A Fresh Look at Major Patrick Ferguson


September 11, 2017
by Wayne Lynch Also by this Author


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In the prior year there have been several articles in the Journal of the American Revolution reappraising certain participants involved with the southern campaign. One article included mention of Patrick Ferguson but that piece was general in nature and could not go into detail as to how conclusions were drawn or what evidence might exist to support them (or refute as the case may be). In order to supplement that information and provide a slightly more complete analysis of the major, here are a few thoughts dedicated to him. We start by looking at what a few prominent historians have indicated before getting into some evidence.

First, Judge Landrum of South Carolina wrote a history of the southern campaign in 1897 that was largely based upon traditions in the back country – basically, the same people who would otherwise be most likely to despise Ferguson. Instead of that, Landrum described Ferguson as “a finished soldier and his bearing throughout his military career proved him as brave as a lion.” Ferguson was also an intelligent man of “eminent literary talents who was deemed by other writers and contemporary sages equal to the best authors of the Scottish Augustan age.” “Possessing a vigorous mind and brilliant parts,” he “early displayed inventive genius, sound judgment and intrepid heroism … He was pleasant and conciliatory in manner, and was well calculated to gain friends.” After the British occupation of Ninety-Six in June 1780, Ferguson told the inhabitants, “We come not to make war upon women and children, but to give them money and relieve their distresses.”[1]

For an opinion from a reputable officer who served with Ferguson, we have this nice summary from Charles Stedman: Ferguson’s “zeal in the service of his king and country was equal to his other great qualities as an officer.” He also described the Major as a “gallant officer” possessed of an “unconquerable spirit” that “refused to surrender” and was therefore killed at Kings Mountain.[2]

After reviewing those incredibly positive descriptions of Major Ferguson, one almost feels like the man might qualify for sainthood. However, there are also a few more realistic historians whose judgments come across favorably but do, at least, admit to a few faults. In his very popular and well thought of history of the British occupation, John Buchanan mentioned that Ferguson’s letters displayed an “almost cavalier recommendation to burn and destroy on a wide scale,” thereby leaving the civilian population to starve. Buchanan also described Ferguson’s attitudes toward the militia and his own capabilities as “overly optimistic,”  He emphasized the negative opinions of British officer Nesbit Balfour admitting that Ferguson had a “good mind, especially for technical subjects” but Buchanan openly doubted descriptions of Ferguson as a “brilliant soldier”. Overall, Buchanan seems to regard Ferguson as a good soldier and decent enough fellow but one overstated by history.[3]

On the other side of prominent twentieth century historians, the Wickwire biography of Lord Cornwallis contains very positive descriptions of Patrick Ferguson. “A brilliant man aware of his brilliance, the inventor of a superior rifle that the authorities ignored, he was by 1780 a mere major, though his seniority and birth might have entitled him to the command of a regiment. Under these circumstances, he was understandably a willful and impatient subordinate. In his eyes, his appointment in 1780 as inspector of militia now gave him a semi-independent command. Having secured the position at his own request, he intended to use it to prove himself to his superiors. . . . Some qualities worked in his favor. Haughty he might look, but he cultivated a familiarity with loyalists unusual among British officers, who tended to treat American civilians of whatever political persuasion with contempt. . . . Ferguson was, furthermore, humane and chivalrous, merciful and gentlemanly, with a nice sense of duty and honor. ‘We came not’, he said, ‘to make war on women and children, but to relieve their distress.’ . . . Such a man naturally attracted loyalist militia to his cause. Had prudence and discretion balanced his noble qualities, he might in the end have achieved what Cornwallis’s army could not. But Ferguson was willful, impatient, and headstrong.”[4]

That all sounds fine and wonderful, mostly positive comments, yet still, the reader is left wondering what might be underneath these descriptions. And, perhaps going just a step further, might also take a look at what might lead one historian to question these glowing conclusions.

