71st Foot, Inspector of Militia
The Scottish Enlightenment's Swashbuckling
"A Man of Some
M M Gilchrist
National Museums of Scotland, 2003,
ISBN 1 901663 74 4
Available from the National Museums of Scotland and
the Royal Armouries
Orderable from good bookshops and on the net:
The 'Bulldog': thin, wiry, implausibly swashbuckling designer
of the Ferguson Breechloading Rifle. Gentle, cultured, a gallant
spirit with an elfin face and a witty sense of humour even in the
face of crippling disability, Pattie is perhaps the most endearing of
18C military heroes. He wrote verses, cracked jokes even about
unanaesthetised surgery, and left a charming legacy of letters and
legends in his wake.
(The portrait here is a miniature from life in a private
collection. He is dressed as an officer of the light infantry company
of the 70th Foot, with his hair in light infantry style - the braided
queue pinned to the top of his head.Unpowdered, it was brown - some
of it is in the back of the frame!)
was at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment - they knew the
Ramsays, Hume, Home, Smollett, Adam Ferguson, & c. They lived on
3 floors (another floor was their servants' quarters) of a 7-storey
tenement on the High Street, east of Roxburgh's Close, where our boy
was probably born on 24 May (OS)/4 June (NS) 1744.
Visit our Scottish
Tour to see some of the places associated with him and his
family in Edinburgh,
(He also had the usual quota of embarrassing Jacobite relatives:
Uncle Sandy Murray who plotted with Charles Edward Stuart to abduct
or assassinate the entire royal family; it didn't work, as the "with
Charles Edward Stuart" bit tends to louse up anything! Then there was
cousin Margaret Johnstone, Lady Ogilvy, who escaped from Edinburgh
Castle in male drag...)
In 1756, when Pattie was 12, his father purchased an ensigncy for
him in his uncle Colonel James Murray's regiment, the 15th Foot, but
it was cancelled, since, with war brewing, he was too "young &
little" to be of service. In 1759, shortly after his fifteenth
birthday, Pattie was bought a Cornetcy in the Royal North British
Dragoons (Scots Greys). However, he did not join his regiment until
1761. For nearly two years he studied at the Royal Military Academy
in Woolwich, on the recommendation of Uncle Jamie (by then General
Murray - Wolfe's successor, and Military Governor of Quebec). There
he developed a lifelong interest in the design of fortifications,
under the tuition of the noted expert John Muller.
Pattie embarked for Germany with his regiment in spring 1761, to
serve in the Seven Years' War. His active service was cut short at
the turn of 1761-2 by a leg ailment, possibly TB, which kept him
bedridden in Osnabrück for six months. He returned home in
summer 1762, and spent a year convalescing in Edinburgh with his
parents, and at Pitfour (which he had never visited before) with his
father's spinster sister, Aunt Betty (1698-1781). He also found time
to flirt with several of the young ladies of Buchan! With rest, he
recovered, but remained prone to arthritis if he overtaxed his
Pattie returned to the Greys in August 1763. He spent the next 5
years travelling around Britain with them from Kelso as far south as
Kent and East Sussex on garrison and policing duty (there was no
regular police force until the 19C.). In 1766, Pattie twice visited
France. On his first visit, he went to see the Jacobite Lord Ogilvy,
widower of his cousin Margaret Johnstone. On the second trip, he
intended to study at a French military academy in Angers, but was
sidetracked by the social life of Paris.
In 1768, Pattie bought a company in his cousin Lieut. Col.
Alexander Johnstone's regiment, 70th Foot. The commission was cheap,
since the regiment was sailing for the West Indies, for garrison duty
on islands ceded by the French in 1763. Pattie arrived in spring
1769. He combated scurvy among his troops by making them cultivate
their own fruit and vegetables. He also taught himself to play the
fiddle. Taking a lead from his cousin Colonel Johnstone, who had
purchased a plantation, Pattie bought a sugar estate for the family
at Castara on Tobago.
