Skip to content

Historical States Concerning The Battle of Kings Mountain

[This document was prepared by the staff of the U.S. Army War College, and Published by the United States House of Representatives in 1928, as House Document 328]


The Battle of Kings Mountain, South Carolina, occurred on the 7th day of October, 1780, and resulted in the defeat of Lieutenant Colonel Ferguson, who commanded the royal forces, and the loss of his command, not one man escaping from the battle field. The thoroughness of the disaster, and the death of the brave and highly trusted leader, was by far the most serious blow to which the British forces operating in the Southern Provinces had been subjected. The immediate effect upon Cornwallis was to put an end, for the time being, to the further subjugation of the Province of North Carolina. His contemplated advance from Charlotte Town to Salisbury was menaced by a new and unheard of enemy—the men under Campbell, Shelby, Sevier, and others—who came from the region of the mountains, and the back waters that flow to the west; from places so remote and unknown to the British leaders as to be almost mythical. This avenging horde made necessary a hasty revision of Cornwallis’s plans following Kings Mountain, which resulted in his immediate withdrawal to the South, and the concentration of his main army, detached posts, and flanking parties, into positions capable of rendering mutual assistance.

These hardy men of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies, of deep religious convictions, were accustomed to the hardships and independence of a pioneer life, and in their mountain homes in the highlands and the backwaters they but seldom were concerned with affairs beyond their borders or interfered with by Crown or colony. When Ferguson approached their kingdom and threatened to invade their lands and lay waste their country with “fire and sword,” and to “hang their leaders,” he aroused their indignation and anger to such a degree that they determined to rid the country forever of this enemy, who menaced their independence and the safety of their homes and families. Had Cornwallis and his leaders known more about these mountain and backwater men, they would have carefully avoided all military and punitive measures which might tend to draw them from their mountain fastnesses to enroll amongst the enemies of the King.

The causes of the Revolution were but little known to many of these pioneers beyond the Blue Ridge. They were concerned in the establishment of their homes, breaking the soil of their new settlements, and wringing a livelihood from it; and with their rifles securing much of their sustenance. They sought the seclusion of the western waters; and in the valleys of the Holston, the Watauga, and the Nolichucky, found freedom in the exercise of their religion. Had the western covering force of Cornwallis’s army, as it advanced into the Province of North Carolina, confined its activities to the plains and lowlands east of the Blue Ridge, and had not Ferguson from Gilbert Town uttered his threat of fire and sword and the hangman’s noose, these mountain men would probably have remained in their homes, and but few of them would have joined with those who were in rebellion against the King.

The Battle of Kings Mountain was fought by men on both sides whose bravery should be a matter of pride to all posterity. The troops commanded by Ferguson were Americans, or persons who had come to the Provinces prior to the Revolution. His command consisted of about 125 picked officers and men, taken from several regular battalions raised in New York and New Jersey, and formed into a temporary Provincial Corps. These men were Loyalists, and they gave their services to the Crown with the same high sense of duty which prompted their brothers and neighbors to rebel against further domination by Great Britain. Supplementing the Provincial Corps was a greater number of Tory militia, enrolled in the Carolinas. Their services were offered for a variety of reasons; some because of their belief that the government of the mother country should continue, others because of expediency so that their lands and possessions might be given the protection of the British flag, still others served as soldiers of fortune under the flag which they believed would be successful, and a small number were influenced by a base desire to rob and plunder under the license usually associated with partisan warfare.

Under the confederated leaders, who commanded at Kings Mountain, were a few refugees from the lowlands, some small groups from the counties east of the mountains, and a large number of mountain and backwater men whose independence was being threatened by an alien invader. In answering the call to embody under their local leaders, there existed the definite understanding among these mountain men that they were going into the lowlands to fight, and that they would not return to their homes until they, or Ferguson, had been defeated.

At Kings Mountain the defenders used the bayonet and the rifle until their losses made surrender of the survivors inevitable. The attackers faced bullet and bayonet, and responded with an expert use of the rifle, with which they were familiar, due to their frequent stalking of game and Indians. The mountain men were not accustomed to the bayonet, but they were expert in taking cover behind rocks and trees. Ferguson was confident that his position rendered him secure against any untrained and unorganized horde which might attack him. His Provincial Corps were trained in the use of the bayonet and were commanded by competent leaders. The militia had received some limited training in the art of war, and were provided with long hunting knives to be attached to their rifles, in lieu of the bayonet. Their marksmanship was not as effective as was that of the mountain men, as conditions of life in the lowlands were not such as to make their daily existence dependent upon accurate use of the rifle. Ferguson was a trained soldier, an able leader, and, together with Tadeton, one of Cornwallis’s most valuable lieutenants.

In both the Carolinas there was a large number of citizens, and probably a majority, whose sympathies at one time or another in 1780 were with the Royal Government. They believed that a rebellion could not, and should not, succeed. In commenting on the internecine warfare carried on without cessation, General Greene wrote on the 23d of May, 1781, more than five months after he had assumed command of the Southern Department:

The animosity between the Whigs and Tories of this State renders their situation truly deplorable. There is not a day passes but there are more or less who fall a sacrifice to this savage disposition. The Whigs seem determined to extirpate the Tories and the Tories the Whigs. Some thousands have fallen in this way in this quarter, and the evil rages with more violence than ever. If a stop can not be put to these massacres, the country will be depopulated in a few months more, as neither Whig nor Tory can live.

The Battle of Kings Mountain was not an isolated action; it was the high spot of 1780 in the South. The surrender of Charleston, the defeat of the American forces at Camden on the 16th of August, of Sumter two days later, the many engagements of lesser importance, all added prestige to the royal cause, resulting in the complete subjugation of Georgia and South Carolina. Cornwallis had advanced as far as Charlotte Town in North Carolina and was preparing to move his headquarters to Salisbury, when the unexpected blow delivered by the mountain men at Kings Mountain brought to an immediate end the thought of further conquest and made necessary the withdrawal of the British forces into South Carolina and the assumption of a defensive role for several months thereafter. Therefore, to have an intelligent understanding of the Battle of Kings Mountain and its effect upon the southern campaign of 1780, it is necessary to know something of the movements of the King’s forces from the time Charleston was invested.

The British land forces in America were commanded by Sir Henry Clinton, whose official title was “General and commander in chief of His Majesty’s forces in the several Provinces in America on the Atlantic, from Nova Scotia to west Florida, inclusive.” Vice Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot commanded the fleet, and Lord Cornwallis, who had been designated by Whitehall as second in command to Clinton, held a dormant commission giving him the rank of general in America, only, should an unforeseen accident happen to the commander in chief.

In the latter part of 1779 the Americans made an unsuccessful attempt to recover Savannah from the British, and following this failure the French fleet, which supported the move, departed for the West Indies. Clinton and Arbuthnot now considered the time propitious to make another attempt against Charleston, with the idea of occupying the Carolinas, giving support to the Tories and popularizing the Crown cause. Furthermore, such a move would result in curtailing colony traffic with Europe by way of the Chesapeake.

Upon completion of their plans, the amphibious expedition under Clinton and Arbuthnot sailed from its base, New York, December 26, 1779. Charleston Harbor was occupied, siege laid to the city, and on the 12th of May General Lincoln surrendered the town and its garrison.

Upon the capitulation of Charleston, Clinton considered that the major effort in the subjugation of the Province had been accomplished, and that, with this showing of the power of the Crown, most of the inhabitants would join the loyal cause. It would be necessary, of course, to occupy the country with a considerable land force, and thereby give protection to loyal sympathizers, but it was thought that the British regular force under his command would be largely augmented by Tory militia, who would aid in keeping the revolutionists suppressed.

Cornwallis commanded in the field, and on May 17 bad a force of regulars to the number of 2,542 rank and file, which Clinton believed would be sufficient, when augmented by militia, to subjugate South Carolina and continue the campaign into North Carolina. At the same time Cornwallis was advised that in view of the importance of his mission, troops were not to be stinted, and he was offered, by Clinton, any that he might desire from the garrisons of the several forts. For the initiation of the campaign, his army was to be augmented by the light infantry and the Forty-second Regiment, with the understanding that they were to be returned to Clinton as soon as they could be spared, as his contemplated operations to the northward would be cramped without them.

