Spend a little time learning what Independence Day truly 

means, and something about who we are, where we came from, 

and why the Three Percent still exist.

American history still lives. It just isn't taught in

our PC public schools anymore.

September 11, 1777

Nine Eleven 1.0


The shooting war that was the American

Revolution had been going on for about a

year and a half.  General George Washington

was having a bad time.  British forces had

forced him to leave Boston.  He had nearly

been demolished in New York City and had

been forced to abandon the city to the British.  

Now the British were about to invade

Philadelphia, then serving as the Capital of

the individual states that were struggling for

independence from the British Crown.

European warfare of the time was premised

on the sound defeat of the opposing states

forces and/or the threatened or actual taking

of the capital city.  British General Howe

intended to take Philadelphia and the

Continental Congress after thrashing

Washington and hopefully capturing his army.

Howe left New York by ship and landed

15,000 troops at the upper reaches of the

Chesapeake Bay.  He marched towards

southeastern Pennsylvania.  Washington,

with 11,000 troops, was waiting for him

along the Brandywine Creek at Chads Ford.  

The stage was set for the largest engagement

of troops in the western hemisphere to occur

before the American Civil War.


After Lexington and Concord, the Continental Congress debated the goals of the fighting for 15 months.  Most of the delegates saw themselves as loyal British subjects and were not inclined to declare independence.  Still, as elected representatives of their respective communities, they were from a select group of Americans.  Historians divide the approximately 2.5 million Americans that populated the colonies into four groups.  About 30% saw themselves as what would become known as “patriots”, about the same percentage saw themselves as what would become known as “loyalists” about the same percentage could not make up their minds and tried to remain aloof and the rest were on the frontier and were largely unaffected or interested.

What distinguished the first two groups was that the patriots recognized they had a distinctly American culture.  They rejected the European concept of privilege based on birth status.  They embraced the idea that each man was at liberty to make his own way and could rise to whatever he was capable of.  While specific sections of the colonies saw the terms “liberty” and “freedom” in different ways, there was a consensus among the patriots that freemen did not need to be told what was good for them by anyone.  This group supplied the members of Congress.

 The loyalists preferred the European model of political thinking.  They preferred subjugation to the Crown.  They were not members of Congress.

 While the members of Congress were reluctant to break their ties to England initially, they were willing to fight from the beginning.  The evidence is in the first actions they took as a group.  They promptly decided to send a military commander to assume control of the ad hoc units in New England.  Washington was made General of the Continental forces and left for Boston.  In June, 17775, the first military unit representing the Congress of the states was commissioned.  Congress specifically called for the formation of a rifle regiment.  The men were to be selected from the “back country” of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.  The back country was not the frontier.  The inhabitants of this portion of the states were dispositionally, very independent.  They were not anti-government.  They were not anti-authoritarian.  They just wanted to be left alone by those who were of a disposition to mind another person’s business.  Generally, they had little time for those who were of a cosmopolitan bent which they saw as frivolous.  They looked after themselves and their own and fended for themselves.  They were men of action and they could shoot.  They arrived in Boston in mid-summer.

In Boston, General Washington had a problem.  He had very little powder and lead.  He had to buy some time to get supplies.  The British were close at hand.  He had to give them pause.  General Washington decided to have a shooting demonstration.  He invited lots of spectators including the press. 

 The riflemen hit targets the size of a mans chest at three times the effective range of any musket.  They fired as groups at poles set  at 200 yards until the pole was cut in half.  They took turns holding planks of wood measuring about 5x10 inches as other members of their group shot into the plank at ranges beyond that of muskets.  Some of the riflemen held the planks between their knees as bullets passed through the pieces of wood.  The message was clear.  These men were willing to kill specific people they targeted and they were not afraid of bullets passing close to them.  For those who needed additional information about the temperament of these men, they carried tomahawks in their belts.  The story of their ability and disposition spread. 

 The riflemen had another shooting demonstration in mind.  They went off on their own to kill British soldiers as they moved about their camps.  Officers were preferred targets.  The British were both appalled and afraid.  Washington got the time he needed to solve his logistical problems.

 The reason the British were fearful of these American Riflemen was self-evident.  The reason they were appalled was dispositional.  European warfare had evolved a set of rules.  Battles were determined by which set of forces remained in control of the “field” at the end of the engagement.  In effect, the loser was driven from the field.  Threatening to take or actually taking a city that was the seat of government of the enemy was determinative to capitulation.  Killing members of the opposing force was necessary, but targeting specific individuals was viewed as morally repugnant.

 The British army did not even have an “aim” command.  They leveled their muskets in the direction of the enemy formation, looked aside, and fired on command.  They quickly reloaded and fired again. Following three or four such volleys, they executed a bayonet charge.  They caused the enemy line to break and flee.

 By contrast, the Americans had an “aim” command, even when using muskets.  American had no compunction about targeting specific individuals.  Riflemen merely refined the art.  This essential dispositional difference lead D. H. Lawrence to observe, “The  essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer”.

 Revealing their own essential disposition, revisionist American historians of the second half of the 20th Century have derided the value of the American militia and the riflemen.  General Howe had a different view.  He issued orders for the capture of one of the  American riflemen and his equipment.  Timothy Doutrich of Dover Township, York County, Pennsylvania was captured and sent to England.  There, he was taken on tour of the county and required to put on shooting demonstrations.  This idea probably was not conducive to a military recruitment drive.

