Date |Saturday, October 07, 1780 | | Weather |~22 `F, winds 13knots | |Location |Near Blackburn, SC and King’s Mountain, NC | | |Great Britain |The US Colonies | |Belligerents |Loyalists |United States | |Commanders |Patrick Ferguson |James Johnston, John Sevier, William Campbell | |Casualties |Force: 1200 |Force: 900 | | |Killed: 290 |Killed: 29 | | |Wounded: 163 |Wounded: 58 | | |Captured: 668 |Captured: 0 | |Overview: | |There never has been any uncertainty as to the actual location of the ground on which the Battle of Kings Mountain was fought, | |but due to the defects and limitations in early maps, the battle has frequently been described as occurring in North Carolina. | |Many of the early maps show “King Mountain” north of the boundary line, with none of the mountain symbols extending into South | |Carolina. As a result the battle was accredited to North Carolina. |In 1772 a portion of the boundary between the two Carolinas was surveyed from the Catawba River westwardly. The origin of this | |portion of the boundary was the center of the junction of the Catawba and the South Fork of the Catawba. From this junction the | |line was to run due west to the mountains and there connect with the boundary of the Cherokee Nation. | |The Price and Strother map, engraved in 1808, which purports to be “The First Actual Survey of the State of North Carolina,” | |shows the 1772 line crossing the Broad River 1? miles south of the east and west line through the junction of the Broad and the | |First Broad. This corresponds with the distance on the Gaffney quadrangle of the United States Geological Survey.
By other checks| |of the 1772 line where it crosses streams, with the United States Geological Survey of the line, it is evident that both lines | |are one and the same. | |Synopsis: | |During the summer of 1780, Ferguson and his provincial corps of 150 traveled through South Carolina and into North Carolina | |gathering support for His Majesty’s cause. While marching through the upcountry of South Carolina, the Loyalists engaged in minor| |skirmishes with militia regiments. Some of those small battles happened at places like Wofford’s Iron Works, Musgrove’s Mill, | |Thicketty Fort, and Cedar Spring.
However in August, after the Americans lost at the Battle of Camden, the Over Mountain Men | |retired to their homes in western North Carolina to rest before going after Ferguson again. | |THE MARCH TO KINGS MOUNTAIN | |Meanwhile in September, Cornwallis invaded North Carolina. His final objective was to march into Virginia. To protect his troops | |from guerilla attack, Cornwallis ordered Ferguson to move northward into western North Carolina before joining the main British | |Army in Charlotte. | |In late September, Ferguson camped at Gilbert Town (in present day Rutherfordton). He sent a message to Colonel Isaac Shelby, | |whom he considered to be the leader of the “backwater men. The message said that if Shelby and his men did not stop their | |opposition to the British, Ferguson would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders and “lay the country waste with | |fire and sword. ” The Patriots would have none of it. | |On September 25, Patriot leaders and Colonels Charles McDowell, John Sevier, Isaac Shelby and William Campbell gathered at | |Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River (in present day Tennessee). They marched five days over the snow covered mountains to the | |Quaker Meadows Plantation owned by McDowell’s family (near present day Morganton). There, they were joined by more frontiersmen | |including those serving under Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston. The troops marched toward Gilbert Town and Ferguson. | |Spies told Ferguson the Patriots were on their way.
Ferguson had stayed at Gilbert Town hoping to intercept another Patriot | |force, heading northward. Calling in reinforcements, the Scot began to march toward Charlotte to receive the protection of | |Cornwallis’ main army. He sent an appeal to loyal North Carolinians — for them to save themselves from the “backwater men… a | |set of mongrels. ” Late on October 6, Ferguson received word from his spies that the Americans were close behind him. Camping at | |Kings Mountain, near the North Carolina border, he sent a message to Cornwallis requesting reinforcements. “Three or four hundred| |good soldiers,” he wrote, “would finish the business.
Something must be done soon. ” Desperately short of provisions, Ferguson | |sent out a foraging party of 150 men. He then organized a defense and prepared to meet the enemy. | |When the Patriots realized that Ferguson was not at Gilbert Town, they became determined to pursue and fight him. The soldiers | |followed Ferguson, leaving their weak comrades and horses at Gilbert Town. On October 6 at Cowpens in South Carolina, the Over | |Mountain Men were joined by 400 South Carolinians under Colonel James Williams and others. The soldiers learned from spy Joseph | |Kerr that Ferguson was definitely camped about 30 miles ahead in the vicinity of Kings Mountain.
