South Carolina: A Revolutionary Tour

South Carolina: A Revolutionary Tour
By 1780, America’s war for independence from Great Britain had devolved into a stalemate in the northern colonies. British forces controlled major cities on the Atlantic coast, and the Continental Army under George Washington largely dominated the expansive interior. To break the impasse, Britain launched its Southern Strategy: British regulars and colonial Loyalists would subdue the southern colonies and then march north to final victory. Over 200 battles and skirmishes were fought in South Carolina alone, more than in any other colony.

Tarleton Gives No Quarter

Mounted on our 2013 Honda CB1100s, Jeff Arpin and I head south to the Palmetto State’s northern Upcountry, where the American Patriots fought bravely to secure our freedoms. Traveling in misty rain, with temperatures in the 50s, I reflect on how the American Revolutionary War came to South Carolina and the fact that it is often overlooked when the history of our struggle for independence is recounted.

British forces learned the hard way that occupying the high ground doesn't always confer a tactical advantage.

The sky clears as we ride across gently rolling hills, but now we have to dodge logging trucks prevalent in this area. Britain had the world’s superior naval force in the 18th century, but it didn’t have a massive land army to control large swaths of conquered territory. This primarily explains why Charleston fell after a relatively short siege, but the Brits couldn’t subdue armed patriots in the remote upcountry.

Our first historic site conveys how ardent Loyalist, Captain Christian Huck, was sent by his British commanders to arrest William Bratton. The colonel, who had been leading raids on British outposts, was a constant irritant to the British command. But when Huck and his 130 men arrived at Bratton’s house on the evening of July 11, 1780, only his wife was there. When Bratton, who was camped nearby, learned of the British presence, he led a Patriot militia of 500 on a surprise attack the next morning. Captain Huck was killed along with many in his Loyalist force. This Patriot victory earned the sobriquet of Huck’s Defeat.

Entering Brattonsville, we note that Huck's Defeat here in July of 1780 was the first link in a chain of events leading to the Patriot's final victory at Yorktown, VA.

Today, Brattonsville, SC, is a preserved living history museum, containing about 30 18th-and 19th-century structures and an interpretive trail through the battlefield. The village’s appearance is so authentic that it was used in the feature-length film The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson.

Andrew Jackson State Park is located in the same general area as the Battle of Waxhaws, where defeated patriots were given no “quarter” (reprieve from death) after their surrender to Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s British Legion. History is unclear as to whether Tarleton’s men committed the white-flagged massacre of Colonel Buford’s Virginia Continentals on their own or at Tarleton’s behest. Nonetheless, “Tarleton’s Quarter” became a rallying cry for Patriot forces and the hated Tarleton earned the nickname “Bloody Ban.”

Motorcycles & Gear

2013 Honda CB1100 (both)

Helmets: Kabuto Ibuki, Arai Corsair V Mamola 3
Jackets: Aerostitch Roadcrafter One Piece Suit, Olympia Airglide
Pants: Aerostitch Roadcrafter One Piece Suit, Olympia Airglide
Boots: Oxtar, BMW Pro Touring 2
Gloves: Klim Element Short, =

The state park, which is named for our seventh president, has a museum recounting Andrew Jackson’s boyhood life in the Waxhaw region. Young Jackson was a witness to two Revolutionary War battles. When he refused, in one encounter, to polish a British officer’s boots, the soldier struck Jackson with his sword. The future president’s hand partially deflected the blow, saving his life, but the sword left a lifelong scar on the left side of his face.

General Gates Abandons His Troops

We awake again to cool morning temperatures, but the skies are clear and humidity is at a comfortable 40 percent. We ride over modest elevation changes on mostly straight roads, continuing farther south. We’re in deep forest following the downstream course of the Catawba River. Not far north of Camden, SC, we pass the Camden Battlefield, where militia forces under General Horatio Gates were routed on August 16, 1780 by a much smaller British force commanded by General Cornwallis and the reviled Tarleton during their march northward into the backcountry.

The monument of a young Andrew Jackson in his eponymous state park, commemorates the future president's role in the Revolutionary War.

This military debacle has been ascribed to the strategic ineptitude of Gates, who had been held in high esteem for his role in the Patriots’ victory at Saratoga. After his defeat, however, Gates ignominiously abandoned his troops, returning to Continental Army headquarters near Charlotte, NC. General Nathanael Greene replaced Gates the following December, and promptly seized the military initiative in South Carolina.

Founded in 1733, Camden is the oldest inland city in South Carolina. During the Revolutionary War it became a supply depot for British forces. Riding through town, we marvel at the stately plantation-style mansions. Many were built in the early 20th century by wealthy northerners accustomed to fleeing south in the winter.