Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Average: 4.8 (31 votes)

Battle of King's Mountain

by Noel Yancey, 2006

The stunning victory won by a force of about 1,800 backcountry "Overmountain Men" over approximately 1,000 Tories at King's Mountain on 7 Oct. 1780 has been justly described as a key turning point in the American Revolution. According to British commander Henry Clinton, the American victory "proved the first Link of a Chain of Evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America." The Tory force at King's Mountain was commanded by Maj. Patrick Ferguson, the son of a Scottish judge. At the Battle of Brandywine, Ferguson's right arm had been shattered. However, he practiced so assiduously that he learned to wield his sword with his left hand, earning him the nickname "Bulldog" in the process.

A few weeks before King's Mountain, Ferguson, who guarded Lord Charles Cornwallis's left flank, led a foray to the vicinity of Old Fort in North Carolina. At about that time he bluntly warned the local revolutionaries that if they did not cease their rebellion he would march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste their settlements with fire and sword. This brought an indignant reaction from the backcountry forces and a conference between Cols. Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, who agreed that they should take the offensive. They called a rendezvous at Sycamore Shoals (now in Tennessee) for 25 September. On that day Sevier and Shelby arrived with 240 troops each to join Col. Charles McDowell, who was already there with 160 North Carolina riflemen. They were heartened when Col. William Campbell marched in with 400 Virginians.

While the little army was marching over Roan Mountain, two of Sevier's troops, James Crawford and Samuel Chambers, were reported missing. Suspecting that they would warn Ferguson, Sevier changed the march plans. On 30 September the American force reached Quaker Meadows in Burke County, where it was joined by Col. Benjamin Cleveland and 350 North Carolinians. By 1 October the Americans were camped just south of King's Mountain. Rain kept them there a day while the officers elected Campbell commander.

Ferguson was also slowed by rain and never reached Charlotte to join Cornwallis, as was his apparent plan. He had not intended to install his army atop King's Mountain, which had allegedly been named for a farmer who lived at its foot and not for King George III. The mountain, with its short and relatively level summit, must have impressed Ferguson as a good defensive position; he wrote to Cornwallis, asking for reinforcements and boasting that he was on King's Mountain and could not be driven off.

Early on the afternoon of 7 October, the Americans arrived at the foot of King's Mountain, near where it extends into South Carolina. They launched a four-pronged attack, with two columns on each side of the mountain, led by Colonels Campbell and Sevier on the right and Shelby and Cleveland on the left. Ferguson and his men apparently were taken by surprise by the boldness and rapidity of the Overmountain Men's aggression. Over the roar of the battle could be heard intermittently a shrill shriek from the silver whistle Ferguson used to direct his troops. It was soon silenced, however, as Ferguson was killed while leading a desperate sortie by a few of his men to break out of the mountaineers' cordon. Capt. Abraham DePeyster, the second in command, almost immediately raised a white flag. However, several minutes elapsed before the surrender could take effect, and during that period several more Tories were killed. Some Americans kept firing because they did not understand what was going on, and others did so because they recalled that when Col. Abraham Buford, an American, was defeated several weeks before, British colonel Banastre Tarleton had kept on firing, an action Cornwallis had applauded.

Finally the guns fell silent and the American victory was complete. In an hour's time, Ferguson and 119 of his men had been killed, 123 wounded, and 664 captured. The Americans had lost 28 killed and 62 wounded. The Americans were still so angry at their enemies that on their ride home, Campbell found it necessary to issue an order directing the officers to halt the slaughter of prisoners. Finally Campbell convened a court-martial to try some of the prisoners. According to Shelby, 36 men were convicted of "breaking open houses, killing the men, turning the women and children out of doors and burning the houses." Of those convicted, 9 were actually hanged.

The American victory at the Battle of King's Mountain altered the tenor of the American Revolution, disheartening Cornwallis and his army, threatening and eventually altering British military strategy, and adding renewed vigor to the American cause.

References:

Lyman C. Draper, King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7th 1780 and the Events Which Led to It (repr., 1967).

Phillips Russell, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War (1965).

Image Credit:

"Battle of King's Mountain." Image courtesy of North Carolina Office of Archives & History, marker # O-1. Available from http://www.ncmarkers.com/marker_photo.aspx?sf=c&id=O-1(accessed June 4, 2012).

Authors: 
Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

Thanks for the info My 4 x's great grandfather, John Wilson, was at the Battle of Kings Mountain. It's noted in his pension info that when they said they were giving him a pension for being there he said that "he wasn't actually in the battle" he was designated to watch the horses...he was there and did what he was told. I think he deserved his pension :)

Comment: 

Do you have anything on the German battle strategy Blitzkrieg ?

Comment: 

Hi Gohan,

Thanks for asking this question.  Unfortunately, NCpedia doesn't really have anything specifically on the German military. There is an article that mentions Blitzkreig -- http://www.ncpedia.org/history/20th-Century/wwii-construction -- but that's about it.

If you're looking for more information on this, you may want to visit a library to find resources on WWII or you may want to do some web searching. There are a number of good historical sites for WWII including the BBC and the British Museum.  You might find something there.

I hope this helps!

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

Comment: 

I had been watching a program on TV about the Revolution and King's Mountain was mentioned. I began researching and came across this article. I was absolutely shocked to note that it was written by my father, Noel Yancey. Since he has been dead for many years now, it feels like a message from the grave. I was delighted to find it. Thank you.

Comment: 

Dear Carra,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and sharing this.  Your father actually wrote 4 articles for William Powell's Encyclopedia of North Caorlina, published by UNC Press! 

Here are links to all 4: http://www.ncpedia.org/category/authors/yancey-noel.

We are very grateful to your father and others who joined up with William Powell to take on the incredible task of producing the Encylopedia  -- and to UNC Press for sharing all of this content with NCpedia to make it available online. 

Please visit NCpedia again!  And please let me know if I can answer any questions about the resource.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan

Comment: 

Gave me lots of info for a project.

Comment: 

cool

Comment: 

:D :)

Comment: 

It is awesome. I got a lot of info for my battle of kings mountain project! :-)

Comment: 

This site is the best

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, please note thats some email servers are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. These often include student email addresses from public school email accounts. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at http://ncpedia.org/comments.