History on the march

Published 9:54 am Friday, September 26, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks

Visitors to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park were briefly transported back in time to 1780 Thursday for the annual re-enactment of the Overmountain Men crossing Watauga River on their way to King’s Mountain to fight the British in the Revolutionary War.
This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Overmountain Victory Trail march and the 234th anniversary of the Overmountain Men leaving from Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals to go to King’s Mountain.
Every year on Sept. 25, members of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association cross the river at Sycamore Shoals as a part of their effort to recreate the entire march of the Overmountain Men. Close to 1,000 soldiers mustered for the march to the 1780 Battle of Kings Mountain, which is often known as the turning point for the south in the Revolutionary War.
However, the crowd was much smaller Thursday, as dozens of spectators and other reenactors gathered at Sycamore Shoals to welcome the Overmountain Men on that leg of their journey.
Reenactors ranged from local residents in Carter County, to surrounding counties and neighboring states including North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and South Carolina. Some came from as far as Alabama and Ohio.
Dr. George William Cobb has traveled from Cedar Bluff, Ala., for the past nine years to take part in the Overmountain Victory March.
Cobb said he got started in the reenactment when he visited Rocky Mount Historic Site to try to connect his ancestry to George William Cobb, who settled at Rocky Mount in 1769.
While the relation has never been proven, Cobb, who is a Methodist minister, found his second “divine calling,” as a reenactor with the Overmountain Men. Cobb regularly plays Samuel Doak, a Presbyterian minister in East Tennessee at the time the Overmountain Men left to fight.
“This really is a divine call,” Cobb said. “It is important to keep telling and sharing our history. I love it. I have crossed that river many times, but I just wasn’t able to do it today.”
Cobb participated in the activities at Rocky Mount on Wednesday and was to perform Doak’s farewell prayer to the Overmountain Men early this morning at Sycamore Shoals.
Central resident Mel McKay has been a reenactor with the group for eight years. He usually portrays a child or grandchild of Robert Young Sr., who was his sixth great-grandfather.
“We have the greatest story in American history,” McKay said. “It was the turning point in the American Revolution. We had the first free and independent form of government with the Watauga Settlement.”
Johnson City resident Wendy Gifford also walked the trail with her teenage son, Jordan Gifford, and her toddler son, Tristan.
“I have been reenacting since I was 17,” Gifford said. “I brought (Jordan) to the reenaction when he was younger. They say Tristan is the youngest to ever do the walk.”
Tristan participated in his first walk last year when he was an infant and had to be carried the entire length of the journey. Now, he is a toddler and could walk part of the trail on his own.
“This year he wanted to play in the water,” Gifford said. “When he was in the water, he didn’t want to come out.”
Gifford noted she was a descendent of Mary Patton, who helped to supply gun powder to the troops going to King’s Mountain.
“This is important,” Gifford said. “This is our history. I want my children to understand what happened here.”
Homeschool student 14-year-old Lia Clarity of Johnson City participated in the walk for her research on the Overmountain Men.
“The Overmountain Men are so much more a part of history than anyone knows,” Clarity said. “They are not in the history books and they should be. They are brave men who went and fought for what they believed in and to protect their family.”
Association Grand Marshal Ronnie Lail said different groups of soldiers from East Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas met at Sycamore Shoals to continue on their way to King’s Mountain. By this time the Patriots had driven the British out of the northern part of the country. However, the British were still winning in the south.
The group of re-enactors from the Overmountain Men try to be as historically accurate as possible when it comes to the dates of the march to King’s Mountain. Re-enactors try to cross the river at Sycamore Shoals every year on Sept. 25, and as close to that date as possible. The march starts near Abingdon, Va., and proceeds to King’s Mountain near the South Carolina border. The march takes about 13 days and covers 258 miles.
According to the Overmountain Victory Trail website, www.ovta.org, less than 100 miles of the original 258 miles of the trail is walkable today due to roadways and heavy traffic. To accommodate the yearly march, a reenactment route was created which includes 40 miles of off-road walking. The rest is covered by road walking and car caravans when conditions would make walking too dangerous.
The re-enactors held a ceremony at Rocky Mount State Park in Piney Flats yesterday and will be proceeding to Roan Mountain State Park today. They will travel up Gap Creek, through Hampton and on to Roan Mountain State Park, where they will camp Wednesday night. From there they will have a 15-day hike to South Carolina.
When the reenactors arrived at Sycamore Shoals, they started across the river in what is believed to be the same spot the original Overmountain Men crossed in 1780. The group paused in the middle of the river and fired two rifle volleys in honor of those soldiers who marched and fought in the Revolutionary War.
“We hope people take the time to realize what their ancestors did,” Lailsaid. “Those were our ancestors and if your family has been here in the area for a while, those are your grandfathers. They played an important role in the history of this country. We do this to honor our ancestors and we hope people come away from this with a better outlook on what they did.”
The Overmountain Walk continued this morning when the reenactors left from Sycamore Shoals at 8 a.m. to go to Roan Mountain State Park. There will be a ceremony at 7 p.m. today in Shelter No. 1 at Roan Mountain.

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