Participation of Captain Samuel Martin in the Battle of King’s Mountain.
During the latter part of August and the whole of September, Captain Martin was rarely at home, and then not remaining for more than two days at a time. About the last week of September be marched with his company by a circuitous route, under Colonel Graham, to the Cowpens. There, he united with Colonels. Campbell, Shelby, Sevier, Cleaveland and other officers and marched with them to King’s Mountain. In this battle Captain Martin acted a conspicuous part, was in the thickest of the fight, and lost six of his company. After this battle he continued on active scouting duties wherever his services were needed.
Excerpt from Sketches of Western North Carolina, Cyrus L. Hunter, 1877
Samuel Martin was born in Ireland in 1732, where he married Margaret McCurdy, and migrated to Pennsylvania. While there, he served in the old French and Indian war, removing to North Carolina, he served on the Snow campaign in 1775; on the frontiers in 1776; and went to the relief of Charleston in 1779-80. In June, 1780, he was made Captain, serving under Rutherford; and was at the capture of Rugeley ‘s Tories, and at King’s Mountain. In 1781, he opposed Cornwallis at Cowan’s Ford, and afterwards served awhile under General Pickens; and then commanded a company under Colonel William Polk at Eutaw Springs. Surviving his companion, he died in Gaston County, November twenty-sixth, 1836, at the great age of one hundred and four years.
Except from King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes, Lyman C Draper, LL.D, 1881
Then marched to Fishing Creek in pursuit of the tory officer Cunningham, out about 10 days in pursuit, the middle of August. During the latter part of August and to Ocotber, at the time of the battle of Camden (Gates defeat) and the march of Cornwallis towards Charlotte was out constantly, not being at home two days at a time. Late in September marching a circuitious route to Gilberttown, under Col Graham, where fell in with Col Campbell and Shelby, and marched to Battle of King’s Mountain where I commanded 20 men, 4 of whom were killed on the ground and 2 died shortly after.
Marched in pursuit of Cornwallis, to harrass his trains in crossing the Catawba River. Was under the command of Col Wm Graham of Tryon County. Col Campbell commanded at King’s Mountain, Col Graham having left before the action, the command of the regiment devolving on Joseph Dixon. Graham’s commission was taken away on account of his conduct on that occasion.
Declaration of Samuel Martin dated May 13, 1833, aged listed as 99 years.
I volunteered as private in declarant’s company just before the Battle of Ramseurs Mill in Tryon County (now Lincoln) and continued subject to his command until after the Battle of King’s Mountain in which I was under his command. He commanded about 20 men, 6 of whom fell. He was recognized as Capt until the end of the war. I have known him from boyhood, and have all the time lived in his neighborhood.
Statement by Andy Barry, 13 May 1833
Was with Capt Martin at Battle of King’s Mountain and many other places in Lincoln County. He was recognized as Capt from that time to the close of war. Have lived as neighbor to him ever since I was a small boy.
Statement by Samuel Caldwell, 13 May 1833
Was informed and believes Samuel Martin acted as Capt of militia at siege of Charleston. Deponent marched to Gilberttown (now Rutherford) where he found Colonels Shelby and Campbell. Capt Martin was there and marched to King’s Mountain and there commanded a company. In consequence of “Lord Wallace” army being in the neighborhood the militia was constantly out. Deponent was frequently with Capt Martin frequently on other tours and believes he served his country as he stated. Deponent has known him ever since.
Capt Samuel Caldwell – October 24th, 1833
END OF RESEARCHER’S NOTE
Historians consider the Battle of Kings Mountain to be the “turning point in the South” in America’s War for Independence. The victory of Patriots over Loyalist troops destroyed the left wing of Cornwallis’ army. The battle also effectively ended, at least temporarily, the British advance into North Carolina. Lord Cornwallis was forced to retreat from Charlotte into South Carolina to wait for reinforcements. The victory of the Overmountain Men allowed General Nathaniel Greene the opportunity to reorganize the American Army.