But by 1771 his health was suffering. Circumstancial evidence
suggests his arthritic leg was troubling him again. He returned to
Britain via either Boston or New York in 1772, before the rest of his
regiment took part in quelling the Carib Revolt. His younger brother
George sailed out to replace him as "laird" of Castara.
Pattie was living in London in 1773. In 1774, he took part in a
training camp for Light Infantry at Salisbury, organised by General
Sir William Howe, who had established permanent light companies in
the army in 1771. Pattie's interest in and aptitude for light
infantry work drew Howe's attention even at this early stage - and
Howe would remember him 2 years later. It was apparently after this,
c. 1775, that Pattie embarked upon designing the Ferguson Rifle, a
modification of Chaumette and Bidet's breechloading system for
At the turn of 1775-6, Pattie was back in Scotland. In April, he
went to London to try to interest Lord Townshend in his rifle design.
He eventually succeeded, and by May was at the Tower of London,
supervising the making of trial models and taking part in tests
before leading generals and dignitaries. The trial on 1 June received
full coverage in the Annual Register. On 4 July, while the Rebel
Continental Congress voted for independence and sent its declaration
for publication, Pattie was in Birmingham supervising the manufacture
of the first 100 Ferguson Rifles made for military service.
Pattie presented the King with sketches and a description of the
rifle. Via Major Cuyler, Howe's ADC, he received the General's
backing, and petitioned the King to command an experimental rifle
corps in the Colonies.
The rifle patent was approved on 2 December 1776, and he also
received private orders from individual officers and the East India
Company for rifles. These helped his finances: he had got into debt
through paying for the early models and trials from his own Captain's
pay, and had borrowed money from relatives to pay for the patent. He
was already working on a small field-gun.
In January 1777 he received permission from Townshend and General
Harvey to train 200 recruits at Chatham for his experimental corps.
However, with news of defeats at Trenton and Princeton, he was
ordered to make ready more quickly, with only 100 men. He officially
received his command on 6 March. His instructions were that at the
end of one campaign, he and his men were to be returned to their
original regiments, unless Howe specified otherwise.
In March 1777, Pattie and his corps sailed on the
Christopher to New York, where they arrived on 26 May. The
experimental field piece blew up in its first test, having been sent
out with the wrong size of ammunition. However, the corps - uniformed
in the green cloth which had been sent out with them - saw some
action in New Jersey. They took part in the expedition to the
Chesapeake, where Howe, a light infantry enthusiast, was impressed
with them. He assured Pattie that he intended to expand the rifle
corps. Unfortunately, events at Brandywine
on 11 September 1777 ended these prospects.
Ferguson's Corps performed well in the battle, fighting alongside
the Queen's Rangers, under James Wemyss. Pattie had the chance to
pick off a important-looking Rebel officer, but declined to do so for
reasons of honour. He was later told in hospital that the officer may
have been Washington, but this cannot be proven with certainty.
(Knowing the sense of humour some medics have, it may have been a
wind-up...) Pattie, at any rate, believed it was, and wrote, "I am
not Sorry that I did not know all the time who it was". There were
graver matters on his mind.
Moments after the alleged encounter with Washington, a musket
ball shattered Pattie's right elbow-joint. He spent the winter in
Philadelphia, under threat of amputation. He endured numerous
unanaesthetised operations to remove bone splinters which repeatedly
broke open his wounds. In November, he also received news of his
father's death in June. Yet in letters home, he bravely made jokes
about his operations.
he was never again able to wield his limbs as before. His right arm
was crippled, permanently bent at the elbow: he later received the
King's Bounty for its effective loss. He therefore learned to write,
fence and shoot left-handed. It was 13 May 1778 before he was fit to
return to duty - still wearing a sling. His rifle corps had been
disbanded This fact has given rise to a variety of dubious conspiracy
theories, especially in American secondary works: claims that the
corps was suspended because of Howe's 'jealousy', & c., but this
is dubious, to say the least. The rifle company had been set up as an
experiment, a field trial for one campaign only. As already noted,
Patrick's orders were that he was to return to his own regiment at
the end of that campaign, unless Howe "should have a further occasion
for his services". What further services could be expected from a
rifleman with a smashed arm, threatened with amputation? Under 18C
medical conditions, it was not unreasonable to assume he would never
again be fit for command. Besides, Howe, who had talent-spotted him
in 1774, and been supportive, was on the point of returning to
Britain just as Pattie returned to duty. Similarly, the oft-touted
(American) idea that the corps' disbandment turned the course of what
was now a world war does not bear scrutiny.