Cornwallis was of the belief that he had sufficient regular forces to eventually control all the territory from the Florida’s to Virginia, and on the 18th of May wrote Clinton that he would regret to see left behind any part of the troops destined for use elsewhere, and unless considerable reinforcements of Continentals should come from the northward to join the revolutionists, he would not need more assistance. He suggested that the publication of intelligence by Clinton that he and Arbuthnot were moving to the Chesapeake would probably stop off, on those waters, any reinforcements intended for the Carolinas. In case Clinton learned before sailing to the north that enemy reinforcements were well on their way, Cornwallis asked that his command be increased by some five or six hundred British or Hessians. It will be noted later that at this time Washington and Congress were preparing Maryland and Dela ware troops, under De Kalb, to march to the South, and that, by resolution of Congress, these two States were transferred to the Southern Department.

On May 20 the light infantry and the Forty-second Regiment, promised to Cornwallis to supplement his forces temporarily, marched to Monks Corner and reported. At this time both the commander in chief and Cornwallis were hopeful that South Carolina would offer but little resistance to complete subjugation, although there was, in Clinton’s mind, a measure of doubt, for he knew that the entire success of the campaign would depend upon whether or not “the temper of our friends in those districts is such as it has always been represented to us.”

The time arrived when Clinton and the fleet could no longer delay departure for the north. La Fayette had returned to America on April 27, with the promise of his Government that a French fleet and army would follow him in a short time. Information of this early augmentation of the enemy forces reached Arbuthnot and Clinton, and their deemed it advisable to assemble the fleet and troops at New York, and for the time being make no move against the Chesapeake. Cornwallis was instructed that after he had finished his southern campaign of subjugation, and by his presence and show of force convinced the people that it was to their best interests to maintain allegiance to the Crown, he was to leave in the South such forces as he might consider necessary to dominate the territory, and send the remainder to the Chesapeake to assist in the operations which were to be undertaken there as soon as Clinton was relieved of the apprehension of a superior fleet and the season was far enough advanced to permit of campaigning in that climate. It was supposed at the time that the move to the Chesapeake could be undertaken in September or the early part of October. Cornwallis was to command the troops which would be concentrated for this operation.

From his headquarters in the field, Cornwallis corresponded with loyalists in North Carolina, informing them of his hopes for the prompt subjugation of South Carolina and advising with them as to what immediate militant ads, if any, they should engage in. It was not desired that any partisan of the King should become very active in the field at this time, for fear that the rebels would like wise become embodied and produce a situation inimical to the success of his army when it approached the border of the Province. However, if the loyalists considered themselves a match for the Whigs, and were determined to rise without further delay, be promised all the assistance in his power, by incursions of light infantry and furnishing ammunition. It soon became evident that this hopeful view of any early conquest was not to be realized, for there were many questions of supply and transportation to be arranged before the army could move far from its base, and matters of civil administration to be adjusted, so that the government of the territory in rear of the royal army would offer safety to the troops.

Cornwallis had established his headquarters at Camden while Clinton and Arbuthnot were still at Charleston. On their departure, June 5, for New York, the responsibility for the campaign, and the safety of the loyalists and Tories in the occupied territory, rested upon Cornwallis solely. He arranged for the enrollment of militia under the British flag, for the organization and functioning of civil administration, and modified the proclamations issued at Charleston by Clinton and Arbuthnot June 1, and that of Clinton the 3d, so that greater protection would be given those who were loyal to the Crown and more severe punishment meted out to those in rebellion; and at the same time provided for the needs of his army. His command of 4,000 regular troops and a few Provincials had not only to occupy several important posts widely distant from each other, but from their numbers maintain in the field a force of sufficient strength to withstand local partisans and oppose rein forcing troops marching from the north. Poets were established from the Peedee to the Savannah to awe the disaffected and encourage the loyal inhabitants, and measures were taken to raise some Provincial Corps and to establish a militia, as well for the defense as for the internal government of South Carolina.

In the district of Ninety Six, which was viewed as the most populous and powerful in the Province, Lieutenant Colonel Balfour, assisted by Major Ferguson, who had been appointed inspector general of militia by Clinton, formed 7 battalions of militia of about 4,000 men, which organizations were so regulated that they could furnish 1,500 men at short notice for the defense of the frontier, or for any other home service. In addition to the militia, a Provincial Corps of 500 men was commissioned to be raised under command of Lieutenant Colonel Cunningham.

Other battalions of militia were formed along the extensive line Broad River to Cheraws “but they were in general either weak, or not much to be relied on for their fidelity.” The refugees, who were now returning to their native country, were organized into the First South Carolina Regiment.

Province in security, and march about the beginning of September with a body of troops into the back part of North Carolina, “with the greatest probability of reducing that Province to its duty.” Having in mind Clinton’s instructions that troops which could be spared later would be used at a probable early date on the Chesapeake, Cornwallis wrote in regard to his contemplated move into North Carolina:

I am of opinion that (besides the advantage of possessing so valuable a Province) it would prove an effectual barrier for South Carolina and Georgia; and could be kept, with the assistance of our friends there, by as few troops as would be wanted on the borders of this Province, if North Carolina should remain in the hands of our enemies.

This hopeful view of the situation, based largely upon the success of the royal arms up to this time, was soon to be shattered. While Cornwallis was still at Charleston his intelligence reported that Sumter, with about 1,500 militia, was advancing from the north as far as the Catawba settlement, and that many disaffected South Carolinians from the Waxhaw and other settlements on the frontier, whom Lord Rawdon at Camden had put on parole, were availing themselves of the general release of the 20th of June, and joining Sumter. It was also reported that De Kalb’s army was continuing its movement south, followed by 2,500 Virginia militia. Cornwallis informed Clinton of these developments in a letter of July 14, stating:

The effects of the exertions which the enemy are making in these two Provinces will, I make no doubt, be exaggerated to us. But upon the whole there is every reason to believe that their plan is not only to defend North Carolina, but to commence offensive operations immediately; which reduces me to the necessity, if I wanted the inclination, of following the plan which I had the honor of transmitting to your excellency in my letter of the 30th of June, as the most effectual means of keeping up the spirits of our friends and securing this Province.

The plan referred to by Cornwallis was the occupation of North Carolina, and holding it as the frontier of the southern district.

The work of supplying the base at Camden with salt, rum, regimental stores, arms, and ammunition was under way, so that a further advance of the army beyond that point would be safe guarded. Due to the distance of transportation and the excessive heat of the season, the work was one of infinite labor, requiring considerable time. Then, too, the several additions in which his forces had been engaged made Cornwallis more and more doubtful as to the value of his militia. He wrote to Clinton that dependence upon these troops for protecting and holding in South Carolina, in case of an advance of his army into North Carolina, was precarious, as their want of subordination and confidence in themselves would make a considerable regular force always necessary for the defense of the Province, until North Carolina was completely subjugated.

The plan of campaign of the Crown forces to the north contemplated using Ferguson’s corps, augmented by militia of the Ninety Six district who were being trained by Ferguson, as a left covering force to advance to the borders of Tryon County, now Rutherford and Lincoln, paying particular attention to the mountain regions in securing protection for the advance of the main body from Camden. Lieutenant Colonel Cruger, who commanded at Ninety Six, was to remain there with his corps. Innes, with the remainder of the militia of that district, was to guard the frontier, which would require careful attention, as there were many disaffected, and many constantly in arms.

The continued advance southward of the American troops previously reported in North Carolina was known to Cornwallis. While still in Charleston, on August 9, he received an express from Camden informing him that General Gates, accompanied by Caswell and Rutherford, was approaching with every appearance of an intent to attack Lord Rawdon, who had assembled several regiments on the west branch of Lynches Creek. These troops were more or less sickly, particularly the Seventy-first Regiment, the two battalions of which had not more than 274 men under arms. On the 6th Sumter had attacked the British post at Hanging Rock, where the infantry of the Legion and Governor Browne’s corps were posted. He had been repulsed, but not without difficulty. These accounts alarmed Cornwallis, and he proceeded from Charleston to Join the army in the field. At the same time he wrote to Clinton:

If we succeed at present, and are able to penetrate into North Carolina without which it is impossible to hold this province, your Excellency will see the absolute necessity of a diversion in the Chesapeake, and that it must be done early.