Shelby was especially pleased to| |learn that Ferguson was quoted as saying, that he “was on Kings Mountain, that he was king of that mountain and that God | |Almighty and all the Rebels of hell could not drive him from it. ” | |The seven colonels chose Campbell as their officer of the day to carry out the plans they adopted collectively. Fearing Ferguson | |would escape, the colonels selected 900 of their best men to pursue the Loyalists. | |The Patriots marched through the night and the next day, through pouring rain and intermittent showers. They reached Kings | |Mountain the next day, Saturday October 7 just after noon. | |Kings Mountain is an outlying portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
A heavily rocky and wooded area, the mountain rises 60 feet | |above the plain surrounding it. The campsite was supposedly an ideal place for Ferguson to camp because the mountain has a | |plateau at its summit. The plateau is 600 yards long and 70 feet wide at one end and 120 feet wide at the other. The Scot | |considered the summit too steep to be scaled. | |THE BATTLE BEGINS | |Upon arriving at Kings Mountain, the Patriot soldiers dismounted. After tying up the horses, the soldiers formed in a horseshoe | |around the base of the mountain behind their leaders, who remained on horseback. |Ferguson was right in believing that his would be attackers would expose themselves to musket fire if they attempted to scale the| |summit. But Ferguson did not realize his men could only fire if they went out into the open, exposing themselves to musket fire. | |Most of the Patriot troops were skilled hunters who routinely killed fast moving animals. On this day, Ferguson’s men would not | |find escape an easy task. | |The fighting began around 3 p. m. when some of Ferguson’s men noticed the Patriot soldiers surrounding the mountain. After a brief| |skirmish, the shooting began in earnest when two of the Patriot regiments opened fire on the Loyalists simultaneously. The | |Loyalists fired back but the Patriots were protected by the heavily wooded area. |The regiments commanded by Colonels Isaac Shelby and William Campbell marched toward Ferguson’s men but were driven back twice by| |Loyalist fire. But as one regiment was driven back, another would advance. Ferguson had to shift his reserves from one place to | |another while continuing to take heavy losses from the concealed American sharpshooters in the trees. Eventually, other Patriot | |troops provided enough support that Shelby and Campbell’s regiments reached the summit. | |During the battle, Patrick Ferguson commanded his men with the use of a silver whistle. Many Patriot fighters later recalled | |hearing the sound of Ferguson’s whistle over the sound of the rifle fire.
The whistle and the checkered hunting shirt he wore | |over his uniform made the Scottish commander quite noticeable on the battlefield. | |After nearly an hour of fighting, Ferguson suddenly fell from his horse. One foot was hanging in his stirrup — several, perhaps | |as many as eight bullets were in his body. Some accounts say he died before he hit the ground. Other accounts say that his men | |propped him against a tree, where he died. Ferguson was the only British soldier killed in the battle — all others were | |Americans, either Loyalist or Patriot. | |Ferguson’s second in command then ordered that a white flag of surrender be hoisted. | |Despite the call for surrender by the Loyalists, the Patriots could not immediately stop their men from shooting.
Many Patriots | |remembered that the infamous Colonel Tarleton had mowed down Patriot troops at Waxhaw despite the fact that the troops were | |trying to surrender. Eventually, the fighting at Kings Mountain stopped. | |In all, 225 Loyalists were killed, 163 were wounded, 716 were taken prisoner. 28 Patriots were killed and 68 were wounded. Among | |the Patriot dead: Colonel James Williams of South Carolina. | |BATTLE ENDS: PATRIOTS MARCH PRISONERS TO HILLSBOROUGH | |After the battle, the victorious Patriots and the captured Loyalists had to camp together. Soon it became dark and the cries of | |the wounded were heard and often unheeded. | |The next morning, the sun came out for the first time in days.
Fearing that Cornwallis would soon be upon them, many of the | |Patriot militia left for their homes. A contingent of Patriots took the prisoners northward to the Continental Army jurisdiction | |in Hillsborough. | |During the journey, a number of prisoners were brutally beaten and some prisoners were hacked with swords. A number of unjust | |murders took place — not the Patriots finest hour. The injustices continued a week later when a committee of Patriots appointed | |a jury to try some of the so-called “obnoxious” Loyalists. 36 Loyalists were found guilty of breaking open houses, burning houses| |and killing citizens. Nine were hanged. |CORNWALLIS IS SHAKEN BY THE NEWS; WITHDRAWS INTO SOUTH CAROLINA | |Cornwallis was shaken when the news of Ferguson’s defeat reached his headquarters. He remained in Charlotte a few days before | |withdrawing back into South Carolina to the British post at Winnsboro. | |The British could not count on reinforcements from other South Carolina posts to help them — the news of victory at Kings | |Mountain had revived Patriot hopes. The victory triggered bonfires and street dancing in cities held by the Patriots. Soon, | |Patriot leaders such as Thomas Sumter, Elijah Clarke and Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion stepped up their harassment of British | |troops. Patriot sympathizers increased their assaults on Tory neighbors. |COUNTDOWN TO YORKTOWN | |Cornwallis was not inactive however. He sent Tarleton and a Major Wemyss in hot pursuit of Marion and Sumter. On November 9, | |Sumter was fully prepared when Wemyss attempted a surprise attack on his forces at Fish Dam Ford. Wemyss and 25 of his men were | |captured. Sumter then moved with 240 toward the British fort at Ninety Six. Tarleton stopped his pursuit of Marion and went to | |Fort Ninety Six. Deciding not to face Tarleton at that time, Sumter fled northward to Blackstock’s Plantation. On November 20, | |Tarleton attacked Sumter’s forces but to no avail. Tarleton lost 100 men while the Americans only lost three. Tarleton then | |rejoined Cornwallis. |Meanwhile, Clinton sent General Alexander Leslie to Virginia to prepare for battle there. Leslie was to be under the direct | |orders of Cornwallis. Cornwallis ordered Leslie to come to South Carolina — he planned to resume his invasion of North Carolina| |as soon as Leslie arrived. Believing that Patriot leader Daniel Morgan planned to attack Fort Ninety Six, Cornwallis sent | |Tarleton to deal with the backwoodsman. Expecting Leslie to arrive in mid-January, Cornwallis planned to advance rapidly | |northward and cut off the two American armies (Nathaniel Greene’s men in the South from George Washington’s men in the North).
