Beginning in 1758, South Carolina engaged in a four-year war with the Cherokee Indians, whose descendants now live in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. This war resulted from French efforts to incite the Southern Indians against the British in the French and Indian War (1754-63).
South Carolina Governor William H. Lyttleton in 1759 made the first effort to defeat the Indians but failed because of a smallpox epidemic which caused the abandonment of his expedition. In 1760 William Bull, Lyttleton's successor, asked British General Jeffrey Amherst to assist in a second attempt. Amherst sent Colonel Archibald Montgomery with a force of 1200 men, composed of elements of the Royal Scottish and Highlanders regiments.
Map 1: Montgomery arrived in Charleston on April 1, 1760. The troops reached Fort Prince George on June 2. Time was important since British-held Fort Loundoun, on the Tennessee River, was under close attack by the Indians. Montgomery marched on June 24, en route to the Middle Towns (situated in this valley). His force, swelled by provincial militia, numbered 1600. Montgomery believed that the destruction of the Middle Towns would bring the Indians to terms. The expedition followed the Cherokee Trading Path across the Keowee and Oconee Rivers. At 4am on June 27 the troops crossed Rabun Gap and entered the Little Tennessee Valley. Their destination was Echoe, lowest of the Middle Towns.
Map 2: At 10am June 27, the Army's advance guard entered a narrow pass between a range of mountains on the left and low hills on the right, partially encircled by the river. This was the setting for Montgomery's defeat, for the Indians led by Chief Occonostota, attacked the column on both sides, forcing it back. Montgomery sent the Provincial Rangers into the fight, while the Royal Scots moved to the hills on the right. The Highlanders went to the mountains on the left. Under this pressure the Indians withdrew to the mountains. After four hours of fighting the British continued their march, fording the river north of the battlefield.
Montgomery's baggage train, left to shift for itself and guarded by only 100 men, was saved after heavy fighting.
The army reached Echoe, but left after a day for Fort Prince George. Montgomery's reasons for the retreat were (1) the mountains before him were "impassable," and (2) a forward movement would have forced him to abandon to the Indians his sick and wounded.
Reaching Fort Prince George on July 1, Montgomery had suffered nearly 100 casualties and had gained nothing. Fort Loudoun was surrendered to the Indians on August 9. Montgomery's Expedition provided one of the few occasions when the Cherokee were able to defeat a British colonial army.
In the next year, June 10, 1761, the Cherokee were defeated by a 2800-man expedition under Colonel James Grant, Montgomery's second-in-command. This Second Battle of Echoe, fought two miles southeast of the 1760 battlefield, marked the beginning of a long series of reverses from which the Cherokee never recovered.