First, Major Ferguson is highly praised for his bravery and military skill. There are several examples of this. As most fans of the revolution are aware, Ferguson spent much of 1775 and 1776 in Britain working on improvements to a breech loading rifle. His design came to be known as the Ferguson Rifle and, in a famously reported field trial, Ferguson maintained a pace of four shots per minute (up to six) while pouring in a steady stream of hits at the one hundred yard target. Even with rain and high winds, the major proved deadly with his new weapon. He was rewarded with a patent and a special corps of marksmen picked from regular regiments that would test the new rifle in combat. Unfortunately, the rifle corps’ first real combat was at Brandywine and Ferguson was wounded before having an opportunity to impress. General Howe disbanded the corps while Ferguson recovered, the explanation being that his rifle was too difficult for most enlisted men and, since Patrick himself now had a bad arm and would be unable to use the weapon, the corps was not viable.[5]

Engraving depicting the death of British Major Patrick Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain during the American Revolutionary War, October 7, 1780. Source: Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection

While Ferguson recovered from his wound, he spent time around New York inspecting defenses and writing letters to Sir Henry Clinton. Many of those letters go into great detail about improvements to the various military facilities around New York. Later on he made similar observations concerning defenses in the south. The letters also contain detailed plans about using a total force of 27,000 men acting as light troops to subdue the colonies. They would divide into four army groups and travel about, living off the land while setting up temporary bases to disarm the rebels and bring them back to the Crown.[6] Unfortunately, this is likely where historians start to doubt his military abilities. The first and immediate fatal flaw in such a plan is that no such numbers of light troops existed in the British Army of North America. Light troops in the revolution represented the best of the infantry rank and file and the British Army was just not that large. His plan would require virtually one hundred percent of all troops in North America fight as light troops, thereby completely ignoring that not all soldiers were up to that type of duty. As if that flaw were not enough, Ferguson’s notion that 27,000 troops should live off the land in army groups of 6,000 men each seems incredibly risky. At least one detractor considered Ferguson’s ideas “ridiculous.”[7]

And that brings up a second trait to examine. Most historians consider the major to be a gallant and chivalrous man who treated people well on a personal level. His letters to Clinton sort of fly in the face of that description. Just as the 27,000 light troops were to live off the land, their mission would be to move into a “particular district, to gather up all the enemy’s partys, collect carriages, provisions or forage, disarm the inhabitants, take hostages or, if necessary, lay waste to the country.” After all, it was now time to “exert a degree of severity which would not have been justifyable at the beginning.”[8] This was not a single reference. In his plans to raid coastal towns, Ferguson recommended the “burning of their grains & the depriving their cattle of all means of subsistence during the hard winter of that country.” The rebels “would be obliged to beg for bread.”[9]

The letters to Clinton do not represent the only black marks to Ferguson’s humanity. In October of 1778, he raided Little Egg Harbor in New Jersey and caught Count Pulaski’s infantry companies sleeping. His men, under orders to give no quarter, killed them all. Reports range from 50 to 250 dead rebels with the British loss limited to one man. There were only five prisoners taken. Ferguson justified the action by incorrectly claiming that Pulaski had posted orders that no quarter was to be given to the British. Also that, being a night action, it wasn’t practical to give any quarter to the sleeping enemy.[10] The explanation may have seemed more sincere if Ferguson had not just witnessed John Graves Simcoe’s ranger unit win great praise for a similar action at Hancock House. It probably should be noted that the letters suggesting severity and the Little Egg Harbor action took place right after Ferguson’s wound and subsequent recovery. There is a bitter tone during that period that doesn’t really seem to carry over to his time in the south.

Which brings up the incidents that give evidence of Ferguson’s good character. Historians point to his harsh reaction to rapes committed by members of the British Legion during the siege of Charleston. Another strong point to be made in his favor is that, once given a measure of command independence in the southern campaigns, Ferguson does not seem to have been guilty of many hangings or other atrocities.[11] Unfortunately, his men were a different matter: they were often undisciplined and Ferguson was unable to control them. In letters to General Cornwallis, Ferguson indicated that, if he tried to discipline them, the new royal militia would simply desert and go home.[12] As a result, his men freely plundered the rebel population and sought private retributions at will. However, the same back country historians that freely demonize Banastre Tarleton, James Wemyss, and Thomas Brown, seem to understand his predicament and have very positive things to say about Patrick Ferguson.[13] It appears that, outside of the Little Egg Harbor incident, Ferguson’s severity is really just a bunch of talk in some letters and was not how he operated when actually put in the position to do so.