Pattie accepted that he would have to wait until he returned to
Britain before he could devote more time to perfecting his rifle, and
does not seem to have lost much sleep over it. He was less obsessive
about that particular project than many later American writers on it
have been. He threw his energies into building a working relationship
with Howe's successor, Sir Henry Clinton. His first engagement since
he was disabled was the battle of Monmouth,
NJ (thanks again,
Glenn!), but his
rôle in it remains obscure. Back in New York, he impressed
Clinton with treatises on strategy and military ethics. He was given
command of a new unit of light troops, a mixed command of regulars
and Loyal Americans. Barely a year after he was disabled, he led them
on daring raids against Rebel salt works and privateer bases at
Chestnut Neck and Egg Harbor in New Jersey (15 October 1778). Heavy
casualties were inflicted on the enemy, but he tried to avoid harming
That winter in New York, Pattie wrote satirical essays for
Rivington's Royal Gazette as
Egg-Shell (in riposte to Pulaski's self-justifying account of
Egg Harbor), John Bull and Memento Mori, published in
several issues through November and December. As it is the shortest
of the pieces, and one of the most deliciously sarcastic, here is
The Royal Gazette, publ.
by James Rivington, New York, no. 220,
Saturday 7 November 1778, p. 3:
New-York, November 7.
Extract of a letter from General Count Polaski, to the
President of the Congress, dated October 16, 1778.
For fear that my first letter concerning my engagement should
miscarry or be delayed, and having other particulars to mention, I
thought proper to send you this letter.
"You must know that one Juliet an officer, lately deserted from
the enemy, went off to them two days ago, with three men whom he
debauched and two others whom they forced with them, the enemy
excited without doubt by this Juliet, attacked us the 15th instant,
at three o'clock in the morning, with 400 men. They seemed at first
to attack our pickets and infantry with fury, who lost a few men in
retreating; then the enemy advanced to our infantry. The Lieutenant
Colonel Baron de Bose, who headed his men and fought vigorously, was
killed with several bayonet wounds, as well as the Lieutenant de la
Borderie, and a small number of soldiers and others were wounded.
This slaughter would not have ceased so soon, if on the first alarm I
had not hastened with my cavalry to support the infantry, which then
kept a good countenance. The enemy soon fled in great disorder, and
left behind them a great quantity of arms, accoutrements, hats,
"We took some prisoners and should have taken many had it not been
for a swamp through which our horses could scarce walk:
Notwithstanding this we still advanced in hopes to come up with them,
but they had taken up the planks of a bridge for fear of being
overtaken, which accordingly saved them; however, my light-infantry
and particularly the company of rifle-men, got over the remains of
the plank and fired some vollies on their rear. We had the advantage
and made them run again, although they were more in number.
"I would not permit my hunters to pursue any further, because I
could not assist them, and they returned again to our line, without
any loss at that time.
"Our loss is estimated, dead, wounded and absent, about 25 or 30
men, and some horses. That of the enemy appears to be much more
considerable. We had cut of the retreat of about 25 men, who retired
into the country and the woods, and we cannot find them; the general
opinion is, that they are concealed by the tories in the
neighbourhood of this encampment."
In Congress, 17th October, 1778.
Ordered to be published,
HENRY LAURENS, President.
To the PRESIDENT of the CONGRESS.
