A new driving tour connects South Carolina’s pivotal Revolutionary War battlegrounds
By Jen Tota McGivney
“In true ways, the fighting in the swamps and backcountry and mountains of the Carolinas helped changed the course of world history,” says Mary Koik, the director of communications for the American Battlefield Trust.
For most of us, our Revolutionary War education dates to an elementary school classroom. We learned about Saratoga, Ticonderoga and Valley Forge. And then we learned about the British surrender at Yorktown. But, Koik says, too many of us don’t know how Americans got to Yorktown. The path to the Patriots’ victory came through the Carolinas.
A South Carolina driving tour takes these stories out of the classroom and returns them to their original sites. The Liberty Trail connects 16 parks and 14 roadside pull-offs of significant Revolutionary War sites, and plans are to expand this trail in the coming years. This trail not only tells the story of the famous generals and politicians we already know, but it tells the stories we don’t hear enough — of the Black and Native American soldiers, as well as the women and families, who played crucial roles in the war.
“This is something we’re excited about because these stories deserve to be told,” Koik says. “This shouldn’t just be taught in every elementary school history class in South and North Carolina. But this is something that all Americans should be proud of. It matters.”
The Americans’ biggest surrender of the war came in Charleston (then, Charles Town), with about 3,000 Patriots captured, as well as their weapons and supplies. This is the battle that began a new phase of the war in South Carolina, and it is the gateway to the state’s Revolutionary history.
Today, you can see a historical marker in Marion Square for the 1780 siege, or tour the South Carolina Historical Society Museum. In a few years, Marion Square will include an augmented reality experience that will allow you to see the old fortifications of Charleston when it was a walled 18th century city, even as you walk through its charming 21st century streets.
Old Santee Canal Park
The Berkley County Museum and Heritage Center offers an education on Francis Marion, who was born here in Berkeley County. Marion — who fought a brutal battle against the Cherokee Indians, who were native to the state — adopted their ambush tactics during his campaigns against British loyalists, leading to his nickname of the “swamp fox.”
The forests, fields and streams where these battles were held now offer places to hike, ride horses, bird watch and fish. Wander down a four-mile boardwalk along Biggin Creek, or take a three-mile canoe ride through a swamp.
This is the site of the state’s final major Revolutionary War battle, and even today, no one quite agrees which side won. To some, the Loyalists won after they drove Patriot forces back to North Carolina. To others, it was a Patriot victory because of the higher number of Loyalist casualties. After all, the British would surrender just one month later.
Here, you can walk through a 14-acre battlefield, see a century-old monument to the Revolution, and find the tomb of a British officer. In upcoming years, return here to explore educational exhibits at the battlefield that will teach about this pivotal point in the war.
For over a year, Camden was a British-occupied town after a Patriot defeat. When the British army left in 1781, they burned much of the town behind them. Today, historic preservationists have reconstructed an 18th century home, a tavern, blacksmith shed, and other buildings. Plus, nearly 500 acres of the Camden Battlefield and Longleaf Pine Preserve have been protected and are open to the public. A driving tour is also available at Hobkirk’s Hill Battlefield.
Camden will open a visitor center this year with exhibits that teach the history of Camden and how it shaped the war. “This is a community that’s really embraced its history, and they’re doing something really fantastic here,” Koik says.
The Battle of Waxhaws was one of the most brutal battles of the Revolutionary War. Some Americans reported that the British massacred surrendering troops, even bayoneting wounded Americans after the battle ended. Although the Battle of Waxhaws dealt a blow to American forces, it also become a battle cry for revenge: Afterward, soldiers from throughout the South pursued British troops with shouts of, “Remember Waxhaws!”
You can visit 51 preserved acres at Waxhaws today. The Liberty Trail is working to expand this battlefield park with new educational features that honor the contributions of the soldiers who died in this battle.
After the British victory at Camden, British General Charles Lord Cornwallis believed he could continue to take over the American South and recruit new British Loyalists. Kings Mountain changed that. No British troops fought in this battle; it was a brother-against-brother battle between Americans who fought for loyalty to the crown and the patriots who fought for independence. The Patriots won, creating a momentum that led to the British surrender at Yorktown. Today, you can walk the Battlefield Trail (1.5 miles) to see monuments and educational exhibits. Hiking trails and horse trails are also available to explore.
For more information, visit: Battlefields.org/preserve/liberty-trail-southern-campaigns-revolutionary-war