Spartanburg, SC Oct. 21
Emotion Unleashed. Emotion Unchecked. That was one of the messages today as we did a history day, specifically a Revolutionary War history day. It took us two hours, on major highways for a change, to reach destination number one. Kings Mountain National Military Park is about an hour southwest of Charlotte NC, right on the NC/SC state line. We left the mountains and drove through the Piedmont region of NC, much more urban, hills and valleys, yet not as flat and hot as the coastal, low country. Technically piedmont means foothills.
Kings Mountain and Cowpens, our second history stop, were battles I was vaguely familiar with. In general, though, I usually associate the Revolutionary War with major pitched battles in the North and down to Virginia. So learning more about the southern campaign was a positive experience.
A bit of background. 1780 was not a good year. Washington did nothing positive; Benedict Arnold defected to the British; Charleston SC was taken by the British. The Carolinas were the source of the greatest number of battles and skirmishes. Great divisions existed with British Loyalists and American rebels living side by side-and fighting each other. Feuding was rampant with retribution paid back after each skirmish.
The British, under Tarleton, fought a battle at Waxhaws in May in which, after the British won, shot, rode down, and bayoneted the Americans who had surrendered. No quarter was given and few prisoners taken. The battle became a rallying cry and further inflamed feuding, plundering, looting, etc. on both sides.
The British warned the Americans that any effort by them to assist the rebels would mean the burning of their homes and lands and the hanging of their leaders. Well, that was enough to convince many settlers who had been uncertain of whom to back, particularly the frontier settlers from across the Blue Ridge Mountains (called the Overmountain people), that it was time to fight for their freedom and beat the British.
Most of these settlers were from Ireland, Scotland, and the north of England. They had no love for the British, were used to fighting, but until now, had basically stayed out of the revolution. They were new settlers to this region, having come in great waves in the years just prior to the American Revolution. To them,everyone was a foreigner except neighbors and family-as defined over generatins of conflict in their North Britain homelands.
Kings Mountain is 150 feet above the surrounding land and had a treeless summit affording good views. The hill was well-known to all locals. British Major Ferguson was expanding the British campaign across the Carolinas from Charleston to cut the colonies in half. The British had well-trained loyalist militia and Americans who were officially in the British Army. The British spies informed him of rebel groups gathering to attack him. He waited for them on Kings Mountain.
The Americans were a mixed group. A strong section were the “Over-mountain” troops from the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge, including many who came from the Tennessee region. Others were local militia, defending their homes in the Carolinas. The battle was fought on October 7th after a heavy rain had allowed wet leaves to muffle the sound of the approaching rebels. In less than an hour, the rebels from overmountain and from local militias had defeated the British, including facing down several bayonet charges. British attempts to surrender met the same reaction received by the Americans at Waxhaws in May. Most of the British attempting to surrender were killed by the emotional patriots before the carnage was finally stopped.
This battle was not a minor skirmish. It forced the British to reconsider their plans to control the Carolinas. The American army re-groups and the British lick their wounds. Cornwallis changes his plans and starts to move up the coast, eventually landing at Yorktown. All because of 1000 emotionally charged rebels, defending their homes and freedom, incensed at the British massacre at Waxhaws, and just plain pissed off at British attempts to threaten them.
Our second history stop was at Cowpens National Battlefield. Here in January 1781, three months after Kings Mountain, Brig General Daniel Morgan (who had fought at Boston, Quebec, and Saratoga) was operatinng in the south to harass the British rear. His charge was to give “protection to that part of the country and to spirit up the people”.
Morgan was out numbered and out weaponed. Morgan was facing General Tarleton (he of the Waxhaws massacre). Morgan called again on local militias, experienced but pretty much defenseless against British cavalry and bayonet charges. Morgan developed a strategy to use the militia sharpshoters to kill British officers, and to then fall back, encouraging the British to move forward into other lines of defense Morgan had prepared.
Morgan’s strategy worked perfectly, although partially due to luck. The British were caught in a cross-fire, the cavalry cut them down, and the British retreated. Similar to Kings Mountain, the battle lasted less than an hour. 110 British killed, 229 wounded, and 600 captured or missing. This time the prisoners were sent to Winchester VA rather than being slaughtered.
When Cowpens was over, the lower South had become the decisive battleground of the Revolutionary War. War in the North was a stalemate. Cornwallis was planning to sweep across the South. Instead, the British had to take protective actions to save their troops. Moving north, they eventually surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781.
Tonight we are staying at a bed and breakfast in Spartanburg SC. Irony: We are staying in the Revolutionary War Room featuring Daniel Morgan.
Ed and Chris 9:30 PM