Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

. (page 103 of 126)
Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 103 of 126)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

although a prisoner, enjoy the smiles and
consolations of my family under my own
roof; but even without a shadow of ac
cusation preferred against me, for any act
inconsistent with my plighted faith, I am
torn from them, and here, in a distant
land, invited to enter into new engage-

7 O O

ments. I will give no parole !" " Think
better of it," answered Governor Tonyn,
who was in command ; " a second refusal
of it will fix your destiny : a dungeon will
be your future habitation." " Prepare it
then," rejoined the inflexible patriot. "I
will give no parole, so help me God!"
And the petty tyrant did " prepare it ;"
and for forty-two weeks that incorrupti
ble old republican of nearly threescore
years never saw the cheerful light of day,
but lay immured in the dungeon of the
castle of St. Augustine/ 5

* Lossing.


Aug. 18.

Of the prisoners taken at the battle of
Camden, and at Sumter s defeat
by Taiieton two days afterward,
several were selected, bound with cords,
and carried to Camden, where they were
hung without trial as rebels, under the
express order of Lord Cornwallis. In al
most every section of the state, the prog
ress of the British was marked with blood
and with other deeds of equal atrocity.
Many of the militia were executed on va
rious and worthless pretexts, and most
unfrequently without even the form of
trial; and private citizens were closely
confined on board of prison-ships, where
they perished of foul diseases and with
out attendance.

The spirit of the patriots was overawed
but not subdued by these harsh proceed
ings. Opposition was not extinguished.
The policy of the British commander was
short-sighted. True manhood is never
more resolute than when it feels itself
wronged ; and the Carolinians were nev
er more determined for their liberties
than in the moment of their greatest de
nial and disaster.* Marion and S unite r,
with their partisan bands, were watching
from their fastnesses every opportunity
of striking a blow for the recovery of
their country and their homes.

After the defeat of General Gates, Ma
rion had left South Carolina for a short
time, but soon returned to the swamps
and defiles below and along the San tee
river, and under every disadvantage con
tinued to struggle against an overwhelm
ing enemy. For weeks he could muster
but seventy men, and at one time this

* Simms.




number was reduced to only twenty-five.
With the saws of the neighboring mills
turned into sabres for his horsemen, and
frequently without ammunition, Marion
kept the hosts of the enemy at bay.

Hearing that a body of prisoners taken
at the defeat of Gates, about one
hundred and fifty in number, was
under march for Charleston, guarded by
a strong escort, Marion determined upon
the rescue of the captives. Placing his
mounted men in ambush, in one of the
swamps that skirt the wood from Nelson s
ferry to Monk s Corner, he darted upon
the escort and succeeded in capturing the
whole party. Having put the arms of
the British into the hands of the rescued
Americans, he hurried across the Santee,
and did not pause until his prisoners were
safely disposed of within the limits of
North Carolina. He was far upon his
way beyond the arm of danger before the
parties detached by Cornwallis, to drive
him from his covert, had reached the
scene of his enterprise.

Every scheme was adopted by the en
emy to ferret out Marion, and prevent the
inhabitants of the surrounding country
from joining him. A ruthless corps of Brit
ish soldiery, under Major Wemyss, was
detached to devastate that region. Scores
of houses were burnt on the banks of the
Pedee and Black rivers, but the patriotism
of the inhabitants was only stimulated to
greater efforts by these wanton cruelties ;
and, burning with revenge, they sought a
home in the camp of Marion and his men.
Here, with no shelter but the recesses of
the swamps, they suffered every hardship,
but felt themselves amply compensated

for all when they could sally out under
their brave leader and avenge their mani
fold wrongs upon their cruel enemy.

Marion took care that his spirited fol
lowers should not want opportunities for
action. Always on the alert, he pounced
upon a body of tories, under Major Gai-
ney, at Britton s Neck, and gained a com
plete victory, without losing himself a
single man. Again, in an hour after, he
fell upon Captain Barfield and some loy
alists, a few miles distant, and put them
to total rout. Colonel Tarleton was or
dered by Cornwallis to hunt up and strive
to entrap the " Swamp-Fox ;" but the indt>~
fatigable British dragoon, though always
in full cry after him, could -not succeed,
for Marion skilfully turned and turned in
his swamp-cover, and thus eluded every
effort of his pursuer. Tarleton strove to
bring him to action, and Marion was thus
tempted to come out, but, finding his en
emy overwhelmingly strong, he retired
again to his secure retreats.

