Kings Mountain

October 7, 1780

With the near destruction of an American army at Camden, South Carolina in August 1780, the whole colony was occupied, and there was little to stop a British invasion of North Carolina in the fall of 1780.  Cornwallis, commanding the offensive, would advance on Charlotte, NC and Salisbury from Camden.  He expected a Tory rising in eastern North Carolina to capture that portion of the colony, and to the west, he expected a column of Tories under the command of Maj. Patrick Ferguson, from Edinburgh, Scotland, to subdue the settlements across the mountains.  Eventually, Cornwallis would continue into Virginia and meet up with 2,500 British troops sent there from New York City.  If everything went according to plan, the entire South, from Georgia to Virginia, would come back under British control.  Cornwallis reached Charlotte on September 26th and halted after a skirmish there to wait for Ferguson to join him.  He never would.

Ferguson had been moving north from Ninety Six, SC starting in July, reaching Gilbertown, NC on September 23rd.  He had been facing militia under Col. Charles McDowell, who called for help from over the mountains.  It would soon be coming.  Ferguson had sent a paroled militiaman back home across the mountains with a message.  Ferguson ordered the 'over mountain men' to accept British soveriegnty.  If they didn't, Ferguson would 'march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste to their country with fire and sword.'  Ferguson would have been better served to use more carrot and less stick.  His threat only served to encourage more men to join the rebel cause.  The force organized against Ferguson was composed of men from South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, approximately half of them from over the mountains, and they elected William Campbell of Virginia as their commander.  By September 27th, Ferguson was falling back to the south, and on October 1st, he changed course - to the east- heading toward Charlotte to join Cornwallis.  Ferguson sent two requests for reinforcements, but none would arrive.  The patriots, camped at Hannah's Cowpens, got a report that Ferguson was camped at King's Mountain.   On October 6th, 900 of their roughly 1,400 to 1,790 men were selected and sent east on horseback.  By the afternoon of October 7th, they reached Kings Mountain.

This is the view from the eastern, or lower, end of the mountain, which at its highest is around 200 feet higher than the land below.  The leaf covered trail on the left is the trace of the road that the patriot force approached on from the south, or the upper left of the panorama.  Catching the Tories by surprise, they moved along either side of the mountain, visible in the center of the panorama, and surrounded Ferguson's 1,100 men.  On the northern side of the mountain, visible here, the patriot line formed roughly parallel to the paved trail that extends to the right.  The short uphill trail is to the William Chronicle Monument, named for one of the patriot leaders.

This is the view from the paved trail further west, where men under Sevier fought.  The highest portion of mountain is visible here.  William Campbell's Virginians were to the right of Sevier on other side of mountain.  

This is the view up the western end of the mountain.  Sevier attacked the summit from the left of the panorama while Campbell attacked from the right.  

Earlier in the war, Ferguson had developed a breech loading, quick-reloading rifle and commanded a corps of riflemen equipped with his invention.  Now he commanded men equipped with muskets who were surrounded by riflemen.  The musket had the advantages of being quicker to fire while also mounting the bayonet, a weapon that patriot militia in open ground typically feared.  In this case, however, the rocky, forested slopes hindered the bayonet charge and gave cover to the riflemen, who, although they had a slower rate of fire, had better accuracy and cover from which to fire.  Firing uphill is more accurate than firing downhill, giving a further advantage to the attackers

Although the Tories charged with the bayonet, the patriot riflemen would simply fall back down the mountain then return after the Tories returned to the summit.  Eventually, the Patriots gained the summit.

This is the view from the crest, which the trail follows, below the summit.  This is the Tory view down the southern slope, where Campbell and McDowell's men attacked.  The  Tories, taking fire from both sides of the crest and now pressured from patriot riflemen on the summit, were forced down to the eastern end of the crest.

In this area, where the US Monument was built, Ferguson's men made their final stand.

This is the view from the US Monument, looking along the ascending ridgeline toward the summit, now in patriot hands along with the slopes on all sides.

The US Monument marking the site of the last stand is visible on the right, just above the paved trail.  Ferguson had been active all day, rushing around the mountain crest on his horse, ordering bayonet charges and encouraging his men.  When he saw his men raise white flags of surrender, he cut them down.  In a last, desparate effort, he led his men down the slope in an effort to break out.  Here, where the stone pillar now stands, he was shot dead, hit with seven bullets simultaneously.  With their leader dead, the Tories surrendered, or tried to.  The patriots, having heard stories of Tarleton's Quarter at Waxhaws and remembering Ferguson's threats, were not in the mood to take prisoners.  Evenually, though, the firing stopped, and roughly 700 of the 1,100 Tories were taken into captivity.  Atrocities were committed, and the relatively high percentage of Tory killed to wounded suggests as much.  While being marched into captivity, several more prisoners would be killed, and several more were hanged after being put on trial.

In the hollow, visible on the left of the panorama, Patrick Ferguson was buried under a cairn of stones.  Some sources state that his body was mutilated.  The area is just uphill from the site of the first panorama, near the Chronicle monument.

Ferguson had been killed where you see the modern paved trail disappear along the crest.  Ferguson's body was dragged downhill to this site and buried under a pile of stones.  The grave also contains the body of his mistress, a Tory camp follower.  

The battle had taken just over an hour to fight.  With less than 100 patriots killed or wounded, Kings Mountain was a decisive tactical victory by any measure, but the battle would also have important strategic implications; Cornwallis called off his invasion of North Carolina, and the expedition to Virginia was diverted to South Carolina.  This gave the American southern army time to rebuild and get a new, commander, Nathanael Greene, selected by George Washington for his competence.  In the words of Sir Henry Clinton, the battle of Kings Mountain started a chain of events disasterous to the British cause.  The next link in that chain would come in January, when another 1,000 man detachment would be smashed at the battle of Cowpens.  

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