241 years ago, this region was experiencing a very different Autumn from ours today. In May of 1780, a terrible siege occurred on Charleston which was notably one of the worst American defeats of the Revolutionary Way. Led by British Commander-in-Chief, Henry Clinton, the British force of almost 13,000 trapped our willfully unequipped force of 6,577, resulting in over 5,500 American deaths. The British continued to charge inward, and in August of that same year, the British again declared victory at the Battle of Camden, SC, driving desperation in patriots for a much needed victory.
Our troops needed new tactics to combat against a larger, more advanced army, and the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7th, 1780, was the first step in how America would craft a new way of battle that we still use till this day.
This small yet significant battle in the War for Independence was noted by Thomas Jefferson as “the turn of the tide of success” for the Revolutionary War. It was the first major victory for the patriots after the British invasion of Charleston. This was also a rather unique battle in that it was fought entirely among fellow countrymen, between revolutionists seeking independence and British loyalists. The only Briton on the field was the commander of the Loyalists, Major Patrick Ferguson. The patriot forces were comprised of the “Overmountain Men”, who were from the Carolina backcountry and the Appalachian mountain areas.
But it is not necessarily the victory that made it so important, but also how our smaller forces were able to force the British defeat – by utilizing our knowledge of surrounding terrain to our advantage, a new tactic which directly conflicted with how British armies fought at the time. The Americans also utilized different weaponry, which fared better in the Kings Mountain terrain.
Although initially considered simply a hunting weapon, these “Overmountain Men” employed the use of their rifles for the battle, which were much more accurate than the muskets carried by Loyalist troops.
There was also a drastic difference in strategy for this battle. The Loyalists, like traditional British military troops at the time, were instructed to fight in close-order ranks. They were trained to heavily utilize their bayonets attached to their muskets. Loyalist soldiers would hold fire and advancements until directed. The uncoordinated Appalachian militia on the other hand, were directed to seize every available advantage and strike when able.
The perfect storm of varying tactics and weaponry came to a climatic head on October 7th, when Major Patrick Ferguson, a British officer leading the loyalists, directed his 1,000 strong troop to set up camp atop Kings Mountain. He thought that given the steep terrain, his men would be better protected from advancing Overmountain Men. The Overmountain Men (900 strong), led by Colonel William Campbell, split into 8 groups and surrounded the ridge, advancing upwards while firing their more targeted rifle. The battle itself was very short and was estimated to last an hour and was nothing short of a chaotic slaughter. Ferguson was killed, riding atop his horse, along with 119 more of his men. In total, of the estimated 1,000 loyalists fighting, 120 were killed, 123 wounded, and 664 captured. On the American side, only 28 died and 60 were wounded.
Kings Mountain victory stunned Cornwallis and the British military, delaying and altering their military strategy. As a result, our forces were able to better reorganize ahead of Yorktown, the battle which ultimately led to our independence just a year later.
Interested in seeing a slice of history? You can visit the Kings Mountain National Military Park in Blacksburg, South Carolina. Click here for hours and details.