AS you have thought proper to favour the public with a letter from
General Comte Polaski, in explanation of one previously wrote by that
gentleman, concerning what he is pleased to call his late engagement;
(altho' I have generally understood that term to imply a little
fighting) and as the second letter, which alone has been
produced, leaves the public almost as much at a loss as that which
remains buried in the dark and hollow bosom of the Congress; give me
leave to present you with a few remarks, until the Comte shall be
pleased to do it the justice he meant for the first, by sending an
interpretation of his own to attend upon it.
First then, sir, - Had not the Comte, by the bad choice of his
cantonments and neglect of measures necessary for their security,
invited an enemy to insult him with a certainty of impunity, persons
coming from him could scarce have prevailed upon a small detachment
of foot, without either artillery or support, to have committed
itself in a country so near the imperial seat of the mighty Congress,
among a body of foot, horse and field artillery, known to be many
times its number, exclusive of the militia of the province of Jersey,
which must have become pretty numerous after a ten days
invasion, unless indeed the Congress has entirely lost its credit
and authority, and the people have learnt to distinguish their
Secondly - Had the Comte ever been near to the detatchment that
attacked and took entire possession of the quarters of the three
companies that composed the infantry of his legion, he would have
discovered that it did not amount to two hundred men, exclusive of
fifty that remained a mile behind for the protection of the bridge,
which the Comte so obligingly lent to them for a spare hour;
or indeed had he or any of his surviving officers, amidst the variety
of fireings, pursuits and military evolutions, in which it seems they
were in a very secret manner employed that morning, approached within
view either of their enemy's or of the boats in which they
reimbarked, they would neither have deceived themselves nor their
august masters in this manner.
Thirdly, had the Comte joined his infantry in any reasonable time,
he must have added, that all their quarters were not only forced, but
every officer and man in them cut off, except a few who escaped
unarmed to conceal themselves in the neighbouring brakes, and some
prisoners who, after the success of the attack was certain, were
saved from the bayonnets of the soldiers.
The Comte pays no great compliments to his corps, when he says,
that only two officers (out of nine that were with his infantry)
stood to hazard their lives in trying to rally their men. In his next
letter of amendments he ought in justice to inform you, that seven
lost their lives on that occasion.
To save him the trouble of recollection the following are the
names of five of them:
Lieutenant Colonel Bose,
commanding the infantry.
Captain Fray, of the first company.
Captain Zecont of the second company.
Lieutenant Broderie, and
Lieutenant Stegs of the light-horse.
There were two other Lieutenants left for dead in their quarters,
but the prisoners, altho' they knew the faces, did not recollect the
names which were foreign.
And with regard to his loss in men, which it is humbly presumed
amounts to two thirds of his infantry, you will be enabled to form a
better idea of it, if you can prevail upon him to give in a return of
the number of infantry now really existing in his corps. - Had
the detachment been able to arrive at three o'clock, as the
Comte supposes, it would possibly have found time to visit the
stables, and to silence the fieldpiece with which he was amusing
himself in firing alarm guns from time to time to solicit his
neighbour Col. Proctor to his assistance. But the attack was not made
till near five, and day opened whilst the British soldiers having no
enemy before them, were ransacking the quarters of his late infantry.
There is always on such occasions a moment before the officers can
re-assemble their men, when a ready and enterprizing enemy may try
what stuff their assailants are made of: But for such a purpose,
there must be an officer capable of forming his plan instantly and
executing it resolutely, followed by men fit for a close jostle in
the dark. - Had the Comte and his horse been equal to such a task,
his enemies would at least have had occasion to discharge their
pieces, and would probably have had some men wounded, and possibly
some killed before he was repulsed. As it was, the Comte will be
pleased to allow that he had no occasion to hurt the wind of his
horses in the pursuit, and that his enemies moved off with a gravity
and leisure which could only be equalled by the modesty and respect
with which they were followed. He will also allow that the rear
guard, further to prevent unnecessary hurry and fatigue to his
horses, halted repeatedly in a very open and sound ground, even
before they reached the swamp and bridge which he with so much reason
complains of; and he will further allow that they spent a full hour
and a half in a retreat not exceeding two miles, so as to afford an
opportunity for his cavalry of coming within random shot at least,
without putting their horses to a trot, had they been so
In one respect however, to be candid, the Comte is right, his
enemies did withdraw from him; yet whatever opinion he may have
formed they certainly never meant to pass the season there, but only
to pay him a civil visit, and take their leave before they were
introduced to too many of his neighbours; not that they had any
objection to be accompanied a part of the way, in the very polite and
respectful manner in which he knows so well to behave to - his
As I wish not entirely to engross a subject which may be so much
better adorned by Comte Polaski's own illustrations, I shall leave
for him the following queries.
