Sunday, May 5, 2013
The Over mountain Victory National Historic Trail…….Commemorates the route of patriots marching into the Carolinas from the East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia settlements to attack the threat against their lives and property.
General Cornwallis landed at Charleston intent on turning the southern flank and enlisting increased support of the loyalist population. He delegated the task of forming loyalist militias to Major Patrick Ferguson. Ferguson went about the task diligently and with success. As he progressed westward into the Carolinas, into the areas of Scotch Irish Presbyterians, his task became more difficult. He encountered armed resistance. And there was a Skirmish at Cane Creek after which he issued a proclamation that all must declare loyalty to the crown or forfeit property and maybe life.
To the assembled leaders across the mountains in the Watauga settlement, that was a declaration of war. The decision was made to go get him. And, that’s just what they did.
The Over mountain men, the militia, are described as patriots from the East Tennessee settlements that crossed the mountain to do battle. The impression is that they gathered into ad hoc units and crossed the mountain to fight the war. While that is in fact true, it misses the mark. The men in the ad hoc militia groups that crossed the mountain were hardened to battle. They were accustomed to fighting. They had been fighting a war since at least 1775. Their foe were the Cherokee who made raids and fought battles, skirmishes, for the 5 years preceding the march over the mountains.
They had for all this time existed in small units with elected officers that in turn were part of larger units having superior elected officers. They fought the Cherokee in the small units and as necessary in larger units as the threat demanded. That is, when Major Ferguson issued his threat, they mobilized these preexisting militia units to go destroy his army.
They came from the settlements called the Holston Settlements that extended from present day Abington Virginia down the river into East Tennessee, the Watauga settlements along the Watauga River and the Nolichucky settlements extending down the Nolichucky River. People lived on farms with forts or strong points scattered around as necessary. This was all Cherokee land. Some had been purchased from the Cherokee and because of vague or even ignored boundaries some was not. The old chiefs wanted to get along, but the younger leaders did not. The young leaders led the attacks on the settlers.
They were also motivated by the British. The British wanted to gain control over these western areas and encouraged the young bucks to do what they could not. That is, control by force of arms. The young chief Dragging Canoe, loser of the battle of Island Flats was receptive to the message. The sacred Long Island of the Holston at the present Kingsport Tennessee is roughly a hundred miles northeast of the major Cherokee villages southwest of the present Knoxville. He led his warriors all that distance to lose the battle and control, forever. The distance seems large but is actually small when compared to Dragging Canoe’s travels. He had negotiated in person, on site with British military and political officers in their offices in far away Mobile, Alabama.
This is to say, that there was from the beginning, a British effort to mount pressure from the south, Georgia and Alabama. The intent was to enlist the Cherokee to reclaim their lost lands and do the fighting. The British agents from the south regularly visited all the Over Mountain settlements as well as all the Cherokee settlements. The Over Mountain settlements were winning or perhaps even won their own local theater of the war.
All that is prelude to the march. The units gathered at the Muster Grounds in Abington, marched south always along a creek or river to Sycamore Shoals. There at the Watauga fort, other units came from the eastern more Holston and Nolichucky settlements. They formed their army and set out over the mountain.
The Cowpens Park Service Ranger John Robertson used existing reports and letters and topographical maps to plot the actual route taken by the marchers. He is a map maker researching and drawing maps for historical publications. Another of his efforts is a map with pins locating a revolutionary war action. It is immediately apparent that there were many more engagements in the South than in the north.
Green squares indicate battles
April 27 and 28
We spent a quick weekend in Durham enjoying a T-ball Bat-a-thon; some great seafood and Chinese take-out. Jane got to visit a Pensy Spice store and Ben made plans for an NC State reunion for the fall. Mostly we just enjoyed visiting with family.
The Durham Bulls T-Ball team with coaches
Grammie and Dan
The trip home on Sunday was uneventful, We had rain all the way to Wytheville. Crossing the mountains in fog was not much fun – several months ago there was a huge multi-car wreck in that same section of the highway near the NC –VA state line. We traveled safely with light traffic all the way home.
