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Wednesday, July 4, 2018


The Battle of Kings Mountain

It is such an honor to have my Prairie Rose blog fall on July 4th this year. I want to take the opportunity to write about the Battle of King’s Mountain and how the Scot-Irish Mountain Men turned the tide of the Revolutionary War that would lead the Americans to victory over the greatest military force in the world—Britain.

After the revolution began, the battles for freedom began to move south and defeat and setbacks began to take a toll on the colonial army. The outcome was beginning to look bleak after the British won in Charles Town, South Carolina. From there, the war moved northwest with the British, General Horatio Gates and Lt. General Charles Cornwallis seeming to have little opposition all the way to 

General Charles Cornwallis

The September following the fall of Charles Town to the British, Cornwallis invaded North Carolina and ordered Major Patrick Ferguson, an egotistical, overconfident, and ambitious man, to guard his left flank.

Major Patrick Ferguson 

Upon those orders on September 2, Ferguson headed toward western Carolina with seventy of his American Loyalist Volunteers and several hundred Tory soldiers. On September 7th he arrived in Gilbert Town, North Carolina, paroled a captured a rebel and sent him with a message, “…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 waste with fire and sword.”

This arrogant threat proved to be Major Ferguson’s downfall!

In response to Ferguson’s threats,, a call to arms went out and  the colonials gathered at Sycamore Shoals to strategize their battle plan. In his history of South Carolina written in 1808, David Ramsey wrote, “…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 volition without any requisition from the Governments of America or the officers of the Continental Army. Each man set out with his knapsack, blanket, and gun. All who could obtain horses were mounted, the remainder afoot.” On September 25th, Colonels William Campbell, Charles McDowell, John Sevier, and Isaac Shelby left Sycamore Shoals to pursue Ferguson. They used the only roadway connecting the backwater country with the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina.

General Isaac Shelby

The column marched up to the headwaters of Gap Creek Mountain, then east and south until they reached the top of the mountain between Roan High Knob and Big Yellow Mountain and descended along Roaring Creek. Finally, they took their rest at “Cathey’s” plantation on the second night of their march. After that, the troops divided with Campbell’s men moving south to Turkey Cove and the other to North Cove on the North Fork of the Catawba River. In their hard march from Sycamore Flats they covered 80 miles in five days. On September 30, Colonel Cleveland joined the march now 1,040 men strong at Quaker Meadow with the men from Wilkes County and Major Winston with men from Surry County. In addition were 30 Georgians under command of William Candler who joined the Patriot force at Gilberts Town and the army grew to 1,400 men.

General William Campbell

The seven Colonels chose William Campbell to act as commander before the Overmountain men moved south in their search for Major Patrick Ferguson. The Rebel spy, Joseph Kerr learned Ferguson was 30 miles to the north camped at Kings Mountain. Isaac Shelby was particularly delighted when he heard Ferguson had said, “I am on Kings Mountain. I am King of the mountain and God Almighty and all the Rebels of Hell cannot drive me from it.” Shelby was elated because he knew the region of Kings Mountain and knew it was a position almost impossible to defend.
It was important to the Patriot Colonels to get to Ferguson before he reached Charlotte when he would find protection from Lt. General Charles Cornwallis, so they chose 900 of their best men and hurried northward. 

The Movement of the Patriot Overmountain Men

The combined force of the Overmountain Men reached Kings Mountain on the afternoon of October 7, 1780.

Ferguson made the mistake of believing the enemy could not fire upon him without being seen. Big Mistake, Ferguson! The southern frontiersmen knew little about the methods and philosophies of established warfare and this was to be to their advantage. The Patriot force divided into four units and surrounded the mountain. They used continuous fire to close in on Ferguson like an unavoidable noose. Two groups fired while the second two groups moved forward. They switched back and forth in this way every 15 minutes. The battle began at 3 o’clock with Ferguson attempting to use the standard military practice of a bayonet charge. Unfortunately, his troops had to retreat under sharpshooter fire from the Patriots.

The Fall of Ferguson
Although Ferguson was correct in his belief the attackers would have to expose themselves to musket fire if they attempted to advance on the summit, he didn’t realize his men could only fire if they, too, were in the open and, therefore, vulnerable to returning rifle fire. Another factor Ferguson was unaccustomed to was that the Patriots were skilled hunters, woodsmen, and above all, riflemen used to killing fast moving animals to feed themselves. Most of them were also veterans of frontier Indians war and experts on “tree to tree”, no rules combat.

Major Ferguson’s men were overwhelmed as sharpshooters picked them off from behind rocks, brush, and trees that surrounded the summit. The Overmountain Men gained a foothold and drove back the Loyalists. Major Ferguson’s bold and final attempt was to personally try to cut a path through the Patriot line in order for him and his army to escape, but he failed when he fell from his horse, his body riddled with bullets. Some accounts say he died before he hit the ground, others that his men propped him against a tree where he then died. Ferguson was the only British soldier killed in the battle. All the rest, Loyalists and Patriots alike, were Americans.

Ferguson’s second in command, Captain Abraham DePevster, bravely continued to fight for a brief time, but the confusion was so great and his army in such a vulnerable position that he realized resistance would be suicidal. He raised the white flag and, not recognizing General William Campbell since he had removed his tattered coat, surrendered his sword to Major Evan Shelby, Jr., the younger brother of Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby.

Despite the call of surrender by the Loyalists, the Patriot Colonels could not stop their men from shooting. The Patriots remembered how the notorious British Col. Tarleton had brutally killed Patriot troops at Waxhaw despite the fact they were trying to surrender. Eventually however, the fighting at Kings Mountain ended.

