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Title: Rifles and Riflemen at the Battle of Kings Mountain - History No. 12
Author: United States. National Park Service
Language: English
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                         NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
                          POPULAR STUDY SERIES

                            _History No. 12_

                          Rifles and Riflemen
                                 at the
                        Battle of Kings Mountain




                            _Reprinted 1947_


  Kings Mountain, A Hunting Rifle Victory                               1
  The American Rifle at the Battle of Kings Mountain                    8
  Testing the Ferguson Rifle—Modern Marksman Attains High Precision
          With Arm of 1776                                             19

     For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U. S. Government
          Printing Office, Washington 25, D. C.—Price 15 cents

    [Illustration: _Maj. Patrick Ferguson, British commander at the
    Battle of Kings Mountain, and inventor of the breechloading rifle
    bearing his name; from a marble bust._]

                             Kings Mountain

                       A Hunting Rifle Victory[1]

                     _By Roger W. Young, Historian
                           Branch of History_

Kings Mountain, the fierce attack of American frontiersmen on October 7,
1780, against Cornwallis’ scouting force under Ferguson, was an
unexpected onslaught carried out in the foothills of South Carolina.
This sudden uprising of the stalwart Alleghany mountaineers, for the
protection of their homes and people from the threat of Tory invasion
under British leadership, was relatively isolated in conception and
execution from the main course of the Revolutionary War in the South.

Clearly uncontemplated in the grand British design to subjugate the
South in a final effort to end the Revolution, this accidental encounter
in the Southern Piedmont delayed incidentally, but did not alter
materially, the movement of Britain’s Southern Campaign. Kings Mountain
is notable chiefly perhaps as supplying the first definite forewarning
of the impending British military disasters of 1781. It was decisive to
the extent that it contributed the earliest distinct element of defeat
to the final major British campaign of the Revolution.

The extraordinary action occurred during one of the bleakest periods of
the Revolution. A major change in British military strategy had again
shifted the scene of action to the South in 1778. Faced by a
discouraging campaign in the North and assuming that the reputed
Loyalist sympathies of the South would be more conducive to a victory
there, the British war ministry had dictated the immediate subjugation
of the South. With the conquered Southern provinces as a base of
operations, the war office planned to crush Washington’s armies in the
North and East between offensives from North and South, and thus bring
the defeat of the more stubborn Revolutionary Northern colonies.

Unimpeded by effective resistance, this Southern Campaign swept
unchecked through Georgia and part of South Carolina during 1778-79. The
surrender of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s American army at Charleston, in May
1780, greatly strengthened the British hold on South Carolina.
Encouraged by the British successes, the Royalist and Tory elements of
the Georgia and South Carolina lowlands rose in increasingly large
numbers to the support of the Royal cause. Soon most of South Carolina,
except a few districts in the Piedmont, were overrun by British and
Royalist forces directed by Cornwallis, and he was maturing plans for
the invasion of North Carolina. His designs were upset temporarily by
the advance of a new American Army under Gates. Meeting Cornwallis near
Camden, August 16, 1780, Gates suffered a disastrous defeat, again
leaving South Carolina and the route northward open to the British. By
September, Cornwallis again had undertaken the invasion of North
Carolina, gaining a foothold at Charlotte, a center of Whig power, after
a skirmish there late that month.

The sole Southern region in the path of Cornwallis’ northward march
which had remained undisturbed by the course of the war lay in the
foothills and ranges of the Alleghanies stretching through northwestern
South Carolina, western North Carolina, and into the present eastern
Tennessee. Only here, among the frontier settlements of the independent
mountain yeoman, could the patriotic Whigs find refuge, late in the
summer of 1780, from their despised enemies, the propertied Royalist and
Tory forces aroused by Cornwallis. Occupied with establishing a new
frontier and protecting their rude homes from the nearer threat of the
border Indians, the mountain men had been little concerned with the war
on the seaboard. The influx of partisan Whig forces seeking sanctuary
first brought the effects of war vividly before them. But from the free
and comparatively peaceful existence, the backwoodsmen were soon to be
aroused to the protection of their homes and possessions by a threat of
direct aggression.

