King’s Mountain was a military engagement between Patriot and Loyalist militias in South Carolina during the Southern Campaign of the American Revolutionary War, resulting in a decisive victory for the Patriots.
- Cornwallis sent Major Patrick Ferguson (“The Bulldog”) into western North Carolina to recruit Loyalist soldiers and to protect Cornwallis’ flank (Cornwallis and the main body of his army was near Charlotte, NC at the time).
- Ferguson engaged in campaign of plunder in addition to recruiting.
- (Earlier in the war, before the Battle of Brandywine, Ferguson is said to have had the opportunity to shoot George Washington…but he passed up the chance.)
- Ferguson issued a proclamation to local Patriots that read “If you do not desist in your opposition to the British, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste to your country with fire and sword.”
- The proclamation was aimed primarily at “Overmountain Men,” settlers who lived beyond the Appalachians (in violation of British law) and who detested the British.
- Several small militia units (some from over the mountains, others from upstate North and South Carolina) marched toward Ferguson’s force.
- By October 1780, Ferguson’s force consisted of 120 British regulars and about 1000 Loyalist militiamen (but 200 were away on a foraging campaign). Ferguson, hearing of the Patriots’ approach, sent a dispatch to Cornwallis asking for reinforcements. Cornwallis was ill and did not reply.
- Ferguson deployed his force on a hill at King’s Mountain, NC (near the border with SC), a flat-topped hill covered with pine trees.
- He told his soldiers “Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of barbarians, I say, if you wish to be pinioned, robbed, and murdered and see your wives and daughters in four days abused by the dregs of mankind, in short, if you wish or deserve to live and better the name of men, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp. The backwater men have crossed the mountains. If you choose to be pissed upon forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once and let your women turn their backs upon you and look out for real men to protect them.”
- On October 7, the Patriots, with about 900 men, surrounded Ferguson’s army. One of the Patriot commanders shouted “Here they are, my brave boys! Shout like hell and fight like devils!” Many of the men shouted “Buford!” (the American commander at Waxhaws).
- Prior to the battle, the Patriots put pieces of white cloth or paper in their hats, while the Loyalists but springs of pine in theirs.
- Ferguson’s force was out in the open and were equipped with muskets. The Patriots charged up the hill. They were armed with rifles and fought mostly from the woods.
- American rifle fire was deadly. After four Patriot charges, Ferguson was killed, and the Loyalists tried to surrender. Many Americans yelled “Give them Buford’s play!” The Patriot militia killed 290, wounded 163, and captured 680 (total losses were 44%). The Americans lost only 28 killed and 62 wounded. The battle only lasted about an hour.
- After the battle, the Patriots hanged 9 Loyalists as traitors. One patriot said “Would to God that every tree in the forest should bear fruit like that.” More hangings had been planned, but senior Patriot leaders stopped it.
- Henry Clinton later wrote that “King’s Mountain was the first link in the chain of evils that followed in regular succession until they resulted in the loss of America.”
- JAR: “The annihilation of loyalist militia on the South Carolina frontier forced the British to revise their southern strategy and demonstrated that their overextended forces could be defeated in detail.”
- Tarleton: “The destruction of Ferguson and his corps marked the period and the extent of the first expedition into North Carolina… the total ruin of his militia presented a gloomy prospect at the commencement of the campaign.”
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