The Patriot Army at King's Mountain E-mail
Updated April 2, 2013

The Patriot Army
At King's Mountain

The Numbers & Composition

Copyright © 2004, 2013 by Bob Sweeny
All Rights Reserved

Composition     The Numbers     Isaac Shelby     John Sevier     Suggested Reading     Links


The Patriot Army

Probably the most controversial aspect of King's Mountain is the makeup of the Patriot army. The most common characterization is that the Overmountain men won the battle. One claim is that thousands of South Carolinians joined in to win the battle and are forgotten today. One source claims that soldiers from the Piedmont outnumbered the Overmountain troops two-to-one.

The controversy arises from the fact that the Patriot army was called out by its commanders and assembled as the campaign went on. Paperwork was lacking. No muster roll, for instance, is available from the camp at the Green River, where the army was pared down to 710. Similarly, no roll is available for Cowpens, where an additional 200 joined in. In fact, no muster roll is known to exist for any of the camps!

The best numbers available are those prepared by Draper in his King's Mountain and Its Heroes. His breakdown shows that 440 Overmountain men (48%) and 470 men from the Piedmont (52%) made up the army. The Overmountain men were those under Campbell, Sevier, and Shelby. The Piedmont men were in the remaining commands.

Of course, taking into account the Loyalists would account for the two-to-one figure, since all but Ferguson and the Provincials from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York (118) were most likely from the Piedmont. (Only a small number would be Loyalist Overmountain men.)

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Draper's Numbers

Here are Draper's numbers by unit, in alphabetical order by commander:

  • Campbel (Washington County, Virginia): 200
  • Candler (Georgia): 30
  • Cleveland (Wilkes County, North Carolina): 110
  • Graham & Hambright (Lincoln County, North Carolina): 50
  • Lacey (South Carolina): 100
  • McDowell* (Burke & Rutherford Counties, North Carolina): 90
  • Sevier (Washington County, North Carolina, today's Tennessee): 120
  • Shelby (Sullivan County, North Carolina, today's Tennessee): 120
  • Winston (Surry County, North Carolina): 60
  • Williams (South Carolina): 30
  • Total: 910

    Draper does say that "uncounted footmen" added to the total. (See page 227.) That number is given in some accounts as 17, but the number must have been small, since these men had to walk from Green River and keep up with the horsemen. The distance is over 50 miles and was covered in some 32 hours. The main body of men on foot arrived at King's Mountain the morning after the battle.

    *Major Joseph McDowell (of Quaker Meadows), in command for his brother, Colonel Charles McDowell, who was sent with a letter to General Horatio Gates, Southern Continental Commander

    Another interesting controversy is who did commanded the Burke County militia. The late Dr. Emmett White in his Revolutionary War Soldiers of Western North Carolina, states that Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens was in command! (Today's McvDowell County, North Carolina, is named for Pleasant Gardens Joe.) Dr. White is unclear, but here is a possible explanation: Charles McDowell was substituting for Salisbury District General Griffith Rutherford, Quaker Meadows Joe moved up to that position and Pleasant Gardens Joe moved up to command the county militia.

    In view of the informal, but effective, "combined and group" command exercised, all may take credit for a job well done!

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Shelby & the Kentuckians

One account found on the Web also confuses the issue by speaking of the Overmountain Army as being Kentuckians. This probably arises from Isaac Shelby's presence, although his men were North Carolinians. At the time of the battle, Kentucky was a county of Virginia. Shelby's home at Sapling Grove, near today's Bristol, Tennessee, was originally thought to be in Virginia.

Shelby was appointed a militia officer by Virginia. Ironically, he commanded the militia guarding the commission that surveyed the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia through the Holston/Watauga Valley west of the New River and determined that his home was in North Carolina. The area that was thought to be in Virginia was organized into the new North Carolina county of Sullivan and later became part of Tennessee. After the battle, of course, Shelby moved to Kentucky, where he was elected that state's first governor.

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Nolichucky Jack

John Sevier was an important commander at King's Mountain, leading the 120 Washington County, North Carolina (today's Tennessee), troops. These troops lived primarily in the Holston and Watauga valleys around today's Johnson City and Elizabethton, Tennessee. Sevier's home was on the Watauga, near the Carter Plantation. Later he moved to the Nolichucky near today's Erwin, Tennessee. Still later, he moved to the Knoxville area and his home at Marble Spring.

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Suggested Reading

This account is based, in part, on information from these sources:

  • King's Mountain and Its Heroes, by Dr. Lyman D. Draper, 1881, Reprint by Overmountain Press
  • The Patriots at King's Mountain, by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss, Scotia-Hibernia Press
  • The Hornbook of Virginia History, 1994, The Library of Virginia
  • Life of General John Sevier, by Francis Marion Turner, 1910, Reprinted by the Overmountain Press

Check the park bookstores for these titles.

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Related Links

  • This site's page on African-Americans includes biographies of the five black soldiers known to have served in the Patriot army at King's Mountain.
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This page is copyright © 2004, 2013 by Bob Sweeny