Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kings Mountain

Sue and I went to Kings Mountain yesterday. Kings Mountain was the site of one of the smallest, yet most important battles of the American Revolution. There is no fort, or any other indication that a battle was once fought here, other than the Visitor's Center.

The importance of this battle has often been overlooked in classroom study of the war. But Theodore Roosevelt wrote, "This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution." Thomas Jefferson put it more simply, terming it "The turn of the tide of success." In 1930 a huge 150th Anniversary was held with President Hoover in attendance and stating, "This is a place of inspiring memories. Here less than a thousand men, inspired by the urge of freedom, defeated a superior force intrenched 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 little 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, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Yorktown."

The Battle of Kings Mountain came about when it did, and where it did, due to two things. The first was the British belief that by invading Charleston, South Carolina and marching North, they would be able to split the Colonies in half, gaining control of the Southern colonies as a means of advancing North. The second, and more important reason is that the British had not counted upon the deeply divided loyalties that were in play at the time in the immediate area.

The battle did not really include any British "regular" troops beyond the 100 red coated riflemen from the New York Division. Instead, the 1,000 "Loyalists", or Tories, who gathered atop Kings Mountain on October 7th, 1780 were local farmers, hunters and other residents who did not agree with the cause of the Revolution. Under the command of Major Ferguson they encamped atop the spine of the mountain, taking the high ground, and thus the strategic advantage. A good plan. They wore buckskin clothing in lieu of uniforms and placed green sprigs of pine in their caps for identification.

Word spread quickly that the Loyalists had gathered atop the mountain and the call went out in all directions for local militia to gather and oppose the Loyalists. These were the "Whigs", and they wore strips of white cloth in their caps as a means of identification. They were under the command of Major General Nathaniel Greene and the rebels included John Crockett, father of Davie Crockett. This piece of petrified wood comes from the battlefield grounds.

The stakes were high, as General Cornwallis realized that if he did not gain control of the Colonies south of Virginia, the war would effectively be lost. Eight groups of rebels approached the base of Kings Mountain. These groups, of about 100 men apiece, would attack, each under it's own command. The Loyalists troops never even knew that Greene's forces were in place until 3 PM that day, when the Whigs charged the mountain.

More than even the Civil War, this battle pitted father against son, brother against brother, as the battle waged between those for, and those against Independence. In the Civil War, the enemy combatants may have been related by blood, but lived in different states. The Battle of Kings Mountain was neighbor against neighbor.

The fighting lasted slightly longer than one hour, when the Loyalist Major Ferguson was killed. The Patriots at first refused to accept their surrender, but eventually the skirmishes stopped and prisoners were taken. The Patriots held field Court Martials and even hung 9 Loyalists before sanity was fully restored.

There is no doubt that the American Revolution was a turning point in the history of the world. But walking through these woods on a clear and cool autumn day, it is hard to believe that these trees, and the quiet stillness in the air, were once wracked by the violence of war.

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