Cornwallis, having obtained his sup
plies, was prepared to begin a campaign.
He accordingly, early in September, de
tached Colonel Ferguson, the brave and
efficient leader of the seventy-first regi
ment, in advance, and proposed to follow
him immediately from Charlotte, in North
Carolina, whither he had penetrated after
the defeat of General Gates at Camden.
Ferguson was directed to visit the north
western settlements of the Carolinas, up
to the Virginia frontier, in order to en
courage the loyalists of that quarter to
vigorous action. He had under his com
mand a strong but disorderly force, con
sisting of tories and British, nearly fifteen



hundred in all ; and his route through the
country was distinguished by every sort
of atrocity and violence. On his march,
he heard of the unsuccessful attack of
Colonel Clarke, with about five hundred
Americans, upon the British garrison at
Augusta ; and, as the latter was now re
turning from Georgia, Ferguson resolved
to cut him off This turned the British
commander from his route, and he there
fore marched to Gilbert-town, a village on
the frontier, to ward the mountains. Here,
although far removed from the support
of the main body of the army under Earl
Cornwallis, he felt secure, as he believed
in that remote district there was not a
force which was strong enough to dare to
" look him in the face." Ferguson, how
ever, did not know the country and the
spirit of its people.

Westward of the Alleghanies lived " the
mountain-men," a race of hardy settlers,
who fed their flocks in the valleys and on
the mountain-sides. In the constant pur
suit of game, and in frequent rencontres
with the Creek and Cherokee Indians, in
that wild country, they had become in
ured to danger, and skilful in the use of
firearms. They were, moreover, ardent
patriots. The lively representations of
those who had suffered at the hands of
the British marauders, now awakened the
mountaineers to a sense of their own dan
ger. Hitherto, they had only heard of
war at a distance ; and, in the peaceable
possession of that independence for which
their countrymen along the seaboard had
been contending, they had in a measure
been indifferent to the issue. But the
approach of Colonel Ferguson aroused

them from their apathy, and they deter
mined to embody themselves for their
own defence. Such were the formidable
opponents who gathered their several
bands from remote tracts from the wa
ters of the Cumberland, in Virginia, or
from the Saluda and Savannah, in Caro
lina and rendezvoused in the valley of
the Watauga, to oppose the British com
mander and his troops. They came
nearly three thousand in number most
of them on horseback, but many afoot,
some dressed in the fringed hunting-shirt
and buckskin leggings, others in home
spun, and bearing on their shoulders the
long, small-bore rifle of that day.*

Colonel Ferguson, surprised by such a
formidable gathering, made an earnest
appeal to the loyalists of the country to
join his standard : " If you choose," said
he, " to be trodden upon for ever and ever
by a set of mongrel curs, say so at once,
and let women look out for real men to
protect them ! If you desire to live, and
bear the name of men, grasp your arms
in a moment, and run to camp !"

Finding but few of the inhabitants dis
posed to come to his aid, Ferguson began
to retire toward the main body of the
British army, and sent word to Cornwal
lis, announcing his movement, and ex
plaining its cause in the sudden appear
ance of a formidable and unexpected op
position. His messengers, however, were
were intercepted. In the meantime, he
crossed the Broad river, at the
Cherokee ford, in Yorkville dis
trict, with eleven hundred and tw r enty-

Oct, 1,

* Address of the Honorable John S. Preston, Yorkville,
South Carolina, 1855.


five men, and took post on King s mount-
ain, about two miles below tbe line that
divides North and South Carolina, where
lie was so confident of the strength of his
position, that he wrote in one of his de
spatches, " All the rebels out of hell can
not drive me from it !"

The " mountain-men" were now follow
ing in hot pursuit. Being unencumbered
with baggage, their movements were rap
id and prompt. " Each man set out with
his blanket, knapsack, and gun, in quest
of Colonel Ferguson, in the same manner
he was used to pursue the wild beasts of
the forest. At night the earth afforded
them a bed, and the heavens a covering ;
the running stream quenched their thirst,
while a few cattle driven in their rear, to
gether with the supplies acquired by their
guns, secured them provision."

