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The Battle of King's Mountain 1780

Battle: King’s Mountain

War: American Revolutionary War

Date: 7th October 1780

Place: South Carolina, United States of America.

Combatants: Tory or loyalist Americans against Whig or patriot American Revolutionaries.

Generals: Major Patrick Ferguson commanded the loyalists. The American force had a number of officers of similar rank: Colonels Shelby, Campbell, McDowell, Sevier, Williams, Lacey, Cleveland, Hambright and Winston.

Size of the armies: Numbers are uncertain but there seem to have been around 1,000 on each side.

Uniforms, arms and equipment: The soldiers in these opposing forces were “irregulars” and as such dressed as they felt inclined. The many Revolutionaries from the frontier areas would have dressed as for a hunting expedition. The Tory militia were issued with muskets and bayonets and may well have worn red uniform coats, but probably wore civilian garb. The Revolutionaries brought with them their hunting weapons, in many cases small bore rifled muskets made by the German gunsmiths of Pennsylvania, which they used with devastating effect on the Tories.

Winner: Resoundingly the American Revolutionaries. The loyalist force was annihilated. Account: In September 1780, Major General Lord Cornwallis, after beating Major General Gates and the American Revolutionary army at Camden, advanced north with the intention of invading North Carolina and Virginia. Major Ferguson occupied an outpost well to the West of the main British army with a small force of his own riflemen and a larger band of Tory militia. The militia on each side remained consistently unreliable in battle during the war. The one area in which the Tory militia excelled was in plundering their enemies. Ferguson had built for himself an unenviable reputation for ferocity against the rebels.

Riflemen in the Forest

A substantial Revolutionary force gathered against Ferguson from Watauga, west of the mountains, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. One group, armed with rifled weapons with which they had considerable skill, were the “Over the mountain men”.

Ferguson retreated before this concentration, sending on to Cornwallis for support. The Revolutionary force caught up with Ferguson encamped on the steep and wooded King’s Mountain, on 7th October 1780.

The Revolutionaries surrounded the Tories on the top of the mountain and a classic battle between the bayonet and the rifle ensued. The Revolutionaries attacked with the battle cry of “Tarleton quarter” (ie “No prisoners). The Tory militiamen, attempting to drive back the assaulting Revolutionaries at the point of the bayonet, were shot down until they were huddled in a confined group on the summit.

Ferguson suppressed all attempts to surrender until he was shot from his horse and killed. The Tories threw down their weapons but the Revolutionaries continued to shoot, in spite of the efforts of their officers to bring about an end to the carnage. The battle exactly reflected the savagery of the war in the Southern Colonies. Finally all the Tories were killed, wounded or captured. Only a party that had been out foraging escaped to warn Cornwallis of the disaster.

Casualties: The Tories suffered 300 dead and wounded and some 700 captured. The Revolutionaries took 90 casualties.

Follow-up: The defeat forced Cornwallis to abandon his plans to invade North Carolina and retreat South.

Anecdotes and traditions: This was a battle between Americans, the only Britain present being Major Ferguson. It would be hard to envisage a more savage encounter. King’s Mountain would be a much more apt candidate for the title of “massacre” than Paoli. Following the battle the Revolutionaries tried and hanged 10 Tory prisoners for offences of pillaging.