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The Battle of Kings Mountain

by General Joseph Graham

Published in The Southern Literary Messenger, September 30, 1845.

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Mr. Editor–

The following account of the battle of King’s Mountain is a copy of the original paper, drawn up by the late General Joseph Graham, father of the present governor of North Carolina, of Lincoln county, North Carolina, the county in which the site of the battle is located. The accompanying plan of the battle is a copy by a young lady of Carolin from the original taken by Gen. Graham on the ground. This graphic account, given by an uninterested individual, of the battle that led to the retreat of Cornwallis, then on his advance through Carolina, may afford interesting information to your readers, that love to dwell upon the scenes of the Revolution.

Very respectfully yours.

After the defeat of Gen. Gates and the army under his command, on the 16th of August 1780, and the defeat of Gen. Sumpter, two days afterwards, near Rocky Mount, by Col. Tarlton, the South was almost entirely abandoned to the enemy. Most of the troops, both officers and man, who had escaped from Gates’ defeat, passed through Charlotte, N.C., where most of the militia of Mecklenburg county were assembled in consequence of the alarm. The regular troops chiefly passed on to Hillsboro, where Gen. Gates finally established his head quarters. William L. Davidson, who had served as Lieutenant Colonel of the regulars in the Northern army, was appointed Brigadier General of the militia in the Salisbury District, in the place of Gen. Rutherford, who was taken prisoner at Gates’ defeat. He formed a brigade and encamped on McAlpin’s creek, about 8 miles below Charlotte, and in the course of two or three weeks, was reinforced by Gen. Sumner, (a continental officer), but having no regulars to command, he took command of the militia from the counties of Guilford, Caswell, Orange &c.

After Gates’ defeat, the attention of Lord Cornwallis was chiefly occupied with burying the dead, taking care of the wounded, and forwarding, under suitable guards, the great number of prisoners he had taken to the city of Charleston, and regulating the civil government he was establishing in S. Carolina, and examining the state of the posts occupied by his troops on the Congaree, Ninety- Six, and Augusta. By the 1st of September, he had his arrangements made, and detached Col. Ferguson over the Wateree with only 110 regulars, under the command of Capt. Dupiester, and about the same number of Tories, but with an ample supply of arms and other military stores. His movements were at first rapid, endeavoring to intercept the retreat of a party of mountain men, who were harassing the upper settlement of tories in South Carolina. Failing in this, he afterwards moved slowly, and frequently halted to collect all tories he could persuade to join him. He passed Broad river, an d before the last of September encamped at a place called Gilbertstown, within a short distance of where the thriving village of Rutherfordton now stands.

His forces had increased to upwards of men. On his march to this place, he had furnished arms to such of his new recruits as were without. The greater part of them had rifles but to a part of them he had them to fix a large knife they usually carried, made small enough at the end for two inches or more of the handle to slip into the muzzle of the rifle, so that it might occasionally used as a bayonet.

Although Col. Ferguson failed to overtake the detachment of mountain men alluded to, he took two of them prisoners, who had become separated from their comrades. In a day or two he paroled them, and enjoined them to inform the officers on the Western waters, that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, and take protection under his standard, that he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders and lay the country waste with fire and sword.

Col. Charles McDowell, of Burke county, on the approach of Ferguson with so large a force had gone over the mountains to obtain assistance and was in consultation with Col. John Sevier and Col. Isaac Shelby what plan should be pursued when the two paroled men spoken of arrived and delivered their message from Col. Ferguson.

It was decided that each of them should use his best efforts to raise all the men that could be enlisted, and that their forces when collected, should meet on the Wataga, [sic] on the 25th of September. It was also agreed, that Col. Shelby should give intelligence of their movements to Col. William Campbell of the adjoining county of Washington in Virginia, with the hope that he would raise what force he could and cooperate with them.

They met on the Wataga [sic] the day appointed, and passed the mountain on the 30th of Sept., where they were joined by Col. Benjamin Cleveland and Major Joseph Winston, from Wilks [sic] and Surry counties.

On examining their forces, they were found to number, as follows:

