The debate over the last battle of the American Revolution has gone on for years. The Sept. 29 Local History column featured the view of distinguished UTC history professor Dr. James Livingood that the brisk fight between John Sevier's militia and British-backed Chickamauga braves on the sides of Lookout Mountain 11 months after Yorktown was the "Last Battle."
Local anthropologist Raymond Evans gave a different view in the Sept. 6, 2009, Chattanooga Times Free Press:
"We know the last battle of the American Revolution was at Yorktown. In 1782 John Sevier conducted a militia raid against pro-British Cherokees that was described by Tennessee historians [John] Haywood and [JGM] Ramsey. Neither mentions a battle on Lookout Mountain. The only detailed description of the campaign by a participant was that of James Sevier, the son of John Sevier, in letters to [historian] Lyman C. Draper. James Sevier explained that John Watts, who supported the British cause as early as 1776 and became the Cherokees' war leader upon the death of Dragging Canoe in 1792, guided the expedition. Watts was able to guide Sevier's men away from the hostile towns by taking them down South Chickamauga Creek to destroy the corn fields at the abandoned towns devastated by Evan Shelby three years earlier, and on to the peaceful Cherokee refugees on the Coosa River. There was no engagement of any kind, much less a battle, and the campaign consisted of burning abandoned houses and vandalizing cornfields belonging to Cherokee refugees.
"The first written account of Sevier's mythical battle on Lookout Mountain was published in 1886 by a then-popular writer named Edmund Kirke. It was included in a semi-fictional version of the American Revolution on the frontier called 'The Rear Guard of the Revolution.' Kirke's account of the victory of white pioneers over 'savages' on Lookout Mountain was also well received by the American public coming as it did at a time when the US army was conducting a campaign of systematic extermination against the Western Indians.
"Nevertheless, the validity of Sevier's battle on Lookout Mountain did not go unquestioned. Three years after the publication of the story, in 1889, Theodore Roosevelt in his 'The Winning of the West' series strongly questioned the credibility of Kirke:
"Mr. Kirke puts in an account of a battle on Lookout Mountain, wherein Sevier and his 200 men defeat '500 tories and savages.' He does not even hint at his authority for this unless in a sentence of the preface where he says, "a large part of my material I have derived from what may be termed 'original sources' — old settlers. Of course, the statement of an old settler is worthless when it relates to an important event which took place 105 years before and yet escaped the notice of all contemporary and subsequent historians . On first reading his book I was surprised and pleased at the information it contained; when I came to study the subject, I was still more surprised and much less pleased at discovering such wholesale inaccuracy. Even a popular history ought to pay some little regard to truth.'"
Evans continued, "This should have put an end to the story, but other amateur historians continue to cite the Kirke account and make up additional details of their own. Later writers quote them, and now there is a whole 'bibliography' concerning the fictive battle. It is doubtful, however, that many readers are deceived by the outrageous claim that the last battle of the American Revolution was actually fought on Lookout Mountain.
"For one thing, there are several others making a similar claim regarding well-documented Indian skirmishes that took place after Sevier's campaign. In Georgia, Andrew Pickens, originally scheduled to act in conjunction with the North Carolina expedition, led a raid against the Cherokees about a month after Sevier's campaign. In Kentucky, the battle of Blue Licks in which a combined British and Indian force decisively defeated the Kentucky militia, is called the last battle of the Revolution. Similarly, in Ohio, George Rogers Clark destroyed a number of pro-British Shawnee towns only a few days before the provisional peace treaty between England and the United States was signed on November 30th, 1782.
"The 'last battle of the American Revolution' presents a dramatic example of the growing need for historians and persons seriously concerned with the interpretation of regional history to exercise greater care and the documentation of significant historical sites."
Frank "Mickey" Robbins, an investment adviser at Patten and Patten, edited this article.