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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Battle of King's Mountain

by Noel Yancey, 2006

The stunning victory won by a force of about 1,800 backcountry "Overmountain Men" over approximately 1,000 Tories at King's Mountain on 7 Oct. 1780 has been justly described as a key turning point in the American Revolution. According to British commander Henry Clinton, the American victory "proved the first Link of a Chain of Evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America." The Tory force at King's Mountain was commanded by Maj. Patrick Ferguson, the son of a Scottish judge. At the Battle of Brandywine, Ferguson's right arm had been shattered. However, he practiced so assiduously that he learned to wield his sword with his left hand, earning him the nickname "Bulldog" in the process.Depiction of the Battle of King's Mountain, "Ferguson's Death Charge", from Lyman Draper's 1929 history "King's Mountain and it's heroes". Published by Dauber & Pine, New York. (Originally published 1881 by P.G. Thompson, Cincinnati)

A few weeks before King's Mountain, Ferguson, who guarded Lord Charles Cornwallis's left flank, led a foray to the vicinity of Old Fort in North Carolina. At about that time he bluntly warned the local revolutionaries that if they did not cease their rebellion he would march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste their settlements with fire and sword. This brought an indignant reaction from the backcountry forces and a conference between Cols. Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, who agreed that they should take the offensive. They called a rendezvous at Sycamore Shoals (now in Tennessee) for 25 September. On that day Sevier and Shelby arrived with 240 troops each to join Col. Charles McDowell, who was already there with 160 North Carolina riflemen. They were heartened when Col. William Campbell marched in with 400 Virginians.

While the little army was marching over Roan Mountain, two of Sevier's troops, James Crawford and Samuel Chambers, were reported missing. Suspecting that they would warn Ferguson, Sevier changed the march plans. On 30 September the American force reached Quaker Meadows in Burke County, where it was joined by Col. Benjamin Cleveland and 350 North Carolinians. By 1 October the Americans were camped just south of King's Mountain. Rain kept them there a day while the officers elected Campbell commander.

Ferguson was also slowed by rain and never reached Charlotte to join Cornwallis, as was his apparent plan. He had not intended to install his army atop King's Mountain, which had allegedly been named for a farmer who lived at its foot and not for King George III. The mountain, with its short and relatively level summit, must have impressed Ferguson as a good defensive position; he wrote to Cornwallis, asking for reinforcements and boasting that he was on King's Mountain and could not be driven off.

Early on the afternoon of 7 October, the Americans arrived at the foot of King's Mountain, near where it extends into South Carolina. They launched a four-pronged attack, with two columns on each side of the mountain, led by Colonels Campbell and Sevier on the right and Shelby and Cleveland on the left. Ferguson and his men apparently were taken by surprise by the boldness and rapidity of the Overmountain Men's aggression. Over the roar of the battle could be heard intermittently a shrill shriek from the silver whistle Ferguson used to direct his troops. It was soon silenced, however, as Ferguson was killed while leading a desperate sortie by a few of his men to break out of the mountaineers' cordon. Capt. Abraham DePeyster, the second in command, almost immediately raised a white flag. However, several minutes elapsed before the surrender could take effect, and during that period several more Tories were killed. Some Americans kept firing because they did not understand what was going on, and others did so because they recalled that when Col. Abraham Buford, an American, was defeated several weeks before, British colonel Banastre Tarleton had kept on firing, an action Cornwallis had applauded.

Finally the guns fell silent and the American victory was complete. In an hour's time, Ferguson and 119 of his men had been killed, 123 wounded, and 664 captured. The Americans had lost 28 killed and 62 wounded. The Americans were still so angry at their enemies that on their ride home, Campbell found it necessary to issue an order directing the officers to halt the slaughter of prisoners. Finally Campbell convened a court-martial to try some of the prisoners. According to Shelby, 36 men were convicted of "breaking open houses, killing the men, turning the women and children out of doors and burning the houses." Of those convicted, 9 were actually hanged.

The American victory at the Battle of King's Mountain altered the tenor of the American Revolution, disheartening Cornwallis and his army, threatening and eventually altering British military strategy, and adding renewed vigor to the American cause.