At what pace did his horse pursue? did they ever approach near
enough to exchange a shot?
What number did he kill? what number did he take, and how many
wounded were left behind in the flight?
Whether the wicked tories (who must be bewitched, not to reclaim
under so mild and free a government) have yet given up the five and
twenty men whose retreat he cut off? for we are made to believe that
there were only three men of the British detachment missing that
night, one of whom, a deserter, has enlisted in the Continentals,
another who it is presumed would rather smell strong if kept prisoner
above ground, and a third, who possibly in the confusion of a night
scramble may have lost himself, and remain the Compte's prisoner.
I have only to add that I am happy in affording Comte Polaski an
opportunity of so easily refuting the assertions above mentioned, by
producing the afore named officers of his legion said to be killed,
and the wounded men and other made prisoners by him in the various
actions he describes of that morning,
An officer who, in an unlucky or unguarded moment, should meet
with a misfortune to affect his military character, although even
exerting himself in a bad cause, will command the forbearance, if not
the sympathy, of his adversaries, providing he apologizes for his
conduct with modesty and candor; but if he should so far forget his
situation as to assume a merit, and make a triumphant recital,
founded on the grossest misrepresentation, concerning what a man of
reflection and feeling would naturally wish to have forgot, he has no
farther claim to commiseration.
Pattie associated with the Peace Commissioners, including his
cousin Commodore George Johnstone, and their Secretary Professor Adam
Ferguson of Edinburgh University, a family friend (no relation),
later his first biographer.
Early in 1779, Pattie led reconnaissance and mapping missions in
New York and New Jersey. His warnings to Clinton about the weak
fortifications on the Hudson were confirmed when Stony
Point fell to the Rebels on 16 July. On its return to British
hands 2 days later, he was given the task of refortifying it. Clinton
appointed him Governor and Commandant of Stony Point and of
Verplanck's Point on the opposite bank. Pattie expended much time and
effort on this post, only to be ordered to dismantle the works and
withdraw in autumn.
In December he was given command of the American Volunteers, made
up of New York and New Jersey Loyalists. They set sail on 26 December
1779, landing at Tybee a month later. On 7 February 1780 at Savannah,
Clinton formalised Pattie's provincial brevet as Lieutenant Colonel
of the American Volunteers, backdated to the beginning of December.
While in Savannah, Pattie drew up designs for refortifying the
On 14 March, Pattie was bayoneted through the left arm in a
'friendly fire' incident at MacPherson's Plantation, SC, when Major
Charles Cochrane and the British Legion infantry mistook his
encampment for that of the enemy. For 3 weeks, he had limited use of
his one good arm, but chivalrously forgave Cochrane.
During the siege of Charleston, Pattie worked closely with
Banastre Tarleton (1754-1833)
and the Legion horse, under Lieut.
Col. James Webster (1740-81), 33rd Foot, to cut off Rebel supply
routes. Pattie and 'Ban' worked well together, and, contrary to myth,
respected each other. Pattie regarded Tarleton, a Liverpool
merchant-shipping magnate's son, as "a very active gallant young
man", and the latter wrote well of him in his Campaigns. They
defeated Huger at Monck's Corner on 14 April. But that night a couple
of drunken Legion troopers, celebrating the victory, broke into Fair
Lawn Plantation and terrorised Jane Giles - a young Englishwoman
whose first husband had been Sir John Colleton, Bt. - and her 3
companions, of of whom, Anna Fayssoux, the wife of a Rebel army
surgeon, was sexually assaulted. Pattie sent men to arrest the
culprits, intending to execute them. Webster commuted the sentence to
flogging - if 'commuted' is the phrase for a punishment which could
kill more slowly. Ban supported the punishment of the offender. Mrs.