 By 1776, General Howe made it clear he needed riflemen.  Hessian (German) “jaegers” were hired.  The General also turned to a young Captain named Patrick Ferguson.

 Ferguson and his Rifle

Captain Ferguson was very interested in shooting.  He did a lot of it.  He was also, as an officer, concerned about the welfare of his  men.  He understood that standing men get shot a lot more often than those who presented a lower profile, preferably prone.  Muzzle loading weapons were difficult to load unless the shooter was standing up-right.  A breech-loading weapon changed the manual of arms.  Ferguson found a breech-loading design that had existed for decades.  He convinced the British government that this design could be adapted to military use.  Two demonstrations, one to the military and one to the King, sold each audience with the idea that British made military rifles could answer the American riflemen. 

Ferguson was placed in charge of the rifle project.  General Howe’s call for rifles in 1776 was answered with unheard of speed in military acquisition of the times.  Starting in the fall of 1776 and continuing until the spring of 1777, Ferguson personally presided over the production of 100 rifles.  Any question about the importance of answering the American Riflemen, and thus the British view of their role on the battlefield, must consider that Ferguson, a young military officer, ordered about, under the authority of the Crown, the most expert gun makers in Britain.  Master gunsmiths, who were forced to labor for at least 15 years to learn their craft, were answerable to a young soldier.  Each part of each gun and its accouterments were inspected an approved by Ferguson.  The work was pushed so as to have the guns and Ferguson in America by the spring, 1777 offensive.

 Ferguson developed a special bayonet that also functioned as a sword.  The lock work on the guns was of a German design that made the lock time as fast as percussion guns that were decades from practical development.  Unlike other flint guns of the time, this gun could be loaded and fired in rain and wind.  American gun barrels would foul within a half-dozen rounds.  Their accuracy was compromised until they could be cleaned, a long and arduous process, especially in battle conditions.  The Ferguson gun could fire 30 rounds before it required a thorough cleaning.  The barrel would begin to foul after a half-dozen rounds, but could be returned to its accuracy potential by opening the breach, plugging the chamber with an unpatched ball, and pouring water down the barrel to loosen the fouling enough for the next fired round to clear the bore.  Like any rifle of exceptional accuracy potential, the Ferguson gun required a special powder and a particular load.  It also accepted a bayonet, more that 2’ in length and double edged, kept with a razors edge.

 All of that was the up-side.  The down-side, especially as the British military saw such matters, was that each example was a one-man-gun.  At a time when the British soldier fired, perhaps a half-dozen practice shots, three or four times a year, Ferguson made it clear that each of his riflemen would need to fire about 300 rounds to reach proficiency with the weapon.  In addition, the dropping breech plug on each weapon was so unique, only the soldier to whom it was issued could effectively use it.

 Still, here was Captain Ferguson, his gun and his trained men at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania on the eve of September 11th.  The  stage was set for not only one of the major battles of the American Revolution, but for one of the most incredible incidents in American history.


It is fashionable among recent revisionist historians to discount Washington’s skills as a General.  Walking the ground of Brandywine battlefield will likely offer another view.  General Washington predicted where the British would advance towards Philadelphia.  The terrain he selected to defend demonstrates his ability to “see” the ground.  The west side of Brandywine Creek at Chads Ford is fairly flat.  The east bank rises immediately into undulating hills.  General Washington arranged his forces along 6 miles of the Brandywine on the east side.  Washington placed artillery to cover the several fords the British would have to cross. 

 There were no bridges along the “Great Nottingham Road” (now U. S. Route 1) where it crossed the Brandywine.  There was one ferry, operated by John Chad.  There were also several fords, which were locations where a man could wade across the creek to chest depth.  The British would have to wade the creek into the fire of Americans on the east bank.

 General Washington was good at seeing the ground from a defensive view.  He was weak in seeing the ground from an attacker’s point of view.  This short coming had gotten him into trouble in Boston and New York.  It was to cause trouble this day also.  In addition, there was confusion among the American General Officers as to the number and location of the many fords along the Brandywine.

 General Washington discounted the idea of a flanking attack by the British.  He assumed General Howe would rely on his superior numbers to make a frontal attack.

The 7th Pennsylvania Regiment's Brandywine flag

 General Howe was camped on the night of the 10th in Kennett Square.  Two days before he had settled on a strategy of a diversionary attack on General Washington’s forces as a way to mask his flanking attack on the American right.  Howe realized he could get on the Birmingham Road, above and behind the American lines and run the road along the ridge behind Washington’s line to a point on the Great Nottingham Road east of Washington’s forces.  The Americans would be trapped against the river and the remainder of the British forces.

 At 4:30 am on the 11th, Howe took personal command of General Cornwallis’ 8,000 men and marched them north out of Kennett Square.  They began a 17 mile forced march, dragging cannon with them.  They used a series of ridges to conceal their movement.

 After sun-up, American forces moved across the Brandywine to the east bank and began scouting patrols.  About 9:00 am one of the patrols decided to take a break at a tavern a few miles east of Kennett Square.  Tying their horses out front, they went in to refresh themselves.  As they exited the front door they saw British soldiers within 100 yards.  It was Captain Ferguson and his 100 Rifleman accompanied by about 300 additional British soldiers armed with a special short rifle similar to the German “Jaeger”.  It was the forward point of the British advance to Chad’s Ford.  Shots were exchanged and the Americans ran back into the tavern and out the back door.  The first shots of the battle had been fired.

