By 1780 the northern campaign of the American Revolutionary War had fought to a stalemate, and England turned its military strategy toward the South. The tactic seemed simple: re-establish the southern royal colonies,Plan to visit Kings Mountain National Military Park during your Blacksburg vacation using our convenient Blacksburg holiday planner .
march north to join loyalist troops at the Chesapeake Bay, and claim the seaboard. But, a sudden battle in the wilderness exposed the folly of England’s scheme and changed the course of this nation.
In early 1780 England turned its military efforts to the South. At first the British forces seemed unstoppable. In May Sir Henry Clinton captured Charleston, S.C., the South’s largest city. The British quickly set up garrisons, using military force to gain control. Before 1780 scattered
incidents of torture and murder had occurred in the Carolinas, but with the return of the British army the war in the South became brutal. Loyalists (tories) plundered the countryside; patriots (whigs) retaliated with burning and looting—with neighbors fighting each other. The British believed that the southern colonies teemed with loyalists, and they were banking on those supporters to persuade reluctant patriots to swear allegiance to the
Crown. Gen. Lord Cornwallis ordered Maj. Patrick Ferguson, reputed to be the best marksman in the British Army, to gather these loyalists into a
strong militia. Ferguson recruited a thousand Carolinians and trained them to fight with muskets and bayonets using European open-field tactics. In
the summer, as Ferguson traversed the Carolina upcountry, frontier patriots swept across the mountains to aid their compatriots of the Piedmont.
In August Cornwallis routed Gen. Horatio Gates and patriot forces at Camden, S.C. Learning of the defeat, the frontier militia went home to
harvest crops and strengthen their forces. Taking advantage of their departure, Cornwallis mounted an invasion of North Carolina. He ordered
Ferguson, commander of his left flank, to move north into western North Carolina before joining the main army at Charlotte. In September Ferguson
set up post at Gilbert Town. From here Ferguson sent a message to the “backwater men” (over-mountain patriots) threatening to kill
them all if they did not submit.
Enraged, they vowed to finish Ferguson once and for all. On September 26 returning over-mountain forces gathered
at Sycamore Shoals under Cols. William Campbell, Isaac Shelby, Charles McDowell, and John Sevier. The next morning they began an arduous
march through mountains covered with an early snowfall. They reached Quaker Meadows on October 1 and joined 350 local militia under Cols.
Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston. Ferguson, learning from spies that the growing force was pursuing him, headed toward Charlotte. The
patriots reached Gilbert Town on October 4, but they soon discovered that Ferguson had abandoned his camp. They rode on, reaching Cowpens on
October 6, where they were joined by 400 South Carolinians led by Colonel Williams and Colonel Lacey. Ferguson’s trail had been hard to follow, but
now they learned that he was near Kings Mountain—only about 30 miles away.
Ferguson reached Kings Mountain on October 6, where he decided to await his enemy. Kings Mountain—named for an early settler and not for
King George III—is a rocky spur of the Blue Ridge that rises 150 feet above the surrounding area. Its forested slopes, sliced with ravines, lead to a
summit, which in 1780 was nearly treeless. This plateau, 600 yards long by 60 yards wide at the southwest and 120 yards at the northeast, gave Ferguson a seemingly excellent position for his army of 1,000 loyalist militia
and 100 red-coated Provincials.
Fearing that Ferguson might escape again, the patriots selected 900 of the best riflemen to push on, with Campbell of Virginia as commander. They
rode through a night of rain—their long rifles protected in blankets—and arrived at Kings Mountain after noon, Saturday, October 7. The rain, now
stopped, had muffled their sounds, giving Ferguson little warning of their approach. They hitched their horses within sight of the ridge, divided into
two columns, and encircled the steep slopes. About 3 p.m. Campbell’s and Shelby’s regiments opened fire from below the southwestern ridge. The
loyalists rained down a volley of musket fire, but the forested slopes provided good cover for the attackers. The patriots, skilled at guerrilla
tactics used on the frontier, dodged from tree to tree to reach the summit. Twice, loyalists drove them back with bayonets. Finally the patriots gained
the crest, driving the enemy toward the patriots who were attacking up the northeastern slopes. Surrounded and silhouetted against the sky, the
loyalists were easy targets for the sharpshooters and their long rifles. Punishing his horse Ferguson was everywhere, a silver whistle in his
mouth trilling commands. Suddenly several bullets hit Ferguson. He fell, one foot caught in a stirrup. His men helped him down and propped him
against a tree, where he died. Captain DePeyster, Ferguson’s second in command, ordered a white flag hoisted but, despite loyalist cries of
surrender, the patriot commanders could not restrain their men. Filled with revenge they continued to shoot their terrified enemy for several minutes,
until Campbell finally regained control.
The over-mountain men accomplished their mission in little more than an hour. Ferguson was dead. Lost with him was Cornwallis’s entire left flank.
This militia, fighting on its own terms and in its own way, turned the tide on England’s attempt to conquer the South and so the nation.
Kings Mountain National Military Park Reviews
This park is a little tricky to get to -- if you are coming from Cowpens, you actually cross into North Carolina, then back into South Carolina to get to it. But it is well worth the visit. And it is ... more »
We were very excited to find this treasure - small gift shop and museum hosted by very knowledgeable Rangers. The 1.5m trail is "paved" with the very feet/leg friendly recycled tire mix, which makes i... more »
It's worth the time to see the short movie, which is shown at about 45 min. intervals. In the small museum, beyond the gift shop, is a topographical display table with little red and blue lights that ... more »
The NPS does a good job detailing the story behind the battle and what led up to the engagement. But where the strongest marks come is actually walking the battlefield and the many trails around Kings Mountain; one can almost feel the wild frontier. I think here more than most battles we understand the influence of the frontier Militias in winning our independence.
Come prepared for a fantastic walk (on recently paved walkways!) through the forest to learn about the battle at Kings Mountain! The walk includes several "off the path" historical markers and National Park Service signage elements to help guide visitors and enthusiasts on the journey up to the monuments atop the hard-won mountain. Be sure to bring some water to keep refreshed, as the mid-summer heat can be quite draining, so stay hydrated as you hike the loop! Be sure to enjoy the Visitor Center where a small museum features artifacts from the battle, as well as a well-done documentary film about this history of this important turning poi t in the Revolutionary War. If you have questions about the site, the museum, or the history of the battle, ask the Park Rangers, they're great!
Nice park, and we've been to a lot. The main path was well-paved and had frequent benches along the way. While the grades along it are as gentle as they could be made on a mountain, anyone in or with a wheelchair should be very aware. The docent was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.
Good place to take the family. We went on Memorial Day, and there was almost nobody there! Very quiet, relaxing, and well-maintained. Nice restroom facilities, and lots of low-key family activities.
Great park, and great Rangers! We had a great time there, but really wish that other visitors would treat our (literally, collectively "ours") with the dignity and respect that they deserve. There are plenty of trash cans and receptacles, but people throw their water bottles in the woods and graffiti the signage. Sad about that stuff.
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