Location: Gaffney, South Carolina
Webpage: National Park
General Description: After capturing a Continental Army at Charleston in March, 1780 and another at Camden in August, General Cornwallis believed he had defeated the patriots in South Carolina and he was unopposed in taking North Carolina. He had defeated the majority of the organized troops in the South and captured the major cities at the time in South Carolina. Most of the population in South Carolina at the time lived within 30 miles of the coast with only scattered families and small towns in the backcountry. Along the coast was also where most of the loyalists that supported the Crown lived which was a major reason the British started the Southern campaign. Major Ferguson was tasked to organize the loyalist militia in the Carolina backcountry and to protect General Cornwallis’s left flank. By September 10, he had established a base camp at Gilbert Town, North Carolina on the future border of Tennessee. The small patriot militias had been conducting raids throughout the Carolinas, an example being Musgrove Mill in South Carolina, and making Ferguson’s job very difficult. He issued an ultimatum that either the patriot leaders lay down their arms or he would “lay waste to their country with fire and sword.” Up to this point the Scots-Irish backwoodsmen were more concerned with Cherokee attacks, which were supported by the British, than the Revolutionary War. However, this ultimatum had the opposite effect and the “Overmountain Men” formed up at Sycamore Shoals with the purpose of defeating Ferguson and his loyalist militia. Led by Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, they called on William Campbell, a Virginia militia leader to join them who called on Benjamin Cleveland to bring his North Carolina militia. They mustered at Sycamore Shoals in present day Tennessee and proceeded to give chase to Ferguson. Meeting up with some Georgia militiamen at Cowpens, they learned that Ferguson was heading north to Charlotte, North Carolina and General Cornwallis. Knowing that the Overmountain men were on his trail, Ferguson sent requests for reinforcements to Cornwallis, but was refused so he decided to face the Overmountain men at Kings Mountain. This heavily wooded high ground provided, in Ferguson’s opinion, an excellent defensible position, so he did not construct any additional fortifications. Since Ferguson was less than a day’s ride to Charlotte, the patriots needed to hurry. They put 900 men on horseback and rode through the night to reach Kings Mountain by early afternoon on October 7, 1780. They formed 8 detachments of 100-200 men each and surrounded the hilltop. While the hilltop would have been an excellent location against other British troops that relied on regimental formations and bayonet charges downhill, it proved to be a deathtrap. The Overmountain men were used to fighting Indians which was completely different than fighting English regiments. The heavily wooded slopes provided ample cover for the patriots with the long rifles against the much shorter ranged muskets of the English. The patriots moved up the hill on all sides going from tree to tree for cover. When the loyalist militia charged them with bayonets they would retreat back down the hill, only to regroup and start working their way back up. There were essentially no patriot commanders as each man knew how to fight in Indian fashion. After an hour of combat the patriots had gained one end of the hill and began rolling up the loyalists eventually catching them in a crossfire. The loyalists tried to surrender but Major Ferguson would not allow it cutting down their white flags until he was shot from his horse. It was reported that 50 patriots fired nearly at once at him, however, he was hit by at least seven bullets. The loyalists then surrendered and General Cornwallis had lost about a quarter of the forces he was counting on. Following the battle, most of the patriot militia went back home and disappeared. Kings Mountain was the first major victory against the British in the Southern Campaign and began the ultimate defeat of the British at Yorktown. Kings Mountain National Military Park includes a Visitor Center with a short video and museum, as well, as a walking tour that goes around and on top of the Mountain. Included on the walking tour are interpretive signs giving timed details of the battle, as well as the location of the grandstand used by President Hoover during the sesquicentennial celebration of the battle.
1) The Visitor Center was very well done. Not only does the video do an excellent job of describing the battle and its importance, but the museum has some outstanding exhibits. In the first place, it is laid out with large simulated trunks of the oak trees they would have found at the time on the hill. Inside each of the trunks was a video and audio presentation of interesting subjects related to the battle. For instance, one was on a comparison between the long rifles of the patriots and the Brown Bess muskets of the loyalists. While the long rifle is more accurate and longer range you could only get off one shot per minute, whereas the Brown Bess could be fired three times a minute. Definitely one of the most interesting museums about the Revolutionary War.
2) Once again we visited an historical site along with bus loads of grade school children. They had a number of demonstrations and other activities set up for the students (it was their Education Day) that was fun to watch. We also had the pleasure of watching them hurry around the walking tour, as they were not allowed to actually run.
3) The walking tour was well done giving a good sense of the battle and what it would have been like to storm the hill from the base. They have interpretive signs giving the beginning location of each of the patriot units.
4) There is not much left to see of the grandstand used by President Hoover. They had a picture of the over 70,000 people that attended the celebration to hear the President. It gave a good sense of the changes since then as the pictured showed no trees on the landscape that is now covered in a mixed hardwood forest.