By JOHN KIENER
The annual recreation of the Overmountain men’s historic march to King’s Mountain attracted 15,000 visitors in 2017. Steve Ricker, Interpreter for the Overmountain Victory Trail Association, said approximately two-thirds of the visitors were school children.
Programs offered by the OVTA are designed to “Keep the story of the Revolutionary War Battle alive.
“It is one of the most amazing stories in American history,” said Ricker, a Greene County resident who walked the trail for the 11th time this year. “King’s Mountain is one of history’s greatest untold stories. Most people do not realize that more Revolutionary War battles were fought in South Carolina than anywhere else.”
Doug Ledbetter, an OVTA member and owner of the Gillispie Stone House in Limestone, said members stopped by the Christopher Taylor House in Jonesborough this year on their way to the Overmountain Men’s muster at Sycamore Shoals State Park. He recalled an incident in past years where he and other Trail Association members were on top of Roan Mountain when they were observed by people hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“We were dressed out with our guns,” he said. “They (the hikers) thought we had come out of the mists [of history].”
Ledbetter is currently engaged with Jerry Dykes, owner of the site of John Sevier’s residence in Washington County, in preparing a monument in honor of Sevier.
The tide of the Revolution had turned against the colonists in 1780. American forces crumbled at the battle of Camden. However, beginning in September of that year, frontiersmen of the western mountains began a long march to the battle site.
At King’s Mountain in South Carolina, they destroyed British forces and opened the way for the final American victory at Yorktown.
The victory trail begins in Abingdon, Virginia with the main muster of forces taking place at Sycamore Shoals in Carter County. At 2 p.m. on Monday, September 25th of this year, members of the Trail Association recreated the crossing on the same date in 1780.
On that date, Col. William Campbell and 400 mounted militiamen from Abingdon crossed the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals and joined Colonels Isaac Shelby and John Sevier in response to a threat from British Major Patrick Ferguson to invade what is now East Tennessee.
Sycamore Shoals hosted a two-day event that included militia instruction, the women’s role on the 18th-century frontier, martial music provided by the Watauga Valley Fifes and Drums, firearms demonstrations, trail talks, and the story of gunpowder maker Mary Patton.
More than 300 people witnessed the programs at Sycamore Shoals including a number of children from the Elizabethton and Carter County Schools. Students gathered at various locations including 858 at the Gilbertown, North Carolina camp site and 900 at the grave site of Robert Sevier, John Sevier’s brother. The grave is located on a mine site in Spruce Pine, N.C. where the owners close their operation for the day and provide lunch for the children who arrive from the neighboring county schools.
Victory Trail Association members set up instructional stations for the children at each location they stop for the day. The children learn about the frontiersmen’s weapons, the role of women, clothing, food used for cooking, and fire starting.
A number of students who attend the instructional sessions are in the fourth, fifth and eighth grades. They ask the re-enactors if they fought in the battle. They want the frontiersmen to fire their weapons, which they do at each of the instructional camp sites.
“The children enjoy getting out of classes to attend our sessions,” Ledbetter said. Both Ledbetter and Ricker were excited that the number of persons attending Trail Association programs this year exceeded the 2016 total of 14,000 by 1,000 persons. In addition to the student presentations, members of the Association present campfire programs for adults during the journey each September from Virginia, through Tennessee and North Carolina to South Carolina.
In past years, the Trail Association has received a $50,000 grant from the Coca-Cola Company and two $12,000 grants from the Disney Corporation in support of their mission to tell students about the Battle of King’s Mountain and the Revolutionary War.
“It was the first civil war in America,” Ledbetter said. “It pitted the Loyalists against the Patriots.” He added, “Thomas Jefferson called the battle a turning point in the Revolutionary War.”
The Battle of King’s Mountain took place on October 7, 1780. A force of 900 militia men wiped out Ferguson’s Army, killing him and taking over 500 prisoners. The Overmountain Victory Trail Association was formed in 1975 and has some 500 members from across the nation.
It is 258 miles from Abingdon to King’s Mountain. Some 30 to 40 members of the OVTA travel the entire distance each year. This year the group added crossing of both the Holston and Catawba Rivers to their march. The group assists the National Park Service in obtaining trail easements for the route. Nearly all the roads, historic sites, and trail segments are on state, county, city or privately owned lands. The group does not walk the entire distance but uses vans to assist in the march. For more information about the journey, consult www.ovta.org.
Using today’s highway system, the National Park has mapped out an auto route that follows the path of the militia as closely as possible with some exceptions.
Both Ledbetter and Ricker said they were thrilled to visit the new Revolutionary War Museum in Yorktown, Virginia. The museum opened in 2016. The two represented North Carolina in the 13-day opening celebration since this area of Tennessee was part of NC during the Revolution. The two also visited a museum opening in Philadelphia. There they told officials about their involvement with King’s Mountain. Ricker said he told museum personnel concerning the Revolutionary Battles that took place in the North, “You fought for five years, beginning with King’s Mountain; we put and end to the war in a year and 12 days.”
For school groups wanting a program and people interested in joining the Overmountain Men Victory Trail Association, Ledbetter’s Internet address is: [email protected]