He| |also hoped to stop the advance of Morgan’s forces should they survive the expected encounter with Tarleton. | |Cornwallis’s hopes were dashed. Morgan’s men soundly defeated Tarleton’s Legion at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17. Morgan, | |who was ill with rheumatism and other ailments, joined Greene’s army before returning to his home in Virginia. Greene saw that | |Cornwallis, who had left South Carolina, was getting further away from his train of supplies and provisions. Eventually, the two | |forces met in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Technically, the British won that battle but it was a Pyrrhic victory because | |British losses were high. One man in four was killed, wounded or captured. |Conclusion: | |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 ar Cowpens. A little more than a year after Kings Mountain, Washington | |accepted Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Virginia. | The Battle of Kings Mountain By Mel S. Hankla Reprinted by Permission from the SAR Magazine, Fall 2005 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. Throughout the 225th anniversary year (2005) of this so very important event in America’s history, I wish to encourage us to remember and honor the “Heroes” of the Battle of Kings Mountain: all 1,400 or so men who took a stand against Patrick Ferguson and his troops of British Loyalists. I also want to commend Lyman P.
Draper for all of his efforts accurately documenting so much of our nation’s history with writings from personal interviews of individuals “who were there” and to also say “thanks” for allowing me to borrow the title of his book for my exhibit of artifacts belonging to and in honor of, the men that fought heroically in this significant battle. BY WAY OF BACKGROUND Following the defeats of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln at Charleston in May and then Gen. Horatio Gates at Camden, British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis appeared to 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 Western Carolina with seventy of his American Volunteers and several hundred Tory soldiers. He arrived at Gilbert Town, North Carolina, on September 7th.
Ferguson paroled a captured rebel and sent him with a message, “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! 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. CAMPBELL BECOMES COMMANDER The seven Colonels chose Co!. 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. The force was divided into four columns. Col. Isaac Shelby and Col. Wm. Campbell led the interior columns, with Shelby on the left and Campbell on the right. Colonel John Sevier led the right flanking column and Colonel Benjamin Cleveland the left.
They moved into their respective positions and began moving toward the summit. 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 Provincial Corps to drive back Colonels Campbell and Shelby with a bayonet charge, but then his troops had to fall back from under sharpshooter fire. Ferguson was right in believing that his attackers would expose themselves to musket fire if they attempted to scale the summit. But he did not realize that his men could only fire if they went into the open, rendering themselves vulnerable to returning rifle fire.
Most all of the Patriot troops were skilled hunters, woodsmen and above all, “riflemen” who routinely killed fast moving animals to feed themselves. Most were veterans of many years of frontier Indians war and were experts on “tree to tree” no rules combat. On this day, Ferguson’s men would find escaping an impossible task. Because of their exposed position, Major Ferguson’s men were being overwhelmed. The sharpshooters were picking them off from behind rocks, trees and brush that surrounded the summit; while the Loyalists’ aim was high, a common sighting problem when shooting downhill. The Overmountain Men gained a foothold on the summit, driving back the staggering Loyalists. The noose was quickly closing in.
