In late September 1780 a column of mounted Carolinians and Virginians headed east over the Appalachian mountains. They wore hunting shirts and leggings, with long, slender rifles of the frontier across their saddles. They came full of wrath, seeking their adversary of the summerBritish Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his loyalist battalion. This time, they came to battle him to the finish.
These men hailed from valleys around the headwaters of the Holston, Nolichucky, and Watauga rivers. Most were of Scots-Irish ancestry, a hardy people who were hunters, farmers, and artisans. Years earlier they had formed settlements that were remote and nearly independent of royal authority in the eastern counties. Fiercely self-reliant, they were little concerned or threatened by the five-year-old war fought primarily in the northern colonies and along the coast.
Britain's Thrust to Regain the South
In early 1780 England turned its military efforts to the South. At first the British forces seemed unstoppable. In May Sir Henry Clinton captured Charleston, S.C., the South's largest city. The British quickly set up garrisons, using military force to gain control. Before 1780 only scattered incidents of torture and murder had occurred in the Carolinas, but with the return of the British army the war in the South became brutal. Loyalists (tories) plundered the countryside; patriots (whigs) retaliated with burning and lootingwith neighbors fighting each other. The British believed that the southern colonies teemed with loyalists, and they were banking on those supporters to persuade reluctant patriots to swear allegiance to the Crown. Gen. Lord Cornwallis ordered Maj. Patrick Ferguson, reputed to be the best marksman in the British Army, to gather these loyalists into a strong militia. Ferguson recruited a thousand Carolinians and trained them to fight with muskets and bayonets using European open-field tactics. In the summer, as Ferguson roamed the Carolina upcountry, frontier patriots swept across the mountains to aid their compatriots of the Piedmont.
In August Cornwallis routed Gen. Horatio Gates and patriot forces at Camden, S.C. Learning of the defeat, the frontier militia went home to harvest crops and strengthen their forces. Taking advantage of their departure, Cornwallis mounted an invasion of North Carolina. He sent Ferguson, commander of his left flank, north into western North Carolina. In September Ferguson set up post at Gilbert Town. From here Ferguson sent a message to the "backwater men" (over-mountain patriots) threatening to kill them ail if they did not submit. Enraged, they vowed to finish Ferguson once and for all.
On September 26 returning over-mountain forces gathered at Sycamore Shoals under Cols. William Campbell, Isaac Shelby, Charles McDowell, and John Sevier. The next morning they began an arduous march through mountains covered with an early snowfall. They reached Quaker Meadows on October 1 and joined 350 local militia under Cols. Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston. Ferguson, learning from spies that the growing force was pursuing him, headed toward Charlotte. The patriots reached Gilbert Town on October 4, but soon discovered that Ferguson had abandoned his camp. They rode on, reaching Cowpens on October 6, where they were joined by 400 South Carolinians led by Colonel Williams and Colonel Lacey. Ferguson's trail had been hard to follow, but now they learned that he was near Kings Mountainonly about 30 miles away.
Ferguson reached Kings Mountain on October 6, where he decided to await his enemy. Kings Mountainnamed for an early settler and not for King George IIIis a rocky spur of the Blue Ridge rising 150 feet above the surrounding area. Its forested slopes, sliced with ravines, lead to a summit, which in 1780 was nearly treeless. This plateau, 600 yards long by 60 yards wide at the southwest and 120 yards wide at the northeast, gave Ferguson a seemingly excellent position for his army of 1,000 loyalist militia and 100 red-coated Provincials.
Turning Point in the Carolina Wilderness
Fearing that Ferguson might escape again, the patriots selected 900 of the best riflemen to push on, with Campbell of Virginia as commander. They rode through a night of raintheir long rifles protected in blanketsand arrived at Kings Mountain after noon, Saturday, October 7. The rain, now stopped, had muffled their sounds, giving Ferguson little warning of their approach. They hitched their horses within sight of the ridge, divided into two columns, and encircled the steep slopes. About 3 pm Campbell's and Shelby's regiments opened fire from below the southwestern ridge. The loyalists rained down a volley of musket fire, but the forested slopes provided good cover for the attackers. The patriots, skilled at guerrilla tactics used on the frontier, dodged from tree to tree to reach the summit. Twice, loyalists drove them back with bayonets. Finally the patriots gained the crest, driving the enemy toward the patriots who were attacking up the northeastern slopes.
Surrounded and silhouetted against the sky, the loyalists were easy targets for the sharpshooters and their long rifles. Punishing his horse, Ferguson was everywhere, a silver whistle in his mouth trilling commands. Suddenly several bullets hit Ferguson. He fell, one foot caught in a stirrup. His men helped him down and propped him against a tree, where he died. Captain DePeyster, Ferguson's second in command, ordered a white flag hoisted but, despite loyalist cries of surrender, the patriot commanders could not restrain their men. Filled with revenge they continued to shoot their terrified enemy for several minutes, until Campbell finally regained control.
