October 7, 1780. A deadly battle was fought on the top of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.
Thomas Jefferson called it "the turning point" in the War for Independence.
I visited the battleground on Wednesday and came away with a deep respect for the people who fought so hard to attain what so many of us take for granted.
So the last half of this blog will be a recounting of my visit there. A little bit of a history lesson, if you will. I hope you don't mind.
The previous Wednesday I arrived at Lake Greenwood State Park.
It was late in the afternoon and I was still a little sore from the "Tour De Hamilton Branch" so I just set up camp, made a sandwich, and hit the sack.
And woke up early enough to watch the sunrise.
You can just barely see the RV's clustered at the base of the trees. Here is a better view of them.
And another view.
All those photos were taken from my campsite while I was heating up a nice hot breakfast of spicy chicken soup with my traveling companion.
I call her "Bag O' Laundry." But not to her face.
Fully fortified, I walked the campgrounds 125 sites.
I was in site number 26 at the tip of one of the peninsulas.
The camp host thought number 19 was the best site.
But if you want the afternoon sun, site 122 is the ticket.
A sharp eye will pick out my trailer across the cove on the right side in the middle.
I walked back to my camp along the shoreline which yielded a nice view of the cove and boat ramp.
I was also checked out by a turtle and ignored by a pair of ducks.
I left early on Friday because my next stop was going to be crowded for the weekend and I wanted to get some photos before the park filled up.
On the drive there the wind was blowing and the pine pollen was crossing the road in green clouds. It doesn't show well in this next photo but look at the truck in the middle and you can kinda get a sense of it.
I arrived at Dreher Island State Park.
Parked in my site and immediately checked out the campground.
There are two separate camping areas here on Lake Murray, near the capital city of Columbia, SC.
Anglers Camp Circle houses sites 1 - 30.
I liked numbers three and five but almost all are waterfront.
A mile away is Islanders Camp Circle and in between you will find the boat ramp and dock area.
They have a bazillion fishing tournaments here and when I came back to this part of the campground Saturday morning it was packed.
That is only one of the parking areas.
Back to Friday, I walked sites 31 - 97.
Again, a lot of waterfront sites but I was drawn to sites 51 and 60 amongst others.
I was off the water in site 69.
Where my new awning withstood some strong winds.
"Bag O' Laundry" is taking a nap under the picnic table. I need to wash her...soon.
Quickly back to the pine pollen.
This is what it looks like on my car.
When it hits the lake and collects near the shore, well, you get a better idea of the quantity floating around.
Jumping back to Saturday, I walked to the lakeshore in the morning for a few pictures.
Ate some chicken tacos and was glad I took the campsite photos on Friday morning because it was now full.
I left on Sunday morning to stay at Lake Wateree State Park for two nights.
The nice weather I had been enjoying left as well.
I walked the 72 campsites beneath the shelter of my well used umbrella.
A few sites, like number 11, had a beach in front. A great place to have your boat handy.
Or to let your boat just go camping all by itself.
I was a few spots down in fifteen.
And my boat is a little too big to fit on the beach.
I was confused by the flags flying in different directions until I realized that the rear ones were cardboard.
I checked out the wet boat ramp, the wet dock, and the wet lake.
Do fish know if it is raining? Probably, but I don't think that they care. They are already wet.
Tuesday I left the lowland lakes and headed back into the mountains where I will be camping for a while.
Spent two nights at Kings Mountain State Park.
I set up in site 64.
Really loving my homemade awning. I drag the picnic table sideways two feet under the edge so in case of rain the kitchen stays dry. Laughing out loud
I filled up a bowl with pretzels, grabbed an adult beverage, and went to my car to fetch my ereader.
That's when my pretzels got attacked.
A gang of unruly tree rats took advantage of my inattention and knocked over the bowl and started pillaging.
I chased after them but they climbed the trees and taunted me.
If that wasn't bad enough, they sent in the air squadron.
Fine. I give up. Nature wins again. As it always will.
I had a busy day planned for Wednesday anyway.