Major Ferguson’s bold and final attempt was to try and personally cut a path through the Patriot line so his forces might possibly escape, but this heroic effort failed as Ferguson fell from his horse, his body riddled with bullets. Some accounts say he died before he hit the ground; others say that his men propped him against a tree, where he died. Ferguson was the only British soldier killed in the battle, all others were Americans, either Loyalist or Patriot. Ferguson’s second-in-command, Capt. Abraham DePevster, bravely continued to fight for a brief time, but the confusion was so great and his followers in such a vulnerable position that he realized further resistance was suicidal. He quickly raised the white flag of surrender. He surrendered his sword to Major Evan Shelby, Jr. younger brother of Kentucky’s first Governor Isaac Shelby. Gen. William Campbell was the commanding officer of the day, but it is said that he had removed his tattered coat “and with open collar”, not recognized as the commander. Despite the call for surrender by the Loyalists, the Patriot Colonels could not immediately stop their men from shooting. Many Patriots remembered that the notorious “Tarleton” had mowed down Patriot troops at Waxhaws despite the fact they were trying to surrender. But eventually… the fighting at Kings Mountain diminished. AFTERMATH OF THE ENCOUNTER 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. THE BATTLE OF KINGS MOUNTAIN PART I THE SUBJUGATION OF SOUTH CAROLINA
The Battle of Kings Mountain, South Carolina, occurred on the 7th day of October, 1780, and resulted in the defeat of Lieutenant Colonel Ferguson, who commanded the royal forces, and the loss of his command, not one man escaping from the battle field. The thoroughness of the disaster, and the death of the brave and highly trusted leader, was by far the most serious blow to which the British forces operating in the Southern Provinces had been subjected. The immediate effect upon Cornwallis was to put an end, for the time being, to the further subjugation of the Province of North Carolina. His contemplated advance from Charlotte Town to Salisbury was menaced by a new and unheard of enemy? the men under Campbell, Shelby, Sevier, and others? ho came from the region of the mountains, and the back, waters that flow to the west; from places so remote and unknown to the British leaders as to be almost mythical. This avenging horde made necessary a hasty revision of Cornwallis’s plans following Kings Mountain, which resulted in his immediate withdrawal to the South, and the concentration of his main army, detached posts, and flanking parties, into positions capable of rendering mutual assistance. These hardy men of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies, of deep religious convictions, were accustomed to the hardships and independence of a pioneer life, and in their mountain homes in the highlands and the backwaters they but seldom were concerned 1 with affairs beyond their borders or interfered with by Crown or colony.
When Ferguson approached their kingdom and threatened to invade their lands and lay waste their country with “fire and sword,” and to “hang their leaders,” he aroused their indignation and anger to such a degree that they determined to rid the country forever of this enemy, who menaced their independence and the safety of their homes and families. Had Cornwallis and his leaders known more about these mountain and backwater men, they would have carefully avoided all military and punitive measures which might tend to draw them from their mountain fastnesses to enroll amongst the enemies of the King. The causes of the Revolution were but little known to many of these pioneers beyond the Blue Ridge.
They were concerned in the establishment of their homes, breaking the soil of their new settlements, and wringing a livelihood from it; and with their rifles securing much of their sustenance. They sought the seclusion of the western waters; and in the valleys of the Holston, the Watauga, and the Nolichucky, found freedom in the exercise of their religion. Had the western covering force of Cornwallis’s army, as it advanced into the Province of North Carolina, confined its activities, to the plains and lowlands east of the Blue Ridge, and had not Ferguson from Gilbert Town uttered his threat of fire and sword and the hangman’s noose, these mountain men would probably have remained in their homes, and but few of them would have joined with those who were in rebellion against the King. The Battle of Kings Mountain as fought by men on both sides whose bravery should be a matter of pride to all posterity. The troops commanded by Ferguson were Americans, or persons who had come to the Provinces prior to the Revolution. His command consisted of about 125 picked officers and men, taken from several regular battalions raised in New York and New Jersey, and formed into a temporary Provincial Corps. These men were Loyalists, and they gave their services to the Crown with the same high sense of duty which prompted their brothers and neighbors to rebel against 2 further domination by Great Britain. Supplementing the Provincial Corps was a greater number of Tory militia, enrolled in the Carolinas.
Their services were offered for a variety of reasons; some because of their belief that the government of the mother country should continue, others because of expediency so that their lands and possessions might be given the protection of the British flag, still others-served as soldiers of fortune under the flag which they believed would be successful, and a small number were influenced by a base desire to rob and plunder under the license usually associated with partisan warfare. Under the confederated leaders, who commanded at Kings Mountain, were a few refugees from the lowlands, some small groups from the counties east of the mountains, and a large number of mountain and backwater men whose independence was being threatened by an alien invader.
In answering the call to embody under their local leaders, there existed the definite understanding among these mountain men that they were going into the lowlands to fight, and that they would not return to their homes until they, or Ferguson, had been defeated. At Kings Mountain the defenders used the bayonet and the rifle until their losses made surrender of the survivors inevitable. The attackers faced bullet and bayonet, and responded with an expert use of the rifle, with which they were familiar, due to their frequent stalking of game and Indians. The mountain men were not accustomed to the bayonet, but they were expert in taking cover behind rocks and trees. Ferguson was confident that his position rendered him secure against any untrained and unorganized horde which might attack him. His Provincial Corps were trained in the use of the bayonet and were commanded by competent leaders.
