Here Are 10 Places History Buffs Should Explore in The Palmetto State

As a Revolutionary War buff, I couldn't live in a better state. You may not realize it, but almost the entire second half of the American Revolution was fought in rural parts of South Carolina.

Why, you ask? Well, the British weren't having a lot of luck finishing the deal against a very ellusive General George Washington and the South was filled with British Loyalists.  Thinking those colonists would come to the crown's defense was a gamble, but one the British were willing to take.

How This Planning Guide Was Organized

Below, I will provide some stories and some insights on the locations I recommend. I also plotted this out where you could move easily between each place I recommend. Basically we'll be taking a big circle around South Carolina and you can pick up the journey at any point. Enjoy!

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1. Kings Mountain National Military Park

Location: 2625 Park Rd, Blacksburg, SC 29702 | NPS Website

Let's start about 45 minutes west of Charlotte, North Carolina in a spot where many historians claim the war in the south started to turn for the Americans.

As you can see, this is a beautiful forested area, teaming with trails and places to explore.  But imagine fighting a battle in this very spot? Gunfire coming around trees, men hidden for brief moments until the powder of their guns dust the air and the hiss of bullets scream by your ears. Stop by the Visitor's Center to get a real sense of the history before you walk the main paved trail up to the monument.

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As you slowly ascend the hill on the paved path, you'll see a sign pointing to where Herbert Hoover gave his 1931 speech to the nation proclaiming Kings Mountain a National Military Park on it's 150th anniversary. Imagine 30,000 to 70,000 people crowding around these woods to see and hear the president. And remember, this was in the middle of the Great Depression.

When you arrive at the top of the mountain, you'll find obelisk commemorating the victory of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. Don't let that word "mountain" scare you. This is a very easy walk. And this is very easy on the pocketbook - the park costs nothing to explore. For people in the Upstate of South Carolina or the Charlotte area of North Carolina, it is a marvelous place to go stretch the legs and walk the trails.

But Was Kings Mountain Really The Turning Point?

Yes, this battle was a sign that the Loyalists were no longer firmly under the spell of the British, but the Mountain Men who came down from the hills of Tennessee and North Carolina might not have arrived here if not for another event that we'll cover in one of our upcoming Revolutionary War spots.

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The Significance of the Ferguson Monument

The first time I came to Kings Mountain, I was struck by the above pictured monument to Colonel Patrick Ferguson of the 71st Regiment of the Highland Light Infantry. Yes, on an American battlefield stands a monument to a Scotsman who fought and died for the British at this battle.  For those that don't know, Ferguson was the greatest sharp shooter of his age - he even developed his own riffle.

It was Col. Ferguson, at the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania that had a chance to bring the war to an early close, as he had his Ferguson Rifle set on General George Washington. However, Ferguson didn't take the shot. In the British Army it was considered foul play to pick off officers during battle, because it would lead to chaos in the field. Ferguson was wounded at Brandywine, but he paid the ultimate sacrifice at Kings Mountain.

When I saw the inscription at the bottom of this monument, it gave me a chill the first time I read it.

"This memorial is from the citizens of the United States of America in token of their appreciation of the bonds of friendship and peace between them and the citisens of the British Empire - Erected October 7, 1930."

Foes can become friends.

A Fun Side Trip to Brattonsville

Not far from here is a little town called Brattonsville. It is a hidden gem of a town that has been preserved for over 150 years. It was such a good setting that Mel Gibson used it in his 2000 film called "The Patriot." It is also the place where I've seen my only Revolutionary War Re-enactment.

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2. Andrew Jackson State Park

Location: 196 Andrew Jackson Park Rd, Lancaster, SC 29720 | Website | $2 Admission

Just south of Charlotte, you can learn all about the life of a young Andrew Jackson. With it's museum and interpretive exhibits Andrew Jackson State Park shows the future general and president's wilder side during his formative years. You can also get a feel for what life was like for this poor Scots-Irish family in rural Carolina.