Giles (still often called "Lady Colleton") was a Loyalist.
Politically, it would have been damaging to let the incident go
unpunished. But from this incident, which actually preceded Pattie's
generous description of Ban, 19C American writers such as Washington
Irving and Lyman C. Draper derived the myth of enmity between the two
officers. This has been perpetuated by later writers.
On 18 April, Clinton confirmed Pattie in a permanent promotion, a
Majority in the 71st Foot (Fraser's Highlanders), back-dated to the
previous October. Pattie therefore gave up his brevet Lieutenant
Colonelcy, although he never served with the 71st Foot as a
regimental officer.He and his American Volunteers took part in the
capture of Fort Moultrie, of which they took command on 16 May, 4
days after the surrender of Charleston. He began to devise plans for
erecting fortifications to defend all the principal roads and
communications by land and sea in the province.
On 22 May, Pattie was appointed Inspector of Militia by Clinton,
to recruit and train local Loyalists, a post for which he refused to
accept any additional pay. He left Charleston on 26 May to march up
country. In June, he raised a regiment of 240 men at Orangeburg, but
his base for most of that summer was around Fort Ninety-Six. The
militia flocked to him, and he began training them to respond to
signals from his light infantry silver SILVER
Clinton had by now been succeeded by Charles, Lord Cornwallis, as
commander in the South. Cornwallis was less enthusiastic about using
militia, and also generally favoured his own appointees. This caused
problems for Pattie, since one of them, Lieut. Col. Nisbet Balfour
(1744-1823), was Commandant at Ninety-Six. Pattie had begun designing
fortifications for Ninety-Six, which he had forwarded directly to
Cornwallis and Clinton, not via Balfour, who often complained about
him in his letters to Cornwallis. But by August, rivalries at
Ninety-Six had eased. Balfour was posted to Charleston and replaced
by Col. John H. Cruger, a New Yorker. Work on Ninety-Six's defences
was under way by early September.
Pattie's men had been pursuing Clarke, who defeated Loyal militia
at Musgrove's Mill on 18 August. At Winn's Plantation the next day,
Pattie learned of the victory at Camden. He then set out to pursue
Sumter, but on 21 August learned that Tarleton had surprised and
defeated the 'Gamecock' at Fishing Creek. On 23 August, Pattie rode
to Camden to get new instructions from Cornwallis. He was to operate
on the left flank, detached from the main body of the army: to aid
the Loyalists, and forage from and punish the Rebels. Cornwallis had
misgivings about his chances, yet nevertheless authorised him to do
this - a decision he would regret, and for which Sir Henry Clinton
later castigated him.
Pattie marched his men up into North Carolina on 7 September.
