DescriptionWhile Colonel Sumter and his delegation headed east to Hillsborough to see Governor Rutledge about resolving the dispute over command, the three militia groups (Sumter, Williams, and Graham) departed Sherrill’s Ford. From Sherrill’s they marched west toward Quaker Meadows intending to join with the militiamen under Shelby, McDowell, and Cleveland.
On October 2, Colonel Williams wrote a letter to Gates from their position “seventy miles from Salisbury in the fork of the Catawba,” as he described it. He put “Burk [Burke] County” before the date. Apparently affirming his right to command, he declared in his letter that he was then in command of 450 mounted men. His letter read in part:
“This moment another of my express is arrived from Colonels M’Dowell and Shelby. They were on their march, near Burk Courthouse, with one thousand five hundred brave mountain men, and Colonel Cleveland was within ten miles of them with eight hundred men, and was to form a junction with them this day. I expect to join them to-morrow, in pursuit of Colonel Ferguson, and, under the direction of Heaven, I hope to be able to render your honour a good account of him in a few days.” [More realistic estimates of the number of men in each group were 1,000 and 350.]
After Williams had dispatched this express, another messenger, or perhaps Colonel Charles McDowell on his way to Hillsborough, arrived to advise the colonels that Campbell, Shelby, Cleveland and the others were departing from Bedford Hill on October 3 and were marching toward Gilbert Town where they expected to find Colonel Ferguson.
Hypothesis: William Lee Anderson III, author of Lincoln County Men at Kings Mountain, has concluded from his recent research (2015) that Lyman C. Draper’s account of the march route passing through Lincoln County is in error. Draper discounted Williams’s statement that he was in Burke County and 70 miles from Salisbury. Draper wrote that the militiamen under Williams, Hill, Lacey, and Graham rode through the center of Lincoln County by way of Ramsour’s Mill. No mention of such a route has yet been found in available revolutionary war pension applications, but Draper may have had sources yet to be identified. (See: Anderson, William Lee III, “Lincoln County Men at Kings Mountain”, 2009-2015, http://www.elehistory.com/amrev/LincolnCountyMenAtKingsMountain.pdf)
Anderson accepts Williams’s statements that he was “in the forks of the Catawba,” “in Burke County,” and “seventy miles from Salisbury.” Taking these together, Anderson suggests that Williams was probably near today’s Valdese. It is on a ridge between the Catawba River and Henry Fork, a tributary to the South Fork Catawba River. (The land between the South Fork and the Catawba River was and is known as “the forks of the Catawba.”) The hypothesized location is at least 60 miles from Salisbury and the accuracy of Williams’s estimate of the distance is unknown. Moreover, if Williams, who was heading toward Quaker Meadows did learn at that point that Shelby, Campbell and the others had already departed for Gilbert Town, the militiamen’s actual route along the east side of the South Mountains is reasonable. The fact that these groups of militia then camped at the Flint Hills follows logically from a previous camping site hear Valdese.
One account by Capt. David Vance and Robert Henry reveals an interesting sequence of events at this point in the story. They state that “Billy” Chronicle and his 20 Lincoln County men joined with the march of Campbell, Shelby, and Cleveland along Cane Creek at a spot not far from "Probit's Place." This is likely in the upper Cane Creek watershed just below Bedford Hill. Perhaps not long after, at the spot where Camp Creek flows into Second Broad River just above Cane Creek, William Graham and the rest of the Lincoln County Militia, about 160, joined in the march, according to Vance. How they arrived at that spot is speculative, but they brought with them news that Ferguson had already departed Gilbert Town and had crossed the Broad River at Twitty’s Ford. Graham reported that Ferguson was headed toward Ninety-Six and the safety of “Crudger” [loyalist Col. John Cruger]. (“King’s Mountain Expedition” by David Vance and Robert Henry, Annual Publication of Historical Papers, Series III, Historical Society of Trinity College, Durham, NC, 1899)
A route down the east side of the South Mountains, then called Montague Hills, would have led Williams’s men to the encampment in the Flint Hills. It appears that William Graham and the Lincoln County Militia rode on west toward Cane Creek apparently attempting to catch up to Campbell, Shelby, and Cleveland as they approached Gilbert Town from the north. It might be that Williams proceeded by this different route toward Gilbert Town, holding his men at Flint Hills while he rode ahead to confer with the other colonels about their planned attack on Ferguson supposed to be at Gilbert Town. He might have ridden ahead with only one fellow officer, perhaps, Colonel Brandon by one account or Major Hammond by another. One can speculate that upon Williams’s conference with these other officers, he learned of Graham’s report that Ferguson had already left Gilbert Town and was headed to Ninety-Six. The officers may have agreed then on a rendezvous point in that direction, and Williams may have ridden back to prepare this men to march to “the old iron mill on Lawson’s Fork,” as William Hill reports in his account.
During Williams’s absence, it may be that Hill and Lacey learned of Ferguson’s actual intent to join Cornwallis at Charlotte. Upon Williams’s return from Gilbert Town to his command, he found himself confronted with Hill and Lacey arguing to march east toward Charlotte and he, Williams, wanting to march south to the rendezvous point he had agreed to with the other colonels. At that point, Hill and Lacey may well have decided to alert Campbell and the others to what they had learned, hence Colonel Lacey’s daring night ride to find and to advise Campbell, Shelby, Cleveland, and Graham. Upon, Lacey’s return to the Flint Hills encampment on the morning of October 6, Williams would have learned that Campbell and the others had indeed changed their plans, hence Williams and his men all rode to The Cowpens. Only in Hill’s biased recounting of these details is any malice of intent ascribed to Williams and his decisions. As were all these officers, they were simply making the best decisions they could at the time with the information they had. This is a speculative explanation, of course, but one offered to account for the movements of the parties involved and without giving credence to the aspersions Hill cast on the character and intentions of Colonel James Williams.