 Captain Ferguson had a very bad assignment.  He was to take his force of about 400 men and cross the Brandywine at what was referred to as the lower ford.  He was then to move north along what is now called Creek Road to eliminate the American artillery emplacements.  It was perhaps 400 yards of deadly ground.  Before the end of the day he would loose half of his men and be made a cripple for life.  He would also make one of the most fateful decisions in history.

 Throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, General Washington receives a continuing series of confused reports that all point to a movement of British troops headed north several miles east of his location at John Chad’s house.  He considers the possibility that General Howe is trying to flank him but also suspects that Howe is moving on Reading where American military stores are kept.  He is still convinced the main attack will come to his front.

 Meanwhile Captain Ferguson has acquired a location in front of John Chad’s house.  He and some of his men are concealed by vegetation.  He sees two officers on horse back moving along the American lines at Creek Road.  He later writes a report expressing his dismay at seeing one of the officers dressed in a Polish Officers uniform.  The other officer, a large man on a large horse comes to within 100 yards of Ferguson. 

 Captain Ferguson was well documented as a fine shot.  With his rifle he had fired 6 shots per-minute and hit man-sized targets at 200 yards.  Still, he was an officer in the British army.  Killing a man from ambush, especially and officer was grotesque to him. 

 Upon seeing the American officer so close, Captain Ferguson stepped from his position of cover and demanded the surrender of the officer.  The officer turned his horse about and calmly rode away towards the American lines.  As Ferguson later wrote in his report, he could have placed as many as 6 rounds on the officer before he was out of range.  But then again, he would have to shoot an officer in the back.  Captain Ferguson held his fire.  Within minutes, Captain Ferguson was struck in the right elbow.  The bone was shattered beyond repair.

 It took Captain Ferguson about a year to heal from the wound.  All the surgeons recommended amputation.  The arm was useless.  Keeping it was very dangerous because of the constant bouts he had with infection.  Pain was constant.  For months pieces of bone worked their way out through the skin in a most excruciating way.  Still, the only way he could maintain a commission was to have all of his extremities, working or not.  Ferguson wanted a command.  He got one in time to meet his fate at King’s Mountain, South Carolina.

 Captain Ferguson’s reports do not identify the officer as General Washington.  The description seems to fit.  What is known is that General Pulaski, recently commissioned by the Continental Congress, and Washington were at John Chad’s house at the time Captain Ferguson confronted the officer. 

 Many historians of recent times discount the incident.  Some apparently suggesting nothing of the kind happened.  Others object, claiming there is no “proof” that the officer was General Washington.  Many criminal defense lawyers would pray to have these skeptical historians on their juries.

 The best evidence would suggest that, but for the “essential” difference between the American and British Rifleman, the War for Independence would likely have ended that September the 11th.

 But General Washington had other problems.  It was now apparent that General Howe was at the rear of the right of his lines.  They were about to attack.  American troops were moving quickly at the Birmingham Quaker Meeting house and the adjacent fields to form up to meet the attack.  But it was Tea Time.  General Howe halted, in full view of the American troops and had his tea. 

 Meanwhile General Washington had his reserves on the move.  These incredible men covered 3 miles, across hills and valleys in about 40 minutes and formed up to meet the British.  Americans took cover behind a stone wall at the Meeting house.  The price of tea was very high that afternoon.

 The British pushed the Americans back across the ridge to Sandy Hollow.  General Lafayette arrived to rally the Americans.  During the affray he was wounded and removed to a nearby house for treatment.

 The British were now moving quickly along the Birmingham Road.  Soon they would have the American forces pinched between the two segments of the British forces.  The Americans quickly withdrew to the east.  The Americans would survive to fight another day. 


 Within a few days the British were in Philadelphia.  They were met with another essential difference between Americans and Europeans.  Taking the Capital City was not determinative.  The Continental Congress moved to York, Pennsylvania.  There they refined and implemented the Articles of Confederation.  The diverse states were now a country.

 General Washington moved into winter camp at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to place himself between the British and Congress.  That brutal winter would be some of the darkest days of the Revolution.  But during that darkness Von Stueban trained the American forces in the art of military drill.  The skills he taught would be of great value at Cowpens and Yorktowne. 

 American losses at Brandywine were about 1200.  British were about 1950.  The battle raged over 10 square miles, an enormous battlefield for the time.

 Ferguson survived his wounds.  His recuperation was more than a year.  During his recovery the men of his unit were reassigned.  During that year he taught himself to write, eat and use weapons with his left hand.  Once again fit for command, he was promoted  to Major and shipped to the Carolina’s as part of Britain’s “new strategy” to win the war.

 British records reflect that an order went out to the units that had former members of Ferguson’s Rifles assigned to collect those weapons and return them to New York for re-fit.  Other records reflect that Ferguson ordered as much as 10,000 rounds of the special ball that the Ferguson gun used and the special powder required to make the gun shoot to its potential.

 Ferguson reflected on the kind of man he should have using his rifle.  He decided that native born Americans would be better suited to bear the arm because they were much more familiar with weapons than their British counterpart.  In the south, he commanded Loyalists from New York and New Jersey. 

