US postcard stamp issued in 1980, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain

The Battle of King’s Mountain was a crucial American victory in the War for Independence.  The British had taken the fighting to the South, confident the large number of Loyalists there would bring a Patriot defeat, and the fall of Charleston in May 1780 had indeed greatly disheartened Patriots.  However, the Patriot cause was reinvigorated in October 1780 with the Loyalist rout at Kings Mountain, which, according to National Park Service ranger Jonathan Bennett, “hurt British efforts to recruit Loyalists to the King’s Service.”  Following the battle, Joseph Greer of Sycamore Shoals was sent to inform the Continental Congress of the victory.  His journey to Philadelphia was 600 miles and took a month, but his report of the Patriot win re-energized a dispirited Continental Congress. The battlefield at Kings Mountain was quickly abandoned, as Patriots feared British reinforcements might move to confront them.  The dead were buried in shallow graves, and those too severely wounded to walk were left on the battlefield to die or in nearby homes to recuperate.  Dr. Uzal Johnson, Major Patrick Ferguson’s surgeon, and Joseph Dobson, Sr., tended the wounded of both sides after the battle.  Robert Sevier, brother of John Sevier, despite his severe wounds, insisted upon beginning the trek back to the Watauga settlement, but he died on the Yellow Mountain Road and was buried near the Davenport Spring.  His widow Keziah married Major Jonathan Tipton, and several of their sons later settled in what is now Mitchell County. Heading for the Backcountry from which they had assembled, the Overmountain Army halted October 14th, in northern Rutherford County, on property belonging to Aaron Biggerstaff. Resentment of the Tory prisoners had been building, fueled by accusations of abuse by Patriot citizens along the way.  A trial was conducted, with 36 Loyalists convicted on charges such as treason, desertion, and incitement of Indian rebellion.  Nine prisoners were hanged, 3 at a time, before Campbell and Shelby halted the executions.   The 9 hanged were Ambrose Mills, Robert Wilson, James Chitwood, Captain [Arthur] Grimes, Thomas Lafferty, Walter Gilkey, John Bibby, and Augustine Hobbs, plus Burke County’s John McFalls, who had whipped the 10-year old son of Martin Davenport.  McFalls’ brother Arthur was nearly hanged, but the McDowells spoke on his behalf.  The two deserters who left the Overmountain Men to warn Ferguson were pardoned by Colonel Sevier.  “He excused Samuel Chambers’s actions because of his youth and James Crawford had been Sevier’s friend and neighbor, so the personal connection saved him” (Bennett).  About 700 POW’s were to have been transported to Hillsborough and Colonial Army jurisdiction.  The march was brutal, in part due to shortage of food since Ferguson’s captured supplies had been burned.  Those who couldn’t keep up were beaten and often died before they reached their destination, but many more prisoners escaped and made their way home before about 130 prisoners were delivered to the stockade at Bethabara, near Salem. Kings Mountain was not the end of the Revolution for most of the Overmountain Men, as they continued to fight the Cherokee, who were allies of the British.  Some returned to South Carolina to liberate the state in 1781, joining American General Daniel Morgan’s forces as he defeated British Colonel Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens in January 1781.  But 12 months and 12 days after Kings Mountain, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, VA. A factor that made Kings Mountain unique among Revolutionary campaigns was that “large numbers of riflemen fought there” (National Park Service).  While the Loyalist militia was armed mostly with muskets, easier to load but not as accurate, the Patriot militiamen brought their hunting rifles to the battle.  Rifles took longer to load than the smooth-bore muskets, but their accuracy was 2 to 3 times higher.  Life on the frontier had furnished the Overmountain army with not only the fortitude to face Ferguson, but also the weaponry.  Future president Theodore Roosevelt wrote in The Winning of the West that the battle of Kings Mountain was a “brilliant victory [that] marked the turning point of the American Revolution.”  British General Cornwallis retreated into South Carolina, putting off his invasion of North Carolina.  “That allowed George Washington’s preferred choice, General Nathaniel Greene, to come south and take command of the Southern Continental Army in December.  Once that new leadership was in place, the series of events that led to the Battle of Cowpens, the race to the Dan, to Guilford Courthouse and finally to Yorktown was set in motion” (Bennett).  Although Patrick Ferguson was in command, actual British troops did not fight at Kings Mountain; it was a battle between Americans – practically a civil war.  On one side the fight was for independence, while the other side was loyal to England or reluctant to make the break.  In numerous communities across the Carolinas, lists of suspected Tories were drawn up, and frequently their property was confiscated, and their lives threatened.  Many settlers in what is now Mitchell County may be found on a 1782 Burke County tally of suspected Loyalists, including Lazarus Phillips, Blake Pearcy, Nathaniel Birchfield, Joshua Young, Hezekiah Hyatt, and Greenberry Wilson.  They moved into more isolated areas which were beyond Whig governments.

 

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