Tag Archives: Southern Campaign

Carolina casting call

In a discussion about Turn, a fellow history blogger commented, “If I was king, I would create a series similar to HBO’s Band of Brothers based off John Buchanan’s The Road to Guilford Courthouse.”  

As a Southern Campaign guy, I would love to see something like this happen.  The expansive canvas of a cable miniseries is perfectly suited to tell the story of the war in the Carolinas.

For the past week, I’ve been wondering which actors could play the major roles. The only one I could come up with is James McAvoy for Patrick Ferguson.  McAvoy is Scottish, he’s close to the age Ferguson was in 1780, and I think he could convey something of Ferguson’s intelligence and determination.

Other than that, I’m stumped.  I tried to come up with a suitable Greene, Cornwallis, Morgan, Tarleton, Sumter, and Marion, but I’ve got nothing.

I thought especially hard about who might play Isaac Shelby and John Sevier. There aren’t many thirty-something American actors working today who could sell me on the notion that a regiment of unruly frontiersmen would follow them across the mountains and into a hail of musket balls. Something tells me the Overmountain Men wouldn’t have been too impressed with Channing Tatum or Hayden Christensen.

Help us out here, Gordon: Who could really bring Nolichucky Jack to life?

4 Comments

Filed under American Revolution

Using published primary sources

As handy as it is when you can access the same primary source material in different forms, it also forces you to make choices about the form you’re going to use.  For example, when I undertook this King’s Mountain project I knew that sooner or later I’d need to dig into the Cornwallis material at the UK’s National Archives in Kew.  I’m in no position for a trans-Atlantic commute, so consulting the original documents is pretty much out of the question.  Thankfully, this material is available on microfilm, so I assumed I’d be scrolling through them while seated in front of a machine.  (Some of Cornwallis’s papers appeared in a three-volume biographical work published in the nineteenth century, but these volumes don’t have everything I need.)

But just recently I found out about a comprehensive six-volume collection of Cornwallis’s papers relating to the Southern Campaign, edited by Ian Saberton and published by Naval & Military Press in 2010.  A nearby library has all six volumes, so it would be a lot easier for me to use the books than it would be to track down a repository with the microfilm and print what I need.  This would also allow me to maximize my research time and budget on the collections I can only access in manuscript or microform.

At this point, I’ve just about talked myself into using these books instead of the microfilm so that I can spare myself some hassle and devote more time and attention to other collections that are only available in manuscript or microform.  An annotated documentary edition also gives you the benefit of reading the editors’ insights into the documents, which can be extremely helpful.  I’ve found just a couple of reviews of the Cornwallis volumes.  One review was pretty positive; the other criticized the editorial apparatus but said little about the transcriptions themselves.  Since the transcriptions are what I really need, I’m not too worried about whether the annotations or introductions are extensive.

Still, it’s a trade-off.  As with any published documentary edition, the question basically comes down to whether the convenience of a printed and easily available published version of a manuscript source is worth being another step removed from the original documents.  Microfilm isn’t the original, of course, but at least you’re looking at images of the documents themselves.  And I’ll be relying on the Cornwallis papers pretty heavily, since I’m trying to incorporate more of the British perspective than other King’s Mountain studies have included.

These are the type of questions I’ve been mulling over lately.  Now I want to hear from you guys.  What do you folks think about using published editions of primary source material when the same material is available in microform?  As readers, does it have any effect on how you evaluate a scholarly work?  And for those of you who write history, do you prefer to use a printed documentary edition when one is available, instead of manuscripts or microform?

2 Comments

Filed under American Revolution

Patrick Ferguson’s two Virginias

Sharyn McCrumb’s novel King’s Mountain is out now.  I was hoping to pick up a copy yesterday, but the nearest bookstore didn’t have it in yet.  I don’t read much fiction, but it’s not often somebody writes a novel about your favorite historical subject, so I’m really interested in this one.  You can read an excerpt at Appalachian History.

The main characters in the excerpt are two women who share the same nickname, Virginia Sal and Virginia Paul (or Poll), both of whom reportedly accompanied Ferguson on the campaign and were present during the battle.  Quite a few books dealing with King’s Mountain refer to them, and they also appear in the film shown at the battleground’s visitor center.

When it comes to documenting their presence in Ferguson’s camp, things get as little tricky.  As with so much of what we know about the battle, the tale of the two Virginias owes as much to later oral tradition as it does to firsthand source material.  I’m about to discuss these two women in some detail, so if you’re unfamiliar with their story and you’re planning to read McCrumb’s novel, you might want to skip this post until you finish the book.

