others did so because they recalled that when Col. Abraham Buford, an American, was defeated several weeks before, British colonel Banastre Tarleton had kept on firing, an action Cornwallis had applauded.

Finally the guns fell silent and the American victory was complete. In an hour's time, Ferguson and 119 of his men had been killed, 123 wounded, and 664 captured. The Americans had lost 28 killed and 62 wounded. The Americans were still so angry at their enemies that on their ride home, Campbell found it necessary to issue an order directing the officers to halt the slaughter of prisoners. Finally Campbell convened a court-martial to try some of the prisoners. According to Shelby, 36 men were convicted of "breaking open houses, killing the men, turning the women and children out of doors and burning the houses." Of those convicted, 9 were actually hanged.

The American victory at the Battle of King's Mountain altered the tenor of the American Revolution, disheartening Cornwallis and his army, threatening and eventually altering British military strategy, and adding renewed vigor to the American cause.

Lyman C. Draper, King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7th 1780 and the Events Which Led to It (repr., 1967). https://archive.org/details/kingsmountainits00drap/page/278

Phillips Russell, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War (1965).


Battle of King's Mountain

The stunning victory won by a force of about 1,800 backcountry "Overmountain Men" over approximately 1,000 Tories at King's Mountain on 7 Oct. 1780 has been justly described as a key turning point in the American Revolution. According to British commander Henry Clinton, the American victory "proved the first Link of a Chain of Evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America." The Tory force at King's Mountain was commanded by Maj. Patrick Ferguson, the son of a Scottish judge. At the Battle of Brandywine, Ferguson's right arm had been shattered. However, he practiced so assiduously that he learned to wield his sword with his left hand, earning him the nickname "Bulldog" in the process.

A few weeks before King's Mountain, Ferguson, who guarded Lord Charles Cornwallis's left flank, led a foray to the vicinity of Old Fort in North Carolina. At about that time he bluntly warned the local revolutionaries that if they did not cease their rebellion he would march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste their settlements with fire and sword. This brought an indignant reaction from the backcountry forces and a conference between Cols. Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, who agreed that they should take the offensive. They called a rendezvous at Sycamore Shoals (now in Tennessee) for 25 September. On that day Sevier and Shelby arrived with 240 troops each to join Col. Charles McDowell, who was already there with 160 North Carolina riflemen. They were heartened when Col. William Campbell marched in with 400 Virginians.

While the little army was marching over Roan Mountain, two of Sevier's troops, James Crawford and Samuel Chambers, were reported missing. Suspecting that they would warn Ferguson, Sevier changed the march plans. On 30 September the American force reached Quaker Meadows in Burke County, where it was joined by Col. Benjamin Cleveland and 350 North Carolinians. By 1 October the Americans were camped just south of King's Mountain. Rain kept them there a day while the officers elected Campbell commander.

Ferguson was also slowed by rain and never reached Charlotte to join Cornwallis, as was his apparent plan. He had not intended to install his army atop King's Mountain, which had allegedly been named for a farmer who lived at its foot and not for King George III. The mountain, with its short and relatively level summit, must have impressed Ferguson as a good defensive position he wrote to Cornwallis, asking for reinforcements and boasting that he was on King's Mountain and could not be driven off.

Early on the afternoon of 7 October, the Americans arrived at the foot of King's Mountain, near where it extends into South Carolina. They launched a four-pronged attack, with two columns on each side of the mountain, led by Colonels Campbell and Sevier on the right and Shelby and Cleveland on the left. Ferguson and his men apparently were taken by surprise by the boldness and rapidity of the Overmountain Men's aggression. Over the roar of the battle could be heard intermittently a shrill shriek from the silver whistle Ferguson used to direct his troops. It was soon silenced, however, as Ferguson was killed while leading a desperate sortie by a few of his men to break out of the mountaineers' cordon. Capt. Abraham DePeyster, the second in command, almost immediately raised a white flag. However, several minutes elapsed before the surrender could take effect, and during that period several more Tories were killed. Some Americans kept firing because they did not understand what was going on, and others did so because they recalled that when Col. Abraham Buford, an American, was defeated several weeks before, British colonel Banastre Tarleton had kept on firing, an action Cornwallis had applauded.

Finally the guns fell silent and the American victory was complete. In an hour's time, Ferguson and 119 of his men had been killed, 123 wounded, and 664 captured. The Americans had lost 28 killed and 62 wounded. The Americans were still so angry at their enemies that on their ride home, Campbell found it necessary to issue an order directing the officers to halt the slaughter of prisoners. Finally Campbell convened a court-martial to try some of the prisoners. According to Shelby, 36 men were convicted of "breaking open houses, killing the men, turning the women and children out of doors and burning the houses." Of those convicted, 9 were actually hanged.

