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Battle of Kings Mountain

Overmountain men at the Battle of Kings Mountain

The Overmountain Men were American frontiersmen from west of the Appalachian Mountains who took part in the American Revolutionary War. While they were present at multiple engagements in the war's Southern Campaign, they are best known for their role in the American victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. The term "overmountain" refers to the fact that their settlements were west of, or "over," the Appalachians, the range being the primary geographical boundary dividing the 13 American colonies from the western frontier. The Overmountain Men hailed from parts of Virginia, North Carolina, and what is now Tennessee.

Battle of Kings Mountain Map
Battle of Kings Mountain Revolutionary War Map.jpg
Map of Route of the Overmountain Men to Kings Mountain Battlefield

The efforts of the Overmountain Men helped to solidify the existence of the fragile settlements in the Watauga, Nolichucky, and Holston river valleys, the legitimacy of which had been questioned for several years. Many Overmountain Men, including John Sevier and Isaac Shelby, went on to play prominent roles in the establishment of the states of Tennessee and Kentucky. The foothold they gained on the frontier helped open the door to mass westward migration in ensuing decades.


Thomas Jefferson called it "The turn of the tide of success." The battle of Kings Mountain, fought October 7th, 1780, was an important American victory during the Revolutionary War. The battle was the first major patriot victory to occur after the British invasion of Charleston, SC, in May 1780. The present-day national park preserves the site of this important battle.

Battle of Kings Mountain Map
Overmountain Men March Map.gif
Kings Mountain Revolutionary War Battlefield Map

(Map showing camps of the Overmountain Men, September 25–October 7, 1780. Abingdon and modern Knoxville and Asheville shown for reference.)

The Battle of Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780, was a decisive Patriot victory in the Southern campaign of the American Revolutionary War. Frontier militia loyal to the United States overwhelmed the Loyalist American militia led by British Major Patrick Ferguson of the 71st Foot. In The Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt wrote of Kings Mountain, "This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution."

Kings Mountain was a unique battle for several reasons.  It was one of the few major battles of the war fought entirely between Americans: no British troops served here. In the South, many people were divided.  When the war started, some fought for independence, others for loyalty to England.

Kings Mountain was also unique in that large numbers of riflemen fought here.  Rifles were not used much by the armies.  A rifle was a hunting weapon, used by families on the frontier.  The American militia that fought here mainly used rifles; the Loyalist troops had mostly muskets.

The difference between a rifle and a musket is speed versus accuracy.  A rifle is slow to load, but very accurate.  Riflemen can hit a target at 200 or 300 yards.  Yet the rifle can only be fired once a minute.  A musket, with a smooth bore, is easy to load but inaccurate.  Muskets have an accurate range of about 100 yards, but can be fired up to three times a minute.

Battle of Kings Mountain Map
Battle of Kings Mountain Battlefield Map.jpg
Map of Routes to Kings Mountain Battlefield

The battle, fought October 7th, 1780, proved to be the turning point in the British Southern campaign. The American Continental army suffered successive defeats at Charleston, Waxhaws, and Camden, South Carolina, in the summer of 1780. By the fall, only the voluntary militia units remained in the field to oppose the armies of Cornwallis.

To recruit and equip militia loyal to the British cause, Cornwallis sent Major Patrick Ferguson into the western Carolinas. He was to raise a loyal militia army and suppress the remaining Patriot militia. Intending to cow the Patriots, in September he sent a proclamation to the mountain settlements, telling them to lay down their arms, or he would march his army west, and "lay waste the countryside with fire and sword."

The result was the march of the famous Overmountain men from the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River across the mountains in search of Ferguson. Overcoming hunger, weather, wrangling, and intrigue, the Patriots attacked and destroyed Ferguson's Loyalists at Kings Mountain.

The Patriot army, nominally under the command of William Campbell from Virginia, contained strong leaders who managed to combine their efforts. John Sevier would go on to serve as Tennessee's first governor. Isaac Shelby would be Kentucky's first governor. Benjamin Cleveland would serve as a civic leader and judge in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Joseph Winston, Joseph McDowell, Andrew Hampton, William Chronicle, and Joseph Hambright all led troops from North Carolina. William Hill, Edward Lacey, and James Williams led contingents from South Carolina. William Candler led a small group from Georgia.

Charles McDowell from North Carolina helped organize the army. But he stepped aside before the battle to preserve a united Patriot army.

Battle of Kings Mountain Map
Battle of Kings Mountain Map.gif
Kings Mountain Battlefield Map

(Right) Tactical map of the battle, red being the British and black being the Americans.

