Sunday, Oct. 7, is the anniversary of a 1780 Revolutionary War battle you’ve likely never heard of. It’s meaningful because it was crucial to winning the war. Could I share the story, beginning with a bit of history?
In the early 1600s, England, weary of Irish rebellion, seized the Catholic Ulster Plantation where they invited the Scotch, mostly Presbyterian, to settle. Later, in the mid-1700s, colonial Pennsylvania encouraged these feisty Ulster Scots to settle along the Appalachians as a buffer against Indian depredations. As more land was needed, the “Scots-Irish” migrated south along the frontier through Virginia, the Carolinas, and then westward over the mountains into Indian country. Moving in family groups, these “overmountain men” with their long-barrel rifles became skilled Indian fighters, forming local militia for common defense.
In the latter half of the Revolutionary War the British devised a “Southern Strategy” to divide the colonies. Lord Cornwallis landed at Charleston, S.C. with a plan to move northward in three columns. The western column, Loyalists organized into a regiment, headed into the lands of the Scots-Irish. The British commander issued a rude ultimatum, blustering that he would march his army into their mountains, “hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword,” if they didn’t lay down their arms.
It was the wrong thing to say. Word of the ultimatum spread through the hills and the militia of these fiercely independent overmountain men began to gather. They came with wives and children to socialize, connect with extended family, and make their plans. Deeply religious, they heard a fiery sermon likening them to the Old Testament army of Gideon. Then this irregular, self-organized militia sans uniforms mounted up and rode out in search of the invader, gathering other militia along the way.
When their approach became known, the British force retreated, but by forced march was caught encamped on a hill known as King’s Mountain. The battle was unequal, the British militia armed with muskets accurate to 70 yards were confronted by long rifles used to hunt deer at 200 yards. The musket mounted a bayonet that terrified in close order charges, but the mountain men simply melted into the forest until the charge ended and resumed firing. In little over an hour the invading force was destroyed. After dealing with the prisoners the overmountain militia returned to their homes.
The patriot victory caused a sensation. A major British force, patiently built with coerced American loyalists and trained in conventional battle tactics, had been annihilated by men who organized on their own, fought by their own rules, and then disappeared. The defeat stopped Cornwallis’ invasion and he went into winter camp. The following spring Patriot victories at Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse caused Cornwallis to retire to Yorktown, where he was trapped by an alert General Washington’s Colonial Army, aided by the timely arrival of the French fleet. Game, set, match.
And that is reason to observe the valor at King’s Mountain 238 years ago. It’s good to remember that the French, though sometimes difficult, were there for us the one time we needed them. And it’s good to recognize our fiercely independent Scots-Irish ancestors, often demeaned as hillbillies, for their contributions to America. Lastly, at a time when some would divide our country, it’s good to remember what brought us together in the beginning. There’s meaning in that.
Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].
Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):
Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.
Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.
Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.
Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.
First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.
ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.
Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.
Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.
Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.
United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.
Salt Chrch, 8681 N. Coast Hwy, 10:00 a.m.
St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.
St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8:00 & 10:30 a.m.
Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.