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Kings Mountain, 1780

On October 7, 2019, many gathered to celebrate the 239th. anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain.

This battle was the first major patriot victory to occur after the British invasion of Charleston, SC on May 12, 1780. Through the summer months, the British moved north through the Carolina, because there was no Continental Army to stop them.

General Lord Cornwallis sent 36-year-old Major Patrick Ferguson to gather and train Tory sympathizers; he was given the title “Inspector of the Militia.” He recruited 240 men from Orangeburg and then added to the number at Fort Ninety-Six. Using a silver whistle, he gave his commands. His mission was to engage the enemy, forage his property, and lay waste to the land. Ferguson

Ferguson took his orders seriously and proceeded to obey.

Now Patriots and Tories took sides, and the first civil war in SC commenced.

Skirmishes and battles were fought all around SC that summer, and both sides had wins.

Ferguson heeded his orders to continue recruiting and to move toward NC to protect Cornwallis’ flank. He was a soldier’s soldier, disciplined and dedicated. He was considered the best marksman in the British army.

As he moved northward, he was continually harassed by the NC militia under the command of Colonels Isaac Shelby and Charles McDowell. Fighting Indian style with yells and hiding behind trees, they followed Ferguson.


After arriving in NC, he sent a message to the rebels, “If you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.”

The Overmountain men bristled at this challenge. Receiving this message, Isaac Shelby wasted no time. He saddled his horse and rode hurriedly forty miles to the home of John Sevier, another prominent militia leader in the over mountain region. Charles McDowell joined them. After lengthy consideration, the militia leaders decided it would be best if they crossed the mountains on their own terms and defeated Ferguson on the east side of the mountains.


So Patrick Ferguson, the would-be hunter, become the hunted.

Riders were sent to other communities to ask them to come join them to take care of Ferguson. They called for a muster at Sycamore Shoals in Tennessee on September 25. Patriots rode in from Virginia, Tennessee, NC, SC, and Georgia. The fight against the British was now personal.

Painting above depicts the gathering at Sycamore Shoals. Reverend Samuel Doak sent the Patriots off from the muster with these inspiring words and prayer.

My countrymen, you are about to set out on an expedition which is full of hardships and dangers, but one in which the Almighty will attend you. The Mother Country has her hand upon you, these American colonies, and takes that for which our fathers planted their homes in the wilderness – OUR LIBERTY. Taxation without representation and the quartering of soldiers in the homes of our people without their consent are evidence that the crown of England would take from its American Subjects the last vestige of Freedom. Your brethren across the mountains are crying like Macedonia unto your help. God forbid that you should refuse to hear and answer their call – but the call of your brethren is not all. The enemy is marching hither to destroy your homes. Brave men, you are not unacquainted with battle. Your hands have already been taught to war and your fingers to fight. You have wrested these beautiful valleys of the Holston and Watauga from the savage hand. Will you tarry now until the other enemy carries fire and sword to your very doors? No, it shall not be. Go forth then in the strength of your manhood to the aid of your brethren, the defense of your liberty and the protection of your homes. And may the God of Justice be with you and give you victory.
Let us pray. Almighty and gracious God! Thou hast been the refuge and strength of Thy people in all ages. In time of sorest need we have learned to come to Thee – our Rock and our Fortress. Thou knowest the dangers and snares that surround us on march and in battle. Thou knowest the dangers that constantly threaten the humble, but well beloved homes, which Thy servants have left behind them. Oh, in Thine infinite mercy, save us from the cruel hand of the savage, and of tyrant. Save the unprotected homes while fathers and husbands and sons are far away fighting for freedom and helping the oppressed. Thou, who promised to protect the sparrow in its flight, keep ceaseless watch, by day and by night, over our loved ones. The helpless women and little children, we commit to Thy care. Thou wilt not leave them or forsake them in times of loneliness and anxiety and terror. Oh, God of Battle, arise in Thy might. Avenge the slaughter of Thy people. Confound those who plot for our destruction. Crown this mighty effort with victory, and smite those who exalt themselves against liberty and justice and truth. Help us as good soldiers to wield the SWORD OF THE LORD AND GIDEON. AMEN

Twenty-nine-year old Mary Patton was in the trade of making gunpowder; she had been trained in this occupation at her home in Ireland. Made at her own powder mill, she volunteered five hundred pounds of gunpowder for their expedition. Without powder, their rifles were of no use.

On September 26, around one thousand militiamen headed south from Sycamore Shoals. Most of the men were on horseback, but some walked. This was not an army in the strictest sense of the word. All the men were volunteers; none was paid. Each expected to serve for only a few weeks before returning to his home to tend to his chores, his farming, and personal matters.

The militia did not follow strict military protocol. They elected their commanders deciding among themselves whose leadership they would follow. The men were all skilled hunters and woodsmen. They were fighters, too, but they lacked the discipline of a military unit. For this last reason alone, the British military, the best army in the world, generally dismissed any threat from a fighting force composed of American volunteer militia.