    [Illustration: _Only a few of the original Ferguson rifles are
    extant. The one shown is exhibited at Kings Mountain National
    Military Park, South Carolina. Here we see the profile of the piece
    with an 18-inch ruler to indicate scale._]

That threat came from Maj. Patrick Ferguson, of Cornwallis’ command,
who, after Camden, had been ordered to operate in the South Carolina
Piedmont to suppress the Whig opposition remaining there and to arouse
the back country Tories, organizing their strength in support of the
British cause. Encountering little organized Whig resistance, and having
rapidly perfected the Tory strength in the Piedmont, Ferguson in
September 1780 undertook a foray against Gilbert Town, a Whig outpost in
North Carolina, near the present town of Rutherfordton. Fearful of such
an invasion, the border leaders, Isaac Shelby, of Sullivan County, and
John Sevier, of Washington County, North Carolina (both now in
Tennessee), had hurried to the Watauga settlements and called for
volunteers to defeat Ferguson. They also forwarded urgent appeals for
aid to Wilkes, Surry, Burke, and Rutherford Counties in North Carolina,
and to Washington County in Virginia.

From Gilbert Town, early in September, Ferguson dispatched his famed
invidious threat over the mountains to the backwoodsmen, warning them
“that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms
and take protection under his standard, he would march his army over the
mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and
sword.” Actually this was but an empty gesture from Ferguson who was
then preparing one final foray across the border in South Carolina
before making a junction with Cornwallis at Charlotte. Yet, to the
freedom-loving frontier leaders the threat became a challenge which
strengthened their determination to destroy the invader. Thus spurred,
they assembled quickly, each in hunting garb, with knapsack, blanket,
and long hunting rifle, most of them mounted, but some afoot. They were
united by a strong resolve to destroy Ferguson and his Tory force, even
though they had many a brother, cousin, or even a father among the back
country men in his command. In fact, the partisan and internecine
warfare, which raged during the Revolution through the southern
highlands and along the Piedmont with members of the same family arrayed
against each other as Whig and Tory, reached a climax in the Kings
Mountain expedition and engagement.

Assembling near the present Elizabethton, Tenn., late in September, the
mountaineers circled southeastward into upper South Carolina, in swift
pursuit of Ferguson. Joining the forces of Shelby and Sevier were the
Virginians under Campbell, and as the expedition marched southward it
was augmented by the border fighters under McDowell and Cleveland.
Though characterized by daring impulse, the purpose of this strategic
frontier uprising had been conceived coolly by these leaders, and its
execution, in pursuit and assault, was to be brilliantly carried out. At
the Cowpens in upper South Carolina, the expedition was joined October 6
by further volunteers under local Whig leaders, including Chronicle,
Williams, Lacey, and Hawthorne. Recruits brought definite word of
Ferguson’s whereabouts near Kings Mountain. And there, in a final
council of war, were selected 910 stalwart fighting men, all mounted,
who immediately moved through the night upon the position of Ferguson’s
Provincial Corps and Tory militia, now encamped atop the Kings Mountain

Despite the added discomfort to their already fatigued bodies and
mounts, the expedition pushed determinedly through the cold night rain,
and en route the leaders, now commanded by Campbell, devised a final
plan of attack. Having agreed to surround the spur and gradually to
close in upon its defenders from all sides, the Whig attackers engaged
the 1,104 British Provincials, Tories, and Loyalists at about 3 o’clock
on the afternoon of October 7, 1780. In the sanguinary one-hour
engagement that ensued along the heavily wooded and rocky slopes, the
backwoodsmen, veterans of countless border clashes even if untrained in
formal warfare, gained a complete victory, killing or capturing the
entire British force. The most illustrious casualty was, of course, Maj.
Patrick Ferguson, the British commander.

