Sunday, March 19, 2023

ARP268 King’s Mountain

In our last episode, the Overmountain men had assembled a force of about 1400 patriot militia who were moving in early October 1780 to confront the loyalist militia under British Major Patrick Ferguson near Gilbert Town, North Carolina.

King's Mountain - Death of Ferguson
Despite having gathered a large number of militia, there were many reasons to think that the fight would go badly for the patriots.  These were largely untested militia.  Most of these men were not from the immediate region and were not familiar with the locality.  Some were from Virginia, some from South Carolina, and many from the frontier area that is now Tennessee. They also had no food or supplies, except what they carried on themselves.  Any campaign that lasted more than a few days was going to make the lack of supplies a real problem.

The obvious apparent commander of this army should have been General Thomas Sumter.  But Sumter had left his army to go find South Carolina Governor, who had fled into North Carolina and had granted someone else overall command of the militia.  Sumter could not command this army until he got Sumter’s permission, and had ridden off to get that resolved.  Instead, there was no single commander.  Various militia colonels including Benjamin Cleveland, James Johnson, William Campbell, John Sevier, Joseph McDowell, John Williams and Isaac Shelby operated more as a committee, trying to decide by consensus how to attack the enemy.

Meanwhile, the British commander Ferguson heard about the enemy’s approach.  Fearing that the patriots might have large numbers, he opted to move east where he could link up with General Cornwallis’s army occupying Charlotte.  When the enemy got too close, however, Ferguson moved to some high ground at a place called King's Mountain.  From there, he expected he could defend against any attack.  Even if outnumbered, the loyalists could hold out until General Cornwallis sent reinforcements from Charlotte, which was about a day’s march away.

Approaching King's Mountain

On October 4, the patriot militia reached Gilbert Town, where Ferguson and the loyalists had their headquarters a few days earlier.  The column continued marching to Cowpens two days later.  They learned that Ferguson was only a few miles to the east, and that his men were trying to link up with Cornwallis before they could catch him.  The patriots began a night march trying to catch up with their foe before the enemy could link up with the main British army.

Gathering at Sycamore Shoals
The night march did not go well.  Local guides did not seem to know where they were going. The men got lost all through the woods. Many wandered off the small winding paths and found themselves in the middle of a dark woods.  On top of all that they endured a pouring rain.  The men struggled to keep their rifles and powder dry for the expected battle.  The column had planned to ford a river, but found it too swollen, and had to march miles out of their way to find another route.  Shortly before dawn on October 7, the army stopped its march to reassess, and to send out scouts to figure out where the enemy was.

Enoch Gilmer volunteered to scout out the enemy while the army caught a few hours of rest out in the open in the miserable rain.  After some time, he returned to inform the leaders that they were still about 15 miles from the enemy at King's Mountain.  The army began moving again, stopping only for breakfast which consisted of raiding a local cornfield and eating raw ears of corn.  Most of the locals in this area seemed to lean Tory, so they were little help.  The commanders seized two local Tories and ordered them to guide the army to King's Mountain or be hanged.

As they got within a few miles, Colonel Williams of the Virginia militia spotted the scout, Enoch Gilmer’s horse, in front of a Tory home.  Gilmer had been pretending to be a loyalist looking to join up with Ferguson, so Williams played into that lie.  He entered the home with several of his soldiers, holding a noose and threatening to hang Gilmer as a loyalist.  Gilmer was enjoying a breakfast with the two women of the home. He played along and begged for mercy.

Isaac Shelby

The men removed Gilmer from the home and took him far enough away to give his report without blowing his cover.  The loyalist women had sold some chickens to Ferguson personally the day before at his camp on King's Mountain, so their information was pretty accurate and up to date.  

As they approached, they captured a few more loyalist scouts who were forced to give the locations of their pickets.  They also captured a 14 year old courier who Ferguson had sent with a message for Cornwallis to send reinforcements immediately.  The boy informed his interrogators that Ferguson was wearing a checkered shirt over his red officer’s coat.  

The officers decided on a simple plan.  They were going to surround Kings Mountain, which was really more of a wooded hill, and move toward the enemy from all sides at once.