When British General Henry Clinton learned of his men’s defeat at Kings Mountain, he is reported to have called it “the first link of a chain of evils” that he feared might lead to the collapse of the British plans to quash the Patriot rebellion. He was right. American forces went on to defeat the British at Cowpens. A little more than a year after Kings Mountain, Washington accepted Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, Virginia.
The battle, fought October 7th, 1780, proved to be the turning point in the British Southern campaign. The American Continental army suffered successive defeats at Charleston, Waxhaws, and Camden, South Carolina, in the summer of 1780. By the fall, only the voluntary militia units remained in the field to oppose the armies of Cornwallis.
To recruit and equip militia loyal to the British cause, Cornwallis sent Major Patrick Ferguson into the western Carolinas. He was to raise a loyal militia army and suppress the remaining Patriot militia. Intending to cow the Patriots, in September he sent a proclamation to the mountain settlements, telling them to lay down their arms, or he would march his army west, and “lay waste the countryside with fire and sword.”
The result was the march of the famous Overmountain men from the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River across the mountains in search of Ferguson. Overcoming hunger, weather, wrangling, and intrigue, the Patriots attacked and destroyed Ferguson’s Loyalists at Kings Mountain.
The Patriot army, nominally under the command of William Campbell from Virginia, contained strong leaders who managed to combine their efforts. John Sevier would go on to serve as Tennessee’s first governor. Isaac Shelby would be Kentucky’s first governor. Benjamin Cleveland would serve as a civic leader and judge in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Joseph Winston, Joseph McDowell, Andrew Hampton, William Chronicle, and Joseph Hambright all led troops from North Carolina. William Hill, Edward Lacey, and James Williams led contingents from South Carolina. William Candler led a small group from Georgia.
Charles McDowell from North Carolina helped organize the army. But he stepped aside before the battle to preserve a united Patriot army.
PATRICK FERGUSON — KEEN RIFLEMAN
The leader of the Loyalist troops was Major Patrick Ferguson. Ferguson would be the only British regular to serve at Kings Mountain. All other soldiers were Americans — Patriot and Loyalist.
Joining the British army at age 15, Ferguson was a well known marksman and the inventor of a breechloading rifle. The son of a Scottish judge, Ferguson had an affable disposition, a gentle face and was slight of build. Nevertheless, his soldiers named him “Bulldog.”
Ferguson distinguished himself early on in his military career. Serving as a cornet in the Royal North British Dragoons, Ferguson was considered by his superiors as a courageous fighter during the wars of Flanders and Germany in the 1760’s. In 1768, he joined the Seventieth Regiment of Foot in the West Indies, where British troops engaged in guerilla warfare with the native Carib tribes. Ferguson went for garrison duty at Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1773 but soon became bored.
Ferguson’s ability with a rifle was well known. While visiting his family’s estate in Scotland before the American Revolution, he began to develop a rifle of his own. After completing the invention, Ferguson displayed the rifle for military leaders and even King George III witnessed one of Ferguson’s demonstrations.
During one demonstration, Ferguson fired at a rate of 4-6 shots per minute during pouring rain and high wind. Apparently, Ferguson only missed the target three times while firing from a distance of 200 yards — this was not possible with the British Brown Bess musket. A patent was issued and a limited number of the breechloading rifles were produced. Ferguson established an elite rifle corps which joined Sir Henry Clinton in America. Their mission: to help stop the rebellion in the colonies.
FERGUSON HAS WASHINGTON IN HIS SIGHTS
At the Battle of Brandywine (September 11, 1777), Ferguson was wounded in the arm and his rifle corps was later disbanded. The Ferguson rifles were removed and very few have been seen since. There is no evidence that the Ferguson rifle was used at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
It was at the Battle of Brandywine that Ferguson distinguished himself further though many did not know about it until the 20th century. Scholars believe that Ferguson was the British soldier who had George Washington in his gun sight. Ferguson did not pull the trigger, saying that “it is ungentlemanly to shoot a man in the back of the head.”
Ferguson himself mentioned the incident in a letter he dictated a few months later. During the battle, he did not realize the identity of the American officer. While recuperating in the hospital from his arm injury, he discovered that the American officer in question was George Washington. Ferguson wrote that even if he had known, he would not have pulled the trigger. Ferguson’s letters are available in the library at Edinburgh University.
