The Loyalist (Ferguson's) Army at King's Mountain E-mail

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Updated February 29, 2004

The Loyalist (Ferguson's) Army
At King's Mountain

The Numbers & Composition

Copyright © 2004 by Bob Sweeny
All Rights Reserved

Composition     The Numbers     The American Volunteers     Militia     In Summary     Suggested Reading     Links


The Loyalist Army

Patrick Ferguson's Loyalist army at King's Mountain is little studied. Generally, Ferguson is thought to have had about the same number as the Patriot army. Ferguson had two types of soldiers: (1)Militia from the Carolinas and (2) Provincials (professionals) from New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Ferguson, himself, of course, was a professional in the British army. He was serving as Inspector General of Militia for South Carolina. His army functioned as the left (upcountry) army of the main army under Cornwallis, although Ferguson acted as an independent commander.

Draper addresses the number and nature of the men under Ferghuson in pages 237 through 242. Draper does not, however, dig deeply into the breakdown of the individual militia units. Dr. Bobby Moss, in his The Loyalists at Kings Mountain, deals with the indiviuals and their units.

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The Loyalist army presents a problem for the same reason the Patriot army is difficult to characterize: a lack of paperwork. The reason is different, however. Ferguson did keep records. Unfortunately, most of these were lost following the battle. The Patriot army did not have the resources to withdraw orderly and preserve all of Ferguson's effects and records. In fact, the first act of the Patriots before leaving the battleground was to destroy Ferguson's wagons and supplies, taking only what they and the prisoners could carry.

Draper quoted Tarleton as stating Ferguson had about 1100. The report from the Patriot commanders indicated 1125, based on Ferguson's lists of rations issued the day of the battle. Draper did believe about 200 were out of camp scouting or collecting forage at the time of the battle.

Moss used the existing pay records to reconstruct Ferguson's army. He also consulted other British records, including pension applications and claims for compensation from participants or their survivors. Interestingly, these records were closer to the events than the much later pension applications of Patriots that are the basis for much that is known about the Patriot army at King's Mountain.

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Likely Numbers

Here are the numbers based on Moss:

South Carolina Militia

  • Ninety Six Militia: 18
  • Dutch Fork Militia: 11
  • Fair Forest Militia (Major Daniel Plummer): 168
  • Little River (Major Patrick Cunningham): 243
  • Spartan Regiment (Major Zachariah Gibbs): 144
  • Stevens Creek Militia (Colonel John Cotton): 113
  • Unknown Unit: 11
  • Total: 708
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North Carolina Militia

  • Anson County: 6
  • Burke County: 8
  • Chatham County: 18
  • Cumberland County: 10
  • Lincoln County: 3
  • Orange County: 5
  • Randolph County: 22
  • Rutherford County: 14
  • Washington County (Today's Tennessee): 3
  • Unknown Unit: 16
  • Total: 100
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These men were detached from these units for service with Ferguson.

  • King's American Regiment (Captain Abraham DePeyster, New York): 22
  • Loyal American Regiment (New York): 18
  • New Jersey Volunteers (Captain Samuel Ryerson, New Jersey): 57
  • Prince of Wales American Regiment (New York): 18
  • Unknown Provincial Unit: 3
  • Total: 118
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Additional Not Attributed to Militia or Provincials

  • Additional Unknown: 30

Not included in these totals are the two women known to be with Ferguson's army:

  • Virginia Paul
  • Virginia Sal, who was killed and is buried with Ferguson at King's Mountain
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Ferguson's Total Force

  • British Regular Army (Major Patrick Ferguson): 1
  • Provincials: 118
  • Militia: 808
  • Additional Unknown: 30
  • Grand Total: 957
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The American Volunteers
Ferguson's Provincials

The Provincials were colonial troops who were recruited for continuous duty and were trained, fed, and paid as if regular British troops. Draper indicates they wore a green uniform, similar to Tarleton/s American Legion, at the beginning of the war. Draper quotes DePeyster as saying they later wore the British scarlet. However, at the time of King's Mountain, they would NOT have been "redcoats" in appearance.

Men from the northern Provincial units were detached for service in the campaign in the South. Ferguson's Provincials were formed into a unit usually called the American Volunteers or Ferguson's Rangers. Ferguson then trained them for use as his core troops. That training was the key value of the American Volunteers. They were equipped with military muskets and bayonets that they were trained to use. They had been in combat before coming south and served all through the summer. They were his most experienced veterans.