But wait! I hear the history buffs saying Andrew Jackson was not a Revolutionary War figure! And others are saying - yeah but he wasn't born in South Carolina! Let me address both questions:

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The North Carolina or South Carolina Debate

Let's start with the second point. Yes, it is disputed as to whether Andrew Jackson was born in North or South Carolina. According to Andrew Jackson himself and the description he gave it would lead you to believe he was indeed born in South Carolina.  However, head to North Carolina and you'll hear evidence that the cabin of his birth was across the border. No one knows for sure, but Jackson did grow up on Crawford Plantation in South Carolina and the State of South Carolina does fund a state park in his honor... Evidence no, but sometimes you just have to accept not knowing.

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Andrew Jackson and the American Revolution

It is true, Andrew Jackson was not old enough to serve in the American Revolution. However, he and his family were dragged into the war on a very personal level as you will read in a moment. So in his case, Andrew Jackson didn't affect the war, but instead the war affected him.

And that brings us to our next location.

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3. Waxhaw Presbyterian Church (SC) and Waxhaw Cemetery

Location: 2814 Old Hickory Rd, Lancaster, SC 29720

The church that Andrew Jackson attended with his mother and brothers was burned by the British, so this is not the original. However, the cemetery does hold the graves of his father. mother, and brothers.  It was here in 1780 that Andrew Jackson met the Revolutionary War face to face. Wounded soldiers from the Battle of Waxhaw were brought to this church and were aided by the Jackson family, lead by their mother Elizabeth (known as Betty). Jackson saw his brother's Robert and Hugh join the war effort. Hugh died of heat exhaustion at the Battle of Stono Ferry, shortly after enlisting.

After the Battle of Camden, Lord Cornwallis sent soldiers up to the Waxhaws region. Andrew and Robert were captured. A British soldier told Andrew to clean his boot. Jackson instead insisted he be treated as a prisoner of war, as did his brother. The soldier beat them both severely with his sword. Sadly, the combination of the wounds from the sword and a bout with small pox took Robert's life. Andrew Jackson never forgot indignity brought upon he and his brother, and held a grudge against the British for the rest of his life.

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Next to the church, you'll find the gravesite of Andrew Jackson's father. Andrew Sr. died mysteriously three weeks before Andrew Jr. was born.  

Betty is also buried here. She died from cholera while giving aid to soldiers in Charleston. Her grave and memorial are flanked by her two sons Robert and Hugh. When Andrew came of age, he moved to Tennessee and had a lopsided shirmish against the British during the War of 1812 - known as the Battle of New Orleans.

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4. Battle of Waxhaws (Buford Battleground Monument)

Location: 262 Rocky River Rd, Lancaster, SC 29720

Blink and you might miss it. Only a small black road sign alerts you to this important place in American History. Had I not watched a 13-part series on the History Channel called The Revolution, I might never have known about it.  The Battle of Waxhaw or "Buford's Massacre" as Colonists called it, was pivitol in swaying the opinion of the Loyalists and turning many against the British. 

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If you've seen the movie The Patriot (which will get referenced a couple times in this article due to the movie almost entirely taking place in South Carolina), there is a scene where fictional character Benjamin Martin's son Gabriel comes in all out of sorts talking about a massacre. That massacre is pivotal in the movie, as was the so-called massacre at Waxhaw.

There are multiple stories about how events went down depending on the side the source was on. But to set the scene, Colonel Banastre Tarleton, fresh off of his successes with the Siege of Charleston, drove his 149 mounted soldiers up the back country of South Carolina, fighting skirmishes with a detachment of over 350 Virginia Continentals under the leadership of Colonel Abraham Buford. 

Things came to a head at this point in Waxhaw and the Continental's were quickly overwhelmed. But this is where the story gets fuzzy. There was no doubt the Continentals were going to lose and when all seemed lost Col. Buford raised a white flag of surrender asking for quarter. Tarleton's horse was shot at, but the question is was it before or after the white flag of surrender was raised.  Tarleton suggested that he was knocked from his horse and lay unconscious. His men thinking he was dead attacked the Continentals mercilessly. A surgeon who was present for the Continentals said Tarleton gave the order. In either case, the wounded were shown no mercy by the British and Loyalist soldiers. There were 263 casualties for the Continentals, the British ranks suffered only 19.

