OVTA celebrates 30th anniversary

By Rozella Hardin
star staff

  This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association re-enactment and commemoration of the Overmountain Men's Campaign to the Battle of King's Mountain.
  The 2004 re-enactment, which gets underway Friday, is dedicated to the memory of Conrad Schliske, who was the last active founder of the OVTA.
  The initial event of the re-enactment will be a ceremony Friday at 3:30 p.m. at the grave of Robert Young, the man credited with bringing down the British commander at Kings Mountain. Young's grave is located in the cemetery behind the former National Guard Armory at 2117 W. Market St. in Johnson City.
  On Saturday, September 25, the crossing of the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals is scheduled at 2 p.m. by marchers from Southwest Virginia. Re-enactment participants will muster at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area on Sunday, Sept. 26, for the march to King's Mountain. Grant Hardin, playing the part of Samuel Doak, will begin with a prayer. The prayer service will be held at 8 a.m., after which marchers will begin their trek, stopping at the grave of Mary Patton in the Patton-Simmons Cemetery. Mary Patton made the gunpowder the patriots carried to King's Mountain.
  At 2 p.m. on Sunday, the OVTA will participate in the fall festival at Roan Mountain State Park.
  Lobbied by citizens along the trail - all the way from Southwest Virginia through Tennessee and North Carolina - Congress authorized the trail in September, 1980. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail preserves and commemorates the campaign leading up to the battle of King's Mountain in 1780. The first national historic trail in the eastern United States, it stretches some 330 miles, passing through portions of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Administered by the National Park Service as a unit of the National Park System, the OVT is a unique connector to the past and present, as well as of cultural and natural resources along its route.
  The Story Behind the March
  The OVT re-enactment re-tells the story of the Overmountain Men and how they helped win America's independence.
  It was the summer of 1780, four years after the American colonies had declared their independence from Britain's King George III on the Fourth of July, 1776. It was five years since the fighting had begun in New England. To hasten the end of war, the British had begun their southern strategy. They planned to capture the port cities along the southern coast of the colonies and to march through the Carolinas and Virginia gathering to themselves an army of militiamen whom they believed were still loyal to the King. With this army, they would march northward to attack General George Washington and his Continental Army.
  The British army under General Lord Charles Cornwallis had won several major battles in South Carolina that summer and the army looked unstoppable. Unstoppable, it seemed, until the Loyalist army protecting his left flank, under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson, ran into a skirmish with some patriot militiamen on the frontier. These were hunters and farmers who lived on the edge of the settled colonies. They were independent in spirit and determined in action. And they knew how to fight - "Indian style."
  Ferguson was irritated by their tactics of fighting from behind rocks and trees and letting out war hoops - they were called the "yelling boys." Angry, Ferguson sent a threatening message to the Overmountain men: "It you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders and lay your country waste with fire and sword."
  The threat reached frontier militia leaders Isaac Shelby and John Sevier who lived in the Overmountain regions of what was then North Carolina, but is today East Tennessee. They conferred and devised a strategy to protect their homes. They called together a band of 1,000 frontier militiamen and set out to intercept Ferguson before he could come over the mountains to attack them.
  They mustered at Sycamore Shoals on Sept. 25 and prepared themselves for a long march and a fierce battle. They prepared meat and bread, lead balls, and gun powder. On the morning on Sept. 26, they rode out on horseback looking for a fight. On October 7 they met Ferguson at King's Mountain - and the rest is history. The Overmountain Men defeated Ferguson and his men, and many historians say the battle was the turning point in the Revolutionary War.
  The re-enactment is open to everyone. As much as possible, re-enactors walk the original route and camp in the same campsites. It is a combination of trail and road walking along with car camping. Historical events are re-enacted along the trail, and interpretive programs are given for school children.
  The Grand Marshal for the 2004 Walk is Bob Hardin, an Elizabethton native, who has written a book on the OVT and is working with others to preserve parts of the original trail.