 In 1779, Major Ferguson found himself and his command of about 1000 men on King’s Mountain, South Carolina.  He was confronting about the same number of American riflemen from the surrounding communities.  Once again, about 100 of his command were a personal unit assigned to him directly.  Participants in the fight refer to these men as rifleman.  There are accounts of them laying prone and firing repeated shots.  There are references to Ferguson sword bayonets being used at the battle.

 All of this and other evidence, as well as the nature of the man to endure his recovery and rehabilitation, convinced the National Park Service that he would not have abandoned his namesake rifle project, that is at least until 1946, as a copy of the Park Service brochure of that date reports. 

Once again, the revisionist historians are skeptical.  If you visit King’s Mountain Battlefield today you are told definitively there were no rifles, including Ferguson rifles in the hands of the British forces.  Eyewitness accounts and supportive documents are insufficient.

 As was their disposition, the American forces were there to kill.  The British forces suffered heavy casualties.  The battle ended with Ferguson hit by dozens of American rifle balls.  Men stood about as he laid dying, both shoulders broken and his body riddled  with bullet holes.  One can only wonder if he considered the “essential” essence of the American soul.

Those Tall American Patriots and Their Long Rifles

How did WE win the Revolution and the freedom to invent that wonderful Institution called The United States of America? And for that matter, just who were WE, an unlikely crew to take on the armed might of the greatest military power on earth. Most of us were tradesmen and farmers, with a few trained soldiers who had served in Colonial regiments. And the WE has to include our French friends who supplied us with arms and equipment and manpower without which we could not have won.

But the subject of this treatise is another part of the WE, a breed of unique Americans, a small band of brothers who were quick to join the Yankee farmers and tradesmen in battle. These eager fighters were the backwoodsmen from Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the Carolinas with their deadly long guns, which later came to be known as "Kentucky" rifles. These men did not win the war, and did not even play what could be called a major role, but their contributions had a dramatic impact wherever they were present in substantial numbers. It is probable that never more than a few thousand served at any one time, and like other militiamen, most of them joined the fight when they were needed and went home when they weren't, after short enlistments. What kind of men were they?


On June 14, 1775, after Lexington-Concord and three days before Bunker Hill, the Continental Congress authorized ten companies of "riflemen" as a first step toward creating a national army. The quotas were filled so rapidly that Congress authorized two more companies of Pennsylvanians on June 22nd, and Lancaster County had so many eager volunteers that they formed an additional company, making a total of thirteen and a total force of more than a thousand men. They set out for Cambridge immediately, arriving three to four weeks later after marches of up to 700 miles from their staging points

There are more accounts of these hardy men and their contributions than can be included here. How the company enlisted at Frederick, Maryland under Captain Michael Cresap is well documented; contemporary descriptions of this unit can be applied to others. A letter dated August 1, 1775 from a gentleman in Frederick to a friend in Philadelphia gives the following colorful account: 

".. . I have had the happiness of seeing Captain Michael Cresap marching at the head of a formidable company of perhaps one hundred and thirty men, from the mountains and backwoods, painted like Indians, armed with tomahawks and rifles, dressed in hunting shirts and moccasins, and though some of them had traveled near 800 miles from the banks of the Ohio, they seemed to walk light and easy, and not with less spirit than at the first hour of their march. Health and vigor, after what they had undergone, declared them to be intimate with hardship, and familiar with danger...."

When Cresap's company arrived at Lancaster, they put on an exhibition of marksmanship for the townspeople. An eyewitness described the performance in a letter printed in the Pennsylvania Packet of August 28th, which says in pare "On Friday evening last arrived here, on their way to the American Camp, Captain Cresap's Company of Riflemen, consisting of 130 active, brave young fellows, many of whom had been in the late expedition under Lord Dunmore against the Indians. They bear in their bodies visible marks of their prowess, and show scars and wounds... two brothers in the company took a piece of board, five inches broad and seven inches long, with a bit of white paper about the size of a dollar nailed in the center, and while one of them supported this board perpendicularly between his knees, the other at a distance of upwards of sixty yards and without any kind of a rest, shot eight bullets successively through the board, and spared his brother's thighs....the spectators, amazed at these feats, were told that there were upwards of fifty persons in the company who could do the same thing; that there was not one who could not plug 19 bullets out of 20 within an inch of the head of a ten-penny nail...."

The Loyalist Bradford brothers, Philadelphia printers, wrote the following story which appeared in the London Chronicle on August 17, 1775: "This province has raised 1,000 riflemen, the worst of whom will put a ball into a man's head at a distance of 150 or 200 yards, therefore advise your officers who shall hereafter come out to America to settle their affairs in England before their departure".


These marksmen were organized into small, independent units and ordered to pick off British officers during the inactivity around Boston after the Bunker Hill fight. Dunlap's Pennsylvania Packet said on August 14, 1775: “The express, who was sent by the Congress, is returned here from the Eastward, and says he left the Camp last Saturday; that the riflemen picked off ten men in one day, three of whom were Field-officers, that were reconnoitering; one of them was killed at a distance of 250 yards, when only half his head was seen.” Such reports caused great indignation when republished in London. The backwoodsmen were called “. .. shirt-tail men, with their cursed twisted (rifled) guns, the most fatal widow- and-orphan-makers in the world”.