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In an early form of propaganda, the Continentals used this event to label Tarleton as "Bloody Ban" and the event as "Buford's Massacre." This energized the Continentals and it turned many Loyalists against the British. When the Mountain Men came down out of the hills to join the Battle of Kings Mountain, the cry of "Buford's Revenge" or "Tarleton's Quarter" was heard far and wide. Without this sacrifice, the so-called turning point battle may never have happened.

In the gated area, stones mark the resting place of many of Colonel Buford's men.

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5. Camden Battlefield and Historic Town

Battlefield Location: 1698 Flat Rock Rd, Camden, SC 29020
Revolutionary War-Era Town Location: 222 Broad St, Camden, SC 29020  | Website | $5 Adults

1780 was not a good year for the American cause until King's Mountain in October. In August, the American's suffered a defeat so bad, the Continental General in charge flew so quickly from the scene that Alexander Hamilton said of the cowardice "And was there ever so precipitous a flight?  One hundred and eighty miles in three days and a half.  It does admirable credit to the activity of a man at his time of life.”

The leader was General Horatio "Granny" Gates, who many were still rumoring as the replacement for General George Washington as the leader of the army. Camden put that to rest for good.

The battlefield site was not really much when I finally found it. There is a marker and a sign that shows you the outline of the trail. I've heard rumors that more will be done with this spot, but for now, it is probably more of a picnic area than a place to soak in history.

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But if you head just south of town, you'll find the Historic Camden Museum and surrounding Revolutionary War town of Camden. This is the spot where Lord Cornwallis ran the war for the British. You can take a guided tour of the Kershaw-Cornwallis House, or just stroll the grounds and look at the original dimensions of the old town. You can also inquire about battlefield tours as well. 

"The Swamp Fox"

After seeing Camden, you could take some more backroads and see if you can find the tomb of "The Swamp Fox" Francis Marion. It is a long drive, so you must show some real dedication!

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6. Charleston

Charleston is a marvelous city for many reasons and one that I will dedicate an entire post to sometime in the future. It is the only city that claims heavy amounts of both Revolutionary War and Civil War history. Charleston was a major port during the Revolution and it was a key target for the British who put it under Siege from March 29 to May 12, 1780.

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In the early 1700's the town was walled in. Those walls were removed, built over, or were decaying by the time of the Revolutionary War, so they provided no defense, although a city under siege isn't usually too worried about people getting in by force. You can still see these markers around town signifying the boundaries of the walled city.

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The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is one of my favorite history spots in the city. Here was a place where Washington danced and in the basement the gunpowder for the Continentals was hidden. Another great historical spot is the Old Jail, especially if you like haunted tours. However, the jail didn't open until 22 years after Revolutionary War activity in the city. 

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Walking down Broad Street in front of the Old Exchange there is a wonderful view of Saint Michael's Church where George Washington visited in 1791.

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From sunset to sunrise, Charleston is an amazing city and one worth spending quality time in.  It's also a good starting point for your tour of the state!

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7. The Ruins of Old Sheldon Price William's Parish Church

Location: Old Sheldon Church Rd, Yemassee, SC 29945

Take Highway 17 South toward Hilton Head and Beaufort and you'll find this little gem along your way. You may want to continue on down to Hilton Head since you've made it this far. But either way, this church with the Greek columns is a stunning ruin in the middle of the low country and worth exploring. And like Charleston, it had it's fate in two wars.

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A working church from 1745, it was burned by the British in 1779. Rebuilt in 1826, William Tecumseh Sherman's troops burned it again in 1865 during their scorched Earth march back North. To this day you'll find both weddings and the annual post-Easter church service happening on this spot.