Col. Ferguson, having accurate intelligence of the force collecting against him, early on the 4th of October, ordered his men to march, and remained half an hour after they had started, writing a dispatch to Lord Cornwallis, no doubt informing him of his situation, and soliciting aid. The letter was committed to the care of the noted Abraham Collins (since of counterfeit memory) and another person by the name of Quin with injunctions to deliver it as soon as possible. They set out and attempted to pass the direct road to Charlotte, but having to pass through some whig settlements, they were suspected and pursued, and being compelled to secrete themselves by day and travel by night, they did not reach Charlotte until the morning of the 7th of October, (the day of the battle.) Col. Ferguson encamped the first night at the noted place called the Cowpens, about 20 miles from Gilbertstown. On the 5th October, he crossed Broad river, at w hat is now called Deer’s Ferry, 16miles. On t he 6th he marched up the Ridge Road, between the waters of King’s and Buffalo Creeks, until he came to the fork turning to the right, across King’s Creek, and through a gap of the mountain towards Yorkville, about 14 miles. Then he encamped on the summit of that part of the mountain to the right of the road, where he remained until he was attacked on the 7th.When the troops from the different counties met, at the head of the Catawba river, the commanding officers met, and finding that they were all of equal grade, and no general officer to command, it was decided that Col. Charles McDowell should go to Head Quarters, supposed to be between Charlotte and Salisbury, to obtain Gen. Sumner or Gen. Davidson to take the command. In the meantime, it was agreed that Col. William Campbell, who had the largest regiment, should take the command until the arrival of a general officer, who was to act according to the advice of the Colonels commanding, and that Major Joseph McDowell should take the command of the Burke and Rutherford regiment, until the return of Col. McDowell. Shortly after these measures were adopted, intelligence was received that Col. Ferguson had left Gilbertstown, and it was decided that they would march after him, by that place, and on their way received evidence that it was his design to evade an engagement with them. On the evening of the 6th of October, the Colonels in council unanimously resolved, that they would select all the men and horse fit for service and immediately pursue Ferguson until they should overtake him, leaving such as were not able to go, to come after as fast as they could. The next evening, the selection was made, and 910 men, including officers, were marched before, leaving the others to follow. They came to the Cowpens, where Ferguson had camped on the night of the 4th, and there met Col. Williams, of South Carolina, with near 400 men, and about 60 from Lincoln county, who had joined them on their march, under Col. Hambrite and Major Chronicle. After drawing rations of beef, the whole proceeded on, a little before sunset, taking Ferguson’s trail towards Deer’s Ferry, on Broad river. Night coming on, and being very dark, their pilot got out of the right way, and for some time they were lost; but before day light they reached near to the ferry, and by direction of the officers, the pilot led them to the Cherokee ford, about a mile and a half below, as it was not known but the enemy might be in possession of the Eastern bank of the river. It was on the morning of the 7th, before sunrise, when they crossed the river, and marched about two miles, to the place where Ferguson had encamped on the night of the 5th.There they halted a short time, a nd took such breakfast, as the ir wallets and saddle bags could afford. The day was showery, and they were obliged to use their blankets and greatcoats to protect their arms from wet. They passed on a dozen of miles without seeing any person; at length, they met a lad, in an old field, by the name of Fonderin, about twelve or fourteen years of age, who had a brother and other relations in Ferguson’s camp, and who was directly from it, within less than three miles. A halt was ordered, and the Colonels met in consultation. Several persons knew the ground well on which the enemy was encamped, agreeable to the information given by the boy of their position. The plan of battle was immediately settled, that the force should be nearly equally divided, and one half would take to the right, cross over and occupy the South-East side of the mountain, and that the other should advance to the North-Westside, and that each division would move forward until they formed a junction, when all should face to the front, and press upon the enemy up the sides of the mountain. Orders were given to prepare for battle, by laying aside every incumbrance, examining well their arms and guarding against alarm. The orders were speedily obeyed, and they moved forward over King’s Creek, and up a branch and ravine, and between two rocky knobs, which when they had passed, the top of the mountain and the enemy’s camp upon it, were in full view, about 100 poles in front. Here they halted, and tied their horses, leaving the necessary guard with them. It was now 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The enemy’s camp was to the right of the road, 70 or 80 poles in length, and on the summit of the mountain, which at this place runs nearly North-East and South-West: (the shadow of the timber at half-past one P. M., ranges with it.) The troops were led on in the following order: To the right, Major Winston, Col. Sevier, Col. Campbell, Col. Shelby and Major McDowell To the left, Hambrite, Col. Cleveland, and Col. Williams, of South Carolina. Each division moved off steadily to the place assigned them in the order of battle. Some of the regiments suffered much under the galling fire of the enemy, before they were in a position to engage in the action. Some complaints began to be uttered, that it would never do to be shot down without returning the fire. Col. Shelby replied, “press on to your places and then your fire will not be lost. “The men led by Shelby and McDowell were soon closely engaged, and the contest from the first was very severe. Williams and Cleveland were soon in their places, and with the utmost energy engaged the foe. Ferguson, finding that the end of his line was giving way, ordered