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Kings Mountain Monument
U.S. Monument at Kings Mountain
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Kings Mountain

Turning Point of the Revolutionary War by Loretta Cozart

Colonel Frederick Hambright is the namesake of our chapter. He was a Revolutionary War hero who replaced Colonel William Chronicle when he was killed during the Battle of Kings Mountain. Together, they led the "South Fork Boys" into battle and played key roles in winning America's independence.

The Overmountain Men and their spirit of independence won the Battle of Kings Mountain in the fall of 1780. This battle represents a pivotal and significant victory by American patriots over loyalists during the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War.

The battle, fought on October 7, 1780, destroyed the left wing of Cornwallis' army and effectively ended loyalist ascendance in the Carolinas. The victory halted the British advance into North Carolina, and it forced Lord Cornwallis to retreat from Charlotte into South Carolina.

The patriot army, under the command of William Campbell of Virginia, contained strong leaders from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Georgia. With the exception of Major Patrick Ferguson, all of the participants of the battle were Americans. Ferguson commanded over 1,000 well-trained and drilled loyalists, while 900 rebel patriots were under the command of a group of frontiersmen colonels.

The battle proved to be the turning point in the British southern campaign. In the summer of 1780, the American Continental Army suffered successive defeats at Charleston, Waxhaws, Camden, and Sumter, South Carolina. By the fall, only the volunteer militia units remained in the field to oppose the armies of Cornwallis.

Cornwallis sent Major Patrick Ferguson into the western Carolinas to recruit and equip militia loyalists to the British cause. He was to raise an army and suppress the remaining patriot militias. Intending to intimidate the patriots, he sent a proclamation in September 1780 to the mountain settlements, telling them to lay down their arms or "he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste 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 defeated Ferguson's loyalists at Kings Mountain.

Sir Henry Clinton called this defeat "the first link of a chain of evils" that ended in "the total loss of America." Cornwallis' retreat gave the Continental Congress time to organize a new southern army. In just over a year, on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered to George Washington at Yorktown.

C.P. Russell, Supervisor of Interpretation in Washington writes regarding the Battle of Kings Mountain, "Probably no other battle in the Revolution was so picturesque or so furiously fought as that at Kings Mountain. The very mountain thundered. Not a regular soldier was in the American ranks. Every man there was actuated by a spirit of democracy. They fought under leaders of their own choosing for the right to live in a land governed by men of their own choice." (From The Regional Review, National Park Service, Region One, Richmond, Va., Vol. V, No. 1, July 1940, pp. 15-21.)

Historians never gave the Overmountain Men the respect they deserved, because the men enlisted in volunteer militia units were not part of the regular Continental Army. As a case in point, the state of North Carolina did not give pensions to men who fought in militia units. Pensions were only given to men who volunteered for the Continental Army. Luckily, these men based their decision to fight on independence and not a pension.

Indeed, these Overmountain Men were able to manage what the entire Continental Army in the Southern Campaign had been unable to do. The spirit of independence was strong in these men, and they were not about to lay down their arms and surrender to the British. These Overmountain Men were labeled "Backwater Men" by Cornwallis and considered barbaric. These extraordinary men turned the tide of the British in the southern campaign and the Revolutionary War itself.

When speaking of the Battle of Kings Mountain, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "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."

On October 7, 1930, upon the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain, President Herbert Hoover proclaimed: "Here less than a thousand men, inspired by the urge of freedom, defeated a superior force entrenched in this strategic position. This small band of patriots turned back a dangerous invasion well-designed to separate and dismember the united Colonies. It was a small army and a little battle, but it was of mighty portent. History has done scant justice to its significance, which rightly should place it beside Lexington and Bunker Hill, Trenton and Yorktown, as one of the crucial engagements in our long struggle for independence." Hoover was the first President of the United States to visit a Revolutionary War battlefield in the south. His words were broadcast by radio coast-to-coast in the United States — and to Great Britain. Within a year of his visit, Congress established Kings Mountain National Military Park.

Let us not forget Theodore Roosevelt's assessment of the battle in his history, The Winning of the West, "This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution."

If, indeed, the Battle of Kings Mountain marked the turning point of the American Revolution, let us take this opportunity to honor those men who fought at this battle. Thomas Jefferson, Herbert Hoover, and Theodore Roosevelt recognized the sacrifices these 900 patriot frontiersmen made to protect home and country. Let us honor these Overmountain Men and their spirit of independence who fought for our liberty in this backcountry of our nation and won for us "our seal for independence."

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