I came over a little rise and through a thicket of trees to see my children playing in a meadow of wildflowers. It was so idyllic, for a moment. Until I heard them.
"You're dead, you dirty redcoat!" my six-year-old screamed as she hoisted a wooden musket to her shoulder.
"I'm not dead, you filthy traitor! I'm Bloody Bannie! No quarter for you!" the eight year old screamed back.
So, at least they were paying attention during the educational movie in the Visitors' Center at Cowpens National Battlefield. That's good, right?
Cowpens is the site of the battle that turned the tide for the patriots and George Washington's Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. With Independence Day on my mind, it seemed like a perfect place to take kids for a little history lesson.
"I shot you in the head! Your evil British blood is soaking the ground!" she bellowed, adopting the Scotch-Irish accent and words of the actor playing the militiaman in the film.
"The bullet bounced off," he said, pointing at his Red Sox cap.
"Jimmy, that's not a helmet. Bannie wore a crazy green hat, not a helmet. Die, redcoat! Aaaargh!" She took off after him through the grass at a run, musket pointed.
Another group of visitors watched and took pictures of them. I like to hope they were watching with affection. You never really know, when you travel with children, what they'll do or how they'll respond to a particular place. I hadn't expected this reaction, but Jimmy and Mary Frances seemed to be having a ball as they chased each other, yelling in terrible, fake accents. My own little Revolutionary War re-enactors.
Cowpens has a Visitors Center that does a great job of explaining what happened during the Battle of Cowpens, and why this confrontation, not much bigger than a skirmish, was so decisive in the overall trajectory of the Revolutionary War. There's the above-mentioned movie that features a grandfather remembering the battle with his grandson decades later. It's appropriate for school-aged kids. The center also has an array of toys, like dolls of the major characters in the battle and toy soldiers and maps, so kids can plot out the battle.
I've always been a nerdy history buff -- I can't help it. I read every placard and explanation in the Visitors Center and would have read more. But it was walking through the really lovely, rolling field and forest that made me love Cowpens.
Out on the road through the fields, wrought iron silhouettes of soldiers showed where the lines of battle stood. On each metal form was a simple wooden replica of a musket or rifle hanging on hooks. You can stand right on the battle line, get the feel of holding one of those huge, cumbersome colonial weapons in your hands, and imagine that you're waiting to see the British crest the hill.
Or, equally fearsome, your children.
The boy came over the rise at full gallop, whooping and hooting. "Now you're doomed, you pathetic traitor militia!" He was running with two muskets held at each hip, Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans-style.
The girl shrieked and aimed for his heart.
My children, obviously, loved the muskets.
Cowpens National Battlefield is located at 4001 Chesnee Highway, Gaffney. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round. Admission is free.