Talk of Ferguson’s character should not stop without at least some mention of his gallantry in restraining himself at Brandywine from shooting George Washington. Even though good reason exists to think Washington was not the officer in question, Ferguson’s act in passing up the shot remains in good standing. Almost ironic, in fact, is that James Delancey later identified the officer “dressed in Hussar” garb as Count Pulaski, the same man whose men were killed at Little Egg Harbor.[14]

A third aspect of Ferguson’s character often discussed by historians is ambition and overconfidence. In Major Ferguson, the two traits seem hopelessly intertwined and should be looked at together. One can clearly see from the history of Ferguson’s life that his ambition was to be a career soldier and he sought notice for his military ability. His lengthy and detailed letters to Clinton show dedication but also ambition. A real gung-ho type who volunteered his advice to superiors and always remembered to point out how he could accomplish his goals, “at small expense,” even to the point of personally guaranteeing to pay any excess out of his personal pocket – which was likely not to be taken seriously since Patrick Ferguson did not have a deep pocket on which to draw.

Even the questionable incident at Little Egg Harbor reflects the ambition of Major Ferguson. Only a few months before, he witnessed his friend Capt. James Dunlop gain great accolades for a violent night assault at Hancock’s House where the rebels were killed rather than taken prisoner. Ferguson was likely eager to show his own ability to lead raids and quell the rebellion.

These same traits appear complicit in Ferguson’s death. Near the end of the Kings Mountain campaign, Ferguson clearly saw the danger posed by the Overmountain Men and requested “3 or 400 hundred good soldiers, part dragoons” in order to defeat the rebels. Even with that request, he still reflected desperation to retain his independent command. Risking his entire army, Ferguson remained at Kings Mountain instead of rejoining Cornwallis; his last request on the 5th was that the general not “supersede me by sending a superior officer.”[15]

In those last movements we don’t just see the ambition but also the overconfidence. Ferguson evidently believed his eighty regulars and the newly formed Royal militia were ready to go into battle. A review of his correspondence with Cornwallis and the lack of any training time reflects a military force nowhere close to battle readiness. Instead of heeding the instructions of Lord Cornwallis, Ferguson chose to dig in at Kings Mountain where he had “taken a post where I do not think I can be forced by a stronger enemy than that against us.” Of course he was wrong and the result was Major Ferguson’s death at Kings Mountain.[16]

Having droned on long enough here, I conclude with a few thoughts of my own about Major Ferguson.   I found no reason to believe him personally unpleasant or inappropriate in his relations with the rebel population. I find his good reputation among the rebel population highly persuasive. His harsh letters during the time of wound recovery should likely be taken with a grain of salt as something he never acted upon. The records from the southern campaigns that I have read do not show Ferguson among the British officer group that engaged in frequent hangings or other depredations. In his various explanations for the brutal actions at Little Egg Harbor, I think there is a hint of regret for those results and I think he should be allowed the error in judgment.[17] It is difficult for soldiers faced with an enemy unprepared to receive them yet motivated to kill.[18] All that said, I agree with John Buchanan’s assessment concerning the major’s military skills. Even though I see an active and enthusiastic soldier, I do not see military genius. His plans for conquest are woefully unrealistic and his decision to remain at Kings Mountain shows little military skill in establishing a defensive position or assessing his situation. Instead, I see a young officer desperate to gain glory and accolades, even to his own detriment and death. I believe he was a probably a good officer at times but not really the stuff of independent command.


[1] Dr. J. B. O. Landrum, Colonial and Revolutionary History of Upper South Carolina (Greenville, SC: Shannon & Co, 1897), 234 – 235.

[2] Ibid., 223.

[3] John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse (New York: John Wiley & sons, 1997), 195 – 203.

[4] Franklin and Mary Wickwire, Cornwallis and the War for Independence (London: Faber and Faber, 1971), 204. The Wickwire text relies heavily on the manuscripts of Lyman Draper and provides examples from him and Charles Stedman of Ferguson’s gallant and proper conduct toward women.