On reaching Gilbert-town, which had
been evacuated by Ferguson, and fearful
lest he might escape and form a junction
with Cornwallis, about nine hundred of
the strongest mountaineers, mounted on
the swiftest horses, were chosen to lead
the chase.

Without waiting for daylight, these
bold riders sped on. " The night after
leaving Gilbert-town, on a short halt, in
council, the officers selected a chief to
act until they could receive orders from
Gates. Their little army was composed,
then, of men nearly in equal numbers
from Virginia, North Carolina, and South
Carolina. Each band was led, rather than
commanded, by its own officer. Sevier,
Shelby, Campbell, Cleveland, Williams,
and M Dowell, were the colonels, and had
all seen hard service, either in the Indian



wars or in this struggle. After full delib
eration, they unanimously elected Camp
bell, of Virginia,, to command in the ap
proaching fray.* He was a man in the
vigor of life not quite forty years of age
of pure Scotch descent, thoroughly ed
ucated in the classics and all the science
of the day, and had been a soldier from
his earliest manhood. He had married
the sister of the famous Patrick Henry,
and was an intimate friend of Mr. Jeffer-
,son, and had joined in all the early move
ments of resistance. Having a large fam
ily connection in western Virginia, and
an extensive property, and that region
being still subject to imminent perils from
the Indians of Tennessee and Kentucky,
he declined commissions tendered him in
the continental army and the Virginia
lines, and accepted the honorable, labori
ous, and dangerous post of county lieu
tenant. In this he succeeded Evan Shel
by, the father of his associate in this ex
pedition. He immediately gave the care
of his family and property to a kinsman,
and devoted himself to the cause of free

" His manner was grave and dignified,
his person strong and graceful, his cour-
ao-e of the most daring and reckless char-


acter,his patriotism of the sternest mould,
enthusiastic and uncompromising, with a
fierce and relentless hatred of those who
refused to join the patriot cause, and with
al a skilful, judicious, and practised officer.
He brought to the expedition four hun-

* It is said that Colonel Williams, of South Carolina, had
Governor Rutledge s commission in his pocket, as a briga
dier, at this very time, but that he magnanimously suppressed
the fact, fearing perhaps that its assertion might cause jeal
ousies and distrust. SIMMS.



dred and fifty men (many of them his
kinsmen,friends, and neighbors), of wealth

and position equal to his own ; and most
of them of that true Scotch-Irish breed
whose fathers had fought for kirk and
covenant, and among whose descendants
were the Clays, Calhouns,Scotts, and Tay
lors, of our day." :I:

After a hurried council, at which each
man sat holding his own horse, and squat
ting on the ground, amid the pastures of
Cowpens, Colonel Campbell ordered his
resolute followers to mount. Off they
went in the darkness of the night, with
their rifles under their arms, to protect
them from the pelting rain. About day
light they crossed the ford at Broad river,
twelve miles from King s mountain. Here
they halted and killed two beeves, from
which they made a hurried repast, and,
again springing to their saddles, did not
check a rein until they arrived
(at noon) within three miles of
the enemy. Halting for a moment, the
order was given, and passed rapidly along
from man to man, " Tie up overcoats, pick
touch-holes, prime fresh, and be ready to
fight !"

The neighboring farmers, aroused from


their work by the clattering of hoofs, and
the noisy turmoil of the troopers gather
ing among their fields, dropped the han
dles of their ploughs, and, unloosing their
horses, came "riding bare-back, with dan
gling trace-chains," to join their gallant
countrymen. Acquainted with every foot
of the land, and with the exact position
01 the enemy, these fresh recruits offered
their services as guides, and now under-

* Preston.

Get, 7,

took to lead on the resolute band to the
mountain where the enemy had so defi
antly posted themselves. Their command
er, Colonel Ferguson, was one of the ablest
of the British light-infantry officers. He
was specially renowned as a leader of ri
flemen, and had himself made considera
ble improvements in the rifle and its use.
His force, as we have seen, was a mixed
one, and composed of British regulars and
loyalists. " The latter," says Simms, " it
was known, would fight they fought
with halters round their necks. They,
too, were expert riflemen."