Some of the accounts of marksmanship are almost too much to believe but can be accepted if considered as a few remarkable shots out of many unreported attempts. For instance, the Philadelphia Gazette of August 21, 1775, carried the following: “A gentleman from the American Camp says that last Wednesday, some riflemen on Charleston side killed three men on board a ship at Charleston ferry, at the distance of full half a mile”. Even the deadly “widow makers” would not carry half that far accurately, and American officers discouraged the waste of powder and ball. However, it is very probable that the free-spirited backwoodsmen enjoyed the “sport”, as they did their target and turkey shoots back home.

And what were those cursed twisted guns, the first truly American weapons? The curved grooves in the barrel, the rifling, was important, but “rifles” had been used by special units in European armies since the 1600s. In fact, the American long rifle was developed from the Jaeger (hunter) rifle introduced to the colonies by German gunsmiths who settled in Pennsylvania between 1700 and 1740. The Jaeger rifle had a barrel seldom exceeding thirty six inches in length, with a bore between 65 and 70/100's of an inch. These rifles used soft lead balls cast smaller than the bore, so that when they were forced down the barrel on top of the powder, they would fill the grooves and prevent the escape of gases on firing. After a few shots, powder residue would collect in the grooves, making loading difficult until the barrel was cleaned with a dampened swab. Also, the soft lead ball was deformed during the loading with a resultant loss of accuracy.


The main clients of the gunsmiths, the frontier hunters and Indian fighters, demanded changes in the design of their rifles to make them better suited to obtaining food and for protection. By 1750 these changes had created a precision tool perfect for its purpose.  The barrel was lengthened to between 44 and 48 inches to insure complete burning of the powder and provide maximum velocity. Bore size was reduced one-third to between 40 and 45/100's of an inch to save powder and lead, scarce commodities on the frontier. These rifles were loaded by a new system, which was the main reason for their extreme accuracy. A greased or saliva-dampened patch of linen was placed over the muzzle, and the bullet, cast slightly under bore size, was seated on the patch and rammed down on top of the powder. The patch served as a gas seal, cleaning the barrel with each shot and avoiding deformation of the ball. This new type of rifle provided a superbly dependable, economical hunting and fighting tool in which the increase in velocity and accuracy more than made up for the decreased weight of the ball. A .45 calibre long rifle would deliver three times the number of shots from the same amount of powder and lead as a .75 calibre smoothbore musket, with a major increase in effectiveness.

The accuracy of the long rifle came from the patched, lightweight, tight-fitting ball and the resulting high velocity, which flattened the bullet's trajectory and obviated the need for “holding over” a man sized target up to 150 or more yards. The rapid spin of the bullet imparted by the rifling provided a gyroscoping effect which further increased accuracy. The difference in accuracy between the long rifle and the smoothbore musket could be compared to that of an expertly spiral led football and a thrown basketball.


However, the large calibre, smoothbore musket had some important advantages over the long rifle. Musket loading was fast, about four shots per minute, due to the charges being made up in paper cartridges. These consisted of a paper tube which contained powder and ball for one shot. The paper was torn open with the teeth, powder was poured into the pan, the pan cover was closed and the remaining powder was poured down the barrel with the rest of the paper and the ball rammed down on top. The musket was designed for use against massed troops and cavalry, and was an effective weapon when so used. It would deliver its one ounce ball into a man-sized target at 60 to 80 yards from a steady rest, but it was not intended primarily for this purpose, particularly when fired in combat from a standing or moving position.

It is often assumed that use of the massed formations which proved so vulnerable to our backwoods riflemen was evidence of a fixation with tradition and pageantry, but this is far from true. Attacks by successive waves of troops were, rather, a tactic which came about be cause of the recognized limitations of the smoothbore musket. The masses of infantry were not there to provide convenient targets, but to deliver a massed fire, still a military objective which is now effected by automatic and repeating weapons.

Muskets were not thought of as precision military tools, and the standard piece did not even have a rear sight, but a large volley of heavy lead balls thrown in the general direction of a foe could do great damage. The principle can be likened to bird hunting; most shotgun pellets are wasted, but enough find the target to kill or disable. And followed by a bayonet charge before the enemy, usually at close range, could reload, the tactic was very effective. However, against dispersed riflemen who stayed out of range of both the inaccurate muskets and the bayonets, this kind of warfare did not work very well.

Loading of the long rifles was slower than the musket because powder and balls were carried separately in a powder horn and a bullet pouch. A little powder was poured into the pan, then more down the barrel, measured by the experienced eye of the rifleman. The patch would then be extracted from the patchbox in the stock of the rifle and placed over the muzzle. A bullet was placed on the patch and the whole rammed down easily with the greased patch acting as a lubricant. Some of the more experienced riflemen speeded up the process  by keeping three extra balls between the base of the fingers on each hand, creating odd cavities which stayed with them for life. The usual tactic in a firefight was to get off two or three volleys, and then retreat to avoid the bayonets and get time to reload and fire again.


These sturdy men and their rifles were an important, if not decisive, element in many battles. Contrary to popular legend, there were no eagle-eyed sharpshooters with long rifles in the fight at Bunker Hill, but there were stout New England militiamen armed with their own smoothbore muskets, familiar tools like their plows and axes, which they used with great effect. However, rifles were important in an important engagement two years later. Colonel Daniel Morgan, who had led one of the Virginia companies to Cambridge in July of 1775, commanded a corps of riflemen who opened hostilities on September 19, 1777 at the first Battle of Freeman's Farm, the start of what is often called erroneously the Battle of Saratoga, the point of final surrender of Burgoyne's army.

