Thomas Jefferson said that the victory at Kings Mountain turned the tide of the war in the south.
How high was the tide? The British Navy ruled the seaport cities. Georgia was controlled by the Redcoats. The redcoats captured the southern army at Charleston. Congress sent a new army to South Carolina. The British wiped it out and Horatio Gates fled to Hillsborough NC. Sumter’s SC army was defeated. Patrick Ferguson relinquished command of his redcoat regiment to assume new duties. With two companies of King George’s provincial soldiers, he was organizing the South Carolina loyalist militia. Gov Rutledge, Col James Steen, and Col James Williams were refugees from SC in Hillsborough NC. General Cornwallis made his army HQ in Charlotte. Ferguson had taken control of the two largest NC counties (Rutherford and Burke). Their militia under colonels Hampton and McDowell fled over the mountains to the Watauga. Ferguson was frustrated that he had chased McDowell up the creeks of the upper Catawba River into mountain coves without catching him.
About 16Sep1780, Ferguson paroled a patriot prisoner, Samuel Phillips to deliver a message: ‘If you do not desist in your opposition to the king, I will march the army over the mountain, hang the leaders, and lay waste with fire and sword.” Phillips delivered the message about 20 Sep to Evan Shelby’s Paperville plantation on the Holston (near Bristol). Col Isaac Shelby began to call on all the patriot militia colonels to spread the alarm. John Sevier of the Nolichucky sent out express riders. They called on Col. William Campbell of Washington County VA to join McDowell, Hampton, Sevier and Shelby at Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga (Elizabethton) on Monday 25Sep1780. Colonel William Christian on the New River, Col Benjamin Cleveland on the Yadkin and Col Martin Armstrong of Surry County NC were called to meet at McDowell’s Quaker Meadows place on the Catawba (Morganton) on Saturday 30 Sep. (Being farther away in Montgomery County VA, Col Christian’s men could not activate in time.)
The Whig militia came quickly out of the hills. From Maiden Spring, Hungry Mother, Ebbing Spring, Sinking Spring, and Greasy Cove, their numbers swelled to over a thousand at Sycamore Shoals. Colonel Campbell sent some home to care for the women and children. By Saturday 30 Sep when the Wilkes and Surry patriots joined them, they found that Ferguson had left Quaker Meadows.
By Friday 07Oct1780, this band of patriots had chased Ferguson to the Cowpens in Spartanburg District SC. They were joined by Col James Williams and Col Edward Lacey with remnants of the SC militia, a few Georgians, some Lincoln County NC militia, and fresh Caswell County NC companies. With fresh information that Ferguson had encamped at Kings Mountain on his way to join Cornwallis in Charlotte, the tired and walking remained at Cowpens while the able horsemen rode through the night. On Saturday afternoon 08Oct1780, with four equal columns of about 230, Colonel Campbell deployed the patriots around the ridge, two columns on the NW and two columns on the SE side.
Ferguson’s loyalists responded to the initial attack by Captain Andrew Colville’s company against the Indian Knob (SW end of the ridge) guard post by organizing a bayonet charge down the SE against Campbell, Sevier, and McDowell troops. The patriots fled. Meanwhile Shelby, Williams, and Cleveland led a charge up the ridge into the back of the Tories. When the Tories turned and reformed a bayonet line with smaller numbers back to the north, the patriots from the south reloaded and charged from tree to tree back up the ridge at the rear of the charge. Ferguson turned his reduced line south again and the patriots returned from the north. Shoe shine rag south, then north. Finally there was a gory free for all of hand to hand combat. After a few false surrenders, the Tories grounded their 1200 stands of arms. Ferguson was dead from several gunshots and his entire regiment was dead, dying, wounded, or captured.
The Whig militia burned Ferguson’s unneeded wagons, and marched his captured army off Kings Mountain. Whig victors took his captured horse and sword. On the fourth day of march, a court martial at Biggerstaff’s plantation on Cane Creek sentenced the worst of the Tory leaders. They hung a few, then resumed their march to the Moravian Towns to turn over their prisoners.
In the next months, there were battles at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse among many skirmishes. In less than a year Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.
Ferguson’s threat was: ‘If you do not desist in your opposition to the king, I will march the army over the mountain, hang the leaders, and lay waste with fire and sword.” The patriots marched their army over the mountain and buried Ferguson on Kings Mountain. His army was marched off to prison. The patriots hung some of his leaders. His wagons of supplies were laid waste by fire. The patriots took Ferguson’s swords.
I think that Thomas Jefferson was wrong. It was not Ferguson’s defeat in the battle, but his threat sent over the mountains which turned the tide of the war.
Compatriot Fred Weyler, historian, is a member of the Andrew Jackson Chapter. He is currently the Chapter Data Manager.