Help Blaze the Liberty Trail

The Liberty Trail

Brian Keeley Photography

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Many historians consider the Revolutionary War to have been decided in the swamps, fields, woods and mountains of the South, won by the resilience and determination of Continental soldiers and Patriot militia. Although the full story of the Southern Campaigns is not widely known, the events of 1779-1782 in the Carolinas directly led to an American victory in the war. We call this history The Liberty Trail.

Soon, The Liberty Trail will be a unified path of preservation and interpretation across South Carolina, telling this remarkable story. These important battlefields, still largely unspoiled, deserve to be preserved. That’s why the American Battlefield Trust has partnered with the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust to accomplish these goals.

More than 200 battles and skirmishes occurred in South Carolina during the war. Working with a panel of historians and archaeologists to select the most significant of these actions, we have developed plans to form The Liberty Trail, an innovative driving route designed to connect these battlefields and tell the captivating and inspiring stories of this transformative chapter of American history. The American Battlefield Trust and the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust are now working toward the launch of the initial phase of The Liberty Trail.

It is important to appreciate that the goals here are not just to preserve the land, but also to interpret these sites for the public and bring their stories to life. Using driving-tour battle apps, onsite interpretation, social media, special teacher institutes and much more, these dramatic stories about the founding of the country will be told in a manner as never before. These are just some of the highlights of The Liberty Trail’s first phase:


Brian Keeley Photography

In the spring of 1780, Colonel Abraham Buford’s 350 Virginia Continentals were marching from Hillsborough, N.C., to reinforce Major General Benjamin Lincoln in the defense of Charles Town. Buford made it as far as the Santee River, when he received news of the disastrous American surrender of the city. While stopped at Lenud’s Ferry on the river, Buford received orders to return to Hillsborough.

On May 27, Lord Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his force of 170 British Legion and British Army dragoons, plus 100 mounted British infantry and a three-pounder cannon to overtake Buford and attack the Virginians. Overtaking Buford by the afternoon of May 29, Tarleton sent Captain David Kinlock to demand Buford’s surrender. Tarleton’s message stated, “Resistance being vain, to prevent the effusion of human blood, I make offers which can never be repeated.” Buford is reported to have responded, “I reject your proposals, and shall defend myself to the last extremity.”

Although exhausted from covering more than 150 miles in 54 hours, Tarleton’s column formed up and charged Buford’s single battle line. The dragoons quickly seized the advantage over the inexperienced Continental troops. Buford attempted to surrender, but whether Tarleton never received the request or refused it is unknown. Patriot surgeon Brownfield would later write that Tarleton’s men attacked with “indiscriminate carnage never surpassed by the most ruthless atrocities of the most barbarous savages.” Tarleton’s men, refusing to take any prisoners, continued to bayonet the wounded after the fight subsided, treatment that came to be referred to as “Tarleton’s Quarter.” The battle became a symbol of British war atrocities and a rallying cry for Patriot troops.

Together, we have saved 51 acres at Waxhaws. Today, a small battlefield park maintained by Lancaster County commemorates the site of the Waxhaws Massacre. Through The Liberty Trail initiative, we plan to significantly expand this battlefield park and create a destination that immerses visitors in the nearly forgotten, but incredibly significant, events that took place at this site.

Learn more: Battle of Waxhaws

Hanging Rock

Brian Keeley Photography

After the May 1780 Battle of Waxhaws, the British established a series of outposts to control the South Carolina up-country — the most northerly of these at Hanging Rock, located on the road between Camden and Charlotte.

On August 1, Colonel Thomas Sumter attacked the British at Rocky Mount, while Major William Richardson Davie made a diversionary attack at Hanging Rock. After failing to capture the British fort at Rocky Mount, Sumter turned his attention back to Hanging Rock.

On August 6, after a 16-mile night march, 800 men crossed Hanging Rock Creek in a dawn attack on the British camps. Within a half hour, the Americans had taken the center, but the British Legion infantry charged with bayonets. Sumter’s men took cover and maintained a fire into the British lines, quickly taking down most of the British officers. The southernmost British camp, held by the Prince of Wales Regiment, put up a solid defense supported by two field guns. After three long hours, the battle ended when the Americans, low on ammunition, turned their attention to plundering the British camp.

Noted 19th-century historian Lyman Draper later wrote that “Cornwallis was heard to say that no battle fell heavier on the British, considering the numbers engaged, the Battle of Bunker Hill excepted.”

Together, we have saved 141 acres at Hanging Rock.  While not yet open to the public, Hanging Rock will be the site of a new battlefield park on The Liberty Trail.  On-site interpretation and digital resources will guide visitors through the multiple phases of this battle.

