Sunday, May 5, 2013

Day 2 on Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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