We enjoyed our quick 4 day trip. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail could easily take 3-4 days. We skipped a few of the homes and graves located along the trail, did not visit the Morganton locations due to their being closed, and could easily have spent more time at both Cowpens and Kings Mountain. In hindsight we might add another day to the trip. We will probably go back to Morganton on a weekend to visit Quaker Meadows. We will definitely return to Sycamore Shoals to visit the museum.
A historical analysis by Ben will follow in a few days….
April 26, 2013
After a typical hotel continental breakfast we continued on the second day of our journey. We knew from internet research we would not be able to tour the McDowell home at Quaker Meadows but we anticipated being able to visit the cemetery and grounds. We stopped at the Historical Society Museum in downtown Morganton hoping to get better directions.
Well, the Burke County Historical has a very nice facility – they have very friendly staff – but they know very little about the Revolutionary War history of their area. Evidently there are two historical groups in Morganton – this one and the Historic Burke Foundation, Inc. which manages the McDowell House and the Quaker Meadow area. McDowell House as we knew was open only on Sunday afternoons. The cemetery was locked and the lady who could allow entry not available. Oh – well another day!
Declining a tour of the Burke County Historical Museum – mainly the Civil War and anything the townspeople brought in – we headed on our way down the OVNHT.
The Patriots were traveling from Quaker Meadows, where they had been joined by the NC and SC militias, towards Gilbert Town in the area of today’s Rutherfordton NC. They expected to find Major Ferguson and his Loyalists near Gilbert Town. This trip was through mostly level land with occasional rolling hills. Surely this was easier travel that the mountains they had previously crossed. They camped two nights in rainy weather at Bedford Hill. During this stop they discussed at length leadership for the impending battle. After much discussion it was determined that Col. Campbell should be the leader since he had traveled the furthest and brought the most men. Each commander gave a “pep talk” to their men – offering them one last chance to back out of the battle - not one man left their ranks.
The militia continued on, camping on Oct 3 at Marlin’s Knob. We identified the area along the road but did not stop.
We stopped at the New Brittain Church built in 1852 on the site of the Brittain Church of 1780. The cemetery here includes the graves of a number of militia wounded in the battle at Kings Mountain. This location was a primary stop as the militia traveled back home after the battle. We walked through the cemetery noting several centuries of graves. Most of the Revolutionary graves had been replaced with plaques in the ground. Numerous civil war graves were located here as well as families – what stories this graveyard could tell.
New Brittain Church and Cemetery
As the Patriot Militia were meeting in Quaker Meadows and beginning to travel south in search of Ferguson – the two deserters from their ranks arrived at the Loyalist camp. They told Ferguson about the Overmountain Men crossing the mountains to engage him. Ferguson realized his predicament and started towards Charlottetown (Charlotte NC today) where Cornwallis’s larger army was camped. Charlotte is located north of here by maybe 60 miles.
We continued towards Gilbert town – this area was not easy to follow as again the names of roads were different in the guidebook, maps, and actual road signs. We finally put Cowpens National Battlefield in the GPS and headed across the state line into South Carolina.
Ben wanted to buy gas in SC and found a $.60 difference in a gallon of diesel in SC from NC! We were getting hungry so Jane pulled up Travel Advisor on the i-phone and found the #1 restaurant in the area - Strawberry Hill. About 3 miles away was a huge strawberry farm, peach orchard and restaurant! We had great sandwiches – Ben’s country ham sandwich had more ham than bread! Then we had homemade ice cream and stopped to buy strawberries straight from the field….mmmm good!
Ice Cream and Strawberry fields at Strawberry Hill
South Carolina has wonderful signage for the OVNHT – at each and every turn. TN, VA, and NC could learn from SC ! Perhaps they will add signs as the trail becomes better known and more traveled. Guess we need to be pro-active and write letters to the other states! We followed the signs straight to Cowpens and had a nice visit with a park ranger. His passion is the Revolutionary War and he has done significant research on each and every battle location and plotted them on a map. His study was used to identify the light brown line identifying the actual trail on the NPS map of the OVNHT. Interesting fact was that of all the churches in the area – 28 of 32 were Presbyterian.
Jane has been collecting NPS stamps along the way and we will have 8 after we visit Kings Mountain. We have traveled quite a few National Historic Trails – this one became a part of the system in 1980. The main visitor center will be built in Morganton – a site has been located but construction has not begun.