The extraordinary action is memorable primarily as an example of the
personal valor and resourcefulness of the American frontier fighter,
particularly the Scotch-Irish, during the Revolution. It demonstrated
the proficiency with which he took advantage of natural cover and
capitalized upon the ineffectiveness of the British downhill angle of
fire in successfully assaulting Ferguson’s position. The resulting
casualties clearly exhibited the unerring accuracy of the long rifle
used in skilled hands, even when confronted with the menace of
Ferguson’s bayonet charges. The engagement also afforded one of the most
interesting demonstrations during the Revolution of the use of the novel
breechloading Ferguson rifle. The Kings Mountain expedition and
engagement illustrated the characteristic vigor of the untrained
American frontiersman in rising to the threat of border invasion. It
recorded his military effectiveness in overcoming such a danger and his
initiative in disbanding quietly upon its passing, especially when
guided by strategy and tactics momentarily devised by partisan leaders
of the caliber of Shelby, Sevier, Campbell, Cleveland, and Lacey.

To the long standing local strife between Whig and Tory, the results of
Kings Mountain were direct and considerable. It was an unexpected blow
which completely unnerved and undermined the Loyalist organization in
the Carolinas, and placed the downtrodden Whig cause of the Piedmont in
the ascendancy. Kings Mountain was a climax to the social, economic, and
military clashes between democratic Whig and propertied Tory elements.
In a sense it epitomized this bitter struggle and its abrupt ending on
what then was the southwestern frontier. Heartening to the long
repressed Whigs, the engagement placed them in the control of the
Piedmont, and encouraged them to renewed resistance.

The disintegration of Loyalist power in the Carolinas after Kings
Mountain temporarily proved a real obstacle to Cornwallis’ hitherto
unchecked northward movement. The demoralization of the Loyalist forces,
which were the main reliance for local support in the prosecution of his
campaign, left Cornwallis precariously situated in hostile North
Carolina territory with a renewed Whig threat to the rear in South
Carolina. Momentarily discouraged, he halted his North Carolina
offensive and retired from his foothold at Charlotte to a defensive
position at Winnsboro, in upper South Carolina. Here he remained
inactive, with his campaign at a standstill, until the approach of
reinforcements at his rear, under Leslie, enabled him to resume his
invasion of North Carolina early in January 1781.

This time Cornwallis’ march was more cautious in its initial stages. For
the enforced delay of the major British advance occasioned by Kings
Mountain and lengthened by indecision, had enabled Greene, the new
American commander in the South, to reorganize his shattered and
dispirited army and launch a renewed and two-fold offensive upon the
main British movement. It was this offensive in 1781, which first
successfully struck the British at Cowpens, then rapidly withdrew
through the Piedmont, further dissipated Cornwallis’ energies at
Guilford Courthouse, and prepared the way for the American victory at

By providing an unexpected American victory on the South Carolina
border, Kings Mountain prevented the immediate subjugation of the
Carolinas and temporarily deranged the British campaign to establish a
completely conquered southern base of operation. By producing a feeling
of patriotic success at the inception of the final major British
campaign, Kings Mountain contributed to the renewing of American
resistance which resulted in the British disasters of 1781.

                           The American Rifle

                   At the Battle of Kings Mountain[2]

                  _By C. P. Russell, Chief Naturalist
                       Branch of Natural History_

Progress made on the new museum at Kings Mountain National Military
Park, South Carolina, is worthy of record, and the fact that the Service
possesses a Ferguson rifle to put into that museum constitutes special
note within the record. To the average park visitor “Ferguson rifle”
means little or nothing, but to the student of military history mention
of that British weapon kindles a flame of interest. The story of how the
Ferguson rifle was pitted against the Kentucky rifle at Kings Mountain
is significant in this day of rearmament.

Maj. Patrick Ferguson was born in 1744, the son of a Scottish jurist,
James Ferguson of Pitfour. At an early age he became an officer in the
Royal North British Dragoons, and by the time the American colonists
revolted against British rule he had distinguished himself in service
with the Scotch militia and as an expeditionist during the Carib
insurrection in the West Indies. In 1776 he demonstrated to British
Government officials a weapon of his own invention, “a rifle gun on a
new construction which astonished all beholders.”