The American victory at the Battle of King's Mountain altered the tenor of the American Revolution, disheartening Cornwallis and his army, threatening and eventually altering British military strategy, and adding renewed vigor to the American cause.

Lyman C. Draper, King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7th 1780 and the Events Which Led to It (repr., 1967). https://archive.org/details/kingsmountainits00drap/page/278

Phillips Russell, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War (1965).


Battle of King's Mountain, 7 October 1780 - History

Only three days after their Letter to General Gates requesting a Continental Commander to oversee their regiments, the Overmountain Boys met on top of King's Mountain, and in an engagement that lasted only one hour and five minutes, totally routed Col. Patrick Ferguson's "superior force."

On October 7, 1780, the one-thousand plus all-volunteer frontier troops met up with the English Colonel's larger, and allegedly better-trained force with the result that Ferguson was slain, and his army decimated.

A formal report of the battle, signed by Cols. William Campbell, Isaac Shelby and Benjamin Cleveland, was given to General Gates when they passed through Hillsboro a few days after the battle:

On receiving intelligence that Major Ferguson had advanced as high up as Gilbert Town, in Rutherford county, and threatened to cross the mountains to the Western waters, Col. William Campbell, with four hundred men from Washington county, of Virginia Col. Isaac Shelby with two hundred and forty men from Sullivan county, North-Carolina, and Lieutenant-Col. John Sevier, with two hundred and forty men from Washington county, North-Carolina, assembled at Watauga on the 25th of September, where they were joined by Col. Charles McDowell, with one hundred and sixty men from the counties of Burke and Rutherford, who had fled before the enemy to the Western waters.

We began our march on the 26th, and on the 30th, we were joined by Col. Cleveland, on the Catawba River, with three hundred and fifty men from the counties of Wilkes and Surry. No one officer having properly a right to the command-in-chief, on the 1st of October, we despatched an express to Major General Gates, informing him of our situation, and requested him to send a general officer to take command of the whole. In the meantime, Col. Campbell was chosen to act as commandant till such general officer should arrive.

We reached the Cow Pens, on the Broad River, in South Carolina, where we were joined by Col. James Williams, on the evening of the 6th October, who informed us that the enemy lay encamped somewhere near the Cherokee Ford of Broad River, about thirty miles distant form us. By a council of the principal officers, it was then thought advisable to pursue the enemy that night with nine hundred of the best horsemen, and leave the weak horses and footmen to follow as fast as possible. We began our march with nine hundred of the best men about eight o'clock the same evening, marched all night, and came up with the enemy about three o'clock P.M. of the 7th, who lay encamped on the top of King's Mountain, twelve miles north of the Cherokee Ford, in the conficence they could not be forced from so advantageous a post. Previous to the attack, in our march the following disposition was made:

Col. Shelby's regiment formed a column in the centre on the left Col. Campbell's another on the right part of Col. Cleveland's regiment, headed by Major Winston and Col. Sevier's, formed a large column on the right wing the other part of Col. Cleveland's regiment composed the left wing. In this order we advanced, and got within a quarter of a mile of the enemy before we were discovered. Col. Shelby's and col. Campbell's regiments began the attack, and kept up a fire on the enemy while the right and left wings were advancing forward to surround them. The engagement lasted an hour and five minutes, the greatest part of which time a heavy and incessant fire was kept up on both sides. Our men in some parts where the regulars fought, were obliged to give way a small distance two or three times, but rallied and returned with additional ardour to the attack, and kept up a fire on the enemy while the right and left wings were advancing forward to surround them. The engagement lasted an hour and five minutes, the greatest part of which time a heavy and incessant fire was kept up on both sides. Our men in some parts where the regulars fought, were obliged to give way a small distance two or three times, but rallied and returned with additional ardour to the attack. The troops upon the right having gained the summit of the eminence, obliged the enemy to retreat along the top of the ridge where Col. Cleveland commanded, and were there stopped by his brave men. A flag was immediately hoisted by Captain Dupoister,(1) the commanding officer, (Major Ferguson having been killed a little before,) for a surrender. Our fire immediately ceased,(2) and the enemy laid down their arms--the greater part of them loaded--and surrendered themselves to us prisoners at discretion. It appears from their own provision returns for that day, found in their camp, that their whole force consisted of eleven hundred and twenty-five men, out of which they sustained the following loss:--Of the regulars, one Major, one captain, two lieutenants and fifteen privates killed, thirty-five privates wounded. Left on the ground, not able to march, two captains, four lieutenants, three ensigns, one surgeon, five sergeants three corporals, one drummer and fifty-nine privates taken prisoners.