Ferguson later fought in the battles of Monmouth and Little Egg Harbor. He was also active in many other battles in the New York and Hudson area. Impressing his superiors with his valor, Ferguson was promoted to Major in 1779.
Late that year, he was selected to command a corps of 300 men, called the American Volunteers. The men were Loyalists, handpicked from units in the New York and New Jersey area. The corps, along with Ferguson, arrived in the South in early February 1780. Ferguson, a persuasive individual, immediately gathered support in Savannah and Augusta before Clinton ordered him to Charleston.
During the invasion of that city, Ferguson worked with the legendary Banastre Tarleton, who had angered many Patriots after his massacre of soldiers trying to surrender to him at Waxhaw. Author Washington Irving later wrote that Ferguson and Tarleton were “equally intrepid and determined but Ferguson is cooler, and more open to the impulses of humanity.” In fact, some researchers believe that Ferguson despised Tarleton’s methods.
After Charleston fell, Ferguson was appointed to the position of Inspector General of the Militia. Clinton and Cornwallis gave him the mission to organize a volunteer corps of Loyalists troops. Ferguson’s men thought highly of him — he had a natural ability to gain their affection and respect. The Scot was known for spending hours in conversations with the ordinary people around the villages and towns in South Carolina. South Carolina remained a Loyalist stronghold until the end of the war, largely due to his influence.
PRELUDE TO BATTLE
During the summer of 1780, Ferguson and his provincial corps of 150 traveled through South Carolina and into North Carolina gathering support for His Majesty’s cause. While marching through the upcountry of South Carolina, the Loyalists engaged in minor skirmishes with militia regiments. Some of those small battles happened at places like Wofford’s Iron Works, Musgrove’s Mill, Thicketty Fort, and Cedar Spring. However in August, after the Americans lost at the Battle of Camden, the Over Mountain Men retired to their homes in western North Carolina to rest before going after Ferguson again.
THE MARCH TO KINGS MOUNTAIN
Meanwhile in September, Cornwallis invaded North Carolina. His final objective was to march into Virginia. To protect his troops from guerilla attack, Cornwallis ordered Ferguson to move northward into western North Carolina before joining the main British Army in Charlotte.
In late September, Ferguson camped at Gilbert Town (near present day Rutherfordton). He sent a message to Colonel Isaac Shelby, whom he considered to be the leader of the “backwater men.” The message said that if Shelby and his men did not stop their opposition to the British, Ferguson would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders and “lay the country waste with fire and sword.” The Patriots would have none of it.
On September 25, Patriot leaders and Colonels Charles McDowell, John Sevier, Isaac Shelby and William Campbell gathered at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River (near present day Tennessee). They marched five days over the snow covered mountains to the Quaker Meadows Plantation owned by McDowell’s family (in present day Morganton). There, they were joined by more frontiersmen including those serving under Benjamin Cleveland and Joseph Winston. The troops marched toward Gilbert Town and Ferguson.
Spies told Ferguson the Patriots were on their way. Ferguson had stayed at Gilbert Town hoping to intercept another Patriot force, heading northward. Calling in reinforcements, the Scot began to march toward Charlotte to receive the protection of Cornwallis’ main army. He sent an appeal to loyal North Carolinians — for them to save themselves from the “backwater men…a set of mongrels.” Late on October 6, Ferguson received word from his spies that the Americans were close behind him. Camping at Kings Mountain, near the North Carolina border, he sent a message to Cornwallis requesting reinforcements. “Three or four hundred good soldiers,” he wrote, “would finish the business. Something must be done soon.” Desperately short of provisions, Ferguson sent out a foraging party of 150 men. He then organized a defense and prepared to meet the enemy.
