The Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780

October 7, 1780 — Turning Point of the American Revolutionary War

The Battle of Kings Mountain took place on October 7, 1780. American militia forces known as the Overmountain Men crushed Loyalist forces in South Carolina, ending British plans to invade North Carolina. The American victory was a turning point in the American Revolutionary War, and set events in motion that led to the Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.

Battle of Kings Mountain, 1780, Wilson

This painting by Robert Wilson depicts the Battle of Kings Mountain. Image Source: From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South by Henry Lumpkin, 1981.

Battle of Kings Mountain Summary

The Battle of Kings Mountain took place on October 7, 1780, between the United States of America and Great Britain. It was a key battle in the Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War and the only battle of the war where the majority of the participants were Americans.

The British forces, under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson, were protecting the left flank of the main British army. The main army, under the command of General Charles Cornwallis, planned to march north out of South Carolina and invade North Carolina.

Ferguson was in the North Carolina backcountry, recruiting Loyalists and chasing after American militia forces, known as the Overmountain Men. The Americans eluded Ferguson, received reinforcements, and decided to launch an assault on his forces.

Ferguson, aware of the gathering of American forces, camped at Kings Mountain, near the border between North and South Carolina, and sent for British reinforcements. The Overmountain Men quietly surrounded Kings Mountain and launched a sneak attack on Ferguson and his Loyalist militia.

The battle lasted just over an hour and the Americans won a resounding victory. Ferguson was killed and his forces suffered significant casualties.

When Cornwallis learned about the American victory, he abandoned the invasion of North Carolina and retreated to South Carolina, which eventually led to him moving to Yorktown.

Battle of Kings Mountain, Death of Patrick Ferguson
This illustration depicts the moment Ferguson was shot as he tried to break through the American lines. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Quick Facts About the Battle of Kings Mountain

  • Date Started: The Battle of Kings Mountain was fought on Saturday, October 7, 1780.
  • Date Ended: The battle ended on October 7, 1780.
  • Location: The battle was fought at Kings Mountain, in South Carolina.
  • Length: The Battle of Kings Mountain is estimated to have lasted for about 65 minutes.
  • Theater: The battle was part of the Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War.
  • Who Won: The United States of America won the Battle of Kings Mountain.
  • Fun Fact: All the participants in the battle were Americans, except for the British commander, Colonel Patrick Ferguson.

Battle of Kings Mountain Overview

American forces made up of Patriot militia — known as the Overmountain Men — defeated a British force made up of Loyalist militia under the command of British Major Patrick Ferguson. 

In the early part of September 1780, Ferguson arrived in North Carolina to recruit troops for the Loyalist militia that would protect the flank of the main British force, under the command of General Charles Cornwallis. Ferguson issued a proclamation that warned Patriot militias to lay down their arms and told them, “if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.” However, the Overmountain Men, under the command of Benjamin Cleveland, James Johnston, William Campbell, John Sevier, Joseph McDowell, and Isaac Shelby refused to let Ferguson have his way. Instead, they organized an attack against Ferguson and his Loyalists.

Battle of Kings Mountain, Overmountain Men
“Gathering of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals” by Lloyd Branson. Image Source: Tennessee State Museum Website.

Ferguson received intelligence that informed him the Patriots would attack and moved toward Cornwallis for protection. As he marched in that direction, he camped at Kings Mountain, near the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. When the Overmountain Men found out where he was, they organized an ambush.

The Americans surrounded the Loyalists during the intense fighting, which lasted for about an hour. The fighting stopped when Ferguson was fatally wounded, and his men surrendered. At first, the Americans gave “no quarter,” and carried out revenge for their men who had been killed at the Battle of Waxhaws by British forces under the command of Banastre Tarleton. Patriot officers restored order and the Americans retreated. They took prisoners with them, put some of them on trial, and executed them.

Battle of Kings Mountain Significance

The Battle of Kings Mountain is important to United States history because it boosted American morale and helped turn the tide of the Southern Campaign. Earlier in the year, the British captured Charleston, won a resounding victory at the Battle of Camden, and took control of South Carolina. It opened the door for an invasion of North Carolina. 

At Kings Mountain, the British had the advantage. They had more men and the high ground — and were still routed. Cornwallis lost Ferguson and roughly 1,100 Loyalists. On top of that, the Overmountain Men proved they were capable of creating, coordinating, and executing a battle plan — and winning. 

It was a key moment in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolutionary War because it ended a string of victories for British forces. The victory — along with the death of Ferguson — raised the morale of the Americans and forced Cornwallis to retreat to South Carolina.

