During your visit to Kings Mountain State Park, be sure to reserve a morning or afternoon – better yet, a whole day! – to visit Kings Mountain National Military Park. This impressive National facility is just down the road, a five-minute drive. Plenty of parking there. During the week, at least.
This National Park commemorating the Battle of Kings Mountain is scooter and wheelchair-friendly throughout. Though, as you see in the photo above, some of the ramps have quite a steep grade. This, in fact, is the ramp up to the Visitors Center front entrance.
Before attempting the paved trail around the battlefield’s key points be sure to stop in at the Visitor Center’s well-stocked bookstore. They have a wonderful collection of books related to the Revolutionary War in general, and specifically to the Battle of Kings Mountain.
They’re expensive, though. If you have a weakness for books, leave ALL credit cards in the car. I recommend Robert M. Dunkerly’s “Kings Mountain Walking Tour Guide.” It’s just $8.00, plus tax. And best of all, it’s only 43 pages long, including the bibliography. Beautifully written and edited. Sit over on one of the Visitor Center benches and read it cover to cover before doing anything else. It’ll give you all the background you need to appreciate this remarkable facility.
Speaking of remarkable facilities, spend some time with this map in the Visitors Center. We’ve all seen similar efforts at other facilities. Usually they bring to mind third-prize winners at an eight-grade history class competition. Well, this map works! Give Dunkerly a good read. Then step over to this map and fiddle with the various lights and paths. It will be helpful once you’re out on the trail. Or, it was to me, anyway.
Then step into the Visitor Center’s auditorium/theater to see the film on the Battle of Kings Mountain they offer. It was produced by the History Channel, in cooperation with the National Park Service. These national park folks have budget for such things, and it shows. This is the sort of program we all wish the History Channel would offer regularly. A little gushy in places. Since it was made for television. But lots and lots of solid information about this important battle. With some useful visuals.
The Park maintains a small but excellent museum at the Visitors Center. Many of the objects displayed were found right here on the site. Look at that collection of canteens in the display above. These are items a common soldier might have with him.
I’d wait to tour the museum, though, until you’ve tackled the battlefield trail. Nice place after the hike to cool down in the summer or warm up in the winter. And, given the quality of the pieces displayed it probably will take you longer than you anticipate. It did me.
So, out to the trail! It’s over a mile all the way around. With a good bit of up-and-down, given the terrain of this battlefield. A kind lady at the Visitors Center desk, Ms. Sharyn, offered an excellent suggestion for those of us who aren’t quite as mobile as we once were.
Walk the trail backward, she suggested! Several of the must-see sites are just up the hill that way. Only about a quarter-mile or so. And if you’re feeling more ambitious once up the hill, then walk back down the other side to the beginning of the trail. Mostly downhill from there. It worked for me! [Thanks, Ms. Sharyn!]
Kings Mountain [named for the King family, by the way, not for the British Crown] was the site of one of the Revolutionary War’s most important battles. At least as important as any of those smaller New England skirmishes we’ve all read so much about in high school. It put an end to British plans to conquer the Southern territories of their rebellious colony. No small thing, given the situation the British faced at the time in the North, and around the globe.
British confidence swelled after their capture of Charleston in May 1780, and Lord Cornwallis’s decisive victory over General Gates at Camden just a few months later. The British believed they could gain control of the Carolinas with little difficulty. The region was filled with Loyalist sympathizers, after all. So the victorious Cornwallis left Camden for Charlotte with a gleam in his eye.
The trick was to get the Loyalist Americans to fight Britain’s battle in the Carolinas. Cornwallis assigned fiery Scottish Major Patrick Ferguson to recruit and organize the Carolina Loyalists to fight for the Crown. Ferguson, a well known British military figure, did just that.
Ferguson was thought to be the best shot in the British Army. He’d even invented a revolutionary [sorry] rifle that could be reloaded quickly without standing. A remarkable innovation at the time. Only a few of Ferguson’s remarkable rifles are known to exist today. The Park Museum has one of them. It’s pictured above. It was stolen from the collection some years ago, but later recovered.
Here’s a close-up of the Museum’s recreation of the Ferguson Rifle’s innovative loading mechanism. The rifle was reloaded by unscrewing the trigger guard and inserting a ball and powder directly into the breech. No need to hold the rifle upright to pour powder and ball down the barrel. Quicker and safer than the standard muzzle load procedure by far. Here’s a short video that describes the Ferguson Rifle and its loading procedure.
But the very characteristics that made Ferguson so effective at motivating men in battle, and at persuading otherwise sensible Americans to fight for the Crown, made him perhaps a bit overconfident, and a bit too willing to take risks. Even reckless.
As a military commander, Ferguson was more a Patton than a Bradley, in other words. Ferguson selected the treeless ridge of Kings Mountain to stand off his American Patriot pursuers with about 1,100 Loyalist American troops. Confident that his position would never be breached by the undisciplined backwoods yokels pursuing him.
On October 7, 1780, at about 3:00 p.m. 900 Patriots under command of Colonel William Campbell of Virginia began their assault of the mountain. Their long-barreled rifles proved effective against the smooth-bore muskets of the Loyalist troops. They’d been trained by Ferguson to fight on level ground, and therefore tended to over-shoot their targets when aiming down the steep sides of Kings Mountain. Any deer hunter will instantly recognize the problem.
We can still see the steep terrain of that important field of battle today. Though in 1780 it was still unlogged and covered by tall old trees that denied sunlight to undergrowth. Patriot troops darted from tree to tree, picking off Loyalist troops on the ridge with their long rifles as they moved ever upward.
From time to time the Loyalist troops would attempt bayonet charges down the hill. An essential element of British level-field tactics. But here they did little harm. And the charging troops then had to scramble back up to their own lines. Tired, thirsty, and increasingly dispirited.
In just over an hour one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War was over. Ninety-two American Patriots lay dead or dying, while 225 Loyalists were dead and 123 wounded. The remaining 716 of Ferguson’s force were taken captive. Britain’s Southern Strategy was stalled at Kings Mountain by a band of 900 brave “backwoods yokels”!
Major Patrick Ferguson was among those killed. He was buried here, wrapped in a cowhide shroud, by his loyal troops, Together with servant, Virginia Sal. Archeologists since believe they have confirmed the location of his grave.
The marker you see at the right was erected at Ferguson’s grave by by the U.S. government during the visit of President Herbert Hoover on October 7, 1930. Memories of the George Pattons of the world, it seems, are fated to outshine those of the Omar Bradleys.
Stay tuned. Since we’ll return to Kings Mountain State Park in the next post for a final look around.