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