They followed a horse path over the mountains. Then they marched through snow in the valley, finally making camp beside a creek. They continued for two days across a plateau. They split their forces, afraid for their families and homes, and reunited near Morgantown. Scouts kept them informed of Ferguson’s whereabouts.

Colonel William Campbell and 400 men joined them. By the time they reached Cowpens, this volunteer army of citizen soldiers was a force of 1,800 men.

On Friday, October 6, 1780, Ferguson took up his position on top of Kings Mountain. This was a local deer hunting camp. The Patriots were at Cowpens thirty-five miles away.

Battle of Kings Mountain Map
Battle of Kings Mountain Revolutionary War Map.jpg

After confiscating cattle and corn from a local Tory named Saunders, the Patriot militia enjoyed a hot meal on a chilly, wet night.

The Patriot leaders chose a task force to move forward. 900 of the best marksmen on 900 of the strongest horses left Cowpens at 9:00 that night. It was cold, and a light rain began to fall. Rifles were wrapped in their hunting coats to keep them dry.

They rode all night, sometimes in light rain, sometimes in a downpour. By noon the next day, all were exhausted, and many wanted to stop for a rest. Isaac Shelby forcefully declared, “I will not stop until night, even if I follow Ferguson directly into Cornwallis’ camp.”

Local residents affirmed Ferguson’s place on top of Kings Mountain One man told them that Ferguson was wearing a checked shirt.

From a military standpoint, this position on top of the mountain was an advantage. Ferguson proclaimed, “he was on King’s Mountain, that he was king of that mountain, and God Almighty could not drive him from it.” He was a confident commander.

Because of the rain, the horse’s hoofs made no sound, and the 900 men were undetected. Arriving at the bottom of the mountains, they dismounted, tied their horses up, and encircled the mountain. It was 3:00 on October 7, 1780.

Moving stealthily, they climbed. Colonels Shelby, Williams, Lacey, Cleveland, Hambright, Winston, Williams, and McDowell led their men. Their goal was to surround and destroy the Tories.

The posted sentries yelled out a warning about the surprise attack. The Patriots advanced, hiding behind trees and rocks.

Ferguson blew his silver whistle to prepare his 1,100 men for action, and the firing became more intense. The Loyalist’s shots went high over the heads of the Patriots, but then Ferguson’s orders moved the Loyalists forward with their bayonets fixed. Twice the Patriots retreated to the bottom of the mountain, but the third time they were on the ridge, claiming it one shot at a time with those hunting rifles that had experience in shooting deer.

The battle raged for over an hour. On the third assault, the Patriots took the crest of the mountain. Then Ferguson himself, in his red checked shirt, rode toward the Patriots, hoping to escape being captured. At least seven Patriots made sure he did not. The Tories surrendered. Bodies were buried, and prisoners taken.

British Major Patrick Ferguson falls from his mount, struck down by a Rebel rifle volley at Kings Mountain in fall 1780. (Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library)

Major Patrick Ferguson, the leader who General Lord Charles Cornwallis, had depended on to bring the Patriots to their knees in SC, was buried on a Carolina mountain. He never left the mountain he had declared himself king of.

The Patriots had fought the good fight, and for the first time, they won against a sizeable foe on the field of battle. The tide of war turned, and Patriots believed they could win against the British. And they did!

Kings Mountain is a unique battle for several reasons. It was one of the few major battles of the war fought entirely between Americans: no British troops served here. Ferguson was the only Briton.

Kings Mountain is also unique in that large numbers of riflemen fought here. Rifles were not used much by the armies. A rifle was a hunting weapon, used by families on the frontier.

This battle drove home to the British that those fighting them meant business. The sovereignty of England over the colonies was not a sure thing. Civil liberty and freedom to worship were worth fighting for. These first settlers, after months of fighting, drew a line in the sand to King George and proved to him they could defeat him. This decisive victory gave new heart to the Patriots.

This civil war/Revolutionary War split families. At this battle, Preston Goforth from Rutherford County, North Carolina, an ardent Patriot, was killed in battle. Three of his brothers fought under Ferguson also died. Only one survived the battle.

In another incidence the Patriot soldier James Winthrow refused to help his wounded Tory brother-in-law, telling him to look to his friends for help.

Four brothers from Lincoln County, North Carolina were the Logans. William and Joseph fought with the Whigs, and John and Thomas were with Ferguson’s forces. One on each side died.

My husband’s fourth great grandfather from Guilford fought in this battle.

George Washington wrote in a letter, “America…has ever had, and I trust she ever will have, my honest exertions to promote her interest. I cannot hope that my services have been the best; but my heart tells me they have been the best that I could render.”

As history declares, the turning point of the Revolutionary War was at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The Overmountain Men certainly gave the best of their service.

For more information about the Overmountain Men, check They continue “to keep the story alive.” Huzzah!

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