References:

Lyman C. Draper, King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7th 1780 and the Events Which Led to It (repr., 1967). https://archive.org/details/kingsmountainits00drap/page/278

Phillips Russell, North Carolina in the Revolutionary War (1965).

Image Credit:

"Battle of King's Mountain - Ferguson's Death Charge."  Illustration. In: Lyman Copeland Draper, King's Mountain and its heroes: history of the Battle of Kings Mountain October 7, 1780, and the events which led to it. With steel portraits, maps, and plans. New York: Dauber & Pine, 1929.  https://archive.org/details/kingsmountainits00drap/page/278​

Authors: 
Origin - location: 

Comments

Comment: 

My ancestors, Dickson, were prominent in NC and TN history. The Dickson, or Dixon, surname are woven into many families of the region such as Campbell, Rankin, McEwen and Smith.

Joseph (1745-1825), a Major, fought in the Battle of King's Mountain, taking over command after Major Chronicle was killed. There is a roadside marker in his name. He is buried on the Dickson plantation property. He ascended to rank of Brigadier General.

Joseph was on the founding board for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and served in the House of Representatives for both NC and TN.

I've seen these attributes in other websites & publications, where can documentation of such be attained?

Joseph's brother, William, was a Colonel in the Revolutionary War.

I will have to pore over the rest of this website, thank you.

Comment: 

My 6th great grandfathers is shown as dying at the Battle of Kings Mountain, but I cannot find him in the lists on other websites. His name was Charles Word, Jr and he was a private in the North Carolina Militia. I have seen a copy of the probate of his estate and it lists his place of death as Kings Mountain on Oct. 7th, 1780. He also served as a fife and drummer with Gen. Washington with "the Virginnia Blues". He is supposed to have taken part in the battle near Fort Deguesne where Gen. Braddock was defeated, where he covered the retreat of Braddock and his regulars being one of 30 to survive. He married Elizabeth Adams (supposedly related to John Adams) and moved to N.C. settling in Surry county near a place now called Mr. Airy. I wonder how his name could have been missed? Perhaps because he was in the militia? Or is the information I have incorrect. He DID die there on Oct 7, 1780 so that seems pretty solid.

Comment: 

Hello, 

I'm sending your comment to our reference librarians who should be able to assist you. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My sixth great-grandfather was John Boyd who died at the Battle of Kings Mountain. He is commemorated on the Old Chronicle Marker erected by Dr.
William McLean in 1815. In the book by Dr. Moss, Patriots of Kings Mountain,
John Boyd is just a mention with a reference to Lyman Draper and the Chronicle Marker. No descendant ever claimed a pension for his service. Is there any more information about him or his family other than https://bkmnp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Boyd-John.pdf? Thank you.

Comment: 

Hello, 

I am sending your comment to our reference librarians who will be able to assist you. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Comment: 

My mother was a Campbell and I’ve always heard that we are related to General William Campbell. I am a novice at genealogy, and haven’t been able to verify this info. Is there genealogy info associated with Gen Campbell that I could use to verify or disprove this family story? Thank you.

Comment: 

I have always heard my 6th Great grandfather, Darling Jones was the man who fired the shot that killed Ferguson with his gun he called "Sweet Lips". I have found a few articles pertaining to this. Can anyone enlighten me more on this subject? Is this true or just family lore?

Comment: 

I would be interested in knowing the specifics of why the description of the surrender in this article is different from that in the narrative of the battle by a participant. It says:

"As soon as Capt. DePeyster observed that Col. Ferguson was killed, he raised a flag and called for quarters. It was soon taken out of his hand by one of the officers on horseback, and raised so high that it could be seen by our line, and the firing immediately ceased. The Loyalists, at the time of their surrender, were driven into a crowd, and being closely surrounded, they could not have made any further resistance."

By that description, the delay was due to the colonists not seeing the flag.

Comment: 

What source for the article? The quote reads like a press release highlighting honorable Americans, defeated British, and washes out any violence. The quote though has a witness that observed both raisings of the white flag, so....

Comment: 

Hello, 

That I do not know. It's from an encyclopedia, which often cite no sources. You may want to look at the other resources below the article. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

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