THE ILIAD OF PATRIOTISM by James G. M. Ramsey of the Tenn. Historical Society

James-gettys-mccready-ramsey-tn1The History and Role of Tennessee in the Revolutionary War:

THE ILIAD OF PATRIOTISM An Address By Hon. James Gettys Mcgready Ramsey, M D., President Of The Tennessee Historical Society. Read By Rev. T. A. Hoyt, At The Centennial Celebration At Nashville, Tenn., July 4th, 1876.

Mr. President And Gentlemen Of The Historical Society, Ladies And Gentlemen:—It gives me pleasure to comply with the request of the Historical society and of its honored President, Dr. Ramsey, I hold in my hand his contribution to this centennial occasion. It merits your attention. Its author is the head of this honorable body, whose labors are directed to preserve the memorials of your past history. He is the historian of Tennessee: he is venerable for age, for wisdom, for virtue; he is at once a patriot, a saint, a sage. Standing on the verge of life, he speaks to us with the authority of an ancient oracle. Let ingenuous youth imbibe freely the influence of his example ; let them ponder well the lessons of his life.

He imparts those lessons here not in the vagueness of theories of virtue, but by citing signal instances of it. This narrative he would have stored in your memories, and reproduced in the elevation of your sentiments. It may be entitled, “the Iliad of Patriotism.

This is the centennial year—the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of American Independence.

The question naturally arises, what part did Tennessee perform in gaining that independence? She was not one of the thirteen colonies; there were but two or three small white settlements within her borders.

He relates the struggles of the early settlers with the Indians; the steady growth of the infant colony; the formation of the two counties; their voluntary annexation to North Carolina, and then proceeds to recount as follows their prowess and fortunes in the Revolutionary war:

After the signal repulse of Sir Peter Parker from Charleston in 1776, the Southern States had a respite from British attack and invasion. The conquest of the States was thereafter attempted from the North to the South. The war continued ta rage with varied success. But in 1778 the order of invasion from this time was inverted, and his Majesty’s arms were directed against the most Southern States. On the 29th of December, Savannah, the capital of Georgia, was taken, and soon after British posts were established as far into the interior as Augusta. Gen. Lincoln, then the commandant of the Southern department, sent a detachment of fifteen hundred North Carolina militia under Gen. Ashe, to oblige the enemy to evacuate the upper part of Georgia. The detachment was surprised by Gen. Provost and entirely defeated. The Southern army was nearly broken up. The quiet possession of Georgia by the enemy brought to their aid many of the Indians and of the loyalists, who had fled from the Carolinas and Georgia and taken refuge among them. These were now emboldened to collect from all quarters and under cover of Provost’s army. It became evident that all that was wanting to complete British ascendency in the South, was the possession of Charleston. Should that metropolis, and the army that defended it, be captured, the reduction of the whole State, and probably North Carolina also, would ensue. An immense army with a large supply of ammunition invested Charleston. The defense was protracted, under every discouragement and disadvantage, from the 27th of March to the 12th of May, when Gen. Lincoln found himself obliged to capitulate. The fall of the metropolis was soon after succeeded by the rapid conquest of the interior country, and from the sea west to the mountains, the progress of the enemy was almost wholly an uninterrupted triumph. The inhabitants generally submitted, and were either paroled as prisoners, or took protection as British subjects. A few brave and patriotic men under gallant and indomitable leaders remained in arms, but were surprised and cut to pieces by Tarleton and Webster, or, for security from their pursuit, withdrew into North Carolina. The march of the enemy was continued toward the populous Whig settlements, and garrisons were established at prominent points of the country, with the view of pushing their conquests still further into the interior. In fine, South Carolina was considered a subdued British province rather than an American State.

revwarBut in the midst of the general submission of the inhabitants, there remained a few unconquerable spirits whom nothing but death could quell. These were Sumter, Marion and Williams in South Carolina, and Clark and Twiggs in Georgia. Some of these retired, with an inconsiderable number of men, into North Carolina, some of whom crossed the mountains and imparted to the Western settlers the first intelligence that had reached Watuga of the conquest and atrocities of the enemy. The frontiersmen had left parents and kindred and countrymen east of the Alleghenies, and their hearts yearned for their safety and deliverance. The homes of their youth were pillaged by the foreign soldiery, and the friends they loved were slain or driven into exile. Above all, the great cause of American freedom and independence was in danger, the country was invaded by a powerful foe, and the exigencies of Carolina called aloud for every absent son to return to her rescue and defence. The call was promptly obeyed, and the mountain men—the pioneers of Tennessee—were the first to resist the invaders of the South, and restrained not from the pursuit of the vanquished enemy till they reached the coast of the Atlantic.

