No matter what historical battlefield you visit, you will find the requisite on site museum. Designed to give you an overview of the historical events and a little context, they all seem to house the same things. Uniforms, weapons, cutlery, topographical maps, and maybe some letters exchanged by historical figures.
What stood out to me when I visited Kings Mountain was the way they used a relatively small museum space to truly place you in the same atmosphere that the battle of Kings Mountain was fought. Located just over the border in South Carolina, Kings Mountain is the site of the first patriot victory after the invasion of Charleston, SC.
In early October, 1781, the British sent newly trained American troops to the Kings Mountain area, hoping to earn an easy victory over local milita, who were inexperienced in fighting. But as many Americans learn in grade school, what the American’s lacked in formal military training, they made up for in knowledge of the local area. The local milita knew how to take advantage of the forest terrain around Kings Mountain. They were also expert hunters, and fought with rifles instead of muskets, which the advancing loyalist troops relied on.
As the museum explains:
“The difference between a rifle and a musket is speed versus accuracy. A rifle is slow to load, but very accurate. Riflemen can hit a target at 200 or 300 yards. Yet the rifle can only be fired once a minute. A musket, with a smooth bore, is easy to load but inaccurate. Muskets have an accurate range of about 100 yards, but can be fired up to three times a minute.”
The trees at the time more resembled the size of what you would see in the Redwood forest today. They were much taller, and several feet thick. The thick canopy made the forests much darker than today, with little undergrowth. The locals used the cover of the forest to sneak up on the loyalist forces, and hide behind the thick tree trucks, using them as cover while they reloaded their rifles. This allowed them to take advantage of the longer distance they could shoot accurately at, while remaining protected during the longer time it took to reload.
This shooting advantage allowed the local militia to fend off the invading loyalist troops, leading Thomas Jefferson to brand it, “The turn of the tide of success.”