Amazing, isn’t it, how what seems to be a minor action by one person can have profound effects on history. That’s one of the central themes of “Liberty Mountain,” the Revolutionary War drama now in the third weekend of its summer production at the Joy Performance Center in Kings Mountain. It was a decision by British Major Patrick Ferguson that led directly to the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 and turned the tide of the American struggle for independence.
Ferguson is played superbly in our drama by actor Jeremy Homesley, who portrays the Major as a bold, decisive leader who nevertheless made two blunders that led to the defeat of his Loyalist militia and his own death on the mountain on an October day in 1780.
Ferguson began his military career in his teens and earned a reputation as a resourceful and innovative officer. He was considered the finest marksman in the British army, and invented a breech-loading rifle that could fire quickly and accurately. Had the Army leadership adopted his rifle for widespread use, it could have had a significant impact on the Revolution. But the Army stuck with the musket, which was inaccurate but cheap to manufacture. That, too would have an impact at Kings Mountain.
In 1780, the British commander in the southern colonies, Lord Cornwallis, selected Ferguson to recruit and train a regiment of Loyalist militia in the upstate area of South Carolina. Cornwallis already held Charleston and had established strong outposts in the state. His plan was to capture Charlotte, march north through North Carolina and Virginia, attack and defeat the Continental Army, and put an end to the rebellion. Ferguson’s job was to subdue western North Carolina and protect Cornwallis’s left flank.
Ferguson did his job well. By late summer he had a well-trained force of a thousand Loyalists and had marched them into North Carolina’s western counties. He considered his biggest threat to be from the so-called “overmountain” territory, land beyond the Blue Ridge that was then part of North Carolina. So Ferguson sent a message to the area: If you do not desist from your opposition to British arms, I will march my army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay your country to waste with fire and sword.
He shouldn’t have done it. The Overmountain Men – fiercely independent, preoccupied with Indian wars — had largely stayed out of the Revolution. But Ferguson’s threat riled them up. They organized and formed the core of the Patriot force that set off to fight Ferguson and his Loyalists. Instead of retreating to Charlotte and the safety of Cornwallis’s main force, Ferguson set up camp on Kings Mountain.
The Patriots took Ferguson by surprise. They surrounded the mountain and attacked from all sides. The Loyalists, equipped with the inaccurate British muskets, fired over the heads of the Patriots, who used their American long rifles to take a terrible toll on the defenders. In an hour, the battle was over, Ferguson dead, his force destroyed.
Historians agree that Kings Mountain turned the tide of the Revolution. “Liberty Mountain” celebrates the Patriot victory, and presents Patrick Ferguson as a bold and courageous officer who fell victim to his own rash decisions.
Performances of “Liberty Mountain” continue through next weekend. For information on show dates and times and online ticket ordering, visit the production’s website: www.kmlibertymountain.com.