    _Breech plug lowered by one turn of the trigger guard_]

The remarkable feature of the gun is its perpendicular breech plug
equipped with a screw device so as to make it possible to lower it by a
revolution of the trigger guard which serves as a handle. When the
breech plug is lowered, an opening is left in the top of the barrel at
the breech. A spherical bullet dropped into this opening with the muzzle
of the gun held downward rolls forward through the chamber where it is
stopped by the lands of the rifling. A charge of powder then poured into
the opening fills the chamber behind the bullet, whereupon one
revolution of the trigger guard closes the breech and the weapon is
ready for priming and firing. Major Ferguson demonstrated that six aimed
shots per minute could be fired with an accuracy creditable to any
rifle. Advancing riflemen could fire four aimed shots per minute;
reloading being possible while the marksman was running. Another great
advantage of the Ferguson rifle was found in the fact that it could be
loaded while the marksman was reclining—something quite impossible with
the American rifle. A patent was granted for the Ferguson invention on
December 2, 1776, and the weapon became the first breechloader used by
organized troops of any country.

On September 11, 1777, Major Ferguson commanded the small unit of picked
riflemen of the British Army who covered the advance of Knyphauser and
his German mercenaries at Brandywine. An American who knew nothing of
breechloading rifles, but who was possessed of the old dependable
Kentucky rifle, put a bullet into Ferguson’s right arm, shattering the
elbow. The major’s arm was useless thereafter and while he was
recuperating Sir William Howe jealously took advantage of his
disability, disbanded Ferguson’s riflemen, and put into storage the
superior rifles which they had carried. This did not terminate the
service of Ferguson, nor did it relegate his rifle to the discard. His
command was restored, and he again took the field with his handful of
riflemen. At Stony Point, N. Y., and Little Egg Harbor, N. J., he came
out on top in the fighting with American privateers and the famous
Pulaski Legion. Had Great Britain manufactured more of the Ferguson
rifles, perhaps he would have gained further victories.

Sir Henry Clinton’s expedition of 1779 against Charleston, S. C., found
Ferguson and a comparatively few of his rifles active in the
depredations of several thousand Tories organized to terrorize the
rebellious colonists of the Carolinas. They invaded the interior and
operated on the very western border of the Carolinas. For 5 months he
held sway over the upcountry, enticing or intimidating the young men of
the region to enlist under the British flag. The local militia so formed
in the wild back country were drilled by him in the ways of the British
Army, and all other inhabitants, so far as possible, were pledged to
faithful Royal service. The patriots of the interior settlements lay
helpless. Any Carolinian found in arms against the King might be—and
many were—hanged for treason. Finally, a British proclamation was issued
requiring all inhabitants to take active part on the royalist side,
which but served to bring about a notable uprising of the Whigs who,
throughout the summer of 1780, engaged in fierce guerilla warfare
against the organized Tories.

    [Illustration: _German Jäger rifle, used in America during the
    Revolution, above; as compared with the Kentucky rifle of the
    Revolutionary period, below._]

Not only did the sparsely populated settlements on the headwaters of the
Catawba, Broad, and Pacolet Rivers contribute to the force that opposed
Ferguson, but the over-mountain settlements on the Watauga and Holston
likewise sent their backwoodsmen, all of whom were well experienced in
Indian warfare. The routes followed by these parties on their way to the
Kings Mountain rendezvous cross the present Blue Ridge National Parkway
in a number of places.

The unmerciful treatment of Buford’s patriots at the hands of Tarleton
had engendered savage fury on the part of the Whigs which was as
bitterly reciprocated by the Tories. Utter refusal of quarter was usual
in many battles. In the Carolinas, hand-to-hand encounters were common,
and the contest became a war of ruthless extermination. General Greene,
writing of this condition, said: “The animosity between the Whigs and
Tories renders their situation truly deplorable.... The Whigs seem
determined to extirpate the Tories, and the Tories the Whigs.... If a
stop cannot be put to these massacres, the country will be depopulated
in a few months more, as neither Whig nor Tory can live.”