The over-mountain men accomplished their mission in little over an hour. Ferguson was dead. Lost with him was Cornwallis' entire left flank. This militia, fighting on its own terms and in its own way, turned the tide on England's attempt to conquer the South and so the nation.
Ferguson and His Rifle Design
Maj. Patrick Ferguson, the only Briton who fought at Kings Mountain, was born in Scotland in 1744 and began his military career at 14. Fascinated by firearms, he redesigned the breechloading flintlock rifle to increase firing speed and reduce fouling (clogging of the mechanism). In wind and rain he fired a series of four shots per minute while walking and six per minute while standing still. In 1776 his rifle received the Crown's patent. Of the 100 to 200 rifles produced (sporting, infantry, and officer's models), only a few exist today.
Ferguson Breechloading Rifle .65 caliber. Sporting Model Ennis of Edinburgh, maker Ferguson's breechloading rifle works simply. A plug screws into the breech perpendicular to the barrel. The triggerguard attaches to the bottom of the plug and serves as a handle. To open it turn the triggerguard clockwise one revolution until the top of the plug is flush with the bottom of the powder chamber. This opens a hole in the top of the barrel. Lower the muzzle of the barrel slightly and drop a ball into the hole. Next, pour a charge of gunpowder into the cavity behind the ball. Close and seal the plug by rotating the triggerguard one turn counter-clockwise. Prime, cock, and fire.
Musket vs. American Long Rifle
Kings Mountain was the only battle in the war in which the primary weapon of the patriot forces was the American long rifle. The flintlock muzzleloading musket, called the Brown Bess, was the standard issue for the British and Continental forces because it could be fired quicklythree to four times a minutemaking it the rapid-fire-weapon of the 1700s. Soldiers typically carried prepackaged paper cartridges that held a measure of gunpowder and a ball. A skilled shooter could prime, load, and fire in seconds. The musket was wildly inaccurate and only a massed volley inflicted serious injuries. In open-field warfare troops lined up two ranks deep and volley-fired until one side could finish the job with bayonets. The patriot militia (citizen soldiers) used the American long rifles that they prized at home for protection and for hunting. They were accurate but took about one minute to load. Long rifles were best used when stalking preya bitter lesson learned here by the loyalists.
British Brown Bess Musket
American Long Rifle
Southern Campaign in the Carolinas
May 12, 1780
May 29, 1780
August 16, 1780
Exploring Kings Mountain
From Wilderness Battle to National Park
As news of the patriot victory at Kings Mountain spread, Cornwallis' plan to pacify the Carolinas with the help of loyalist militia had no chance for success. Patriots began to enlist, while loyalists lost courage and refused to serve. For the patriots the news was exciting and desperately needed. For the loyalists this turn of events dealt the deathblow to their cause, leading eventually to the British surrender at Yorktown.
Word of the triumph spread quickly across the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia. But it took a full month for the news to reach the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. On November 7, 1780, Joseph Greerafter walking from the Carolinas and finding his way with a compassdelivered the account of the "complete victory" at the battle of Kings Mountain to the Congress.
For years the battlefield lay neglected. In 1815 Dr. William McLean, a former patriot surgeon, organized the first commemorative ceremony at the battlefield. After directing the cleanup of the site, which included reburying soldiers' bones unearthed over the years by erosion and animals, McLean dedicated a monument to the fallen patriots and to British Maj. Patrick Ferguson. In 1855 about 15,000 people attended the battle's 75th anniversary celebration. In 1880 a centennial association unveiled a 28-foot monument. But local enthusiasm waned despite these celebrations, and the area again fell into neglect.
In 1899 a new caretaker stepped inthe Kings Mountain chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The women launched a campaign to restore local interest, acquire the battlefield and surrounding land, and obtain national recognition. The 83-foot U.S. Monument was dedicated in 1909, but the federal government remained largely indifferent to the significance of the battle site. Undaunted, the DAR, local officials, and community activists continued their efforts, culminating in the spectacular 1930 sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary. In 1931 Congress established Kings Mountain National Military Park, giving the battlefieldand the men who fought herethe recognition earned so dearly in 1780.
Exploring the Battlefield and Park
The Battlefield Trail The 1.5-mile self-guiding Battlefield Trail lets you see both the patriot and loyalist perspectives of the battlefield. The paved path winds along the slopes of the ridge, where the patriot forces attacked. The trail climbs and turns back across the top of the ridge, where the loyalist forces fought and surrendered. Along the way you pass markers for Major Chronicle and other patriot leaders, the 1930 Hoover Monument, the 1880 Centennial Monument, and the 1909 U.S. Monument. A granite memorial honors Ferguson of the 71st Regiment, Highland Light Infantry, as an officer of distinction. A cairn marks his grave. The trail's grade is moderate to steep. Allow about one hour to walk the loop.