When the Patriots realized that Ferguson was not at Gilbert Town, they became determined to pursue and fight him. The soldiers followed Ferguson, leaving their weak comrades and horses at Gilbert Town. On October 6 at Cowpens in South Carolina, the Over Mountain Men were joined by 400 South Carolinians under Colonel James Williams and others. The soldiers learned from spy Joseph Kerr that Ferguson was definitely camped about 30 miles ahead in the vicinity of Kings Mountain. Shelby was especially pleased to learn that Ferguson was quoted as saying, that he “was on Kings Mountain, that he was king of that mountain and that God Almighty and all the Rebels of hell could not drive him from it.”
The seven colonels chose Campbell as their officer of the day to carry out the plans they adopted collectively. Fearing Ferguson would escape, the colonels selected 900 of their best men to pursue the Loyalists.
The Patriots marched through the night and the next day, through pouring rain and intermittent showers. They reached Kings Mountain the next day, Saturday October 7 just after noon.
Kings Mountain is an outlying portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A heavily rocky and wooded area, the mountain rises 60 feet above the plain surrounding it. The campsite was supposedly an ideal place for Ferguson to camp because the mountain has a plateau at its summit. The plateau is 600 yards long and 70 feet wide at one end and 120 feet wide at the other. The Scot considered the summit too steep to be scaled.
THE BATTLE BEGINS
Upon arriving at Kings Mountain, the Patriot soldiers dismounted. After tying up the horses, the soldiers formed in a horseshoe around the base of the mountain behind their leaders, who remained on horseback.
Ferguson was right in believing that his would be attackers would expose themselves to musket fire if they attempted to scale the summit. But Ferguson did not realize his men could only fire if they went out into the open, exposing themselves to musket fire. Most of the Patriot troops were skilled hunters who routinely killed fast moving animals. On this day, Ferguson’s men would not find escape an easy task.
The fighting began around 3 p.m. when some of Ferguson’s men noticed the Patriot soldiers surrounding the mountain. After a brief skirmish, the shooting began in earnest when two of the Patriot regiments opened fire on the Loyalists simultaneously. The Loyalists fired back but the Patriots were protected by the heavily wooded area.
The regiments commanded by Colonels Isaac Shelby and William Campbell marched toward Ferguson’s men but were driven back twice by Loyalist fire. But as one regiment was driven back, another would advance. Ferguson had to shift his reserves from one place to another while continuing to take heavy losses from the concealed American sharpshooters in the trees. Eventually, other Patriot troops provided enough support that Shelby and Campbell’s regiments reached the summit.
During the battle, Patrick Ferguson commanded his men with the use of a silver whistle. Many Patriot fighters later recalled hearing the sound of Ferguson’s whistle over the sound of the rifle fire. The whistle and the checkered hunting shirt he wore over his uniform made the Scottish commander quite noticeable on the battlefield.
After nearly an hour of fighting, Ferguson suddenly fell from his horse. One foot was hanging in his stirrup — several, perhaps as many as eight bullets were in his body. Some accounts say he died before he hit the ground. Other accounts say that his men propped him against a tree, where he died. Ferguson was the only British soldier killed in the battle — all others were Americans, either Loyalist or Patriot.
Ferguson’s second in command then ordered that a white flag of surrender be hoisted.
Despite the call for surrender by the Loyalists, the Patriots could not immediately stop their men from shooting. Many Patriots remembered that the infamous Colonel Tarleton had mowed down Patriot troops at Waxhaw despite the fact that the troops were trying to surrender. Eventually, the fighting at Kings Mountain stopped.
In all, 225 Loyalists were killed, 163 were wounded, 716 were taken prisoner. 28 Patriots were killed and 68 were wounded. Among the Patriot dead: Colonel James Williams of South Carolina.
BATTLE ENDS: PATRIOTS MARCH PRISONERS TO HILLSBOROUGH
After the battle, the victorious Patriots and the captured Loyalists had to camp together. Soon it became dark and the cries of the wounded were heard and often unheeded.
The next morning, the sun came out for the first time in days. Fearing that Cornwallis would soon be upon them, many of the Patriot militia left for their homes. A contingent of Patriots took the prisoners northward to the Continental Army jurisdiction in Hillsborough.
