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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:
In late December 1779, British Commander-in-Chief Sir Henry Clinton sailed with an expeditionary force out of New York. Clinton’s objective was Charles Town, South Carolina. The port city was one of the largest in North America, the gateway to the South and an important link in the Continental supply chain. Clinton had led an attempt to capture the city in 1776 which had been turned back by a stout American defense.
By the middle of February, Clinton had landed along the coast south of Charles Town. His army steadily moved from island to island as the British inched closer to the city. After assuming a position on the land side of Charles Town, Clinton initiated siege operations against the Continental army under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. The British dug parallels and repulsed Lincoln’s sorties to interrupt their operations.
A little over a week later, British warships ran past Charles Town’s seaside defenses and penetrated the harbor. On April 14, a British force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton cut off Lincoln’s communications at Moncks Corner. Tarleton struck again at Lenud’s Ferry in early May and effectively sealed off any escape by land. With Clinton’s lines getting ever closer, Lincoln decided to surrender. Charles Town fell to the British on May 12. It was the most devastating defeat of the war for the Americans. South Carolina lay open for the British.
Today, a small segment of the original hornwork that formed a portion of the city’s defenses remains in Marion Square in Downtown Charleston. Through The Liberty Trail, we plan to create a “Gateway Experience” in Marion Square that will both interpret this pivotal moment in the Revolutionary War and introduce The Liberty Trail to potential visitors with a combination of physical signage and digital resources.
Learn more: The Siege of Charleston
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: The Battle of Waxhaws
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: The Battle of Hanging Rock
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 parks 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: HistoricCamden.org
With the initiative firmly in hand following victory at Camden British General Charles Lord Cornwallis set out to conquer North Carolina. Cornwallis assigned the task of guarding his left flank to the Inspector of Militia, Maj. Patrick Ferguson. At the head of a Loyalist force, which included the King’s American Regiment and New Jersey Regiment, Ferguson planned to pacify Whigs in the South Carolina backcountry. He issued a proclamation that all Patriots lay down their arms or he would “lay waste to the country with fire and sword”.
Apprised of the threat, various Whig militias led by William Campbell, Benjamin Cleveland, Joseph McDowell, John Sevier, and Isaac Shelby rallied to confront Ferguson. Since many of them came from the western part of the Carolinas and the present state of Tennessee they were known as "Overmountain Men." Shadowed by the threat of the Overmountain Men, Ferguson deployed on a series of hills two miles inside the South Carolina border known as Kings Mountain. Whig scouts discovered Ferguson's presence and the Americans prepared for an assault.
Early in the afternoon of October 7, the Americans launched their assault on all four sides. Despite the broken and rugged terrain, Ferguson decided to fight a conventional battle. Ferguson launched a series of bayonet charges to drive off the Americans. Each time, the Overmountain Men broke off their advance and withdrew to Ferguson’s flanks to strike after the Loyalists redeployed to face a threat from another direction. Steadily, the Americans fought their way up Kings Mountain.
Attempting to rally his men on horseback, Ferguson was killed, and his entire command was either killed or captured. The loss of Ferguson's force prompted Cornwallis to temporarily abandon his offensive in North Carolina and permanently shifted the initiative to the Americans in the South. British Commander-in-Chief Sir Henry Clinton lamented the battle was "the first link in a chain of evils that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America."
In 1931, the National Park Service established the Kings Mountain National Military Park in recognition of the pivotal role this battle played in the American Revolution. Kings Mountain, and the other National Park Service sites in South Carolina, will be anchor sites on The Liberty Trail.
Learn more: Kings Mountain
The defeat at King’s Mountain compelled Lord Cornwallis’s withdrawal to South Carolina. One of the British commander’s concerns as winter approached was the activity of the American partisans, particularly that of Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox” and Thomas Sumter, “The Gamecock”. In the second week of November, Sumter defeated a British force under Maj. James Weymss at Fish Dam Ford on the Broad River. Determined to neutralize Sumter’s militia, Cornwallis ordered Banastre Tarleton into the field. Tarleton rode at the head of a mixed command which consisted of his own British Legion, a battalion of the 71st Regiment of Foot and part of the 63rd Regiment of Foot.
