“Potentially Momentous”



Last week, Michael Harris wrote about the Battle of Brandywine and in his conclusion mentioned his excellent history on this important battle in the American Revolution.

While reading his work, I came across the account of Captain Patrick Ferguson.

Captain (Major) Patrick Ferguson
Captain (Major) Patrick Ferguson

Harris describes it as one of the most “potentially momentous” non-incidents of the entire American Revolution.

I agree with him.

After reading the following, would you?

On September 11. 1777 in the morning hours of the fighting along Brandywine Creek, Ferguson spied a “Rebell Officer remarkable by a Huzzar Dress passed towards our army within 100 yards of my right flank, not perceiving us.”

The British captain initially “ordered three good shots to steal near them and fire at them but the idea disgusted me and I recalled them.”

The one officer was joined by another Continental officer on horseback and Ferguson would eventually reveal his location and “made signs to him to stop leveling my piece at him.”

The incident evidently did not spook the American officer as “he slowly continued his way.”

Ferguson recounted later that he “could have lodged a half dozen of balls in or about him before he was out of my reach…only to determine but it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual who was acquitting himself very coolly of his duty.”

Thus, Ferguson “let him alone.”

Before the morning fighting eclipsed, Ferguson would receive a painful wound by musket ball which slammed into his right elbow. The next day, while in a field hospital, Ferguson would learn from a surgeon that General George Washington was with the “Light Troops”—skirmershers—in the morning fighting and “only attended by a French Officer in a huzzard Dress.” Ferguson was not “sorry that I did not know all the time who it was.”

Captain Patrick Ferguson had within his gun sights, the commander-in-chief of the American Continental Army and he did not pull the trigger!

When Captain Patrick Ferguson, when he did return to active field command, he would be posted to the Southern theater.

On November 7, 1780, now-Major Ferguson would lead British forces against American militia at the Battle of Kings Mountain in northwest South Carolina.

As the battle turned in favor of the Americans, Ferguson made a desperate dash on horseback in an attempt to cut his way through to freedom. A rifleman from the militia took careful aim and shot Ferguson from his saddle—almost—as one of Ferguson’s feet got caught in the stirrup and dragged him around Kings Mountain.

While this was going on, six to eight (accounts vary) militiamen also fired bullets into Ferguson. That is one account.

Another account reads that Ferguson was shot while on horseback and his foot caught while falling. His foot finally became untangled within the confines of the American lines. When a patriot militiaman approached the fallen officer to seek his surrender, Ferguson removed his pistol and shot the American in what could be considered a final act of defiance. This prompted fellow militiamen to fire rounds into Ferguson.

Either way, as many as eight bullet wounds were found on Ferguson’s corpse.

Ferguson was buried on the battlefield. The monument that marks his grave site was erected by the United States Government in 1920. The battlefield is now a unit of the National Park Service.

Colonel Patrick Ferguson death marker, Kings Mountain National Military Park
Colonel Patrick Ferguson death marker, Kings Mountain National Military Park *Ferguson’s rank is elevated here from major to colonel*

Yet, the irony remains, Ferguson would not shoot an officer on the banks of a creek in southern Pennsylvania in 1777. A militiamen in northern South Carolina did have the same wherewithal three years later.

Definitely one of the “potentially momentous” or “what-ifs” of the American Revolution.




*History Disclaimer: Of course there is always a chance that the uniformed officer spotted by Ferguson was not George Washington, although many historians and primary accounts suggest that it was*

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