Today in History: Strong victory for Patriot militia at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780

October 7th, 2013

In October 1780, during the the American Revolutionary War, British Army officer General Lord Cornwallis sought to invade North Carolina. Major Patrick Ferguson was sent to North Carolina to recruit loyalist militia, stopping in rural York Country, South Carolina. The newly organized Loyalist militia was met with strong opposition by frontiersmen under Colonel William Campbell of Virginia, who defeated the Loyalist forces on Kings Mountain.

Kings Mountain is a rocky forested hill just a few miles from the North Carolina border. In the days leading up to the battle, Ferguson’s Loyalist troops made camp along the highest point on Kings Mountain with about 1,200 men, rather than continue marching his men to Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Patriot militia sent 900 men on horseback for Kings Mountain, marching through the night of October 6 and the morning of October 7. At 3:00 pm on October 7, the Patriot militia, including Davy Crockett’s father, John Crockett, reached the British forces at Kings Mountain and began their attack. The Patriot militia charged up the hill, catching the Loyalists by surprise.

The battle continued throughout the afternoon with Loyalist forces repeatedly leading desperate bayonet charges to halt the Patriot advances up the hill. Lacking bayonets, the Patriot militia was forced to retreat for a short period each time, before regrouping and marching back up Kings Mountain. Eventually the Loyalists were driven to the smallest point on top of the hill, and Ferguson’s men began to surrender. In a last-ditch effort to rally his troops, Ferguson shouted, “Hurrah, brave boys, the day is ours!” and launched a final unsuccessful charge to cut through the Patriot forces. Ferguson was shot during this final charge, leading the Loyalists to surrender. In total, 290 Loyalist troops were killed and nearly 700 were captured, compared with just 29 killed on the Patriot side.

The battle marked a turning point in the war, with Cornwallis having lost one third of his army and one of his most trusted officers in Ferguson. Thomas Jefferson famously labeled the battle “the turn of the tide of success.”

For a first-person perspective on the decisive Patriot victory, read Patriot militiaman James P. Collins’ “Account of the Battle of Kings Mountain.”

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