Trails Through History: Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
By Carla Charter
GAFFNEY, S.C. – History classes have taught about the Northern Colonies involvement in the American Revolution. Lesser known and equally important is the role of the south during the Revolution especially at the Battle of King’s Mountain. “The story of the South was a little-known story of the Revolution as a whole,” according to Ben Richardson, Chief of Planning and Partnerships, Overmountain National Historic Trail.
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, the first national historic trail east of the Mississippi, tells this revolutionary story of the south. The trail received its congressional designation in 1980, on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of King’s Mountain.
The Overmountain Men were a militia, not formal members of the Continental Army covering what are now Tennessee North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. Some militia members though, had served for some time in the Continental Army, according to David Doan, President of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association.
At the time of the King’s Mountain Battle, the Revolutionary War had been going on for seven years and was at a standstill in the north. Lord Clinton and General Cornwallis had developed what was called the Southern Strategy. “They thought if they could not hold the north, they could hold the south,” said Doan
On December 26, 1779, Clinton loaded 7,000 troops horses and weaponry in New York and set out for Charlestown. “The weather was not friendly on the Atlantic during that time of year and Clinton lost all of his horses and several ships,” Doan continued. After two and a half months he landed his army in Charlestown. Within a month Charlestown was surrounded by the British including being blockaded at sea.
At this time, the Overmountain Men lived in an area which the British had designated Indian Territory. The British were arming the Indians and encouraging them to attack the settlers. The settlers in return were using hit and run tactics against the British.
During one of these attacks Samuel Phillips, the nephew of Isaac Shelby, a colonel in the militia, was captured. Ferguson reportedly sent the nephew back over the Appalachian mountain range with a warning to the Overmountain Men to cease the attacks and lay down their weapons.
Instead, on September 25, 1780, the militia called a Nestor, a gathering at Sycamore Shoals, now Elizabethton, Tennessee. The next day, the militia left Sycamore Shoals to find Colonel Ferguson. Over the next 13 days the militia travelled over 330 miles ending at King’s Mountain.
The militia, after arriving at King’s Mountain, received intelligence on exactly where Ferguson and his troops were placed on King’s Mountain. Commands were sent to the Overmountain militia members as to how to attack the mountain.
The first shot of the battle was deployed at 3 p.m. in the afternoon according to a British Journal. An hour and 5 minutes later Ferguson was dead, as were 200 members of the British Army. Another 250 British soldiers were wounded and over 600 were captured. Of the American Militia 28 were killed and 65 were wounded.
“Major Ferguson had boasted ‘God all mighty himself, all of his angels, all of this militia this side of hell could not drag me from this mountain.’ Ferguson was right. He is still buried on that mountain under a pile of rocks. It is a Scottish tradition that if you do not want your enemy to come back alive you put rocks on his grave. To this day people bring rocks to Ferguson’s grave. “
Also important to the winning of this battle was Mary Patton. Patton learned how to make black powder from her father. She was driven out of the eastern seaboard by the British and ran the Watauga powder mill. “Making powder was the King’s providence only, as a way of controlling the people. Black powder was in scarce supply. Patton supplied the Overmountain Militia Men with 500 pounds of very good powder. Without that the Overmountain Men would not have had enough powder for their mission. If the British had caught Patton she would have been hung,” Doan said.
“With all due respect to our friends in the North, the colonists in the South won the Revolutionary War on that day. King’s Mountain disrupted the Southern Campaign,” said Doan Thomas Jefferson later noted in a letter that “the Battle of King’s Mountain was the turning point in the Revolutionary War. Over a year later the British surrendered at Yorktown. It is important to keep that part of history alive,” he continued.
In 1975, a group of citizens got together and wanted to commemorate the Over Mountain Men’s victory. Since then, from September 25 to October 7, 15 – 20 re-enactors wearing period dress follow the Overmountain Men’s route, according to Tom Vaughn treasurer of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association. Along the way the re-enactors present historical re-enactments, to educate school children and adults about the Overmountain Men and the Battle of King’s Mountain.
The National Historic Trail itself has two routes, the commemorative motor route follows as closely as possible the foot path of the 1780 campaign that the Overmountain men were using. The historic route also has portions of which are walking trails.
“One of the most beautiful sites along the trail is Yellow Mountain Gap at Hampton Creek Cove Natural Area in Tennessee. The trail intersects with the Appalachian trail at this place, the only point where the two trails intersect. The Overmountain Shelter, a barn converted to a shelter overlooks a beautiful valley,” according to Richardson.
More information on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail can be found at www.nps.gov/ovvi/index.htm
More information about the Overmountain Men and the annual historic reenactment can be found at Overmountain Victory Trail Association at www.ovta.org