During the journey, a number of prisoners were brutally beaten and some prisoners were hacked with swords. A number of unjust murders took place — not the Patriots finest hour. The injustices continued a week later when a committee of Patriots appointed a jury to try some of the so-called “obnoxious” Loyalists. 36 Loyalists were found guilty of breaking open houses, burning houses and killing citizens. Nine were hanged.
CORNWALLIS IS SHAKEN BY THE NEWS; WITHDRAWS INTO SOUTH CAROLINA
Cornwallis was shaken when the news of Ferguson’s defeat reached his headquarters. He remained in Charlotte a few days before withdrawing back into South Carolina to the British post at Winnsboro.
The British could not count on reinforcements from other South Carolina posts to help them — the news of victory at Kings Mountain had revived Patriot hopes. The victory triggered bonfires and street dancing in cities held by the Patriots. Soon, Patriot leaders such as Thomas Sumter, Elijah Clarke and Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion stepped up their harassment of British troops. Patriot sympathizers increased their assaults on Tory neighbors.
COUNTDOWN TO YORKTOWN
Cornwallis was not inactive however. He sent Tarleton and a Major Wemyss in hot pursuit of Marion and Sumter. On November 9, Sumter was fully prepared when Wemyss attempted a surprise attack on his forces at Fish Dam Ford. Wemyss and 25 of his men were captured. Sumter then moved with 240 toward the British fort at Ninety Six. Tarleton stopped his pursuit of Marion and went to Fort Ninety Six. Deciding not to face Tarleton at that time, Sumter fled northward to Blackstock’s Plantation. On November 20, Tarleton attacked Sumter’s forces but to no avail. Tarleton lost 100 men while the Americans only lost three. Tarleton then rejoined Cornwallis.
Meanwhile, Clinton sent General Alexander Leslie to Virginia to prepare for battle there. Leslie was to be under the direct orders of Cornwallis. Cornwallis ordered Leslie to come to South Carolina — he planned to resume his invasion of North Carolina as soon as Leslie arrived. Believing that Patriot leader Daniel Morgan planned to attack Fort Ninety Six, Cornwallis sent Tarleton to deal with the backwoodsman. Expecting Leslie to arrive in mid-January, Cornwallis planned to advance rapidly northward and cut off the two American armies (Nathaniel Greene’s men in the South from George Washington’s men in the North). He also hoped to stop the advance of Morgan’s forces should they survive the expected encounter with Tarleton.
Cornwallis’s hopes were dashed. Morgan’s men soundly defeated Tarleton’s Legion at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17. Morgan, who was ill with rheumatism and other ailments, joined Greene’s army before returning to his home in Virginia. Greene saw that Cornwallis, who had left South Carolina, was getting further away from his train of supplies and provisions. Eventually, the two forces met in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Technically, the British won that battle but it was a Pyrrhic victory because British losses were high. One man in four was killed, wounded or captured.
Throughout the summer, skirmishes were fought across the Carolinas and Virginia. In September, the army of Cornwallis and the army of Washington met at Yorktown. After a 20-day battle, Cornwallis surrendered. The war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris two years later.
Historians agree that the battle of Kings Mountain was the beginning of the end of British rule in its former colonies. In less than one hour of battle, the Overmountain Men not only captured the day but also punctured holes in the British strategy for keeping America under its control.
Portions written by Peggy Beach, Cleveland County Public Information Officer
The Battle of King’s Mountain, was a crushing defeat to the British and loyalist troops, but more importantly, brought a glimmer of hope to the Patriot forces in the South.
The war had not been going well for the American forces in the south. Banastre Tarlton with 290 of his famed dragoon legion had unmerciously butchered 400 of Bufords’ troops at the Battle of Waxhaws Creek in 1780. Burfords’ troops had tried to surrendered, but Tarlton anxious to make a name for himself, personally cut the surrender banner down, then lead the final and fatal saber charge. This lead to his nickname “Bloody Tarlton”, and his terms of surrender were known as “Tarlton’s quarter”.
In addition to the capture of Savannah, and with the surrender of Charleston, S.C., things looked bleak for the Americans in the south.