I woke up early as usual and perused the place, all 112 campsites.
No lakefront sites here, but plenty of good ones, like numbers 39 and 92.
But be aware than quite a few of the sites are not level. On our website I list all of my favorites which are the level ones.
After my walk I made a breakfast of chicken tacos.
Which turned out to be ironic as you will see later.
I walked down to Lake Crawford, one of the two lakes in the park.
While walking to the spillway I was accosted by some Canadian Geese and was checked out once again by turtles.
Yeah. I see you too.
The spillway was cool.
I wonder how many turtles have made the plunge. Roll over on to your shell and just surf it down. Cowabunga! Turtleabunga! Probably take them forever just to get back to the lake.
Inside the state park is a Living History Farm.
I realize that the photo is hard to read, (the glare was caused by the sun. Yippee!) but the gist is that at one time there was a farm here. So the state gathered period buildings and placed them in a re-creation of what it would have looked like in the 1800's. Except for the cotton gin. That was recreated.
First up is the house, or Homeplace as they call it.
Fascinating fact. The bed's straw-filled mattress sits on ropes which must be tightened periodically so the bed doesn't sag. This is where the phrase "sleep tight" comes from. Obviously they never heard of the box spring back then.
I could definitely live there. Love it. With my bathroom and outdoor cooking area nearby.
Just past that you have your taco coop.
The roosters gave me scathing looks, probably smelling my breakfast on my breath.
Sorry, but you taste good. With salsa.
The next few photos show buildings that would not be at every farm, but would be a gathering point for the area.
The Blacksmith Shop, the Carpenter Shop, and the Sorghum Cooker.
Sugar was really expensive back then, and artificial sweeteners were far in the future.
Rich in hard-to-find nutrients like iron, calcium, and potassium, sorghum was prescribed by doctors as a health supplement.
But the equipment to make it cost a pretty penny so gathering to make sorghum molasses turned into a social event.
Imagine the party. The Miss Sorghum pageant eventually turned into the Miss America pageant. OK. I made that up.
There is a big bowl just in front of the fireplace that was used to slow cook the sorghum. I really like this kind of stuff.
Have you ever seen the underside of a cotton gin?
Now you have. I believe Eli Whitney invented it but that is just a guess my increasingly aged mind dragged up.
And the recreated outside.
Walking back to my car I was pounced on by a cat.
A ranger told me that he showed up in 2002, so it is an old cat. But very spry. And it has all it's legs. It was just curling one up.
I highly recommend that you visit this state park, if just for the campground and the lakes and the farm.
In the warmer months all those buildings at the farm are open and have folks hammering, carving, cooking and plucking. I made the plucking part up. Can't help myself. Thousands of school kids visit here each year on organized trips to see how people lived without cell phones.
But just two miles away is a place not to be missed.
I walked up to the visitor center to get some information. I had never heard of this decisive battle.
By 1780 the northern campaign of the American Revolutionary War had been fought to a stalemate, and England turned it's military strategy to the South. Their plan was to re-establish the southern colonies, head north to join loyalist troops at Chesapeake Bay, and call dibs on the seaboard.
They were not prepared for what they encountered on Kings Mountain.
So here we go. Hiking the 1.5 mile trail around the mountain.
What I am going to do is show you the signs and write the words written on them above each photo in bold type. So don't sue me for plagiarism. They tell a story of a battle that changed the course of history.
Well, I already messed up. Here are the words from the photo above.
"If you follow the trail to your left, you will circle the base of Kings Mountain, as gathering patriot forces did on the afternoon of October 7, 1780. The path climbs to a rock-strewn ridge line that was defended by more than 1,000 American loyalists, under the command of one British Officer, Major Patrick Ferguson. The fighting tree to tree was sharp and short - lasting only one hour, about the time you may spend walking. At the end, both Ferguson and the British hopes for a quick victory in the South were dead."
OK, back on track. Remember, words above, photo below.