Learn more: Battle of Hanging Rock


Brian Keeley Photography

After the fall of Charles Town and the devastating American defeat at Waxhaws in May 1780, Continental troops began reforming at Charlotte, N.C., with Major General Horotio Gates, the “hero of Saratoga,” arriving in July to take command. Both armies understood that Camden was essential to the British plan to control the South Carolina backcountry, and Gates quickly moved to establish a camp at nearby Rugeley’s Mill.

On August 16, Gates moved on Camden, but in what is considered among the worst American tactical decisions of the war, he placed his most inexperienced militiamen opposite the most experienced British regulars. Predictably, the Patriot militia was routed, and the attempted assault on the British militia failed when Continental Major General Baron Johann de Kalb was mortally wounded. When Tarleton and the British Legion made a saber attack on the rear of the American line, the Continental regiments broke and fled the field. Gates’s army suffered more than 2,000 casualties in the one-hour rout and hastened the 60 miles back to Charlotte. In the aftermath, Gates was removed from command and replaced by Major General Nathanael Greene.

Together, we have saved 294 acres at Camden.  This property will be incorporated into the existing over 450 acre battlefield site, and then fully interpreted to create one of the signature battlefield park on The Liberty Trail.  The Camden battlefield park is also a short drive to the Historic Camden site, where visitors will have additional opportunities to learn about the immense Revolutionary War and Colonial history of this area.

Learn more:

Fort Watson

"Site of Fort Watson, Santee Indian Mound" by John Stanton is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Fort Watson, built atop a Santee Indian burial mound, was a critical link in the British supply chain between Charles Town and Camden. Patriot Brigadier General Francis Marion and his men began laying siege to the British post on April 14, 1781, cutting off access to its water supply at Scott Lake. Unfazed and with plenty of food, British Lieutenant James McCay had his men dig a well and trench for water.

The Americans possessed no artillery, which made a traditional bombardment impossible and the siege very difficult. In lieu of artillery, Major Hezekiah Maham instructed his men to construct a 40-foot wooden tower so they could gain a vertical advantage over the British. Hidden by trees and under the dark cover of night, Maham’s men hewed logs and erected the tower, which allowed sharpshooters to fire down on the British in the fort. With the British thus pinned down, Patriot troops began tearing down the exterior works and planned to charge into the fort. Foreseeing the inevitable, McCay surrendered the fort.

Today, Fort Watson is located within the Santee National Wildlife Refuge.  Once incorporated into The Liberty Trail, additional on-site and digital interpretation will be added to this site.

Learn more: Santee National Wildlife Refuge

Eutaw Springs

American Battlefield Trust

At 4:00 a.m. on September 8, 1781, Major General Nathanael Greene’s army began a seven-mile march from Burdall’s Plantation toward British Colonel Andrew Stewart’s encampment at Eutaw Springs. As he did every morning, Stewart sent out foraging parties that, at about 8:00 am, were ambushed and captured.

As Greene’s forces advanced toward Stewart’s camp, they formed two lines, with militia in the front followed by the Continentals. When the British broke through the Patriot center, the Virginia and Maryland Continentals attacked and stopped the British advance. The Americans pursued a disorderly British retreat through their camp, but their assault on a strongly defended brick house failed and they retreated. The fierce battle eventually forced the British back to Charles Town. Greene — who received one of only seven gold medals for exceptional achievement during the Revolutionary War for his leadership at Eutaw Springs — suffered more than 500 casualties, but British losses were almost twice that number.

Together, we have saved 14 acres at Eutaw Springs.  Today, a small battlefield park on the banks of Lake Marion is all that marks the spot of this pivotal battle in the fight for American Independence.  Through The Liberty Trail, we plan to create a battlefield park at Eutaw Springs that enables visitors to both comprehend the significance of this battle and connect with the experiences of its participants, and ultimately results in a better understanding of the role of Eutaw Springs and the Southern Campaigns in determining the outcome of the War.

Fort Fair Lawn

"Longleaf Pine" by cm195902 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Several miles outside Moncks Corner is one of the most significant extant Revolutionary War sites in South Carolina. British-built Fort Fair Lawn was strategically placed at the head of the Cooper River and the intersection of an important coastal road and the Congaree Road. As the most significant British outpost between Charles Town and Camden, the fort protected British troop maneuvers, deployment and communication lines through South Carolina. Built in 1780, the fort was instrumental in a number of key battles and skirmishes during the Revolutionary War.