[5] Hugh Rankin, “An Officer out of his Time,” in Howard H. Peckham, Sources of American Independence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 2:288.

[6] Ferguson to Clinton, August 1, 1778, in Peckham, Sources of American Independence, 2:301.

[7] Balfour to Cornwallis, June 20, 1780, in Ian Saberton ed., The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theatre of the American Revolutionary War (Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 2010), 1:98.

[8] Ferguson to Clinton, August 1, 1778, in Peckham, Sources of American Independence, 2:301.

[9] Ibid., 307.

[10] Ferguson to Clinton, August 15, 1778, in Peckham, Sources of American Independence, 2:313.

[11] There is at least one reference to hanging a patriot named Smith for breaking parole after Musgrove’s Mill. the Diary of Anthony Allaire, entry for August 20, 1780, in Lyman Draper, Kings Mountain and Its Heroes (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson, 1881), 505.

[12] Ferguson to Cornwallis, July 24, 1780, in Saberton, The Cornwallis Papers, 1:293.

[13] Referring primarily to Draper and Landrum.

[14] Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse, 198 quoting James Fenimore Cooper who said that Delancey “constantly affirmed that his commander was mistaken … It was his opinion from some particulars of dress and stature that it was the Count Pulaski.”

[15] Ferguson to Cornwallis, October 5, 1780, in Saberton, The Cornwallis Papers, 2:164.

[16] Ferguson to Cornwallis, October 6, 1780, in Saberton, The Cornwallis Papers, 2:165.

[17] Possibly just my imagination.

[18] A very similar situation to that of Pyle’s Defeat by Henry Lee in March of 1781.


  • This is a good article, written within the limits established by JAR, whose editorial policy seeks to avoid long tedious dissertations — something I certainly would do if turned loose, bewildering readers with countless, at least in my mind, absolutely necessary precious words. The point being, Wayne Lynch had to carefully limit himself in his fresh look at Ferguson. Turned loose, I suspect he would have had much more to say about Patrick Ferguson.

    In time perhaps other pieces of the puzzle can be examined. Lynch concludes, correctly, that we never see “military genius” in Patrick Ferguson and that he never became more than “a good officer” and never rose to a level where he had within him “the stuff of independent command.” But was the potential there?

    The question I would ask and like answered is why did Ferguson never rise above moderately competent? I think part of the answer is because poor Ferguson was the red-headed stepchild among Cornwallis’ clique of officers. Ferguson comes South and finds himself caught between a rock [Sir Henry Clinton] and a hard place [Lord Cornwallis]. His appointment as “Inspector of Militia Corps” is made by Clinton, something that either Cornwallis did not know or pretends not to know, and that irks not only Cornwallis but his colonels, especially Balfour–whose dislike of Ferguson is patable. This snafu between Clinton and Cornwallis is to me something that may have contributed to why Patrick Ferguson never blossoms into a military genius. Then again, had he enjoyed the full confidence of Cornwallis, Balfour and Innes [who is thoroughly confused because he had been appointed in early 1777 as “Inspector General of Loyalist Troops], perhaps Ferguson would, as Lynch notes, provided us with more examples of “error in judgment.”

    Was Cornwallis correct in keeping a lid on Ferguson or did he know more of the character of the man that we suspect, understanding that letting him have free rein would destroy, not help, his Southern Strategy? Or is this coldness from his Lordship a result of the dislike between two generals, one now in the North and the other the South? Part of the answer, of course, is found at Kings Mountain.

    I have always wondered how the relationship between Ferguson and the Cornwallis clique affected, if it did, what happened at Kings Mountain. Had it been Balfour or Innes at Kings Mountain, would Lord Cornwallis have been more “responsive?” But then again, would either of these Colonels allowed themselves to be this far up into North Carolina at this time? Again, to Wayne Lynch, well done.

    Still, this is an excellent article and the first of several that may lead to a better understanding of Patrick Ferguson.