The Battle

By the afternoon of October 7, the patriot militia had surrounded King’s Mountain. The attackers numbered about 900.  They were facing about 1100 loyalists who maintained the high ground.  Again, there was no single American commander coordinating the attack.  The attackers divided into eight separate units of a little over 100 men each.  They took different positions around the mountain and agreed they would all advance at the same time.

The top of the mountain, which was only about 1000 feet at its highest point, was clear cut, but the approaches contained a thick covering of trees and rocks.

In the loyalist camp on top of the hill Major Ferguson had not bothered to build any entrenchments or other defenses.  He planned to rely on his trained militia and their use of bayonets to take out any attackers.  Ferguson knew that the patriot militia had no bayonets and could not take a massed force of soldiers standing in line with bayonets.  In any direct confrontation, the patriots would be compelled to give way.

Ferguson saw the enemy approaching and organized his men into defensive positions around the camp.  According to one account, he told his men:

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.

By this time in the war, there was no sympathy for those on the other side. There had been too many massacres, executions of prisoners, destroying people’s homes and crops, and attacks on families, for either side to accept trying to live together.  One side had to die.  The countersign, the patriots used that day was “Buford” a reference to Colonel Abraham Buford, the commanding Continental officer whose men had been massacred by the loyalists after trying to surrender.  It was a reminder to all that this was not about taking prisoners.  It was about killing the enemy.

The advance up the mountain began about 2:00 PM.  The attackers let out a blood curdling high-pitched war whoop similar to those used by native warriors going into battle.  It was also a forerunner of the so-called rebel yell used by southerners during the Civil War.  The yells unnerved the loyalist defenders, but they held their lines.

As William Campbell’s Virginia militia advanced toward the summit, Ferguson ordered his loyalists to charge them with bayonets.  The attackers, who only had rifles without bayonets, withdrew back to the bottom of the mountain with the loyalists chasing them.  Then the loyalists had to pull back up the mountain because of advances led by Isaac Shelby coming from the other side of the mountain.  Ferguson’s loyalists then ran a bayonet charge against Shelby’s men, forcing them to retreat back down the mountain as well.

Ferguson had hoped that once his loyalists had chased the enemy down the mountain, that the men would continue to run away, as they had a Camden.  That did not happen. As soon as the loyalists withdrew from the attack on Campbell’s patriots, they reassembled and advanced again.  When the loyalists went after another group of attackers, they could chase them away, but only temporarily.  They could not chase the men too far or the attackers would become isolated from the main force of defenders and leave themselves vulnerable.

For most of the next hour or so of fighting was loyalists pushing one group of patriots down the mountain, then returning to push another group, only to have the first group reform and start back up the mountain.

Ferguson was correct that the Americans would not fight the loyalists in a straight up hand to hand battle.  They would get close enough to use their rifles to pick off loyalists from a distance, pull back when attacked, then return, taking cover behind rocks and trees to resume their shots at the enemy.

Militia Advance on King's Mountain
The men fighting one another had been friends, neighbors, even family before the war.  They knew each other well. If anything that only seemed to increase the bitterness they felt for one another.  One patriot soldier, Thomas Robertson, reported hearing someone calling his name.  When he poked out from behind a tree, a rifle bullet nearly hit him.  He saw that his neighbor had called to him from the loyalist lines in an attempt to get him to expose himself and be killed.  Instead, Robertson returned the shot, mortally wounding his neighbor.

Isaac Shelby recalled seeing two brothers take aim at each other from opposite sides of the fighting.  Both fired at the same time and both fell, presumably killing each other.  There were numerous stories of brothers shooting at their brothers, or men targeting those they knew on the other side.  Although the patriots tried to avoid hand to hand combat, there were times when it was inevitable, and the fighting grew fierce.  Many patriot riflemen got close enough to fire on the loyalist camp, decimating their ranks.  They also killed a number of civilians in the camp.  Ferguson had a woman with him named Virginia Sal.  She was killed by a rifle bullet while in the camp.