Leaving most encamped, he took 50 American Volunteers and 300 militia
towards Gilbert Town and Cane Creek, to surprise McDowell. But
McDowell, like Clarke, Shelby and Williams, had withdrawn into the
Back Country. Pattie paroled a prisoner to warn these Rebels "that if
they did not desist from opposition... he would march his army over
the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with
fire and sword". Shelby passed on the message to Sevier, of the
Washington County Militia. They mobilised the other militias along
the Watauga. At Sycamore Shoals on 25 September, they were joined by
forces from Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas. Incited by the
fanatical Rev. Samuel Doak's sermons to wield "the Sword of the Lord
and of Gideon" in a holy war, they intended to destroy Patrick
Ferguson and his army. The son of Enlightenment Edinburgh was to face
a force motivated by the 17C militant bigotry own country had
Meanwhile, Pattie won numerous people over to the Loyal cause. On
24 September, 500 men came in. He and his troops left Gilbert Town on
27 September. He learned of the large Rebel advance from deserters
from Sevier. Pattie wrote to Cornwallis, then in Charlotte, and to
Cruger at Ninety-Six for support. Cruger could spare none, and
advised retreat. On 1 October, at Denard's Ford, Pattie wrote to
Cornwallis that more Rebels were mustering. He reported that two old
men - survivors of a party of 4 - had just been brought into camp
"most barbarously maimd by a Party of Clevelands Men". The incident
angered him: he used it in an impassioned proclamation that day to
rally the Loyalists:
- Gentlemen: Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of
barbarians, who have begun by murdering an unarmed son before the
aged father, and afterwards lopped off his arms, and who by their
shocking cruelties and irregularities, give the best proof of
their cowardice and want of discipline; I say, if you wish to be
pinioned, robbed, and murdered, and see your wives and daughters,
in four days, abused by the dregs of mankind - in short, if you
wish or deserve to live, and bear the name of men, grasp your arms
in a moment and run to camp.
- The Back Water men have crossed the mountains; McDowell,
Hampton, Shelby and Cleveland are at their head, so that you know
what you have to depend upon. If you choose to be pissed upon
forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once and let your
women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men to
He began to withdraw towards Charlotte, and wrote to Cornwallis
requesting support. The Legion could not be sent out immediately,
because Tarleton had been seriously ill with yellow fever or malaria,
and was still weak. Instead, Cornwallis ordered Pattie to rendezvous
with Major Archibald McArthur and the 71st at Arness Ford.
On 6 October, Pattie and his troops set off towards Charlotte,
but encamped at King's Mountain (now a National
Park), to wait for McArthur's approach. An anecdote collected by
Draper in 1874 suggests Pattie spent his last evening with his 2
doxies, Virginia Sal - a buxom young redhead - and Virginia Poll or
Paul(ina). Another of Draper's correspondents, Wallace Moore
Reinhardt, suggested one may have been a Miss Featherstone, and their
shared epithet suggests they may have been Loyal refugees from
The following afternoon, the Rebel forces surrounded King's
Mountain and launched a surprise assault. Incited by Doak's sermon,
and by exaggerated reports that Tarleton had 'massacred' Buford's
command at Waxhaws in May, their countersign was "Buford". The
implication was "No quarter" for Ferguson and his men - or his women.
Sal's bright red hair made her an easy target: among the first
casualties, she was shot as she helped one of the wounded to the
The Loyalist militia, running low on ammunition, began to fall
back. Some seventy uniformed American Volunteers bore the brunt of
the fighting. They raced from one side of the mountain to the other,
making bayonet charges that thrice succeeded in driving back the
Rebels - but only briefly. Pattie was in the thick of the action,
sword in hand, riding to the weakest points of the line to rally his
men, signalling with his famous whistle. Two horses were shot from
under him. He took a third. It was a grey: his career had come full
Knowing that there was scant hope of quarter, he swore he "never
would yield to such a damn'd banditti". With two other mounted
militia officers, Colonel Vezey Husbands and Major Daniel Plummer, he
led a last, desperate attempt to break the enemy line, and, sword
drawn, spurred his horse forward - into a blaze of rifle-fire.
Husbands was killed outright, Plummer badly wounded. Pattie
himself was a conspicuous target, with his sword in his left hand,
his bent-up right arm, and a checked duster-shirt protecting his
uniform. A massive volley blasted him from the saddle. About a dozen
balls shattered his body. His foot caught in the stirrup of his horse
as he fell, and he was dragged along the ground. He died within
minutes, in the arms of his friends. Jubilant Rebels stripped and
urinated on his corpse, before his orderly Elias Powell and other
companions were allowed to bathe and shroud him in a raw
beef-hide.(¡Grande hazanas - Con muertos! to quote
Goya in a later war...) He was buried in a shallow grave, beside
poor Sal, from whose corpse a Rebel took a necklace of glass beads.