In September 1780, while this spirit of hatred was at its height, the
regiments of backwoods patriots, who were to go down in history as
“Kings Mountain Men,” rendezvoused at South Mountain north of Gilbert
Town and determined to set upon Ferguson and his command, then believed
to be in Gilbert Town. The followers of the Whig border leaders,
Campbell, Shelby, Sevier, Cleveland, Lacey, Williams, McDowell,
Hambright, Hawthorne, Brandon, Chronicle, and Hammond, descended upon
Gilbert Town on October 4 only to find that the Tories, apprised of the
planned attack, had evacuated that place; Ferguson was in full retreat
in an attempt to evade an engagement. His goal was Charlotte and the
safety of the British forces there stationed under Cornwallis. On
October 6, Ferguson was attracted from his line of march to the
commanding eminence, Kings Mountain, known at that time by the famous
name that we apply today. His 1,100 loyalists went into camp on these
heights, and Ferguson declared that “he was on Kings Mountain, that he
was King of that mountain, and God Almighty could not drive him from
it.” He took none of the ordinary military precautions of forming
breastworks, but merely placed his baggage wagons along the northeastern
part of the mountain to give some slight appearance of protection in the
neighborhood of his headquarters.

The united backwoodsmen, led by Campbell, had pursued the fleeing Tories
from Gilbert Town. Spies sent forward obtained accurate information on
the numbers and intentions of the Tories. It became evident to the Whig
leaders that, if they were to overtake their quarry before
reinforcements sent by Cornwallis might join them, a more speedy pursuit
would be necessary. Accordingly, on the night of October 5, the best
men, horses, and equipment were selected for a forced march. About 900
picked horsemen, all well armed with the Kentucky rifle, traveled by way
of Cowpens, S. C., marching throughout the rainy night of October 6,
crossed the swollen Broad River at Cherokee Ford, and on the afternoon
of October 7 came upon the Loyalists on their supposed stronghold.

The story of the battle which ensued is one of the thrilling chapters in
our history. The Whigs surrounded the mountain and, in spite of a few
bayonet charges made by the Tories, pressed up the slopes and poured
into the Loyalist lines such deadly fire from the long rifles that in
less than an hour 225 had been killed, 163 wounded, and 716 made
prisoners. Major Ferguson fell with eight bullets in his body. The Whigs
lost 28 killed and 62 wounded.

    _Six shots a minute_
    _Efficient in any weather_
    _Four shots a minute while advancing_

    Patrick Ferguson, _the best shot in the British army, invented a
    rifle in 1776 that loaded at the breech. It was the first
    breechloader carried by the troops of any country._

    _The Provincial Regulars are believed to have used this splendid
    weapon at Kings Mountain._

    _The rifle was ahead of its time and was discarded after his death.
    It is now rare._]

Probably no other battle in the Revolution was so picturesque or so
furiously fought as that at Kings Mountain. The very mountain thundered.
Not a regular soldier was in the American ranks. Every man there was
actuated by a spirit of democracy. They fought under leaders of their
own choosing for the right to live in a land governed by men of their
own choice.

With the death of Ferguson, the rifles of his invention, with which
probably 150 of his men were armed, disappeared. Some were broken in the
fight and others were carried off by the victors. One given by Ferguson
to his companion, De Peyster, is today an heirloom in the family of the
latter’s descendants in New York City. It was exhibited by the United
States Government at the World’s Fair at Chicago in 1893. A very few are
to be found in museum collections in this country and in England. The
one possessed by the National Park Service was obtained from a dealer in
England through the vigilance of members of the staff of the Colonial
National Historical Park, Virginia, and is now exhibited in the museum
at Kings Mountain National Military Park, South Carolina.

