A Visitor's Guide to the Colonial & Revolutionary South
The “Overmountain” Men at Kings Mountain
“A Patriot victory on October 7, 1780, at Kings Mountain was a turning point in the fate of the southern campaign and the American Revolution as a whole. Like the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, it weakened a major British effort to control a large group of the colonies. It may seem odd that a quickly resolved conflict between a thousand Loyalists and about the same number of Patriot ‘Overmountain’ men could rank in importance with major confrontations between large armies. But it came at a crucial time in Cornwallis’s campaign to subdue the Carolinas on his way to win the major objective, Virginia. Just a month after his overwhelming victory at Camden, it stalled his momentum.
British major Patrick Ferguson, in charge of protecting Cornwallis’s left flank, led 1,100 American Loyalist militiamen he had carefully trained. With a mission to eliminate harassing raids from so-called Overmountain men—settlers from over the Appalachians—he threatened them: If they did not desist in their efforts against the Crown, he would “hang their leaders and lay their country waste with fire and sword.” Angered by the threat,the Overmountain men gathered and made their plans to strike first. Ferguson, learning of their approach, realized that he could not reach Cornwallis at Charlotte and took a stand with his Loyalists on the flat summit of Kings Mountain, an open hill surrounded by wooded slopes.
The Overmountain men were without formal military training or recognized social standing—Ferguson called them “mongrels”— but they fought with courage and determination. These hardy backwoodsmen moved Indian-style behind trees and rocks, then fired at the enemy with hunting rifles that often far exceeded the range of their opponents’ weapons. This battle was the only one where the Patriots used long rifles as their primary weapons. After Ferguson was shot and killed, the Loyalists were surrounded and either killed or captured, with 700 taken prisoner.”