Poll was taken prisoner, but released at Moravian Towns and returned
to the army in Charlotte, where she apparently found a new
"Don't kill any more! It's murder!" the Rebels' nominal
commander, William Campbell protested as, with cries of "Give them
Buford's play!" and "Tarleton's Quarter!", they ignored the
Loyalists' white flags. Only with great difficulty did he prevent a
wholesale massacre. Rebel casualties were 28 dead and 64 wounded, but
157 Loyalists were killed, and 163 so seriously hurt that they were
abandoned on the mountain. Some were rescued by local Loyalists, and
nursed back to health. Others were less fortunate: for weeks
afterwards, turkey-buzzards, wolves and hogs fattened themselves on
The rest - nearly 700 men, including walking wounded - were
marched off as prisoners. Along the way, they were ill-used, even
hacked with swords. Campbell had to order his officers to "restrain
the disorderly manner of slaughtering and disturbing the prisoners".
At Red Chimneys - plantation of Aaron Bickerstaff, a Loyalist Captain
mortally wounded in the battle - nine militia officers were hanged
from a tree after 'trial'. Another man was hanged for trying to
escape. Cleveland beat up Uzal Johnson, the young New Jersey doctor,
"for attempting to dress a man whom they had cut on the march", his
friend Lieutenant Anthony Allaire (American Volunteers), wrote.
Tarleton and the Legion arrived 3 days too late, and learned the
worst. Ban later wrote in his Campaigns: "the death of the gallant
Ferguson threw his whole corps into total confusion... The
mountaineers, it is reported, used every insult and indignity, after
the action, towards the dead body of Major Ferguson, and exercised
horrid cruelties on the prisoners that fell into their
News of Pattie's death reached his family about 10 days before
Christmas. His family was "disconsolable" at his loss - as are most
people who come to know him through his charming letters.
While his family lies in a mausoleum
in Edinburgh, the "King of the Mountain" is still on King's Mountain.
Now, even the former enemy acknowledge his heroism.
Pattie was the only British serviceman in the battle: all the
others were Loyal Americans. Not all was lost, nor was the sacrifice
in vain. Some of them - including de Peyster and Allaire - later
settled in Canada - a country which still honours the contribution to
its development made by the refugees from the other Colonies, as you
will see if you check out the United
Empire Loyalists' Association website!
John Robertson has given us a
neuk on his site, where you can see other Pattie-related items,
here ! (Careful, though: this site is not altogether
Gravesite, King's Mountain, South
W. B. Yeats, Deirdre
- A high, grey cairn.What more
is to be said?
- Eagles have gone into their cloudy bed.
The cairn on Pattie's grave post-dates the 1880 centenary. He
has a fine headstone, erected in 1930. The inscription is touching
and generous, even if it does get his rank and regiment wrong (the
modern HLI is not the same 71st as Fraser's Highlanders!), and
probably also his birthplace. (There were no Pitfour Fergusons of his
generation baptised at Old Deer in Aberdeenshire - he was probably
born in Edinburgh!) Sadly, 'Virginia Sal', the buxom young
redhead who lies with him, is not named on the monument. She was shot
while tending the wounded early in the battle. Her surname may have
TO THE MEMORY OF
COL. PATRICK FERGUSON
HIGHLAND LIGHT INFANTRY.
BORN IN ABERDEENSHIRE,
SCOTLAND IN 1744,
KILLED OCTOBER 7, 1780
IN ACTION AT
WHILE IN COMMAND OF
THE BRITISH TROOPS.
A SOLDIER OF MILITARY
DISTINCTION AND OF HONOR.
IS FROM THE CITIZENS OF
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
IN TOKEN OF THEIR APPRECIATION
OF THE BONDS OF FRIENDSHIP AND
PEACE BETWEEN THEM AND THE
CITIZENS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE.
ERECTED OCTOBER 7, 1930.
Photo: Holley Calmes.
Flag & flowers: Doc
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