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oak tree
The Council Oak, near Morganton, N. C., under which the patriot leaders decided to continue the pursuit of Ferguson.
(This is a view about 1895; the tree was later destroyed in a storm.)

The March From Sycamore Shoals

On the following day, September 26, the great adventure of the mountain men began, and they left Sycamore Shoals on their march over the mountains. Five days later, after covering about 90 miles, they arrived at Quaker Meadows, on the Catawba River. The first part of their route followed old hunting and Indian trails, difficult at times for passage by either man or beast, and this proved to be the most rugged portion of their march to Kings Mountain.

Nearing the crest of the mountains on September 27 in snow that stood above their bootstraps, members of the expedition were alarmed by the desertion of James Crawford and Samuel Chambers Not only were the patriots afraid that the deserters would warn Ferguson's camp, but also that the traitors would alert the Tories of the region. Despite fears of a possible ambush, the patriots crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains safely on September 29. The two units, into which the volunteer army was divided, passed, respectively, through Gillespie Gap and what is believed to have been McKinney's Gap. Shortly afterwards, they were reunited at Col. Charles McDowell's plantation, at Quaker Meadows, near the present site of Morganton, N. C. Here they rested during the evening of September 30.

In the meantime, Col. Charles McDowell rejoined the patriots on September 28. Before the expedition left Sycamore Shoals, he had undertaken to secure the support of North Carolina patriots living east of the mountains. He brought cheering news on his return. He reported to his colleagues, that, according to his latest information, Ferguson was still at Gilbert Town. Of immediate interest was his news that Col. Benjamin Cleveland and Maj. Joseph Winston were rapidly approaching with 350 North Carolinians from Wilkes and Surry Counties. He also reported rumors that South Carolina patriots were gathering under the command of Col. James Williams.

The arrival of Cleveland and Winston on September 30 and the night of pleasant relaxation at the McDowell home raised the spirits of the mountain men. The following day, October 1, they continued their southward march to a gap of South Mountain near the headwaters of Cane Creek. Here they camped during inclement weather through October 2.

While the men rested, the leaders of the expedition met in an evening council to review the progress of the march. First, measures were adopted to correct disorders in the columns resulting from the weariness of the march. More important, however, was the election of Col. William Campbell to serve as temporary commander of the combined volunteer units. In recognition of Col. Charles McDowell's seniority, he was entrusted on October 1 with a mission to General Gates' headquarters to request a permanent commander. He was instructed to ask for the assignment of either Gen. Daniel Morgan or Gen. William Davidson of the American Continental Army. McDowell's regiment was turned over to his brother, Maj. Joseph McDowell.

Route of Mountain Men.

Unknown to the patriot expedition, Major Ferguson's army in the meantime had hurriedly left Gilbert Town. Two messages that he received made this withdrawal advisable. In the first, received September 25, Lt. Col. J. H. Cruger, commander of the British post at Ninety-Six, requested Ferguson to intercept a hand of Georgia patriots under Col. Elijah Clarke. This group was reported to be moving northward to join the main body of mountain men. In the second message, English agents in the Watauga settlements furnished Ferguson with the first warning of the rising of his formidable back-country enemy.

Ferguson immediately sent couriers in all directions to enlist the support of the Tories within the nearby region. Others were sent to call back all Tories who had been temporarily furloughed. On September 27 he headed south in the direction of Ninety-Six, reaching the Green River on September 30. There he received further information concerning the movements of the mountain men from Chambers and Crawford who had several days before deserted the patriot army.

From this point Ferguson sent an urgent message to Cornwallis at Charlotte calling for reinforcements. Ferguson also informed Cornwallis of his intention to hasten toward Charlotte with the hope that his pursuers would be deceived into the belief that Ninety-Six was the destination of his retreat. This communication was received by Cornwallis after the battle, too late to be of any help. A second message sent to Colonel Cruger requesting 100 men, brought no better results—only the terse reply that his garrison totaled but half that number.

The following morning Ferguson left the vicinity of the mountains and marched his corps 12 miles to Denard's Ford of the Broad River. Moving at 4 p. m. on October 2, Ferguson crossed the river, marched 4 miles, and lay all night in an armed camp. On October 3, he hastened his march eastward toward Charlotte along a route to the north of the main Broad River. Near Buffalo Creek, he camped at the plantation of a loyalist named Tate. Here he rested his men and awaited expected reinforcements and further information concerning the movements of the patriots.

Ferguson was now becoming anxious about the safety of his army. In another message to Cornwallis on October 5 from Tate's plantation, which was 50 miles from Charlotte, he advised his commander:

I am on my march towards you, by a road leading from Cherokee Ford, north of Kings Mountain. Three or four hundred good soldiers, part dragoons, would finish the business. [Something] must be done soon. This is their last push in this quarter and they are extremely desolate and [c]owed.


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