King's Mountain: A Ballad Novel
“This is a story that needed to be told.” With those words, historical novelist Sharyn McCrumb closes her heartfelt acknowledgements in her latest saga of a largely unheralded battle believed by many to be a major turning point in the Revolutionary War.
The farmers, hunters and woodsmen in the Carolinas were more interested in clearing their wilderness land, fending off marauding Indians and feeding their families than in politics. News of the American Revolution that had raged for almost seven years in the northeastern part of the colonies rarely filtered into this remote region. General Cornwallis of the British Loyalist forces had sent an arrogant young officer, Patrick Ferguson, to invade the villages and farms in the Carolinas to forcibly conscript men and brutally attack women and children in their pursuit of widening the King's ranks. When the locals learned of Ferguson's boast to “burn to the ground” any resisters, these mountain men were forced to confront their loyalties.
"[W]hen you are a writer of McCrumb's caliber and you discover a famous ancestor who played a major role in the American Revolution, the story of King’s Mountain was truly and irresistibly, as she said, a story that needed to be told."
Rag-tag militias began to form in self-defense of their land and families. John Sevier, farmer and Indian fighter --- and an ancestor of Sharyn McCrumb --- teamed up with other prominent men to lead these local militias to join forces to hunt down and ambush Ferguson’s army.
KING’S MOUNTAIN is an inside look at how the Overmountain Men, as history would call them, gathered these small local militias into a single army to seek out Ferguson before Cornwallis joined forces to capture the Carolinas for Britain. The local patriots set off in late August 1780 from as far away as what is now Georgia and Kentucky to cross the mountains and rivers, driving herds of cattle to feed their swelling ranks. They carried their own weapons, rode horses if they had them, or walked if they didn’t, covering sometimes 20-30 miles in a day to rendezvous for the attack. With no uniforms, maps, or even men of official rank and insignia to lead them, they were able to gather a force of nearly 1,500 men and boys. They relied on local woodsmen and hunters who knew the terrain to serve as forward observers and spies as they tracked down Ferguson and his troop of 2,000 men.
Their trek was so rugged that they had to leave a third of the weaker and tired men behind just before they learned that Ferguson had staked out a knob called King's Mountain. They relied on the element of surprise for their mission: to ambush Ferguson before the northern troops joined him. The King’s Mountain Battle was later heralded by Thomas Jefferson as “the turning point of the Revolution.”
The build-up to the battle, both from the patriot’s side and Ferguson’s inner circle, is spellbinding. By the time the forces clash, the reader is fully engaged with the individuals involved on both sides --- even two rather intriguing camp followers with the Red Coats. A touch of mysticism usually makes its way into McCrumb’s work as she gives a nod to the ghosts who still walk those hills.
The Ballad series, usually set during the Civil War period, has become a touchstone of American history. But when you are a writer of McCrumb's caliber and you discover a famous ancestor who played a major role in the American Revolution, the story of King’s Mountain was truly and irresistibly, as she said, a story that needed to be told.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on September 27, 2013