Among the important leaders of the Revolution, one of the least well-known today is General William Campbell of Virginia. It was Campbell that led the American forces at Kings Mountain, SC, a key victory and turning point in the war, and had he not died just before Yorktown, he might be better known today.
Campbell resided in Southwestern Virginia, and married Elizabeth Henry, sister of Patrick Henry. During the early part of the war he led militia against Loyalists and maintained law and order on the frontier. By 1780 the British had overrun much of Georgia and South Carolina, and had appointed Major Patrick Ferguson to organize a Loyalist militia.
Settlers from the frontier rallied to support South Carolina. The militia assembling to confront Ferguson came from Virginia, the two Carolinas, Georgia and the Overmountain region, now modern Tennessee. The officers, most of them colonels, chose William Campbell from among them to lead the entire force. They found Ferguson’s troops at Kings Mountain and routed them in an hour of fighting. Campbell’s Virginians suffered the most casualties.
The following year Campbell was again in the field and his riflemen assisted General Nathanael Greene’s army in the weeks prior to Guilford Courthouse. They were involved in the skirmish at Weitzel’s Mill as well as other maneuvering. They fought in the battle of Guilford Courthouse along with North Carolina riflemen on the American army’s flank.
Later that summer Campbell’s riflemen again came out, this time to defend their home state. They served under Lafyette in Virginia in the weeks before Yorktown. Campbell and his riflemen always reliable, and always turned out when needed.
Unfortunately he became ill with fever and chest pains that summer. Campbell had gone to Rocky Mills, the Hanover County home of his wife’s’ brother-in-law John Syme, not far from the South Anna River. Despite the chance to rest, he died on August 22 1781. The 36-year-old officer was buried a few miles away in the John Henry graveyard. Lafayette ordered that militia officers “will assemble a corps of Militia and pay military honours to the deceased General” at his funeral. Lafayette himself was unable to attend, being so far away at the time. Fifty years later Campbell took a long trip, for a dead man.
In August 1832 his family had his remains moved 240 miles to southwestern Virginia. Today he rests near his mother, son, and other relatives at Aspenvale Cemetery near Chilhowie in Smyth County, Virginia. Campbell County, near Lynchburg, is named for William.
Cornwallis used the nearby Mount Brilliant home in the summer of 1781, just a few months before Campbell arrived ill at Rock Mills. General Lafayette stated he was, “An officer whose service must have endeared him to every citizen, and particularly to every American soldier.” He no doubt would have played an important role at Yorktown.
The Rocky Mills house was one of the most impressive in the area, built about 1750, and stood until 1928 when it was dismantled and moved to Richmond. Today it stands above the James River on the western side of Richmond. It is not open to the public. Relocating houses was trendy at the time, in 1929 the Ampthill House was moved to Richmond, and in the 30s the Wilton House dismantled and rebuilt nearby. The 15th Century Agecroft Hall was even brought over from England in 1925 and rebuilt in Richmond. Yet Rocky Mills can claim to be where a General of the American Revolution died.
The author thanks Hanover County historians Art Taylor and Bob Szabo for helping him find the sites.