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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
by Lauren Grizzard
On October 7, 1780, a Revolutionary War battle was fought on the border of North and South Carolina. Thomas Jefferson described the battle as “the turn of the tide of success.” Today, let’s look at the who, what, when, where, and why of the Battle of Kings Mountain and its connection to Tennessee.
Who was involved in this battle?
Although the Battle of Kings Mountain took place during the Revolutionary War, there were almost no British troops that fought during the battle, except for one Major. The battle was fought between Patriots and Loyalists. The American people were divided in how they thought the United States should be set up. Those that supported Britain and wanted to remain British citizens were called Loyalists. Those that fought for American independence were called Patriots. This battle remains unique in American history as being one of the few Revolutionary War battles fought between Americans.
Tennessee Connection: A group of Patriots called the Overmountain Men were a reason why historians think Kings Mountain was a Patriot success. Due to the battle taking place in South Carolina, the Overmountain Men got their nickname because, well, they came OVER the mountain in what we now call East Tennessee and the western part of the Carolinas. This group of men were not a trained army, but instead frontiersmen. Below you can see an artist’s painting of what they thought it would have looked like to see the Overmountain Men gathering in Sycamore Shoals before crossing the mountains to fight.
Tennessee State Museum Collection.
What happened during the battle?
The Loyalists were camping on top of Kings Mountain during their Southern Campaign to stop people in southern states from fighting against Britain. When the Patriots learned that the Loyalists were staying on Kings Mountain, they created a strategy to surround the camp and attack on all sides. None of the soldiers on either side were formally trained, but the Loyalists were led by Major Patrick Ferguson. Major Ferguson served in the British Army and he used tactics from the British Army. The Loyalists fought in straight lines, standing shoulder to shoulder, using muskets. Muskets were quicker to load but were not accurate. The Overmountain Men were hunters and used hunting tactics including hiding in nature, not standing shoulder to shoulder, and using rifles. Rifles were slower to load but could be used at longer distances with higher accuracy. The difference of tactics and weapons led to the battle being over in a little more than an hour. The Patriots had won.
Tennessee Connection: John Sevier, Tennessee’s future first Governor, was one of the Overmountain Men that met at Sycamore Shoals and fought on Kings Mountain. See if you can find Sevier (spelled Seiver) on the map below.
When did the battle take place?
The Battle of Kings Mountain took place on October 7, 1780 during the Revolutionary War. Although the United States declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, the Revolutionary War continued until 1783.
Tennessee Connection: Tennessee would not become a state until June 1, 1796, so during the American Revolution, what we now call Tennessee was considered the frontier of North Carolina.
Thirteen Star American Flag, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Where was the battle fought?
The battle took place two miles into South Carolina’s border on Kings Mountain.
Major Patrick Ferguson’s telescope, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Why does this battle matter?
The Battle of Kings Mountain was considered a renewal of the “Patriot spirit.” Winning a battle with untrained frontiersmen in a little over an hour was described by British Commander Henry Clinton as “the first link in a chain of evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America.” In other words, this battle started a chain of events that would eventually lead to the United States winning the war.
Tennessee Connection: This battle involved many people that became future Tennesseans and shaped the path to statehood including Isaac Shelby whom Shelby County is named after, David Crockett's father, John, John Sevier, and many others.
Tennessee State Museum – Forging a Nation
Patriot - People who wanted the American colonies to gain their independence from Britain.
Loyalist – People who wanted to stay part of Britain and remain British citizens.
Frontier – Wilderness; part of a country that is being settled (people moving to) by hunters and other pioneers.
Frontiersmen – A man living on the frontier; Living in the wilderness.
Tactic – A strategy, or plan, to achieve a specific end, or goal.
Why did they call the group of Patriots the Overmountain Men?
Who was the Overmountain Man who became the first Governor of Tennessee?
Compare and contrast the tactics used by the Loyalists and the Patriots at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
Why does the Battle of Kings Mountain matter in American history?
After the Revolution, but before Tennessee became a state, did you know John Sevier tried to create a state that has now been lost? Read about it here: https://tnmuseum.org/junior-curators/posts/how-do-you-lose-a-state-the-history-of-the-lost-state-of-franklin
The journey to Tennessee’s statehood wasn’t an easy one. Read about the path to statehood 16 years after Kings Mountain here: https://tnmuseum.org/junior-curators/posts/how-tennessee-became-a-state
Lauren Grizzard is the Scheduling Coordinator at the Tennessee State Museum.