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Transcript for Episode 15
In September, 1780, a ragtag group of backwoodsmen from what is today North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia assembled to begin a journey to defend their homes and belief in liberty. They met their destiny at Kings Mountain and this is their story. The Mitchell County Historical Society presents Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain. Episode Fifteen: The Summer of 1780 Campaign, Part One.
We begin our look at the Battle of Kings Mountain with a review of several battles and skirmishes that took place in the summer of 1780. This is the first of a two-part episode about these battles.
The War for American Independence received a near fatal blow with the fall of Charleston in May 1780. More than 5,000 Patriot troops were captured when the city fell to the British, including the entire Continental Army troops from the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The disaster caused many in the South to lay down their arms and give up the fight. The only thing standing between the British Army and a sweep by their troops north through North Carolina and into Virginia were the citizen soldiers of the militia. The North Carolina Governor Abner Nash immediately put out the call to mobilize militias to repel the British Invasion. Included in those responding to the call was Isaac Shelby and his Overmountain militia. They mounted their horses and crossed the mountains for the first time to join the war in July, 1780.
These mountaineers rode into the camp of Colonel Charles McDowell at Cherokee Ford on the Broad River on July 25th, 1780. Plans were immediately made to take the fight into the South Carolina Backcountry. The main British Army under Lord Charles Cornwallis was too large and formidable for militia units to attack alone. But the British Army had a problem. Capturing the state of South Carolina had been relatively easy but holding it was another issue altogether. The Redcoats attempted to hold the Backcountry communities with small units of soldiers, often numbering less than 100 men per unit. This greatly reduced the number of troops available for the main British strike force,. But worse for the British, those small isolated garrisons of soldiers made easy pickings for the Patriot militia.
Shelby’s Overmountain Men chose one of these isolated British garrisons, Fort Thicketty, as their first target. This small fort on Thicketty Creek near present-day Gaffney, South Carolina was commanded by Captain Patrick Moore and was manned by 93 Loyalist soldiers. The Patriots, numbering 600 strong, surrounded the fort but realized it would be a bloody battle to take it, and victory seemed doubtful, but they pressed ahead. Some accounts claim the Overmountain Men used a bit of subterfuge to capture the fort by painting a log black and placing it on a couple of wagon wheels. The British garrison seeing this “cannon” felt they could not resist such a strong attacking force armed with artillery and surrendered the fort without the Patriots firing a shot. The Overmountain Men had their first taste of battle success. But it would not be so easy going forward.
On August 8, 1780, Shelby’s forces would meet their British nemesis Major Patrick Ferguson for the first time in battle at a place known as Wofford’s Ironworks in Greenwood County, South Carolina. These Ironworks were owned by the same William Wofford who built a fort in the Turkey Cove area of McDowell County that the Overmountain Men would later encounter on their march to King’s Mountain. The Battle of Wofford’s Ironworks was a meeting engagement, with the Patriot militia achieving success early on. But soon Ferguson brought up his main force, turning the tide of the battle to the British. The Overmountain Men then demonstrated their military skill by successfully executing a fighting retreat and carrying nearly 30 British prisoners off the field. Ferguson realized these “Backwater Men” as he termed them could fight and would have to be dealt with eventually.
With their successes and the news that a new Continental Army under Horatio Gates was gathering at Hillsborough, North Carolina, the Overmountain Men decided to make a more ambitious raid deep into enemy-held territory. The target they chose was a vital river ford near Musgrove’s Mill in South Carolina, on the route to the Fortress of 96 which held the key to the Southern Backcountry. We will learn of that daring raid on Musgrove’s Mill in our next episode.
Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain is a production of the Mitchell County Historical Society, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of the history, heritage, and culture of Mitchell County, North Carolina. Today’s program was written, narrated, and produced by David Biddix. Special thanks to WTOE radio in Spruce Pine, North Carolina (1470 on the AM dial) and WKYK Radio in Burnsville, North Carolina (940 on the AM dial) for airing our program. You can also download episodes through Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Learn more at mitchellnchistory.org/ovm.
The Mitchell County Historical Society offices are located in the Historic Mitchell County Courthouse in Bakersville. We’d love for you to become a member of our Society! You can learn more about us on the web at mitchellnchistory.org. There, you can also see show notes about today’s episode, links to online resources about the Battle of Kings Mountain and those involved in it, and much more about Mitchell County’s history and heritage. You can also visit us on Facebook. Join us next time as we continue the journey to Patrick Ferguson and the famous battle atop Kings Mountain.