Before 1780, Most of the key battles in the Revolutionary War happened in New England states and key Southern ports like Charleston. But in October of 1780, a battle that three U.S. presidents have called a turning point in the war occurred at Kings Mountain, S.C. Four-hundred of the brave men who participated in that Oct. 7 battle assembled and trained in Abingdon, Virginia. The muster grounds honor those men and gives a glimpse of life during the Revolutionary War. During our time in Abingdon, we had a chance to speak with historian Leigh Anne Hunter and get a glimpse of life during the Revolutionary War.

Fighting for independence

The Revolutionary War began in 1775 with the “shot heard around the world” in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 but the British were not going to allow the colonies to get away. The country had imposed new laws and taxes on the new Americans. The Southwest Virginia colonists made a life in the area and focused mainly on getting by and establishing local trade.

Despite this, some in the new country remained loyal to the Crown. Families in Washington County, Virginia were split on remaining under British rule or risk losing their homes and maybe their lives to fight for independence.

An assembly in Abingdon leads to a decisive battle

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, one-third of the residents were loyal to the British monarchy, one third were patriots, and one third were ambivalent and would switch sides depending on which army might be in town, according Hunter.

The Continental Army did not exist in the mountains, but some militia staged small attacks on members of the British Army encamped in the area.

But a threat from Gen. Patrick Ferguson changed everything.

“Ferguson sent a threat to the people out here on the frontier that if they didn’t lay down their weapons and submit to the king that he was going to march his army over the mountain and hang their leaders and lay waste to the land with fire and sword,” Hunter said. “It was that threat that got things in motion.”

At the Abingdon muster fields, about 400 men met. Under the direction of Col.  William Campbell the men, armed mostly with their personal rifles, left Abingdon on September 24, 1780 and joined other militia at Fort Watauga in Sycamore Shoals, Tennessee. The two militia would be joined by others on their march to Kings Mountain.

The battle

About 910 men fought the British on Oct. 7, 1780. The entire battle took about 65 minutes and, at the end 668 British soldiers were taken prisoner and 290 died. The Patriots lost 28 men. Most of them were from the Virginia militia, according to a monument on the Muster Grounds.

President Thomas Jefferson called the battle of Kings Mountain “The turn of the tide of success.” In 1894 President Theodore Roosevelt said, “This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution.

America would continue to fight the British until Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on September 18, 1781.

The muster grounds today

Visitors can learn more about the muster grounds and life in Abingdon during the Revolutionary War at the Muster Grounds and in the Keller Interpretive Center. The grounds were named the official northern trailhead of the 330-mile Overmount Victory National Historical Trail. Every September, fourth-graders learn about Revolutionary War history with live demonstrations of what life was like during those times.

The Abingdon Muster Grounds is just one of the amazing things to do in this charming Southwest Virginia small town. Read more about Abingdon here.

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