Sunday, May 03, 2009

Trip To King's Mountain National Military Park

Saturday my girlfriend and I visited nearby King's Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina, the scene of a battle of the Revolutionary War in which Loyalist forces (Americans loyal to King George) under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson of the British Army were defeated by the Overmountain Men (American Patriots from what is now Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia).

The mountain (it's more of a hill, actually, and not a particularly high one, at that) is completely forested, with a few rock outcrops but no cliffs or steep slopes. Its current appearance seems to match that of the mountain as described in accounts of the battle.

The weather Saturday was overcast and mild, no breeze, rather humid. When we got to the park, we decided to walk around the paved trail around the perimeter of the battlefield:

You could, in fact, push a baby stroller or a person in a wheelchair around this trail if you wanted to, but it would be quite strenuous to do so.

Since the last time I hiked King's Mountain ten years ago, the National Park service has added benches along the path. I theorized aloud to my girlfriend that they had picked their fattest ranger or trail worker and given him a bundle of sticks, and to place a stick in the ground whenever he got out of breath, and that was where they would place a bench:

My girlfriend and I are both woefully out of shape, so the benches came in handy. We sat in nearly every one we came across in order to catch our breath on the hike.

The battle was fought with the Loyalist troops and Major Ferguson surrounded on the hilltop by the Overmountain Men. The Loyalists charged down the mountain three times trying to break the Patriot lines, but were repulsed each time by rifle fire from the Patriots, who utilized Indian tactics of shooting from concealment to minimize their losses. Here's a photo looking uphill from the Patriot positions:

We saw no wildlife, probably because of some boisterous children who, with their mother, overtook and passed us on the trail, shouting and crying out as they ran up the trail.

The trail eventually began to climb toward the summit of the hill, and we became more and more grateful of the benches that were regularly placed along it. At the summit, both of us panting and staggering, we discovered that the bench we desperately needed was occupied by a couple who had passed us earlier. We staggered on until we came to the memorial obelisk, the older of two placed at the summit of the hill:

Here we finally found a bench and rested for quite a while, both of us wishing that the Park Service would have seen fit to install a water barrel at the top, such as you might find on a golf course. Of course, we would have been much better prepared if we had simply carried a bottle of water apiece.

From this point the path went downhill. Just a hundred yards from the old memorial is the newer one, also an obelisk:

Here is a close-up of the relief sculptures and the commemorative plaque on the obelisk:

Just downhill from the obelisk is Major Ferguson's grave. Ferguson died in the battle as he directed his men; wearing a bright checked shirt, he made a too-tempting target for the expert riflemen on the Patriot side, and ended up shot to doll rags, as Louis L'Amour might say. Ferguson had angered the Overmountain Men by publishing a speech against them, and describing them in the following terms:

Gentlemen: Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of barbarians, who have begun by murdering an unarmed son before the aged father, and afterwards lopped off his arms, and who by their shocking cruelties and irregularities, give the best proof of their cowardice and want of discipline; I say, if you wish to be pinioned, robbed, and murdered, and see your wives and daughters, in four days, abused by the dregs of mankind - in short, if you wish or deserve to live, and bear the name of men, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp.

The Back Water men have crossed the mountains; McDowell, Hampton, Shelby and Cleveland are at their head, so that you know what you have to depend upon. If you choose to be pissed upon forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men to protect them.

The Overmountain Men, remembering Ferguson's words about pissing and mongrels, urinated en masse upon Ferguson's corpse before it was buried. Anyway, here's the grave:

What isn't as well known is that Ferguson isn't in that grave alone. Along with him is one of the two mistresses who accompanied him and died earlier in the battle; known as "Virginia Sal," she was described as buxom and red-headed. A lot like Christina Hendricks, I'd imagine (I didn't encounter Ms. Hendricks on the trail, this is a pic from the internet):

Ferguson's other mistress, Virginia Paul(ina), apparently survived the battle. Ferguson was apparently quite a cocksman, sleeping with both of the girls on the night before the battle. At least he died satisfied, right? I would guess that he had so many mistresses that he labled them by the states where he acquired them, and hadn't yet traded his Virginia girls in for some Carolina beauties.

Anyway, here's a closer look at Ferguson's gravestone:

Not far from Ferguson's grave we discovered a rare tree species, a Shitter Oak (quercus commodus):

This one looks like a particularly fine and comfortable specimen of the species.

The walk concluded not far past the Shitter Oak, as we saw the visitor's center just around a bend. That concludes the photo essay.

You can read a lot more about Ferguson here. A clever man, he designed an effective breech-loading rifle, although the rifle didn't take part in the battle of King's Mountain; here's what the Ferguson Rifle looked like:

The late Western author Louis L'Amour wrote a novel in which the Ferguson Rifle featured prominently; it was titled, inventively enough, The Ferguson Rifle.

You can read more about the battle of King's Mountain here.


Borepatch said...

Nice tree.

And "shot to rags." Heh.

Bob said...

@Borepatch: appropriately enough, we found some (used) toilet paper in the bowl of the Shitter Oak.

"Shot to doll rags" is a favorite Louis L'Amour metaphor. Charles Portis used a variation of it in his novel True Grit in which the dying Lucky Ned Pepper says, "Well, Rooster, I'm shot to pieces."