1780.—Heretofore the military services of the Western soldiery had been limited to the defense and protection of their secluded homes in the wilderness, and to the invasion of the country of the hostile Cherokee and Shawnee Indian tribes. The riflemen from the backwoods had never seen a British soldier or met the discipline and skill of a foreign enemy. It remained to be demonstrated whether the success which had ever attended their encounters with the savage foe, would continue to crown their military operations with a civilized enemy, and upon the new theater now opening up before them where an opportunity occurred for the solution of the question.

1780.—Gen. Rutherford, of North Carolina, issued a requisition for the militia of that State to embody for the defense of their sister State. That order reached Watauga, and the following proceedings were immediately had in that patriotic and gallant community. They are copied from the original manuscript, almost illegible from the ravages of time and exposure, though still showing plainly the bold and characteristic chirography of Col. Sevier and the commissioned officers under him. There is no preamble, no circumlocution—nothing but action, prompt and decisive action, and the name of the actors. “At a meeting of sundry of the militia officers of Washington county, this 19th day of March, 1780, present John Sevier, colonel; Jonathan Tipton, major; Joseph Wilson, John M. Webb, Godfrey Isbell, William Trimble, James Stinson, Robert Sevier, captains; and Landon Carter, lieutenant in the absence of Valentine Sevier, captain.”

A similar requisition was made upon Isaac Shelby, the colonel of Sullivan county. He was then absent in Kentucky when the dispatch reached him June 16. He immediately returned home. His appeal to the chivalry of Sullivan county was met by a hearty response, and early in July he found himself at the head of two hundred mounted riflemen, whom he rapidly led to the camp of McDowell, near the Cherokee ford of Broad River in South Carolina. Col. Charles McDowell had, in the absence of Gen. Rutherford taken prisoner at Camden, succeeded that officer in command when he had forwarded to Sevier and Shelby a dispatch informing those officers of the capitulation of Charleston, and the capture of the whole Southern army, and that the enemy had overrun South Carolina and Georgia and was rapidly approaching the limits of North Carolina; and requesting them to bring to his aid all the riflemen that could be raised, and in as short time as possible. Sevier had already enrolled under the requisition of Gen. Rutherford one hundred of the militia of Washington county. At his call one hundred others immediately volunteered, and with these two hundred mounted riflemen he started at once across the mountain for the camp of McDowell, where he arrived a few days before the arrival of Shelby. Col. Clarke, of Georgia, with a command of refugee Whigs was at the same time at McDowell’s headquarters.

In the meantime the British army had taken post at NinetySix, Camden and Cheraw. At the former place Col. Nesbit Balfour, commandant, issued his proclamation, in which he gave notice “That every inhabitant of this Province who is not at his own house by the 24th instant, is hereby declared an outlaw, and is to be treated accordingly, and his property, of whatever kind, confiscated and liable to military execution.” This was a phase of tyranny and military usurpation at which the plain common sense of justice of the volunteer riflemen revolted. They had learned also in their conference with the refugee Whigs under Clark, something of the atrocious cruelties practiced by the Tories and their British leaders.

Lord Cornwallis, meeting with little obstruction in his victorious march, contemplated an extension of his conquest through North Carolina. He had instructed the loyalists of that State not to rise until his approach to its southern boundary would favor their concentration with his forces and at the same time intimidate the Whigs. As he approached Camden, Col. Patrick Moore appeared at the head of a large body of disaffected Americans, and erecting the royal standard, invited to it all the loyalists in that section. The rapid successes of the enemy and his near approach greatly encouraged the rising of the Tories, and Colonel Moore, after an uninterrupted march, took post in a strong fort built by Gen. Williamson four years before, during the Cherokee war. It was surrounded by a strong abattis and was otherwise well provided with defenses.

Such was the position of affairs when the Western riflemen arrived, as has been seen, at the camp of McDowell. They were, at their own request, immediately detached against Moore. His post was more than twenty miles distant The riflemen took up the line of march at sunset,, and at the dawn of day next morning surrounded the fort. Shelby sent in one of his men and made a peremptory demand of the surrender of the Fort. To this Moore replied that he would defend it to the last extremity. This suited exactly the mettle of the assailants and their lines were immediately drawn in, within musket-shot of the enemy all round, with a determination to make an assault upon the fort.

