The American Revolution in the South! The Liberty Trail, Quarantine travel, and some Outlander stuff too!

After a long delay, and a worldwide pandemic, we're finally back with some local trips you can take as it looks like the world may not quite be ready to return to normal yet.  Last year, while the world seemed to be shutting down around us, and international travel was almost completely shut down, we had to find a new path to take.  Being a teacher, I'm just as excited about summer travel as my students are, and sometimes maybe more.  The 2020 school year was like nothing I've ever experienced in twenty years of teaching.  The shutdown of the entire U.S. economy, along with possibly every school in the nation, took a pretty structured career and made it an adventure in one day.  I was literally standing in front of a class teaching one day when they told us the next day we weren't coming back, and that we needed to plan on teaching our students online.  That being said, regardless of in-person or at-home teaching, just like I have for the last twenty years, I looked forward to hitting the road for an adventure to shake off the seclusion.  Originally we were scheduled to go to Wales, and visit arguably the least well-known part of Great Britain.  We waited as long as we could, and a week before the flight was supposed to take off the United Kingdom announced any foreign traveler would be required to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival.  That was the nail in the coffin.  So, there we were, now less than a week from the end of school and looking for something to do.  Then I had an idea.  Let's do something that I've always wanted to do as a history teacher, and as a native South Carolinian, but always got distracted away from for adventures in far away countries.  Let's drive through the newly reopening Southern states, and explore a little history along the way.  For our trip, which was thrown together in one day, we decided to drive out of Atlanta, up I-85, and hit a surprisingly robust number of Revolutionary War sites in South and North Carolina.  Following that, we ventured out to the coast of North Carolina for a beach holiday on the Outer Banks.  What looks like a normal strand of beach front homes and surf shops today was home to some of the most historic events in American history, and deserved to be visited not only for historical reasons, but also because of the beauty of the area.

What has become the major industrial and economic vein between the cities of Atlanta and Charlotte, I-85 is also home to some of the nation's most forgotten history.  When most people think of the Revolutionary War, the cities of Boston, Philadelphia, and New York come to mind, and rightfully so, but what's often forgotten was that the war after about five years had reached a stalemate in the North, and the British began looking for another way to defeat the rebels who weren't willing to accept foreign dominance over their lives.  The British, under the command of General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, decided to try and encircle the Patriot forces by invading through the southern colonies.  Their belief was that these colonies were full of Tories, or those who supported the British side of the war, and these Tories would help them claim the southern colonies and force the northern colonies to surrender.  What they didn't expect was the strong resistance they received from Patriot leaders like Nathanael Greene, Daniel Morgan, Thomas Sumter, and Francis Marion.  While the South did eventually receive a regular army to defend it, for many years the defense of these colonies was left to that of local militia leaders like Francis Marion, who for his constant harassment of British forces received the nickname the Swamp Fox.

In May, 1780, the British, under Sir Henry Clinton, were able to seize control of the gem of the southern cities, Charles Town (modern day Charleston).  Charleston, at the outbreak of the war, was the third largest city in the colonies.  From there, and later under the leadership of Lord Cornwallis, they set out to reclaim the southern territory.  What is now known as the Liberty Trail, over the course of about a year and half, the Patriots and British met in several battles that would determine the fate of the American people.  Our first stop on this trail was the Cowpens National Battlefield, home of the January, 1781, victory of the Americans over the British.  The Patriots, led by General Daniel Morgan, met the forces of Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton on January 17th, 1781.  Tarleton was the commander of a cavalry unit that was known for its ruthlessness, and was the inspiration for the villainous Colonel Tavington in the movie The Patriot.  Tarleton had won a victory of Patriot forces in May, 1780, at the Battle of Waxhaws.  It was there that he gained his infamous reputation after he ordered his men to kill the Patriot army that had surrendered.  More than a hundred surrendered soldiers were executed in what was known as, "Tarleton's Quarter."  Now in Cowpens, on that cold winter day in 1781, the American forces were able to do something that has almost never been done in the history of warfare, anywhere.  They accomplished what is known as a double envelopment, meaning they were able to essentially close in on the British on both sides, decimating their forces, and securing a pivotal victory that turned the tide of the war in the Southern colonies.  Located in northeastern South Carolina, just a few miles from the North Carolina border, Cowpens Battlefield was as empty as a scene from the Walking Dead when we visited.  With only two other cars in the parking lot, and several miles of trails for people to hike, we only saw two other people the entire time we were there.  We actually saw more wild turkeys walking around than we saw other people.  The battlefield itself is enormous, and is spread out over the large space that was required to handle this fight between roughly 4,000 men.  Unlike other historic battlefields, there are very few monuments at Cowpens.  The paved walking trail is perfect for your little ones, and your big ones, to ride their bikes around while you take in the scenes that likely don't look much different than they did more than two centuries ago.  There's a home on the far end of the battlefield away from the visitor's center, which was of course closed, that's open to show you what farm life was like in the 18th Century.  It's hard to imagine in our modern world, but this space just reverted back to being a farm for someone within months of the war being over.  There's also a driving trail at the park, but it wasn't open for some reason.  I get the visitor's center not being open, but how does closing a driving loop help social distancing.