The order of attack was now hurriedly
made by the Americans. Sevier was to
form the right, Cleveland and Williams
together the left, and Campbell the cen
tre, with Shelby on his left. They had
scarcely mounted, when a captured mes
senger was brought in. A paper was
found upon his person, which proved to
be a despatch from Ferguson to Cornwal-
lis. " Read it aloud !" was the cry of many
voices, which rose from those who under
stood and affected no military formalities.
It was read aloud ; and, as they listened
to its defiant words "I hold a position
on the King s mountain] and all the rebels
out of hell can not drive me from it!"
a grim smile for a moment varied the res
olute expression of their faces, but not a
loud word was uttered, as they nervously
clutched their rifles. With a bound they
were off again, and in twenty minutes
were in sight of the enemy s camp.

Here the pursuers drew up along the
bank of a little brook, and, dismounting,
tied their horses to the saplings and the
branches of the trees. Leaving a small




guard behind them, the Americans now
arranged themselves in the order agreed
upon, and pushed on to the attack. The
three divisions were about equal in num
ber, and it was decided that all should
scale the mountain at the same moment
from the various points of starting, and
strive to join each other at the British
encampment perched on the crest of the

King s mountain, one of the spurs of
the Alleghanies, rises precipitously above
the neighboring hills, from which it is di
vided by a deep valley and broken ra
vines. A narrow ridge of irregular rock
forms its summit, from which rugged sides
of outcropping slate and thick wood fall
steeply to the base. Colonel Ferguson
had perched his camp upon the top, and
thence looked down with defiant con
tempt upon the undisciplined band which
was now about to make the attempt to
drive him from his strong position.

The three divisions having taken their
respective positions, Campbell gave the
signal for the ascent, and all began simul
taneously to climb the mountain. Cleve
land, as he led his men to the attack on
the left, addressed them in these homely
but telling words : " My brave fellows, we
have beat the tories already, and we can
beat them again. They are all cowards.
If they had the spirit of men, they would
join with their fellow-citizens in support
ing the independence of their country.
When engaged with them, you are not
to wait for the word of command from
me. I will show you by my example how
to fight. I can undertake no more. Ev
ery man must consider himself as an offi

cer, and act from his own judgment. Fire
as fast 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 of you not to run quite off. If
we are repulsed, let us make a point to
return and renew the fight. Perhaps we
may have better luck in the second at
tempt than the first. If any of you are
afraid, such have leave to retire, and they
are requested immediately to take themselves
off r This was a good speech, which his
men could understand, and its effect was
such as every commander must desire.

The action now commenced. As Colo
nels Campbell and Shelby, at the head of
their men, began to lead up the centre,
the British fired a volley, but with little
effect, as their shots were badly aimed.
The right, under Sevier, now emerging
suddenly into view from a wooded hol
low, drew upon it the whole attention of
the enemy, and a severe conflict ensued.
Ferguson, however, finding his men no
match for the American riflemen, ordered
a charge of bayonets. This was made
with the usual impetuosity by the British
regulars, and Sevier was forced nearly to
the base of the mountain.

Williams and Cleveland, with the left,
coming up at this moment, began a mur
derous fire upon the right ilank of the
enemy, by which they diverted them from
the pursuitof Sevier,and drew upon them
selves all their fury. The charging col
umns, being recalled, were wheeled rap
idly to the right, and, making a dash at
Williams s and Cleveland s men, drove
them down the declivity before them, as
they had previously driven Sevier. See-



ing their comrades in extremity, Camp
bell and Shelby pushed on nimbly in
front, and poured upon the British such
a volley, that they were forced to desist
from further pursuit, and retire to the
summit of the ridge, which they did, how
ever, in perfect order.

Ferguson now gathered his whole force,
and bore down with an impetuous charge
directly upon the American centre. Be
fore this irresistible onset, Campbell and
Shelby gave way. In the meanwhile,
however, Cleveland and Sevier, having
rallied their men, came to the rescue with
a terrible fire on either flank of the ene
my, and brought them suddenly to a stop.
The British soldiers, with poised bayonets,
hesitated for a moment, and then retreat
ed up the hill. The centre of the Ameri
cans now rallied, wheeled, and rushed af
ter them with shouts and huzzas, thinking
that the battle was won.

