The year was 1780. American patriots were still reeling from the siege of Charleston in May, followed by a defeat at the Battle of Camden a few months later. British general Cornwallis was on the march through the Carolinas. To protect his flank, he commanded Major Patrick Ferguson to move into North Carolina while, at the same time, recruit men that would fight with his loyalist militia. Ferguson did not count on the response he received from the Overmountain Men.
These were the hale and hearty residents of the Carolina backcountry and Appalachian mountain range who, upon hearing the threats of Ferguson who was “ordering” them to cross the mountain and take the oath of allegiance to the King or else be destroyed with fire and sword, faced the challenge head on.
The plan was simple, attack Ferguson’s fortified position which was located on a rocky hilltop called King’s Mountain a few miles from the South Carolina border. With the instructions not to wait for word of command but rather let each man be his own officer; to shout like hell and fight like devils, the Americans assaulted the hill from all sides. The battle lasted 65 minutes and ended when Ferguson was killed and his men surrendered.
Colonel William Campbell commanded the Washington County militia from Virginia and one of his company leaders was Capt. William Bowen. Bowen was taken ill before the battle and the command of his company fell upon his brother, Lt. Rees Bowen. Rees, a champion prize fighter described as a “giant in size and strength,” was the 6th great grandfather of my niece’s husband. He was said to have had an aversion to the patriot practice of firing from behind trees and rocks. “Never shall it be said that I sought safety by hiding my person or dodging from a Briton or a Tory who opposed me in the field.” It may have led to his death as he became a casualty of that battle, taking a rifle ball to the chest.
Thomas Jefferson, commenting on the victory, called it “the turn of the tide of success.” Theodore Roosevelt said this “brilliant victory was the turning point for the American Revolution.” President Herbert Hoover ranked the importance of the battle aside Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Yorktown.
The Battle of King’s Mountain was one of the few major battles of the Revolution fought entirely by fellow countrymen. Loyalists vs patriots. No formal British troops were involved except for Ferguson himself.
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