Tag Archives: South Carolina

Southern Rev War site news

Some of my favorite national parks are joining forces:

Southeast Regional Director Stan Austin announced that four National Park units in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia will begin to consolidate operations on or about September 1. The four units represent significant stories of the American Revolution in the southern United States.

“This action will ensure financial sustainability, provide more efficient use of resources, and help these parks to better serve the visiting public,” Austin said. “The units share historic backgrounds, missions and geographic proximity, and this provides an opportunity to share employees who perform identical or similar functions at each of the parks.”

Kings Mountain National Military Park, Cowpens National Battlefield, and Ninety Six National Historic Site are located in South Carolina. Overmountain Victory Trail spans parts of Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. As part of the National Trails Program, it is a partnership entity and does not own land.

The four units will be formed into a “group” under one general superintendent who will manage all four units. The National Park Service has begun the hiring process for a general superintendent. It is expected that the position will be filled by September 1, and the new superintendent will begin the process of combining park functions. The new superintendent will also be responsible to promote the individual identity of each park and build coalitions within each of the parks’ surrounding communities. It has not yet been determined where the new superintendent will be stationed, but it will be at one of the three existing park units.

It’s a move that makes sense, I think.  KMNMP and the OVT are inseparably intertwined, Cowpens is one of the stops on the trail, and Ninety Six in the same general neck of the woods.  I just hope this isn’t a sign that any of these parks are having major financial trouble and needing to cut back on operations.

Meanwhile, Historic Brattonsville has unveiled some big changes at the site of Huck’s Defeat (or the Battle of Williamson’s Plantation, if you prefer):

The new quarter-mile gravel trail, which is part of the attraction, features a series of interpretive kiosks that illustrate the details of the battle and tell the story of the Williamson and Bratton families.…

Lynch [no relation to yours truly] said a wood frame has been erected at the site where the Williamson home stood. Painted cutouts of soldiers representing the British and American forces have been placed on the battle field to illustrate what happened, he said.

The CHM also commissioned Charlotte painters Don Troiani and Dan Nance to visually capture the story of the Battle of Huck’s Defeat.

Seven original paintings will be on display in Brattonsville’s Visitors Center during the opening weekend festivities. Prints of the artwork will be sold year-round. Nance will be on hand to sign prints both days, Lynch said.

Lynch said the Visitors Center will also feature a new 14-minute documentary that will help visitors understand the events that played out during Huck’s Defeat.

“It enriches the experience,” Lynch said. “You have the battlefield trail and the video you can watch to augment the experience.”

When I visited Historic Brattonsville a few years ago there was a trail to the battleground and a short pre-recorded narration, but it’s great to see that they’re telling the story more fully.  If you haven’t been to HB, I heartily recommend it.  It’s a wonderful place to learn about the early South Carolina backcountry.

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Early South Carolina graveyard desecrated

Graves opened and stones broken at a cemetery in York County, SC.  Some of the burials date back to the eighteenth century.

I was just reading about the Rev War skirmishes in and around York County before turning in last night.  Hope they catch the lowlife who did this.

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The backwoods battles of the Revolutionary War

While Continentals, Redcoats, and militiamen were battling it out in the American Revolution, a related struggle played out on the frontiers of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia as settlers and Indians wrestled for control of the West.  This frontier war for land and independence doesn’t get as much scholarly attention as the conventional war to the eastward, which is why I was glad to see the release of Richard D. Blackmon’s Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier a couple of months ago. 

Blackmon demonstrates that colonial officials tasked with maintaining the Indians’ loyalty had long struggled with unscrupulous traders and land-hungry frontiersmen, and found their role even more difficult when those frontiersmen became rebellious colonists.  In the South, this responsibility fell on the shoulders of John Stuart, Superintendent for the Southern Department.  Both Stuart and his Whig opponents tried to secure the support (or at least the neutrality) of the southern tribes, which required supplying the Indians with the arms and powder on which they depended for hunting and persuading the tribes to expel agents working for the opposing side.

All-out war finally erupted on the frontier in the summer of 1776, after Stuart and his deputies failed to convince the Cherokees that a general assault on the settlements would only inflame white Whigs and Tories alike into reprisals.  The response from the Carolinas and Virginia was precisely what Stuart had feared.  Frontier militias rebounded from the attacks and marched into the Indian towns, burning crops and dwellings while engaging in battles with war parties.  These invasions of Cherokee country forced the tribe to trade land for peace, although a faction of warriors led by Dragging Canoe refused to lay down their arms and instead moved south to continue resistance against the settlements.

