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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XX - Battle of King's Mountain


The foIIowing paper was drawn up by General Graham, who was familiar with the country around the Mountain, knew some of the officers engaged in the battle, and previous to writing this description visited the battle-ground with a son of one of the officers. From his known habits of observation and correctness, and his familiarity with military detail, there is no doubt that this is the most graphic account that has over been given of that celebrated and important action. He drew a beautiful plot of the battle-ground, and the position of the forces at different times during the day of the action.

"After the defeat of General Gates and the many under his command, on the 16th day of August, 1780, and the defeat of General Sumpter, two days after, near Rocky Mount, by Colonel TarIeton, the South was almost entirely abandoned to the enemy. Most of the troops, both officers and men, who had escaped from Gates's defeat, passed through Charlotte, N. C., where most of the militia of Mecklenburg county were assembled in consequence of the alarm; the regular troops chiefly passed on to Hillsborough, where General Gates finally established his head-quarters.

"Wm. L. Davidson, who had served as lieutenant-colonel of the regulars in the Northern Army, was appointed brigadier-general of the militia in the Salisbury district, in the place of General Rutherford, who was taken prisoner at Gates's defeat. He formed a brigade, and encamped on McAlpin's Creek, about eight miles below Charlotte, and in the course of two or three weeks was reinforced by General Sumner, a continental officer, but having no regulars to command, took command of the militia from the counties of Guilford, Caswell, Orange, and others.

"After Gates's defeat, the attention of Lord Cornwallis was chiefly occupied with burying the dead, taking care of the wounded, and forwarding, under a suitable guard, the great number of prisoners he had taken, to the city of Charleston, and regulating the civil government he was establishing in South Carolina, and examining the state of the posts occupied by his troops on the Congaree, Ninety-Six, and Augusta. By the 1st of September he had his arrangements made, and detached Colonel Ferguson over the Wateree, with only one hundred and ten regulars, under the command of Captain Dupeister, and about the same number of tories; but with an ample supply of arms and other military stores. His movements were at first rapid, endeavoring to intercept the retreat of a party of Mountain-men, who were harassing the upper settlement of tories in South Carolina. Failing in this, he afterwards moved slowl1y, and frequently halted to collect all the tories he could persuade to join him. He passed Broad River, and before the last of September encamped at a place called Gilberts-town, within a short distance of where the thriving village of Rutherfordton now stands. His force had increased to upwards of 1,000 men. On his march to this place, he had furnished arms to such of his new recruits as were without them. The greater part of them had rifles; but to a part of them, he had them to fix a large knife they usually carried, made small enough at the butt end, for two inches or more of the handle, to slip into the muzzle of the rifle, so that it night be occasionally used as a bayonet.

"Although Colonel Ferguson failed to overtake the detachment of Mountain-men alluded to, he took two of them prisoners, who had become separated from their commands. In a day or two he paroled them, and enjoined them to inform the officers on the western waters, that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, and take protection under his standard, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste the country with fire and sword.

"Colonel Charles McDowell, of Burke county, on the approach of Ferguson with so large a force, had gone over the mountains to obtain assistance, and was in consultation with Colonel John Sevier and Colonel Isaac Shelby what plan should he pursued, when the two paroled men spoken of arrived and delivered their message from Colonel Ferguson. It was decided that each of them should use his best efforts to raise all the men that could be enlisted, and that this force, when collected, should meet on the Wataga, on the 25th of September. It was also agreed that Colonel Shelby should give intelligence of their movements to Colonel William Campbell, of the adjoining county of Washington, in Virginia, with the hope that he would raise what force he could and co-operate with them. They met on the Wataga the day appointed, and passed the mountains on the 30th of September, where they were joined by Colonel Benjamin Cleaveland, and Major Joseph Winston, from Wilks and Surry counties, North Carolina. On examining their force, it was found to number as follows, viz:

Col. Ferguson having accurate intelligence of the force collecting against him, early on the 4th of October, ordered his men to march, and remained half an hour after they had started writing a despatch to Lord Cornwallis, no doubt informing him of his situation and soliciting aid. The letter was committed to the care of the noted Abraham Collins (him of counterfeit memory) and another person by the name of Quinn, with injunctions to deliver it as soon as possible. They set out and attempted to pass the direct road to Charlotte, but having to pass through some whig settlements, they were surprised and pursued, and being compelled to secrete themselves by day and travel by night, they did not reach Charlotte until the morning of the 7th of October, the day of the battle. Colonel Ferguson encamped the first night at the noted place called the Cowpens, about twenty miles from Gilbertstown. On the 5th of October he crossed the Broad River, at what is now called Dear's Ferry, sixteen miles. On the 6th, he marched up the Ridge Road, between the waters of King's and Buffalo creeks, until he came to the fork, turning to the right across Kin's Creek, and through a gap in the mountain towards Yorkville, about fourteen miles. 'There he encamped on the summit of that part of the mountain to the right of the road, where he remained till he was attacked on the 7th.