After about an hour of fighting, the loyalists realized that they could not chase off the rebels and that they were increasingly becoming sitting ducks for the patriot riflemen surrounding their camp.  Several units tried to surrender, only to have Major Ferguson knock down their flags and order them to continue fighting.  Eventually, Ferguson realized that the battle was not going to go in his favor, and he had no interest in trying to surrender.  Instead, he and a few of his officers mounted horses and tried to rush through the enemy lines to make their escape.

Militia shoot Ferguson
Instead, numerous patriot rifles targeted him and shot him off his horse.  He was later found to have been hit at least seven times, then after falling from his horse, his body was caught in the stirrup and dragged by his horse for some distance.

After Ferguson’s death, the defenders did not last long.  A few minutes later, the second in command, Captain Abraham De Peyster agreed to surrender.  Some of the attacking patriots were not ready to accept a surrender and continued to fire on the enemy anyway. Several patriot officers reported having to ride up and knock the guns out of the hands of their own men to force them to stop firing on the surrendering enemy.

Just as things were getting under control a loyalist foraging party that had been away from camp during the battle returned and opened fire on the Americans. They killed Colonel Williams.  Many patriot soldiers thought the prisoners were trying to rise up and opened fire on their prisoners.  Once again, the officers had to stop the men from killing.


Once the killing stopped, there was still the need to deal with the surviving loyalists.  About 150 had been killed, with another 163 wounded and the majority 668 taken prisoner.  The patriots had lost only 28 killed and 60 wounded. Many loyalists, both dead and living, had their property taken from them including their clothing.  Many were handled roughly and even beaten.  Many of the dead were buried in shallow mass graves.  

Many of the wounded loyalists were simply left where they lay, dying slowly from blood loss or lack of water.  Over the coming nights, wolves and wild dogs feasted on the corpses and the badly wounded men who were left on the field.  For months afterward, many locals refused to eat hogs from the area because it was believed they had also feasted on the corpses of the men left on King’s Mountain.

For the prisoners still able to travel, many did not fare much better. After having their shoes and coats taken, they were marched over forty miles without any food. The lack of food was a problem for both the prisoners and the victors, many of whom had not eaten for several days.  During the march, the patriots continued to assault, abuse, and even kill some of the prisoners. The Americans managed to capture a cache of muskets on King’s Mountain.  They forced each prisoner to carry two muskets (with the firelocks removed of course) during the march to prison.

Marker where militia hanged prisoners.

A week after the battle, during the march away from King’s Mountain, the patriots decided to hold trials for some of the prisoners, accusing them of treason, deserting from patriot militia to join the enemy, or other crimes.  The court martial found thirty-six prisoners, mostly loyalist officers, guilty and began hanging them, three at a time.  After the executions of nine of the prisoners, other patriot officers put a stop to the executions, in part because they needed to get moving again after rumors that Colone lTarleton’s cavalry was on its way to intercept them.  

The march continued up to Salem, North Carolina.  Along the way more than 100 of the prisoners escaped.  Many made their way to Charleston or Fort Ninety-six where they rejoined loyalist units.  A few unlucky prisoners attempted to escape, but were captured and then executed.  Eventually, the force reached Salem by early November where the remaining prisoners were held.

Cornwallis Retreats

Following the destruction of the Loyalist Army under Ferguson, General Cornwallis determined that his position in Charlotte, North Carolina was simply untenable.  The hostility that his occupation army continued to face when it ventured outside of town, and the inability to recruit any new loyalist militia in North Carolina after the loss at King’s Mountain, meant that the presence of the British in North Carolina only subjected them to attack.

British Wagon
The British evacuated Charlotte and began a seventy mile march to the small town of Winnsboro in South Carolina. During the march, through a cold and near-constant rain, Cornwallis himself took ill and had to be carried in a wagon full of straw.  He and six other officers had grown deathly ill and were in there with him.  Within a few days, five of them were dead.  Cornwallis, however, managed to regain his health and resume command.

Instead of continuing his advance into North Carolina, Cornwallis opted to secure his position in South Carolina for the rest of the winter.  Even though there was no longer an organized Continental Army in North Carolina, the local hostility had proven too difficult to overcome.