Loss of the tories, two colonels, three captains, and two hundred and one privates killed one Major and one hundred and twenty-seven privates wounded and left on the ground not able to march one colonel, twelve captains, eleven lieutenants, two ensigns, one quarter-master, one adjutant, two commisissaries, eighteen sergeants and six hundred privates taken prisoners. Total loss of the enemy, eleven hundred and five men at King's Mountain. 3

1 Captain Abraham De Peyster

2 That the cease fire was not immediate upon the white flag being raised is documented by a number of other first-hand accounts, including British Capt. Andrew Chesney, and other Men of King's Mountain

3 No mention is made in this report of the "impromptu court marshall" held a few days after the battle. Those executed may have been included in the above report of numbers killed (not researched).

4 The Journal of the Continental Congress, Monday, November 13, 1780, includes the order that the above report be published, referencing a letter from Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson dated 7 Nov 1780 that was accompanied by a letter from General Gates dated 1 Nov 1780, with the above report enclosed. The actual date of the report is not known, other than that it was written between Oct 7th and Nov 1st. Draper postulates that it was written after Lacy and Sevier retired at Quaker Meadows [Oct 11th] or their signatures would have also been appended, and before October 26th when Campbell turned over the command at Bathabara to Cleveland.

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Battle of King's Mountain, 7 October 1780 - History

King's Mountain is unique in America's history: This battle—fought by 1,000 plus militiamen—without orders, formal military training, uniforms or provisions, and with no promise of pay—against the supposedly “superior forces” (1) of noted English Col. Patrick Ferguson—is credited by most early historians with having changed the course of the Revolution in the South, and may have even insured that the original number of colonies in these United States of America would be thirteen, not ten. (2)

In only one hour and five minutes, the American Whigs (Patriots, Rebels) totally decimated Ferguson's American Tories (Loyalists, Royalists), with every last man of them either dead or taken prisoner, and the Colonel himself left dead on the battlefield—having signed his own death warrant less than a month earlier when he sent a message from his camp in Gilbert Town, Rutherford County, North Carolina, to the “officers on the Western waters” (west of the Blue Ridge) that if they did not “desist from their opposition to the British army, 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.” (3)

Col. Ferguson's warning was the result of his frustration over the refusal of most of the Overmountain men (east Tennessean and southwestern Virginians) to take the loyalty oath and to cease providing safe harbours for militiamen from the Carolinas and Georgia (who had eluded him after the August 16th defeat of American General Gates and the American army at the battle of Camden by retreating ”overmountain” to the “western waters”).

It did not have the expected results: The message was delivered to Sullivan County, North Carolina (now Tennessee) Militia Colonel Isaac Shelby of Sapling Grove (present-day Bristol, Sullivan County, Tennessee), who immediately rode out to confer with neighboring Washington County, North Carolina (now Tennessee) Militia Colonel John Sevier. The two men agreed that the best solution was to "march with all the men we could raise, and attempt to surprise Ferguson, by attacking him in his camp, or at any rate before he was prepared. " (4)

Col. Shelby also convinced Col. William Campbell, commander of the county militia in neighboring Washington County, Virginia, to join him and Sevier on 25 Sep 1780 at Watauga, the time and place they had appointed for their rendevous. Also "overmountain" at the time were Cols. Charles McDowell and Andrew Hampton and their militiamen (from Burke and Rutherford Counties, North Carolina, respectively), and when the five county militias assembled on the 25th, they were over 1,000 strong. The following day they began their march across the mountains, and on September 30th met up with Cols. Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston and their 350 militiamen from Wilkes and Surry Counties, North Carolina (respectively), bringing their total to almost 1,400. (5)

The seven officers were well aware that they and their men were "amateurs" on a regular field of battle (although the Overmountain men were well-experienced in Indian-fighting), and also that they did not have the proper authority to take the action they contemplated. On October 4th, they dispatched by Col. McDowell (who left his brother, Joseph, in charge of his troops) a Request to General Gates for a general officer to command them, but in the meantime elected Col. Campbell temporary commander, and continued to march toward Gilbert Town. (ibid.)

The next day they learned that Ferguson had been apprised of their approach, and had left Gilbert Town. The council of officers met that night and determined to pursue him no matter to what ends. Leaving behind their footsoldiers and weaker horses to catch up when they could, the men continued forward, and on the 6th of September, at Cowpens, South Carolina, were joined by Col. James Williams of Granville County, North Carolina, who was accompanied by about 400 men (largely from Sumter's South Carolina troops under Colonels Hill, Lacey and Graham), but also including 60 militiamen from Lincoln County, North Carolina under Col. Andrew Hambright, and another 60 South Carolina militiamen under Major William Chronicle. Colonel Williams, also in pursuit of Ferguson, was able to advise them of Ferguson's location: He was atop King's Mountain. (ibid.)

