Written & Spoken Word

With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780

by Wilma Dykeman

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TITLE: With Fire and Sword: The Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780

AUTHOR: Wilma Dykeman

PUBLISHER: National Park Service, 1978.

COPYRIGHT: No protection is claimed in original U.S. Government works.

In her 1978 history of the Battle of Kings Mountain, Wilma Dykeman set a high writing standard for National Park Service handbooks and brochures. Her descriptive and narrative skills, combined with her ability to capture the personalities of major players, caused NPS managers to hire her to conduct training workshops for their own historians and interpreters stationed at parks, monuments and other areas across the country.

Here is the Prologue to Wilma Dykeman's compelling history of a true turning point in the American Revolution:

"October in the Southern highlands is a time of leaves turning hillsides into Persian carpets of color; of chilly moon-washed nights and hot drowsy noondays; of ripeness and harvest. Corn, the succulent maize adopted by pioneers from their Indian neighbors, is gathered in bin and shock. Tobacco cures to a golden pungence. Pumpkins splash the fields with color, and orchard bees suck the sweet juices of apples that have fallen to the ground. Seed sowed in the spring past, roots planted in long-ago decades, bring forth their yield.

In just such an October of 1780, another, quite different but no no less inevitable harvest was gathered in an unlikely corner of the Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War. The place was called Kings Mountain, although it wasn't royal (named for an early settler rather than the distant resident of Windsor Castle) and, indeed, at the negligible height of only a few hundred feet above the surrounding countryside, not even much of a mountain. But there, on an early October afternoon 5 years after the beginning of the Revolution, King George and his ministers' misunderstanding of the nature and needs of their faraway rebellious colonies, and the British command's misperceptions of the American character, ripened into a confrontation that marked a turning point in the war.

If events influenced by the patriot victory at Kings Mountain reached far beyond that brief time and place, so, too, did events initiating the struggle at Kings Mountain reach far back in time and place.

The battle of Kings Mountains did not begin when a brilliant, proud young British major named Patrick Ferguson sent a message across the wilderness barriers of the Blue Ridge to sturdy frontier mountain folk, warning that if they did not leave off opposition to British authority he would 'march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.'

Kings Mountain did not begin when a spontaneous army of hunters, farmers, and settlers, tough as hickory, weather-beaten by sun and wind and bitten by cold, dodged from tree to tree up that rocky ridge, taking deadly aim with long squirrel rifles at their loyalist enemies.

Kings Mountain did not begin with the first shrill staccato of Patrick Ferguson's silver whistle as he spurred his horse along the crest of the ridge, rallying his men to wage the battle bravely.

The engagement at Kings Mountain began far away - in London - in the fears of a harassed Secretary of State for the Colonies named Lord George Germain, who needed to believe that there were numerous and devoted loyalists in the American colonies and that they would eventually rise and turn the tide of victory for the king.

In began long before, in the raw winter mists and grinding poverty of Ulster villages where the people who would be known in America as Scotch-Irish nurtured fierce ideas of personal independence and property; in similar communities of French Huguenots and German Palatines; and elsewhere in Europe wherever people abandoned hopelessness and pushed their way to America.

It began with symbols, such as a royal governor's extravagant palace that became the hated token of a burdensome taxation, and with protests, peaceful and otherwise, to regulate the power and privilege of those governors and secure some semblance of law and order for the neglected western frontiers.

Kings Mountain began in the hearts and minds of people - of a king and his makers of policy, of generals, and of "rabble" who had no policy but some very firm beliefs. For the British, the message of Kings Mountain was a bitter harvest of mistaken judgment and misplaced hopes. To the Americans, it was a revelation of possible ultimate victory.

After Kings Mountain no one would claim again that there was an untapped reserve of loyalist sentiment out there in the hinterlands waiting to be gathered into the royal ranks.

After Kings Mountain no one would fail to take seriously the tenacious determination and practical democracy of the people of the western waters. They were pushing back frontiers, opening the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky, planting the seeds of permanence in the distant Cumberland settlements, reaching ever westward.

In America, in the rich interior expanses of meadow and canebrake, forest and wilderness, they had found land. Land was security such as landless people had never known; land was commitment, a sense of purpose, a sense of permanence; land was freedom such as the dispossessed had never experienced: the freedom to change, to grow, to discover alternatives and make one's own choices. Their land and their freedom had been restricted and burdened and threatened long enough by distant authority. At Kings Mountain they were ready to settle the matter once and for all.