Soon after the defeat of the American Army under Gen. Gates, the British Commander in South Carolina made arrangements to invade North Carolina and Virginia. With this view he organized a corps of the upland Tories, mostly riflemen, and attached to them two companies of his regular troops, giving the command of the whole to Maj. Patrick Ferguson of the Seventy-first regiment, an intelligent officer, and well calculated for a separate command. The corps on the first outset amounted to two thousand men. Orders were also sent to the British Indian agents to excite the Indians to invade the American settlements west of the mountains, and if practicable to proceed as far as Chiswell's Lead Mines and destroy the works and stores at that place. The main body, commanded by Cornwallis in person, was to move along the central road, by way of Salisbury, and form a junction with Ferguson before he entered Virginia. Ferguson's detachment began the operation by marching towards the mountains, and on his way met with a small regiment of North Carolina militia, commanded by Charles and Joseph McDowell. They were attacked and soon dispersed, but the Col. and Maj., with a part of the men, chose, rather than submit, to pass over the Appalachian mountains and take refuge among their Whig Brethren on the western waters. They arrived in the settlement on Watauga River, without their families, to the number of about one hundred and fifty men. Their tale was a doleful one, tending
At this period, early in September, the County Lieutenant of Washington was in Richmond. There he had an interview with the Governor of Virginia, who detailed the circumstances of Gen. Gates' defeat, the measures about to be taken to retrieve the late misfortune and to expel the enemy from our country, and that vigorous resistance every where would soon put an end to the war. On the return of the County Lieutenant, Col. Isaac Shelby, of North Carolina, sent to him a trusty mes enger to inform him of the progress of Ferguson and the retreat of McDowell's corps, and also to enquire whether it would be prudent to make an effort to enable the exiles to recross the mountains and return to their own homes. Mr. Adair, the messenger, was told the Governor's sentiments on the subject of Gates' defeat, and the efforts that would soon be made by order of Congress to check the progress of the enemy; and he was also assured that if the Western Counties of North Carolina would raise a force to join Col. McDowell's men that the officers of Washington County would co-operate to aid their friends to return home.
A consultation was soon had with the field officers, and a resolution agreed on, to order half the militia of Washington County into actual service, under the command of Col. William Campbell. All ranks seemed animated with the same spirit, and the quota was raised and equipped in a few days.
An Express was sent to Col. Cleveland, of Wilkes County, North Carolina, to let him know what was going on, and to march all the men he could raise, to rendezvous at an appointed place on the east side of the mountains. Cols. Shelby and Sevier acted their part, with like promptitude, in the western counties of North Carolina, and the whole met at Col. McDowell's encampment on Watauga.
On the twenty eighth (twenty sixth) of September our little army took up its line of march, and the third day in the evening reached the other side, without any opposition from the enemy. Two days afterwards Col. Cleveland joined his corps to the main body, and the day afterwards Col. Williams, with three companies of volunteers from South Carolina.
A council of officers was held, and it was agreed that Col. William Campbell, of Virginia, should take command of the whole and pursne the enemy. Col. Ferguson, after dispersing such parties of the North Carolina militia as were embodied, followed Col. McDowell's men as far as the foot of the great mountains, and after taking some prisoners, and collecting a drove of beeves, he made a hasty retreat to King's Mountain, in order to be nearer the main army, and on account of the strong encampment that might be formed on the top of it. Our newly elected commander reviewed his men, and selected all that were fit for service of the mounted infantry, and ordered the footmen to follow as they might be able to hold out.
Those who have been familiar with the principal officers who fought on King's Mountain, and those who fought at Cowpens, will readily pronounce that the latter was a mere skirmish compared with the arduous affair on King's Mountain. There our heroes had to act as a forlorn hope, storm the enemy's camp, defended by superior numbers and disciplined troops. The Virginia Regiment alone had more killed than the whole of Gen. Morgan's corps. This proves where the hard fighting was, more than the pompous tale of a partial historian. It was Ferguson's defeat that was the first link in a grand chain of causes which finally drew down ruin on the British interest in the Southern States, and finally terminated the war of the Revolution.
It has been remarked why so small a number of the Americans were killed at King's Mountain, compared with the loss of the enemy. Our officers accounted for it in this way: The tories occupied much the least space of ground, and of course were more thickly planted than the extended circle of Americans around them, so that the fire of our men seldom failed doing execution; besides, when the Virginia regiment reached the summit of the hill, the enemy was crowded, making their retreat to the other end, without returning a shot; and when they were driven into a huddle by meeting the fire of Col. Williams' division, they received a heavy fire before our troops could be notified of the surrender.