Kings Mountain National Military Park (South Carolina)

https://www.nps.gov/kimo/index.htm

Today is the 240th anniversary of the Revolutionary War battle at Kings Mountain that Thomas Jefferson called, “The turn of the tide of success.”  However, many people have not heard of the battle or why it was so pivotal for the American Revolution.  Located on the boundary between North and South Carolina, Kings Mountain National Military Park is a great place to visit with your family to learn about its important role in the fight for American independence.


History

The battle at Kings Mountain is unique from most American Revolution battles in that it was between loyal and patriot colonists, with no British regular troops participating.  Neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother.  The British commander, Major Patrick Ferguson, under the command of General Lord Cornwallis in Charlotte, was tasked with marching through the western part of North Carolina to raise a Loyalist militia and to encourage the colonists to lay down their arms against the British.  Unfortunately for him, he didn’t realize that by threatening these fiercely independent mountain men, called the Overmountain Men, he had stirred them into a fight.  As he fled towards the safety of Cornwallis in Charlotte, Ferguson and his soldiers (and two women!) set up camp on a small mountain on the North and South Carolina border, called Kings Mountain.

The Overmountain Men, led by John Sevier from what would later become Tennessee, Issac Shelby and Benjamin Cleveland from North Carolina, and William Campbell from western Virginia, marched for days to find Ferguson and bring the fight to him.  This difficult and arduous journey began hundreds of miles west of Kings Mountain and took them through 4 different states.  You can follow the route of the militia on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail at this National Park Service site.

The battle itself, on October 7, 1780, lasted just over an hour.  The Overmountain Men trapped Ferguson and his men on the mountain and used their expert shooting and tracking skills to defeat the Loyalist militia.  Ferguson, wearing a bright red checkered shirt, was killed in a futile and desperate charge at the end of the battle.  He was shot many times, dragged by his horse, and eventually buried at the spot where he fell.  One of his two female servants/mistresses who traveled with him, Virginia Sal, was also killed in the battle and was buried with him.  

This battle was the first win by the Patriot forces after the fall of Charleston, South Carolina, and was one of the many reasons that General Cornwallis eventually fled Charlotte.  He is said to have called Charlotte a “hornet’s nest of rebellion” (hence the NBA team’s name!) and the battle at Kings Mountain helped solidify his reasoning.  After the battle, Cornwallis’ army won a pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse and fled into Virginia where he made the fateful decision to entrench the British army at Yorktown.  The rest is, as they say, history!


Visit

Kings Mountain National Military Park is a great place to visit with your family and makes a good pit stop if you are traveling along I-85.  The park has extensive hiking trails and a family-friendly 1.5 mile Battlefield Trail.  

Park at the Visitor Center, where you can view a movie about the battle (best for ages 8 and up) and visit a small museum to help bring the battle to life.  Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Visitor Center is currently closed, however rangers are available at the site from 10 am – 3 pm, Wednesday – Friday.

The main attraction to see at the park is the Battlefield Trail, which winds up and down the small mountain.  Be sure to download the trail tour app before your visit.

It is a peaceful and quiet walk through a beautiful forest, particularly in the fall. 

Your kids will love running on its paved path although be forewarned that there are some dramatic elevation changes (the trail is not stroller-friendly).  The trail begins and ends at the Visitor Center and gives you both the Loyalist and Patriot perspective of the battle.

Be sure to stop and read the trail markers!

Kids will love spotting the shadowy figures of the Patriots in the woods!  You can just imagine the fierce battle when you are walking here.

The trail will take you past several commemorative markers and 3 monuments.  The US monument erected in 1909 is the most impressive.

Major Chronicle marker

I grew up coming to the battlefield and its surrounding state park for church and family events.  The one thing that I remember most from my childhood visits is the pile of stones on Ferguson’s grave, which is near the end of the trail.  We always put a stone on his grave, which I thought was meant as a sign of disrespect since he was fighting against American independence.  However, I have learned that it actually is a Scottish burial ritual, called a cairn.  When I visited with my kids, I had to take them to Ferguson’s grave to continue the tradition!

Pro tip: If you don’t want to walk the whole trail, you can see Ferguson’s grave by heading left on the trail from the Visitor Center.  It’s just a short (but steep!) walk from the Visitor Center.

Note the steep trail continuing past the Ferguson gravestone

The adjacent Kings Mountain State Park is also fun to explore with your family.  There is a living history farm, lakes for boating, and trails to hike.  The 1.8 mile Ridgeline Trail connects the state park, the battlefield park, and Crowders Mountain State Park in North Carolina.

Every summer, the nearby town of Kings Mountain (my hometown!) hosts Liberty Mountain – The Revolutionary Drama, which tells the story of the Overmountain Men.  The play was canceled this past summer due to COVID-19 restrictions but hopefully will be back on stage in 2021!  

If you can’t make it to the battleground in person, check out the Kings Mountain Historical Museum’s 3-part video series about the battle. You can also take the virtual tour through the American Battlefield Trust. [Post edited to add: Listen to the Trust’s excellent audio docudrama about the battle.]

The Kings Mountain National Military Park is a great historical site to explore with your family, particularly in the fall.  Spend some time on today’s anniversary thinking about the Overmountain Men who left their homes and families to help advance our freedom.


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