Only through the “partisans” was any resistance kept alive. Partisans were bands of guerilla fighters, whose hit and run tactics, disrupted the British communication and supply lines in the south. The famous partisans were Andrew Pickens (the Wizard Owl), Thomas Sumter (the Carolina Gamecock), and Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox).
Americans troops were all too eager to repay the British for the massacre which occurred at Waxhaws.
On October the 7th, Maj. Patrick Ferguson brings his Loyalist troops to high ground which is heavily wooded, and he mistakenly believes that this area is invulnerable to attack.
Ferguson is also noted worthy as he has also developed the first breech loading rifle, but it is not adopted as it is condsidered too unreliable. Also Ferguson is in control of the second largest group of Loyalist troops (Tarlton being first).
Ferguson with his believe that he has secued an impregnable position, as Cornwallis to send reinforcements. With his additional troops, Ferguson will strike out and crush the frontier militia which as been harrasing the British. Ferguson however makes the mistake of not securing the slopes of the hill, figuring that the heavily wooded terrain will make any type of an attack, not feasible.
Feguson has miscalculated the resolve and the practicality of the backwoodsmen. Men from modern day South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, hearing about Ferguson and his Loyalists, start to make a treck to this area, and destroy him before he is allowed to destroy them.
The frontiersmen slowly creep up the backside of the mountain to within yards of the British and Loyalists. Americans attack the hill for oppisite sides, and Ferguson orders a bayonet charge. The loyalists are easy targets for the woodsmen and their rifles who use the thickly wooded cover to their advantage. The remaining men are pushed back to their camp where they are surrounded by intense fire.
Ferguson wearing a red checked shirt is easily identified, and shot no less then 6 times. Many of the others ask for surrender, but hear the response “Talton’s quarter”, and the shooting continues until most are cut down. Total causulties for the day are 157 Loyals killed 163 wounded, and 700 captured. American figures are 28 killed and 64 wounded.
This a major blow to the British in the south, and will lead Cornwallis to his next defeat, Cowpens.
ADDITIONAL READING –
OVER MOUNTAIN MEN
Dann, John C. ed. The Revolution Remembered: Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980.
Draper, Lyman C. Kings Mountain and its Heroes: History of the Battle of Kings Mountain, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1967.
Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy, eds. The Compact History of the Revolutionary War, New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1963
Ferguson Rifle Campaign. Page on Web Site of South Doc Productions. www.southdoc.net/tnchron/ferguson1.htm.
Florette, Henri. Kings Mountain. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950.
Garrison, Webb. Great Stories of the American Revolution. Nashville, Tennessee: Rutledge Hill Press, 1990.
Gilmer, Bobby Moss. The Patriots of Kings Mountain. Blacksburg, S.C.: Scotia-Hubernia, 1990.
Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Page on the N.C. State Library Web Site, www.statelibrary.dcr.state.nc.us
The Heritage of Cleveland County. Volume 1. The Cleveland County Historical Association. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Hunter Publishing Company, 1982.
Kelly, James C. and William C. Baker. The Sword of the Lord and Gideon: A Catalogue of Historical Objects Related to the Battle of Kings Mountain. Boone: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1980.
Kings Mountain National Military Park, Internet Web Site, www.nps.gov/kimo.
Kings Mountain National Military Park. Sights Magazine Web Site, www.sightsmag.com
Messick, Hank. Kings Mountain: The Epic of the Blue Ridge Mountain Men in the American Revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1976.
Our Heritage: A History of Cleveland County. Shelby, N.C.: Shelby Star, 1976.
Pancake, John S. This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas, 1780-1782. University of Alabama Press, 1985.
Resource and Activity Guide for Teachers. Published by the Kings Mountain National Military Park, 1995.
Scheer, George F. The Overmountain Men. Pamphlet. Available at Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Weathers, Lee B. The Living Past of Cleveland County: A History. Spartanburg, S.C.: The Reprint Company, 1956.
White, Katherine Keogh. The Kings Mountain Men: The Story of the Battle with Sketches of the American Soldiers Who Took Part. Baltimore: General Publishing Company, 1966.