With the Overmountain Men and Patriot forces fast approaching, Ferguson decided to entrench his 1000-strong loyalist force atop Kings Mountain, a 60-foot (18 m) flat-top hill about 50 miles (80 km) west of Charlotte near the North Carolina-South Carolina line. Patriot forces reached Kings Mountain on the afternoon of October 7, and formed a U-shape around the mountain, effectively surrounding the loyalists. Around 3 P.M., after several minutes of minor skirmishing, William Campbell told his men to "shout like hell and fight like devils," and two companies simultaneously opened fire on the loyalist positions. Shelby, Sevier, Williams, and Cleveland pushed from the north side of the mountain, while Campbell, Winston, and Joseph McDowell pushed from the south side.

While Kings Mountain was difficult to scale, the mountain's slopes were heavily wooded, providing Patriot riflemen with ample cover. Both Campbell and Shelby twice attempted to charge up the mountain, but were driven back by loyalist rifle fire. After about an hour, however, the frontier sharpshooters had taken a devastating toll on the loyalists' ranks, and Campbell and Shelby managed to reach the summit. Ferguson was finally killed by sharpshooters, and the remaining loyalists surrendered. Loyalist casualties included 157 killed, 163 so severely wounded they were left on the field, and 698 captured. Patriot casualties were 28 killed and 62 wounded. Among the Patriot dead was South Carolina militia leader James Williams. John Sevier's brother, Robert, was mortally wounded. The loyalist prisoners were marched to Hillsborough, where several were put on trial for atrocities committed on the frontier, and nine were hanged.

(Sources listed at bottom of page)

Recommended Viewing: The History Channel Presents The Revolution (A&E) (600 minutes). Review: They came of age in a new world amid intoxicating and innovative ideas about human and civil rights diverse economic systems and self-government. In a few short years these men and women would transform themselves into architects of the future through the building of a new nation – “a nation unlike any before.” From the roots of the rebellion and the signing of the Declaration of Independence to victory on the battlefield at Yorktown and the adoption of The United States Constitution, THE REVOLUTION tells the remarkable story of this pivotal era in history. Continued below...

Venturing beyond the conventional list of generals and politicians, THE HISTORY CHANNEL® introduces the full range of individuals who helped shape this great conflict including some of the war’s most influential unsung heroes. Through sweeping cinematic recreations intimate biographical investigations and provocative political military and economic analysis the historic ideas and themes that transformed treasonous acts against the British into noble acts of courage both on and off the battlefield come to life in this dramatic and captivating program. This TEN HOUR DVD Features: History in the Making: The Revolution Behind-the-Scenes Featurette; Interactive Menus; Scene Selections.

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Related Reading:

Recommended Viewing: History -- Frontier: Decisive Battles - Battle For King's Mountain (DVD) (A&E Television Networks) (2008). Description: BATTLE FOR KING'S MOUNTAIN: It's American versus American in the mountains of the Carolinas in the most decisive southern battle of the Revolutionary War. Leading Tory riflemen for the Crown is Scottish-born Colonel Patrick Ferguson. Opposing him is American Colonel Isaac Shelby and his sharpshooting militia mountain men. BATTLE OF FALLEN TIMBERS: Continued below...

After a major defeat by Native Americans that left the Ohio frontier vulnerable to repossession by the British, President Washington calls "Mad" Anthony Wayne from retirement to fight a formidable alliance of Ohio Territory tribes and British advisors. In 1794, Wayne prepares for battle. His wild card? A "white Indian" named William Wells.

Recommended Reading: The Battle of Kings Mountain: Eyewitness Accounts. Description: "In the fall of the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty, when the American cause wore a very gloomy aspect in the Southern States, Colonels Arthur and William Campbell, hearing of the advance of Colonel Ferguson along the mountains in the State of North Carolina... formed a plan to intercept him." -Ensign Robert Campbell. Continued below…

On October 7, 1780, American Patriot and Loyalist soldiers (those loyal to both British crown and cause) battled each other at Kings Mountain, near the border of North and South Carolina. With over one hundred eyewitness accounts, this collection of participant statements from men of both sides includes letters and statements in their original form-the soldiers' own words- unedited and unabridged. Rife with previously unpublished details of this historic turning point in the American Revolution, these accounts expose the dramatic happenings of the battle, including new perspectives on the debate over Patriot Colonel William Campbell's bravery during the fight. Robert M. Dunkerly's work is an invaluable resource to historians studying the flow of combat, genealogists tracing their ancestors and anyone interested in Kings Mountain and the Southern Campaign. “[The] accounts from both sides allow balance, fairness, objectivity, and historical context that is rarely displayed in the study of warfare.”