Cornwallis reached Camden on the 13th of August. Gates command had approached very close, and on the morning of the 16th, the two armies met and fought the Battle of Camden, resulting in the defeat of Gates. Following this victory, Cornwallis determined upon the destruction or dispersion of the corps under Sumter, as it might prove a foundation for assembling the routed army, and on the morning of the 17th he detached Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton with the Legion cavalry and infantry, and the corps of light infantry, in all about 350 men, to pursue and attack Sumter. Orders were also sent to Lieutenant Colonel Turnbull and Major Ferguson, on the Little River, to put their corps in motion immediately, and on their side to pursue and attack the same enemy. Tarleton was successful in surprising Sumter on the 18th at Fishing Creek, near the Catawba. The latter, with a corps of about 800 men was escorting 250 prisoners and a large quantity of stores, artillery, and ammunition. Sumter himself escaped, though with difficulty, but his whole corps was killed, taken or dispersed.

In writing of the Battle of Camden, Cornwallis stated that above 1,000 were killed and wounded, and about 800 taken prisoners; that his army captured 7 pieces of brass cannon, all the enemy ammunition, wagons, a great number of arms, and 130 baggage wagons; “in short, there never was a more complete victory.” The British loss was reported as 300 killed and wounded, chiefly of the Thirty-third Regiment and the Volunteers or Ireland. Among the Americans wounded were Major General Baron De Kalb and Brigadier General Rutherford. Baron DeKalb died of his wounds. In a letter to Lord Germain written August 21, Cornwallis said that on arriving at Camden the night of the 13th, he found there Lord Rawdon’s entire force, except a small detachment under Lieutenant Colonel Turnbull, which fell back from Rocky Mount to Major Ferguson’s posts of the militia at Ninety Six, on Little River.

I had my option to make, either to retire or attack the enemy, for the position at Camden was a bad one to be attacked in, and by General Sumpter’s advancing down the Wateree, my supplies must have failed me in a few days.

These two decisive engagements, following so closely upon each other, brought deep despair to the revolutionists and great elation to the victors. In Cornwallis’s letter to Lord Germain referred to above and written five days after Camden and three days after the defeat of Sumter, he declared that the rebel forces were dispersed and that internal commotions and insurrections in the Province would now subside. He stated that he had given directions to inflict exemplary punishment on some of the most guilty, in hopes to deter others in future “from tampering with allegiance, with oaths, and with the lenity and generosity of the British Government.” The orders of Cornwallis were that all inhabitants of the Province who had submitted, and later took part in the revolt against the King, should be punished with the greatest vigor, imprisoned, and their property taken or destroyed. He ordered in the most positive manner that every militiaman who had borne arms under him, and afterwards joined the enemy, should be immediately hanged. Cru ger, who commanded at Ninety Six, was directed to take the most vigorous measures to extinguish the rebellion in his district, and to obey in the strictest manner the directions given relative to the treatment of the country. It will be seen later how the execution of these instructions in the region of the Blue Ridge and Alleghenies resulted in the mountain men swarming from their homes to defend their freedom and independence.

Now that no further opposition to the advance into North Carolina existed, on the morning of the 17th of September Cornwallis dispatched messengers into that Province with directions to his friends there to take arms and assemble immediately, and to seize the most violent people and all the military stores and magazines belonging to the. rebels, and to intercept all stragglers from the routed army. He promised to march, without loss of time to their support. Much to Cornwallis’s disappointment, however, the people of the northern Province were not as prompt in rising as he had hoped. Their inclinations were held in check due to the large number of revolutionists whom they had observed marching to the south to oppose the royal forces, and they preferred to await the arrival of the British Army in their neighborhood before taking an open stand. Cornwallis was hopeful that Clinton would start, at an early date, the contemplated move to the Chesapeake, thereby relieving the situation on his northern front. He wrote to him that next to the security of New York, the operations in the Chesapeake were one of the most important objects of the war.

About this time Major Wemyss was sent with a detachment of the Sixty-third Regiment, mounted, some refugees, Provincials, and militia, to disarm in the most rigid manner the country between the Santee and Peedee, and to punish severely all those who sub mitted or pretended to live peaceably under his majesty’s Government since the reduction of Charleston, and who had later revolted. Cornwallis himself ordered several militiamen to be executed, who bad voluntarily enrolled and borne arms under the British flag and afterwards revolted to the enemy.

Plans were made to move the first division of the army into North Carolina by way of Charlotte Town and Salisbury, about September 6 or 7. The second division would follow in about 10 days with convalescents and stores. A more prompt move following the successes at Camden and Fishing Creek could not be made, due to the number of sick and wounded, and the want of transport. The advance was started on the 8th and Charlotte Town reached the 26th of September.

During September Ferguson operated in Ninety Six and from there moved into what had been Tryon County, North Carolina, accompanied by about 800 militia collected from the neighborhood of Ninety Six. Protection was to be given to the friends of the Crown, who were supposed to be numerous in that locality, and it was intended that he should pass the Catawba River and endeavor to preserve tranquility in the rear and flank of the army. It was while on this duty that the loss of his entire command occurred at Kings Mountain on the 7th of the following month. Without some knowledge of Cornwallis’s campaign in South Carolina, and from thence into North Carolina as far as Charlotte Town, the necessity for his immediate retirement from the northern Province, following Kings Mountain, would not be understood. It is now necessary to refer to the group of leaders and the troops which they commanded, who succeeded, so unexpectedly and so decisively, in dealing this staggering blow to Ferguson, and in compelling Cornwallis to place his army on the defensive.


It will be recalled that following the defeat of General Gates at Camden on the 16th of August, Cornwallis issued immediate insructions to his two flying groups under Tarleton and Ferguson, to pursue Colonel Sumter, who, following the dispersion of Gates’s forces, had the only organized corps of patriots in South Carolina. These instructions, together with detailed information of the magnitude of the defeat of the troops under Gates, reached Ferguson on the 19th. Immediate preparations were made to com ply with the orders, and at 7 in the evening Ferguson put his column in motion. At that moment an express arrived from Colonel Innes, who was on his way from Ninety Six to join Ferguson, informing him that he had been attacked at Musgroves Mills on the Enoree River on the 18th, with severe loss, and asking for sup port, as his militia had deserted him. Ferguson altered his plans and marched in the direction of Innes, crossing the Broad at sunrise.

The troops which had engaged the Loyalists and Tories on the Enoree were commanded by Colonels Williams, Shelby, and Clarke. Following this success, a move against Cruger, commanding at Ninety Six, was contemplated, but just at this time word was received of the defeat of the patriots at Camden two days before, and following a council of the commanders it was decided to rejoin McDowell’s corps. Due to the nearness of Ferguson, the march northward, encumbered by prisoners, was one of many difficulties, and it was with great relief that Williams’s party rejoined McDowell’s corps in the mountains at Gilbert Town, to which point the latter had retired. Here the seriousness of the cause of the patriots was discussed. It was thought that Ferguson would immediately advance to overtake them, and further withdrawal into the mountains seemed expedient. It was proposed by Shelby and Sevier, who were from the counties of North Carolina where the waters flowed to the westward, and now part of Tennessee, that the troops should disband, and all return to their homes to raise an army of volunteers to defeat Ferguson, or any other leader who might operate along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge. This proposition received general support, and Shelby and Sevier, with their followers, departed for their backwater homes, and word was sent to the leaders of Wilkes and Surry Counties to embody their followers and prepare for a rising.

This was a period of great distress to the patriotic cause throughout the entire State. It was only the mountains that furnished refuge for those who still refused to accept British sovereignty, and a number of refugees, especially those who had borne arms against the King, were seeking protection within their barriers.

