Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
Jurisdiction: National Park Service
Route: 300 miles (485 km)
In the fall of 1780, upcountry patriots from Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina formed a militia to drive the British from the southern colonies. This trail marks their 14-day trek across the Appalachians to the Piedmont region of the Carolinas. There they defeated British troops at the Battle of Kings Mountain, setting in motion events that led to the British surrender at Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War. Each year history buffs commemorate this patriotic event. Much of the trail has become road and highway; only a small 20-mile portion remains as a foot trail across the mountains. In most places roadside signs indicate proximity to the trail. A guide to the seven walking sections of the trail is available.
Overmountain Victory Trail Association, c/o Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, 1851 West Elk Avenue, Elizabeth ton, TN 37843; 815-543-5808The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail follows the route of assembly of the American Patriot army which decisively defeated an American Loyalist army at the battle of Kings Mountain, South Carolina, in the dark days of the fall of 1780.
In the summer of 1780, the Southern American colonies - and hopes of independence - seemed at the mercy of an invading British army. Believing the Southern colonies mostly loyal, the Royal army planned to conquer the South and recruit Loyalist militia (local volunteer soldiers) to help British regulars and British Provincial troops defeat the Continental Army and the local Patriot militia.
When Charleston, South Carolina, surrendered May 12th, 1780, the British captured most of the Continental troops in the South. Additional large losses occurred later in the summer with Patriot defeats at Waxhaws, South Carolina, May 29th, and Camden, South Carolina, August 16th. Only Patriot militia remained to oppose a British move through North Carolina into Virginia, America's largest colony. Victory for Royal troops and an end to talk of independence seemed near.
Lord Charles Cornwallis, the British commander, appointed Major Patrick Ferguson as Inspector of Militia for South Carolina to defeat the local militia and to recruit Loyalists. Ferguson's opposition included men from South Carolina's backwoods under Thomas Sumter, North Carolinians commanded by Charles McDowell, and Over mountain men from today's Tennessee under Isaac Shelby.
Moving into North Carolina, Ferguson attempted to intimidate the western settlers, threatening to march into the mountains and"lay waste the country with fire and sword" if they did not lay down their arms and pledge allegiance to the King. The response was a furious army formed on the western frontier. Growing in numbers as they marched east, some 900 men gave chase to Ferguson, surrounding his army at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, and killing or capturing Ferguson's entire command.
" . . . That Turn of the Tide of Success" --Thomas Jefferson
Ferguson's defeat was a stunning blow to British fortunes. The strength of the Patriot militia was affirmed. The hoped for Loyalist support didn't materialize. Cornwallis was forced to pull back from North Carolina, giving the Continental Army time to bring fresh regulars and new commanders south. On January 17,1781, Daniel Morgan, using Continentals and militia, defeated Colonel Banastre Tarleton's British army at Cowpens, South Carolina. That winter saw a running campaign between Cornwallis and the armies of Morgan and Nathanael Greene. Try as Cornwallis might, the Americans always seemed to cross the river to safety before Cornwallis could cut them off.
At Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, on March 15th, Greene finally turned to face Cornwallis. Greene's army was driven from the battlefield, but Cornwallis suffered severe losses which he could not replace. Cornwallis pulled back to recuperate, finally moving his army north into Virginia without subduing North Carolina. In the fall of 1781, George Washington rushed his army south to join French reinforcements. When French warships fortuitously gained control of the Chesapeake Bay, Cornwallis was besieged and forced to surrender on October 19,1781, just over a year after Kings Mountain.
Kings Mountain was the beginning of the successful end to the Revolution, assuring independence for the United States of America. On an unimposing and obscure mountain, Americans fought Americans to determine their destiny. The citizen militia of the community, the predecessors of today's National Guard and Reserves - like volunteer fire departments - organized to protect their community.
Men without formal training or recognized social standing - Ferguson called them mongrels - took hold of their destinies, just like the men who began the American War for Independence on April 19,1775, at Lexington and Concord. They relied upon their individual initiative, skills with the rifle, and courage to ensure the success of their cause.
Points of Interest
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail begins on Colonial Road in Abingdon, Virginia. March reenactors assemble here each September 23rd.
Each year the OVTA march reenactors assemble over two weeks to remember the events of 1780 and place a wreath on the U.S. monument at Kings Mountain National Military Park. The commemorative motor route passes through mostly rural countryside. The march reenactment proceeds both on foot and in cars, allowing those not wishing to walk to join.
Rocky Mount, the William Cobb home, later served as the capital of the Southwest Territory. Today Rocky Mount operates as a living history farm of 1791 and is open to the public daily.
September 12, 1780, Charles McDowell ambushed part of Ferguson's army at Cane Creek but was driven off and fled to Sycamore Shoals to await reinforcement by the Overmountain men.
In late September, 1780, William and cousin Arthur Campbell assembled Washington County, Virginia, militia.
September 25, 1780 Shelby, Sevier, Campbell mustered the militia of the Watauga and Holston Valleys at Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River (Elizabethton) to join Burke County militia under Charles McDowell. Fort Watauga is today reconstructed at the Tennessee historic area. In 1780, this was North Carolina, later Franklin (or Frankland), later Southwest Territory.
Wilkes-Surry branch of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail begins in Elkin, North Carolina.
Gap Creek Monument was constructed by students at the now closed school.