Concerned that even a defensive position in South Carolina would prove too tempting for an attack, to help bolster his position, Cornwallis ordered General Alexander Leslie, who was engaged in a series of raids in southern Virginia, to stop his raids and to sail down to Charleston, South Carolina to support British control of the colony.  Leslie did not want to end his successful raids in the Chesapeake, which had only begun.  But after confirming with General Clinton that he needed to follow Cornwallis’ orders, Leslie complied.   However, given delays in communications and Leslie’s initial reluctance, he did not reach Charleston until mid-December.

Alexander Leslie

Back in New York, British General Henry Clinton did not receive word of the loss at King’s Mountain until November.  Clinton later criticized Cornwallis for moving into North Carolina without proper support, and for giving the rebels a victory that would bolster their morale and damage efforts to recruit more loyalist militia.

For the Americans, the victory at King’s Mountain put an end to any immediate threat of further British offensives into North Carolina.  General Thomas Sumter returned to the militia army with orders from Governor Rutherford giving him undisputed command over the South Carolina militia.  But since his chief rival, Colonel Williams, had been killed at King’s Mountain, the pre-battle dispute had been rendered moot anyway.  

Most of the Overmountain men returned to their homes on the frontier.  Indeed, many of them had left even before the army got their prisoners to Salem.  The men had marched and fought without food and supplies.  Many were sick and on the verge of starvation.  Despite the victory, they were eager to return home for the winter.

Once again, neither side had much of an army in North Carolina.  It would be several more months before the Continentals could send a new commander to replace Horatio Gates.  General Nathanael Greene would not take command until December.

Next time: we head back to update New York, where the loyalists and Iroquois continue to fight for control of the Hudson Valley.

- - -

Next Episode 269 Stone Arabia (Available April 2, 2023)

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Further Reading


Kings Mountain:

Battle of King’s Mountain:

King’s Mountain

Battle of King’s Mountain:

James Williams:

Lynch, Wayne Death of a Patriot at King’s Mountain” Journal of the American Revolution, Jan. 14, 2014:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Battle at King's Mountain October 7, 1780, King's Mountain Centennial Association, 1880. 

Army War College Historical Statements Concerning the Battle of Kings Mountain and the Battle of the Cowpens, GPO, 1928. 

Henderson, W. Kings Mountain and its Campaign, Greensboro, N.C., The Guilford battleground company, 1903. 

Draper, Lyman C. King's Mountain and its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It, Cincinnati: P.G.Thomson, 1881. 

Lathan, Robert Historical Sketch of the Battle of King's Mountain: Fought Between the American and British Troops, at King's Mountain, York Co., S.C. October 7, 1780, Yorkville, SC: Office of the Enquirer, 1880. 

National Park Service Rifles and Riflemen at the Battle of Kings Mountain, 1941. 

White, Katherine Keogh The King's Mountain Men, The Story of the Battle, with Sketches of the American Soldiers Who Took Part, Dayton, VA: Joseph K. Ruebush company, 1924. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Alderman, Pat The Overmountain Men, Overmountain Press, 1986 (borrow on 

Brown, Robert W. Jr. Kings Mountain and Cowpens: Our Victory Was Complete, History Press 2009. 

Dameron, Dave &  J. David Dameron Kings Mountain: The Defeat of the Loyalists October 7, 1780,  Da Capo Press, 2003.  

Dunkerly, Robert M. The Battle of Kings Mountain: Eyewitness Accounts, History Press, 2007

Dykeman, Wilma The Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780: With Fire and Sword, NPS 1978 (borrow on 

Epley, Joe A Passel of Hate, Tryon, NC: Foxwood Press, 2011 (borrow on  

Messick, Hank King's Mountain: The epic of the Blue Ridge "mountain men" in the American Revolution, Little Brown, 1976 (borrow on 

Tucker, Phillip Thomas Kings Mountain: America's Most Forgotten Battle That Changed the Course of the American Revolution, Skyhorse, 2023 (June release).

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

AR267 Battle of Charlotte

For the last few weeks, I’ve been covering the defection of Benedict Arnold in New York.  This week we are headed back to the Carolinas where the war is raging in the fall of 1780.  After the British captured Charleston, South Carolina, the British commander Henry Clinton returned to New York City.  He left General Charles Cornwallis in charge of the southern army, with Major Patrick Ferguson in charge of raising local militia.  

