When 7 October 1780
Strength British – 1,105
Americans – 900
After the Battle of Camden, Major General Lord Charles Cornwallis marched northward with the intention of invading North Carolina and Virginia. Major Patrick Ferguson was appointed Inspector of Militia on 22 May with orders to march to northwestern South Carolina and recruit men to join the Loyalist militia to protect the left flank of Cornwallis’s force.
The war in the South descended into an intense guerilla campaign as Patriots tried to prevent the British from occupying the Southern colonies. After raiding a Loyalist camp at Musgrove’s Mill on 19 August where sixty-three Loyalists were killed, Colonel Isaac Shelby and his OverMountain Men were pursued for 60 miles across the Appalachians by Major Patrick Ferguson. After establishing a camp at Gilbert Town, NC Ferguson issued a challenge to Patriot militia to lay down their weapons or he would “lay waste to their country with fire and sword.” Militia leaders met with Shelby and agreed to confront Ferguson.
Patriot militia assembled at Sycamore Shoals near modern-day Elizabethon in Tennessee on 25 September. They then marched toward South Mountain, NC, arriving there about two weeks later. In the meantime, deserters from the Patriot force reached Ferguson and told him a large militia force was on its way to confront him. For unknown reasons, Ferguson delayed his response for three days but eventually decided to retreat toward Cornwallis while sending a message ahead requesting reinforcements.
By 6 October, scouts reported to the Patriot militia that Ferguson was making camp on King’s Mountain. Ferguson was just a day away from Cornwallis but chose instead to send another request for help. On 7 October, the Patriots arrived and surrounded Ferguson’s force. Ferguson did not believe he’d be attacked so did not fortify his camp. The Patriot force was divided into nine separate forces with each fighting independently from the other.
Unusually, most Patriots carried rifles and took up firing positions from behind natural features. Desperate Loyalists continuously fixed bayonets and charged at the Patriots, who’d retreat down the mountain, regroup, and attack again. This became the pattern for the battle. Fighting was hard for the Loyalists since the Patriots continuously changed position, hiding their movement behind natural cover. Gradually the Loyalists were driven back where they began to surrender. Ferguson tried to rally his troops but was shot and wounded. A Patriot militiaman demanded his surrender, but Ferguson shot and killed him whereupon Ferguson was killed by multiple Patriots.
The loss at King’s Mountain showed the British that Loyalist militias were not strong enough to hold the countryside and so Cornwallis abandoned his plan to invade North Carolina and forced him to retreat to Charleston.
British – 290 killed / 163 wounded / 668 captured
Americans – 28 killed / 62 wounded
King's Mountain by Don Troiani.