Battle of Kings Mountain Facts

Prelude to the Battle of Kings Mountain

  • Ferguson fortified a small hill two miles inside the South Carolina border. 
  • The Americans planned to surround the hill, run up the sides, and attack from all directions.
  • In the early afternoon, the Overmountain Men quietly surrounded the hill. 

The Battle of Kings Mountain Begins

  • A shot rang out the Americans attacked from all sides.
  • Ferguson deployed his men in the center of the hilltop. 
  • American forces moved up the hill on all sides.

Ferguson Responds to the Attack

  • Ferguson stayed on his horses, commanded his men, and led a counterattack. He had his men fire on the Americans, fix bayonets, and stop the advance up one side of the hill.
  • The Americans continued to move up the hill from other directions and surrounded Ferguson and his men.
  • The Americans charged up the hill four times.

Death of Patrick Ferguson

  • Ferguson tried to run his horse through the American line, but he was shot multiple times.
  • His horse ran down the hill, with him hanging from his saddle.
  • Ferguson died soon after.
John Sevier, First Governor of Tennessee
John Sevier of Tennessee led his Overmountain Men at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Interesting Facts About the Battle of King Mountain

  • The battle is referred to as “the war’s largest all-American fight” because all participants were Americans.
  • John Crockett, the father of famous frontiersman Davy Crockett, fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain with the Overmountain Men.
  • During the battle, some of the Loyalists, who were relatives of the men from South Carolina, changed sides and fought for the Americans.
  • Ferguson’s mistress, a woman who went by the name of “Virginia Sal,” was also killed in the battle.
  • Ferguson and Sal were buried together on the battlefield.
  • John Sevier went on to become the first Governor of Tennessee in 1796 and was a Founding Father of Tennessee.
  • The Overmountain Men mobilized in part because of the atrocities that were rumored to have taken place at the Battle of Waxhaws.
Battle of Kings Moutain, Overmountain Men Prepare to Attack
The Overmountain Men prepare to attack Ferguson and his Loyalist militia at Kings Mountain. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Military Commanders at the Battle of Kings Mountain

American Forces — the Overmountain Men

The Battle of Kings Mountain was fought by roughly 900 backcountry militia known as the Overmountain Men. Their leaders were:

  • William Campbell
  • James Johnston
  • John Sevier
  • Frederick Hambright
  • Joseph McDowell
  • Benjamin Cleveland
  • James Williams
  • Isaac Shelby
  • Joseph Winston
  • William Chronicle

The Overmountain Men

The Overmountain Men were American frontiersmen from the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains who fought in the American Revolutionary War. While they were involved or present at various engagements during the Southern Campaign, they are best known for their role in the American victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. The Overmountain Men militia units at the Battle of Kings Moutain came from Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Battle of Kings Mountain Map
This map shows the location of the British camp and the Overmountain Men, prior to the attack. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

British Forces

The British force at Kings Mountain was made up of an estimated 1,100 men, all of whom were Loyalist Militia. Many of the men were armed with special Ferguson Rifles. Their commanders were:

  • Patrick Ferguson
  • Abraham de Peyster

Patrick Ferguson

Patrick Ferguson was a Scottish officer in the British Army who fought in the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolutionary War. He was an early advocate of light infantry and designed a breech-loading rifle called the Ferguson Rifle.

Patrick Ferguson, American Revolution, Ferguson Rifle, NPS
This portrait of Patrick Ferguson hangs in the visitor center at Kings Mountain National Military Park. The photo was taken by the author in 2022, during a visit to the park. Image Source: American History Central.

Ferguson Rifles

The Ferguson Rifle was special because it was loaded from the rear, and did not require a ramrod. A rifleman could load it while lying or crouching, which was impossible for soldiers to do with traditional muzzle-loading rifles. The Ferguson Rifle combined the speed of a musket with the accuracy of a rifle.

Battle of Kings Mountain APUSH Review

Use the following links and videos to study the Battle of Kings Mountain, the Overmountain Men, and the Southern Campaign for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to take a look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Battle of Kings Mountain APUSH Definition

The definition of the Battle of Kings Mountain for APUSH is a battle fought between the United States of America and Great Britain on October 7, 1780. It took place at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, during the Southern Campaign of the American Revolutionary War. The United States of America won the battle, and it is considered to be a major turning point in the war.

American History Central Resources and Related Topics

External Websites to Explore

Battle of Kings Mountain Video for APUSH Notes

This video from South Carolina ETV provides an overview of the Battle of Kings Mountain

Battle of Kings Mountain Images

The photos in this gallery were taken by the author at Kings Mountain in the spring of 2022.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780
  • Date October 7, 1780
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Kings Mountain, Southern Theater, Overmountain Men, Patrick Ferguson, Battle of Kings Mountain APUSH
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 14, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 26, 2024

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