Since Britain was, by this time, fighting a world war with France and Spain, the North American theater could not have nearly as many British soldiers as they did at the beginning of the war.  Any successful strategy had to rely on local loyalist to supplement their ranks. The British managed to raise seven battalions of loyalists in the south in the months following the fall of Charleston.  Clinton was confident that the stronger loyalist base in the south would be enough to secure the region with a minimum of regulars.

Despite recruiting efforts though, loyalist numbers began to fall.  Partisan activity grew, while loyalists became concerned that a British victory was not a certainty.  General Cornwallis thought he had secured South Carolina after his victory at Camden, and wanted to move into North Carolina.  This left South Carolina in an even more precarious position.

Leslie’s Raids

Cornwallis sent increasingly plaintive notes to General Clinton in New York, asking for more reinforcements.  But Clinton was short of men himself, and thought Cornwallis needed to rely on the loyalist regiments that he had raised.   To take some of the pressure off of Cornwallis, Clinton ordered Major General Alexander Leslie to engage in a series of raids in Virginia.

Alexander Leslie

General Leslie was an experienced veteran of the war.  You may recall very early in this series, Lieutenant Colonel Leslie led a raid on Salem, Massachusetts to capture some rebel cannons a few months before Lexington.  Leslie had been an officer in the regular arm in America since 1768.

In 1776, as the British prepared to invade New York, Leslie received a promotion to brigadier, and commanded regiments at the battles of Brooklyn and White Plains and under Cornwallis at Trenton.  By 1779, Leslie rose to the rank of major general and participated in the capture of Charleston.  After that, Leslie had returned to New York, along with General Clinton and most of the army.

Since Clinton took command, he was concerned that a French fleet would deny Britain control of the seas off the Atlantic coast.  But by late 1780, the British had the small French fleet in America bottled up at Newport, Rhode Island, and the larger French fleet trapped in Brest back in France.  Clinton felt reasonably comfortable sending Leslie to Virginia aboard navy ships where his men could raid plantations as the British had done briefly the year before.  Clinton felt that this would presumably relieve pressure on Cornwallis’ army as it moved into North Carolina.

General Clinton’s orders specified that Leslie’s raids in the Chesapeake Bay were to “pursue such measures as you shall judge most likely to answer the purposes of this expedition, the principle object of which is to make a diversion in favor of Lieutenant General Earl Cornwallis.”  

Leslie would establish a base in Portsmouth, Virginia and plan a series of attacks into not only Virginia, but also into North Carolina from the north, as well as move soldiers up river to inland areas around the Chesapeake that served as ammunition and supply depots for the rebels in the south.  A fleet brought about two thousand British forces under Leslie, which occupied Portsmouth and Hampton Roads.  While this caused some panic in Richmond, the occupation did not last long and did not really amount to anything.  It did, however, give Cornwallis more confidence of support as he marched northward.

British Enter North Carolina

Following the British victory at Camden, South Carolina in mid-August, General Cornwallis took a pause.  Later, General Clinton would criticize this delay since there was no real organized resistance to the British in North Carolina in the weeks following Camden.  Continental General Horatio Gates had fled to Hillsboro.  Most of his Continentals were killed or captured at Camden.  The militia who fled the field largely returned home, meaning there was no army to contest the British under Cornwallis.

But Cornwallis had his own difficulties.  In order to win Camden, he had to engage in a rapid march followed immediately by a battle, which completely exhausted his men.  The South Carolina summer was brutally hot.  The men needed time to recover.  There were also still partisans in South Carolina which threatened British supply lines.  Cornwallis had deployed forces to disperse them, before he stretched his lines even further. Another concern was that one of his top field officers, Colonel Banastre Tarleton was struck by the most relentless enemy of the war, disease.  Tarleton had to take to his bed for several weeks with a bad case of yellow fever.

