As we see “Old Glory” wave on the 4th of July and raise our voices in strains of “The Star Spangled Banner,” may the colors of red, white and blue bring to remembrance the sacrifices of many for the cost of freedom. Long ago a wise man named Thomas Campbell wrote: “The Patriots’ blood is the seed of Freedom’s tree.”
Several of those who had relatives that later came to Union County to settle engaged the enemy at the Battle of King’s Mountain during the Revolutionary War. This decisive fray occurred on October 7, 1780. The battle was a definite turning point for the American Continental Army. After defeats to the British and Tories (Americans loyal to the British Crown) at the fall of Charleston, the Battle of Waxhaws, and Camden, all occurring in South Carolina in the summer of 1780, the Overmountain Men entered the picture. Mountain militia men made up of settlers west of the mountains in Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina rallied a group that marched “over the mountains” (hence the name “Overmountain Men”) to Major Patrick Ferguson’s stronghold at King’s Mountain. Ferguson, a Tory leader, directed by British General Charles, Earl of Cornwallis, had made the threat that they would “lay waste the countryside (of the frontier settlers) with fire and sword.”
The Overmountain Men would not give in to such a threat from Ferguson and Cornwallis. Instead of that prediction coming true, the wiry mountain men made plans to thwart the enemy. The patriots made a U-shaped entrenchment around the mountain where the Tory and British forces were ensconced. About 3 p. m. on October 7, 1780, William Campbell told his mountain men to attack. Other flanks were led by John Sevier, Isaac Shelby, Benjamin Cleveland and other notable patriots under whom our ancestors served nobly.
At the end of the Battle of King’s Mountain, 28 of the Patriots had been killed and 62 wounded. The battle’s toll on the Tory and British side numbered 157 killed, 163 severely wounded and left on the field to die, and 698 captured. The King’s Mountain Battle was a prelude to the final victory at Yorktown a year later on October 17, 1781.
Revolutionary War soldier, John Nicholson, whose grave is in the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church Cemetery in Union County, fought at one of the battles before King’s Mountain. He was at the Battle of Camden where General Gates of the British Army was defeated. His second major battle was at Guilford Court House. Later he was with Colonel Sevier, and may have been at King’s Mountain, although his record does not so indicate.
Revolutionary War soldier Michael Tanner, whose grave is in the Old Choestoe Cemetery, Union County, had the signal honor of being at Yorktown when General George Washington engineered the surrender of British General Cornwallis. To have stood among the American allied forces there, composed of 8,000 Continental Army troops, 3,000 militiamen (of which Michael Tanner was one) and augmented by the 15,000 French sailors who blocked Cornwallis’s escape in the harbor, victory after long years of struggle became a reality.
Another ancestor to many of us, John Henry Stonecypher, Jr., whose grave is at the Stonecypher Family Cemetery, Eastanollee, Georgia, was a soldier at the famous battle of King’s Mountain. He also fought at the Battle of Okimish at Beattie’s Ford on the Catawba River, at the Battle of Camden under General Gates, and at Guilford Court House. His three years of Revolutionary War service were fraught with dangers, near-death, and bravery that we can hardly imagine.
We could multiply stories such as these for any war for freedom in which America has engaged since that day of declaring America’s independence in 1776. Today our battles are more subtle and insidious. Just yesterday I read a speech of a Dutch patriot who warned present-day Americans and Europeans of the creeping “take-over” by powerful forces that work in underhanded ways to malign freedom. Edward R. Murrow, that famed American newscaster of the twentieth century stated, “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”
The adage often attributed to George Washington, but stated also, in slightly different words by Thomas Paine, John Philpot Curran, Plato and others holds very true: “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”
In this season of our nation’s birthday, I plan to think deeply and gratefully about the freedoms I enjoy as an American. I will not take freedom for granted. My brother, Eugene Dyer, did not take it for granted when he served as a gunner over Europe during World War II and earned the purple heart and other distinguished service awards.
We are often more prone to criticize America than to stand firm for its principles of freedom and harmony. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche made a notable observation when he stated “Freedom is the will to be responsible to ourselves.”
When we salute our flag may we know that the red represents the blood, war, love, power, intensity, energy, passion and strength it has taken to make and keep America free. The blue represents peace, stability, harmony, unity, trust, truth, order, loyalty and security of a strong nation. The white stands for reverence, purity, humility and innocence America had at the birth of our nation 234 years ago. May we recognize, too, that it will take far more than the idea to keep winning and maintaining freedom. Freedom must become a way of life for all of us, responsible, wise and in-depth freedom not couched in selfishness but in harmony and giving, in vigilance and gratitude.
c 2010 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 1, 2010 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.