Recommended Reading: The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America. Description: Few places in the United States confound and fascinate Americans like Appalachia, yet no other area has been so markedly mischaracterized by the mass media. Stereotypes of hillbillies and rednecks repeatedly appear in representations of the region, but few, if any, of its many heroes, visionaries, or innovators are ever referenced. Continued below…

Make no mistake, they are legion: from Anne Royall, America's first female muckraker, to Sequoyah, a Cherokee mountaineer who invented the first syllabary in modern times, and international divas Nina Simone and Bessie Smith, as well as writers Cormac McCarthy, Edward Abbey, and Nobel Laureate Pearl S. Buck, Appalachia has contributed mightily to American culture — and politics. Not only did eastern Tennessee boast the country's first antislavery newspaper, Appalachians also established the first District of Washington as a bold counterpoint to British rule. With humor, intelligence, and clarity, Jeff Biggers reminds us how Appalachians have defined and shaped the United States we know today

Recommended Reading: The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas (Paperback). Review: Most of us are familiar with the role that North and South Carolina played in the American Civil War: if nothing else, every grade-schooler knows the significance of the 1861 bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. But to popular historian John Buchanan, "that tragedy is of far less interest than the American Revolution. The Revolution was the most important event in American history. The Civil War was unfinished business." And the Carolinas, Buchanan convincingly argues, were the most critical theater in that conflict, with their wild Back Country seeing "a little-known but savage civil war far exceeding anything in the North." Continued below...

The Road to Guilford Courthouse is no less than a tour de force of pop military scholarship, an exhaustive battle-by-battle account of the Crown's grinding march to wrest the Carolinas from the resourceful Rebels. Beginning with Colonel William Moultrie's valiant defense atop the palmetto ramparts of Fort Sullivan against an outnumbering force of British men-of-war to the final "long, obstinate, and bloody" exchange at Guilford Courthouse, Buchanan meticulously recounts each skirmish, battle, and shift of strategy in the campaign. Relying on copious primary and secondary sources, he brings the combatants to life, from the worthy but somewhat obscure, such as Nathanael Greene, whom George Washington considered to be his successor should he fall, to soon-to-be legends such as Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox. --Paul Hughes


Recommended Reading: With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 (Campaigns and Commanders) (Hardcover). Description: This groundbreaking book offers a new analysis of the British Army during the "American rebellion" at both operational and tactical levels. Continued below...

Presenting fresh insights into the speed of British tactical movements, Spring discloses how the system for training the army prior to 1775 was overhauled and adapted to the peculiar conditions confronting it in North America. About the Author: Matthew Spring holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Leeds and teaches history at Truro School, an independent secondary school in Cornwall, England.

Recommended Reading: The War for American Independence: From 1760 to the Surrender at Yorktown in 1781 (Paperback) (776 pages). Description: "Including both attention to strategic policies in Britain and France and personal accounts of colonial soldiers, "The War for American Independence" provides an unprecedented view of America's struggle for independence in its world context. With wit, clarity, and dramatic effect, Samuel B. Griffith II vivifies the characters and incidents of the period on both sides of the Atlantic, drawing from personal diaries and letters, newspaper accounts, and detailed battle maps to create a unique alternative to standard histories of the period. Continued below…

This enduring and exceptionally readable resource, first published in 1976 under the title "In Defense of the Public Liberty: Britain, America, and the Struggle for Independence from 1760 to the Surrender at Yorktown in 1781", was honored with the Sons of Liberty Award for the best book on the American Revolution." Review: "A book on the American Revolution so fresh and continually surprising is a miracle at this time. It is sharp, fast, and beautifully written... General Griffith has made it, for once, a two-sided war." -- Barbara Tuchman "It is the insights which the author derives from his own military experience and his willingness to share these so frankly with the reader that gives the book its distinctive character... It is, in the best sense, a soldier's view of the war." -- Economist "An exhaustive and well-written political and military account of our War for Independence from primary sources." -- National Review "Well-written, interesting, balanced in judgment, and historically sound." -- Library Journal

Sources: The Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries p.402;  Sava, Dameron p.270; Dameron, J. David (2003). Kings Mountain: The Defeat of the Loyalists, October 7, 1780. Cambridge, Massachusetts; Howard, Kate (July 4, 2006). "Kings Mountain Messenger' bravery remembered by few". The Tennessean; Russell, C. P. (July 1940). "The American Rifle: At the Battle of Kings Mountain". The Regional Review (Richmond, VA: National Park Service, Region One) V (1): 15–21; Borden Mace, "Overmountain Men." Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), p. 1607; John Finger, Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2001), pp. 47-52;  Pat Alderman, Overmountain Men (Johnson City, Tenn.: Overmountain Press, 1970), pp. 52-53; Susan Goodsell, Mary McKeehan Patton. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2002; C. Hammett, The Battle of Kings Mountain., 2000. Retrieved: 15 June 2009; The March from Sycamore Shoals. Originally published as Historical Handbook Number Twenty-Two (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955); National Park Service, Battle of Kings Mountain – map; The Battle of King's Mountain. The American, 2001-2007; David Eggenberger, A Dictionary of Battles (New York: Crowell, 1967), p. 220; Joseph Greer. Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution — General Joseph Martin Chapter, 2004-2006; Augustine Webb. Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution — General Joseph Martin Chapter, 2004-2006.

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