Tennessee frontier was ‘where freedom began,’ historian says
Published 8:54 am Saturday, May 23, 2015
While Memorial Day is now often thought of as the kick-off to summer and a day for cookouts and family gatherings, the holiday’s roots run deep with tradition and honoring those who gave their life for freedom.
After the Civil War, the tradition of “Decoration Day” started. It was a day for honoring the fallen soldiers by cleaning up the cemeteries, decorating graves and holding special memorial services for those who sacrificed their lives in the cause of Freedom.
Rechristened as Memorial Day, the last Monday in May became an official federal holiday in 1971.
When reflecting on the meaning of Memorial Day, the sacrifices of the early settlers and patriots during the Revolutionary War — such as the victorious Overmountain Men — must be remembered, Carter County Historian Scott Bowers said. Those patriots were the first to give their lives for America.
“Most of these people didn’t have any military training, but some were battle-hardened from the Siege of Fort Watauga in 1776,” he said. “They were no strangers to battle, and they were not afraid of death. They were filled with absolutely uncommon valor.”
In 1780, the Overmountain men mustered at Fort Watauga for the long march to Kings Mountain, a battle credited with turning the tide of the Revolution.
“It is one of the few examples in the world of a reverse draft,” Bowers said. “So many people came I believe it was every seventh man had to be sent back.”
While the battle was raging in South Carolina, the Tennessee frontier was not safe from the violence. British forces had allied with the Cherokee and raids were still common. Someone had to stay home to defend the families and homesteads, Bowers said.
“Without the men who stayed behind, who would feel safe leaving their families behind to go to war,” he asked, adding many only think of those who marched to battle when they think of the patriots. “These men are due the same patriot status and recognition for staying behind and protecting the families and homes.”
The men who marched to Kings Mountain from Tennessee and Virginia helped ensure freedom for the nation, Bowers said.
“The signs out here that say ‘Where Tennessee began’ ought to say ‘Where freedom began,’ ” he said.
Prior to the Battle of Kings Mountain, British General Lord Charles Cornwallis, a renowned military strategist, was waging the southern campaign of the war. Charleston had already fallen, British Lt. Col. Banastre “Blood Ban” Tarleton had executed surrendering patriots in the infamous Waxhaws Massacre and and the patriots had suffered a crushing blow at the Battle of Camden where 900 soldiers were killed and 1,000 more wounded and captured.
“It was demoralizing, to the point many felt it was a war that couldn’t be won,” Bowers said. “People were scared, they just knew the British were going to come in and kill everyone and after the Massacre at Waxhaws that was a legitimate fear.”
While the loses had a demoralizing affect on some and caused fear, it also riled up the anger of the continentals, Bowers said.
“You plant those seeds of fear and those seeds of hatred and you will reap what you sew,” he said.
The patriots rallied and marched to King’s Mountain, defeating Maj. Patrick Ferguson’s British forces. After the defeat at King’s Mountain, Cornwallis had to halt his advance into North Carolina and withdraw his troops deeper into South Carolina, Bowers said.
The victory for the patriots at King’s Mountain forced the Battle of Cowpens, which was another crushing defeat of the British, and also the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, another win for the patriots
The string of patriot victories led to the Battle of Yorktown and ultimately the end of the Revolutionary War, Bowers said.
But, it all began with the Overmountain men and the victory at King’s Mountain.
“No King’s Mountain, no United States of America. Period,” he said.