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The Battle of King's Mountain-A Colonists' Victory... Well... Sort OfPosted Tuesday, November 13, 2012, at 4:13 PM
On October 7, 1780 a battle was fought on King's Mountain in northern South Carolina that changed the course of the War for Independence. It was a resounding victory for the patriots and its repercussions were an obstacle that could not be overcome by the British.
The king's forces were led by Major Patrick Ferguson, a Scotsman and inventor of the Ferguson rifle. Major Ferguson's forces had been assigned to an outpost in Gilbert Town, North Carolina to prevent militia attacks while the main British army moved toward Charlotte. While there, Ferguson made the mistake of sending a threatening letter to the leaders of a patriot militia group called the Overmountain Men. These were backwoodsmen who had settled beyond the Appalachian Mountains and were very skilled with small caliber rifles.
The patriots responded by organizing an attack on Ferguson at his outpost. Upon hearing of the advancing militia, Ferguson began a retreat with his 1100 troops toward the main army. Thinking that he was well ahead of the patriots, he chose to camp overnight on top of King's Mountain.
The patriots had received intelligence reports revealing the location of Ferguson's camp and created an attack plan. The 900 patriots broke up into eight groups and approached the camp on top of King's Mountain from all directions. Ferguson and his men, caught completely off guard, formed ranks for open field combat while the patriots used trees and rocks for protection.
After a 65 minute battle that involved several bayonet charges by Ferguson's men and repeated cycles of fire, retreat, reload, charge, and fire again by the Overmountain Men, Ferguson's men were forced to surrender. The patriot victory was decisive and absolute.
The aftermath revealed 668 colonists captured, 221 wounded, and 318 dead. The totals for the British were none captured, none wounded, and one dead. This is not a misprint. There was only one British casualty. How can that be?
Every single combatant in the Battle of King's Mountain, except for Major Ferguson, was a colonist.
Those colonists fighting for independence were called patriots or rebels, while those supporting the crown were called loyalists. The number of loyalists in the colonies is uncertain. American historians estimate 15-20% of the population of the colonies remained loyal to the British. The Brits claim the number was closer to 40%, while John Adams himself believed one-fourth of the population refused to join the patriots.
Many colonists preferred not to take sides but were not given the option of remaining neutral. Within the patriot movement there was such fervor that people suspected of being a loyalist or simply not being supportive enough of the revolution were harassed, threatened, and lived in constant fear. Many were tarred and feathered, burnt out, ostracized, or had the lives of their families threatened.
Colonial legislatures passed laws seizing assets and property and imposing severe penalties on those deemed loyal to the crown. Many colonial politicians reaped huge profits from the seizure of loyalist properties. The Treaty of Paris, which ended the War for Independence, provided that reparations be paid to colonials who had lost property due to seizure. In spite of this, few ever received compensation.
After the Battle of King's Mountain the patriots hung some of the prisoners they had captured. This fact along with the seizing of assets and threats to family prevented those still loyal to the crown from any meaningful participation for the remainder of the war. Without the active support of loyal colonists, the British found it much more difficult to resupply and recruit troops.
No matter how you define it, the War for Independence, the war which birthed a nation and tore it from the grasp of what was the most powerful empire in the world, was also that young nation's first civil war.
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I have been happily married to Amy for twelve years and am the proud father of Elizabeth and Noah. I majored in history and minored in political science at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS, home of the 2011 NCAA Division II Football National Champion Pittsburg State Gorillas. I was privileged to be selected to teach at Pittsburg State while in graduate school and completed my Master of Arts in History in 2010 with Graduate Deans Academic Honors.
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