After an all-night forced march in pouring rains, at three o'clock the afternoon of the following day, on the 7th of October, the men circled the mountain and charged.



Created from Draper illustration, p. 237

1 The "superiority" of Col. Ferguson's troops has been somewhat exaggerated: While Col. Ferguson himself was a highly-trained and experienced officer, the vast majority of his men, all but a handful, were Americans, either militiamen or "Provincials" (American Loyalists), as is documented by both American and British records. Likewise, while both sides initially believed they were heavily outnumbered by the other, they were in fact, fairly equal (if anything, the Whigs probably outnumbered the Tories). (King's Mountain: History Revisited)

2 Only two Major battles had been fought in the South in 1780, Charleston and Camden, and the Whigs had been defeated at both. These defeats had been followed by unsubstantiated reports that England would agree to a division under which North and South Carolina (including present-day Tennessee) and Georgia would remain British. (Historical Statement Concerning the Battle of King's Mountain, Part III).

3 "Battle of King's Mountain" by Isaac Shelby, a pamphlet "to the public," published in April 1823, and reprinted in King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It by Lyman C. Draper, Cincinnati, 1881, pp. 560-573.

5 ibid., p. 563-565, and Formal Report of the Colonels. The figures from both these sources have long been disputed by various historians, both American and English, but it is generally accepted by most that the number of American Patriots (a.k.a. Rebels, Whigs) at the battle was between 1,000 and 1,200, and the number of American Loyalists (Tories) between 800 and 1,100.


Researchers: If your ancestor fought at King's Mountain, whether Whig or Tory, American or Englishman, please submit his name and supporting documentation by posting to the Tennesseans of the Revolution Records Board and it will be added to our site, The Men of King's Mountain.


Tennesseans in the Revolutionary War is a Special Project of TNGenNet, the volunteer organization of the TNGenWeb Project.

TNGenNet is a service mark of the Tennessee Genealogical Network, a nonprofit public benefit corporation registered in the State of Tennessee. See also TNGenNet's Bylaws and the History of TNGenWeb).


Aftermath

Battle of Kings Mountain picture

The Battle of Kings Mountain lasted 65 minutes. The Patriots had to move out quickly for fear that Cornwallis would advance to meet them. Loyalist prisoners well enough to walk were herded to camps several miles from the battlefield. The dead were buried in shallow graves and wounded were left on the field to die.

Ferguson's corpse was later reported to have been desecrated and wrapped in oxhide before burial. Both victors and captives came near to starvation on the march due to a lack of supplies in the hastily organized Patriot army.

On October 14, the retreating Patriot force held drumhead courts-martial of Loyalists on various charges (treason, desertion from Patriot militias, incitement of Indian rebellion).Passing through the Sunshine community in what is now Rutherford County, N.C., the retreat halted on the property of the Biggerstaff family.

While stopped on the Biggerstaff land, the rebels convicted 36 Loyalist prisoners. Some were testified against by Patriots who had previously fought alongside them and later changed sides. Nine of the prisoners were hanged before Isaac Shelby brought an end to the proceedings. His decision to halt the executions came after an impassioned plea for mercy from one of the Biggerstaff women.

Many of the Patriots dispersed over the next few days, while all but 130 of the Loyalist prisoners escaped while being led in single file through woodlands. The column finally made camp at Salem, North Carolina.

Kings Mountain was a pivotal moment in the history of the American Revolution. Coming after a series of disasters and humiliations in the Carolinas—the fall of Charleston and capture of the American army there, the destruction of another American army at the Battle of Camden, the Waxhaws Massacre—the surprising, decisive victory at Kings Mountain was a great boost to Patriot morale. The Tories of the Carolina back country were broken as a military force.

Additionally, the destruction of Ferguson's command and the looming threat of Patriot militia in the mountains caused Lord Cornwallis to cancel his plans to invade North Carolina he instead evacuated Charlotte and retreated to South Carolina. He would not return to North Carolina until early 1781, when he was chasing Major General Nathanael Greene after the Americans had dealt British forces another defeat at the Battle of Cowpens.

After the battle, Joseph Greer of the Watauga Association at Sycamore Shoals (located at what is today the city of Elizabethton, Tennessee) set off on a 600 mile, month-long expedition to notify the Continental Congress of the British defeat at the battle. He arrived in Philadelphia on November 7. Greer's report of the American Patriot victory at Kings Mountain "re-energized a downtrodden Continental Congress."


Watch the video: Decisive Battles: Kings Mountain 12