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Battle of Kings Mountain


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Now, technically this battle took place in South Carolina, but a large number of men and boys from the Appalachians took part and it deserves mention and remembering.

The Battle of Kings Mountain was a fight in the Southern campaign of the American Revolutionary War, fought on October 7, 1780. American Patriot militia forces overwhelmed the loyalist militia, led by Major Patrick Ferguson. In his history The Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt wrote of Kings Mountain: “This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution.”

From the American Patriot perspective, this might be called The Battle of the Colonels as there was no overall command structure. Colonels William Campbell, John Sevier, Joseph McDowell, Benjamin Cleveland, James Williams, and Isaac Shelby each appeared in command of parts of their militia units. Even some of lesser rank, such as Captain Joseph Winston, Edward Lacey, and Frederick Hambright commanded largely autonomous units.

Contents

1 Background

2 Forces

3 Description of the battle

4 Aftermath

5 External links

6 Further reading

Background

After the defeat of Horatio Gates’s Patriot army at the Battle of Camden, British General Cornwallis was convinced that Georgia and South Carolina had been brought back under British control, and he began working on plans to move into North Carolina. However, a brutal civil war between the rebel colonists and loyalists (known as Tories), continued to rage all over South Carolina. The Whig frontiersmen, led by a group of self-proclaimed colonels of the rebellion—Isaac Shelby, Elijah Clark, and Charles McDowell—conducted hit-and-run raids on Loyalist outposts. To protect his western flank against the rebel American colonists, Cornwallis employed Major Patrick Ferguson to command the Loyalist militia.

Cornwallis invaded North Carolina on September 9, 1780, and reached Charlotte on September 26, 1780. Ferguson followed and established a base camp at Gilbertown and issued a challenge to the Patriot leaders to lay down their arms or he would: “lay waste to their country with fire and sword.” But the tough-talking words only outraged the frontiersmen of the Appalachian Mountains who decided to bring the battle to Ferguson himself rather than wait for him to come to them.

Learning of the Patriot approach from a deserter, Ferguson withdrew towards Charlotte, but he stopped at Kings Mountain, a rocky forested hill less then a mile south of the South Carolina border, to face his enemies.

Forces

With the exception of Major Patrick Ferguson, all of the participants of the battle were Americans. Ferguson commanded over 1,000 Loyalist well trained and drilled milita, while the rebel Patriots, about 900 strong, were under the command of a group of frontiersmen colonels.

Description of the battle

The battle opened on October 7, 1780 where 900 Colonial frontiersmen approached the base of Kings Mountain in the early dawn hours. The rebel army split up in eight groups of 100 to 200 men intended to surround the mountain and destroy Ferguson’s Loyalists in detail. Two storming parties, led by Colonels John Sevier and William Campbell, would assault the ‘high heel’ of the mountain, the smallest area but highest point, while six additional storming groups, led by Colonels Shelby, Williams, Cleveland, Chronicle, McDowell and Winston, would attack the main Loyalist group around the ‘ball’ base beside the ‘heel’ crest of the mountain.

The frontiersmen crept up the hill in Indian-fashion and opened fire on the scarlet-red clad Loyalists from cover of the rocks and trees. Ferguson rallied his troops together and launched a bayonet charge against the attacking frontiersmen being led by Campbell and Sevier. With no bayonets of their own, the frontiersmen were forced to retreat down the hill and back into the woods. But Campbell rallied his troops as soon as the Loyalist charge spent itself and returned to the base of the hill to open fire again against the Loyalists. Two more times, Ferguson launched bayonet attacks against the attacking rebel colonists advancing up the hill. During one of the charges, Colonel Williams was killed, and Colonel McDowell was wounded. But each time, the frontiersmen retreated deep into the woods and returned to the base of the hill once the Loyalist counter-assaults were spent.

By this time, Loyalist casualties were increasing, and the situation was becoming increasingly grim for Ferguson. As the frontiersmen began to overrun the positions, Ferguson rode back and forth across the hill trying to rally his men to stand and fight by yelling orders and blowing his silver whistle used to signal charges. But at the crest, as the frontiersmen began over running the Loyalists positions, Ferguson was struck by about a dozen rifle balls fired by the frontiersmen and fell dead off his horse.

After seeing their leader fall, most of the Loyalists lost heart and began to raise their arms signaling their surrender. But this time, it was the Patriot frontiersmen who wouldn’t stop firing. Seeing the Loyalists beginning to surrender, they continued firing at them and even began shouting “Give ‘em Tarleton’s Quarter!” Many of the rebel frontiersmen, eager to avenge their fellow Patriot’s defeats at the Waxhaw Massacre and elsewhere where in no mood to take prisoners. But after a few more minutes of bloodletting, the several American Patriot colonels began to slowly get their men under control and rounded up over 600 Loyalist prisoners.

On the Loyalist side, 157 were killed and 163 were seriously wounded, and the remainder (698 men) were taken prisoner. The Patriot frontiersmen lost 28 killed and 62 wounded. Those Loyalist prisoners well enough to walk were herded away to camps several miles away. The dead and wounded were left behind on the battlefield. As many as nine of the Loyalists were hanged when several frontiersmen discovered that they originally fought for the Rebellion and then changed sides.


Aftermath

In 1931, the Congress of the United States created the Kings Mountain National Military Park on the site of the battle. The park is headquartered in Blacksburg, South Carolina and hosts over a quarter of a million visitors each year.

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