Following the quick withdrawal of Colonel Williams and his confederated command from Musgroves Mills, Ferguson made no effort to pursue him. His marches from day to day were short, and on the 23d of August he left his command to go to Camden to con fer with Cornwallis, rejoining his troops September 1, with the news that his Provincial Corps were to be separated from the army and ad on the frontier with the militia. During the following week he marched to the northward, and on the 7th of September his command crossed into North Carolina, and he, with about 50 of the American volunteers and 300 militia, proceeded to Gilbert Town, to surprise a party of patriots who were reported there. On the following day the remainder of the command moved to the Broad, where on the 10th their commander rejoined them.

While Ferguson was at Gilbert Town he paroled one of his prisoners and sent him into the mountains with a message to the leaders there, “that 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 their country waste with fire and sword.” The effect of this message was to augment the determination of the mountain leaders to get together their men with all speed possible and march against their hated enemy. The magnitude of their undertaking was fully appreciated, especially as many of these mountain settlements were of but recent creation, and the inhabit ants not very numerous, and without security from the Cherokees, except such as was furnished by their own trusty rifles. As the adjacent territory of Virginia was equally interested in stopping the advance of this hostile invader, cooperation and assistance of the Washington County troops was sought. Early in September the county lieutenant, Col. Arthur Campbell, was in Richmond, and in an interview with the Governor of Virginia was informed of the measures about to be taken to retrieve the misfortunes of the troops under Gates and Sumter. He returned to his western home imbued with the idea of the part his militia should take in the ensuing campaign, and at once showed a willingness and desire to cooperate in the undertaking that Shelby, Sevier, and others were engaged in.

Ferguson’s withdrawal southward from Gilbert Town on the 10th of September was for the purpose of rejoining the main part of his command, which had taken a stand on the Broad to keep a lookout for a reputed body of Georgians who were approaching. The following morning he put his assembled command in motion, and on the 12th led a small party to the head of Cane Creek in Burke County, in pursuit of McDowell and his refugee followers, who were on their way over the mountains to seek shelter pending the assembly of the various county regiments that were to move against Ferguson. A slight skirmish resulted, but McDowell’s force was able to extricate itself and continue its retirement with but few losses. The pursuit was continued on the 15th and 16th to the banks of the Catawba, where, at Quaker Meadows, was the home of the McDowells, but the pursuers arrived too late, as the refugees were well on their way into the mountains. In the ensuing week Ferguson campaigned from the Catawba to the Second Broad, and on the 23d entered Gilbert Town for the second time. The following day was busily occupied in receiving 500 of the inhabitants of the contiguous territory, who came in to profess their allegiance to the King. It was on this day that intelligence was received from Colonel Cruger of an action which had just occurred at Augusta, and to which reference will be made, as it bad a decided bearing upon Ferguson’s future plans.

Early in September Colonel Clarke assembled a body of troops and marched to attack the British post at Augusta. He readied his destination on the 14th, and found that the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Browne, with the assistance of some friendly Indians, had taken a position in a fort about 3 miles from Augusta.

Clarke invested the position for five days, when he retired upon the approach of Cruger, who bad hastened with assistance from Ninety Six, upon learning of the danger to this frontier post. It is known that Cruger’s message to Ferguson informing him of these events readied the latter at Gilbert Town on the 24th, five days after Clarke withdrew from the vicinity of Augusta to fall back upon the protection of the mountains. This retirement placed him between Cruger and Ferguson, and Cruger asked the latter to cooperate with him in cutting Clarke off before he could reach a retreat in the mountains. With this plan in view, Ferguson left Gilbert Town on the 27th and moved to the Broad, and then to the Green River to await in the vicinity of their junction further intelligence of Clarke. By the 30th, however, Ferguson knew that his efforts to intercept Clarke on his return to the mountains were unsuccessful, as the latter had taken another route. In the meanwhile Cruger found that the pursuit of Clarke would carry him too far from Ninety Six, and as he was responsible for its safety, he returned to that post. At this time Ferguson was in possession of the definite information of the advance of the army of mountain men, who had started their march from Watauga on the 26th.

Reference has been made to the retirement of Ccl. Charles McDowell from his home, with his band of soldiers and refugees. He reached the shelter of the backwaters with a force of 160 men from Burke and Rutherford Counties. To this rendezvous on the Sycamore Flats, bordering the Watauga, about 2 1/2 miles southwest of the present town of Elizabethon, Col. Arthur Campbell sent his brother-in-law, Col. William Campbell, with 200 militia from Washington County, Va. Later on he led to the same place an additional force of 200 men who joined the first group. It was necessary for Col. Arthur Campbell to return to the county under his jurisdiction and take measures to protect it from the invasion of hostile Indians. Shelby, at the head of 240 men from Sullivan County, and Sevier, with an equal number from Washington County, N. C., joined at the designated meeting point on the Watauga on the 25th of September.

David Ramsey, in his history of South Carolina, written in 1808, said that “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 own volition, “with out any requisition from the Governments of America or the officers of the Continental Army.” Each man set out with a knapsack, blanket, and gun. All who could obtain horses were mounted; the remainder afoot. There is a tradition that before starting out on the journey from which many would never return, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian clergyman of the settlement invoked a blessing and besought divine protection and guidance for the army.

The highway of their great adventure followed the only roadway connecting the backwater country with the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina. Leaving Sycamore Flats, the column marched up Gap Creek to its headwaters in Gap Creek Mountain, and there turned eastward and then south, following around the base of Fork Mountain to Toe River, and on up that stream to one of its tributaries. Here the route continued in a southerly direction until the top of the mountain was readied, between Roan High Knob and Big Yellow Mountain. From the mountain top, descent was made along Roaring Creek to the North Toe River. It is stated in the diary of Ensign Robert Campbell that the mountains were crossed and descent to the other side was carted before camp was made for the night. Snow was encountered in the highlands, for an elevation of 5,500 feet was reached in this march. On the top of the mountain there was found a hundred acres of beautiful tableland, and the troops were paraded, doubtless for the purpose of seeing how they were standing the march, which was about 26 miles to this point. Campbell’s diary states that the second night, that of the 27th–they rested at Cathey’s plantation. This is placed by Draper at the junction of Grassy Creek and North Toe River.

The diary does not mention the camping place of the 28th. On this day McDowell, who had previously left the column to go to his home in Rutherford County, returned with such information as he had been able to secure relative to the movements of Ferguson. The night of the 28th a council of officer8 was held, at which it was agreed that an experienced officer was needed to take command of all separate county units. It was decided that Colonel McDowell should convey a message to General Gates, asking that General Morgan or General Davidson be sent to them to take over the command.

Tradition has it that on reaching Gillespie Gap the troops divided, one group, including Campbell’s men, moving south to Turkey Cove, the others going easterly to the North Cove on the North Fork of the Catawba. Ensign Campbell’s diary gives the information that the fourth night, the 29th, Campbell’s men rested at a rich “Tory’s,” and this place has been identified as being in Turkey Cove.

The following day the men who had camped at North Cove marched southeast down Paddy Creek, while those from Turkey Cove marched southerly down the North Fork and then eagerly down the Catawba. The two forces joined on the banks of the Catawba near the mouth of Paddy Creek, and continued down the Catawba to Quaker Meadows, the home of the McDowells, where camp was made, after a march of about 27 miles for the southern column and about 23 for the northern. During the five days which bad elapsed since leaving Sycamore Flats, about 80 miles had been covered.

Here the marching column of 1,040 men was joined by Colonel Cleveland with the men from Wilkes and Major Winston with the men from Surry, 350 in all, making a combined strength of 1,390. The time was now opportune for Colonel McDowell to depart for General Gates’s headquarters, with the request of the several colonels that a general officer be designated for the command, and after turning his regiment over to his brother, Maj. Joseph McDowell, he departed on this mission the 1st of October.

We left Ferguson on September 30, at which time he had given up hopes of cutting off Clarke’s force. His camp was at Step’s plantation, 12 miles from Denards Ford of the Broad River. Being aware that the gathering hordes of the enemy were either at a con centration point east of the Blue Ridge or approaching it, Ferguson wrote to Cruger on the 30th informing him of this new threat, and suggested that it would be well if the district of Ninety Six called out more of its militia.