"When the troops from the different counties met at the head of the Catawba river, the commanding officers met, and finding that they were all of equal grade, and no general officer to command, it was decided that Col. Charles McDowell should go to headquarters, supposed to be between Charlotte and Salisbury, to obtain General Sumner or General Davidson to take the command. In the meantime, it was agreed that Col. William Campbell, who had the largest regiment, should take the command until the arrival of a general officer, who was to act according to the advice of the colonels commanding, and that Major McDowell should take the command of the Burke and Rutherford regiment until the return of Col. McDowell.

Shortly after these measures were adopted, intelligence was received that Colonel Ferguson had left Gilbertstown, and it was decided that they would march after him, by that place; and on their way they received evidence that it was his design to evade an engagement with them. On the evening of the 6th of October, the colonels in council unanimously resolved, that they would select all the men and horses fit for service, and immediately pursue Ferguson until they should overtake him, leaving such as were not able to go to come after them as fast as they could. The next morning the selection was made, and 910 men, including officers, were marched before, leaving the others to follow. They came to the Cowpens, where Ferguson had camped on the night of the 4th, and there met Colonel Williams, of South Carolina, with near 400 men, and about 60 from Lincoln county, who had joined them on their march under Colonel Hambrite and Major Chronicle. After drawing rations of beef, the whole proceeded on a little before sunset, taking Ferguson's trail towards Dear's Ferry, on Broad River. Night coming on, and being very dark, their pilot got out of the right way, and for some time they were lost; but before daylight they reached near to the ferry, and by directions of the officers, the pilot led them to the Cherokee ford, about a mile and a half below, as it was not known but the enemy might be in possession of the eastern bank of the river. It was on the morning of the 7th, before sunrise, when they crossed the river, and marched about two miles to the place where Ferguson had encamped on the night of the 5th. There they halted a short time, and took such breakfast as their wallets and saddlebags would afford. The day was showery, and they were obliged to use their blankets and great coats to protect their arms from wet. They passed on a dozen of miles without seeing any person; although they met a lad in an old field, by the name of Fonderin, about twelve or fourteen years of age, who had a brother and other relations in Ferguson's camp, and who was directly from it, within less than three miles. A halt was ordered, and the colonels met in consultation. Several persons knew the ground well on which the enemy was encamped, agreeably to the information given by the boy, of their position. The plan of battle was immediately settled; that the forces should be nearly equally divided, and one half would take to the right, cross over and occupy the southeast side of the mountain, and that the other should advance to the northwest side, and that each division should move forward until they formed a junction, when all should face to the front, and press upon the enemy up the sides of the mountain. Orders were given to prepare for battle by laying aside every incumbrance, examining into their arms, and guarding against alarms. The orders were speedily obeyed, and they moved forward over King's Creek and up a branch and ravine, and between two rocky knobs; which when they had passed, the top of the mountain and the enemy's camp upon it were in full view, about one hundred poles in front."

The enemy's camp was to the right of the road, seventy or eighty poles in length, and on the summit of the mountain, which at this place runs nearly northeast and southwest (the shadow of the timber at half past one P. M. ranges with it). The troops were led on in the following order: to the right, Major. Winston, Colonel Sevier, Colonel Campbell, Colonel Shelby, and Major McDowell; to the left, Colonel Ilambrite, Colonel Cleaveland, and Colonel Williams, of South Carolina. Each division moved off steadily to the place assigned them, in the order of battle. Some of the regiments suffered much under the galling fire of the enemy, before they were in a position to engage in the action. Some complaints began to be uttered, that "it would never do to be shot down without returning the fire;" Colonel Shelby replied, 'press on to your places, and then your fire will not be lost.' The men, led by Shelby and M'Dowell, were soon closely engaged, and the contest from the first was very severe. Williams and Cleaveland were soon in their places, and with the utmost energy engaged the foe. Ferguson, finding that end of his line giving way, ordered forward his regulars and riflemen, with bayonets, and made a furious charge upon Shelby and M'Dowell, charging down the mountain some two hundred yards. A united and destructive fire soon compelled him to order his party back to the top of the mountain. To ward off the deadly attack from Colonel Williams, Ferguson again charged with fury down the mountain. When Shelby's men saw this, they raised the cry, `Come on, men, the enemy is retreating!' They rallied, and by the time Ferguson returned from the charge against the South Carolinians, renewed their fire with great resolution. Ferguson again charged upon Shelby, but not so far as before; Colonel Williams's men in turn called out, `the enemy is retreating, come on men!'

"At this stage of the action, Hamilton and Winston had met, and a brisk fire was poured upon Ferguson's men, all round the mountain. As he would advance towards Campbell, Sevier, Winston, and Hambrite, he was pursued by Shelby, M'Dowell, Williams, and Cleaveland. When he wouId turn his face against the latter, the former would press on in pursuit. Thus he struggled on, making charges and retreats, but his left was rapidly losing ground. his men Were rapidly falling before the skilful aim and unbending courage of the -hilts. Even after being wounded, he fought on with courage. He made every effort that could be done by a brave and skilful officer, according to his position. At length he was shot dead, and his whole command driven up into a group of sixty yards in length, and not forty in width.