The Kings Mountain museum tells the story of the Revolutionary
backwoodsman and his place in the scheme of Americanism. Here also is
presented the story of the cultural, social, and economic background of
the Kings Mountain patriots, as well as the details of the battle and
its effect on the Revolution as a whole. Here lies the rare opportunity
to preserve for all time significant relics of Colonial and
Revolutionary days and at the same time interpret for a multitude of
visitors the basic elements in the story of the old frontier—a story
which affected most of the Nation during the century that followed the

Our interest here will turn to those intriguing reminders of how our
Colonial ancestors lived—their houses, their tools and implements, their
furniture, their books, and their guns. Because of the significance of
the American rifle in the battle of Kings Mountain, it must be a feature
of any Kings Mountain exhibit. In the Carolinas it was as much a part of
each patriot as was his good right arm.

Light in weight, graceful in line, economical in consumption of powder
and lead, fatally precise, and distinctly American, it was for 100 years
the great arbitrator that settled all differences throughout the
American wilderness. George Washington, while a surveyor in the back
country, as scout and diplomat on his march into the Ohio country, and
while with his Virginians on Braddock’s fatal expedition, had formed the
acquaintance of the hunters, Indian fighters, and pioneers of the
Alleghanies—riflemen all. These men were drawn upon in 1775 to form the
first units of the United States Army, 10 companies of “expert
riflemen.” The British, in an attempt to compete with American accuracy
of fire, cried for Jäger, German huntsmen armed with rifles, and begged
that they might be included in the contingents of German troops.

From the numerous written comments on the American rifle and riflemen
made by British leaders, it would be possible to quote at length
regarding the effect of American rifle fire upon British morale and
casualty lists. We may call attention again to the statistics on the
Kings Mountain dead: British, 225; American, 28. Draper records that 20
dead Tories were found behind certain protruding rocks on the crest of
the hill, and that each victim was marked by a bullet hole in his
forehead. Col. George Hanger, British officer with Tarleton in South
Carolina, provides the following observation on the precision of
American rifle fire:

  I never in my life saw better rifles (or men who shot better) than
  those made in America; they are chiefly made in Lancaster, and two or
  three neighboring towns in that vicinity, in Pennsylvania. The barrels
  weigh about six pounds two or three ounces, and carry a ball no larger
  than thirty-six to the pound; at least I never saw one of the larger
  caliber, and I have seen many hundreds and hundreds. I am not going to
  relate any thing respecting the American war; but to mention one
  instance, as a proof of most excellent skill of an American rifleman.
  If any man shew me an instance of better shooting, I will stand

  Colonel, now General Tartleton, and myself, were standing a few yards
  out of a wood, observing the situation of a part of the enemy which we
  intended to attack. There was a rivulet in the enemy’s front, and a
  mill on it, to which we stood directly with our horses’ heads
  fronting, observing their motions. It was an absolute plain field
  between us and the mill; not so much as a single bush on it. Our
  orderly-bugle stood behind us, about 3 yards, but with his horse’s
  side to our horses’ tails. A rifleman passed over the mill-dam,
  evidently observing two officers, and laid himself down on his belly;
  for, in such positions, they always lie, to take a good shot at a long
  distance. He took a deliberate and cool shot at my friend, at me, and
  the bugle-horn man. (I have passed several times over this ground, and
  ever observed it with the greatest attention; and I can positively
  assert that the distance he fired from, at us, was full four hundred

  Now, observe how well this fellow shot. It was in the month of August,
  and not a breath of wind was stirring. Colonel Tartleton’s horse and
  mine, I am certain, were not anything like two feet apart; for we were
  in close consultation, how we should attack with our troops, which
  laid 300 yards in the wood, and could not be perceived by the enemy. A
  rifle-ball passed between him and me; looking directly to the mill, I
  observed the flash of the powder. I said to my friend, “I think we had
  better move, or we shall have two or three of these gentlemen,
  shortly, amusing themselves at our expence.” The words were hardly out
  of my mouth, when the bugle horn man, behind us, and directly central,
  jumped off his horse, and said, “Sir, my horse is shot.” The horse
  staggered, fell down, and died. He was shot directly behind the
  foreleg, near to the heart, at least where the great blood-vessels
  lie, which lead to the heart. He took the saddle and bridle off, went
  into the woods, and got another horse. We had a number of spare
  horses, led by negro lads.

