Instead of returning to British lines at Charlotte, as he had originally planned, Ferguson decided to make a stand against the rebels at Kings Mountain in South Carolina, a dominant point in a chain of low mountains that straddled the border with North Carolina.
(October 7, 1780). On September 12, 1780, the British major Patrick Ferguson sent a message to patriots in the countryside along the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, ordering them to cease opposition or suffer the consequences. Fueled with anti-British sentiment, patriots ignored the ultimatum and gathered in force at Sycamore Shoals along the Watauga River in North Carolina.
Learning that the rebels were gathering in large numbers, Lord Cornwallis sent Ferguson to deal with them and to recruit additional Tories for their cause. When Ferguson and his command reached Gilberton, North Carolina, they learned that the enemy was advancing from the north. Ferguson, fearing that the rebels would outnumber him, marched his command south. He soon realized, however, that the rebels, many of whom were mounted, were outpacing him.
Instead of returning to British lines at Charlotte, as he had originally planned, Ferguson decided to make a stand against the rebels at Kings Mountain in South Carolina, a dominant point in a chain of low mountains that straddled the border with North Carolina. After a sixteen-mile march, Ferguson sent his men up Kings Mountain. Although the British force reached the mountain well in advance of the rebels, they neglected to build breastworks or redoubts. This allowed the American force to sneak their way up the pine-covered slope, moving from tree to tree and picking off Ferguson’s men with accurate rifle fire. Once they reached the summit, they were able to fire at the Tories without the obstruction of woods.
Ferguson’s command, however, was forced to fight in the open and was armed with less accurate smoothbore muskets. They also had the disadvantage of having to fire downhill, which made them overshoot their targets. The Tories relied on the use of volley fire and massed bayonet charges, which were ill suited for the terrain. Although the Tories were successful in pushing the rebels down the hill in three successive bayonet charges, the rebels regrouped after each attack and finally gained the advantage. Ferguson was killed in the battle, and almost his entire command of more than one thousand men was killed, wounded, or captured.
The American victory provided a much-needed tonic to the patriot cause in the South. Because of the defeat, Cornwallis was forced to delay his movement into North Carolina for a year. The battle also caused the Loyalists in the area to think twice about joining the British and swayed neutrals to join the patriots in their fight for independence. Perhaps most significant was the hope that Kings Mountain gave to the patriots, who were still recovering from their humiliating defeats at Camden and Fishing Creek.
Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas. New York: Wiley, 1997.
Lumpkin, Henry. From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981.
Messick, Hank. King’s Mountain: The Epic of the Blue Ridge “Mountain Men” in the American Revolution. Boston: Little, Brown, 1976.
Middlekauf, Robert F. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.