The militia had received some limited training in the art of war, and were provided with long hunting knives to be attached to their rifles, in lieu of the bayonet. Their marksmanship was not as effective as was that of the mountain men, as conditions of life in the lowlands were not such as to make their daily existence dependent 3 upon accurate use of the rifle. Ferguson was a trained soldier, an able leader, and, together with Tarleton, one of Cornwallis’s most valuable lieutenants. In both the Carolinas there was a large number of citizens, and probably a majority, whose sympathies at one time or another in 1780 were with the Royal Government. They believed that a rebellion could not, and should not, succeed.
In commenting on the internecine warfare carried on without cessation, General Greene wrote on the 23d of May, 1781, more than five months after he had assumed command of the Southern Department: The animosity between the Whigs and Tories of this State renders their situation truly deplorable. There is not a day passes but there are more or less who fall a sacrifice to this savage disposition. The Whigs seem determined to extirpate the Tories and the Tories the Whigs. Some thousands have fallen in this way in this quarter, and the evil rages with more violence than ever. If a stop can not be put to these massacres, the country will be depopulated in a few months more, as neither Whig nor Tory can live. The Battle of Kings Mountain was not an isolated action; it was the high spot of 1780 in the South.
The surrender of Charleston, the defeat of the American forces at Camden on the 16th of August, of Sumter two days later, the many engagements of lesser importance, all added prestige to the royal cause, resulting in the complete subjugation of Georgia and South Carolina. Cornwallis had advanced as far as Charlotte Town in North Carolina and was preparing to move his headquarters to Salisbury, when the unexpected blow delivered by the mountain men at Kings Mountain brought to an immediate end the thought of further conquest and made necessary the withdrawal of the British forces into South Carolina and the assumption of a defensive role for several months thereafter. Therefore, to have an intelligent understanding of the Battle of Kings Mountain and its effect upon the southern campaign of 1780, it is necessary to know something of the movements of the King’s forces from the time Charleston was invested.
The British land forces in America were commanded by Sir Henry Clinton, whose official title was “General and commander in chief of His Majesty’s forces in the several Provinces in America 4 on the Atlantic, from Nova Scotia to west Florida, inclusive. ” Vice Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot commanded the fleet, and Lord Cornwallis, who had been designated by Whitehall as second in command to Clinton, held a dormant commission giving him the rank of general in America, only, should an unforeseen accident happen to the commander in chief. In the latter part of 1779 the Americans made an unsuccessful attempt to recover Savannah from the British, and following this failure the French fleet, which supported the move, departed for the West Indies.
Clinton and Arbuthnot now considered the time propitious to make another attempt against Charleston, with the idea of occupying the Carolinas, giving support to the Tories and popularizing the Crown cause. Furthermore, such a move would result in curtailing colony traffic with Europe by way of the Chesapeake. Upon completion of their plans, the amphibious expedition under Clinton and Arbuthnot sailed from its base, New York, December 26, 1779. Charleston Harbor was occupied, siege laid to the city, and on the 12th of May General Lincoln surrendered the town and its garrison. Upon the capitulation of Charleston, Clinton considered that the major effort in the subjugation of the Province had been accomplished, and that, with this showing of the power of the Crown, most of the inhabitants would join the loyal cause.
It would be necessary, of course, to occupy the country with a considerable land force, and thereby give protection to loyal sympathizers, but it was thought that the British regular force under his command would be largely augmented by Tory militia, who would aid in keeping the revolutionists suppressed. Cornwallis commanded in the field, and on May 17 had a force of regulars to the number of 2,542 rank and file, which Clinton believed would be sufficient, when augmented by militia, to subjugate South Carolina and continue the campaign into North Carolina. At the same time Cornwallis was advised that in view of the 5 importance of his mission, troops were not to be stinted, and he was offered, by Clinton, any that he might desire from the garrisons of the several forts.
For the initiation of the campaign, his array was to be augmented by the light infantry and the Forty-second Regiment, with the understanding that they were to be returned to Clinton as soon as they could be spared, as his contemplated operations to the northward would be cramped without them. Cornwallis was of the belief that he had sufficient regular forces to eventually control all the territory from the Floridas to Virginia, and on the 18th of May wrote Clinton that he would regret to see left behind any part of the troops destined for use elsewhere, and unless considerable reinforcements of Continentals should come from the northward to join the revolutionists, he would not need more assistance.
He suggested that the publication of intelligence by Clinton that he and Arbuthnot were moving to the Chesapeake would probably stop off, on those waters, any reinforcements intended for the Carolinas. In case Clinton learned before sailing to the north that enemy reinforcements were well on their way, Cornwallis asked that his command be increased by some five or six hundred British or Hessians. It will be noted later that at this time Washington and Congress were preparing Maryland and Delaware troops, under De Kalb, to march to the South, and that, by resolution of Congress, these two States were transferred to the Southern Department. On May 20 the light infantry and the Forty-second Regiment, promised to Cornwallis to supplement his forces temporarily, marched to Monks Comer and reported.
