SOUTH CAROLINA: The military, past and present
South Carolina’s history: from the War for Independence from Britain, the American Civil War, the World Wars and conflicts of recent time.
While many people have to read about military history, South Carolina residents can see it up close. It is here that the American armed forces first took up arms, and that presence is still alive and well, hundreds of years later.
From the War for Independence with Britain to today’s war on terror, South Carolina and its citizens have played an important role in each military conflict of our nation. The Palmetto State is small in size compared to many other states, but its place in military history is strong.
As one of the original 13 colonies, South Carolina played a crucial role in the struggle for American independence. In fact, the first British Invasion (and hence, the first American defence) occurred at Charleston in 1776. From that time until the end of the war, more than 214 battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the state.
Today, this Revolutionary War history comes to life in South Carolina’s museums, battlefield memorials, historic sites and living history events.
Travel the trail of Colonial life and revolutionary resistance. Learn about famed fighters such as Francis Marion, the hero with the nickname “Swamp Fox” whose guerrilla tactics exhausted British troops. Find out how the palmetto tree helped to save Charleston and visit the battlefields where armies fought and America’s independence was won.
About a hundred years later, South Carolina was home to another war – the American Civil War. This is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired: as the first Southern state to secede from the Union, South Carolina was a major player in the Civil War.
Tour South Carolina Civil War plantations, where contending armies once took refuge. Take a Civil War walking tour of historic Charleston, the site of the first British invasion and visit Fort Sumter National Monument, where Confederate troops fired the first shots of the Civil War. And explore the battlegrounds where Confederate and Union troops clashed during Sherman’s march through the state.
For those interested in more recent history, South Carolina has a Military Heritage Trail. It commemorates the role of the Palmetto State and its citizens in all of the United States’ military conflicts. From the shores of Charleston to the Upcountry mountains, visitors can learn more about the important roles South Carolinians had in many of America’s major battles.
The Military Heritage Trail spans 14 counties, has more than 20 sites and covers history from the founding of the colony of Carolina to WWII. The trail celebrates the bravery of South Carolinians who risked their lives to defend their state and union.
Here is a short overview of South Carolina’s military history, divided by region. It also can serve as an itinerary upon which to base your travel route.
South Carolina’s military history begins in Charleston, which is the best place to start your journey. You can retrace the first shots of the Civil War by taking the ferry to Fort Sumter National Monument. Then head to nearby Fort Moultrie, where about 100 years earlier, British cannonballs bounced off palmetto logs, helping the Patriots to defend the coastline: eventually the palmetto tree became an enduring symbol for its flag. See www.nps.gov/fosu.
Visit the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in combat. Pulled from the Atlantic 136 years after she sank, taking a crew of eight with her, the boat now rests in a 90,000-gallon tank. The crew was buried in 2004 with full military honours in Magnolia Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 2,000 Civil War veterans, including five Confederate generals. See www.hunley.org.
Fast-forward another 80 years and head to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, one of the largest museums of its kind. You can tour the USS Yorktown, which was used in World War II, patrolled the western Pacific during the Cold War, and returned the crew of Apollo 8 to shore after its mission circling the moon. You also can tour the USS Clamagore, Medal of Honour Museum, the Cold War Submarine Memorial and the only Vietnam Support Base Camp in the US. See www.patriotspoint.org.
South of Charleston, along the coast near Hilton Head, lies Parris Island, the famous training camp for the US Marine Corps. The training base lies near French and Spanish settlements from the 16th century and near the remnants of two Spanish forts.
You can tour the Parris Island military museum, which chronicles the history of the Marine Corps and that of the nearby area, including the French and Spanish settlements.
While you’re in the area, be sure to stop at the ruins of Old Sheldon Church, dating to the 1740s, which was first burned down by troops loyal to the King of England during the Revolutionary War, then later burned again by Union troops in the Civil War. See www.mcrdpi.usmc.mil.
The Middle of the State
Today the small town of Camden is a paradise for horse lovers and history buffs, who love the town’s quiet Southern hospitality. But 235 years ago it wasn’t quite so calm and peaceful. Camden, South Carolina’s oldest inland town, is where Gen. Cornwallis and his forces made their headquarters and handed the Americans one of their sharpest defeats. Historical re-enactments are popular and occur several times during the year. Visit the site, which is more than 100 acres and includes battlefields, hiking trails, historic houses and more. See www.historic-camden.org.
Columbia is the capital of South Carolina, and is a great next stop. There are many sights that tell the story of the city’s survival in the Civil War. Start at the SC Statehouse, where you can wander among the monuments on the grounds. Look for the brass stars on the side of the building that mark where Union cannonballs struck in 1865. Stroll inside the graceful old building and take a look at the paintings, including the moving “Angel of Marye’s Heights”, depicting a Confederate soldier from South Carolina providing water to a wounded Union soldier as the shooting ceased for his mercy mission during the Battle of Fredericksburg.
There are few other buildings that survived the Civil War because in 1865, Gen. William Sherman and his troops marched through Columbia and burned many historical buildings.
Visit the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum, founded in 1896 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and now a depository for relics and memories from the Revolutionary War through today.
In addition, Fort Jackson in Columbia is a modern-day massive Army training post. You can tour Fort Jackson’s museum and watch a graduation, which usually takes place on Fridays.
Northern South Carolina
The Revolutionary War was waged across most of South Carolina, not just the coast. Head north to Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, which tells the story of a fierce fight in August 1780 between about 200 Patriot militiamen and 600 Tories and provincial regulars from Ninety Six. Then drive over to the Ninety Six National Historic Site to see the wooden fences of the Star Fort built by the Tories and their slaves in 1780. See www.nps.gov/nisi.
Two more Revolutionary War battlefields, sites of crucial Patriot victories, are a bit further upstate at Cowpens National Battlefield and Kings Mountain National Military Park.
At Cowpens, the Americans won a decisive, quick battle against a better-trained British army. The victory gave the Patriots the moral fortitude to continue fighting and win just nine months later. Cowpens Battlefield has a walking trail and marked driving tour, a visitor centre and exhibits. Much of the Mel Gibson movie “The Patriot” was filmed here. See www.nps.gov/cowp.
At Kings Mountain National Military Park, you can retrace the steps of the southern Patriots who defeated British forces in what historians call the “turning point of the Revolutionary War in the South”. The park features a film, exhibits and a self-guided battlefield hiking trail. See www.nps.gov/kimo.
Historic Brattonsville, which also served as a location for the filming of “The Patriot”, is the site of the Battle of Huck’s Defeat. Now the 775-acre site is home to more than 30 historic structures that are open to the public. These buildings serve as a way to see life as it was in South Carolina from the 1750s to the 1840s. See www.chmuseums.org/brattonsville.