As the advance party of four regiments of British regulars broke into the clearings of the farm, they heard a chorus of eerie turkey gobblings coming from shadowy figures in fur caps in the surrounding woods. Then the sharp crack of long rifles broke the stillness, and within minutes every British officer was killed or wounded and non-coms and privates began to fall. The rest of Burgoyne's troops rushed to the rescue and the riflemen, thought to be no more than a company, melted into the woods, continuing their gobbling as they joined the rest of Morgan's troops.

The woods filled fast with tall men in fur caps, round hats and hunting shirts. The crack of rifles resumed, joined by the duller reports of muskets as Cilley's New Hampshire Continentals closed up with Morgan's men. Burgoyne tried to bring his artillery into action, but cannoneers and their officers were picked off before their guns could be loaded. The fighting continued for more than three hours, while decimated British regiments closed up again and again, and companies shrank to platoons and platoons to  squads in what was, to them, a new type of warfare. They were finally saved from complete annihilation by the arrival of a strong force of Baron von Riedesel's Germans.

The Second Battle of Freeman's Farm on October 7th, in which General Simon Fraser was killed by one of Morgan's riflemen, finished Burgoyne's army as a fighting force, and led to the surrender of more than 5,000 British and Germans on October 17th.


Riflemen were entirely responsible for an overwhelming victory at King's Mountain on October 7, 1780. A force of more than 1,100 Tories, trained and equipped by the British and commanded by Major Patrick Ferguson, were ordered by General Cornwallis to march west into the Watauga settlements in the mountains along the present border between Tennessee and North Carolina and force the mountain people to declare their allegiance to the Crown. Word of Ferguson's expedition spread quickly, and the Watauga men, hardiest of the hardy pioneers, chose not to wait, but rather to meet Ferguson before he came anywhere near their homes.

Companies formed rapidly under Colonels Isaac Shelby, “Nolichucky Jack”, Sevier and Charles McDowell set out, each man with his horse, his rifle and a bag of parched corn. Along the way they were joined by Campbell's Virginians, Cleaveland with more Carolinians and other local leaders. Major Ferguson got word of this force, now totaling more than 1,400 men, and decided to take refuge on King's Mountain, hoping for reinforcements. They were attacked there by 900 of the best mounted and equipped riflemen after an overnight thirty mile march. The Tories fought well and bravely, repelling the riflemen by several bayonet charges, but the result was inevitable. Completely surrounded by expert marksmen, and with the death of most of their officers — including Major Ferguson, who was hit by seven bullets —they surrendered after one hour and ten minutes of intense fire. Estimates of Tory losses vary from 425 to 800 killed and wounded, compared to less than 100 of the mountaineers.

Long rifles were used effectively after the Revolution, notably at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. It is probable that the long rifles received the name "Kentucky" rifles in this battle, indicating the men who used them, not the Pennsylvania gunsmiths who made most of them. Pennsylvania historians and gun collectors have always resented the terminology. 

America the Divided:  Militia and Riflemen 

Daily, the American media reminds us that the country is divided into “red” and “blue” states.  More correctly, the country is philosophically divided into “red” and “blue” counties.  The implication is that this is a recent phenomenon.  Actually, it is a condition that has existed since Colonial times.  The philosophical divide has constantly operated along the same demographic breakdown.  We are also told by the same purveyors of lament that the tenor of this divide has never been more intense and bitter.  That evaluation, of course, assumes you discount the two occasions in American history where the members of those respective sides of the divide picked up guns and killed one another.  The first occasion was in the 4th quarter of the 18th century and the second was the 3rd quarter of the 19th century. 

 What we refer to as the American Revolution was as much a civil war as it was a break with England.  As the Revolution matured, Loyalists joined the ranks of the British forces. Those Loyalists who joined the regular military forces of the British came, predominately, from the demographic background of what today would be referred to as “blue” counties.

 In this discussion, we will look at two battles that ultimately were turning point incidents in the Revolution.  Those battles were King’s Mountain and Cowpens.  Both battles were in western South Carolina.



 Most Americans with a high school graduation date prior to 1965 were presented with a view of the importance of militia and riflemen in the Revolution.  They were taught American history. Among the roles of history is to teach a given culture lessons about commonly held values.  Apocryphal or not, the reason American history emphasized the value of the individual to turn out to defend his home territory was to underscore the value of individual men's willingness to fight for their homes and commonly held values.  American history, as taught in the last quarter of the 20th century by the progressive revisionists, discounts and denigrates the value of militia and riflemen in the Revolution and the concept of fighting for freedom from tyranny.  Arguably, this change in view is more reflective of belief systems of the teachers than of the actual value of those individual Americans who picked up their guns and confronted the British, the Loyalist and the German troops who sought to keep America and Americans as “subjects”.

 Before examining King’s Mountain and Cowpens, we will examine the battle casualties of the major battles during the war.  We will also take a quick look at the evolution of the thinking of those Americans who took up arms to be free of the identifier, “subject”.




