Sharyn McCrumb is taking on my favorite historical subject for her next novel. Looks pretty cool!
Tag Archives: King’s Mountain
If you don’t have plans for Memorial Day weekend, then head over to John Sevier’s place. May 25-26 is the annual Statehood Days Living History Weekend at Marble Springs State Historic Site in Knoxville. They’re hosting militia drills, eighteenth-century demonstrations, a display of guns from the War of 1812, and a presentation on veterans of the Battle of King’s Mountain by yours truly. (I think my talk is scheduled for 11:30 on Saturday.)
The most dynamic visual representation of tomahawk combat in modern times is probably the electrifying rescue sequence in The Patriot, in which Mel Gibson turns a detachment of British soldiers into hamburger.
This portrayal of tomahawk fighting is as elegant as it is ugly, equal parts martial art and straightforward butchery. I suspect the reality was a lot more grab-and-hack and less Jackie Chan.
One account of a tomahawk in action—or about to be put into action—comes from the pension application of Charles Bowen, who fought at King’s Mountain. During the battle, Bowen somehow heard that his brother Reese had been killed in action. As he tried to find him, he came across his own captain, dead or dying from a shot to the head. At that point, something in Bowen apparently snapped.
Making his way to a spot “within fifteen or twenty paces of the enemy” and taking cover behind a tree, Bowen shot down a Tory who was attempting to raise a flag of surrender. He was reloading when Col. Benjamin Cleveland approached him and demanded he give the countersign, which was “Buford” (after the commander of a Virginia unit defeated by British dragoons earlier that year). Bowen couldn’t come up with the word, perhaps because he was still in some kind of a berserk rage, so Cleveland assumed he was a Tory. Here’s Bowen’s recollection of what happened next, as transcribed and amended at revwarapps.org:
Col Cleveland instantly leveled his rifle at Declarant’s breast and attempted to fire, but the Gun snapped. Declarant jumped at Cleveland seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head if his arm had not been arrested by a soldier by the name of Beanhannon [sic, Buchanan?], who knew the parties. Declarant immediately recollected the countersign which was “Blueford,” [sic, Buford] named it and Cleveland dropped his gun and clasped Declarant in his arms.
There’s nothing fancy about what Bowen was about to do; he simply “seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head.” If this was typical of tomahawk combat, then that scene from The Patriot is probably too elaborate on the choreography, even though it gets the raw brutality exactly right.
If you do, and you’ve got a hefty wallet, there’s a nice one headed for the auction block in Lincoln County, TN. And this one gets bonus points for a Rev War connection. The occupant’s father was Joseph Greer, a King’s Mountain veteran who reportedly carried news of the battle to Philadelphia. (His compass is on display at the Tennessee State Museum.)
The War of 1812 tour is now available on the Kentucky Historical Society’s Explore KY History app. If you haven’t downloaded this thing, let me once again recommend it to you. Most Americans probably associate the War of 1812 with the Chesapeake or the Gulf of Mexico, but Kentucky suffered more casualties in that conflict than all the other states combined.
One of the most notable Kentucky vets was Isaac Shelby, who became the state’s first governor in 1792 and then ran for the same post twenty years later. Shelby didn’t throw his hat into the ring until less than a month before the 1812 gubernatorial election, and he was more than sixty years old.
He won handily anyway, partly because he’d already made a name for himself during the Rev War and Kentuckians were gearing up for another confrontation with England. (Shelby had led a regiment at King’s Mountain; in fact, he was one of the primary architects of the expedition that defeated Ferguson’s Tories.) In the summer of 1813 he took the field himself at the head of 3,500 volunteers who fought at the Battle of the Thames, thus seeing action in both of America’s wars with Britain.
Some folks in Cleveland, TN have commissioned a portrait of the town’s namesake, Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Cleveland of North Carolina. Don Troiani will be doing the painting. The 300-lb. Cleveland commanded the Wilkes County militia at King’s Mountain and persecuted backcountry Tories with a zeal bordering on fanaticism. As far as I know, there aren’t any contemporary likenesses of him, so this will be the first attempt at an accurate depiction.
My favorite anecdote about Benjamin Cleveland involves the capture of two horse thieves. Cleveland hanged one and then offered the other a choice—he could either join his partner at the end of a rope or take a case knife, cut off his own ears, and never show his face in that neck of the woods again. The guy took the knife, sharpened it on a brick, gritted his teeth, and set to work. To quote the Joker in The Dark Knight, “Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.”
Speaking of the Carolinas, renowned Palmetto State historian Walter Edgar is retiring. He’s a guy who takes public history as seriously as he takes scholarship, so here’s hoping he keeps writing and speaking.