Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Battle of Kings Mountain: recollections

The Battle of Kings Mountain, South Carolina, occurred on the 7th day of October, 1780, and resulted in the defeat of Lieutenant Colonel Ferguson, who commanded the royal forces, and the loss of his command, not one man escaping from the battle field. The thoroughness of the disaster, and the death of the brave and highly trusted leader, was by far the most serious blow to which the British forces operating in the Southern Provinces had been subjected. The immediate effect upon Cornwallis was to put an end, for the time being, to the further subjugation of the Province of North Carolina. His contemplated advance from Charlotte Town to Salisbury was menaced by a new and unheard of enemy—the men under Campbell, Shelby, Sevier, and others—who came from the region of the mountains, and the back waters that flow to the west; from places so remote and unknown to the British leaders as to be almost mythical. 
—Historical Section of the Army War College*
Lieutenant Anthony Allaire (Loyalist):
Friday, [October] 6th. Got in motion at four o'clock in the morning, and marched sixteen miles to Little King's Mountain, where we took up our ground.
[Diary of Lieut. Anthony Allaire, of Ferguson's Corps, 5 Mar - 29 Nov 1780]

Colonels William Campbell, Isaac Shelby, and Benjamin Cleveland (Patriots):
We reached the Cow Pens, on the Broad River, in South Carolina, where we were joined by Col. James Williams, on the evening of the 6th October, who informed us that the enemy lay encamped somewhere near the Cherokee Ford of Broad River, about thirty miles distant from us. By a council of the principal officers, it was then thought advisable to pursue the enemy that night with nine hundred of the best horsemen, and leave the weak horses and footmen to follow as fast as possible. We began our march with nine hundred of the best men about eight o'clock the same evening, marched all night, and came up with the enemy about three o'clock P.M. of the 7th, who lay encamped on the top of King's Mountain, twelve miles north of the Cherokee Ford, in the confidence they could not be forced from so advantageous a post.
[Colonels William Campbell, Isaac Shelby, and Benjamin Cleveland, Official Report, Battle of Kings Mountain, addressed to General Horatio Gates, published in the Virginia Gazette 18 November 1780]

Colonel Robert Gray (Loyalist):
[Lord Cornwallis] marched from Camden to Charlotte with his army and at the same time directed Major Ferguson, who although he knew his danger and was ordered to join the army, yet after retreating 60 miles he loitered away two days most unaccountably at Kings Mountain and thereby gave time to the rebel militia under the command of Gen. [James] Williams to come up with him, the rebels were greatly superior in number.
He had about 600 militia and 60 regulars, and action ensued in which our militia behaved with a degree of steadiness and spirit that would not have disgraced any regular troops. And the rebels were repulsed three times, but having changed their mode of attack and made an attempt on a small party of North Carolinians on our flank who were not so well disciplined as the South Carolinians succeeded in breaking them. They communicated the disorder to the others and at this critical moment Major Ferguson fell. A total rout ensued.
This unfortunate affair gave a new turn to the war. All the country on Lord Cornwallis' rear was laid open to the incursions of the enemy, who, if they had made a proper use of their victory might have taken both Ninety Six and Augusta, nevertheless the consequences were very important.
[Colonel Robert Gray's Observations on the War in Carolina, published July 1910 in South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Vol. XI, No. 3]

Colonel William Hill (Patriot):
There was very little military subordination as all that was required or expected was that every Officer & man should ascend the mountain so as to surround the enemy on all quarters which was promptly executed.
[Col. William Hill's Memoirs of the Revolution, edited by A.S. Salley, published 1921, The State Company, Columbia, South Carolina]

Captain Abraham DePeyster (Loyalist):
This is ominous. These are the damned yelling boys.
[Source: Archibald Henderson, The Conquest of the Old Northwest, published 1920, The Century Company, New York]

Major Thomas Young (Patriot):
Major Ferguson had taken a very strong position upon the summit of the mountain, and it appeared like an impossibility to dislodge him, but we had come there to do it, and we were determined, one and all, to do it, or die trying. The attack was begun on the north side of the mountain. The orders were at the firing of the first gun, for every man to raise a whoop, rush forward, and fight his way as he best could.
... I recollect I stood behind one tree and fired til the bark was nearly all knocked off, and my eyes pretty well filled with it. One fellow shaved me pretty close, for his bullet took a piece out of my gun-stock. Before I was aware of it, I found myself apparently between my own regiment and the enemy, as I judged, from seeing the paper which the Whigs wore in their hats, and the pine knots the Tories wore in theirs, these being the badges of distinction.
[Thomas Young, "Memoir of Major Thomas Young," published 1843, Orion Magazine]

Lieutenant Anthony Allaire (Loyalist):
Saturday, 7th. About two o'clock in the afternoon twenty-five hundred Rebels, under the command of Brig.-Gen. Williams, and ten Colonels, attacked us. Maj. Ferguson had eight hundred men. The action continued an hour and five minutes; but their numbers enabled them to surround us. The North Carolina regiment seeing this, and numbers being out of ammunition, gave way, which naturally threw the rest of the militia into confusion. Our poor little detachment, which consisted of only seventy men when we marched to the field of action, were all killed and wounded but twenty; and those brave fellows were soon crowded as close as possible by the militia. Capt. DePeyster, on whom the command devolved, saw it impossible to form six men together; thought it necessary to surrender to save the lives of the brave men who were left....