The Revolution actually began as an action taken by individuals.  Congress tried to play catch-up.  They sanctioned actions that had already happened and tried to organize fighters who were already engaged and on the march.  Fighting was ongoing for more than a year before Congress concluded that there was no reason to negotiate a settlement with the British that would continue Americans British subjects.  Individual Americans decided to stand-up to the British army, without the input or guidance of government.

• American forces in this engagement were predominately local residents who converged on British forces on the march. Gen. Daniel Morgan, understood the value of militia and riflemen and would refine his technique of using them at Cowpens.

• The British seized Philadelphia, then the American capital.  Traditional European warfare recognized that the taking of an opponent’s capital city meant the end of the war.  Someone forgot to tell the Americans that rule, Congress moved to York, Pa.


• This engagement was on the American frontier.  British and Indian forces burned 1000 homes in the area.  Civilians were murdered.  This tactic would rally the populace of SC when the same tactic was promised should locals resist British forces.

• A young American local was captured and put into the servitude of a British officer.  The young American refused to black the officer’s boots and was struck on the head with a saber.  He wore the scar into the Whitehouse as President Andrew Jackson.


KING’S MOUNTAIN  October 7, 1780

 King’s Mountain was one of the most dramatic American victories of the Revolution.  In one hour, the British lost 1/3 of their entire force in the south.  During the battle, there was only one Brit on the entire field.  Major Patrick Ferguson was a well regarded officer in the British army.  He was considered one of the best rifle shots in the army and certainly one of the best on the American continent at the time of the Revolution.  At King’s Mountain he commanded a Loyalist force of about 1000. 

 King’s Mountain is, even today, a very out of the way place.  Ferguson arrayed his men on the top of the mountain.  The ground on which he fought was about ¼ of a mile long with a flat plateau that ranges from about 10 yards to 30 yards in width.  The sides of the mountain are steep and boulder strewn.

 Given the conventional fighting paradigm of the time, it is not clear why he chose this location.  European warfare involved volleyed fore from muskets and bayonet charges.  The fighting ground of King’s Mountain was not conducive to this form of fighting.

 Ferguson’s force was largely local tory militia with several companies of Loyalist Regulars from New York City and New Jersey.

 The American forces were largely local riflemen.  There were some Virginians at the battle.  The Americans arrived at the fight after traveling 30 miles on horseback, non-stop in a rain storm.  They had little food and did not stop to refresh themselves before entering the fight.  They arrayed themselves around the mountain and fought from tree to tree. 

 The Americans fired on the Loyalists from distances of 200 yards and beyond.  British forces used weapons that were accurate to 100 yards or less.  Orders to the Americans were that “every man be his own officer”.  Some fighting was hand to hand, but largely,  the Americans, when confronted with a bayonet charge, simply withdrew to a location where they could effectively use their rifles outside the range of the Loyalist muskets.

 The ferocity of the Americans was an admixture of their natural disposition and reaction to Col. Tarelton’s conduct at Waxhaws as well as personal business with some of the local Loyalists who had engaged in atrocities on local non-combatants. The terrain of King’s Mountain was ideally suited for a fighting style that suited riflemen operating as individuals and small groups.

 The battle ended with Ferguson’s entire command killed, wounded or captured.  It also left Gen. Cornwallis’ entire left flank exposed causing him to withdraw northward and eventually to Yorketowne, VA.  Along with the prisoners, Americans captured 1500 weapons, 17 wagons of supplies, powder and lead.  

 While rifles and riflemen played prominent roles in other American victories during the Revolution, in no other battle did they play such a singular role.


COWPENS, SC  January 17, 1781

 Like King’s Mountain, Hannah’s Cowpens is very much out of the way, even today.  King’s Mountain was well known to the locals because it was a deer hunting camp.  Cowpens was well known because it was used as a natural pasture for the keeping of cattle.  An open area, surrounded by dense growth trees and brush, cattle tended to stay in place to graze.  A road, well traveled at the time ran through the center of the clearing.

 *Col. Banastre Tarelton (the Butcher) commanded the British Regulars in this engagement.  He was a fierce fighter who commanded a contingent of Dragoons.  His command was about 1000 men.  He was reputed to “take no prisoners”.  In his command were some of the fiercest fighters in the British army.  He intended to destroy any American forces and patriot sympathizers in South Carolina.

 Daniel Morgan was the architect of the American victory at Cowpens.  He was an experienced fighter on a personal and military level.  He had commanded rifle units from early in the war.  He used riflemen to turn victories in Boston, Monmouth Courthouse and Saratoga.  He was regularly a determining factor in major American victories.  His experience had taught him how to best integrate the various qualities of riflemen, militia and regulars.  He understood how the British fought and how to use their techniques against them.  He did just that at Cowpens.

 Tarelton arrayed his forces at one end of the pasture.  They began their march towards the other end of the pasture where the American regulars waited, just after dawn. ( This was the final battle in the wonderful movie, "The Pariot").

 Morgan placed his men in four groups.  At the very front were riflemen.  These fighters were told to reduce the British forces, particularly the officers by 1/3.  They did that and then withdrew to the right rear of the American line.

 Next, militia were placed and told to fire two volleys into the advancing British ranks, and then they too were to withdraw to the rear of the regulars.  They did so further reducing the British force.

 The regulars were to stand and fight the remainder of the British force.  American Dragoons were kept out of sight to the right side of the American lines to engage Tarelton’s Dragoons when they tried to sweep the American militia as they retreated to form again to the flank of the American Regulars line for harassment of the British while they engaged the American Regulars.