So it was not until September 8, that Cornwallis began to march his army into North Carolina, toward Charlotte, and with the eventual goal of reaching Hillsboro.  Because he had to leave a garrison at Camden, Cornwallis commanded a force of only about 2200 men, about 1500 regulars and 700 loyalists.  

Even after resting his army at Camden for weeks, the fifty mile march to Charlotte proved frustratingly slow.  Disease spread through the British ranks, requiring Cornwallis to pause just south of Charlotte for several more weeks.  It was not until September 26, that he felt his men were ready to take the town.

Major George Hanger
Cornwallis ordered Major George Hanger to lead an advance force into the town.  Hanger has an interesting history in his own right.  Born in Britain to a Baron, Hanger trained for the military from an early age.  He was not the first born son, so he could not expect to inherit his father’s title.  Instead, he looked to a career in the British Army.  

He had attended Eaton, then went to the University of Göttingen in what is today Germany.  It was common for British officers to serve alongside Prussians, who were a traditional ally of Britain, but I find it odd for a teenager to start his military career in this foreign army.  It did not last long because by age 19, he purchased an ensign’s commission in the British Army.  Five years later, in 1776, he purchased a promotion to lieutenant.  However, after a more junior officer purchased a commission above him, Hanger resigned and returned to Europe.  There, he joined a Hessian regiment that was headed to America.  So this former British officer, was now a Hessian captain, who would serve under British commanders while leading a Hessian cavalry company.

By 1780, now Major Hanger was serving as a major in Banastre Tarleton’s legion.  With Colonel Tarleton still sick with yellow fever, Hanger was the man who led the cavalry into Charlotte.

Battle of Charlotte

Like Colonel Tarleton, Hanger hoped that speed would give him an advantage. He rushed his 150 cavalrymen into the town ahead of the advancing infantry.  The Americans, however, were aware for weeks that the British planned to attack the town and were waiting.

Although the Americans did not have enough forces to defend the town, they did leave a force to contest the British entry.  The American defenses fell to the command of Colonel William Davie.  

Despite his rank Colonel Davie was only 24 years old.  He had been a law student in the early part of the war and had never served until 1778.  Even then, it was only a brief militia force that never saw combat, and after which he returned to his studies.  In the spring of 1779 though, after the British had captured Georgia, Davie helped form a new cavalry company in Salisbury, North Carolina.  He started service as a lieutenant in 1779, but rose quickly in rank.

In May, 1779 Davie served under the command of General Pulaski who promoted the young officer at Charleston.  Davie led a charge at the Battle of Stono Ferry where he suffered a serious wound and narrowly avoided capture.  He left active service to recuperate, and found time to pass the bar in November 1779.

By the summer of 1780, Davie had recuperated from his wounds and formed a new independent cavalry company.  Some time over the summer, Davie also received his promotion to colonel in the South Carolina Cavalry.  His company had hoped to catch up with the army under General Gates at Camden, but arrived too late to participate.  Instead of retreating with Gates and the remnants of the army, Davie continued south to recover supply wagons and scout enemy movements.

Colonel Davie received orders to cover the American withdrawal from Charlotte, North Carolina as the British Army approached.  Davie’s 150 mounted militia formed the defense of Charlotte behind various stone walls near the center of town.  Only a portion of his men held the center, with others, some still mounted, guarding the flanks or held in reserve.  Davie was facing Cornwallis’ full army of 2200 men, so there was no expectation that the defenses would hold for long.

When British Major Hanger entered Charlotte with his 150 members of Tarleton’s cavalry on September 26, they ran straight into Davie’s South Carolina militia, who held the high ground behind stone walls.  The British cavalry was used to rushing the enemy with enthusiasm in hopes of unnerving the defenders and breaking their lines.  Instead, the British ran into a volley of fire and were forced to withdraw.

Resistance to British in Charlotte
A firefight ensued from a distance as the British cavalry waited for their infantry to catch up with them. Once the infantry arrived, the British could use their superior numbers to advance forward, taking cover behind houses and walls.  

The Americans realized that if they continued to hold their position, they might be encircled and captured.  Instead, Davie ordered a disciplined withdrawal.  The British pursued and began a second firefight about a mile outside of town.  The Americans fired back but continued to retreat, resulting in a running firefight over the next five miles.

