|Walking With Patriots
By Mike Bailey
Never think you're alone in the forest...
On a recent visit with my daughter in Mt Holly, NC, I went hiking with her husband John at the
Kings Mountain National Military Park just 30 miles away. We were originally planning on burning
a huge collection of fallen tree limbs in their yard, but the weather, wind wise, would not let us do
that. So, to not let a beautiful, blue-sky fall day go to waste, we gathered up some snacks and water
bottles and headed for the park to go hiking.
The ride to the park was great -- beautiful fall colors greeted us the whole way there. When we
reached the visitors center, we realized that we were not the only ones out enjoying a beautiful
fall day. The parking lot was packed with cars and we could see small groups of people all around
the place getting last minute instructions from whoever was leading them on the 1.5 mike hike
through the battlefield area of the park.
After a quick trip inside the visitor center (which was in total disarray because of a huge
remodeling effort), we ducked outside and hit the trail. The trail itself is one of those new types
where the pathway has been covered in what looks like ground up pieces of black rubber and put
down with sort of gluing agent to keep it all together. It made for a smooth, comfortable walk --
one that you didn’t constantly have to look down at and make sure you weren’t going to trip on some
rock or root sticking out of the ground.
The American Revolutionary War battle that took place here on October, 7, 1780 was in the words
of many historians, the “turning point in the war.”
The major victory earned here that day by the patriots against the British troops led by Major
Patrick Ferguson was instrumental in showing to not only all the patriots that fought that day but
to all those back home who were reluctant to join in on the fight, that the British could be defeated
This victory and another major one a few months later at Cowpens, SC, when one of the most hated
British officers on the battlefield -- Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton -- was defeated by
Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, sealed the faith and determination of all the patriots that
victory over the British was possible.
BTW, Tarleton was nicknamed “Bloody Tarleton” because of the wide spread destruction of the
areas he travelled through South Carolina – especially after the crushing defeat of the patriots at
the Battle of Camden a few months earlier in August and the killing of captured American patriots
during that battle. It was rumored that Tarleton had told all the loyalists in the area to “spread the
word” that he was marching on to North Carolina and was going to lay waste all the land before him.
Anyway … my story today is about what I saw and sensed on my hike through the battlefield at
You can read all about the actual battle and the various players that day like Ferguson and the
patriot leaders like Shelby and Williams at your leisure. There are many excellent accounts of
these events on the web.
I don’t know if it is because I am getting older or what but it seems like the older I get, the more
I can sense things or become overwhelmed with visions and/or “voices” from the past. My hike
through the battlefield was another one of those times when I felt like the ghosts, voices,
whatever, from the past were walking along with me.
At times, I could hear in my mind the thunderous and violent roar of musket fire all around me.
More troubling than that was the wailing cries of the men on both sides who were being killed or
wounded by the horrific barrage of gun fire and wounds inflicted by slicing and piercing bayonets
when they didn’t have time to reload their muskets (which took about 2 minutes per shot).
The British troops were located on the top of the mountain -- actually a small hill that you can walk
around on a 1.5-mile-long trail -- were firing downhill at the patriots who were scrambling up all
four sides of the hill and firing back at them. Both sides also had soldiers mounted on horses and
they were both trying to break through the other’s leading defense line. How they were able to stay
on their horses on the steep hillsides (appears that way when you walk through the area today) is
On the very top of the hill, ridge line, is a long flat area that could support horseback fighting but
the hillsides … I just don’t see how.
By the way, it was being on horseback that got Ferguson killed. He was on his horse, wearing a
bright red checked coat so his men could see him while he blew on his silver whistle and tried to
direct his men in battle. He was shot by a patriot sharpshooter, and he fell from his horse but got
one foot caught in the stirrup. As he was drug along by his frighten horse, he was shot at least eight
more times by the patriots. As you can read elsewhere, Major Ferguson was despised by the
patriots for how he had treated other patriots captured and/or killed in previous battles in
At times on our hike through the battlefield, I thought I was back in time and walking with
I could sense -- feel in my heart -- their fears, their excitement, their anger and frustrations, and
their pains. Here I was on a beautiful fall day with clear blue skies and only the sounds of falling
leaves from the trees above us surrounding me at the same time in my mind I was hearing gunfire,
horses and men screaming in terror and pain and the air so thick with gunfire smoke one could
At one point along the trail I could clearly hear the voices of young men, maybe 15 or 16 years old
(yes, some patriot fighters were that young) crying out in pain, “Mama … I want to come home,” or
just a mournful whisper of “Mama, I love you,” before they passed away.
I about lost it there on my hike. The cries of the young men, the sensations I felt were so vivid, so
clear in my mind.
It was very soon after I “heard” those cries of the young men that all of a sudden, it was deadly
quite there on the trail. John and I both just stopped and looked at each other. It was absolutely
stone cold dead quite there in the forest for about 30 seconds -- almost like the past was trying to
reach out and touch us, tell us … “Do you now know the price of your freedom that you enjoy today?
When all the forest sounds returned, the quietness in my mind returned but still lingering there as
we slowly finished our hike were the spirits that had walked with us.
Yes, I heard the spirits of the patriots and I am grateful for the courage and sacrifices they all
gave so freely.
I left King Mountain that day with a new sense of who I am and where I came from. I hope that
the life I have led satisfied the patriot’s dreams for all of us who followed in their footsteps.
Walking with Patriots:
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