  • Conner, thank you very much for the kind words. Of course you are correct that I could drone on further but I believe the JAR policy on length to be a good one overall. Much of this came from some longer notes I made several years ago that I am currently using to help develop a lecture series on the war in the southern back country. I should also add that I am having great fun in doing so. When assessing performances in the campaigns, I would probably criticize Lord Cornwallis for not using Ferguson in a greater role with the militia. Instead of holding him to drill and organization duties, Ferguson spent much of July and August of 1780 in the field on patrols, chasing partisans instead of training his militia forces. It is true he had these militia with him but they were busy foraging and terrorizing the Whigs instead of drilling and learning the business of being soldiers. We don’t really have a long enough look at the situation but it could be observed that, in those places where Ferguson did take time to spend with the new militia, they behaved better and the Southern Strategy was advanced. Without the building of a good civil authority British victories at Charleston, Camden, and Fishing Creek were squandered. In my opinion of course.

  • Wayne
    One, I agree with you the JAR editorial policy works. Poor Don Hagish–I remind him often Editors are evil and must be punished– has had to pull me back more than once (the last occasion was my attempt to compare the fund raising activities of some of the most revered ladies of the Revolution to other ladies who also walk city streets. He proved right in helping me “revise” that particular paragraph. I told him it would be “fun” to see if I could someday sneak this comparison in as part of the conversation.)

    Secondly, I did not mean to suggest you should have “droned” on. I have never really considered anything you wrote as “droning.” The only problem I have with those of us who write about the South in the Revolution is that we can’t seem to convince our darn Yankee friends the war was won in Dixie. Every time I try perfect logic, they mumble “Saratoga.” But a bird can’t fly on just one wing….

    Thirdly, I differ a tad with most everyone about how the Patriot militia rabble should have been disciplined. I really don’t have the answer yet, but creating a European style army out of what I see as first-class special forces, trained and honed by sometimes hair-raising experience, was not the solution. These backcountry militia were superb fighting men. But this does not answer the question of how to keep them together and stop independent men from being their own commander, running for cover or wandering home when there was a need. The question, for me, is what is meant by “discipline.” It seems to me that every time a sound pragmatic reason was given, backcountry militia demonstrated a kind of “discipline” needed to get the job done.

    When the militia came together to fight Indians, “discipline” was never a big issue. When it came time to stand shoulder to shoulder, trading volleys, these men thought things through; it also comes across to me that your pal Patrick Ferguson came closest, among the British officers, to grasping this.

    I do know that Ferguson’s style of training with that little silver whistle irritated Col Balfour no end. Wish I knew what became of it….

  • The war was definitely won in the South. Kings Mountain and Cowpens were the pivotal battles in the Revolution. Saratoga and Trenton were equally important in their own way, but there was little reason for Patriot hope or confidence when the Southern strategy was conceived and put in motion. At that point it was quite possible that all of the years of effort by Washington in the North might have been for nought and Yorktown probably never happens. The fanatical resolve of the Over Mountain Men and the determined leadership of Greene and Morgan along with the over confidence of both Ferguson and Tarleton led to poor tactical decisions that ruined Cornwallis’ plans.

    1. Judson, I have also heard the war in the south described as almost a completely separate endeavor. That England was ready to give up and jettison New England as a bunch of troublemakers and acknowledge defeat in the middle colonies but the south could be retaken along with the extremely valuable commodities that came along with it. The rice and indigo paddies made GA and SC a true prize and they believed the southerners would willingly return to the crown. I remember hearing a talk that focused on the idea that each region represented a separate war for independence, each in succession. Wish I could remember who that was, very interesting stuff.

  • This article was very interesting especially to me. And the feedback by Conner, Wayne and Judson not only added fully to the original article but gives balance as well.My interest in Patrick Ferguson has been a long term spanning many years but really focused over the past few years. I too have had questions about Kings Mountain especially as to more the “why’s” by Ferguson, who had shown tactical know how at Brandywine, PA at Strawberry hill at Short Hills, NJ and at Toms River, NJ. Ferguson demonstrated organizational brilliance and social & cultural diversity with his establishment of the new provincial militia and its methodology.