But before proceeding to extremities, a second message was sent in. To this Moore replied that he would surrender on condition that the garrison be paroled not to serve again during the war. The assailants were as humane as they were brave, and to save the effusion of the blood of the deluded loyalists, the terms were agreed to. The fort was surrendered. Ninety-three loyalists and one British Sergeant-Major were in the garrison, with two hundred and fifty stand of arms, all loaded with ball and buck-shot, and so disposed of at the port holes that double the number of the “Whigs might have been easily repulsed.

This bold and unexpected incursion of the mountain men, together with the capture of the garrison under Col. Moore, induced Lord Cornwallis to detach from his main army some enterprising officers, with a small command, to penetrate through the country, embody the loyalists and take possession of the strongest posts in the interior. This had become the more necessary as the advance of the American army under DeKalb, and afterward under Gates, began to inspirit the desponding Whigs, and at the same time restrained the vigorous co-operation of the Tories with the British troops . Measures were therefore adopted to embody and discipline the zealous loyalists, and for this purpose Col. Ferguson, an active and intelligent officer, possessing peculiar qualifications for attaching to him the marksmen of Ninety-six, was dispatched in that district. “To a corps of one hundred picked regulars he soon succeeded in attaching twelve or thirteen hundred hardy natives. This camp became the rendezvous of the desperate, the idle and the vindictive, as well as the youth of the loyalists, whose zeal or ambition prompted them to military service.”

revAstonished by the bold and unexpected incursion of the western volunteer riflemen under Shelby and Sevier, and apprehending that the contagion of the example and their presence might encourage the Whigs of Carolina to resume their arms, Ferguson and the loyalists took measures to secure the allegiance of the inhabitants by written agreements entered into and signed by disaffected American officers in the military service. By such and other means were the resident Whigs dispirited and the ranks of the British and Tories hourly enlarged.

As he advanced, Ferguson, increased his command till it amounted to above two thousand men, in addition to a small squadron of horse. To watch their movements and if possible to cut off their foraging parties, CoL McDowell soon after the surprise and capture of Col. Moore, detached Col. Shelby and Clarke with six hundred mounted riflemen. Several attempts were made by Ferguson to surprise this party, but, in every instance his designs were baffled. However, on the first of August 1780, his advance of six or seven hundred men came up with the American party under Shelby and Clarke at a place called Cedar Spring, where they had chosen to fight them. A sharp conflict of half an hour ensued, when Ferguson came up with his whole force and the Americans withdrew, carrying off with them from the field of battle twenty prisoners and two British officers. The killed of the enemy was not ascertained. The American loss was ten or twelve killed and wounded. Receiving information that a party of four or five hundred Tories were encamped at Musgrove’s Mills, on the South side of Enoree River, about forty miles from his camp, McDowell again detached Shelby and Clarke, together with Col. Williams who had joined his command, to surprise and disperse them. Ferguson lay, with his whole force at that time, exactly between. The detachment amounted to six hundred horsemen. These took up their line of march just before sundown, on the evening of the 18th of August. They went through the woods until dark, and then took a road leaving Ferguson’s camp some three or four miles to the left. They rode very hard all night, and at the dawn of day, about half a mile from the enemy’s camp, w ere met by a strong patrol party. A short skirmish followed, when the enemy retreated. At that moment a countryman living close at hand, came up and informed the party that the enemy had been reinforced the evening before with six hundred regular troops, under Col. Ennes, which were destined to join Ferguson’s army. The circumstances of this information were so minute that no doubt could be entertained of its truth. For six hundred men, fatigued by a night ride of forty miles, to march and attack the enemy thus reinforced, seemed rash and improper. ,

To attempt an escape by a rapid retreat, broken down as were both men and horses, as equally hopeless, if not impossible. The heroic determination was, therefore, instantly formed to make the best defence they could under the existing circumstances . A rude and hasty breastwork of brush and old logs was immediately constructed. Capt. Inman was sent forward with about twenty-five men to meet the enemy and skirmish with them as soon as they crossed the Enoree. The sound of their drums and bugles soon announced their movements, and induced the belief that they had cavalry. Inman was ordered to fire upon them, and retreat according to his own discretion. This stratagem drew the enemy forward in disorder, as they believed they had driven the whole party. When they came up within seventy yards a most destructive fire from the riflemen, who lay concealed behind their breastwork of logs, commenced. It was one whole hour before the enemy could force the Americans from their slender defence, and just as they began to give way in some points, the British commander, Colonel Ennes, was wounded.

