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Revolution in the Smokies: The Over-the-Mountain Men

August 22-25, 2018

With Bert Dunkerly, from Charlotte, NC

A BGES Revolutionary War Field University Program

Col. Patrick Ferguson grave site / Photo courtesy of Zack Frank/

One can never appreciate the tough, indeed, intense degree of animosity generated by the American Revolution until you study the war in the backcountry of the Carolinas. Here Tories and Rebels were truly neighbors, and the frontier spirit fostered by the great land opportunities produced an independent American spirit that characterized the Rebel cause.

As George Washington and Sir Henry Clinton settled into an uneasy stalemate near New York City and the new French Alliance began to crystallize, British strategy shifted to a southern campaign aimed at bringing southern colonies back into loyalty with the crown. As British men of war landed troops near Savannah and Charleston was targeted, the true nature of life in the Carolinas came into focus. It had been a war of partisans with heroes like Marion, Lee, and Sumter fighting men like Simcoe and Tarleton. However, now the British had brought a commander of considerable merit and respect to the theater. Lord Charles Cornwallis had an independent command and he meant to succeed. Accompanied by other hard bit and professional British officers, military actions would match the rhetoric and the region was soon aflame with bitter retribution.  The Mel Gibson movie The Patriot plays off this theme.

This heavy-handed rhetoric is at the core of our program. Tories under the command of the very talented Scotsman, Major Patrick Ferguson, were attempting to bring a sense of loyalty to the crown in the western Carolinas region. Ferguson put out an edict that stated anyone who did not declare their loyalty to the crown would be treated harshly. That threat reached a group of rather independent minded settlers in the region around Abingdon, Virginia, and the Northeastern Tennessee area. Challenged by agents of the king, they opted to organize and move against the crown’s soldiers and agents. The Over-the-Mountain men massacred Ferguson and his men at Kings Mountain in October 1780. This is that story.


Bert Dunkerly is a supervisory ranger at Richmond National Battlefield. He has previously served at Appomattox, and he was the historian at Moore’s Creek and Kings Mountain during the earlier portion of his career. A popular and gregarious tour leader, Bert is a former member of the BGES Board of Directors. As previously mentioned, he is the author and editor of the National Geographic’s proposed Revolutionary War travel guide, tentatively titled, The Revolutionary War, A Traveler’s Guide. Bert has written numerous other books primarily on Civil War themes and too numerous to mention here. You can find his publications under Robert Dunkerly.

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