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8. Ninety-Six National Historic Site

Location: 1103 SC-248, Ninety Six, SC 29666 | Website | Donations Accepted

Another spot that is a little out of the way, but worth the trip is the star mound of the Ninety-Six National Historic Site. The town gets it's unique name from Charleston Traders who estimated it's location to be 96 miles from the Cherokee town of Keowee. Tour the grounds for free, although the Park Service does appreciate donations.

The Unique Battle

When you see a picture of the battle of Ninety-Six, you'll see men charging up a large hill. But what General Gates replacement General Nathanael Greene had to deal with was much more bizarre to our modern eyes. See that wood tower above? That is called a Maham Tower and it rises up just enough to see into the star mound fortress where the British were literally laying down. The Continental's devised a way to dig a trench across the field to within 30 feet of the star mound, low enough that anyone shimmying through would not be shot. When they got close enough, they began building this tower, making sure not to get their fingers shot off in the process.  When it got high enough, the British soldiers inside the star fort were vulnerable to attack. 

If not for British reinforcement, the war's longest siege might have gone on. But with 2000 enemy troops heading his way, Greene had to push his luck and attack, losing his first battle in the South and retreating to Charlotte. Greene would have the last laugh though, as Washington's faith in him was well placed and he helped push Lord Cornwallis for much of the remainder of the war, driving him to his defeat in Yorktown. The complete irony of Greene's success is that he was a Quaker and Quakers are pacifists that don't fight in wars. Greene became the fighting Quaker just long enough to win.

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9. Musgrove's Mill State Park

Visitor's Center Location: 398 State Park Rd, Clinton, SC 29325 | Website | Free
Horseshoe Falls and Battlefield Trail Location: Horseshoe Falls Rd, Enoree, SC 29335

Of all of the parks in the state, Musgrove's is likely my favorite for spending a day, soaking in history, and getting some great exercise. It is a place where you can picnic and relax. Learn a little history at the Visitor's Center, then stroll down by where the old mill used to be.

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But the best part of Musgrove's Mill is not near the Visitor's Center though. Instead, go back out to the road and head north another couple of miles to Horseshoe Falls Road, where you take a sharp left turn almost like you're doubling back to reach the north end of the park. Here, you will find a really nice walk and it all starts with Horseshoe Falls. Note, parking is limited here, so it may be tough to get to on a busy day.

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As you walk, there are very clear and informative signs that give you the entire history of the Battle at Musgrove's Mill. The meandering walk leads you through trees to a field and hill where the actual battle took place.  I won't spoil the history of this one, because the story is told as you walk along and it's a fascinating way to learn about history.

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The information is so detailed, you can almost see how the battle lays out before you.  Then a nice walk back on the loop trail to Horseshoe Falls and the parking lot.  A wonderful way to spend a couple of hours and a great way to get the kids using their imaginations.

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10. Blackstock Plantation

Location: 568 Monument Rd, Enoree, SC 29335

If you haven't had enough, take a few side roads and you'll find The Blackstock Plantation. This place is back in the woods, so you will be doing a little hiking and there isn't much more than a monument and a river. It was very thick with bushes and trees, so I actually didn't attempt it myself, but I've heard it's very well kept these days.

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On the way in, I found some very interesting friends.

Those that know these historic sites might point out that I've missed a few along the way.  Yes, I still have more exploration to do. But I think these are a wonderful way to get started.

Others you may seek out include:

  • Cowpens National Battlefield - they have a great interpretive center here and it is an easy stroll out through the battlefield.  This was an American victory and one of the most important in the southern campaign. It's an easy drive from Kings Mountain or Spartanburg.
  • Snow's Island - this inland island is the spot where Francis Marion and his men lived when returning to the swamps. There is a marker for it along the road, but nothing to show the exact spot of the camp.
  • Hampton Plantation - a Revolutionary War era rice plantation located near Georgetown on the coast. It features an interpretive center.

I hope you find this guide helpful and that the stories you find here help energize your desire to pack up the car and go discover some great American history, right here in the Palmetto State.

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