All his subaltans [i.e. subordinates], except one, being previously killed or wounded, and Captain Hawsey, the leader of the loyalists on the left, being shot down, the whole of the enemy’s line began to yield . The riflemen pursued them close and drove them across the river. In this pursuit the gallant Inman was killed, bravely fighting the enemy, hand to hand. In this action Col. Shelby commanded the right, Col. Clarke the left, and Col. Williams the centre.

The battle lasted one hour and a half. The Americans lay so closely behind their little breastwork, that the enemy entirely overshot them, killing only six or seven, amongst whom the loss of the brave Captain Inman was particularly regretted. His stratagem of engaging and skirmishing with the enemy until the riflemen had time to throw up a hasty breastwork—his gallant conduct during the action and his desperate charge upon their retreat—contributed much to the victory. He died at the moment it was won. The number of the enemy killed and wounded was considerable. The Tories were the first to escape. Of the British regulars, under Col. Ennes who fought bravely to the last and prolonged the conflict, even against hope, above two hundred were taken prisoners.

The Americans returned immediately to their horses and mounted with the determination to be in Ninety-Six before night. This was a British post less than thirty miles distant, and not far from the residence of Col. Williams, one of the commanders. It was considered best to push their successes into the disaffected regions, before time would allow reinforcements to reach them. Besides by marching their scant expedition in the direction of Ninety-Six, they would avoid Ferguson’s army, near whose encampment they would necessarily have to pans on their return to McDowell’s headquarters, at Smith’s Ford. At the moment of starting an express from McDowell, rode up in great haste with a short letter in his hand from Gov. Casswell, dated on the battle ground, apprising McDowell of the defeat of the American grand army under Gates, on the sixteenth, near Camden, advising him to get out of the way, as the enemy would no doubt endeavor to improve their victory to the greatest advantage, by cutting up all the small corps of the American armies. The men and the horses were fatigued by the rapid march of the night as well as by the severe conflict of the morning. They were now encumbered with more than two hundred British prisoners and the spoils of victory. Besides these difficulties now surrounding the American party, there was an another that made extrication from them dangerous, if not impossible. A numerous army under an enterprising leader lay in their rear, and there was every reason to believe that Ferguson would have received intelligence of the daring incursion of the riflemen and of the defeat of his friends at the Enoree. The delay of an hour might have proved disastrous to the victors, the prisoners were immediately distributed among the companies, so as to have one to every three men, who carried them alternately on horseback. They rode directly towards the mountains, and continued the march all that day and night and the succeeding day, until late in the evening, without ever stopping to refresh. This long and rapid march—retreat it can hardly be called, as the retiring troops bore with them the fruits of a well-earned victory—saved the Americans, for, as was afterwards ascertained, they were pursued closely until late in the evening of the second day after the action by Maj. Dupoister and a strong body of mounted men from Ferguson’s army. These became so broken down by excessive fatigue in hot weather, that they despaired of overtaking the Americans, and abandoned the pursuit.

Shelby, having seen the party and its prisoners beyond the reach of danger, retired across the mountains, lie left the prisoners with Clarke and Williams to be carried to some place of safety to the North, for it was not known then that there was even the appearance of a corps of Americans anywhere south of the Potomac. So great was the panic after the defeat of Gen. Gates at Camden, and the subsequent disaster of Sumter, that McDowell’s whole army broke up. He, with several hundred of his followers, yielding to the cruel necessity of the unfortunate circumstances which involved the country, retired across the mountains, and scattered themselves among the hospitable settlers in the securer retreats of Nolichucky and Watauga.

1780.—At this period a deep gloom hung over the cause of American Independence, and the confidence of its most steadfast friends was shaken. The reduction of Savannah, the capitulation at Charleston and the loss of the entire army under Gen. Lincoln, had depressed the hopes of the patriot Whigs, and the subsequent career of British conquest and subjugation of Georgia and South Carolina, excited serious apprehension and alarm for the eventual success of the American cause. At the urgent appeal of the patriotic Gov. Rutledge, Virginia had sent forward reinforcements under Col. Buford. His command was defeated and his men butchered by the sabres of Tarleton. At Camden a second Southern army commanded by Gen. Gates, was dispersed, captured and signally defeated by Cornwallis.

