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Gotta Revolution

Celebrate independence at the war's "turning point"

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If you'd like to commemorate Independence Day by visiting an actual Revolutionary War battlefield, you won't have to go as far as you might think. The textbooks many of us grew up with made the Revolution sound like something that took place mostly in New England, its southernmost engagement occurring at Yorktown, Virginia. Those books, however, overlook the extensive and crucial Southern campaign.

About 45 minutes south of Charlotte lies Kings Mountain, where a brief backcountry battle changed the course of the war. Today, the site is the Kings Mountain National Military Park.

Charlotte historian Dan Morrill, author of Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, notes that "the British campaign in the inland South began with victories at Savannah in 1779 and Charleston in 1780. The British encouraged loyalist, or Tory, militia to take up arms in the British cause, and the response was especially strong in settled regions." He also says the militia commander, Major Patrick Ferguson, "had built a substantial Tory force" of militia by the fall of 1780.

Ferguson threatened to lay waste the Overmountain settlements in the western Carolinas and eastern Tennessee if they refused to submit to British authority. The Overmountain men, never folks to take threats lightly, took him seriously and marched east to confront him, some of them traveling as much as 200 miles. They joined patriot militia from Virginia and the Piedmont Carolinas at Kings Mountain, where Ferguson had taken a stand on the summit.

The patriot militia attacked Ferguson's forces on October 7, 1780. The particularly vicious battle lasted about an hour before resulting in a bloody Patriot victory. Kings Mountain was the first in a series of battles, including Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse, that culminated in Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown in October 1781. Thomas Jefferson described Kings Mountain as turning the tide of the war.

Lyman Hemmert, a volunteer at Kings Mountain National Military Park, notes that the patriots captured about a third of the British militia in the South. Although most of the prisoners later escaped, Morrill explains, "This devastating defeat dampened the enthusiasm of the Tories and support by the locals for the British."

The national park was officially dedicated in 1931. Herbert Hoover spoke there in October 1930, the sesquicentennial of the battle, before a crowd of 70,000 people. A marker on the site shows a photograph of the crowd facing Hoover on the mountain's slope.

Kings Mountain National Military Park features a 1.5-mile, paved, self-guided walking trail, which is steep in some places, winding through the battle lines. Strategically placed markers explain what happened at various points on the trail, and metal benches offer places to rest along the way.

The visitor center shows, at no charge, a 26-minute History Channel documentary about the battle. The shop features a wide selection of books and other materials relating to the Revolutionary War in the South and to colonial life.

Hemmert said, "The museum is closed for renovation leading up to the celebration of the battle's 225th anniversary next year." He added that park rangers give lectures about the battle and the firearms of the era on days when the park has a large number of visitors, but "groups planning to come can call ahead to arrange for lectures."

At press time, the Backcountry Militia re-enactors were scheduled to appear at the park the weekend of July 3-4 to answer questions and give demonstrations about military life in the Revolutionary War period. A re-enactor portraying Benjamin Franklin is also scheduled to present the American complaints against King George III.

Visitors can reach the park from Charlotte by driving south on I-85 to North Carolina exit 2, which is marked "Kings Mountain National Military Park." Further information and confirmation of programming is available from the park website, www.nps.gov/kimo, or from the ranger station 864-936-7921.

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