The fighting eventually reached the camp of General Jethro Sumner, who had a much larger force of Americans.  Even so, the British cavalry pushed in Sumter’s pickets and continued to press forward before finally being driven back by superior numbers.

By this time, it was getting dark, so the British legion returned to Charlotte for the night.  The Americans then withdrew about sixteen miles away to avoid another battle that might involve the entire British army under Cornwallis.

The British took the town, but suffered 44 casualties.  The Americans suffered only eleven.

The British occupied Charlotte but would continue to face harassing fire for weeks following the occupation.  Any foraging parties would regularly come under attack from American militia.  It got so bad that Cornwallis had to send half his force, about one thousand men, with the foraging parties to provide cover.  The thick woods surrounding the town provided effective cover and made pursuit particularly difficult.

Cornwallis also found himself nearly cut off.  Attempts to send messengers back to South Carolina, almost always resulted in their capture.

A week after taking Charlotte, General Cornwallis in a letter to another officer commented “This County of Mecklenburg is the most rebellious and inveterate that I have met with in this country, not excepting any part of the Jerseys.”

Given the violent reaction to the British Army’s presence, Cornwallis, once again, delayed any plans to march further north and take Hillsboro, which was still 140 miles away.  Instead, his army hunkered down and awaited loyalist reinforcements under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson.

Ferguson Moves North

About the same time that Cornwallis had begun his march into North Carolina, Major Ferguson had also begun his own advance.  Ferguson planned to move from western South Carolina, into western North Carolina.  This would protect Cornwallis’ flank and also give Ferguson an opportunity to recruit loyalists in that region.  A few months earlier, North Carolina loyalists had begun to form on their own, only to get shut down by the patriots at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.  So while this was hostile territory for the British, they also had good reason to believe that a fair portion of the population was ready to join them.

Patrick Ferguson

In some ways, this was a dangerous maneuver.  Cornwallis was dividing his forces in hostile territory.  Ferguson started out with only 300 men, most of them local militia, when he began his march.  The British believe the risk was a reasonably small one because the American resistance had appeared to fall apart after Camden.  Only small bands of rebels still roamed around.  Ferguson believed that his small brigade could handle whatever they would confront.

As Ferguson moved north, the plan seemed to work pretty well.  He managed to recruit another 900 loyalists as he moved into western North Carolina, bringing his total force to around 1200 men, about half of what Cornwallis commanded.  If Ferguson had just marched with Cornwallis, he never would have had the opportunity to recruit these new reinforcements.

In early September, weeks before Cornwallis was able to take Charlotte, Ferguson’s men moved to Gilbert Town, NC, a small town about 55 miles west of Charlotte. They engaged in some skirmishing but found many of the locals inclined to cooperate.  Many locals came in to take oaths of allegiance.  What the British did not know was that American officers had told them to do this in order to protect their herds of cattle.  If they had refused to take an oath, the British would have seized or slaughtered their herds.  The Americans wanted these herds protected for when they took back control of the region.

Believing he had the advantage, on September 10, Ferguson released one of his prisoners with a message.  He ordered the man to ride west from Gilbert Town and find American Colonel Isaac Shelby and deliver a message to all the people living in the west, known as the “Over Mountain Men”.  Ferguson informed them that if they did not end all resistance, that he would march his loyalist army over the mountains, “hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.” 

Patriots Assemble

Shelby, who we last discussed in Episode 260, led a group of patriot militia who had fought some particularly brutal fighting, including Musgrove’s Mill, before retreating further west to the frontier settlements.  Colonel Shelby began coordinating with other militia leaders to get a large enough force to challenge Ferguson’s loyalist army.  Over the next two weeks, the patriots assembled an army led by men such as John Sevier, Charles McDowell, and William Campbell.  

The smaller bands converged at Sycamore Shoals, in what is today eastern Tennessee.  These were all militiamen.  Some were refugees from the battles in South Carolina.  A good portion of them were Virginia militia who had been fighting in the Carolinas for some time.  Still others were the Overmountain men who lived in what is today Tennessee.  These men were motivated to prevent Ferguson from carrying the war to them, where Ferguson might raise Indian allies to wipe out the frontier settlements, that would all the men, women, and children.