The rifle had been introduced into America about 1700 when there was
considerable immigration into Pennsylvania from Switzerland and Austria,
the only part of the world at that time where it was in use. It was then
short, heavy, clumsy, and little more accurate than the musket. From
this arm the American gunsmiths evolved the long, slender, small-bore
gun (about 36 balls to the pound) which by 1750 had reached the same
state of development that characterized it at the time of the
Revolution. The German Jäger rifle brought to America during the
Revolution was by no means the equal of the American piece. It was
short-barreled and took a ball of 19 to the pound. With its large ball
and small powder charge its recoil was heavy and its accurate range but
little greater than that of the smoothbore musket. It was the same gun
that had been introduced into America in 1700.

The standard military firearm of the Revolutionary period was the
flintrock musket weighing about 11 pounds. Its caliber was 11 gauge,
that is, it would take a lead ball of 11 to the pound. At 100 yards a
good marksman might make 40 percent of hits on a target the size of a
man standing. The musket ball, fitting loosely in the barrel, could be
loaded quickly. The fact that the military musket always was equipped
with a bayonet made it the dependable weapon for all close fighting. As
was so convincingly shown on the occasions of the futile bayonet charges
of Ferguson’s regulars on Kings Mountain, however, the bayonet was not
effective if enemy lines did not stand to take the punishment of
hand-to-hand fighting.

Each Whig on Kings Mountain had been told to act as his own captain, to
yield as he found it necessary, and to take every advantage that was
presented. In short, the patriots followed the Indian mode of attack,
using the splendid cover that the timber about the mountain afforded,
and selecting a definite human target for every ball fired. Splendid
leadership and command were exercised by the Whig officers to make for
concerted action every time a crisis arose. This coordination, plus the
Kentucky rifle and the “individual power of woodcraft, marksmanship, and
sportsmanship” of each participant in the American forces, overcame all
the military training and discipline which had been injected into his
Tory troops by Ferguson.

                       Testing the Ferguson Rifle

       Modern Marksman Attains High Precision With Arm of 1776[3]

  _By Dr. Alfred F. Hopkins, formerly Field Curator, Museum Division,

History records that on June 1, 1776, at Woolwich, England, Maj. Patrick
Ferguson, of the British Army, demonstrated his newly devised
breechloading flintrock rifle to the astonishment of all beholders.
Quite recently at the Washington laboratory of the Museum Division of
the National Park Service beholders likewise were astonished at the
shooting qualities of the Ferguson gun.

While it is understood that tests of this historic arm have been made in
England within late years, it is believed that in this country the
sinister crack of a Ferguson had not been heard since 1780 at the Battle
of Kings Mountain, South Carolina.

Ferguson developed his rifle from two earlier types of breechloaders,
the Hardley and the Foster, upon which it was an actual improvement, and
his gun has the distinction of being the first breechloading arm used by
organized troops of any nation. The piece is equipped with a breechplug
which passes perpendicularly through the breech of the barrel and this,
having a quick-traveling screw thread, is lowered or raised by a single
revolution of the trigger guard acting as a lever. When the breech plug
is lowered, a circular opening is left in the top of the barrel just
large enough to take a spherical bullet. In loading, the muzzle is held
downward and the ball, fitting snugly, is dropped into the opening and
permitted to roll forward to the front of the breech chamber where it is
stopped by the lands of the rifling. No wadding or patch is used. Powder
and ball rolled to form a cartridge would prove only a hindrance and
disadvantage in loading. A charge of powder is poured directly from a
flask or horn into the opening behind the bullet, filling the chamber.
One complete turn of the trigger guard causes the breech plug to rise,
closing the opening and ejecting the superfluous grains of powder. When
the flashpan is primed, the piece is ready for firing. In the third
illustration of this booklet the breech mechanism and method of loading
are shown. Major Ferguson is accredited with loading and firing six
shots in one minute.