Visitor Center Begin your visit here where you will find information about the battle and the park, a film, and exhibits. A bookstore offers publications about the area's military and cultural history, as well as its plants and animals. Rangers can answer questions and help you plan your visit. The visitor center is open 9 am to 5 pm daily, with extended hours in summer; it is closed on Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1.
Accessible The visitor center, film, exhibits, and restrooms are accessible for visitors with disabilities. Although paved, the Battlefield Trail is steep in places, with severe cross-slopes: people with wheelchairs or strollers should use extreme caution. Service animals are welcome.
Activities In the summer, evening programs include concerts, ranger talks, and walks for all ages. Military encampments of the 1700s are presented on various weekends from March through November. On October 7 a ceremony commemorates the victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
Hiking Together the national military and state parks offer 16 miles of hiking trails and 16 miles of horse trails. Hikers should register at the visitor center before hiking on backcountry trails.
Camping The only camping allowed in the park is at a primitive backcountry site. Ask at the visitor center for information and a permit (free). The adjoining Kings Mountain State Park has a 116-site campground that is open year-round. The state park has tent, RV, and group sites.
Kings Mountain State Park The adjoining state park
offers camping, picnicking, hiking and horse trails, boat rental, and a
living-history farm with 19th-century buildings from the Piedmont area. For more
Safety and Regulations
In an emergency, contact a ranger or call 911.
Getting Here Kings Mountain National Military Park is on S.C. 216 in Blacksburg, S.C., just south of the North and South Carolina border. The park is 60 miles north of Greenville, S.C. and 39 miles south of Charlotte, N.C. From I-85 take N.C. exit 2; drive south on S.C. 216 and follow signs to the park.
Source: NPS Brochure (2013)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Socioeconomic Atlas for Kings Mountain National Military Park and its Region (Jean E. McKendry, Cynthia A. Brewer and Joel M. Staub, 2004)
Acoustical Monitoring 2012: Kings Mountain National Military Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/NRR—2014/875 (Amanda Rapoza, Cynthia Lee and John MacDonald, November 2014)
Accuracy Assessment: Vegetation Information for the KIMO Vegetation Inventory Project (NatureServe, February 2010)
An Administrative History of Kings Mountain National Military Park (Gregory De Van Massey, 1986)
An Evaluation of Biological Inventory Data Collected at Kings Mountain National Military Park: Vertebrate and Vascular Plant Inventories NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/CUPN/NRR—2009/165 (Bill Moore, November 2009)
Baseline Water Quality Data Inventory and Analysis, Kings Mountain National Military Park NPS Technical Report NPS/NRWRD/NRTR-97/136 (December 1997)
Bats of Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, Cowpens National Battlefield, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Kings Mountain National Military Park, Ninety Six National Historic Site Final Report (Susan Loeb, July 2007)
Cultural Landscape Report, Kings Mountain National Military Park (Susan Hart Vincent, 2003)
Cumberland Piedmont Network Ozone and Foliar Injury Report Kings Mountain NMP, Mammoth Cave NP and Ninety Six NHS: Annual Report 2013 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/CUPN/NRR—2015/1044 (Johnathan Jernigan, Bobby C. Carson and Teresa Leibfreid, October 2015)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Kings Mountain National Military Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2009/129 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, September 2009)
Historic Resource Study: Kings Mountain National Military Park (Robert W. Blythe, Maureen A. Caroll and Steven H. Moffson, May 1995)
Historic Structures Report for: CCC-Era Structures and Features at Kings Mountain National Military Park and Adjoining Kings Mountain State Park, Kings Mountain, North Carolina (Clemson University Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, March 2017)
Historical Statements Concerning the Battle of Kings Mountain and the Battle of the Cowpens, South Carolina 70th Congress, 1st Session, House Document No. 328 (1928)
Impacts of Visitor Spending on the Local Economy: Kings Mountain National Military Park, 2006 (Daniel J. Stynes, May 2008)
Kings Mountain National Military Park: Historic Handbook #22 (George C. Mackenzie, 1955, 1961)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
Kings Mountain National Military Park (James J. Anderson, December 16, 1974)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment for Kings Mountain National Military Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/KIMO/NRR-2012/522 (Gary Sundin, Luke Worsham, Nathan P. Nibbelink, Michael T. Mengak and Gary Grossman, May 2012)
Non-volant Mammals of Kings Mountain National Military Park Final Report (Steve Fields, December 2005)
Re-Inventory of Fishes in Kings Mountain National Military Park (James J. English, W. Kyle Lanning, Shepard McAninch and LisaRenee English, 2012)
State of the Park Report, Kings Mountain National Military Park, South Carolina State of the Park Series No. 47 (2017)
Vascular Plant Inventory and Plant Community Classification for Kings Mountain National Military Park (NatureServe, January 2005)
With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Kings Mountain 1780 (Wilma Dykeman, 1991)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 02-Dec-2021