The Creeks, meanwhile, were divided over whether to join Britain’s war against the colonists, reluctant to take up arms without the support of British troops and supplies.  Pro-British Creeks did attack the Georgia frontier in 1778, although the Whigs kept part of the tribe neutral by supplying them with goods.  When British armies finally invaded the South, the Whigs faced the two-front war which they had long dreaded, but British military activity in that region was never as well-coordinated as advocates of a frontier strategy desired.

Ultimately, those Native Americans who cast their lot with England lost their military gamble, as British troops evacuated the southern posts they had been trying to maintain since the late 1770’s, leaving the Cherokees, Creeks, and other tribes at the mercy of an independent United States.  Although the war brought devastation and bloodshed to the frontiersmen (the Cumberland settlements in present-day Middle Tennessee and the Kentucky settlements proved especially vulnerable), it reduced residents of the devastated Indian communities to an especially precarious existence, and the final peace between the U.S. and England in 1783 proved to be a mere intermission in the contest for the West.

My only complaint about this book is a curious omission.  Blackmon’s description of the struggle between frontiersmen and Cherokees in 1776 is quite detailed, but it doesn’t really cover the summer attacks on the settlements in what is now northeastern Tennessee.  He does deal with the wrangling among Tennessee settlers, British officials, and Native Americans that preceded these attacks, as well as John Sevier’s later battles against the Chickamaugas, but readers interested in the early history of the Volunteer State may be disappointed that the siege of Ft. Caswell doesn’t get the same coverage as the Ring Fight, the defense of Boonesborough, and the Battle of the Bluffs.

That criticism aside, this book is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the American Revolution or the early frontier, utilizing both official documentation and eyewitness accounts of the major engagements.  Blackmon’s analyses of Andrew Williamson’s exploits and the negotiations at Ft. Patrick Henry are the best I’ve read.  Even if your knowledge of the war’s backwoods battles is extensive, it’s heplful to have a solid overview of the entire frontier war for the South in one volume, placed deftly in the context of the larger war as a whole.

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What’s the epicenter of the Revolution?

At least one writer in Boston is a little miffed because Philadelphia will be home to the new Museum of the American Revolution.  Personally, I think Philly is the better option, just because it’s more centrally located and because it was the capital.

Besides, Boston already has so many great early American sites that maybe it’s time to share the love a little.  New England is the only American region I haven’t visited yet, but when I finally go there, it’ll be a multi-week orgy of historical sightseeing the like of which mankind has yet to witness.

This might surprise you, but I think a good third-runner-up home for the museum would be Charleston.  Think about it: Almost one-fifth of all American combat deaths in the war were in South Carolina during the war’s last years, and there were probably more armed clashes there than in any other state with the possible exception of New Jersey.  (My source for these claims is John Gordon’s book on Rev War battles in the Palmetto State.)  Of course, two things you don’t want near your artifacts are humidity and hurricanes, but I’m in favor of anything that will shave a few hours off my drive when this thing opens.

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Putting a face on Benjamin Cleveland

Some folks in Cleveland, TN have commissioned a portrait of the town’s namesake, Revolutionary War hero Benjamin Cleveland of North Carolina.  Don Troiani will be doing the painting.  The 300-lb. Cleveland commanded the Wilkes County militia at King’s Mountain and persecuted backcountry Tories with a zeal bordering on fanaticism.  As far as I know, there aren’t any contemporary likenesses of him, so this will be the first attempt at an accurate depiction.

My favorite anecdote about Benjamin Cleveland involves the capture of two horse thieves.  Cleveland hanged one and then offered the other a choice—he could either join his partner at the end of a rope or take a case knife, cut off his own ears, and never show his face in that neck of the woods again.  The guy took the knife, sharpened it on a brick, gritted his teeth, and set to work.  To quote the Joker in The Dark Knight, “Even to a guy like me, that’s cold.”

Speaking of the Carolinas, renowned Palmetto State historian Walter Edgar is retiring.  He’s a guy who takes public history as seriously as he takes scholarship, so here’s hoping he keeps writing and speaking.