    I believe too that if he was allowed to focus upon his role as inspector general and train & equip the militia effectively perhaps the Provincial militia could have become a better tool for the Crown in the south and be able to protect their homes and family as well. Too much of the Crown’s strategy relied upon the militia and the support of the loyalists as a whole. You cannot train if you are in the field actively in contact.

    It’s my belief there are factors on both sides that contributed to the outcomes that became so. Was it the overwhelmingly fanatic resolve of the overmountain men that carried the day for them? No but their methodology of fighting style gave them the tactical edge that day. It also showed the flaw when the provincial American Volunteers bayonet charged the overmountain men they gave ground and retired to the base of the mountain each time. So the lack of cold steel and the resolve of the American Volunteers to deliver it weighs in as well. What also weighs in was the provincial militia was green and was unable to stand their ground. I believe they became more harm than good for Ferguson. So was his thinking flawed, I believe so. Where, how or why well Ferguson never left us anything in writing so who knows.

    Balfour was a grumpy guy I believe….. And Conner Ferguson actually had two whistles, a tenor and a base whistles.

    1. David, thanks for the nice words and it is always a pleasure to come across fellow fans of the southern campaigns. Just one additional idea I might inject into your analysis of Ferguson is that instead of ‘allowing’ him to focus on training and organizing the new militia, I suspect Cornwallis would have to almost chain Ferguson down to the task. But, without hesitation, I agree that he did well in that role and the failure of the southern strategy was largely about failing to organize a new civil authority (royal militia).

  • Wayne, Judson, David:
    Good discussion. The thing that comes through to me is the British urgency to close the gap between Clinton and Cornwallis; make a left turn and move toward New York. No real problems linger in Georgia and South Carolina. Just put a few troops at Augusta, Savannah, Ninety Six and a few other little outposts and problem solved.

    The other thing that really impresses me is the fact that Ferguson had two whistles. Now I have to think about what happened to both of them. I will spend the rest of the day with the lyrics of that old Johnny Cash song rattling about in my head — “daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor.”

    Another aspect of the Cornwallis-Ferguson relationship is what might have happened if Cornwallis had allowed Ferguson’s commission as commander of a militia regiment, something given by Clinton, take full effect. What Cornwallis did goes to the heart of Wayne’s argument that the failure of the Southern Strategy was, in great part, a failure to take care of the civil side of the war. When Cornwallis refused to allow parole to anyone who had served either Ga. or SC in a civil capacity, he left a big void. Finding “leading men” became an obsession with Cornwallis because nature adhors a void.

    Part of Cornwallis’ solution was to insist Ferguson carry out his orders to get the militia established, with Cornwallis telling Clinton he would allow Ferguson to command only militia of the 2nd class, if needed; the men being left behind with duties “more that of a justice of the peace than of a soldier.”

    Cornwallis never got control of the problem of governing the back county. The void created by sending government leaders to the islands is a big factor in why so many who tried to say neutral get pulled into the fighting, having to gather for safety at one muster point or another.

    I have long thought Cornwallis had a begrudging respect for Ferguson’s ability to work with locals. Removing him as Inspector General would have brought to the forefront another grumpy Colonel, Innes. Surely Lord Cornwallis had to be aware that Innes, as Inspector General of Loyalist Troops, had almost destroyed a fine regiment, the Provincial Queen’s Regiment.

    That there was ability among the loyalist leaders is evident. If only the British has recognized that there is more than one way to catch a fish, perhaps better civil government could have come about. Innes, bless his heart, could never see how smooth Richard Pearis, as one example, was in bringing about the relatively calm surrender of Andrew Williamson and the last organized force in SC (at that time). Cornwallis considered taking Williamson and his command out of the war as the last step in pacifying the State. Innes, however, could only snap at Pearis and ask by what authority did you act. I love how Pearis handles things: by authority of the commander in chief, Sir Henry Clinton. Take that, Lord Cornwallis and your flunkies.

    And what makes all this even more significant is that Richard Pearis and Andrew Williamson had a long destructive history between them; utilizing in better ways men like Pearis and David Fanning to bring about civil control may have thrown big shovel loads of dirt in the hole.