The following day Ferguson began his withdrawal from the vicinity of the mountains. He marched to Denards Ford, where he camped, and issued his last appeal to the inhabitants of the region to join the militia serving under the King. As it is typical of the inflammatory proclamations put forth by both Whig and Tory during this period of violent passions it is here given:

Denards Ford, Broad River,
Tryon County, October 1, 1780.

Gentlemen: Unless you wish to beat up by an inundation of barbarians, who have begun by murdering an unarmed son before the aged father, and afterwards lopped off his arms, and who by their shocking cruelties and irregularities, give the best proof of their cowardice and want of discipline I say, if you wish to be pinioned, robbed, and murdered, and see your wives and daughters, in four days, abused by the dregs of mankind in short, if you wish or deserve to live and bear the name of men, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp.

The backwater men have crossed the mountains; McDowell, Hampton, Shelby, and Cleveland are at their head, so that you know what you have to depend upon. If you choose to be degraded forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once, and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men protect them.

PAT Ferguson,
Major, Seventy-first Regiment.

Ferguson continued his march at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the 2d, proceeding 4 miles, then forming line of action and lying on his arms all night. The following morning he got under way at an early hour, and after a long march down the Broad, halted for the night at Tate’s plantation, 1 mile after crossing Buffalo Creek. These three marches brought Ferguson’s command 38 miles nearer Charlotte Town and Cornwallis than was his camp of September 29 and 30. Prom Tate’s plantation, where be remained until 4 o’clock the morning of the 6th, to Charlotte Town was 50 miles. In this position he could feel sufficiently close to the main army to be reinforced from it should the necessity arise. At the same time further intelligence would be received of the route taken by the mountain men, and their probable intentions; and a reply to his letter of September 30 could be awaited. Cruger’s reply, which was dated October 3, was probably received at Tate’s plantation, and doubtless prompted Ferguson to leave that camp and take up a position from which to offer battle. This letter was found on Ferguson’s body, and as it was somewhat mutilated, its complete contents is not known. Nothing in the letter indicated that Cruger was going to take any immediate adion. He said:

I don’t see how you can possibly [defend] the country and its neighborhood that you [are] now in. The game from the mountains is just what I expected. Am glad to find you so capitally supported by the friends to government in North Carolina. I flattered myself they would have been equal to the mountain lads, and that no further call for the defensive would have been [made] on part of the Province. I begin to think our views for the present rather large.

Cruger evidently believed that Ferguson had a difficult situation to face, but that he was equal to the emergency, and, without doubt, this was Ferguson’s opinion also. At this time he knew the mountain men were in the vicinity of his camp site of September 30, 28 miles away, and that a day’s march of those who were mounted would bring the enemy upon him, so in going to “Little King Mountain,” as Allaire designates the place, on the 6th, and taking up a position which was most favorable for defense, and remaining there for 24 hours before the enemy came in sight, Ferguson acted with deliberation and with full intent to engage in battle, did the enemy take the initiative. The “Little King Mountain” position was about 36 miles from Charlotte Town, and had Ferguson desired to avoid battle with the mountain men, he could have marched on the morning of the 7th halfway to army headquarters.

The letter which Ferguson wrote to Cornwallis October 6, in which he said, “I am on my march towards you, by a road leading from Cherokee Ford, north of Kings Mountain. Three or four hundred good soldiers, part dragoons, would finish the business. Something must be done soon. “This is their last push in this quarter,” is indicative of the subordinate commander whose duty it is to keep his superior informed of the forces opposed to him, and, when the enemy is in such strength as to be a serious menace, to suggest that reinforcement would insure a more certain success. In this letter Ferguson mentioned that “they are since joined by Clarke and Sumpter.” Ferguson had the mistaken idea that Clarke, on his withdrawal northward from Augusta to the mountains, had joined the mountain men. Some of the men of Sumter’s command, under Colonel Williams, did join about this time, as will be noted later.

When the mountain men left their rendezvous on the Catawba October 1, they marched to the southward, up Silver Creek, past Pilot Mountain, and from thence down Cane Creek in the direction of Gilbert Town. Although the several organization command’ era had sent to Gates for an officer to command, it was considered unwise to continue further without coordinated leadership, and on this day a conference was held which resulted in the selection of Colonel Campbell to command all the groups, until a general officer should arrive. The command was entrusted to the colonel of the Virginia regiment to prevent dispute were an attempt made to name a leader from the North Carolina colonels.

On the 2d the march was continued toward Gilbert Town, from which Ferguson had departed five days previous. Continuing on to the south, the Cowpens were reached on the 6th, the march being directed toward Ninety Six, as it was thought Ferguson was falling back in the direction of Cruger. At the Cowpens Col. James Williams, of South Carolina, with 400 men, joined. This new party was made up largely of groups of Sumter’s men from South Carolina, under Colonels Hill and Lacey, of men from Lincoln County under Graham, Hambright, and Chronicle, and a small number embodied by Colonel Williams in North Carolina. On the 2d of October Williams had written to General Gates that with a force of 450 horsemen he was in pursuit of Ferguson, and that he expected to join the mountain men in the accomplishment of this purpose.

Colonel Campbell was informed by the new arrivals that the “enemy lay encamped somewhere near the Cherokee Ford of the Broad River, and plans were made for immediate pursuit. A council of the principal officers was held, and it was decided to select” 900 of the best horsemen and leave the weak horses and footmen to follow as fast as possible. Time was pressing, and the necessity for immediate action great, for if Ferguson continued his withdrawal in the direction of Char lotte Town another day’s march, he would be so near the main army that to engage him would be a moot hazardous enterprise. As soon, therefore, as the selected group was formed, the command mounted, and at 8 o’clock started on its long night ride, which the next day was to terminate in the encounter so eagerly sought. Cherokee Ford of the Broad was crossed early in the morning, and the march continued along the northeast road topping the ridge between Buffalo and Kings Creeks. Information was received from several people as to Ferguson’s line of march the day before, and finally as to the mountain top on which his camp was established. This campsite could best be reached byway of the main highway running from North Carolina in a southeast direction to Yorkville, S.C., so the eager patriots hastened their march to gain this road, passing Antioch Church and Ponders Branch, and stopping on the way only long enough to gain additional information. When the highway was reached, the column turned southeast, and after crossing Kings Creek began the gradual ascent of the rugged hills which lay between the creek and the enemy’s position. An uncomfortable rain had added to the weariness of the sleepless marchers, but about noon the weather cleared, the sun shone with grateful warmth, and the nearness of the quarry added zest to the chase.

About a mile from Kings Creek the road passed between two slight knobs, and as the patriots emerged from the bottom of the ravine between these knolls, they found themselves upon a small plateau, overlooking to the southeast a sharp ravine, the far side of which terminated in a ridge, part of which was a hundred feet higher than the plateau, and on which Ferguson stood and offered battle. The broadside silhouette of the ridge was visible about 700 yards away, but the tree-covered slopes hid its occupants from view.

Continuing along the highway to the southeast for several hundred yards, to a point where the plateau terminates and the road begins its descent into the ravine, a better view of Ferguson’s position was obtained. Beyond this point the column could not proceed until definite plans for the attack had been determined upon. The characteristics of the mountain on which Ferguson was making his stand were known to several of Campbell’s command, and this information imparted to his leaders. While halted in the position which they had now reached, with the mountain occupied by the enemy in sight, the plan of battle was finally agreed upon. They could see a ridge about 600 yards long, the general direction of which extended north 52° east. The highest point of the ridge was near its southwest end, from which point, toward the southwest, there was a gradual dropping of of 20 feet to a very narrow hogback, then a widening out of the terrain into a gently sloping, narrow plateau, which extended due north to the place where the column had debouched from the ravine between the two knobs.

From the highest point of the ridge, along its crest to the north east, there was a gradual descent for 400 yards, then a very sharp drop to the highway. The northern face of the ridge descended to a stream which flows into Clarks Fork. The south face of the mountain was unknown to the leaders, except as described by those familiar with its features. From them it was learned that another stream led from the south of the mountain, and that several slight spurs projected from the ridge to the east and southeast, which gradually flattened out into comparatively level ground.