The fate of the two Virginias is one of the more colorful aspects of King’s Mountain lore.  The red-headed Virginia Sal reportedly caught a fatal bullet and was buried on the battlefield, either next to Ferguson himself or in a common grave with some of the dead Tories.  Virginia Paul is variously said to have been captured in the action and later released by Col. William Campbell, to have traveled with the Whigs back to North Carolina before going off to join Cornwallis, and to have pointed Fergsuon out to the attacking Whigs.

Patrick Ferguson’s grave. By National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, women frequently accompanied Revolutionary War armies into the field as camp followers in order to cook, haul water, provide laundry and nursing services, and so on.  But many accounts of King’s Mountain have the Virginias providing Ferguson with services of a less respectable character, claiming that the officer was keeping a mistress or two in camp.

In his 1881 book on the battle, Lyman Draper claimed that this tradition had been circulating in the Carolinas for fifty years.  His inquiries about Ferguson’s women yielded reports from about half a dozen correspondents in the region.  These letters date from about a century after the battle, but they do provide some tantalizing details.  W.D. Glenn claimed that Ferguson had dual mistresses with him at King’s Mountain, based on reports from “two old citizens near me” who got the information from veterans.  Wallace Reinhardt told Draper that Ferguson’s woman was named “Featherstone,” while J.R. Logan mentioned a string of beads taken from Virginia Sal’s body after her death.  Always fascinated by a good anecdote, Draper included the tale of the two Virginias in his book, and the story of Ferguson’s dual mistresses has become an inextricable part of the story of the battle as a whole.  Some early writers took it as proof that the Scotsman lacked any scruples.  For example, in his 1920 history of southwestern Virginia, William C. Pendleton wrote, “That Ferguson had no regard for morality and decency was evidenced by the fact that he had two mistresses with him when he was killed.”

If the “mistress” angle is correct, Ferguson wouldn’t have been the only British officer to do so while on campaign in America.  But since female camp followers performed a number of legitimate services for troops in the field, the fact that two women were reportedly with Ferguson at King’s Mountain doesn’t necessarily mean that he was sleeping with either of them.  To modern ears, the notion that Ferguson was keeping a buxom red-headed lover in his camp, that she died during his famous last stand, and that they were both buried on the battleground sounds like the sort of romanticized, unsubstantiated baloney that would appeal to a credulous nineteenth-century antiquarian.  Yet as tempting as it might be to dismiss the tale of the two Virginias as nothing more than a backwoods Carolina legend, there are actually a couple of sources that lend some confirmation to the story.

The first is this statement in the pension application of King’s Mountain veteran John McQueen:

That there was a woman who Ferguson had been keeping who had left the British army and had come with news to Capt. Lewis [presumably Capt. Joel Lewis] and she told him that Ferguson could be known by him using his sword in his left hand as he had been wounded previously in the right and Capt. Lewis communicated this to Col Cleveland and after the battle commenced, he pointed out Ferguson and selected 8 or 9 of his best riflemen and told them he had to fall, and there was 6 or 7 bullet holes through him after the battle….

This may reveal a kernel of truth to the story that Virginia Paul identified Ferguson, but McQueen’s claim that the woman “had left the British army” indicates that she had already departed from the camp before the battle started and then encountered the Whigs later at some point on their approach to King’s Mountain.  That seems to contradict the story that she was among the Tories taken on the field, as well as Draper’s statement that when the battle ended she “was seen to ride around the camp as unconcerned as though nothing of unusual moment had happened.”  Still, it’s significant that a veteran of the battle believed Ferguson had taken up with a woman who was accompanying the army.

The other source isn’t on paper.  It’s on the battlefield itself—or rather underneath it.  In his book on Tories in the American Revolution, North Callahan reports that in 1845 Dr. J.W. Tracy of the town of King’s Mountain, NC found two sets of remains in Ferguson’s grave and identified one of them as female.  And in his guidebook to the battleground and collection of eyewitness accounts, NPS ranger Robert Dunkerly notes that ground penetrating radar confirms the presence of a second body.  So just because some historical anecdote sounds too dramatic and juicy to be true, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bunk.

1 Comment

Filed under American Revolution

Archaeologists locate site of Carr’s Fort

Here’s some interesting news out of Georgia for all of us Rev War aficionados.