The actual battle at Cowpens was not a part of the Kings Mountain campaign. This battle occurred in Jan 1781 after the Kings Mountain battle took place in Oct 1780. We enjoyed a short video that clearly explains the battle but due to listening to too many ranger stories we did not have time for hiking the battlefield. This location served as an overnight stop for the Overmountain Militia on Oct 6th.
Cowpens National Battlefield and some of beautiful azaleas enjoyed on this trip.
While camped at Cowpens the Militia learned of Ferguson’s march to reach Cornwallis at Charlottetown so knew their time was limited to intercept his loyalist troops. They learned that he was camped on King’s Mountain and planned carefully their surprise attack. 901 of the best men were put on 901 of the best horses and rode all night to mount a surprise attack on the morning of Oct 7th.
The militia rode on the cold wet night to reach Kings Mountain along much the same route we took on Interstate 85 from Cowpens to Kings Mountain. The mountain is 60 ft high – so not much of a mountain but it was high enough to give Ferguson the high ground to defend.
Arriving at Kings Mountain we hurried inside the visitor center to get passport stamps, view the exhibits and watch the film. A longer visit would have allowed hiking to the top of the mountain but alas – we wanted to be in Durham for dinner!
Kings Mountain and Col. William Campbell
The video explained the battle well – the persistence, determination, and “indian play” fighting tactics (firing from behind trees and rocks) were factors in the outcome of the battle. When Ferguson was killed on the third assault of the Patriots, the loyalist resistance evaporated. By the morning of Oct 8 when the Patriot troops departed Kings Mountain they had 800 prisoners. They marched the prisoners back towards Quaker Meadows and eventually further into NC.
The loss of Ferguson and his loyalist troops was a surprise and huge disappointment to Cornwallis. He retreated into SC for a winter camp. Other victories were required over the next 12 months to secure America’s independence, but the battle at Kings Mountain was a major turning point! In about 2 weeks these Scots-Irish patriots from the southern Appalachian Mountains had left their homes, traveled across the mountains, and searched for and defeated those who were trying to destroy their way of life and their freedom. What great patriots they were!
We got into the Sprinter, plugged the Durham address of our son and family in the GPS and found we would not arrive until 7 PM. Too late for dinner but in time for a good night’s sleep!
A quick stop for a sandwich along the way and we arrived in Durham as expected. The only excitement along I 85 and I 40 was pretty heavy traffic and construction around Charlotte.
We left Kingsport about 9 AM headed on a two day adventure going back almost 233 years to the days of the American Revolution. Strong willed and independent patriots living in the “overmountain” region (then Virginia and North Carolina) – now , East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia heard about the possibility of the British, under the leadership of Major Patrick Ferguson invading their area. They set out to stop any such advance. Their impact on the US struggle for independence is said to have turned the tide of the Revolution. We live in the “over-mountain” area and have heard and read the story of these patriots many times but neither Ben nor I had traveled this trail that is practically in our own back yard!
Redbud and dogwood trees were blooming and most other trees were leafing out in bright greens. Blue sky, sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s made for a perfect journey.
Our first stop was at the Muster Grounds in Abingdon VA. The city of Abingdon has partnered with the National Park Service and has a very informative visitor center. Staffed with a friendly and informed staffer, we experienced a little history and were soon on our way with a recently written guide book. Men as well as cattle and even a few women from across Southwest VA under the leadership of Col. William Campbell gathered here on Sept 24th to travel to Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals where they would meet others joining in their cause.
Abingdon Muster Grounds
The trail today follows several state and county roads as it makes its way through the valleys of East TN. The militia primarily followed the creeks and streams. The TN “topo” maps have one name on roads, the park service map another, and the road signs often an even different name – but we found our way to the next mustering spot – the Pemberton Oak. Here Captain John Pemberton gathered his militiamen under the huge spreading oak. This tree thought to be the last living thing on the trail survived into the 21st century. Only a portion of the tree remains today. While the tree sits on private property – the owner, a descendent of the Pemberton family, was walking her dog and invited Ben to walk over to the tree remains. She explained to Ben the route of the road during the 1780’s. It would have followed the driveway of the home – looking back towards our van.