forward his regulars and riflemen, with bayonets, and made a furious charge upon Shelby and McDowell, charging down the mountain some 200 yards. A united and destructive fire soon compelled him to order his party back to the top of the mountain. To ward off the deadly attack from Col. Williams, Ferguson again charged with fury down the mountain. When Shelby’s men saw this, they raised the cry, “come on men, the enemy is retreating.” They rallied by the time Ferguson returned from the charge against the South Carolinians, renewed their fire with great resolution. Ferguson again charged upon Shelby but not so far as before. Col. Williams’ men, in turn, called out, “the enemy is retreating, come on men. “At this stage of the action, Hambrite and Winston had met, and a brisk fire was poured upon Ferguson’s men all around the mountain. As he would advance towards Campbell, Sevier, Winston and Hambrite, he was pursued by Shelby, McDowell, Williams and Cleveland. When he would turn his forces against the latter, the former would press on in pursuit. Thus he struggled on, making charges and retreats, but his left was rapidly losing ground. His men were rapidly falling before the skillful aim and unbending courage of the whigs. Even after being wounded, he fought on with courage. He made every effort that could be done by a brave and skillful officer, according to his position. At length he was shot dead, and his whole command driven up into a group of 60 yards in length, and not 40 in width. The British officer, Captain Dupiester, who took the command, ordered a white flag to be raised, in token of surrender, but the bearer was instantly shot down. He soon had another raised, and called out for quarter. Col. Shelby demanded, if they surrendered, why did they not throw down their arms. It was instantly done. But still the firing was continued. until Shelby and Sevier went inside the lines and ordered the men to cease. Some who kept it up, would callout, “give them Beaufort’s play.” Alluding to Col. Beaufort’s defeat by Tarlton, where no quarters were given. A guard was placed over the prisoners and all remained on the mountain during the night. The party which led the left wing under Col. Hambrite, suffered very much, having to pass very difficult ground to reach their place of destination, and within 80 yards of the enemy’s marksmen. Col. Hambrite was wounded, and Major Chronicle was killed. Col. Williams, of South Carolina, a brave and efficient officer, was also killed. The loss of the whigs was not exactly ascertained, but believed to be about 30 killed and 50 wounded. The enemy had about 150 killed and all the rest taken prisoners. On the morning of the 8th, a court-martial was held, several of the prisoners who were found guilty of murder and other high crimes, were sentenced to be hanged. About twenty were executed. At the forks of the branch where Major Chronicle and Captain Mattocks were buried, a monument was erected. On the East side is the following inscription: “Sacred to the memory of Major William Chronicle and Captain John Mattocks, William Robb and John Boyd, who were killed at this place on the 7th October, 1780, fighting in defence of America. “Inscribed on the Western side of said monument, facing the battle ground: “Col. Ferguson, an officer of his Britannic Majesty, was defeated and killed at this place, on the 7th of October, 1780.”Some Additional Anecdotes to the preceding account, permit me to add some traditionary facts. It is said that Col. Ferguson, when he encamped on King’s Mountain, after somedays of retreat before the gathering militia, exclaimed to his men, ” Here is a place God Almighty can not drive us from.” He never left the mountain; he fell the next day, in battle. During the action, Col. Campbell rode down two horses in performing his duties on the mountainside. His own bald face black horse proving skittish, he exchanged him in the beginning of the action with a Mr. Campbell, who was in his corps. In the heat of the battle, he was seen on foot at the head of his men, with his coat off and his shirt collar open. Some two hundred yards down the mountain was bald face, mounted by the Colonel’s servant, a tall, well proportioned mulatto, who said,” he had come up to see what his master and the rest were doing. “Ex-Senator Preston, of South Carolina, a grandson of Col. Campbell, in his youth, stopped at a tavern in South Carolina, near the North Carolina line, in sight of King’s Mountain; and while break out, “give them Beaufort’s play.” Alluding to line, in sight of King’s Mountain, and while breakfast was preparing, observed that the landlady frequently turned to look at him. While eating his meal, she asked his name–and observed, by way of awkward apology, that he was very like the man she most dreaded on earth. “And who is that?” said Preston. “Col. Campbell,” said the woman, that hung my husband at King’s Mountain. “Col. Campbell was appointed commanding officer of the militia in Eastern Virginia, after the battle of Guilford, in which he acted a conspicuous part, and died in the service, of a fever, while yet but a young man, and was buried at Rocky Mills, in Hanover county. After an interval of 40 years, his remains were removed to Washington county-the bones and hair undecayed, though they had lain in a moist, clay soil. Col. Campbell was a native of Augusta county, Virginia, and removed early to Washington county; a bold and active man, extremely popular with the militia of his county, and an untiring enemy of the tories, who hated him as much as he loved his country. Shelby was afterwards Governor of the State of Kentucky. There are, Mr. Editor, a multitude of interesting particulars respecting the men of the revolution, which, when gathered, will form the history of that epoch, that are now, scattered here and there, and likely soon to perish from memory of the living. May your efforts to collect them prove successful. They will come in, one by one, but chapters form the history, as drops the ocean. Very respectfully, yours,

From Washington county, Virginia, under Col. W. Campbell, 400
From Sullivan county, North Carolina, under Col. Isaac Shelby, 240
From Washington, North Carolina, under Col. John Sevier, 240
From Burke and Rutherford counties, N. C., under Col. Charles McDowell 160
From Wilks and Surry counties, North Carolina, under Col. Benj. Cleveland and Major James Winston, 350