At this time both the commander in chief and Cornwallis were hopeful that South Carolina would offer but little resistance to complete subjugation, although there was, in Clinton’s mind, a measure of doubt, for he knew that the entire success of the campaign would depend upon whether or not “‘the temper of our friends in those districts is such as it has always been represented to us. ” The time arrived when Clinton and the fleet could no longer delay departure for the north. La Fayette had returned to America 6 on April 27, with the promise of his Government that a French fleet and army would follow him in a short time. Information of this early augmentation of the enemy forces reached Arbuthnot and Clinton, and they deemed it advisable to assemble the fleet and troops at New York, and for the time being make no move against the Chesapeake.
Cornwallis was instructed that after he had finished his southern campaign of subjugation, and by his presence and show of force convinced the people that it was to their best interests to maintain allegiance to the Crown, he was to leave in the South such forces as he might consider necessary to dominate the territory, and send the remainder to the Chesapeake to assist in the operations which were to be undertaken there as soon as Clinton was relieved of the apprehension of a superior fleet and the season was far enough advanced to permit of campaigning in that climate. It was supposed at the time that the move to the Chesapeake could be undertaken in September or the early part of October. Cornwallis was to command the troops which would be concentrated for this operation.
From his headquarters in the field, Cornwallis corresponded with loyalists in North Carolina, informing them of his hopes for the prompt subjugation of South Carolina and advising with them as to what immediate militant acts, if any, they should engage in. It was not desired that any partisan of the King should become very active in the field at this time, for fear that the rebels would likewise become embodied and produce a situation inimical to the success of his army when it approached the border of the Province. However, if the loyalists considered themselves a match for the Whigs, and were determined to rise without further delay, he promised all the assistance in his power, by incursions of light infantry and furnishing ammunition.
It soon became evident that this hopeful view of any early conquest was not to be realized, for there were many questions of supply and transportation to be arranged before the army could move far from its base, and matters of civil administration to be adjusted, so that the government of the territory in rear of the royal army would offer safety to the troops. 7 Cornwallis had established his headquarters at Camden while Clinton and Arbuthnot were still at Charleston. On their departure, June 5, for New York, the responsibility for the campaign, and the safety of the loyalists and Tories in the occupied territory, rested upon Cornwallis solely.
He arranged for the enrollment of militia under the British flag, for the organization and functioning of civil administration, and modified the proclamations issued at Charleston by Clinton and Arbuthnot June 1, and that of Clinton the 3d, so that greater protection would be given those who were loyal to the Crown and more severe punishment meted out to those in rebellion; and at the same time provided for the needs of his army. His command of 4,000 regular troops and a few Provincials had not only to occupy several important posts widely distant from each other, but from their numbers maintain in the field a force of sufficient strength to withstand local partisans and oppose rein, forcing troops marching from the north. Posts were established from the Peedee to the Savannah to awe the disaffected and encourage the loyal inhabitants, and measures were taken to raise some Provincial Corps and to establish a militia, as well for the defense as for the internal government of South Carolina.
In the district of Ninety Six, which was viewed as the most populous and powerful in the Province, Lieutenant Colonel Balfour, assisted by Major Ferguson, who had been appointed inspector general of militia by Clinton, formed 7 battalions of militia of about 4,000 men, which organizations were so regulated that they could furnish 1,500 men at short notice for the defense of the frontier, or for any other home service. In addition to the militia, a Provincial Corps of 500 men was commissioned to be raised under command of Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham. Other battalions of militia were formed along the extensive line? Broad River to Cheraws? but they were in general either weak, or not much to be relied on for their fidelity. ” The refugees who were now returning to their native country, were organized into the First South Carolina Regiment. 8 A Provincial Corps, to consist of 500 men, was put in commission, to be raised between the Peedee and Wateree, under the command of Major Harrison.
In order to protect the raising of this corps, and to awe this large tract of disaffected country the Seventy-first Regiment and a troop of dragoons under Major McArthur were posted at Cheraw Hill on the Peedee. Other small posts were likewise established in the front and on the left of Camden, at which place the main body of the army was posted, and which was considered a fairly healthy place for the troops. Having made the above arrangements, and everything wearing the face of tranquillity and submission, Cornwallis set out on the 21st of June for Charleston, leaving the command of the troops on the frontier to Lord Rawdon, who was, after Brigadier General Patterson, the commandant at Charleston, the next in rank in the southern district.
It was about this time that Cornwallis changed the instructions previously given his friends in the northern Province relative to their rising in aid of the Crown. He now considered it ill advised to march his army through North Carolina before the harvest, and took strong measures to induce impatient partisans not to rise until after the crops had been gathered, and under no conditions to act until he advised them that the time was propitious. On June 30 he wrote to Clinton that with the capitulation of Ninety Six, and the dispersion of a party of rebels who had assembled at an ironwork on the northwest border of the Province, there was an end to all resistance in South Carolina.