Sumter soon learned of Tarleton’s pursuit and, after a council of war, decided to make a stand at William Blackstock’s plantation near the Tyger River. Pressing his men hard, Tarleton arrived in front of Sumter’s line with the Legion dragoons and mounted elements of the 63rd Regiment on November 20.
Tarleton sent the 63rd forward against Sumter’s position, opposite him on a hill where the Blackstock home was located. Sumter countered by advancing his militia, which were quickly turned back by the British bayonets. The 63rd continued their attack but ran into stiff resistance from riflemen along the main line. Sumter’s riflemen quickly began to take a toll in the British ranks. Tarleton recognized that the infantry was in trouble and led a cavalry charge that covered the retreat of the 63rd. Although Sumter was wounded in the engagement, the Americans held the field at nightfall. Under the cover of darkness, Tarleton pulled back. He returned the next morning to find that Sumter had withdrawn across the Tyger and to safety.
Today, the Blackstock’s Battlefield is a South Carolina State Park. Through The Liberty Trail initiative, we plan to substantially increase the on-site interpretation at this battlefield, which has remained untouched by development since the time of the battle.
Learn more: Blackstock's Farm
After the disaster at Camden, Gen. George Washington replaced Horatio Gates with Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. The new commander of the Southern Department arrived outside Charlotte in early December 1780. Greene found his new command ill equipped and ill supplied. To remedy the situation, he dispatched Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan and a “flying army” into the South Carolina backcountry. Morgan’s assignment was to gather food and forage, support the local militias and harass the British outposts.
Faced with another threat to his left flank, Lord Charles Cornwallis moved quickly to suppress Morgan’s force. He once again dispatched Banastre Tarleton to find and defeat Morgan. Apprised of Tarleton’s movement, Morgan withdrew toward the Broad River. On January 16, he camped in an open, rolling meadow used by farmers to herd livestock before driving them to market, Cowpens.
Morgan formed for battle the next morning. He placed his men into three separate lines. The first consisted of riflemen from Georgia and the Carolinas. Behind them Morgan placed Andrew Pickens and his militia. His final line was made up predominately of Continental Regulars from the Delaware and Maryland Lines under John Eager Howard. The deployment was later termed a “defense in depth”. The concept was for each line to inflict casualties and exhaust the attacking British while slowly retreating to the third and final position, where Morgan hoped to strike a decisive blow.
Tarleton’s advance arrived on the field just after first light. Stiff resistance from Morgan’s skirmishers soon compelled Tarleton to shake out a battle line with his infantry in the center and cavalry on the flanks. The riflemen calmly retreated to Pickens’s position where the militia fired two volleys and headed for the rear. Sensing a shift in momentum, Tarleton ordered the 17th Light Dragoons to charge. Morgan countered by sending forward Col. William Washington’s dragoons. Washington’s men deftly met and pushed back the British thrust.
Despite this repulse, Tarleton’s infantry continued toward Morgan’s last line where they were summarily brought to a halt by Howard’s Continentals. Tarleton decided to add more weight to his line and ordered the 1st Battalion of the 71st Regiment to reinforce his left. To meet this threat, Howard directed his men to change front. Some of Howard’s men, however, misinterpreted the order and calmly faced about withdrew. Emboldened, the British infantry broke ranks in a bayonet charge.
At the direction of Howard and Morgan, the Continentals faced about on a low knoll. Their ensuing volley shocked and shredded Tarleton’s ranks. Morgan then launched a charge of his own. With the Continentals in the center, Pickens’s reformed militia on the right and Washington slicing into Tarleton’s left and rear, Morgan achieved a double envelopment. Tarleton’s line collapsed as the British fled the field in terror. “I gave him a devil of a whipping” Morgan wrote a few days after Cowpens. His victory boosted already soaring American morale, inflicted casualties Cornwallis could not replace and set off a string of events that eventually led to the British surrender at Yorktown.
Cowpens National Battlefield Park, along with Kings Mountain National Military Park, Ninety Six National Historic Site and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail form the National Park Service’s Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks Group.
Learn more: Cowpens National Battlefield Park
Fort Watson, built atop a Santee Indian ceremonial 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
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.
Learn more: The Battle of Eutaw Springs
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. 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.
Learn more: Fort Fair Lawn
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: Mepkin Abbey
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.