Oh, and speaking of Rev War buffs, don’t forget about the Bunker Hill book giveaway.  Just pick a number between 1 and 1,775 and send it to me at mlynch5396@hotmail.com by 10:00 P.M. on May 5.  I won’t use your e-mail address for any purpose other than contacting the winner to get shipping info for the prize, so don’t be shy. Entries have been coming in since the first day, but the more the merrier.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution

Flash forward

Here’s some harmless fun courtesy of Google Street View.

This is the first American line at Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, as depicted by Dale Gallon:

Image from Gallon Historical Art, Inc.

Roughly same view, present day:

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution

The third line

I used this picture of the third American line at Guilford Courthouse in a slide this week, and one of my students said, “That’s a neat picture.”  I think so, too.

The original image is from the U.S. Army Center for Military History; I got it from Wikimedia Commons.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution

So you want to have a national heritage area

There’s an interesting controversy brewing in the Carolinas.

Advocates in North and South Carolina are fighting to have a region made up of 58 counties recognized as a national heritage area, specifically focusing on the contributions made by the Carolinas during the American Revolution.

The national heritage designation is a way to celebrate, protect and preserve what makes a region unique and can be used as a tool for tourism.

Examples of places with a national heritage designation include the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and Iowa’s Silo and Smokestacks National Heritage Area.

Sounds like a good idea to me.  So what’s the problem?

A recent National Park Service study was completed, and the counties were told they did not meet the necessary criteria for the designation.

In the published results, one of the reasons cited was that there is a lack of distinctive cultural traditions in North and South Carolina from the 18th century that have carried over into today’s everyday life. These distinctive characteristics must be readily apparent to an outside observer.

What, I wonder, would constitute a readily apparent and distinctive cultural tradition from the eighteenth century?  Knee breeches?  Smallpox inoculation?

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution

Pivot of the Revolution

Several years ago I went to a small movie theater with a friend of mine for a repeat viewing of The Patriot.  After the movie ended, we ran into one of our former teachers outside, who was a serious history buff.  He told me that he’d enjoyed the movie, but he didn’t know the Revolutionary War was such a big deal in South Carolina.

A lot of people don’t know that, although I suspect the number is getting smaller, thanks to the aforementioned movie and a number of recent books and documentaries.  The war was, in fact, a very big deal in South Carolina; it’s quite possible that more combat actions took place in the Palmetto State than in any of the other twelve.  In fact, after 1778, the Revolution was basically a southern show.  Frustrated by inconclusive campaigning in the North, and faced with France’s entry into the conflict, the British “Southern Strategy” depended on recruiting and training Loyalist auxiliaries in the Carolinas and Georgia to make up for dwindling Redcoat numbers.  This strategy worked well for a while; British forces won a number of important engagements through the summer of 1780.  It wasn’t until early 1781 that reorganized American forces drove Cornwallis out of the Carolinas and toward his ultimate fate at Yorktown.  The South, and particularly the Carolinas, was the pivot on which the whole war turned.  One historian who understands that is John Ferling, who emphasizes the critical nature of the southern war in his outstanding military history of the Revolution, Almost a Miracle.   

So why is the war in the South so poorly remembered?  I think a number of factors are at work.  First, when it comes to the issue of military history and popular memory, size matters.  Many of the nasty little guerilla fights in the South were tiny in comparison to some of the big, set-piece battles around New York and Philadelphia.  King’s Mountain, for example, was critical in showing the folly of relying on Carolina Tory militia, but only about 1,000 men were engaged on each side. 

Second, I think that it’s difficult to associate the South with the Revolution because the Civil War dominates the region’s history and identity.  Since the South, the Confederacy, and the Civil War are synonymous for so many people, there isn’t room for another war in the popular imagination.

Third is name recognition.  Washington defined the Revolution.  It’s probably no accident that Yorktown is both the most famous southern locale of the Revolution and the only event in that theater in which Washington played a prominent role.  Few men did as much to win the war as Nathanael Greene, commander in the South during the critical months of 1781, but I’d be surprised if one in ten Americans could tell you who he was.

Finally, and probably most disturbingly, American amnesia about the Revolution in the South is symptomatic of amnesia about the Revolution as a whole.  There’s no getting around the fact that it remains an understudied war.  We lack modern, thorough biographies of many significant figures; histories cite the same outdated battle studies; important questions go unasked and unanswered.  John Adams famously said that the Revolution was in the hearts and minds of the people, making the war almost an afterthought.  So far, it seems America has taken him at his word.

4 Comments

Filed under American Revolution, Historiography, History and Memory