Fair Lawn played an important role in the British attack led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton against South Carolina Brigadier General Isaac Huger in the April 14, 1780, battle, today known as the Battle for Moncks Corner (see below). It also was a key staging and recovery point related to the Battle of Eutaw Springs. Brigadier General Francis Marion, Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee and Colonel Wade Hampton harassed the British post in the week following the British retreat from Eutaw Springs. On November 17, 1781, Colonel Hezekiah Maham, with 180 men, and Colonel Isaac Shelby, with 200 frontiersmen, were dispatched by Marion to attack nearby Fair Lawn Plantation. The attack resulted in the capture of 300 stands of arms and other stores and 150 prisoners. The British evacuated Fort Fair Lawn by late 1781, burning the Colleton Castle — the fortified home of a Loyalist family — behind them.

Today, this significant earthworks fortification is in remarkable condition, with the parapet walls extending to two meters tall, and the surrounding moat, two meters across and one meter deep, still present. Fort Fair Lawn is one of only two extant Revolutionary War fortifications in the state.

Together we have saved 80 acres, including this original extant redoubt, at Fort Fair Lawn. While not currently open to the public, plans are being developed to create a park around Fort Fair Lawn, which will be one of the featured new parks in the initial phase of The Liberty Trail.

Moncks Corner

"Depot in Moncks Corner" by Brian Stansberry is licensed under CC BY 4.0

During the siege of Charles Town, Sir Henry Clinton ordered Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to cut off Patriot communication to and from the city and to eliminate the Cooper River as a means of escape. On April 13, 1780, British Major Patrick Ferguson and his Loyalist volunteers met Tarleton and his British Legion at Middleton’s Plantation in Goose Creek.

Overnight, Tarleton and Ferguson advanced 18 miles to Moncks Corner. En route, they captured a slave carrying a Patriot dispatch describing the deployment of American forces at Biggin Bridge, the primary crossing point for the west branch of the Cooper River, and nearby Biggin Church. The letter also detailed that the militia arriving from North Carolina were poorly armed — some lacking ammunition, others basic weapons.

At 3:00 a.m., the dragoons and mounted infantry of the Legion charged the Patriot cavalry on the western end of the bridge. Catching them completely by surprise, the Legion aggressively pushed through to the Patriot main camp. Many Patriot officers, including the force’s commander, Brigadier General Isaac Huger, fled into the swamp. Some Continental light dragoons escaped into the darkness.

Meanwhile, Major Cochrane and the British Legion infantry charged with fixed bayonets at the church and chased the poorly supplied militia into the swamp. The British captured 42 wagons of arms, clothing and ammunition and several hundred horses. The brutal saber and bayonet attack used in the battle became a hallmark of Tarleton’s tactics in the Southern Campaigns, as did refusing to give quarter to wounded troops.

Today, most of the site of the fighting at Moncks Corner has been lost to modern development. However, upon the launch of The Liberty Trail, interpretive signage will be added at a roadside pull-off area, with additional historical content available through The Liberty Trail mobile tour.

Mepkin Abbey

"Mepkin Abbey South Carolina" by Davey Borden is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The Liberty Trail will include the Moncks Corner home of rice planter Henry Laurens on the Cooper River. When South Carolina declared its independence and formed a republic, Laurens was its vice president. He succeeded John Hancock as president of the Continental Congress, and it was during his tenure that the Articles of Confederation were passed. After his presidential term, Laurens served as minister to the Netherlands. While at sea in 1780, his ship was intercepted by a British frigate and Laurens was taken prisoner. He was charged with treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London, the only American held there during the war. Laurens was released in exchange for Lord Cornwallis on December 31, 1781, and continued to Amsterdam to raise money for the American cause.

Laurens’ son John was an aide-de-camp to General George Washington early in the war. He returned to South Carolina in 1779 and was captured during the siege of Charles Town. In late 1780, the Continental Congress dispatched him to France seeking supplies and financing. He returned home in time to see the French fleet join Washington at Yorktown.

In October 1781, Laurens returned to South Carolina in command of a battalion of light infantry, but was killed in August 1782 at the Battle of the Combahee River. Together with Alexander Hamilton, Laurens was a proponent of freeing the slaves in America, advancing a plan that would have granted African Americans their liberty in exchange for military service.

Today, the site of the home of Henry and John Laurens is located at Mepkin Abbey, a community of Roman Catholic monks established in 1949. Mepkin Abbey is currently open to the public and once incorporated into The Liberty Trail, this site will tell the story of John and Henry Laurens and their impact on achieving American independence.

Learn more:

Liberty Trail Map: Initial Map

They secured our freedom. It’s time for us to honor their legacy. Please make a gift to join this exciting initiative to do justice to South Carolina’s crucial role in Revolutionary history. Become a Liberty Trailblazer today with a founding contribution to this visionary new project.