Our next stop was across the intestate about twenty miles away, again on the border of North Carolina, in the town of Kings Mountain, South Carolina.  Going the wrong direction in time, but the right direction if you're driving north, Kings Mountain National Military Park is almost the opposite of Cowpens in every way.  Within a day's walk, even in Revolutionary times, these two settings couldn't be more different.  Cowpens is gentle farmland, with some forests surrounding the battlefield.  Kings Mountain has the dense forest too, but also dense swamp lands and obviously some mountainous terrain.  Also, what Cowpens lacked in monuments, Kings Mountain decided to pick up the slack.  On October 7th, 1780, we get one of the most unique battles in Revolutionary War history.  It was the only battle conducted completely by Americans on both sides.  The Patriots, led by William Campbell, James Johnston, and John Sevier, met the British forces under the command of Patrick Ferguson.  The British militia, made up of Tories from around the Carolinas, was attempting to meet up with Lord Cornwallis' army, but was cut off by the Patriot militia.  Able to sneak up on Ferguson's force, the Patriots caught them by surprise, and within an hour had killed or captured almost all of the British forces.  Oddly, there wasn't really anyone in command for the Patriots.  They coordinated their movements, but left the command of individual companies up to each of the militia commanders.  Shortly before the battle was over, Ferguson was killed, and the British began to surrender in quick order.  The Patriot fighters were so fierce that an interesting quote from a British soldier was inscribed at the park referring to his American opponents.  "This distinguished race of men are more savage than the Indians, and possess every one of their vices, but none of their virtues."  This victory was monumental for the American forces because it meant that British forces could not simply march through the Carolinas without being ready to fight.  The park itself is beautiful.  There are, like Cowpens, paved walking trails all throughout the park.  They also have a neat cellphone guided tour you can take by calling on your phone.  Interestingly, when you get to the next marker the service recognizes your number and starts you up right where you left off before.  The terrain is much hillier than Cowpens though, and is quite steep to the top of the mountain.  All along the path, which is surrounded by beautiful creeks and forests, there are markers from more than a century ago telling the story of the park.  There are several unique plaques to see, including one honoring a speech given in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover who visited the park to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the victory, and a monument on the grave of the British leader Patrick Ferguson, which is a very honorable thing to do for a defeated enemy, and must have said something about the view the Americans had of their opponent.

Driving up the road into North Carolina, we continue to work back in time, and now get to an event that some still argue if it was even a part of the Revolutionary War.  Those of you who're fans of the Starz show Outlander saw in the last season the story of a unique moment in American colonial history.  It was a period of time known as the War of the Regulation.  In the North Carolina colony, which was home to many Scotch immigrants who were settling in lands of their own for the first times in their lives, they felt like they were being taken advantage of by corrupt British officials who were quick to take their lands from them.  The issue many people have with calling this War of the Regulation a part of the Revolutionary War is that the Regulators were not looking to overthrow the British government, but wanted them to respect their rights and treat them as equal British citizens.  On May 16th, 1771, the War of the Regulation came to its peak when the largely untrained fighting force of the Regulators met the colonial force under the command of William Tryon, the Governor of North Carolina in what is now known as the Battle of Alamance.  While the Regulators outnumbered the colonial army 2-to-1, their lack of training proved to be their downfall.  The battlefield itself was very compact, especially by the scope of the other two sites we had already visited.  There's a small visitor's center at the park, which is run by the North Department of Historic Sites.  What made this different was that the park docent, a wonderful woman named Lisa, walked us around even in a downpour, and was proud to share the story of her family who had fought in the battle centuries earlier.  The battlefield is divided into two parts, with a highway running between them that follows the exact same path as the road both forces would have used to come to this remote battlefield in 1771.  On the other side of the highway are several more monuments to the men who died in this fight.  Interestingly, this same battlefield was the site of a skirmish between Union and Confederate forces in the Civil War.  The Battle of Alamance itself was an overwhelming victory for the British, and ended the Regulator's movement in the colony, but it should have been a warning to the British that those American colonists were growing tired of being mistreated, and were ready to fight back if needed.  If you're looking for something to do when you're done at Alamance Battleground, drive about five miles up the road to Granddaddy's Antique Mall in Burlington.  What has to be the oldest K-Mart building still in existence is home to the largest antique shop I've ever seen.  I'm guessing here, but I would assume it's about 40,000 square feet of space, and is packed from corner to corner with some awesome stuff.  It's not the prettiest place I've ever visited, but we walked out of there with armloads of stuff that we wanted. 

Visiting these three sites in two days, I think we saw a combined four other people.  That may have been quarantine related, but sadly I think many of these sites are just overlooked for the more glamorous sites of the Revolutionary War, or are skipped altogether for other non-historic sites.  One thing that may make them more appealing to everyone is that all three sites are free to visit.  I hope that those of you who share a passion for history, like we do, will spend some time in the future taking in these moments of history in the fight for freedom and democracy. Our next stop will be in the Outer Banks, and we're excited to share those stories with you too.

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