Kings Mountain National Military Park Blacksburg, S.C. Visited: October 24, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 268 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Site of an important Revolutionary War battle where, on October 7, 1780, a ragtag force of Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men obliterated the Loyalist battalion led by flashy British Maj. Patrick Ferguson.
BEAUTY (6/10) Kings Mountain NMP stands at the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountain Range just a few miles south of the N.C.-S.C. border. It is all downhill from here to the Atlantic Ocean. The Battlefield Trail dips and dives along a paved pathway through the woods and ends along a ridgeline. Still, do not expect wide vistas of the surrounding countryside, the forest is just too dense.
Most of the battlefield’s monuments are small, old, unobtrusive and even tucked away off the path. The Trail feels more like a peaceful walk in the woods than a journey through history. You must walk the Trail to see the battlefield; there is no driving tour.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10) By 1780, the primary military theater of the Revolutionary War had shifted from the mid-Atlantic States to the Carolinas. General Cornwallis believed there were enough Loyalist sympathizers, or at the very least pragmatic frontiersmen in the South. He could easily sway these lackadaisical patriots to his side with the hopes of being on the surefire winning team.
The Loyalist’s successful rout of Horatio Gates’ forces at Camden, S.C. in August, 1780 proved the sagacity of the tactic. By September, the British forces had successfully raised a Loyalist army. The Patriots had had trouble getting enlistees post-Camden, with most Carolinians either joining the Brits or sitting on the fence. It was then that the haughty Major Ferguson unnecessarily opened his big mouth and addressed the heretofore-sleeping giant, the Appalachian Mountain Man.
Ferguson announced, “He would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country to waste with fire and sword.” By most accounts, the "Overmountain Boys" had not cared about the War… until that point. Swiftly they marched over the rugged Appalachians ready to find this bold Briton.
He was not that hard to find. Ferguson always rode into battle with his trademark red-checkered shirt. His two mistresses rode with him as well. Those three were the only Britons at Kings Mountain. When Cornwallis heard the mountain men were coming, he told Ferguson he was on his own. The forthcoming fight was fought entirely by Americans, Loyalist Carolinians versus newly formed Patriots from Appalachia.
The Battle of Kings Mountain was over almost as soon as it began. In less than an hour, nearly all of Ferguson’s troops were dead. Ferguson died spectacularly, foot in stirrup, horse dragging him until the end. He is buried at Kings Mountain, next to his one mistress who felt the wrath of Appalachia. His second mistress was one of the few that eluded the Mountainman bullets.
The Overmountain Boys’ victory swayed the Carolinas’ allegiance toward the Patriot side. The success of Cornwallis’ Southern strategy was now doubtful. The tide of the Revolutionary War turned at Kings Mountain and in one year’s time, Cornwallis would surrender his army at Yorktown.
CROWDS (7/10) We experienced a swath of schoolchildren, a few historical tourists and some locals enjoying the paved mountain trail and the crisp high-country air.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Visitor Center is about three miles south of Interstate 85, Exit 2 via South Carolina Route 216 a/k/a Battleground Drive. Charlotte, N.C. is 40 miles to the east.
A paved 1½-mile battlefield trail circles Kings Mountain. The sometimes steep walk roller coasters through the depths of dense forest scenery ending along the ridge of the Patriot assault.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5) We loved the huge selection of Revolutionary War books, glassware, old photographs and assorted living history knickknacks. So did the class of Charlotte-area middle-schoolers, all of whom were eagerly spending their allowance money.
COSTS (4/5) Entry is free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) More Rangers would have been nice, but we got nearly an hour’s worth of questions answered by a terrific volunteer.
TOURS/CLASSES (6/10) The Park’s new History Channel-produced film is high on drama, rippling with stunning costumes and full of historic holes. The film gets you excited about the battle but then confuses you with disjointed facts and implausible explanations.
Here is one of many examples. The question: how could Ferguson, a rifle designer and skilled sharpshooter, lose a battle so quickly when his troops held pre-fight control of the high ground? The film’s answer: because his troops forgot to adjust their aim angle and shot over the charging soldiers’ heads. Are we idiots?
The film extracted a lengthy list of questions, all of which were ably answered by a volunteer Ranger. He too was dismayed at the film’s incredulous superficiality (our words, not his). His answer for Ferguson’s quick loss was that the Major was so arrogant that he failed to dig trenches and earthworks. As a result, his men were easily overpowered. The 1.5-mile historical trail proves his hypothesis; there is a shocking dearth of earthworks in this highly protected and isolated wilderness.
The new Museum similarly emphasizes flash over substance. Sure, the exhibits are all self-contained in reproduced plastic tree trunks and there are lots of flat-screen TV’s. Birds chirp and drums roll on a looped overhead audio track. What exactly do these things tell us about the Battle of Kings Mountain? Not much, but they sure would seem interesting to a busload full of middle school kids.
FUN (7/10) Great story, agreeable outcome, pleasant walk, obliging Rangers, unique museum and stellar historical villain = fun time.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10) Kings Mountain NMP makes for a terrific, off-the-beaten-path day trip destination from Charlotte or Asheville, NC, especially since the park is less than three miles south of Interstate 85. The Site’s museum and film are definitely entertaining for all ages. The 1.5-mile trail is a satisfying distance for the day-tripper (not too long, not too short) and challenging enough to make you think you have done some exercising. If your good-feeling patriotism is not stirred by the events at Kings Mountain then it never will be.
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