He reported the forces of the enemy in North Carolina as about 100 militia under General Caswell, 400 or 500 militia at or near Salisbury under General Rutherford, and 300 Virginians in that neighborhood under Porterfield. The force which gave him the most concern, however, was 2,000 Maryland and Delaware troops under Major General Baron De Kalb. Now that the strongholds in the northwest part of South Carolina were in his possession, Cornwallis thought he could leave this 9 Province in security, and march about the beginning of September with a body of troops into the back part of North Carolina, “with the greatest probability of reducing that Province to its duty. Having in mind Clinton’s instructions that troops which could be spared later would be used at a probable early date on the Chesapeake, Cornwallis wrote in regard to his contemplated move into North Carolina: I am of opinion that (besides the advantage of possessing so valuable a Province) it would prove an effectual barrier for South Carolina and Georgia; and could be kept, with the assistance of our friends there, by as few troops as would be wanted on the borders of this Province, if North Carolina should remain in the hands of our enemies. This hopeful view of the situation, based largely upon the success of the royal arms up to this time, was soon to be shattered.
While Cornwallis was still at Charleston his intelligence reported that Sumter, with about 1,500 militia, was advancing from the north as far as the Catawba settlement, and that many disaffected South Carolinians from the Waxhaw and other settlements on the frontier, whom Lord Rawdon at Camden had put on parole, were availing themselves of the general release of the 20th of June, and joining Sumter. It was also reported that De Kalb’s army was continuing its movement south, followed by 2,500 Virginia militia. Cornwallis informed Clinton of these developments in a letter of July 14, stating: The effects of the exertions which the enemy are making in these two Provinces, will, I make no doubt, be exaggerated to us. But upon the whole here is every reason to believe that their plan is not only to defend North Carolina, but to commence offensive operations immediately; which reduces me to the necessity, if I wanted the inclination, of following the plan which I had the honor of transmitting to your excellency in my letter of the 30th of June, as the most effectual means of keeping up the spirits of our friends and securing this Province. The plan referred to by Cornwallis was the occupation of North Carolina, and holding it as the frontier of the southern district. The work of supplying the base at Camden with salt, rum, regimental stores, arms, and ammunition was under way, so that 10 further advance of the army beyond that point would be safe, guarded. Due to the distance of transportation and the excessive heat of the season, the work was one of infinite labor, requiring considerable time. Then, too, the several actions in which his forces had been engaged made Cornwallis more and more doubtful as to the value of his militia. He wrote to Clinton that dependence upon these troops for protecting and holding in South Carolina, in case of an advance of his army into North Carolina, was precarious, as their want of subordination and confidence in themselves would make a considerable regular force always necessary for the defense of the Province, until North Carolina was completely subjugated.
The plan of campaign of the Crown forces to the north contemplated using Ferguson’s corps, augmented by militia of the Ninety Six district who were being trained by Ferguson, as a left covering force to advance to the borders of Tryon County, now Rutherford and Lincoln, paying particular attention to the mountain regions in securing protection for the advance of the main body from Camden. Lieutenant Colonel Cruger, who commanded at Ninety Six, was to remain there with his corps. Innes, with the remainder of the militia of that district, was to guard the frontier, which would require careful attention, as there were many disaffected, and many constantly in arms.
The continued advance southward of the American troops previously reported in North Carolina was known to Cornwallis. While still in Charleston, on August 9, he received an express from Camden informing him that General Gates, accompanied by Caswell and Rutherford, was approaching with every appearance of an intent to attack Lord Rawdon, who had assembled several regiments on the west branch of Lynches Creek. These troops were more or less sickly, particularly the Seventy-first Regiment, the two battalions of which had not more than 274 men under arms. On the 6th Sumter had attacked the British post at Hanging Rock, where the infantry of the Legion and Governor Browne’s corps were posted.
He had been repulsed, but not without difficulty. 11 These accounts alarmed Cornwallis, and he proceeded from Charleston to join the army in the field. At the same time he wrote to Clinton: If we succeed at present, and are able to penetrate into North Carolina, without which it is impossible to hold this province, your Excellency will see the absolute necessity of a diversion in the Chesapeake, and that it must be done early. Cornwallis reached Camden on the 13th of August. Gates’s command had approached very close, and on the morning of the 16th the two armies met and fought the Battle of Camden, resulting in the defeat of Gates.
