In 1770s, Britain and America were in a bit of a conflict. Americans were tired of being taxed by the British for a litany of things and decided to declare their independence from the monarchy who ruled from thousands of miles away.
Last year, when my sister-in-law and I went to Windsor Castle, I spoke to one of the docents keeping guard in St. George’s Cathedral, and she asked me where I was from picking up my foreign accent. When I said the U.S., she nodded and remarked that it was King George III’s fault that Britain lost America.
As I walked through Kew Gardens and other haunts of the Mad King, I reflected on this comment and wanted to delve a little deeper into that time in history. So, when Jeff and I came back to the U.S., I was excited that one of our first trips was to three Revolutionary War battlefields in South Carolina.
About 70 miles west of Columbia, 65 miles south of Spartanburg, and 9 miles east of Greenwood is a small town called Ninety Six. It’s still a mystery as to why the town is called Ninety Six, but one theory dates back to the early 1700s when English settlers would pass through and mark the town as 96 miles from the nearest Cherokee village of Keowee, present day Clemson. This has been continuously discounted since the distance between the two cities is more like 76 miles. But this small town was the setting for the first Revolutionary War land battle south of New England.
On August 1, 1775, American militias were ambushed by Cherokee and Loyalist soldiers in the Battle of Twelve Mile Creek, nearby the town of Ninety Six. Major Andrew Williamson, a militia man, tried to get the stolen ammunition and gunpowder back, but eventually, he had to concede turning Ninety Six into a Loyalist camp for the next five years.
The British used Ninety Six as their strong hold and built a reinforced star-shaped fort so they could easily barricade themselves and see enemies coming from all angles. Patriots tried to take the fort with their superior numbers, but the fort held and the Patriots were defeated.
Today, the National Park Service has preserved the land and put up signs showing you where the fort outlines were and where guns were mounted for attacks. Upon seeing the land, the fort was much smaller in size than I would have originally thought. But I was most surprised with how close soldiers could have gotten to it to make a shot. These men did not have long range rifles, so they had to get dangerously close to their enemy to make the kill shot. Standing in the field and seeing the distances with my own eyes, I bet I could have made out the men’s features from rebel lines.
The rest of the park was also quite lovely to walk through with its lush green woods and large pond behind the field. Only a couple of structures still stand like a reconstructed log home, but other signs indicating former homes and a jail give a unique snapshot into colonial life in the 18th century.
Just over 100 miles north, right at the border of North and South Carolina is the King’s Mountain Military Park where the Battle of King’s Mountain took place on October 7, 1780. In order to get there, we had to pop into North Carolina for a mile, just to travel back out to the southern state. The battlegrounds were and are just a breath away from the border. But this park was definitely worth the trip, and my favorite space out of the three we toured because of the dense woods and utter solitude of the hike.
In the Battle of King’s Mountain, the Patriots defeated the Loyalists, and the tide began to turn in favor of the Americans. The 1.5 mile battlefield walk is something not to be missed because it takes you all around the battleground with various monuments and statues telling you where certain people fell and were conquered including British Major Patrick Ferguson.
Ferguson originally came to North Carolina to recruit for the Loyalists and Lord Cornwallis, but when he issued a stern warning to the Patriots to lay down their arms, the Patriots formed a massive attack on him. Ferguson then retreated to Cornwallis’ headquarters at King’s Mountain for safety, but his safety would not last long.
On that October afternoon, the Patriots (including Davy Crockett’s father, John) staged an attack. Originally, Ferguson liked the vantage point of King’s Mountain because he thought it resembled the lands of Scotland and Edinburgh and felt at home, but the dense woods and sharp incline of the mount would prove more advantageous for the local Americans.
Ferguson was fatally shot an hour after the attack began, and this lead to the swift surrender of the Loyalists. The Patriots’ victory gave them confidence to continue their guerrilla tactics and continue surprising the British.
The continued decline of the Loyalists eventually led Cornwallis to abandon his plan to push further into North Carolina, so he turned and went further south. Cornwallis would not invade North Carolina again until the next year after suffering another defeat at the Battle of Cowpens, which was the next and final battlefield we toured.
Thirty miles southeast from King’s Mountain is the small battlefield where the Battle of Cowpens was fought in 1781. Before I detail a bit of this battle, I have to say that the National Park Service Visitor’s Center for Cowpens is one of the best displays we have seen to show and talk about the grounds and battle. A short video shows a complete battle plan and map of how the forces planned and executed their orders. It really did a fantastic job in helping us understand exactly what had happened on the day, and we could easily understand how certain maneuvers were done.
After perusing the Visitor’s Center and being handed a map, we went on our stroll through the nature-reclaimed war zone. It was easy to see the valleys and marshes that concealed the soldiers those hundreds of years ago. One such valley was especially pointed out as a blind spot with its thick reeds and grasses growing tall enough to cover crouching men.
On January 17, 1781 (236 years ago today), a small force led by Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, was looking for supplies for their fellow Patriots. Due to some miscommunication, the British thought Morgan and his men were heading toward the famous Star Fort in Ninety Six, so Lord Cornwallis sent a group of men toward Ninety Six to defeat Morgan and his troops. This left Cowpens a bit light of British men, and Morgan took the opportunity.
The British army, led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, was also on the verge of starvation, so they were incredibly depleted and unmotivated, but Tarleton pushed his men to attack once they saw Morgan approach. Morgan easily defended his men, and due to more miscommunication and incorrect information, the British thought the Americans were retreating when in fact, the Patriots were hiding in the marshes and overgrown valleys to release a devastating attack completely overwhelming the British force.
So many wrongs had to lead to the British defeat that if only the British could communicate and supply their men better, they could have won the southern conference of the Revolutionary War. But that was not to be because just a few months later, Cornwallis would be defeated at the Siege of Yorktown where General George Washington and allied French troops finally took down Cornwallis and effectively ended the Revolutionary War.
After 2.5 years living in London, Jeff and I got very spoiled with having such incredible history at our fingertips. For example, where we lived in Acton Town, just around the block a few years before we moved in, Roman coins were dug up in someone’s back yard. When you can find such artifacts by stumbling in your garden, we wanted very much to be close to history again. And we found it in our own American backyard with still young battlefields recovering from cannons and bullets.
Moving away really gave us an appreciation for what’s here, and I was astounded to see such battlefields preserved after two hundred years. If you find yourself in South Carolina, and you’re into the history that formed the U.S., I highly recommend seeing these National Parks.
Stay tuned next week for our tour of Charleston where we fast-forward about a hundred years to the start of the Civil War and try our hands at blue crabbin’.