Colonel William Campbell (Patriot):
Col. Shelby's regiment and mine began the attack, and sustained the whole fire of the enemy for about ten minutes, while the other troops were forming around the height upon which the enemy were posted. The firing then became general, and as heavy as you can conceive for the number of men. The advantageous situation of the enemy, being the top of a steep ridge, obliged us to expose ourselves exceedingly; and the dislodging of them was almost equal to driving men from strong breast-works; though in the end we gained the point of the ridge, where my regiment fought, and drove them along the summit of it nearly to the other end, where Col. Cleveland and his countrymen were. They were driven into a huddle, and the greatest confusion; the flag for a surrender was immediately hoisted, and as soon as our troops could be notified of it, the firing ceased, and the survivors surrendered themselves prisoners at discretion.
[Excerpt from a letter, dated 20 October 1780, from Colonel William Campbell to Colonel Arthur Campbell]

Lieutenant Anthony Allaire (Loyalist):
... The action commenced about two o'clock in the afternoon, and was very severe for upwards of an hour, during which the Rebels were charged and drove back several times, with considerable slaughter.
When our detachment charged, for the first time, it fell to my lot to put a Rebel Captain to death, which I did most effectually, with one blow of my sword; the fellow was at least six feet high, but I had rather the advantage, as I was mounted on an elegant horse, and he on foot.
But their numbers enabled them to surround us and the North Carolina regiment, which consisted of about three hundred men.
Seeing this, and numbers being out of ammunition which naturally threw the rest of the militia into confusion, our gallant little detachment, which consisted of only seventy men, exclusive of twenty who acted as dragoons, and ten who drove wagons, etc., when we marched to the field of action, were all killed and wounded but twenty, and those brave fellows were soon crowded into an heap by the militia.
Capt. DePEYSTER, on whom the command devolved, seeing it impossible to form six men together, thought it necessary to surrender, to save the lives of the brave men who were left.
We lost in this action, Maj. FERGUSON, of the Seventy-first regiment, a man strongly attached to his King and country, well informed in the art of war, brave, humane, and an agreeable companion-in short, he was universally esteemed in the army, and I have every reason to regret his unhappy fate.
We lost eighteen men killed on the spot-Capt. RYERSON and thirty-two Sergeants and privates wounded, of Maj. FERGUSON's detachment.
Lieutenant M'GINNIS of ALLEN's regiment, Skinner's brigade, killed; taken prisoners, two Captains, four Lieutenants, three Ensigns, one Surgeon, and fifty-four Sergeants and privates, including the wounded, wagoners, etc.
The militia killed, one hundred, including officers; wounded, ninety; taken prisoners about six hundred; our baggage all taken, of course.
The Rebels lost Brig.-Gen. Williams, and one hundred and thirty-five, including officers, killed; wounded nearly equal to ours.
[Excerpt from a letter written by Anthony Allaire, dated "January 30th 1781," published in Rivington's Royal Gazette, New York, 24 February 1781. It was prefaced with: "This gentleman went from New York with a detachment drawn from the Provincial Brigade, which was commanded by the brave Major Patrick Ferguson. This letter gives the most circumstantial account yet received of the action at Kings Mountain, in South Carolina, Oct. seventh."]

Colonel William Campbell (Patriot):
We fought an hour and five minutes, in which time two hundred and twenty-five of the enemy were killed, and one hundred and thirty wounded; the rest, making about seven hundred regulars and Tories, were taken prisoners. Ferguson was killed near the close of the action. The victory was complete to a wish; and I think it was won by about seven hundred men, who fought bravely. I have lost several of my brave friends, whose death I much lament.

Sir Henry Clinton (British Commander):
[The Battle of Kings Mountain was] an event which was immediately productive of the worst consequences to the King's affairs in South Carolina, and unhappily the first link in a chain of evils that followed in regular succession until they at last ended in the loss of America.
[Henry Clinton, edited by William Wilcox, The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton's Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775-1782, published 1954, Yale University Press]

Thomas Jefferson (3rd President of the United States):
I remember well the deep and grateful impression made on the minds of every one by that memorable victory. It was the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War, with the seal of our independence.
[Excerpt from a letter dated Monticello, 10 November 1822, to John Campbell, son of Colonel William Campbell]

* 70th Congress, 1st Session House Document No. 328, compiled by the Historical Section of the Army War College, Historical Statements Concerning the Battle of Kings Mountain and the Battle of Cowpens South Carolina, United States Government Printing Office, 1928