Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Battle of King's Mountain, NC

Battle of King's Mountain, NC

The Patriots (Whigs) were entirely volunteer forces who fought under men that they chose to follow which were John Sevier, William Campbell, Frederick Hambright, Joseph McDowell, Benjamin Cleveland, James Williams, John McKissack, Isaac Shelby, Joseph Winston and Edward Lacey. Major Patrick Ferguson led the Loyalist troops. In this battle, Major Ferguson was the only British regular which meant that Americans were fighting Americans. Unlike most British officers, Ferguson was convinced that Loyalist militia could be trained to be as effective as British regulars.

Cornwallis had invaded NC on September 9, 1780 and came into Charlotte, NC on September 26, 1780. Ferguson followed and established a base camp at Gilbert Town 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." Col. Ferguson's warning was the result of his frustration over the refusal of most of the Overmountain men (east Tennesseans and southwestern Virginians) to take the loyalty oath and to stop providing safe harvens for militiamen from the Carolinas and Georgia. They had eluded him after the August 16th defeat of American General Gates and the American army at the battle of Camden by retreating "overmountain". The message was delivered to Sullivan County, North Carolina (now Tennessee) to Militia Colonel Isaac Shelby who went to Washington County, NC (now Tennessee) to confer with Colonel John Sevier. The tough-talking words only outraged the Appalachian Americans and Shelby and Sevier decided to march quickly over the mountains and surprise Ferguson. They gathered with Colonel William Campbell in Sycamore Shoals, near Elizabethton, TN at Watauga and crossed over the mountains to face Ferguson. They were called the "Over Mountain Men" and were 900-1,000 strong. They included John Crockett, the father of Davy Crockett.

A captured deserter and spies told Ferguson about the approaching Patriot force. Ferguson and his troop of 1,100 men retreated toward Cornwallis in Charlotte, NC but stopped at King's Mountain to face the Patriot force. King's Mountain was one of many rocky forested hills in the upper Piedmont near the border between North and South Carolina. It is shaped like a footprint with the highest point at the heel at 60 ft, a narow instep, and a broad rounded toe with a flat plateau at the top that provided a good 'high ground" campsite. Ferguson was confident that his position rendered him secure against any untrained and unorganized force which might attack him. His Provincial (Loyalist, Royalist, Tory) Corps were trained in the use of the bayonet and were commanded by competent leaders.

Camping on Kings Mountain, Ferguson 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 determined to pursue him. They followed Ferguson, leaving the weak and their 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 Over Mountain Men were so tired by now that they stopped to rest. Until now, they had lived on nothing but the small sack of corn that each backwoodsman had brought with him. They pushed on to Cowpens, where they conveniently found a Tory farmer's cow herd, which they slaughtered, and cooked to eat. They learned from spy Joseph Kerr that Ferguson was camped about 30 miles ahead in the vicinity of Kings Mountain. 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 Patriots marched through the night and the next day, through pouring rain and intermittent showers. They got to the mountain just after noon on October 7, 1780. It was 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

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. They formed eight groups of 100 to 200 men. Colonels John Sevier and William Campbell led the two groups that would assault the 'high heel' of the wooded mountain, the smallest area but highest point, while the other seven groups, led by Colonels Shelby, Williams, Lacey, Cleveland, Hambright, Winston and McDowell attacked the main Loyalist position by surrounding the 'ball' base beside the 'heel' crest of the mountain. The Patriots crept up the hill and fired on the scarlet-clad Loyalists from behind rocks and trees at about 3 pm.

Shelby and Campbell's men were driven back twice by Loyalist fire but as one regiment drew back the other would advance. Ferguson launched a bayonet charge against Sevier and Campbell's men. With no bayonets of their own, the rebels retreated down the hill and into the woods. But Campbell rallied his troops, returned to the base of the hill, and resumed firing. Two more times, Ferguson launched bayonet attacks. During one of the charges, Colonel Williams was killed and Colonel McDowell wounded. But after each charge, the frontiersmen returned to the base of the hill and resumed shooting. It was hard for the Loyalists to find a target because the Patriots were constantly moving using the cover of rocks and trees. The Patriot sharpshooters were picking them off from behind the trees and brush that surrounded the summit, while their own aim was high as they shot downhill. The frontiersmen had been ordered to "give them Indian play"--scatter, then rally and strike back. They gave way only to seek cover behind rocks and trees from where they began to snipe at their adversaries with their customary deadly accuracy. At every chance, they would slip from rock to tree, climbing ever higher up the mountain toward the Tories. Constrained within his own formations, tents, and wagons, Ferguson had little room to maneuver. His only option was to stand and die, or assault and try to turn the tide. He ordered his Rangers to assault the Patriots charging up the ridge from the southwest. He also ordered some mounted Loyalists to charge into the approaching Patriots. Before the Loyalists could really do any damage, the Patriots picked them off too quickly. Loyalist casualties were heavy. Ferguson rode back and forth across the hill, blowing a silver whistle he used to signal charges. Ferguson lost two horses charging downhill into the very midst of the frontiersmen; he broke his sword hacking at some he had ridden down, but even he could not stop disaster. Wearing a plaid duster over his uniform, with his crooked arm and his silver whistle, he made an easy target. He was hit simultaneously by 8 bullets and fell from his horse getting his foot caught in the stirrup. But his men got him down and propped him against a tree where he died.

Ferguson's second-in-command quickly raised the white flag of surrender. Following the request of surrender, it took a while for the firing to stop. 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. So with cries of "Remember Waxhaws" and "Give 'em Tarleton's Quarter" some men continued fighting for a time.

Ferguson's body was stripped and abused before the leaders were able to get the men to back down and allow the Loyalists to wrap him in a new rawhide and bury him. They piled stones on top of his grave and Patrick Ferguson still lies at King's Mountain today.

On the Loyalist side, 225 were killed and 163 wounded, and 716 were taken prisoners. The Patriot casualties were 28 killed and 62 wounded. After the battle, Loyalist prisoners, well enough to walk, were herded to camps several miles from the battlefield. The dead and wounded were left on the field. 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 Patriot's 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, in Charlotte, was so shaken that he abandoned his plans in North Carolina and retreated south to Winnsboro, SC. It was a turning point in the War.

The news of victory at Kings Mountain revived Patriot hopes. Bonfires and street dancing were held in cities held by the Patriots. 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.

Sources: I did a Google search and collected info from various websites like Wikipedia.

Here are some books that I found at the Kings Mountain National Park Visitor's Center.

For more, see my post on Kings Mountain.

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