Remains of Pemberton Oak
Original Trail with Sprinter in background
From Pemberton Oak we journeyed on along the trail passing the site of Womack’s Fort and stopped briefly at a small city park in today’s Bluff City to view Choate’s Ford – a river crossing. Today there is a railroad bridge and a new pedestrian bridge built at the site.
We journeyed on reluctantly passing without stopping the best BBQ restaurant in east TN.
Ridgewood Barbeque near Bluff City TN
While the Virginia militia was traveling south towards Ft. Watauga at Sycamore Shoals – the militia from the areas of now East TN were traveling to Fort Watauga under the leadership of Cols. John Sevier and Issac Shelby. On Sept 25th the militia all met near Fort Watauga to prepare for their journey across the mountains. Today Fort Watauga has been reconstructed and is a part of a TN State Park at Sycamore Shoals. The town of Elizabethton has grown up around the park that now sits behind a developed business strip. We explored the fort but the museum was closed for renovation so we will have to come back (only 30 minutes from our home if coming directly) – perhaps during their summer outdoor drama of the events.
Fort Watauga through the dogwood
On Sept 26th the combined force of 1000 men set off on their journey to meet up with the North and South Carolina militia at Quaker Meadows Plantation near Morganton NC,
After eating a quick sandwich on the “strip” in Elizabethon we were back on the road. We followed modern day roads towards Elk Park and Roan Mountain and stopped as the militia did at Shelving Rock just to the south of Roan Mountain. We covered in about 45 minutes what took the militia all day. The weather was bad on their journey and they needed a dry place to store their gun powder. Shelving Rock was the answer – they camped in the nearby pasture where now each fall re-enactors camp as part of the annual re-enactment of this journey.
Shelving Rock today – road construction has filled in some of the cave said to have been much deeper in 1780’s
Location of Sept 26th encampment
Attempts to follow a small road through Yellow Mountain Gap failed and we took US 19 and arrived at the site of the Sept 27th encampment near the intersection of Roaring Fork creek and Highway 19E. This mountainous section of the trip must have been difficult on horseback. Again what took the militia a day took us less than an hour.
Site of Sept 27th encampment where records document several inches of snow in 1780!
It was at the Yellow Mountain encampment that the leadership noted the absence of two of the militia members. Since the two were suspected of being loyal to King George III it was feared they had gone ahead to warn Ferguson of their arrival.
On Sept 28th the militia proceeded along the plateau of the Blue Ridge reaching Grassy Creek near today’s Spruce Pine NC. As they left Grassy Creek and reached Gillespie Gap they could see the Catawba Valley of NC spread out below them. Knowing that two good paths lead down the mountains the leaders were forced to make a bold decision – to split their force to prevent Ferguson heading up one way as they traveled down the other – they could not risk Ferguson reaching their communities, left with little protection.
Today a monument to the “Over-Mountain Men” sits near the NC Museum of Minerals located where US 221 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at Gillespie Gap. The day was clear and sunny but my photo did not turn out well. The small museum is interesting and does have a small display about the Over-Mountain Men; but primarily it explains the various minerals of the area.
The split groups traveled on towards Quaker Meadows planning to arrive on the 30th. We followed the path of the Campbell group that camped the night of the 29th near Turkey Cove. While this is not an excellent photo it shows both the terrain and what is now a large industry in western NC – growing Christmas Trees!
Turkey Cove area near Marion NC
We continued into Marion NC passing by the home of Joseph McDowell brother of the Charles McDowell of the Quaker Mountain Plantation. Traffic did not allow photographs at this site.
We continued from Marion to Morganton NC again following creeks through a valley along the Catawba River. We stopped at Paddy’s Creek, now a part of Lake James State Park. A part of the actual OVNHT passes nearby and we were able to cross an interesting newly constructed bridge and walk down a part of the trail.
Jane taking photos along the trail and sprinter in the distance.
Our day ended in Morganton NC where we spent the night. For dinner we chose Judges on the River – supposedly a very good barbeque restaurant. The location was great – turned out to be at the site of where the militia crossed the Catawba at Greenlee Ford. Morganton has a developed a greenway trail along the Catawba River and our restaurant was located at one end of the greenway. The site was fantastic but the food was mediocre at best. There was however a good crowd for a Thursday night!
Judges on the River – Morganton NC