Have a child who loves all things Army? Who dreams of becoming a sailor? Who can tell you all the details of obscure battles? Or dresses up in a Civil War costume and ambushes unsuspecting friends? A kid who would rather watch a documentary on military history than cartoons?
Then South Carolina is the perfect place to let your littlest soldier or sailor explore their patriotic interest.
South Carolina has a rich and important military history and lots of places to learn about it. While the Palmetto State might be best known for its pivotal role in the Civil War, with the first battle of that war fought at Fort Sumter in Charleston, some of the state's most significant military history is actually from the Revolutionary War. In fact, South Carolina saw more Revolutionary War battles than any other colony. And historians generally agree that the tipping point of the war was at Kings Mountain in 1780, when local militiamen decisively beat the powerful British army, turning the tide toward the Patriots.
So bring your kids to South Carolina to explore the rich military history of our state and our nation. Your little soldier will be glad you did. Here are just a few of our favorite places for a kid-centric military history vacation.
Fort Sumter National Monument, Charleston
The first shots of the Civil War rang out at Fort Sumter in Charleston. It's hard to overstate the historic importance of this small fort on a wisp of an island in the middle Charleston harbor. And for a kid who loves all things military, the fort and the impressive Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center at Liberty Square (right next to the South Carolina Aquarium) are not-to-be-missed stops. Particularly exciting to kids will be the array of cannons, some small and some massive, still lined up facing the water to protect Charleston. The fort is technically free, but only accessible by ferry. And if you're visiting during busy times (spring break or summer), it's best to make reservations.
The story of the H.L. Hunley is one of the more unlikely military escapades: a top-secret plan by a lawyer with no naval or engineering background to build a hand-cranked submarine to attack and sink the Union warships creating the blockade of Charleston. And while the sub sank and crew members drowned, it accomplished its mission. The tiny H.L. Hunley will always go down in history as the first submarine to sink a warship. Visit the fascinating archaeological lab where the Hunley is being carefully restored, and its unlikely story is being retold. Perhaps the most fun for kids is a life-size replica of a section of the submarine, where kids can imagine what it would have been like in that cramped, dark, and dangerous submarine on a moonless night in Charleston Harbor.
Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum
This incredible site is home of the World War II-era USS Yorktown and more than two dozen aircraft, ranging from WWII to present day that sit on her runway or on the hangar deck. And with the World War II-era destroyer USS Laffey, the Cold War-era submarine USS Clamagore and the land-based Vietnam Experience, Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum is a stop no military-loving kid (or adult) should miss. Located in Mount Pleasant, right across the harbor from Charleston, Patriots Point lets visitors see, hear, touch and smell what sailors long ago would have experienced.
Cowpens, Kings Mountain, and Ninety Six
No military history vacation would be complete without at least a few battlefield visits. Lucky for you, South Carolina has some of the best in the country. The National Park Service not only preserves these important battlefields of the Revolutionary War, but they also interpret what happened there. They explain how this little stand of trees blocked the enemies view, or how this little rise gave cover to the Patriots. They let children immerse themselves in a different time, deepening their understanding of the ways the past was so different, and the ways it remains the same. Fortunately, Cowpens, Kings Mountain and Ninety Six are relatively near each other, so you might be able to hit all three in the same day.
Remember those kids who loved to dress up in costumes and go to battle? Well, it turns out that it isn't only kids. Battle re-enactors go to great lengths to recreate Revolutionary War and Civil War battles all over South Carolina. They are really an incredible sight to see. Find some here. It's all the excitement, glory and fear of battle, without the dysentery (the number one killer in the Civil War, and something you really don't want in your home). One not-to-miss happens each year in Camden during Revolutionary War Days. Lots of Redcoats in this one!