South Carolina’s role in the Revolutionary War may not get the recognition of states like Massachusetts (Bunker Hill), Virginia (Yorktown) or Pennsylvania (Valley Forge). But upward of 200 battles and skirmishes – more than any US state – took place here.
Several are indelibly etched into the fabric of the state. Among the most acclaimed is the 1776 Battle of Sullivan’s Island. Fort Sullivan survived the Royal Navy’s cannon strikes because the balls bounced off the soft wood of palmetto logs used to construct the patriot fortification. It's why the palmetto tree adorns the state flag today.
The years 1780-81 were especially successful for the Southern campaign with several battles that helped save the patriot cause, including the American victory at the Battle of Cowpens – called “the best-planned battle of the entire war” by some historians – and the Battle of Kings Mountain, considered the turning point of the revolution in the South.
South Carolina also produced plenty of American heroes, whose names live on in counties and towns all over the state. Here are several of the most significant in the war for independence.
General Francis Marion
Immortalized as the "Swamp Fox" – and the inspiration for Mel Gibson’s 2000 movie “The Patriot” – Marion escaped the 1780 capture of Charleston and went on to form Marion’s Brigade, a group of militia men known for using guerrilla-style, hit-and-run tactics to harass British and Loyalist forces.
From his base on Snow’s Island, deep in the swamps near the Lynches and Pee Dee rivers, Marion raided settlers’ farms, seizing boats, food, horses and other supplies to keep them out of British and Tory hands. He distributed receipts to those settlers for the confiscated supplies, some of which he saved for his troops, hiding them in the hollows of cypress trees.
Learn more: The Charleston Museum has a treasure trove of Marion memorabilia. You'll also find exhibits of flags, uniforms and weapons of the era at the SC Military Museum in Columbia. A 7-foot-tall statue of Marion can be found in the town of Johnsonville at Venter's Landing, marking the spot where the "Swamp Fox" received his commission to command his militia. The Revolutionary Rivers National Recreation Trail follows the Lynches River through Marion's backwoods terrain, passing his secret camp on Snow's Island.
General Thomas Sumter
A militia colonel who was defeated and nearly captured at the Battle of Fishing Creek, Sumter may never have earned fame if British forces hadn't burned his home in the town of Stateburg (near the current town of Sumter, named for him) and harassed his incapacitated wife. Enraged, Sumter became one of the patriots’ fiercest and most devastating guerrilla leaders.
He was nicknamed the "Gamecock" for his furious attacks on the enemy, one of whom said that Sumter “fought like a fighting Gamecock.” In his honor, the University of South Carolina’s athletic teams are called the Gamecocks.
Learn more: The Sumter County Museum chronicles Sumter’s life in a series of exhibits, including the Williams-Brice House and the Carolina Backcountry Homestead. The Sumter Military Museum also features extensive collections on Sumter and the Revolutionary War.
General William Moultrie
Early in the war, the British strategy was to take advantage of a strong Loyalist base in the South by attacking Charleston, then marching into the Upstate and onto North Carolina and Virginia. Colonel Moultrie stopped that plan at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island on June 28, 1776. Royal Navy ships attempting to enter Charleston Harbor couldn’t penetrate the palmetto-tree fortification guarding the harbor.
News of the British failure emboldened Continental Congress delegates to draft and sign the Declaration of Independence. After failing to win in Charleston, the British abandoned their Southern strategy for about three years.
Learn more: Fort Moultrie National Monument, named in General Moultrie's honor, is the site of the Sullivan's Island Revolutionary War fortification. The National Park Service offers a number of exhibits on the fort's history, as well as a 20-minute introductory film. A historical monument at the main entrance to Windsor Hill Plantation, where Moultrie once lived, recounts his life story.
General Daniel Morgan
A Virginian, Morgan had resigned from the Continental Army in 1779, but the American loss at the Battle of Camden convinced him to rejoin. He went on to lead the Continentals to victory at the Battle of Cowpens, helping turn the tide of the Revolutionary War. After America won independence, Morgan returned to command troops in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. One of the main streets in Spartanburg is named in his honor.
General Andrew Pickens
While Marion and Sumter were fighting in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Pickens, who grew up near Tamassee with Cherokee Indians as neighbors, fought in the Upstate. He was part of the Continental command at the Battle of Cowpens alongside Morgan.
Before the Revolution, Pickens fought his former Cherokee neighbors using their own tactics, and they gave him the nickname “Skyagunsta,” which translates to the "Wizard Owl.”
Learn more: You'll find exhibits about Morgan at Cowpens National Battlefield.
General Nathanael Greene
Commanding the Continental Army’s southern theater in 1780, Greene led the Americans at the Battle of Kings Mountain, the first major Revolutionary War victory in the South. The bloody skirmish served as a turning point of the war in the South.
A year later, Greene led a thousand patriots in a failed campaign to blow-up a star-shaped earthen fort built by the British in the town of Ninety Six.
The future first governor of Kentucky played a pivotal role at the Battle of Kings Mountain, where Americans all but wiped out their British and Tory foes. For the rest of his life, he was known by the nickname “Old Kings Mountain.”
Learn more: Information on Shelby is available at the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail in Gaffney.