|Updated April 2, 2013
The Patriot Army
At King's Mountain
The Numbers & Composition
The Patriot Army
Probably the most controversial aspect of King's Mountain is the makeup
of the Patriot army. The most common characterization is that the Overmountain
men won the battle. One claim is that thousands of South Carolinians
joined in to win the battle and are forgotten today. One source
claims that soldiers from the Piedmont outnumbered the Overmountain troops
The controversy arises from the fact that the Patriot army was called out
by its commanders and assembled as the campaign went
on. Paperwork was lacking. No muster roll, for instance, is available from the
camp at the Green River, where the army was pared down to 710. Similarly,
no roll is available for Cowpens, where an additional 200 joined in. In fact,
no muster roll is known to exist for any of the camps!
The best numbers available are those prepared by Draper in his King's Mountain and
Its Heroes. His breakdown shows that 440
Overmountain men (48%) and 470 men from the Piedmont (52%) made up the army. The
Overmountain men were those under Campbell, Sevier, and Shelby. The Piedmont men
were in the remaining commands.
Of course, taking into account the Loyalists
would account for the two-to-one figure, since all but Ferguson and the Provincials
from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York (118) were most likely from the
Piedmont. (Only a small number would be Loyalist Overmountain men.)
Here are Draper's numbers by unit, in alphabetical order by commander:
- Campbel (Washington County, Virginia): 200
- Candler (Georgia): 30
- Cleveland (Wilkes County, North Carolina): 110
- Graham & Hambright (Lincoln County, North Carolina): 50
- Lacey (South Carolina): 100
- McDowell* (Burke & Rutherford Counties, North Carolina): 90
- Sevier (Washington County, North Carolina, today's Tennessee): 120
- Shelby (Sullivan County, North Carolina, today's Tennessee): 120
- Winston (Surry County, North Carolina): 60
- Williams (South Carolina): 30
- Total: 910
Draper does say that "uncounted footmen" added to the total. (See page 227.) That
number is given in some accounts as 17, but the number must have been small, since these
men had to walk from Green River and keep up with the horsemen. The distance is over
50 miles and was covered in some 32 hours. The main body of men on foot arrived
at King's Mountain the morning after the battle.
*Major Joseph McDowell (of Quaker Meadows), in command for his
brother, Colonel Charles McDowell,
who was sent with a letter to General Horatio Gates, Southern Continental Commander
Another interesting controversy is who did commanded the Burke County militia. The late Dr. Emmett White
in his Revolutionary War Soldiers of Western North Carolina, states that Joseph McDowell
of Pleasant Gardens was in command! (Today's McvDowell County, North Carolina, is
named for Pleasant Gardens Joe.) Dr. White is unclear, but here is a possible explanation: Charles McDowell was
substituting for Salisbury District General Griffith Rutherford, Quaker Meadows Joe moved up to that position
and Pleasant Gardens Joe moved up to command the county militia.
In view of the informal, but effective, "combined and group" command exercised, all may take credit for a
job well done!
Shelby & the Kentuckians
One account found on the Web also confuses the issue by speaking of the
Overmountain Army as being Kentuckians. This probably arises from Isaac
Shelby's presence, although his men were North Carolinians. At the time of the
battle, Kentucky was a county of Virginia. Shelby's home at Sapling Grove, near
today's Bristol, Tennessee, was originally thought to be in Virginia.
appointed a militia officer by Virginia. Ironically, he commanded
the militia guarding the commission that
surveyed the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia through the Holston/Watauga
Valley west of the New River and determined that his home was in North Carolina. The area
that was thought to be in Virginia was organized into the new North Carolina county of
Sullivan and later became part of Tennessee. After the battle, of course, Shelby moved to
Kentucky, where he was elected that state's first governor.
John Sevier was an important commander at King's Mountain, leading the 120
Washington County, North Carolina (today's Tennessee), troops. These troops lived
primarily in the Holston and Watauga valleys around today's Johnson City and Elizabethton,
Tennessee. Sevier's home was on the Watauga, near the Carter Plantation. Later he moved
to the Nolichucky near today's Erwin, Tennessee. Still later, he moved to the Knoxville
area and his home at Marble Spring.
This account is based, in part, on information from these sources:
- King's Mountain and Its Heroes, by Dr. Lyman D.
Draper, 1881, Reprint by Overmountain Press
- The Patriots at King's Mountain, by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss,
- The Hornbook of Virginia History,
1994, The Library of Virginia
- Life of General John Sevier,
by Francis Marion Turner, 1910, Reprinted by the Overmountain Press
Check the park
bookstores for these titles.
- This site's page on African-Americans includes
biographies of the five black soldiers known to have served in the Patriot army at King's Mountain.
This page is copyright
© 2004, 2013 by Bob Sweeny