In the summer of 1780, the Southern American colonies – and hopes of independence – seemed at the mercy of an invading British army. Believing the Southern colonies mostly loyal, the Royal army planned to conquer the South and recruit Loyalist militia (local volunteer soldiers) to help British regulars and British Provincial troops defeat the Continental Army and the local Patriot militia.
When Charleston, South Carolina, surrendered May 12th, 1780, the British captured most of the Continental troops in the South. Additional large losses occurred later in the summer with Patriot defeats at Waxhaws, South Carolina, May 29th, and Camden, South Carolina, August 16th. Only Patriot militia remained to oppose a British move through North Carolina into Virginia, America’s largest colony. Victory for Royal troops and an end to talk of independence seemed near.
Lord Charles Cornwallis, the British commander, appointed Major Patrick Ferguson as Inspector of Militia for South Carolina to defeat the local militia and to recruit Loyalists. Ferguson’s opposition included men from South Carolina’s backwoods under Thomas Sumter, North Carolinians commanded by Charles McDowell, and Over mountain men from today’s Tennessee under Isaac Shelby.
Moving into North Carolina, Ferguson attempted to intimidate the western settlers, threatening to march into the mountains and "lay waste the country with fire and sword" if they did not lay down their arms and pledge allegiance to the King. The response was a furious army formed on the western frontier. Growing in numbers as they marched east, some 900 men gave chase to Ferguson, surrounding his army at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, and killing or capturing Ferguson’s entire command.
" . . . That Turn of the Tide of Success" –Thomas Jefferson