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Episode 29 Transcript
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 29: Robert Sevier and the Walking Wounded.
Sometimes the dead are the lucky ones. The weapons each side in employed during the Battle of King’s Mountain inflicted grievous and dreadfully painful wounds that the comparatively primitive state of medicine at the time could not always heal. There was no such thing as germ theory and pain-relieving anesthetics largely lay to a future generation to invent. Bleed, blister, vomit and purge were the four treatments employed by most doctors for basically all that ailed you.
British surgeon Uzal Johnson treated many of these men on the battlefield using surgical techniques he learned at university and had perfected during the course of this war to extract the bullets, clean and bandage the wounds. Patriot Doctor Joseph Dobson of Burke County treated most of the rest. Two men to treat literally hundreds of gunshots wounds, broken limbs and stabbing victims. These are numbers that might make today’s emergency room doctors consider their workload quite light by comparison.
One of the wounded men was Dr. Joseph Dobson’s son also named Joseph. He had been shot twice in the battle, once in the right arm and another in the right shoulder. Dr. Johnson, not his father, removed the bullets. The young Dobson would be out of commission for a while, but would return to the fighting in the next year.
Others were not so lucky. Two of William Chronicles’ men, Lieutenant Watson and Private Caldwell, were carried from the field to a nearby house. John Collins lamented “Poor fellows! They were raised together, fought together, died at nearly the same time in the same house and now lie buried together.”
A famous name was no shield from death’s icy embrace in the battle either. During the thick of the fighting, John Sevier’s brother, Captain Robert Sevier, dropped his ramrod as he was trying to reload his rifle. He left cover and bent over to retrieve it. At that moment, the Tory line erupted in a volley. Some of the buckshot tore into Robert’s back striking his kidney. The wound was agonizingly painful but not immediately life threatening. After the battle ended, Robert Sevier sought out Dr. Uzal Johnson and asked him to extract the troublesome buckshot. Johnson agreed to make the attempt and operated on him. But the unimaginable pain of having the surgeon probe his back while remaining fully conscious without anesthesia was to no avail. Failing to remove the buckshot, Johnson managed to stop the bleeding and bandage the wound. He then instructed Sevier to find a nearby house and spend several days if not weeks resting. It would then be safe to make another attempt at extraction. Dr. Johnson also gave him a stern warning if he refused to wait and insisted on mounting his horse immediately to ride back across the mountains then his condition would surely worsen to the point of death within the next week.
Robert Sevier felt he had no choice. If he remained in vicinity of King’s Mountain, it would be just a matter of time before Tory bushwhackers found him and finished him off. He was determined to make it home. So he mounted his horse and with his nephew James Sevier and rode out of the camp back towards the mountains. Doubtless, the pain of riding a horse with a bullet hole in his lower back was intense. Most likely, the wound started bleeding again as they slowly made their way up the Yellow Mountain Road from North Cove and across the crest of the Blue Ridge. They followed the path by the North Toe River until they reached Bright’s place near Davenport Springs in modern-day Avery County. There, Robert Sevier dismounted his horse, sat down, and rested, leaning against the trunk of a lofty mountain oak. His nephew James got a campfire going using flint and steel and started cooking their meager rations. Suddenly, Robert’s condition worsened. The bleeding increased and he broke into feverish sweats. Infection had taken hold and the wound was inflamed. Within the hour, Robert Sevier was dead. His distraught nephew then dug a grave for his uncle beneath that oak tree, lovingly wrapped his body in a blanket, and placed him in the grave. After uttering a few words and lifting his name up in prayer, James Sevier continued on across the Yellow Mountain Road back to the Watauga Settlements to deliver the tragic news to Robert’s widow Keziah. Robert’s body lays there to this day
She would remarry to a fellow veteran of the King’s Mountain Campaign, Major Jonathan Tipton, and the two would return to the Toe River Valley years later, most likely in present-day Yancey County, where she later passes away. Today, her remains too lie undisturbed somewhere in the valley.
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 by Jonathan Bennett and 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, Google Podcasts and other pod catching software. 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 tour the region for Revolutionary War graves and look at the revival of the story of the Battle one hundred years later
- Dr. Joseph Dobson, Sr. Biography
- The ‘Murderous‘ Medical Practice of the 18th Century
- The History of Bloodletting
- Bloodletting and Blisters: Solving the Medical Mystery of George Washington’s Death
- That Quacking Sound in Colonial America
- Better to Eat That Apple A Day: Medicine in the Revolutionary Era
- Fighting Infection
- Emergency Medicine in Colonial America: Revolutionary War Casualties
- Medicine and Surgery During the Revolutionary War: Did the Doctors Go Through Medical Training?
- Find A Grave – Robert Sevier
- John Sevier’s Mitchell County Connections
- Visiting Our Past: Spruce Pine & North Toe History