The bold Ferguson, however, was not
yet disposed to yield the day. Rapidly
throwing his men into three columns, one
facing each division of his foe, he made a
fourth charge with the bayonet. But it
was too late. The " mountain-men" now
brought to bear with effect the peculiar
warfare in which they had acquired skill
in their frequent conflicts with the wild
beasts and the Indian savages on the fron
tiers. From behind the rocks and trees,
under the cover of which they loaded
their never-missing rifles, they sprang for
ward and fired with such effect upon the
British, that they drove them back with
in their lines upon the ridge.

As the three divisions of the mountain
eers approached the summit in pursuit,

they closed together and completely sur
rounded their enemy. The British, thus
at bay, fought desperately. The regulars,
with firm hand, still clung to their mus
kets, and strove to keep off their pursu
ers by a vigorous use of their bayonets ;
while the tory volunteers, with their long
hunting-knives fastened in the muzzles
of their guns, showed in their despair no
less fierceness of resistance.

At every discharge of their rifles, how
ever, the Americans closed in, narrowing
more and more the fatal circle in which
they held their doomed enemy. " The
British cavalry was ordered to mount. It
was the very thing for the American rifle,
as it raised the mark clear above the bush
es ; and, as each man threw his leg over
the horse, he fell dead on the other side.
Ferguson, with a gallantry which seemed
to rise with his desperate condition, rode
from rank to rank and from post to post,
cheering, driving, and encouraging his
men, until he found his army pressed, act
ually huddled together, on the ridge, and
falling as fast as the Americans could load
and shoot." Ferguson s valor was una
vailing, and the success of his bayonets
gave him barren ground, which he could
only for a moment retain. Still he re
fused to surrender. His shrill silver whis
tle was heard over all the cries of the con
flict, as he sped from side to side.

" He determined on one more desper
ate charge, and, taking his position at the
head of his cavalry, in a voice that rose
loud above the din of the battle, he sum
moned his men to crush the d d rebels

into the earth ! "*

* Preston.



The Americans heard the order, and
silently prepared for the conflict. Each
man was ordered to load, and not fire a
shot until the foe was within sixty paces.
The command was faithfully obeyed. The
enemy bore down from the summit of the
ridge in one mass, with the brave Ferguson
at their head. Impetuously and threaten
ingly, however, as they came, they were
soon stayed by the close fire and sure aim
of the Americans. Ferguson fell at the
first discharge, and his affrighted horse
went scampering down the hill. His sec
ond in command, Captain De Peyster,
when he found that his brave command
er was no more, and saw the fatal havoc
made among the troops, gave up all hope
of further successful resistance, hoisted
the white flag of surrender, and begged
for quarter.

The battle began about three
o clock in the afternoon, and last
ed an hour. Two hundred and forty of
the enemy were killed and two hundred
wounded ; some seven or eight hundred
were taken prisoners. Out of the whole
British force but two hundred escaped.
Of the Americans, only twenty-eight were
killed and sixty wounded. In the Vir
ginia division, out of the thirteen, no less
than twelve were officers ! Fifteen hun
dred stand of arms were captured.

" In this battle," says Preston, " the offi
cers not only went before, but every one,
commander, colonels, captains, all carried
and used the rifle in addition to the sword.
It thus becomes known thart the gallant
Williams, seeing Ferguson cheering his
men with his voice and famous silver
whistle, drew up his rifle to shoot him ;

Oct. 7,

but, perceiving that Ferguson was armed
only with sword and pistols, he threw
away his gun, exclaiming, I will have a
single hand-tussle with him, or die ! He
dashed at the Briton, but, before he reach
ed him, received two balls, and was borne
from the field by his two sons, lads of
fourteen and sixteen.* Williams survived
until the next day, and learned that the
victory was complete. He raised his eyes
to heaven, and said, I thank God for my
country s deliverance; and placing a hand
on the head of each of his children, he
said, God bless you, my brave boys ! tell
your mother and our friends I die con
tent/ Within a few months, those two
noble youths were inhumanly butchered
by the tories at Hay s station.

"The pure and brave Captain Edmonds-
ton fell in front of his company, near his
colonel. The stern Campbell was seen to
brush away a tear as that brave, good
friend was borne back. Edmondston lay
under a tree, with one hand clutching his
side to keep in life until the battle was
over. He heard the shout of victory, as

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 103 of 126)