his choice was hanging or cutting off his own ears -- 6/6/17

Today's selection -- from Scars of Independence by Holger Hoock. Histories of the American Revolution tend to gloss over the violence of that war, often leaving the impression that it was a civilized war. These same histories tend to minimize the presence of colonials that remained loyal to the British crown. Yet it was a violent, cruel war, and this violence was often savagely played out in conflicts between those colonials who wanted to separate from Britain [Patriots or Whigs] and those who remained loyal to the crown [Loyalists or Tories]:

"The night after the battle [of Kings Mountain in 1780] presented a grim scene: 'The groans of the wounded and dying on the mountain were truly affecting­ -- begging pitteously for a little water; but in the hurry, confusion, and exhaustion of the Whigs, these cries, when emenating from the Tories, were little heeded.' ... The following day the Patriot James Collins witnessed local Loyalist wives and children finding their 'husbands, fathers, and brothers, [lying] dead in heaps, while others lay wounded or dying.' The Goforth family had three Loyalist and two Patriot sons; four of them fell on Kings Mountain. ...

Engraving depicting the death of Patrick Ferguson at the Battle of Kings Mountain

"The victors inspected [a Loyalist's] bullet-riddled body for evi­dence of their marksmanship. They then stripped it for souvenirs and, according to local tradition, urinated on it. Later, though, the Patriots allowed the Loyalists to wrap up the corpse in a cowhide and bury it. Both sides hastily buried their other dead, covering them so thinly with logs, tree bark, and a few rocks that the bodies soon fell prey to scavenging animals. Roaming wolves attracted to the corpses made it too dangerous for locals to venture out at night. Half of the region's dogs had to be put down when they went 'mad.' People even refused to eat their fat hogs, as they had 'gath­ered in to the place, to devour the flesh of men.' ...

"On October 14, Patriot leaders held what one Loyalist dismissed as a mock trial of men whom their rebel enemies accused of murder, arson, or robbery. Colonel Ambrose Mills was charged with inciting the Cherokees to make war on the South Carolina frontier. Of some thirty-six Loyalists tried and up to thirty condemned to death, the Patriots hastily hanged nine on a tree before reprieving the others and moving on, lest British forces surprise them. [Loyalist] Colonel Mills's wife had said farewell to her husband just before his execution; she and her young child were now seen sitting through the rainy night alongside the colonel's corpse. Together with an old farmhand, the widow of a Loyalist who had just been killed on the mountain cut down the last bodies and buried them in a shallow trench. ...

Capture of Yorktown. Lithograph by Turgid.

"Washington's new man in the South ... General Nathanael Greene ... found 'nothing but murders and devastations in every quarter' as Patriots and Loyalists 'pursue[d] each other with as much relent­less fury as beasts of prey.' Both sides seemed bent on mutual an­nihilation, worried Greene, and unless 'those private massacres' ended, 'this Country will be depopulated ... as neither Whig nor Tory can live.' Writing to his wife, Catherine, from camp at Little River, a frustrated Greene exclaimed: 'My dear you can have no Idea of the horrors of the Southern war. Murders are as frequent here as petty disputes are to the Northward.'

"As both Patriots and Loyalists recognized the war in the South as particularly violent, predictably, each side blamed the other. Among the most notorious rebels was Colonel Benjamin 'Bull Dog' Cleveland, who terrorized Loyalists in the Yadkin country. When Ferguson's proclamation just before Kings Mountain men­tioned the rebels 'murdering an unarmed son before the aged fa­ther, and afterwards lopped off his arms,' he was referring to an infamous incident involving the 'Bull Dog.' In another instance, Cleveland's men broke out two Loyalists from a prison, stood one of them 'on a log, put the noose around his neck, threw the end of the rope over a tree limb, fastened it, and kicked the log out from under him.' Cleveland then gave the second Loyalist a choice: he, too, would be hanged, unless he cut off his own ears. The man grabbed a knife, sliced off his ears, and was let go."

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Holger Hoock


Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth


Crown, a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC


Copyright 2017 by Holger Hoock


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