No recent check is known to have been made upon the number of Ferguson
rifles now in existence. They undoubtedly do exist, but their number is
probably small. Apparently only some 200 were made originally and their
military use ended, owing to lack of foresight, with the American
Revolution. Six specimens were listed in 1928 as being in collections in
this country and in England, of which one, probably two, were made by
Newton, of Grantham, two by Egg, of London, and one each by Turner and
Wilson, of London. These six guns varied somewhat in minor details.

A seventh specimen, the one now possessed by the Service at Kings
Mountain National Military Park, South Carolina, bears the name of F.
Innis, Edinburgh. It is in exceptionally fine condition, showing much of
the original metal finish, and is without replacements. The piece
measures 4 feet 4¾ inches over all and weighs 7½ pounds. The barrel,
slightly belled at the muzzle and not designed to carry a bayonet, is 37
inches long, rifled with 8 grooves, and takes a ball of .655 caliber.
The full length combed walnut stock is checkered at the grip and has
three brass thimbles and an engraved butt plate. On the lock plate
forward the hammer, within a scroll, is the name, F. INNIS, and this,
with the addition of EDINBURGH, together with the proof mark and the
view mark of the Gunmakers’ Company of London, appears upon the barrel.
The wooden ramrod is horn-tipped and at the other end has a bullet worm
enclosed within a screw cap. The arm was intended for an officer.

    [Illustration: _The Centennial Monument at Kings Mountain, unveiled
    on the 100th anniversary of the Battle, October 7, 1880._]

The recent tests conducted indoors at the Ford’s Theater Laboratory were
made to determine the exact method of loading the arm, about which there
had been some question, and to learn something of its shooting
qualities. Loading was found to be extremely easy, suggesting that with
practice the record set by Major Ferguson might be attained readily. The
ball, weighing approximately 500 grains, was dropped, without patch or
wad, into the breech chamber. A charge of approximately 1½ drams of
Dupont “Fg” black powder was poured in behind it. Closure of the breech
automatically gauged the charge, superfluous grains being ejected. The
same powder, more finely ground, was used as priming. Several
preliminary shots indicated that the rifle had precision and accuracy.
Then, at a distance of 90 feet, three shots were fired in succession
from a table rest by an expert marksman. Number one came within a
half-inch, number two came within 4 inches, and number three came within
1¾ inches of a 1⅝-inch bull’s-eye.

    [Illustration: _View of the Kings Mountain region, taken from the
    eastern slope of the battlefield ridge, looking northeastwardly
    toward Henry’s Knob._]

    [Illustration: _Granite obelisk erected by the Federal Government at
    Kings Mountain in 1909 to commemorate the Battle._]

                                  U. S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE: 1947


[1]From _The Regional Review_, National Park Service, Region One,
    Richmond, Va., Vol. III, No. 6, December 1939, pp. 25-29.

[2]From _Idem._, vol. V, No. 1, July 1940, pp. 15-21.

[3]_Idem._, vol. VI, Nos. 1 and 2.

                         National Park Service
                         _Popular Study Series_

  No. 1.—Winter Encampments of the Revolution.
  No. 2.—Weapons and Equipment of Early American Soldiers.
  No. 3.—Wall Paper News of the Sixties.
  No. 4.—Prehistoric Cultures in the Southeast.
  No. 5.—Mountain Speech in the Great Smokies.
  No. 6.—New Echota, Birthplace of the American Indian Press.
  No. 7.—Hot Shot Furnaces.
  No. 8.—Perry at Put in Bay: Echoes of the War of 1812.
  No. 9.—Wharf Building of a Century and More Ago.
  No. 10.—Gardens of the Colonists.
  No. 11.—Robert E. Lee and Fort Pulaski.
  No. 12.—Rifles and Riflemen at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
  No. 13.—Rifle Making in the Great Smoky Mountains.
  No. 14.—American Charcoal Making in the Era of the Cold Blast Furnace.

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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