The plan of attack decided upon was to surround the mountain and trap its defenders in a band of fire, constantly decreasing in diameter as the mountain sides were scaled. To accomplish this maneuver, the command was divided into four parts, which were to be led in four columns abreast to the place from which the separate columns would proceed to their respective positions. The interior columns were composed of the men from Virginia and from Sullivan County, Campbell leading his men in the right column and Shelby his men in the left. The right flank column was made up of men from Surry, the Nolichucky, and Burke; Major Winston being at the head of the column, followed by Colonel Sevier. The detachment commanded by Major McDowell was joined to Sevier’s command. The left flank column was composed of the men from Wilkes and those who joined the preceding day from the two Carolinas under Colonel Williams. Major Chronicle was at the head of this column, followed by Colonel Cleveland. The senior officer who accompanied the Lincoln County men into action was Lieutenant Colonel Hambright, but he waived his right to command in favor of Major Chronicle. The right and left flank columns were about the same strength, and each equaled that of the two regiments constituting the interior columns.

In this order the several columns proceeded front the plateau into the bottom of the ravine north of the mountain. Here the right and the two interior columns halted, dismounted, tied their horses to trees and bushes, and left a small group of men in charge. The left column continued its march around the east point of the mountain, thence southwestwardly, to its position.

Shelby’s men were deployed in the vicinity of the highway, from which position they were to attack the eastern extremity of the ridge. Campbell was on Shelby’s right, along the bed of the stream. These two regiments were first in position, and had the moot difficult terrain on their front, due to the sharpness of the slope and the height of the crest. Beyond Campbell, on his right, was McDowell, and then Sevier. The deployment of the latter was along the stream line leading up to the narrow hogback just southwest of the highest elevation of the ridge.

When the units in the left column reached their positions south of the mountain, they dismounted and formed line, with Winston, at the head of the column, connecting with the right of Sevier at the bogback. On the right of Winston was Chronicle, then Cleve land, with Williams between Cleveland and Shelby. All of the commanders cautioned their men to hold their fire until near the enemy, and to reform their ranks, if broken, and renew the fight. Appeal was made to their patriotism and love of liberty, although this was not necessary, as every man went into battle resolved to fight as long as life lasted.

Ferguson’s Provincials and militia were formed on the summit of the ridge which varied in width from 30 to 60 yards. His camp and wagon train were established here also. The crest was comparatively level within the narrow confines indicated, and free from trees. Rock outcroppings provided a limited amount of cover for firing positions. Pickets had been placed in the direction of approach of the enemy, to give warning of his presence. The attack started at 3 o’clock, with the driving in of the covering forces. The center of the patriot army, under Campbell Shelby, was the first to engage the enemy. The Virginia and Sulli van County men advanced up the steep slopes, taking cover behind rocks and trees, with a fair field of fire, as the underbrush was not thick. Their attack was sustained for about 15 minutes while the flank groups proceeded to their several positions, when the fire became general around the entire mountain. The groups then closed in, and Campbell’s and Shelby’s men almost reached the enemy lines, but here they were met by Ferguson’s Provincial Corps, and at the point of the bayonet driven down the mountain. Their officers bravely rallied them, however, and under cover of rocks and trees the enemy fire was returned. The Provincials now in turn fell back before the sure marksmanship of the mountain men, and were pursued to the top of the crest, where a second time they resorted to the bayonet, and again forced the retirement of Campbell’s and Shelby’s men, but only to the point where, from behind cover, they had time to reload their rifles, and by their deadly fire stop the onrush of the enemy and compel their return once more to the ridge top.

When pressure of the right and left wings began to be felt by Ferguson, new dispositions had to be made of his forces to meet the situation. The parts of the encircling band composed of the men of McDowell and Sevier on the north, and of Williams, Cleve land, Chronicle, and Winston to the south of the mountain, closed in toward the crest of the ridge, and on its southwest extremity the enemy was cleared from the summit, and forced in a northeasterly direction into a huddled group.

About this time Campbell’s and Shelby’s men succeeded in gaining the portion of the ridge on their front, driving all before them, back into the group that the closing of the wings was compressing.

The defenders of the mountain were now in sore straits. The losses among the Provincial Corps were heavy. These troops had fought with great heroism, but their numbers were too few to win alone. The Tory militia endured the contest as long as was to be expected of them. Ferguson’s survivors were surrounded by an enemy fiercely determined to fight for complete victory.

It was evident that nothing could be done to better the situation and snatch victory from defeat, and Ferguson determined to cut his way through the band of fire and escape. He, with several of his officers, made this desperate move, but was shot from his horse and killed instantly. Captain De Peyster the second in corn mand, bravely continued the fight for a brief time, but the confusion was so great, and his compact group of followers such a vulnerable target, that further resistance was suicidal, and a white flag was shown.

It was some time before the firing could be topped. Units had become disorganized and intermingled during the fierce conflict, and all firing did not cease at the time De Peyster surrendered his command. Then, too, there were some who refused quarter to many of the Tories who asked for it, in retaliation for the treatment which they heard bad been accorded Buford’s command at the Waxhaw on May 29. To the cry, “Buford’s play,” many of the wounded were hurried into oblivion. The total number of Tories killed and wounded in this action was 334, and of this number 206 were reported killed.

The battle lasted an hour and five minutes. The report of this engagement, prepared by Colonels Campbell, Shelby, and Cleveland, and submitted to General Gates between three and four weeks after the battle, stated that the official provision returns for the 7th of October, found in camp, gave an enemy strength of 1,125 men. The losses given in the report for the Provincial Corps were 19 killed, 35 wounded, 68 prisoners; total, 122. The Tory losses were 206 killed, 128 wounded, 648 prisoners; total, 982. The combined totals give a strength on the battle field at the time of the action of 1,104, as no one escaped. In addition to Colonel Ferguson, the Provincial Corps had one captain killed; and among the Tories, two colonels and three captains lost their lives, and one major was wounded. The losses in the patriot army, as given in the report, were 28 killed and 62 wounded, a total of 90. The Virginia regiment suffered the heaviest losses. Campbell’s command had 13 officers killed or mortally wounded. The Lincoln County men lost their leader, Major Chronicle, and Colonel Williams received wounds from which he died the following day. The booty captured included 17 baggage wagons and 1,200 stand of arms.

A defeat so overwhelming as that suffered by Ferguson’s command is rare in warfare. His position on Kings Mountain was selected after mature deliberation. The top of the mountain was just large enough to serve as a battle ground for his command and to provide space for his camp and wagon train. Water was near and plentiful. The advance of the attackers would be impeded by the slopes of the mountain. When attacked he could expect that retreat would be rendered hazardous by flanking or encircling detachments, a condition he desired, as his militia would be put to the necessity of fighting instead of fleeing. A better position on which to make a stand and fight could not have been found.

That he underestimated the valor of the mountain men is unquestionable. Their reputed superiority in numbers did not deter him from offering battle, otherwise he would have continued his march on the 7th in the direction of Charlotte Town. But had he known that these crusaders from the mountains would stand and fight with a fierceness heretofore unexperienced in his southern campaign, be would have been more discreet and less valorous. His epitaph, written by his brother officers and published in the New York Gazette of February 14, 1781, rings with affectionate praise and admiration for his many admirable qualities as a man and soldier.

The leaders of the patriots, and the men whom they commanded, were honored with the thanks of their several legislatures; and the thanks of Congress were given in a resolution of the 13th of November, as follows:

Resolved, That Congress entertain a high sense of the spirited and military conduct of Colonel Campbell, and the officers and privates of the militia under his command, displayed in adion of the 7 of October, in which a complete victory was obtained over superior numbers of the enemy, advantageously poured on King’s Mountain, in the state of North Carolina; and that this resolution be published by the commanding officer of the southern army, in general orders.


The day following the battle the victors and their prisoners withdrew in the direction of the mountains. On the 13th of October they reached Bickerstaff’s plantation, about l5 miles northeast of Gilbert Town. It was here that a number of the prisoners were tried by a court of officers, and 30 found guilty of “breaking open houses, killing the men, and turning the women and children out of doors and burning the houses.” On the 14th nine of the convicted men were hanged.

