January 31, 1781
I think the last letter I wrote you was from Fort Moultrie, which I left a few days after.
We marched to a place called Ninety Six, which is about two hundred miles from Charleston; we lay there about a fortnight in good quarters, after which we proceeded to the frontiers of South Carolina, and frequently passed the line into North Carolina, and can say with propriety, that there is not a regiment or detachment of his Majesty's service, that ever went through the fatigues, or suffered so much, as our detachment.
That you may have some faint idea of our suffering, I shall mention a few particulars.
In the first place we were separated from all the army, acting with the militia; we never lay two nights in one place, frequently making forced marches of twenty and thirty miles in one night; skirmishing very often; the greatest part of our time without rum or wheat flourrum is a very essential article, for in marching ten miles we would often be obliged to ford two or three rivers, which wet the men up to their waists.
In this disagreeable situation, we remained till the seventh of October,
when we were attacked by two thousand five hundred Rebels, under the
command of Gen. Williams.
Col. FERGUSON had under his command eight hundred militia, and our
detachment, which at that time was reduced to an hundred men.
The action commenced about two o'clock in the afternoon, and was very severe for upwards of an hour, during which the Rebels were charged and drove back several times, with considerable slaughter.
When our detachment charged, for the first time, it fell to my lot to put a Rebel Captain to death, which I did most effectually, with one blow of my sword; the fellow was at least six feet high, but I had rather the advantage, as I was mounted on an elegant horse, and he on foot.
But their numbers enabled them to surround us and the North Carolina regiment, which consisted of about three hundred men.
Seeing this, and numbers being out of ammunition which naturally threw the rest of the militia into confusion, our gallant little detachment, which consisted of only seventy men, exclusive of twenty who acted as dragoons, and ten who drove wagons, etc., when we marched to the field of action, were all killed and wounded but twenty, and those brave fellows were soon crowded into an heap by the militia.
Capt. DePEYSTER, on whom the command devolved, seeing it impossible to form six men together, thought it necessary to surrender, to save the lives of the brave men who were left.
We lost in this action, Maj. FERGUSON, of the Seventy-first regiment, a man strongly attached to his King and country, well informed in the art of war, brave, humane, and an agreeable companionin short, he was universally esteemed in the army, and I have every reason to regret his unhappy fate.
We lost eighteen men killed on the spotCapt. RYERSON and thirty-two Sergeants and privates wounded, of Maj. FERGUSON's detachment.
Lieutenant M'GINNIS of ALLEN's regiment, Skinner's brigade, killed; taken prisoners, two Captains, four Lieutenants, three Ensigns, one Surgeon, and fifty-four Sergeants and privates, including the wounded, wagoners, etc.
The militia killed, one hundred, including officers; wounded, ninety; taken prisoners about six hundred; our baggage all taken, of course.
The Rebels lost Brig.-Gen. Williams, and one hundred and thirty-five, including officers, killed; wounded nearly equal to ours.
The morning after the action we were marched sixteen miles, previous to which orders were given by the Rebel Col. Campbell (whom the command devolved on) that should they be attacked on their march, they were to fire on, and destroy their prisoners.
The party was kept marching two days without any kind of provisions. The officers' baggage, on the third day's march, was all divided among the Rebel officers.
Shortly after we were marched to Bickerstaff's settlement, where we arrived on the thirteenth.
On the fourteenth, a court martial, composed of twelve field officers, was held for the trial of the militia prisoners; when, after a short hearing, they condemned thirty of the most principal and respectable characters, whom they considered to be most inimical to them, to be executed; and, at six o'clock in the evening of the same day, executed Col. MILLS, Capt. CHITWOOD, Capt. Wilson, and six privates; obliging every one of their officers to attend at the death of those brave, but unfortunate Loyalists, who all, with their last breath and blood, held the Rebels and their cause as infamous and base, and as they were turning off, extolled their King and the British Government.
On the morning of the fifteenth, Col. CAMPBELL had intelligence that Col. TARLETON was approaching him, when he gave orders to his men, that should Col. TARLETON come up with them, they were immediately to fire on Capt. DePEYSTER and his officers, who were in the front, and then a second volley on the men.
During this day's march the men were obliged to give thirty-five Continental dollars for a single ear of Indian corn, and forty for a drink of water, they not being allowed to drink when fording a river; in short, the whole of the Rebels' conduct from the surrender of the party into their hands is incredible to relate.
Several of the militia that were worn out with fatigue, and not being able to keep up, were cut down, and trodden to death in the mire.
After the party arrived at Moravian Town, in North Carolina, we officers were ordered in different houses. Dr. JOHNSON (who lived with me) and myself were turned out of our bed at an unseasonable hour of the night, and threatened with immediate death if we did not make room for some of CAMPBELL's officers;
Dr. JOHNSON was, after this, knocked down, and treated in the basest manner, for endeavoring to dress a man whom they had cut on the march.
The Rebel officers would often go in amongst the prisoners, draw their swords, cut down and wound those whom their wicked and savage minds prompted.
This is a specimen of Rebel lenityyou may report it without the least equivocation, for upon the word and honor of a gentleman, this description is not equal to their barbarity. This kind of treatment made our time pass away very disagreeably.
After we were in Moravian Town about a fortnight, we were told we could not get paroles to return within the British lines; neither were we to have any till we were moved over the mountains in the back parts of Virginia, where we were to live on hoe cake and milk; in consequence of this, Capt. TAYLOR, Lieut. STEVENSON and myself, chose rather to trust the hand of fate, and agreeable to our inclinations, set out from Moravian Town the fifth of November, and arrived at the British lines the twentieth.
From this town to Ninety Six, which was the first post we arrived at, is three hundred miles; and from Ninety Six to Charleston, two hundred, so that my route was five hundred miles.
The fatigues of this jaunt I shall omit till I see you, although I suffered exceedingly; but thank God am now in Charlestown in good quarters.
(Extracted from King's Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King's Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It. Lyman C. Draper, Cincinnati, 1881, pp. 516-517)