It doesn't take long to figure out who was the star of the show at the Revolutionary War Battle of King's Mountain: Patrick Ferguson, the Scottish commanding officer with the bright red hair. His pictures dominate the visitor center at the national military park near Gaffney. He appears in the video Kings Mountain: Turning Point in the South. And he seems to be all over the place, once you hit the trail outside where the battle occurred.
"Well, he shouldn't have said what he said," says Chief Ranger Jim Anderson, explaining how the angry Patriots, single-minded in their fury, sought his death at the battle. "He said, `If you do not desist from your opposition to the British arms, I will march my army over the mountains, hang your leaders and lay the country waste by fire and sword.'"
But fiery words and gory warfare seem far away as you begin the climb up the ridge to where the Patriots defeated Ferguson's Loyalists. The trail on a hot afternoon is not the easiest of walks. But Anderson is pleasant company, stopping to explain. Here's a tall poplar tree, more than 200 years old and unfortunately scarred by those who couldn't leave well enough alone. A fresh-water spring, barely moving on this sticky day, offers the only chance to quench a thirst before making it back to the visitor center.
The serious history student can follow the course of the battle by reading markers. Here's where Ferguson fell; here's where he died. Here's where President Herbert Hoover spoke at the park's sesquicentennial in 1930.
"Shout like hell and fight like devils!" was the Patriot battle cry that October day in 1780. Anderson shakes his head at the thought of polished battle re-enactments and says the National Park Service doesn't allow that on its property. "War's romanticized, and that's one of the objections I have to so-called living history. War was hell."
Modern and blissfully air-conditioned, the visitor center has an auditorium for film showings. One video of the trail itself is used during bad weather and for visitors who can't get around. The center also contains a large, one-room museum with exhibits of how people lived during the time of the battle. A glass case houses reproductions of American long rifles, which helped the Patriots win the battle.
Also on display are bayonets, muskets, musket balls and wooden and ceramic canteens. Interiors of a parlor, tavern and Loyalist camp line the walls of the exhibit area. Mannequins are dressed in authentic costume, giving visitors an idea of how soldiers and camp followers looked in the 18th Century.
They looked pretty rough. Anderson laughs. "Those were rough times."
(Reprinted from the September/October 1990 issue of Sandlapper.)