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Ferguson's Militia

The militia were the locals Ferguson recruited after the fall of Charleston. Ferguson's militia came from North and South Carolina, with a few individulas from Georgia and Virginia. They were paid for their service, but were not equipped or trained to the same extent as the Provincials. Most were serving in militia units established by the colonies before the Revolution. Most did not wear a uniform. Draper reports they often put a pine sprig in their hats for identification during battle.

Ferguson did train the militia. He drilled the companies in normal maneuvering and use of both massed (volley) fire and the bayonet charge. Ferguson was famous for the pair of silver whistles he used to signal his troops. He had several drummers in his Provincials, so he presumably drilled marching and fighting to drum signals. In essence, the militia received the same training as the Provincials, although he probably was not able to train them as long as the Provincials had trained.

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Most of the militia men joined Ferguson in June of 1780. They very quickly joined in the skirmishing and marching that took up the summer. They did not have as long to learn the disciplined actions that the 18th century British army relied on. But we should be cautious. The Revolution is not like the later American Civil War, when few Americans had seen warfare. The Revolutionary militia units were not social. Men who'd served in militia had seen action. Most used firearms in their daily lives. The western militia of North and South Carolina were regularly engaged against the Cherokee, so their men were not novices in warfare. They were like their opponents, well accustomed to military campaigns and weapons. They did not, of course, have the training in the British methods to the extent of the Provincials, although the militia did use such formations and tactics.

Many militia did not have military muskets or bayonets. Ferguson developed a substitute called a "plug bayonet." This was a long knife with a handle small enough to jam in the muzzle of a civilian musket or rifle. Reenactors who've used these devices report jamming when used in a hot barrel, so the bayonet cannot be removed, limiting the use of the weapon as a firearm. However, no reports from the battle mention this problem.

Many accounts indicate the militia were not adequate soldiers. It is important to note, however, that Uzal Johnson, Ferguson's surgeon, states that the militia stopped fighting only when they'd run out of powder.

How ironic that is! The opposing army had to carry its powder and shot on their persons or in their saddlebags. They did not run out. Ferguson, who had, Draper says, 17 wagons for his supplies and equipment, ran out!

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In Summary

The study by Dr. Bobby Moss puts names to the anonymous army that Ferguson led at King's Mountain. That army deserves further study:

  • Draper's numbers (800 to 1125) are very close to Dr. Moss's results (957).
  • Both report that about 200 of Ferguson's militia were out of camp when the battle occurred. Draper says they were scouting or foraging. Moss says that Major Zachariah Gibbs of the Spartan Regiment was sent out to select a rallying site, in case Ferguson had to retreat.
  • The two armies were about the same size: Patriots about 910, Loyalists about 957.
  • The largest contingent was the South Carolina Militia from the Backcountry between the Broad River on the north (North Carolina Border) and the Savannah River on the south (Georgia border).
  • The North Carolina contingent consisted of many officers and relatively few enlisted men. Is the list incomplete? Did the men stay home when the officers joined Ferguson?
  • Many of the militia returned to service in the Loyal cause after their release from imprisonment after King's Mountain. While others may not have stepped forward after the battle, the men Ferguson led DID NOT give up the cause when they gave up the mountain.
  • The Loyal and Patriot militia were very similar in character, upbringing, and experience.
  • The quality of leadership in Ferguson's army needs more study.
  • The actual tactics and formations used by Ferguson need study.
  • The story of the suffering of the Loyalists is heart-rending.

A tremendous debt is owed Dr. Bobby Moss for uncovering these men from the scattered clues in the surviving records.

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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 Loyalists at King's Mountain, by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss, Scotia-Hibernia Press

Check the park bookstores for these titles.

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Related Links

  • The Loyalists are the subject of Royal They also include information on Loyal African-Americans, although none are known to have served with Ferguson.
  • British historian Dr. Marianne Gilchrist has a good on-line biography of Patrick Ferguson.
  • The page on Gilbert Town discusses one of Ferguson's officers who was not at King's Mountain: Major James Dunlap.
  • This site's page on the Patriot army delineates Ferguson's opponents.
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