Following this event the march was resumed in the direction of Virginia, in consequence of instructions sent by Gates on the 12th that the prisoners were to be escorted under proper guard to Fincastle Court House, Va. By the time the Catawba was reached, like all partisan groups, these men thought their mission being accomplished they could return to their homes, and at this time there were no more troops than prisoners.

On reaching Bethabara a halt was made, and on the 26th Camp bell turned the command over to Cleveland, and he and Shelby repaired to Gates’s headquarters in Hilisborough to arrange for the disposition of the prisoners. The official report of the battle was prepared some time subsequent to the departure from the com mand of Sevier and Lacey at Quaker Meadows, and was delivered to General Gates by Colonel Campbell October 31, or the day following.

Rumors of the disaster which Ferguson’s army suffered probably reached the patriots in and around Charlotte Town late the follow ing day or morning of the 9th. By the 10th Cornwallis’s headquarters had received sufficient intelligence to cause great fear that a disaster of some nature had occurred, and Tarleton’s command was ordered to proceed immediately to reinforce Ferguson wherever he could be found, “and to draw his corps to the Catawba, if after the junction, advantage could not be obtained over the mountaineers; or, upon the certainty of his defeat, at all events to oppose the entrance of the victorious Americans into South Carolina.” Tarleton proceeded to the Catawba, where he received certain information of the melancholy fate of Ferguson. Upon crossing this river, to “give protection to the fugitives, and to attend the operations of the enemy,” he realized the complete disaster to the royal cause th the surrounding country. In his book description of the campaign of 1780 and 1781, published in 1787, he said:

The destruction of Ferguson and his corps marked the period and the extent of the expedition into North Carolina. Added to the depression and fear it conted to the loyalists upon the borders, and to the southward, the effect of such an important event was sensibly felt by Earl Comwallis at Charlotte town. The weakness of his army, the extent and poverty of North Carolina, the want of knowledge of his enemy’s designs, and the total ruin of his militia, presented a gloomy prospect at the commencement of the campaign. A farther progress by the route which he had undertaken could not possibly remove, but would undoubtedly increase his difficulties; he therefore formed a sudden determination to quit Charlotte town, and pass the Catawba river. The army was ordered to move, and expresses were dispatched to recall Lieutenant colonel Tarleton.

Cornwallis’s army left Charlotte Town on October 14, marching southwest to the Catawba, and from thence in a direction to cover both Camden and Ninety Six. Following the defeat of Ferguson, Cruger sent information to Cornwallis from Ninety Six that the whole district had determined to submit as soon as those in revolt against the King should enter it, and Cornwallis decided that in withdrawing it should be in a direction that would permit of contact with both Camden and Ninety-Six. On the 29th of October Lord Rawdon, who was in temporary command of the British Army owing to the illness of Cornwallis, wrote to Sir Henry Clinton:

Lord Cornwallis foresees all the difficulties of a defensive war, yet his lord ship thinks they can not be weighed against the dangers which must have attended an obstinate adherence to his former plan.

Withdrawal from North Carolina was continued for more than 60 miles from Charlotte Town, before the army halted and went into camp at Wynnesborough.

On the 3d of December Cornwallis, who had recovered from his illness, wrote to the commander in chief from Wynnesborough of the various causes which prevented his penetration into North Carolina. Regarding Ferguson’s mission toward the mountains he said:

The event proved unfortunate, without any fault of Major Ferguson’s. A numerous and unexpected enemy came from the mountains; as they had good horses their movements were rapid.

Regarding his position at Wynnesborough, be advised that it was well situated to protect the greatest part of the frontier, and to assist Camden and Ninety Six. He determined to remain at this place until he learned of the intentions of General Leslie’s com mand, on which his plan for the winter was to depend; meanwhile using every possible means of putting the Province into a state of defense, which he considered necessary, whether his future cam paign was offensive or defensive. The extent of his disappointment and discouragement over conditions in the southern district are expressed in a sentence near the close of the above-mentioned letter, which reads:

After everything that has happened l will not presume to make your excellency any sanguine promises.

Campaigning in the South during 1780 consisted almost entirely of partisan warfare, wherein detachments of the Army, militia, and irregular groups fought over wide areas. The main armies were engaged but twice—at Charleston and Camden—both Brit ish victories. The territory involved, from Charlotte Town south, constituted a large portion of the colonial area, but the more important part, from the standpoint of wealth and density of population, was in the north. The seat of government was at Philadelphia; Washington’s headquarters during the first of the year at Morristown; and the commercial center in New York, held, at the time, by the British. What concern was felt by Washington and Congress over conditions in the Carolinas was largely due to the uncertainty as to the strategy which Clinton would use in the North.

The year 1780, like those which had gone before, brought to Washington many problems of vital import to the American cause. The calm, dispassionate manner in which he planned for the Army and advised with Congress indicates a grandeur of character and a capacity for work too little understood. His faith in the justice of the cause and its ultimate success was unbounded, despite the fact that at times his optimism faltered and he felt that “we are tottering on the brink of a precipice.” But this temporary despair is explained by his overwhelming surprise over the treason of Arnold.” Matters of more casual concern, such as difficulties in connection with the draft, depreciated currency, lack of supplies, intermittently starving Army, general disaffection among the troops; all these had been his problems for a long time; they bad been solved some how or other and he had faith in their solution for the future. He wrote to Baron von Steuben on April 2:

My sentiments concerning public affairs correspond too much with yours. The prospect my dear Baron, is gloomy, and the storm threatens. But I hope we shall extricate ourselves, and bring everything toa prosperous issue. I have been so inured to difficulties in the course of this contest, that I have learned to look upon them with more tranquility than formerly.

England was complete mistress of the Atlantic seaboard. Her fleet held the harbors of Halifax, Penobscot, New York, Charleston, and Savannah, and that the Colonies, as a consequence, bad not suffered more than they had, Washington ascribed to the “feeble and injudicious manner in which the enemy have applied the means in their bands during this war.” He realized that a fleet was essential to the success of the American cause, and only from France could this succor come. La Fayette had returned to Europe the preceding year to use his tremendous enthusiasm for the American cause as a lever to pry form the King and his ministers a fleet and an army that would make of France an effective ally of America. His return to the Colonies on the 27th of April, 1780, with the joyous tidings that a fleet and army were soon to follow, heartened Washington and Congress beyond measure.

The British Army in the North was quiet during the first half of 1780, due to the detachment of a considerable part of the fleet and army for operations in the South. The American Army was quiet, as tidings from Prance were awaited, and when the French fleet and army finally did arrive, Washington abandoned his winter quarters early in June and prepared for operations to secure the reduction of the city and garrison of New York. He estimated that he would have a force of from 30,000 to 40,000 men, after the militia joined.

However, with the blockade of the French fleet in the port of Rhode Island, the projected campaign to conquer New York had to be abandoned, and a season of comparative inactivity on the part of his army drew to a close in October. The following month arrangements were made to go into winter quarters again.

With both Congress and Washington, their principal concern was the main army under his command. What occurred south of the Chesapeake were collateral issues to which only a limited amount of thought, energy, and assistance could be given. While Charles ton was undergoing its siege, Washington wrote to Philip Schuyler, who was in Congress:

What to do for the Southern States, without involving consequences equally alarming in this quarter, I know not.

Upon his recommendation, Congress detached the Maryland division to reinforce the South, and it fought with great credit at Camden. Later Congress added Delaware and Maryland to the Southern Department. It was felt in the North that Charleston would probably fall, in which case, Washington wrote on April 15, “there is much reason to believe the Southern States will become the principal theater of war.”