But besides these general disasters, there were other circumstances that aggravated this discouraging condition of American affairs. The finances of Congress were low ; the treasuries of the States were exhausted and their credit entirely lost; a general financial distress pervaded the country; subsistence and clothing for the famishing and ill-clad troops were to be procured only by impressment; and the inability of the Government from the want of means to carry on the war, was openly admitted.

RevolutionBritish posts were established and garrisons kept up at numerous points in the very heart of the Southern country, and detachments from the main British army were with profane impudence rioting through the land in an uninterrupted career of outrage, aggression and conquest. Under the protection of these, the Tories were encouraged to rise against their Whig countrymen, to depredate upon their property, insult their families, seek their lives and drive them into exile upon the Western wastes. This was the general condition of American affairs in the South immediately after the defeat near Camden. Gen. Gates, endeavoring to collect together the shattered fragments of his routed army, made a short halt at Charlotte. He afterwards fell back further, and made his headquarters at Hillsborough.

Lord Cornwallis, on the 8th of September, marched towards North Carolina, and as he passed through the most hostile and populous Whig districts he sent Tarleton and Ferguson to scour the country to his right and left. Arrived at Charlotte, and considering it to be a favorable situation for further advances, his lordship made preparation for establishing a post at that place. While he was thus engaged, the commanders of his detachments were proceeding in their respective expeditions. That of Col. Ferguson, as has been already seen, was for several weeks on his left, watching the movements of McDowell, Sevier, Shelby, Williams and Clarke. His second in command, Dupoister, had followed the mountain men in close pursuit as they retired, after the victory at Enoree, to their mountain fastnesses.

Ferguson himself, with the main body of his army, followed close upon the heels of Dupoister, determined to retake the prisoners or support him if he should overtake and engage the escaping enemy. Finding that his efforts were fruitless, Ferguson took post at Gilbertown, near the present Rutherfordton, in North Carolina. From this place he sent a most threatening message, by a paroled prisoner, that if the officers west of the mountains did not lay down their opposition to the British arms he would march his army over, burn and lay waste their country and hang their leaders. “The pursuit by Ferguson of the retiring Americans brought him so far to the left as to seem to threaten the habitations of the hardy race that occupied and lived beyond the mountains. He was approaching the lair of the lion, for many of the families of the persecuted Whigs had been deposited in this asylum.”

The refugee Whigs received a hearty welcome from their hospitable but plain countrymen on Watauga and Nolichucky. The door of every cabin was thrown open and the strangers felt at once assured of kindness, sympathy and assistance. Among the neighbors of Sevier and Shelby the exiles from the Carolinas and Georgia were at home.

In this march of the riflemen to the sea we hear of no appropriation of private property, no incendiary-ism, no robbery, no insult to non-combatants. To the honor of the troops under Sevier and Shelby, their integrity was as little impeached as their valor. They came back to their distant homes enriched by no spoils, stained with no dishonor; enriched only by an imperishable fame, an undying renown, and an unquestionable claim to the admiration and gratitude of their countrymen and of posterity. The results of the campaigns of 1780 and 1781 sensibly affected the measures of the British Ministry, and rendered the American war unpopular in Great Britain, and on the 19th of April, 1783, peace was proclaimed in the American army by the Commander-in-chief, George Washington, precisely eight years from the first effusion of blood at Lexington. For more than that length of time the pioneers of Tennessee had been in incessant war. On the 10th of October, 1774, their youthful heroes, Shelby and Sevier, flashed their maiden swords at the battle of Keuhawa, and with little intermission thereafter were constantly engaged in guarding the settlements or attacking and invading the savage enemy. The gallant and patriotic participation of the mountain men in the Revolutionary struggle under the same men, now become leaders, has been just related. We embalm their memory and their heroic services; we bow down and do homage to their patriotism and to the majesty of their virtue. It is through them that on this centennial anniversary Tennessee claims an identity with the American Revolution and American independence. And to the Historical Society of our proud State, to the posterity of its pioneer soldiery and to their successors, I beg leave to add the injunction:

“Let no mean hope your souls enslave,
Be independent, generous, brave,
Your fathers such example gave
And such revere!”
See also: Advice to Young People from Noah Webster Father of American Education
RISE OF CONSTITUTIONAL LIBERTY by Dr. Richard Salter Storrs July 4 1876
THE TRIUMPHS OF THE REPUBLIC! by Hon. Theodore Bacon, New York 1876
History of the Battle of King’s Mountain and it’s Heroes: Part I 1765 to May, 1780
October 7, 1780 Battle of King’s Mountain