After an hour of battle, not a single soldier of Ferguson’s army escaped. It was reported that 225 Loyalists were killed, 163 wounded, and 716 were captured. Only 28 Patriots, including Colonel James Williams, were killed and 68 wounded. When General Cornwallis learned of Major Patrick Ferguson’s defeat, he retreated from Charlotte, North Carolina and returned 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. Not only did the Overmountain men win the day, but also undermined the British strategy for keeping America under its control. There is no doubt that Major Patrick Ferguson profoundly underestimated the courage and desire for liberty of the Overmountain Men. He did, however, fulfill his prophesy that he would not be moved from Kings Mountain; he remains there to this day in his grave.

Patrick Ferguson's Grave on Kings Mountain

When I think about the courage and desire for freedom the Patriots had in order to fight against the strongest nation on Earth I stand in awe and gratitude. The old adage, “where there is a will, there is a way,” must be true. I can’t even imagine going up against such overwhelming odds today. We have every reason to celebrate our Independence Day this Fourth of July in honor of the men and women who won this freedom for us against all odds.

The Declaration of Independence

Diverse stories filled with heart


  1. A great piece of history I didn't know about. Thanks for sharing, Sarah. Happy Fourth!!

    1. Kristy, I suppose because I live here in North Carolina close to where this battle took place, naturally I've heard about it most of my life. I don't know if you saw The Patriot with Mel Gibson some years back, but I believe the movie was a loose depiction of the Battle of Kings Mountain. The villain, Col. Tavington was a character based on the combined English officers, Tarleton (known for his brutality) and Ferguson who led the English at the Kings Mountain battle.

  2. Sarah, what an interesting piece of history! I have never heard of this battle--and I'm so glad you blogged about it! Excellent post--as always!

    1. Cheryl, I know that many do not about this battle and yet, it was a significant change in the American Revolution. Obviously, I love this bit of history and this time period. North Carolina is filled with this early American history.
      Thank you so much for coming.

  3. Fascinating article, Sarah. Did you know that JOHN CROCKETT, father of DAVY, was one of the Overmountain Men who fought at Kings Mountain?

  4. Wonderful piece of history and perfect for the fourth of July. I have read about Ferguson, who was a Scot. One of his mistresses (just the one!!!) was also killed in this battle . 'Virginia Sal' is reputed to be in that grave with him.

  5. C.A., what an interesting tidbit about "Virginia Sal". Hey, here's a coincidence--my nickname is Sal. I don't think I would want to be anybody's mistress though, and most definitely I would not have wanted to be a mistress of Ferguson's. LOL I wonder why her name isn't on the monument. I'm totally intrigued. Now I want to dig into some more research.
    Thank you for coming and for giving me that neat tidbit.

  6. We now live about 15 miles from Sycamore Shoals. I had never heard of the Overmountain Men until moving here. There is a reenactment every year and a march along the route they took to the battle. I am not certain if they go all the way to Kings Mountain. As an interesting side, my husband's cousin was working on the family genealogy and stated one of his ancestors fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain. I do not know which side he fought on. We will have to do a bit more research on that. I thank you for this post on the battle. It has given me more information on the battle than I have heard before. The focus here is on the muster at the fort at Sycamore Shoals and their march to Kings Mountain. I am originally from Northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain. They talk of the Battle of Plattsburgh, but it was not until the last 15 years or so that the import of the battle was emphasized. It seems that like the battle at Kings Mountain being a turning point in the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Plattsburgh, which was a naval battle, was the turning point in the War of 1812.

    1. Patricia, that is some awesome information about your genealogy. It seems so many people are interested in finding their family origins now since there is now an organized method of doing so. Since your ancestor was from Georgia, a penal colony, I am thinking these people there would have no loyalty toward the English and probably that relative was a Patriot. Even if he was a Tory that is some great information to have about the family.
      Isn't it exciting to learn these things about our history? I wish I had had this enthusiasm when I was learning it in school, but I didn't get interested until I started writing. The more I learn, the more I want to know. It's so fascinating now.

      It's also interesting that you have some knowledge about New York's involvement in the War of 1812, too. Naval battles are so interesting--the maneuvering of the ships and how they used those canons is a whole other thing.

      Thank you so much for coming and for imparting your knowledge with me, Patricia.

  7. Sarah,

    These are the stories that would help make history text books more interesting for students, but the information (typically) included in text books focuses on the overall social, economic, and world impact of a war/revolution/etc. in order to present the bigger picture.

  8. A brilliant overview of such a stunning battle. I'd heard bits and pieces, gathered from research here and there,but this was so spot on. Thank you for finding and sharing this important piece of history. Doris

    1. Doris, as an historical author, I appreciate your complimentary words. History means so much when it takes place near where we live. Kings Mountain is practically in my backyard and I've heard about it and visited it often from childhood.

      It was so wonderful of you to come and comment on my post, Doris. It's always good to hear from you.

  9. Yes Kaye, and dry as yesterday's toast, so only a few remember beyond the test what the heck happened or why. I have had teachers who introduced some personal accounts from history and literature that made it all so interesting I never forgot. You feel like you've hit a gold mine when you get a teacher like that. I had 2. It must be difficult for a teacher these days who must compete with TV's, computers, and all sorts of screen entertainments. In any case, I do understand your point in regards to making history fit into the worldwide socio-economic picture.

    Thank you so much for coming, Kaye.