There’s this trending question popular right now on social media: “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” And I have to admit, I think about it a fair amount—given its importance to the New Testament and to modern Western thought. But I don’t have to go that far back in history to find stories of men who inspire greatness and a life of integrity and valor. I can go back a couple hundred years to the Appalachian mountain communities of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee during the Revolutionary War.
I don’t know if you’ve studied up much on the battle of King’s Mountain, but it reads like mountain folklore about men who were larger-than-life kind of people. King George and his henchmen, such as General Cornwallis, were famous for underestimating their enemies in the New World.
Among their worst miscalculations was that of the Overmountain Men, hearty settlers in the Appalachian Mountains who knew how to track, shoot, live off the land, build winter-worthy structures from nearby trees, and, perhaps most important, how to face hardship with grit and courage.
In those days, it was no small feat to travel over the Appalachian ridgeline, so the toughness of these mountain men stood out even in a time when most men were fairly rugged. They demonstrated this when British General Patrick Ferguson threatened to march into the mountains of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee “to hang their leaders, and lay waste to the land with fire and sword" if they didn’t swear allegiance to England.
Peace Loving and Battle Ready
These men, who lived “over the mountain” and were minding their own business, did not appreciate their lives, homes, and families being threatened unjustly. Living west of the Appalachian ridgeline meant living beyond the borders of the colonies, but now even that area was being threatened by tyranny.
These mountain men decided they weren’t going to wait around to find out what would happen.
Multiple groups in the mountains mustered at a mountain creek, organized their resources, and began marching down off the mountains, covering 300 miles of rough terrain in a stealthy, makeshift wagon train. They hadn’t asked for the fight, but when the fight came to them they were ready and they didn’t back down.
Within a few days of marching, the Overmountain Men, joined by Patriot militia, approached King’s Mountain, a stronghold of British Loyalist militiamen. Outnumbered and outgunned against the British, the Overmountain Men, with their unconventional tactics and superior skill at stealth and shooting, defeated the Loyalists handily—killing or wounding more than 300 British and taking nearly 700 prisoners.
What did they do after winning such a decisive victory? They delivered their prisoners to the Patriots and they marched right back to their mountain homes. It was only about two weeks later that British forces surrendered to General George Washington. In other words, the Battle of King’s Mountain was a turning point in the Revolutionary War.
Looking to the Past for Inspiration in the Present
So why am I thinking about these American mountain men of the 1780s? A few reasons. One reason is, it’s just a cool story. When a credible threat came to their hollows, they were ready to meet it and put it down. They were seeking to live at peace, but when it came time to fight they knew how to do it and they did it with precision and coordination.
It was second nature to them. Another, perhaps higher-level, reason is that these historical men of valor should inspire us men today. Unlike these Appalachian warriors, though, we have the option for comfort in nearly every area of our lives.
Whereas those men had no choice but to hunt, trap, and face the elements simply to survive the winter and feed their families, many men today are surrounded by comfort and convenience.
Though comforts are nice in the moment and conveniences free us up to pursue life beyond daily survival, our abundance is making us weaker and more frivolous. So maybe that trending question “How often do you think about the Roman Empire?” is a valid one. They were an empire of vigilant warriors and statesmen and became, in part, a kingdom of weak-minded sycophants and self-defining hedonists.
Perhaps we should think about the Roman Empire a lot more and also seek out the man- and character-building discomforts that our predecessors like the Overmountain Men faced on a daily basis—hiking, rucking, shooting, trapping, building structures from scratch, facing the cold and other extremes with vigor and determination, and staying ready to respond appropriately to whatever comes.
Of course, that takes training. Train Hard. Train Smart. Get Uncomfortable. Live Free.