The Revolutionary War and Martin Gambill's Ride

Much is written on the internet about the ride of Martin Gambill prior to the Battle of King's Mountain, which was the true turning point of the Revolutionary War.  We have all read Longfellow's poem about the midnight ride of Paul Revere, but few have read of a much longer ride, that of Martin Gambill.  I felt that was somewhat unfair, so I decided to compose a poem about Martin Gambill's ride.  First, to set the stage, let me explain a bit about the times.  Militias existed in many areas.  These Militias worked in concert with the Continental Forces commanded by General Washington and others.  These forces were the "home guard" much like the National Guard of our times.  According to what I have read, the British General Cornwallis had much of his army near present day Charlotte, NC.  He wanted to move North to either flank, or come behind Washington's Continental Troops, who were not having much success battling Clinton's forces in New York.  He was somewhat afraid of the mountain Militias who could be a real thorn in his side once he began his northward march.  Cornwallis selected a Major Patrick Ferguson to neutralize this threat from the mountain Militias.  The mountain Militia leaders were expecting Ferguson, and had devised an early warning system.  Brush piles were made on key, higher mountain tops.  If Ferguson was seen moving west, fires would be lit to warn of his advance.  It just so happens that Colonel Shelby from Tennesse had called many of the militia leaders to a meeting at the home of Colonel John Sevier (later an organizer and governor of the state of Franklin in NE Tennesse) near present day Boone, NC.  As the meeting was in progress, the leaders saw the signal fires lit on distant peaks.  Ferguson had begun his march.  Several of the Virginia leaders were not present. (Captain Enoch Osborn, and Colonel Campbell to name two)  In a day with no phone or telegraph, and very poor roads, it was necessary for a rider to be dispatched to warn the Virginia Militia leaders.  Martin Gambill volunteered  for this duty.  In 24 hours he rode over 100 miles of poor trails, crossed rivers and creeks, and lost at least 3 horses to exhaustion.  He lost one horse as he crossed the New River where Captain Enoch Osborn was plowing a field.  Captain Osborn sent the exhausted rider up to the house for breakfast, while he removed Martin's saddle and placed it on one of the plow horses.  Martin continued up the New River to the Mouth of the Fox Creek, which he followed upstream, and through Comer's Gap eventually to the Holston River, and downstream to Colonel Campbell.  Martin's remarkable ride enabled the Militias to meet in 7 days at Sycamore Shoals (located in present day NE Tennessee).  The mountain Militias went on to join Colonel Cleveland, and Major Winston near the present day town of Morganton, NC.  From there they marched southward to meet Ferguson's army, which turned tail and headed back toward Charlotte, and the safety of Cornwallis' larger force.  Ferguson decided to deploy his troops on King's Mountain, where he would have the advantage of defending the high-ground.  In the battle, the mountain men were victorious, killing 500 or so of Feguson's troops in the first two hours of battle.  This victory changed the plans of Cornwallis, and perhaps changed the course of history.

Below is my poem to Martin Gambill, so Paul Revere won't get all the credit.

The Lesser Known Ride (of Captain Martin Gambill)

.............................................................

The Captains saw the fires burn near, while in a meeting at the home of Sevier,

Ferguson now a westward tide, eleven hundred at his side,

Sevier and Shelby set the date, in seven days lay their fate,

To Sycamore Shoals they would meet, the stage was set for possible defeat.

............................................................................................................

The Militia leaders must be told, to rally forces young and old,

How to tell them to prepare, and contact them with time to spare?

Martin Gambill volunteered his steed, sure his mount could do the deed,

Martin rode North to Osborn and Campbell, knowing his route was quiet a gamble.

.....................................................................................................................

As Martin crossed the New River wide, his horse grew weary, fell and died,

Captain Osborn dropped his plow, said Brother Gambill, go eat now,

From the dead mount Enoch took his tack, and placed it on the plow-horse's back,

Martin left and followed the New, to the Mouth of the Fox, then followed it too.

....................................................................................................................

To Comer's Gap and Hurricane Road, down the Holston his plow-horse rode,

At Red Bridge his mount finally died, all looked grim, but a fresh mount was supplied,

On to Colonel Campbell at Seven Mile Ford, his urgent message struck a deep cord,

Campbell assembled his Militia that day, on to meet others at a place far away.

.................................................................................................................

At Sycamore Shoals the Militias all met, determined as ever, a victory to get,

Cleveland and Winston joined their groups, southward they rode, proud mountain troops,

Ferguson stopped and turned back to home, not wanting to face these troops all alone,

On King's Mountain he turned to fight, easier to defend with his red-coated might.

....................................................................................................................

In only two hours the battle had begun, Ferguson's troops had nowhere to run,

Five hundred red-coats lay dead in the sun, Ferguson making it five hundred and one,

HIs elbow was shot with a  stray rifle ball, but brave Martin Gambill steadfastly stood tall,

Cornwallis' plans were changed that day, but a brand-new nation was well underway.

.........................................................................................................................

by Danny Pugh 8-21-2007