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So you want to have a national heritage area

There’s an interesting controversy brewing in the Carolinas.

Advocates in North and South Carolina are fighting to have a region made up of 58 counties recognized as a national heritage area, specifically focusing on the contributions made by the Carolinas during the American Revolution.

The national heritage designation is a way to celebrate, protect and preserve what makes a region unique and can be used as a tool for tourism.

Examples of places with a national heritage designation include the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area and Iowa’s Silo and Smokestacks National Heritage Area.

Sounds like a good idea to me.  So what’s the problem?

A recent National Park Service study was completed, and the counties were told they did not meet the necessary criteria for the designation.

In the published results, one of the reasons cited was that there is a lack of distinctive cultural traditions in North and South Carolina from the 18th century that have carried over into today’s everyday life. These distinctive characteristics must be readily apparent to an outside observer.

What, I wonder, would constitute a readily apparent and distinctive cultural tradition from the eighteenth century?  Knee breeches?  Smallpox inoculation?

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Research isn’t his strong suit

Richard Rapaport shows us why hard-hitting journalists make the big bucks:

At the start of the Revolution, South Carolina informed the Continental Congress that it would refuse to sign the Declaration of Independence unless slavery was recognized. South Carolina even demanded the right to disregard an embargo on trade with Great Britain agreed to by the 12 other colonies. It was an exemption that allowed South Carolina to maintain its lucrative rice trade and remain among the richest colonies throughout the Revolution, which it largely sat out, happily occupied by the British army.

Um, South Carolina didn’t exactly sit that one out, dude.  The Palmetto State possibly played host to more Rev War engagements than any of the thirteen.  By one estimate, almost one-fifth of all combat deaths in the entire war took place in South Carolina during the last two years of fighting.  “Happily occupied” is a most inappropriate description of a state riven by bloody partisan warfare for much of 1780 and 1781.

Granted, this has little bearing on his larger point, which is that South Carolina has been and continues to be a state which is off its collective rocker.  Personally, I’ve always been of the opinion that this reputation for extremism has been overstated.  The evidence Rapaport presents—a restriction of the right of manumission in the colonial period, rampant secessionism in the mid-1800’s, and so on—doesn’t really indicate a greater degree of lunacy than that found in any other state’s history.  I’m not sure how a social scientist would account for centuries of sustained kookery on such a scale.  Some heretofore unidentified Lamarckian process—an inheritance of acquired political characteristics? Something in the water?

Oh, well.  Not being a South Carolinian myself, I suppose I don’t have much at stake in the matter.  I do travel to the Palmetto State on a fairly regular basis, and wouldn’t at all mind taking up residence there, so that probably explains why the article irked me.  That, and one other thing: Rapaport’s byline describes him as a “Bay Area writer.”  Surely San Franciscans above all people should hesitate before diagnosing an entire population with psychosis?  People who live in glass houses, etc.

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A few miscellaneous Rev War items

First off, happy Cowpens anniversary.  Here’s a report on this year’s festivities.

While we’re on the subject of the war in the Carolinas, the marker for Pyle’s Defeat (or “Pyle’s Hacking Match,” as it’s more colorfully known) apparently needs some major revision.

During last night’s Republican debate, Newt Gingrich invoked Old Hickory’s backcountry boyhood: “We’re in South Carolina. South Carolina in the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabred by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them.”  That sums up Jackson’s attitude pretty accurately, I think, although throwing in the anecdote seems a little gratuitous.

Finally, Richard Ketchum, author of a number of popular books on the War for Independence, passed away last week.

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Tory trap

As I mentioned last time, during our recent trip along the OVNHT my cousin and I managed to visit a site I’d wanted to see for a while now.  It’s not on the trail itself, but it’s inextricably tied to the story of King’s Mountain.

In the summer of 1780, as the British established outposts throughout the South Carolina backcountry and Maj. Patrick Ferguson began organizing Loyalist auxiliaries to fight alongside the Redcoats, bands of partisan militia coalesced to thwart their efforts. One of these bands—two hundred Whigs led by Isaac Shelby of present-day Tennessee, Elijah Clarke of Georgia, and James Williams of South Carolina—decided to attack a Tory post at Musgrove Mill near a ford on the Enoree River on August 19, thinking they were facing a force of equal numbers.  When they arrived in the vicinity, however, they discovered that 300 more troops had reinforced the Tories.  The Whigs were outnumbered by more than two to one, and the Tories knew they were in the neighborhood.

