The South Carolina Militia and the Battle of Kings Mountain – Part 2: In Common Pursuit
By Randell Jones

In part 1, Coming Together, we learned militia from South and North Carolina, along with some from Virginia and Georgia, joined forces to prepare for battle with the British forces. American militia leaders developed a strategy for attack and after gathering help from the overmountain men of Tennessee, the combined forces totaled about 1,500 men. Battle was imminent and the rebels were ready to force the British and Lord Cornwallis out of North Carolina. 

When the combined force of patriot militiamen advanced on Gilbert Town on 4 October 1780, they were expecting to find British Major Patrick Ferguson there with his army of loyalist Americans. They discovered instead that Ferguson had already withdrawn, learning as he had from two traitorous overmountain militiamen with loyalist leanings that a thousand skilled, backcountry militiamen were on their way to attack him. Patriot scouts reported back that Ferguson was likely headed south toward Ninety-Six, South Carolina, his former headquarters.

Colonel James Williams rode west from his camp at Flint Hills to confer with the other colonels: Shelby, Sevier, Campbell, Cleveland and Graham. They most likely agreed to ride toward Ninety-Six by way of the Old Iron Works, on Lawson’s Fork of Pacolet in pursuit of Ferguson as that was the best information they had. While Williams rode east to his camp on 5 October, scouts reported at Flint Hills to Sumter’s remaining officers, colonels William Hill and Edward Lacey, that Ferguson was headed east toward Charlottetown. When Williams arrived back at his Flint Hills camp, he ordered the men to prepare for marching south toward Lawson’s Fork and a rendezvous with the other colonels, just as had been agreed. Hill and Lacey were adamant that was the wrong direction based on their new information but Williams knew what plans he made with the other colonels. He insisted his militiamen march toward Lawson’s Fork for a rendezvous.

In desperation, Hill, who suffered a severe wound to his arm in a recent battle in August, asked Lacey to ride into the night to find the overmountain and backcountry patriot militia and to persuade them to turn east to pursue Ferguson on his withdrawal toward Charlottetown. Lacey undertook his daring ride, getting lost along the way in the dark, but eventually stumbling upon the patriot encampment. He shared the news and convinced the other officers that he brought them a true report. The officers there reconsidered their situation and ordered their men with horses to be ready to ride at dawn. The militiamen on foot would follow as best they could on the 22-mile ride to meet the South Carolina militiamen at The Cowpens on the evening of 6 October. Colonel Lacey took a fresh mount and rode 20 miles back to the Flint Hills to alert Williams and the others to the new plans.

Colonel Williams and the South Carolina militia rode south on 6 October, crossing over the Broad River at Island Ford and joining with the large gathering of overmountain, Yadkin River valley, and Lincoln County militia at The Cowpens. By that point, the gathered force of militiamen numbered between 1,600 and 1,800, by various estimates, including 30 Georgia militiamen. The Georgians detached from Colonel Elijah Clarke’s escort of patriot families escaping from Wilkes County, Georgia, in the face of loyalist reprisals against their Whig neighbors. The refugees walked into the foothills of North Carolina, headed for the safety of the overmountain region along the Nolichucky River. They had scant supplies and were ill prepared for the long trek and Ferguson’s men were looking for them as well. The Georgia militiamen had good reason to despise Ferguson and his army of loyalists.

Patriot militia officers at The Cowpens walked through the camp and selected the 900 best marksmen to put on the 900 sturdiest horses and rode 35 miles through a cold, rainy night on 6 October 1780. They surprised Major Patrick Ferguson and his army of loyalist American militiamen atop Little Kings Mountain on the afternoon of October 7, 1780, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. For one hour and five minutes, citizen militiamen fought bravely; they would not be denied and they did not fail. They charged up the sides of Little Kings Mountain three times, at last killing Patrick Ferguson and taking more than 800 loyalist prisoners. On that day they turned the tide of the American Revolution.

The South Carolina militia and the Lincoln County militia were at the Battle of Kings Mountain in significant numbers and suffered major casualties, both wounded and dead. Heroes were among them, too. Major Chronicle was killed early in the charge, leading his men up the mountain. Colonel James Williams was mortally wounded near the end of the battle, the highest-ranking patriot officer killed at Kings Mountain. And for what it was worth, 150 miles away in Hillsborough, on the day before that fateful battle and too late to be of any consequence in the matters at hand, South Carolina Gov. John Rutledge promoted Colonel Thomas Sumter to brigadier general.

When news of Ferguson’s death and the loss of the left flank of the advancing British Legion reached General Cornwallis in Charlottetown, he retreated from North Carolina. Suffering from yellow fever, Cornwallis was carried by wagon as his army withdrew into winter quarters at Winnsboro, South Carolina. With the British Legion no longer pressing into the North Carolina piedmont for a few months, the patriot forces were able to regroup and to strengthen. More North Carolina militiamen joined the patriot cause and it became harder for General Cornwallis to find men willing to fight for the Crown as loyalists. In Charlottetown on 2 December 1780, the Southern Department of the Continental Army came under the command of its new leader, General Nathanael Greene. Hope was renewed. A patriot victory almost seemed possible.

Sources:

Anderson, William Lee, III, “Trail of South Carolina Militiamen and Lincoln County Militiamen to Kings Mountain,” 2015,www.elehistory.com/amrev/SouthCarolinaMilitiamenTrail.pdf

Jones, Randell, Before They Were Heroes at King’s Mountain (Winston-Salem, 2011).

Jones, Randell, “Route of the South Carolina Militia and Lincoln County Militia,” Tour 4, Online Tour of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, 2015, http://bythewaywebf.webfactional.com/omvt/tours/show/4

 

Robertson, John, “Overmountain Victory Trail – Searching for join-up route by Lincoln/Caswell Cos. and SC Militia,” 2015,http://gaz.jrshelby.com/ovnht2/overmountain-nc-sc.htm

The South Carolina Militia and the Battle of Kings Mountain – Part 2: In Common Pursuit