 As the British line closed on the American Regulars, several American units turned away from the battle line and marched, in perfect military order, away, “trailing arms”. 

 The British army had no system for loading weapons on the move.  They regarded the firing of the weapon as an intimidation action.  The bayonet charge was the chief tactic.  The British did not even use aimed fire in attack.  Americans, on the other hand, used aimed fire regularly.

 Seeing the American Regulars turning away from their line of advance, the British charged.  With their lines seriously depleted, especially of officers, the formation was scattered.  Trailing arms was a technique Americans used to reload their weapons while on the move.  When the British were about 25 yards away from the American lines, the order was given to turn about and fire.  The volley from the American guns was devastating on the remaining British forces.  The order was then given to the American force to “give them the bayonet”.  The fight was over, with one small exception.

 Tarelton was at the front.  When he saw his troops falter and then surrender he knew he was in serious danger of capture.  Col. William Washington, American Dragoons was in similar peril.  He had managed to get about 30 yards in front of his dragoons.  Washington was set upon by Tarelton and two other British officers.  Washington’s sergeant came up just in time to thwart a saber blow to Washington.  Another British officer turned his saber on Washington and was shot by Washington’s servant boy.  All the while, Tarelton and Washington clashed sabers.  Tarelton seeing his predicament shot Washington’s horse and galloped away.

So ended the battle of Cowpens.



 The current conventional view of the riflemen and the militia that fought in the Revolution, as largely without military significance seems to be predicated on views as diverse as accepting a face value the comments of general officers of the time and the social political dispositions of present day revisionist historians.

 Historians point to comments made by Washington about the First Continental Regiment, a rifle unit, and the militia.  Certainly, Washington can be relied upon for his accurate reporting.  He can also be relied upon to have accepted the dogma of European tactics.  Once the decision was made to allow the British to determine the format of battles, the ability to fit the militia and riflemen into that mold was beyond problematic.  When that format was rejected, as with Concord, King’s Mountain, or Saratoga, the British paid the price.  When the skills of the riflemen and militia were integrated into a total system of battle dictated by the British form of warfare, as with Cowpens, the British still paid a price.

 When riflemen fought under conditions that devalued the bayonet, the riflemen exacted terrible tolls.  Militia showed up when their homes were in danger.  They were there to protect their families.  They were there to stop the enemy, not play on his terms using some artificial set of rules set by the enemy to favor his specific tools.  To conclude militia was “unreliable” because they went home when they realized they were expected to engage on terms set by the enemy, that put the militia men at a decided disadvantage, is to ignore the obvious implications of their voluntary presence.  They came to fight, and fight they did.  If in the course of fighting for their homes and families, they were killed, such was fortune.  They did not come to be used as cannon fodder.

 The other obvious that is ignored is that no one sent them away.

 While Washington bristled at the behavior of the First Continental Regiment, he used them throughout the war.  They were always in harms way.  They were between the Regulars and the enemy at all times.  Washington used them to scout and skirmish to his front and to cover his retreats.  He used them to protect his army.  That hardly sounds like he found them of little value.     

* Banastre Tarleton - Military Career:

In 1775, Tarleton obtained permission to leave the 1st King's Dragoon Guards and proceeded to America with General George Cornwallis. His actions in the New York Campaign of 1776 quickly earned him a promotion to major and he was assigned to serve under Colonel William Harcourt. On Friday December 13, 1776, while on a scouting mission, Tarleton's patrol surrounded a house in Basking Ridge, NJ where American Major General Charles Lee was staying. Tarleton was able to compel Lee's surrender by threatening to burn the building down.

After continuing to provide able service, he traveled south with the British Army in 1780, where he aided in the capture of Charleston, SC. Leading a mixed force of cavalry and light infantry known as the British Legion and Tarleton's Raiders, Tarleton patrolled the Carolinas in search of American troops. On May 29, 1780, his men fell upon 350 Virginia Continentals led by Abraham Buford. In the ensuing Battle of Waxhaws, Tarleton's men butchered Buford's command, despite an American attempt to surrender, killing 113 and capturing 203. Of the captured men, 150 were too wounded to move and were left behind.

Known as the "Waxhaws Massacre" to the Americans it, along with his cruel treatment of the populace, cemented Tarleton's image as a heartless commander. Through the remainder of 1780, Tarleton's men pillaged the countryside instilling fear and earning him the nicknames "Bloody Ban" and "Butcher." During this time he sought to suppress the operations of Brigadier General Francis Marion and his guerillas, but with no success. Marion's careful treatment of civilians earned him their trust and support, while Tarleton's behavior alienated all those he encountered.

In the latter half of 1780, Tarleton aided in the British victory at Camden, and fought minor engagements at Fishing Creek and Blackstock Hill. Instructed in January 1781, to destroy an American command led by Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, Tarleton rode west seeking the enemy. Tarleton found Morgan at an area in western South Carolina known as the Cowpens. In the battle that followed on January 17, Morgan destroyed Tarleton's command and routed him from the field. Fleeing back to Cornwallis, Tarleton fought in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and later commanded a failed attempt to capture Thomas Jefferson.

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the 

animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsel

or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set

lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.”

Samuel Adams, 1775

God bless our forefathers.

God save us from what has become our oppressive and tyrannical government.


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