Mountain Passes: Yellow Mountain Gap

In 1776 the American colonists delivered their Declaration of Independence to King George who, refusing to let them leave the British Empire, ordered the British Army to conquer them. The British had the support of perhaps one-third of all colonists. These supporters of Britain were called Loyalists because they were loyal to what had been their government. Those who rebelled were called Patriots.

From 1775 onward, the invading British Army and the defending Patriots engaged in battles from Massachusetts to Georgia. By 1780 British General Lord Cornwallis had seized Charleston, South Carolina, the largest city in the South. Cornwallis intended to subdue all of South Carolina, then march into North Carolina and from there into Virginia.

Mountain Range: Appalachian Mountains
Elevation: 4,682 feet
Location: On the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, in the Pisgah National Forest.

Major Patrick Ferguson, second in command to Cornwallis, campaigned throughout South Carolina to successfully rally Loyalists to his cause. [South Carolina contained more Loyalists than any of the other thirteen colonies.]

Successful in South Carolina, Ferguson found himself meeting major resistance from the settlers who lived on the west side of the mountains. These frontiersmen called themselves “Over the Mountain” men because they or their parents had crossed the Appalachians, many through the Cumberland Gap. Ferguson called these men mongrels and threatened that he would march his army over the mountains, “hang their leaders, and lay their country to waste with fire and sword.”

Instead of waiting for Ferguson to march into their territory, the angry frontiersmen marched east from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and what is today Tennessee. Riding horses, they wore frontier buckskin and carried long rifles.  Their small groups of 30 or 40 joined one another to become more than 1,000 strong, among them at least five black men. The groups came together at what is today Elizabethton, Tennessee (in the far eastern end of the state). One of the African-Americans was Essius Bowman, a free man. The Overmountain women prepared food and packed supplies. One in particular, Mary Patton, worked nonstop to make 500 pounds of high-quality, fast-burning gunpowder for the Patriots.

Armed and ready, the Overmountain men marched from Elizabethton southward, through the high mountain passes. On the night of September 27, 1780, they entered Yellow Mountain Gap, the highest point of their 14-day trek. Snow in the gap was already “shoe-tongue” high. Camping alongside Roaring Creek, they made beds on the ground, placed their long rifles on top of the bedding, then lay on top of the rifles to keep them dry. During the night at Yellow Mountain Gap, two men deserted to the Loyalist side and rode ahead to warn Major Ferguson.

Even though Ferguson’s troops outnumbered the Patriot soldiers, he started to retreat toward Lord Cornwallis’ large army at Charleston once he heard the Overmountain men were marching toward him. But instead of continuing to the coast, he stopped on Kings Mountain in South Carolina. There he stationed his troops so that they occupied the mountain top and could shoot down upon the Patriots and route them.

On the night of October 6, the Overmountain fighters chose the 900 fastest horses and 900 best shooters. These 900 set out in a cold rainstorm and marched all night and most of the next day, covering 35 miles. At 3 p.m. on October 7 they reached the foot of Kings Mountain. Unseen by the Loyalists, they  divided their forces: one half of the men stealthily crept up one side of the mountain, one half stealthily crept up the other side.

When the shooting began the long rifles of the Overmountain Men, although they could fire only once a minute compared to the four times a minute the British muzzles could fire, proved superior — they hit their target more accurately. A volley of bullets, at least one of them fired by Essius Bowman, knocked Major Ferguson off his horse, killing him. In close quarters the British soldiers fought with bayonets, but the mountain men fought with tomahawks like the Cherokee used. Within one hour the smaller Patriot force had overwhelmed the Loyalists and caused them to surrender. Patriot losses were 28 dead and 62 wounded. Loyalist losses were 150 dead, 150 wounded, and 800 captured. The victory at Kings Mountain destroyed the left flank of Cornwallis’s army.

After the battle a man named Joseph Greer volunteered to walk north to tell the Continental Congress about the Kings Mountain victory. Using a compass for direction, Greer walked for thirty days to reach Philadelphia. His message of victory inspired the American colonists, who had thought South Carolina lost. More soldiers were drafted or volunteered to fight. Cornwallis was pushed backward toward the sea until he abandoned Charleston. One year after the Battle of Kings Mountain, Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington. Years later President Thomas Jefferson called the Battle of Kings Mountain “the turn of the tide” in the American Revolution.

Yellow Mountain Gap

Heroes trod
this path
to clash
with Redcoat
wrath

Today Yellow Mountain Gap, named for its beautiful fall colors, is one of the many stops along the famous Appalachian Trail. Over 2,000 miles long, the Appalachian Trail is a series of many connected hiking paths from Katahdin, Maine, to Springer Mountain, Georgia. 

The Appalachian Trail is the most visited hiking trail in the world. Each year nearly four million people hike one or more parts of the trail. And a few spend months hiking the entire trail, all 2,174 miles of it. These hikers carry their own food and water and tents, and when they are lucky, they can spend the night in a hut or shelter. 

The shelter at Yellow Mountain Gap is larger than most: it’s an old barn that has been converted into sleeping quarters for at least 35 people. It’s named the Overmountain Shelter, in honor of the men who helped win the American Revolution.

_________________________________

Barbara Gregorich’s previous post on mountain passes was Athabasca Pass.

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