"The British officer, Capt. Dupeister, who took the command, ordered a white flag to be raised in token of surrender, but the bearer was instantly shot down. He soon had another raised, and called out for quarter. Col. Shelby demanded, if they surrendered, why they did not throw down their arms. It was instantly done. But still the firing was continued, until Shelby and Sevier went inside the lines and ordered the men to cease. Some who kept at it would call out, 'Give them Buford's play,' alluding to Colonel Buford's defeat by Tarleton, where no quarter was given. A guard was placed over the prisoners, and all remained on the mountain during that night."

The party which led the left wing, under Colonel Hambrite, suffered very much, having to pass very difficult ground to reach their place of destination, and within eighty rods of the enemy's marksmen. Colonel Hambrite was wounded, and Major Chronicle was killed. Colonel Williams, of South Carolina, a brave and efficient officer, was also killed. The loss of the whigs was not exactly ascertained, but believed to be about thirty killed and fifty wounded. The enemy had about one hundred and fifty killed, and all the rest taken prisoners."

"On the morning of the 8th a court-martial was held, and several of the prisoners, who were found guilty of murder and other high crimes, were sentenced to be hanged. About twenty were executed."

From this paper of Gen. Graham it appears that the first moving of the expedition was in North Carolina. Virginia came to her aid, and the gallant South Carolina took her share. The gallant Williams has no monument. The friends of Major Chronicle and a few others erected a monument where they were buried, near the battle-ground. On the east side is this inscription, viz.

Sacred to the memory of Major WILLIAM CHRONICLE
and Captain MATOCKS, WILLIAM ROBB, and JOHN BOYD:--
who were killed at this place on the 7th of October, 1780,
fighting in defence of America.

On the west side

Col. FERGUSON, an officer of
his Britannic Majesty, was
defeated and killed at this place,
on the 7th of October, 1780.

Colonel Williams was an elder in the Presbyterian church, much beloved as a man and an officer. His fellow-citizens preferred marching under him, when the time for marching came. The last meeting, it is said, with his friends, was at the church, in which he used to meet them in solemn worship, and at a communion season. Shelby became noted in Kentucky, was made Governor, and was, in the latter part of his life, religious, and an elder of the church. The McDowells held through life the highest stand with their fellow-citizens. Winston, Hambrite, Sevier, and Cleaveland, were true patriots. Campbell was, after this, in the battle of Guilford, and afterwards the commander of the militia in the eastern section of Virginia; and while engaged with his duties was seized with a fever, which proved mortal. He was buried at Rocky Mills, in Hanover county. A native of Augusta county, he removed early to Washington county,a bold, active man, and extremely popular with the militia, as is seen in the fact that on a short notice he rallied 400 men of his county to march with him in this expedition, an untiring enemy of the tories, who hated him as much as he loved his country. After an interval of forty years, his remains, in a surprising state of preservation, were removed to Washington county, to repose with his family.

It is said that Colonel Ferguson, when he encamped on King's Mountain, after so many days of retreat before the gathering militia, exclaimed to his men, "Here is a place God Almighty cannot drive us from." He never left the mountain; the next day he fell in battle.

By courtesy, Colonel Campbell, as having the largest force, was considered the Ieading officer; during the action he rode down two horses. Early in the action, his black, called .Bald Face, proving unruly, he exchanged him for a horse belonging to a Mr. Campbell, of his corps. In the heat of the battle he was seen on foot at the head of his men, with his coat off, and his shirt-coIIar open. Some two hundred yards down the mountain was Bald Face, mounted by the Colonel's servant, a tall, well-proportioned mulatto, who said, "he had come up to see what his master and the rest were doing."

Ex-Senator Preston, of South Carolina, a grandson of Colonel Campbell, in his youth, stopped at a tavern in South Carolina, near the North Carolina line, and in sight of King's Mountain; and while breakfast was preparing, observed that the landlady frequently turned to look at him. While eating, she asked him his name, and observed, by way of apology, that he was very like the man she most dreaded on earth. "And who is that?" said Preston.

"Colonel Campbell," said the woman, "that hung my husband at King's Mountain."

Besides Shelby, who became religious before his death, and Williams, who was so much beloved as elder, it is the tradition that two of the other officers were elders in the Presbyterian church; but which of them is not handed down distinctly. They were republicans on principle, and fought and bled for their principles. The whole military force that were engaged in this expedition were from Presbyterian settlements, and were in all probability all of them of Scotch and Scotch-Irish origin.

Though the scene of this battle is in South Carolina, the chief Honor belongs to North Carolina, shared most nobly with South Carolina. and Virginia. The officers and men concerned in the planning and executing the enterprise were all of the same race, and were gathered from what now forms four States. "Mountain-men," and "beyond the Mountains," mean Tennessee and Kentucky, then forming western counties of North Carolina and Virginia.


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