"Gunshots and the shouts of hundreds of men battered the slope you see just ahead as one of the fiercest battles of the American Revolution broke out. Every man here knew that the Carolina backcountry had burned and bled since May when the British landed on the coast. Unrelenting civil war had scourged the south with partisan plundering, bushwhacking, and brutal massacres - neighbor against neighbor, and fathers against sons.
For the first time since Lexington and Concord, people living in the nearby piedmont and over-mountain settlements had to make a hard choice. The men who charged through these woods were determined to defend their homes. They had taken up arms against the King and his officers, and now they would spill blood - for a new country."
The trail went by remnants of an old colonial road.
Before I go any farther, this is the layout.
Yes, I was there. But 234 years later.
"The hard morning rain had stopped, leaving the fallen leaves on the forest floor here sodden. But wet leaves, as any squirrel hunter knows, soak up the sound, even the footsteps of hundreds of patriots moving fast.
The Northern Carolinians who fought here had the farthest to go to tighten a noose around the Tories. Leaving their horses a half mile away to your right, they had to slog over swampy ground to reach this slope.
Upon arriving, they saw loyalist pickets ahead. Then the din of war-whoops and rifle shots broke out."
Quotes from the participants will be in italics after each photo.
Like this one.
"Fire as quick as you can, and stand your ground as long as you can. When you can do no better, get behind trees or retreat; but I beg you not to run quite off. If we are repulsed, let us make a point of returning, and reviving the fight"
Benjamin Cleveland, North Carolina Patriot Leader.
This one got to me.
I think the pic above is clear enough to read. Sixteen years old.
"One by one, the rough woodsman from beyond the Blue Ridge plunged through the forest you see before you as the shooting started.
Life on the frontier and long experience in Indian warfare had hardened them into fierce fighters, not much prone to take directions from others. And like Indians, they hollered out loud as they aimed and fired, dashed and ducked.
Although their tiny farms were far away, seemingly deep in mountain strongholds, these Whigs took seriously Major Ferguson's threat to cross the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste to their country with fire and sword - enough to tramp over the Blue Ridge twice to stop him."
"When we encounter the enemy, don't wait for a word of command. Let each of you be your own officer, and do the very best you can. If in the woods, shelter yourselves and give them Indian play; advance from tree to tree...and killing and disabling all you can..."
Isaac Shelby, Tennessee patriot leader.
"Everyone knew Colonel Sevier's rugged frontiersmen for their long-rifle marksmanship - and their touchy eagerness for a brawl. But no experienced military man of that day expected men armed only with hunting weapons to be able to face and defeat real soldiers, trained to use the bayonet.
It had never happened - until Kings Mountain. Three times longhunters from eastern Tennessee charged up this mountainside. Once, then twice they were chased back down by Tories wielding 17 inch long bayonets. Somehow Sevier's patriots found the courage to stop running, turn around, and go back up against that cold steel one last time."
"The ridge ahead was craggy and rough, and covered with flame and smoke. Campbell's Virginia regiment had drawn a tough and bloody assignment: to lead the first strike against the Tories. They were the first to close with the enemy, the first to hear the thunder of the drums, and the first to face the terror of the bayonets coming downhill. Some patriots stood their ground and were run through. Most broke and ran.
The loyalists stopped their charge at the foot of this hill. William Campbell stood halfway between his foe and his own men, now on the run. As he saw his neighbors make tracks for the next ridge, he shouted, "Halt! Return, my brave fellows, and you will drive the enemy immediately!" One by one the Virginians slowed, turned about, and rallied to attack again.
"British war drums bellowed the alarm as 120 battle-hardened veterans in red took their places in line here. They were the first to face the Whig woodsmen moving up through the trees below. Mounting bayonets as they had in countless drills before, they charged the woodsmen.
British hopes to end the six year long rebellion rested on Americans such as these. Leaders in London thought that a backbone of provincial soldiers could set the example, training Tory militia to march and fight properly. Together the Americans in redcoats and local loyalists might well reestablish Crown control in the south."
"These things are ominous - these are the damned yelling boys!"
Abraham De Peyster, New York loyalist officer.
