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Revolutionary War Battlefields in South Carolina

March 16, 2016

March 10 – It was about a 7.5 hour drive from Springfield to Gastonia NC, which is just west of Charlotte.  We stopped in Gallipolis OH on the Ohio River to eat our pre-made lunch and check out a pawn shop and their Goodwill.  We learned that Gallipolis, “Galli for Gaul or France and the Greek ‘polis’ for city,” was settled by the French in 1790 – after the Revolutionary War.

March 11 – Started our day at the Waffle House in Gastonia and then had a short drive to Kings Mountain National Military Park, SC.  We arrived at 8am an hour before the Visitor Center opened and were able to hike the 1.5 mile self-guiding Battlefield Trail by ourselves on a beautiful SC morning.

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Background – Not many Americans realize the importance of the Revolutionary War battles fought in the South.  The Revolutionary War, begun in 1775, had been fought to a stalemate in the North and England turned its strategy to the South.  They took Charleston (America’s fourth largest city) in 1780 – it was the worst patriot defeat of the war!   General Lord Cornwallis was then put in charge and directed to re-establish English control of the South. He was to move north and join loyalist troops at the Chesapeake Bay thereby closing the eastern seaboard.

There were many loyalists who joined the British forces and together they had early successes in the campaign.  As Cornwallis moved further inland, he put Maj. Patrick Ferguson, reputed to be the best marksman in the British Army, in charge of his left flank and Col. Banastre Tarleton in charge of his right flank.  Tarleton attacked a column of about 400 Virginia patriots on May 29 near Waxhaws SC.  Overpowered, they surrendered, however the loyalists continued the attack and slaughtered over 200 and captured 53.  This enraged the patriots and the call went out over the mountains in the summer to gather at Sycamore Shoals TN.  On September 26th patriots from TN, KY and VA started their march over the mountains (330 miles) and on route were joined by local militias.  The path they took is now designated as the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

As Ferguson moved west, he sent out a message to the “backwater men” that if they did not desist from their opposition, “he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders and lay waste with fire and sword.”  This proved to be a strategic blunder as it forced these independent “over-mountain men” to surrender to British rule or fight.  By October a group of about 2,000 mostly mounted patriots were pursuing Ferguson.  He knew they were coming and was confident that the high ground on Kings Mountain would allow him to defeat the rebels.

The patriots (Tories) picked 900 of their best riflemen and surrounded the ridge.  About 1,100 loyalists (Twigs) rained down musket fire.  There were few uniforms of any sort so the patriots wore white paper in their hats while the loyalists wore twigs so each could determine the enemy.  The guerrilla tactics of the frontiersmen allowed them to move up the mountain despite two bayonet charges by the loyalists.

Markers related to the Chronicle regiment’s attack from the Northeast

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Ferguson had two horses shot out from under him and was on a third when he was hit by musket fire at this spot

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He fell and his men dragged him to this point and propped him against a tree where he died

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Ferguson’s grave

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The rest of the story – Recall that Ferguson was reputed to be the best marksman in the British Army.  Ferguson had fought at Brandywine PA in 1777, and as the story goes, he was a scout and had George Washington in his sites.  He did not know who the officer on the horse was, but choose not to fire because his back was to him.  Would Washington’s death have changed the outcome of the war?

As the patriots took the mountain the remaining loyalists attempted to surrender but the enraged frontiersmen continued their revenge killing for several minutes until their commander’s regained control.  In about an hour Cornwallis’s left flank was entirely eliminated and the patriots took control of cannon, arms and supplies.  Many historians mark this battle as “The Turning Point of the American Revolutionary War.”

The 83 ft U.S. Monument was dedicated in 1909

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The Centennial Monument was dedicated on October 7, 1930 by President Hoover – the 150th year anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain

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Cowpens National Battlefield – it took less than an hour to drive here from Kings Mountain NMP.  “Cow Pens” was a place where farmers brought their cows to fatten them up before driving them to Charleston.

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This map shows British (Cornwallis – red) and American line (blue) marches and battles from the May 12, 1980 taking of Charleston to the British surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781

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Recall that Cornwallis had split his forces and put Col. Banastre Tarleton in charge of his right flank.  Also, Tarleton was in command at the slaughter of over 200 continentals at Waxhaws SC.  After that battle he was nicknamed “Bloody Ban.”

General Nathanael Greene was placed in charge of the Southern Campaign in 1780 by George Washington.  He in turn put General Daniel Morgan in charge of his light troops.  On January 17, 1781, Morgan led his army (970) of Continentals and backwoods militia to a decisive victory over Tarleton’s force of regulars (1050).  About ninety percent of Tarleton’s force was destroyed.  The Martin Militia –

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U.S. Memorial Monument was erected in 1932

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As usual, nice displays and good video in the Visitors Center

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Washington Light Infantry Monument erected in 1856

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Robert Scruggs House – was built on the eastern end of the battlefield around 1828 and is now a historic component of Cowpens National Battlefield

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Ninety Six National Historic Site – Our third Revolutionary battle site of the day!  Historians believe that this crossroads got its name because it was on the Cherokee Path from Charleston to the Cherokee Town of Keowee near present day Clemson SC – a distance of about 96 miles.

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The Logan House

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One Mile Walking Tour

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Ninety Six was a critical crossroads in the SC backcountry.  In 1780 Lt. Col. John Cruger was put in command of 550 American loyalists.  He proceeded to reinforce the walls of the town’s stockade and build a Star Fort.

The Star Fort was a formidable defense when Gen. Nathanael Greene laid siege with about 1000 men on May 22, 1781

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The Continentals proceeded to dig trenches and a rifle tower in preparation for an attack

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However, before preparations were complete, Greene received word that a relief column of 2,000 British regulars were on their way.  As a result, he ordered Col. “Light-horse Harry” Lee (father of the Civil War’s General Robert E. Lee) to attack the Stockade Fort and 50 volunteers to move out of the trenches and cut through the sharpened stakes of the Star Fort to prepare for an assault by the main army.

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Lee captured the Stockade Fort west of the Star Fort but when Cruger ordered his troops into the ditch surrounding the Star Fort, fierce hand-to-hand fighting resulted in a stalemate with heavy losses on both sides.

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Greene did not have enough time to organize another assault and slipped away the morning of June 20th before the relief column arrived.  Though Greene did not win the siege, the British decided to retreat nearer the coast and leave the backcountry to the patriots.

 

 

One comment

  1. I visited Cowpens, I think, with my PC friend, Ben Robinson, a few years ago. It’s in NC, isn’t it? Also, I think we took a trip to King Mtn. It’s in GA, isn’t it?

    Joe



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