It was too late to retreat, and their numbers were too few to launch an all-out attack.  The only alternative was to make a stand.  One of the officers, Captain Shadrach Inman, devised a plan to draw the Tories into an ambush.  A small party would head to the ford and draw the Tories toward the main body, which was posted on a small ridge behind a breastwork of logs and brush.  The plan worked; when the Tories pursued the small force to the ridge, the main body of Whigs sprang the trap, opening fire from behind their makeshift fortification at very close range.

It was a stunning victory, but no sooner had it been won than the Whigs learned that an American army under Horatio Gates had recently been defeated at Camden.  Cut off from support, the Patriots retreated, Shelby taking his contingent back across the mountains.  In September, as the British pushed northward, Ferguson sent a threat to Shelby and his fellow mountaineers, informing them that if they continued interfering with the progress of British arms he would bring the war to their frontier homes. Instead of being cowed, the Overmountain Men came back in larger numbers than ever, wiping out Ferguson’s force at King’s Mountain in October.

Today the battleground where Shelby, Clarke, and Williams lured the Tories into a deadly ambush is part of Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, the newest state park in South Carolina.  The visitor center has a small, one-room exhibit, parts of which were still under construction when we were there.  It includes displays of eighteenth-century weapons, along with information on the experiences of women in the wartime backcountry.  The centerpiece is a three-dimensional model of the battlefield, with a recorded narration of the fight illustrated with moving lights, similar to the larger electric map presentation formerly housed in the old visitor center at Gettysburg.

Two different trails allow you to see the battleground and the Musgrove property.  Each one is a little more than a mile long, winding among wooded hills with interpretive signage along the way.  One trail heads down toward the Enoree River to the mill site and past a small fishing pond.  The signage here tells the story of the Musgrove family, the mill, and the importance of the ford.

One thing you’ll encounter on this route is a monument to Mary Musgrove, daughter of the mill’s owner.  After her death, she morphed into the fictionalized heroine of the nineteenth-century novel Horse-Shoe Robinson, a story set in the backcountry during the Revolution.  Historians can’t substantiate the exploits attributed to her in the book, but Mary herself was quite real indeed.

The other trail, which starts a short drive away from the visitor center, takes you to the ridge where the militia lay in ambush.  This hike is a little more strenuous, but there are plenty of spots to rest.  Wayside signs describe the men who fought there and set up the story of the battle.  Tradition holds that Mary Musgrove hid a Patriot from marauding Tories at Horseshoe Falls, located near the trailhead.

Eventually, after ascending a few hills and passing alongside the roadbed used by the Tories in their pursuit of the Patriots’ advance party, you’ll come to the ridge where the main action took place.

Atop the hill is a small memorial to the Patriot dead.  One of those killed was Capt. Inman, who devised the plan that ended in a victory over superior numbers.

Musgrove Mill wasn’t a large engagement, but like many of the nasty firefights that erupted in the backcountry, its impact was considerable.  It demonstrated the capabilities of the Whig partisans, who could maul British detachments even in a province where American resistance was supposedly subdued.  For a small park, this site has quite a bit going for it; the battlefield is clearly interpreted, fans of the outdoors can take advantage of fishing and canoeing, and the scenery along the trails would make an afternoon hike here enjoyable even for those who aren’t into the Rev War.

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An African-American politician says we should stop bickering and start commemorating

Read all about it.  Here’s a sample:

Ford said senators should get involved in anniversary commemorations to encourage understanding, to prevent misinformation and the spread of hatred.

“If people died, and we’re going to have this celebration, I want everybody in South Carolina to be united on it, to understand each other, to talk to each other,” said the 62-year-old New Orleans native. “Don’t be just mean-spirited. Be willing to talk to your white colleagues. Be willing to talk to your black colleagues. Be willing to go to the schools and talk to students, say, listen, we’ve got to move forward from what you think happened between 1861 and 1865.”

 An NAACP spokesman is calling him a “Confederate apologist.”  I think that’s quite an overstatement, but maybe that’s just me.  Anyway, check out the news story and see what you think.

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