"Finding enemies on all sides, Major Ferguson called for a defensive ring facing outward along this quarter mile long ridge. Ninety percent of the Tories who fought here did not wear the King's redcoat. In the war torn Carolina backcountry in 1780, allegiances were bitter, confused, and sometimes fluid. Some men did switch sides, even in the heat of the battle. After all, the foes firing uphill at them were their own neighbors - and brothers."
"So soon as Charleston fell, there was a proclamation for all to come forward...peace and pardon should be granted... Vast numbers flocked in and submitted; some through fear, some through willingness, and others, perhaps, through a hope that all things would settle down and war cease."
John Roberts, South Carolina patriot.
"Hard pressed on every side, Ferguson's men fell back to their camp, which lay in the saddle of the ridge you see just ahead. As some Tories tried to surrender, bullets continued to pour into their ranks from all directions. Too late, they saw they were pinned down in a deadly crossfire.
Patriots rounding up Tory prisoners remembered how British Colonel Tarleton had ordered rebel prisoners taken at nearby Waxhaws to be killed in cold blood. Even as the heat of the battle cooled atop Kings Mountain, few Tories were shown mercy."
"The cursed rebels Came upon us killed and Took every Soul and So My Dear friends I bid you farewell for I am Started to the warm Country."
Last entry found in a loyalist's diary on the battlefield.
"The chaos of battle roared along this ridge top. Piercing the din of gunfire and wounded men's groans, Ferguson's silver whistle shrilled, rallying his Tories. Two horses were shot out from under him; Ferguson seemed to be everywhere at once.
While he was charging and slashing at the advancing Whigs, eight or nine rifle balls struck the major at the same time. His unusual checkered duster had made him an easy target. Ferguson fell from the saddle, his boot caught in the stirrup.
Four stunned loyalists untangled the major's boot from the stirrup and propped him against a tree out of the line of fire. There men on both sides gathered to watch a legend die.
Fierce fighting continued as Captain Abraham De Peyster assumed command, but not for long. Minutes later, the King's men were laying down their arms as white flags fluttered here and there amid the swirling gunsmoke."
"Imagine hundreds of men, dressed more or less alike, hearts still pounding from the fever of battle, milling around this hillside as the sun sets. Whigs and Tories both sleep on wet cold ground amidst the groans of wounded and dying men.
The rebel colonels decide to leave here the next morning, for they know that Cornwallis is not that far away. Messengers ride out to carry word of victory to George Washington. Three weeks later, the good news finally reaches Philadelphia.
By then, all these patriot regiments, like evening mists, have completely disappeared into the endless Southern forests. Yet, for these men - and for the patriot cause - after Kings Mountain, nothing would ever be the same."
"In these woods, dazed Tories hurriedly buried their fallen comrades, using only logs and rocks. Dr. Uzal Johnson of the New Jersey provincials spent the night with the several hundred men with wounds, tending friend and foe alike. At dawn, a long line of prisoners stumbled away under guard.
In a few weeks, some would be paroled. Many would escape and return to the King's ranks. A few, judged notorious plunderers, would be hanged. And none would see themselves or the King's cause as they had before Kings Mountain.
Nor would their leaders in London."
There are two monuments on the top of Kings Mountain.
This is the smaller one.
This is the larger one.
There are four engraved plaques, one on each side.
This one pretty much sums it up.
"On this field, the patriot forces attacked and totally defeated an equal force of Tories and British regular troops.
The British Commander, Major Patrick Ferguson, was killed, and his entire force was captured after suffering heavy loss.
This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution."
It took a while for all of this to sink in. The brave soldiers on both sides who were killed on the very ground I was standing on.
I took one last look around.
And then walked down the path back to my car.
There was a third monument placed along the path 150 years to the day after the battle.
I wish that all the politicians in Washington would come to this mountain and walk this hallowed ground. Maybe they would learn something. Maybe they would cease all their endless political gamesmanship and regain their pride in this country and how it came to be.
Regards, Park Ranger