Painting captures Overmountain Men spirit

John Thompson • Sep 26, 2013 at 7:25 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Re-enactors who crossed the chilly Watauga River on Wednesday as they marched down the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail could have gotten a glimpse of where they are headed by going to the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area Visitors Center.

On display was the latest in a series of paintings by Richard Luce. This one has just been completed and was unveiled at Sycamore Shoals Saturday. It is named “The Patriot Victory at Kings Mountain, October 7, 1780.”

“I started it on April 26 and it took four and a half months,” Luce said.

The painting shows the early stages of the assault from the perspective of the Overmountain Men under the command of William Campbell. They are climbing to the top of the mountain through thick forest, using the trees as cover and concealment. They are moving independently, going from tree to tree, firing when they see a target and reloading behind cover. Luce said this was called “Indian style” fighting.

In contrast, the king’s loyalists holding the high ground had been taught to fight European style of long ranks who loaded and fired as one unit. The wooded terrain definitely favored the Overmountain Men’s style. Not only that, Luce said the top of the mountain was not forested, making the loyalists easy targets against the skyline.

There are many combatants in the painting. Luce said a few depict the main characters in the battle, including Colonel Campbell on horseback and his friend William Edmiston, who was killed in the battle.

At the top of the hill and through the gun smoke, some of the British force can be seen, including their commander, Major Patrick Ferguson, also on his horse, rallying his men.

Luce, from Louisville, Ky., also painted “A Call to Arms” which depicts the Overmountain Men crossing the Watauga River. A large mural copied from the painting now graces the entrance to the park’s new interpretive center. He said there were actually two crossings that day, first by William Campbell and an unexpected second crossing by his brother, Arthur Campbell. It is the second crossing that Luce has painted.

Luce said he was inspired to create the series on the Overmountain Men following an experience at the David Crockett Birthplace State Park in Limestone. He was enjoying his visit to the park when a man started telling him about the Overmountain Victory Trail and the annual march.

Luce resolved to do the march and paint pictures of the story. This year marks his sixth time to make the trek and the fourth painting.

His first painting was Backwater Men, and he announced it would be the first of a series. On a website displaying the painting, he wrote, “I am describing just who these men were, where they lived and why they came together this one time in such force and determination. Their heroic tale needs to be told and shown, as it is at the very foundation of the American character ... my only hope is that I do them the justice they deserve as the heroes of Kings Mountain.”

For more information on Luce’s works, go to www.richardluce.com.

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