The Overmountain men were able to negotiate at least a temporary truce with the local Cherokee. This allowed them to take their forces east, leave their homes relatively unprotected, and challenge Ferguson near his headquarters at Gilbert Town.

This force of about 1100 men crossed over the mountains, moving east.  By September 30, they arrived in Quaker Meadows, where they met up with the Wilkes County Militia, which had turned out under the command of Colonel Benjamin Cleveland.  By this the total force was close to 1400 men.

Thomas Sumter

One important commander who was not with the army was General Thomas Sumter.  As you may recall, Sumter was a South Carolina officer who had dropped out of the war, only to join after British cavalry attempted to arrest him and burned his plantation.  Sumter had gathered a small army of militia under his command, and with no real legal authority, assumed the rank of general to command them.

While Sumter was still fighting in the backcountry, another officer Colonel James Williams carried several dozen British prisoners to Hillsboro, North Carolina, where South Carolina Governor John Rutledge had set up his government in exile.  Rutledge commissioned Williams as general of militia.

With his commission in hand, Williams rode into Sumter's camp along the Catawba River sometime in September, and informed all of Sumter’s men that they were now under his command.  The men refused, saying that they would only serve under Sumter.  They voted to send a delegation to Hillsboro to get this sorted out with Governor Rutledge. The delegation, including Sumter and most of his top officers, left for Hillsboro on September 30th, at the same time the Overmountain men were assembling to attack Ferguson.  While they were away, the bulk of his force remained where they were with two of Sumter’s aides in command.

After they reached Governor Rutledge a few days later, he acceded to their requests, and granted Sumter a formal commission as brigadier general and as commander of all South Carolina militia.

With his formal commission, Sumter returned to his men.  But events had overtaken him. While he was away, the assembled force of Overmountain men had moved east to confront Major Ferguson’s loyalists at Gilbert Town.

Aware that an enemy force was approaching, Ferguson moved to some high ground in the area, a hill known as King’s Mountain.  It was there that he would hold out until General Cornwallis could send a relief force.  And we’ll have to discuss the results of that battle next week, when we finally reach the Battle of King’s Mountain.

- - -

Next Episode 268 King's Mountain (Available March 19, 2023)

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Further Reading


Pieczynski, Christopher The Maritime War: The Revolutionary War in Princess Anne County: 

Anderson, William L. Where Did Cornwallis’s Army Invade North Carolina?

Saberton, Ian “George Hanger - His Adventures in the American Revolutionary War End” Journal of the American Revolution, Feb. 17, 2017.

Saberton, Ian “The British Entry into, and Occupation of Charleston” Journal of the American Revolution, Oct. 11, 2022.

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Coleraine, George (ed) The life, adventures, and opinions of Col. George Hanger London: J. Debbit, 1801.

Crow, Jeffrey (ed) The Southern Experience in the American Revolution, Univ. of NC Press, 1978. 

Millspaugh, Arthur C. Loyalism in North Carolina during the American Revolution, Univ. of Illinois Thesis, 1910. 

Rankin, Hugh North Carolina in the American Revolution , Raleigh: State Dept. of Archives & History, 1965.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Buchanan, John The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas, Wiley, 1999. 

DeMond, Robert O. The Loyalists in North Carolina During the Revolution, Duke Univ. Press, 1940 (borrow on

Edgar, Walter B. Partisans and Redcoats: The southern conflict that turned the tide of the American Revolution, New York: Morrow, 2001 (borrow on

Ferling, John Winning Independence: The Decisive Years of the Revolutionary War, 1778-1781, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. 

Lumpkin, Henry From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South, Univ of SC Press, 1981 (borrow on 

Russell, David Lee. The American Revolution in the Southern Colonies. McFarland & Company, 2000 (borrow on

Swisher, James K., The Revolutionary War in the Southern Back Country, Pelican Publishing, 2008 (borrow on 

Wickwire, Franklin B. Cornwallis and the War of Independence, Houghton Mifflin, 1971 (borrow on 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.