September 26, 1780, the army spent its first night at Shelving Rock, storing their powder out of the rain.
September 27, 1780, snow fell on Roan Mountain as the army crossed. Yellow Mountain Gap, at 4682 feet, is the highest point on the trail. Here two men deserted to warn Ferguson of the Patriot army.
Monuments at the visitors' center of Roan Mountain State Park honor Overmountain men and OVTA founder Tom Gray.
Robert Sevier, brother of John, wounded at Kings Mountain, died nine days later and was buried beside the Toe River with mountains all around. Nearby are remnants of their route along Bright's Trace, the Yellow Mountain Road.
William Lenoir's home, Fort Defiance, is open to the public on a limited basis. Lenoir served in North Carolina governments before and after the American Revolution and helped establish the University of North Carolina.
September 30,1780, North Carolinians under Benjamin Cleveland, Joseph Winston, and William Lenoir joined the Overmountain men at the McDowell home at Quaker Meadows.
October 1 and 2, 1780, the army stopped to dry out and prepare for battle expected soon. Unpopular Charles McDowell was persuaded to step aside as commander. William Campbell, not from North Carolina, was chosen as a compromise replacement. McDowell rode to ask for a Continental officer to command.
October 3, 1780, the army camped beneath Marlin's Knob beside Cane Creek. South Carolina Patriots under William Hill and Edward Lacey were camped nearby at Flint Hill (Cherry Mountain).
October 4, 1780, entering Gilbert Town, they found Ferguson had left, possibly headed towards Ninety Six in South Carolina.
October 5, 1780, reassured they, were following Ferguson, the army proceeded to the Green River, away from Kings Mountain. Small parties of Georgians under William Candler and North Carolinians under William Chronicle joined the Overmountain men. Early the next morning, Edward Lacey rode in with news they were headed away from Ferguson.
October 6, 1780, finally convinced Ferguson headed east toward Charlotte, the men with the best horses raced off to meet with Lacey and Hill's South Carolinians.
The two groups united the evening of October 6th at Cowpens. Eating a hasty meal, the parties pushed on through a rainy night.
October 7, 1780, about 3:00 p.m. they found Ferguson's Loyalist army on Kings Mountain. The two sides fiercely contested the wooded slopes until Ferguson was shot from his horse, killed with some 120 of his men. Only 40 Patriots fell.
October 7, 1780, at dawn the Patriot army successfully crossed the flooding Broad River at Cherokee Ford.
During the return, October 14, 1780, at Biggerstaff's Old Fields (Bickerstaff's or Red Chimneys) 30 Tories were tried. Nine were hanged, the others spared.
Many of the Patriot militia who fought at Kings Mountain returned to Cowpens, January 17, 1781, to help Daniel Morgan defeat another brash, young British commander, Banastre Tarleton.
At least five African-Americans are known to have served in the Patriot army at Kings Mountain.
Leading the largest contingent, Virginian Campbell was chosen by his fellow colonels to command in Charles McDowell's place. Campbell died in 1781, just before Yorktown.
A tireless campaigner in 1780, he stepped down from command rather than split the Patriot army.
Later first governor of Kentucky, Shelby was a strong, forceful influence the summer of 1780. The morning of October 7th, he refused to stop and rest when the men tired after spending 36 hours on the march, vowing to follow Ferguson into Cornwallis' lines, if necessary.
Later Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier was the best known man west of the mountains and gave his personal guarantee to fund supplies for the militia army.
This little-known Tennessee woman manufactured 500 pounds of powder purchased by William Cobb for the Overmountain men. Benjamin ClevelandThe voice for independence in Wilkes and Surry Counties, Tories attempted to ambush Cleveland on his way to Quaker Meadows, wounding his brother instead.
Commanding South Carolina troops, Lacey rode through the stormy night of October 5th to intercept the Overmountain men at Green River and head them towards Kings Mountain.
Major Patrick Ferguson
Intelligent, brave, charming, inventive, headstrong, he fruitlessly advocated use of Patriot "Indian-style" warfare, yet he relied on the bayonet charge at Kings Mountain, allowing his army to be surrounded.
Abraham de Peyster
From New York, he served as Ferguson's second in command. He lived in New Brunswick, Canada, after the Revolution.
A Loyalist from the Yadkin country near Cleveland, he was killed at Kings Mountain.
Citizens' Trail Honoring A Citizen Army
In 1975, local citizens, many descendants of those Patriots and Loyalists, determined to march the route of the Patriot army again as part of the American Revolutionary Bicentennial celebrations. From that first march reenactment came the Overmountain Victory Trail Association which carried petitions along the route collecting thousands of signatures requesting national trail status. In September, 1980, just before the October 7th 200th anniversary of the battle, the route was designated a national historic trail. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail covers some 220 miles from Abingdon, Virginia, through Eastern Tennessee, over the high mountains of North Carolina, across the Piedmont of North and South Carolina, to the Kings Mountain National Military Park. A 70-mile branch from Wilkes-Surry joins the main route near its center at Quaker Meadows (Morganton, North Carolina). Three routes are designated: the true historic route, now often inaccessible, the route used by OVTA each year, and the public motor route over highways.
Part of the National Trails System, the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail is a cooperative effort of the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, OVTA, local governments, local citizens' associations, local historical societies, and the states of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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