    There are two statements in this discussion that need to be woven into understanding: David’s comment that “Ferguson demonstrated organizational brilliance and social & cultural diversity with his establishment of the new provincial militia and its methodology” is a big deal. Equally important is what Judson says:” over confidence of both Ferguson and Tarleton led to poor tactical decisions that ruined Cornwallis’ plans.” Teasing both apart leads to a fascinating understanding of how the Clinton-Cornwallis vise allowed men like Ferguson to act in what has to be seen as close to insubordination.

    There is so much more here for someone who seeks to build on what Wayne, Judson and David have put out there….but I’m getting distracted; I have this stupid song humming about inside.

  • Just to clarify … my characterization of the Over Mountain Men as “fanatics” comes less from their actual conduct of the battle than how and why they made the decision to march a hundred plus miles over the mountains from what is now actually Tennessee deep into the Carolina’s in order to force that fight with Ferguson. They themselves were not directly threatened at the time, other than by Ferguson’s somewhat idle boast that he would himself march over the mountains and lay waste “with fire and sword” to their families and their farms. I see the whole affair as a sort of fierce vendetta by a loosely knit, individually commanded group of militia units who collectively had a big chip on their shoulders and decided to come together temporarily to make a highly effective preemptive strike. Afterwards they simply went back home and most of them never fought again … and certainly no one ever threatened them again.

    1. Judson, after the battle at King’s Mountain, John Sevier led his regiment back across the mountains in a fair hurry because they had rumors (correct ones as it turns out) that Dragging Canoe’s men were planning an attack in their absence. Elijah Clarke and the Georgians had bolstered the defenses during the campaign but they were now ready to return to fighting the British. Almost as soon as they returned and had a chance for quick rest, the Overmountain Men were off campaigning against the Cherokee on the Boyd’s Creek campaign, which lasted through the end of 1780. Once that was settled in 1781, Sevier’s regiment returned to South Carolina and fought with General Greene in the summer of 1781. Always when the Overmountain Men brought their regiments across the mountains half the men would remain behind to defend the settlements. But once the war progressed into summer of 1781 and many back country Loyalists were trying to get back into the Patriot good graces, Sevier actually used them as replacements so that even fewer of the King’s Mountain veterans served again. So, even though most of the men from the regiment did not cross back into South Carolina, they did have more fighting to do, and the regiment itself returned across the Blue Ridge to help with the end campaign. Parts of both Sevier’s and Shelby’s regiments served as replacements under Colonel Maham at Fair Lawn in November 1781. I do not think Sevier was actually present with that part of his regiment as the Chicamaugans were acting up again resulting in yet another campaign against them. In late 1781, Sevier’s regiment was actually split into double duty, half against the British and half against the Indians.

  • Wayne’s article has generated good discussion that has danced around basically the large pink elephant in the room. Many people today still do not recognize what the southern campaign *really* geared itself into. And that being a true civil war more so than the one to be fought eighty some years in the future. Kings Mountain is a good example for combatants with Major Ferguson being the only British individual there. The rest even on both sides were Americans. The stiffening provided to the militia on both sides came from veteran soldiers but from the Crown Forces that can even include Provincial units such as Ferguson’s American Volunteers.

    Maybe it’s the way it is taught today or it is how people compartmentalize history today but you mention southern campaign and they say “Oh yeah Yorktown”. Who knows? Perhaps watching too much of that 18th century espionage series (eek) or the movie where toy soldiers get melted down for select fire muskets (EEK).

    Also just to back up abit. I know most of you have and attribute Ferguson with saying “I will march over the mountains and lay waste with fire and sword”. Now this statement wasn’t from a written document, it was a verbal statement told to a prisoner. Considering the force he had and the distance away for support I find it highly unlikely or out of character perhaps to encourage such a fight. Perhaps overconfidence as well weighed in. Unfortunately we will never know.

    But articles like Wayne’s need to go besides here for us to enjoy but for mainstream consumption as well. People need to understand better truly what occurred. Bad things were done on both sides. On purpose to repay and to keep people under fear. To retaliate and thus keep the cycle of violence ever marching. Sound familiar?

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