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The Revolutionary War


Revolutionary War exhibit caseAnxious to crush South Carolina resistance in 1779 and 1780, British forces waged a war of terror and destruction, burning and confiscating property and even executing prisoners. Patriot forces retaliated in kind, often suffering defeat against British regulars, but inflicting heavy cost in casualties on British forces and draining their resources. Fighting in the South Carolina backcountry often resembled modern guerilla warfare as Patriot militias and Continental regulars fought Loyalists and British regulars. Over 200 battles and skirmishes were fought in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War.

After the war, Fort Sullivan was renamed Fort Moultrie, after Colonel William Moultrie who successfully repelled the British attack on Charleston in 1776. The soft palmetto log walls absorbed cannonballs, protecting the American defenses. Moultrie designed the fort's crescent flag. In 1861, a palmetto tree was added when South Carolina officially adopted it as the state flag.

Campbell letterThese letters were written by British officers during the South Carolina campaign and provide a unique British perspective of the war.  One letter, written by Captain Charles Campbell in May 1780, details in depth the siege of “Charlestown.” He commented that he had “been an actor in two of the most obstinate and most successful contests that Campbell letterthe British arms have experienced this war; the defense of Savannah and the reduction of Charlestown.” The second, written by Major Archibald McArthur in August that same year, was sent to Campbell’s father to notify him of his son’s death.  McArthur described Campbell’s death in the letter, stating that he “received a musquet [sic] ball in his breast & instantly expired.”  This letter is now on display in the museum.    

To view the transcript of the Campbell letter, click here (pdf).  For the McArthur letter transcript, click here (pdf).  

 

Key Figures:
Thomas Sumter
- "The Gamecock:" Sumter was one of the first to organize backcountry residents into a militia, and energized the South Carolina resistance. Under "Sumter's Law" his men often looted suspected Tories in South Carolina.

Francis Marion - "The Swamp Fox:" Marion led a partisan militia band which harassed British supply lines and attacked camps and patrols from the Pee Dee to the coast. His name was bestowed by Lt. Col. Tarleton for his ability to elude capture in the swamps.

Andrew Pickens - "The Fighting Elder:" Like Sumter and Marion, Pickens waged guerilla warfare on the British in the upper Savannah River Valley.

Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton - at age 23, Tarleton took command of a legion of cavalry, infantry, and light artillery. Known as "Bloody Tarleton," he was quite ruthless. Gen. Daniel Morgan's army defeated him at Cowpens.

General Lord Charles Cornwallis - Commander of the British forces, he surrendered to George Washington on October 19, 1782, at Yorktown, VA, ending the war.
 

Major Dates:
Statehood, March 26, 1776
- South Carolina became an independent state after adopting a constitution drafted by the Provincial Congress

Ft. Moultrie, June 28, 1776 - In a fort of sand and palmetto trunks, American forces under Col. William Moultrie repelled a British land and sea attack

Camden, August 16, 1780 - General Horatio Gates attacks Cornwallis near the British outpost at Camden. 2000 militiamen fled, leaving 1400 Continentals to be destroyed. The British gained temporary control over the entire South.

Kings Mountain, October 1780 - British Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his 1000 soldiers were trapped on the high open plateau by a force of 910 Patriots who followed them from Tennessee. The British surrendered after one hour, ending the invasion of North Carolina

Cowpens, January 17, 1781 - Andrew Pickens and his militia fall into feigned retreat, leading Tarleton and his men directly into the fire of Continental regulars under Gen. Daniel Morgan. Most of the British force of 1150 is killed or captured. The American victory is the beginning of Cornwallis' journey to defeat at Yorktown.


 

Map of Revoluntionary War South Carolina battle sites

Map of Revolutionary War battles in South Carolina


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