After the defeat at Camden, Washington wrote to Count de Rochainbeau on the 8th of September that “this event must have the worst effect upon the affairs of the Southern States. Nor is it easy to say how far its influence may extend.” But it was expected that if the inhabitants of the Carolinas were vitally concerned in independence, they would rise in sufficient numbers to acquire it, at least within their own boundaries, and affairs in the North still continued to monopolize the attention of both Congress and Washington. However, there was sufficient concern to prompt action which resulted in sending to the Southern Department late in the year a competent commander, General Nathanael Greene. Receipt of the news as to how the mountain men overcame Ferguson thrilled the entire country, and Congress showed its appreciation of this magnificent feat in the manner already referred to, but beyond this it was but an incident of the southern campaign. Following Camden, Arnold’s treason, and the inactive campaign of his army, on the day after Washington wrote that “we are tottering on the brink of a precipice,” he said in a letter to General Cadwalader, “our case is not desperate, if virtue exists in the people, and there is wisdom among our rulers.”

In considering the effect of the Battle of Kings Mountain upon the situation in the South, it was only this epic tragedy to Ferguson’s army that halted Cornwallis in his subjugation of North Carolina. Without this, or a similar calamity, he would have reached the northern borders of the Province in December, and with the Chesapeake occupied by the British fleet, Virginia would have suffered the same fate. What the outcome of such a situation in the winter of 1780-81 would have been problematic. In a letter to Count de Vergennes from M. de Ia Luzerne, the latter declared that the intention of the British was to sever the Carolinas and Georgia from the North. After the fall of Charleston, a gazette was published in that town in which the conquerors circulated insinuations that the Northern States had abandoned the South, and were about to make arrangements with England which would exclude the Carolinas and Georgia. The letter adds:

These attempt. had an effect The Members of Congress are divided as to their interest and objects. Some are for using all efforts for rescuing the South. Others think the people there have shown too little zeal and activity in the cause, and that it is not expedient to put jeopardy he safety of the North by rendering extraordinary aid to people who are so indifferent about their own independence. * * * It is possible that the British will make a proposition to the 10 Northern States tending to assure their independence; and their scheme will be to form into a new government the two Carolinas, Georgia, east Florida, and the Bahama Islands, which together would make a respectable possession.

That there was some foundation for the impressions above communicated is confirmed in a letter from Mr. Duane, in Congress, to General Schuyler, written the 21st of May. Said he:

That the reinforcements ordered to the southward should be halted is obvious for the reasons you assign. But do you expect such a proposition from a northern Member, deeply interested in strengthening the main army? It is a question of the utmost delicacy and even danger; for, however groundlessly, an opinion has been propagated, that Congress means to sacrifice the two southern most States, and it has been productive of the greatest animosity and discontent. We have privately stated the subject to some of the southern gentlemen, who, through I believe convinced of the propriety of the measure, did not choose, after great deliberation, to have it adopted, much less to propose it. There is but one person From whom it can originate with any prospect of success. If we had undertaken it, nothing would have resulted but disappointment and the loss of personal confidence.

The Battle of Kings Mountain was the outstanding victory of the Americans in 1780. Following it, Cornwallis was compelled to abandon North Carolina, and for a time assume the defensive. It put an end to the possibility of an eventual peace with England under such terms as might have resulted in the retention of the southern Provinces under British rule. It is an exemplification of American aspirations for self-government and a display of romantic hardihood and bravery well worthy the careful study of American youth.


THERE never has been any uncertainty as to the actual location of the ground on which the Battle of Kings Mountain was fought, but due to the defects and limitations in early maps, the battle has frequently been described as occurring in North Carolina. Many of the early maps show “King Mountain” north of the boundary line, with none of the mountain symbols extending into South Carolina, As a result the battle was accredited to North Carolina.

In 1772 a portion of the boundary between the two Carolinas was surveyed from the Catawba River westwardly. The origin of this portion of the boundary was the center of the junction of the Catawba and the South Fork of the Catawba. From this junction the line was to run due west to the mountains and there connect with the boundary of the Cherokee Nation.

The Price and Strother map, engraved in 1808, which purports to be “The First Actual Survey of the State of North Carolina,” shows the 1772 line crossing the Broad River 1 1/4 miles south of the east and west line through the junction of the Broad and the First Broad, This corresponds with the distance on the Gaffney quad tangle of the United States Geological Survey. By other checks of the 1772 line where it crosses Streams, with the United States Geological Survey of the line, it is evident that both lines are one and the same.

On the Price and Strother map, and on all other maps subsequent to 1772 for many years, the boundary line from the junction of the branches of the Catawba is shown as running due west. It was later discovered that due to magnetic errors the line was run north of west. The United States Geological Survey maps show that this deviation is about 2½° The 1772 line has been resurveyed and confirmed, but never has it been changed between the Catawba and the mountains, 68 miles west. The latitude of the 1772 line near its initial point is 35° 09′ 01.5″. An inspection of the Kings Mountain quadrangle will show that the battle ground is much farther south, hence had the line been run due west, as was intended, the battle ground would nevertheless lie within the borders of South Carolina.


Sparks, 1835: The Writings of George Washington.
Ford 1891; The Writings of George Washington.
1780-81: Journals of the Continental Congress.
Sparks 1853: Correspondence of the American Revolution. Letters to Washington.
Stevens 1888: Clinton-Cornwallis Controversy Growing out of the Campaign in Virginia. A reprint of six pamphlets, with other matter added.
Cornwallis, 1783: An answer by Cornwallis to certain parts of Narrative by Clinton.
Clinton 1783: Observations by Clinton on certain of Cornwallis’s
Ross, 1859: Correspondence of Corawallis.
Tarleton, 1787: History of the Campaign of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces of North America.
Mackenzie, 1787: Strictures on Tarleton’s History.
Almon, 1780-81: The Remembrancer.
Houghed, 1867: The Siege of Charleston by the British Fleet and Army.
Draper 1881: King’s Mountain and its Heroes. The appendix publishes the following source material: Allaire’s Diary; letters from officers of the Provincial Corps; letter, Williams to Gates; letter, Davidson to Sumner; letter, Gates to Jefferson; letter, Shelby to Shelby; letter, Shelby to Arthur Campbell; letter, Campbell to Campbell; letter, Shelby to Sevier; official report; Washington’s general order; Campbell’s general orders; vote of thanks, Virginia Legislature; vote of thanks, Virginia Senate; Diary of Ensign Robert Campbell; account of battle by Ensign Robert Campbell; Shelby’s statements to Hardin in 1815-1819; Shelby’s 1823 statement.
Vance, narrative: Pamphlets on the Revolutionary War.
Maps: United States Geological Survey—Kings Mountain quadrangle; Gaffney quadrangle; Roan
Mountain quadrangle; Mount Mitcheliquadrangle; Morganton quadrangle; State of Tennessee;
State of North Carolina; State of South Carolina. Price and Strother—North Carolina, 1808.
Mills Atlas, 1825.


Draper, 1881: Kings Mountain and Its Heroes. Collection of material for this history covered a
period of 40 years. The book contains much source material of varying worth.
Lossing, 1860: Pithrial Field Book of the Revolution.
Carrington, 1876: Battles of the American Revolution.
Landrum, 1897: Colonial and Revolutionary History of Upper South Carolina.
Ramsay 1789: The History of the American Revolution.
Ramsay, 1809: The History of South Carolina.
Ramsey. 1853: Annals of Tennessee.
Stedman, 1794: The History of the Origin. Progress. and Termination of the American War.
Simms, 1860: The History of South Carolina.
Wilkin, 1914: Some British Soldiers in America.
Warren 1805: History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution.
Hunter, 1877: Sketches of Western North Carolina.
Wheeler, 1861: History of North Carolina.
Johnson, 1822: Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene.
Roosevelt, 1889: The Winning of the West.
Graham, 1913: Address by Major Graham on General Davidson, in North Carolina Booklet.
Boyd, 1909: The Battle of Kings Mountain, in North Carolina Booklet.
Channing, 1888: The War in the Southern Department.
Graham, 1904: General Joseph Graham and His Papers on North Carolina Revolutionary History.
De Peyster, 1880: The Affair of King’s Mountain.
DePeyster, 1881: The Battle or Affair of Kings Mountain.
Greene, 1871: The Life of Nathanael Greene.
McCrady, 1901: The History of South Carolina in the Revolution.
Schenck 1889: North Carolina, 1780—81.
Lee, 1869: Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States by Lieut. Col. Henry Lee.
Johnson, 1822: Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene.
Sabine, 1864: Loyalists of the American Revolution.