Following this victory, Cornwallis determined upon the destruction or dispersion of the corps under Sumter, as it might prove a foundation for assembling the routed army, and on the morning of the 17th he detached Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton with the Legion cavalry and infantry, and the corps of light infantry, in all about 350 men, to pursue and attack Sumter. Orders were also sent to Lieutenant Colonel Turnbull and Major Ferguson, on the Little River, to put their corps in motion immediately, and on their side to pursue and attack the same enemy. Tarleton was successful in surprising Sumter on the 18th at Fishing Creek, near the Catawba.. The latter, with a corps of about 800 men, was escorting 250 prisoners and a large quantity of stores, artillery, and ammunition. Sumter himself escaped, though with difficulty, but his whole corps was killed, taken, or dispersed.
In writing of the Battle of Camden, Cornwallis stated that above 1,000 were killed and wounded, and about 800 taken prisoners; that his army captured 7 pieces of brass cannon, all the enemy ammunition, wagons, a great number of arms, and 130 baggage wagons; “in short, there never was a more complete victory. ” The British loss was reported as 300 killed and wounded, chiefly of the Thirty-third Regiment and the Volunteers of Ireland. Among the Americans wounded were Major General Baron De Kalb and Brigadier General Rutherford. Baron De Kalb died of his wounds. In a letter to Lord Germain written August 21, Cornwallis said that on arriving in Camden the night of the 13th, he found there Lord Raw- 12 on’s entire force, except a small detachment under Lieutenant Colonel Turnbull, which fell back from Rocky Mount to Major Ferguson’s posts of the militia at Ninety Six, on Little River. I had my option to make, either to retire or attack the enemy, for the position at Camden was a bad one to be attacked in, and by General Sumpter’s advancing down the Wateree, my supplies must have failed me in a few days. These two decisive engagements, following so closely upon each other, brought deep despair to the revolutionists and great elation to the victors. In Cornwallis’s letter to Lord Germain referred to above and written five days after Camden and three days after the defeat of Sumter, he declared that the rebel forces were dispersed and that internal commotions and insurrections in the Province would now subside.
He stated that he had given directions to inflict exemplary punishment on some of the most guilty, in hopes to deter others in future “from tampering with allegiance, with oaths, and with the lenity and generosity of the British Government. ” The orders of Cornwallis were that all inhabitants of the Province who had submitted, and later took part in the revolt against the King, should be punished with the greatest vigor, imprisoned, and their property taken or destroyed. He ordered in the most positive manner that every militiaman who had borne arms under him, and afterwards joined the enemy, should be immediately hanged. Cruger, who commanded at Ninety Six, was directed to take the most vigorous measures to extinguish the rebellion in his district, and to obey in the strictest manner the directions given relative to the treatment of the country.
It will be seen later how the execution of these instructions in the region of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies resulted in the mountain men swarming from their homes to defend their freedom and independence. Now that no further opposition to the advance into North Carolina existed, on the morning of the 17th of September Cornwallis dispatched messengers into that Province with directions to his friends there to take arms and assemble immediately, and to seize the most violent people and all the military stores and maga- 13 zines belonging to the rebels, and to intercept all stragglers from the routed army. He promised to march without loss of time to their support.
Much to Cornwallis’s disappointment, however, the people of the northern Province were not as prompt in rising as he had hoped. Their inclinations were held in check due to the large number of revolutionists whom they had observed marching to the south to oppose the royal forces, and they preferred to await the arrival of the British Army in their neighborhood before taking an open stand. Cornwallis was hopeful that Clinton would start, at an early date, the contemplated move to the Chesapeake, thereby relieving the situation on his northern front. He wrote to him that next to the security of New York, the operations in the Chesapeake were one of the most important objects of the war.
About this time Major Wemyss was sent with a detachment of the Sixty-third Regiment, mounted, some refugees, Provincials, and militia, to disarm in the most rigid manner the country between the Santee and Peedee, and to punish severely all those who submitted or pretended to live peaceably under his majesty s Government since the reduction of Charleston, and who had later revolted. Cornwallis himself ordered several militiamen to be executed, who had voluntarily enrolled and borne arms under the British flag and afterwards revolted to the enemy. Plans were made to move the first division of the army into North Carolina by way of Charlotte Town and Salisbury, about September 6 or 7. The second division would follow in about 10 days with convalescents and stores. A more prompt move following the successes at Camden and Fishing Creek could not be made, due to the number of sick and wounded, and the want of transport. The advance was started on the 8th and Charlotte Town reached the 26th of September.
During September Ferguson operated in Ninety Six and from there moved into what had been Tryon County, North Carolina, accompanied by about 800 militia collected from the neighborhood of Ninety Six. Protection was to be given to the friends of the 14 Crown, who were supposed to be numerous in that locality, and it was intended that he should pass the Catawba River and endeavor to preserve tranquillity in the rear and flank of the army. It was while on this duty that the loss of his entire command occurred at Kings Mountain on the 7th of the following month. Without some knowledge of Cornwallis’s campaign in South Carolina, and from thence into North Carolina as far as Charlotte Town, the necessity for his immediate retirement from the northern Province, following Kings