Weekend Trip to Augusta, Georgia and Northwestern South Carolina | Part 2 | April 23, 2016
As soon as we got off the main highway that passes through Abbeville and started to head downtown, we knew we had come across somewhere special. The town was quite busy with an antiques festival going on and crowds of people wandering from building to building, but that didn’t discourage us from searching for a place to park so we could walk the streets and take it all in. Curtis totally rocked the parallel parking situation and we set off to enjoy the town center. We really only took a half-hour to an hour to focus on this Main Street area, but we saw a beautiful old church (Trinity Episcopal Church), walked down the very colorful row of shops on Court Square, enjoyed seeing the old Opera House, and – of course – the Abbeville county courthouse! The town’s motto is “Pretty. Near. Perfect.” and we would have to agree with that. We’d love to live near a town like this someday – out in the countryside, but close to some quaint little town with the “necessities”.
Next, we drove to Secession Hill. Yes, here’s where the history portion of our trip comes in to play! What originally brought this town to our attention was that it was where the movement for the secession of South Carolina began and is therefore in a way where the Confederacy both began and ended. Secession Hill is where the first speeches were made on November 22, 1860 in favor of South Carolina’s secession following the election of President Lincoln, and one month later they officially seceded from the Union. Four and a half years later, on May 2, 1865, President Jefferson Davis was fleeing from Richmond, VA when he stopped here in Abbeville. While there, he acknowledged that the Confederacy had come to an end, and so the last official cabinet meeting took place. This happened in what is now the Burt-Stark Mansion. I can’t believe we missed this town when making our SC Bucket List – it’s both a cute little town, AND so rich in history. We would love to go back and visit another day.
Secession Hill is a large slanted piece of land right among the neighborhood on the East side of town. It’s just a small open area, but perfect to wander around and contemplate the events that took place here. There is a stone that stands with a plaque stating that this is where the first speeches were made. Here, the delegates for the secession were chosen. Also on the land is an unmarked grave to a Confederate Soldier. We gazed up at the giant trees over us and thought about how they were probably here when this all went down. The hill is now owned by the Southern Culture Centre in Columbia, and we’re thankful for what they’ve done to help remember and preserve historic events in the area.
Last up on our little getaway was Ninety Six National Historic Site. I want to let Curtis share about our time here and what we learned. (I promise I’m also learning and enjoying these historic sites – I just like his take on the events and historic locations we visit. Since this is our “family blog” it’s only fair to let him have a voice too!) 🙂
To talk about Ninety-Six, one must think back to the Colonial times, the days when the Appalachians were the “wild west”, the back country of South Carolina was sparsely inhabited mostly by the Cherokee. At that time, Ninety-Six was a frontier outpost, the last vestige of Civilization on the road to the Cherokees. The name is still a mystery, but it is believed to come from the fact that the nearest Cherokee outpost was Ninety-Six miles away. The importance of this site as a cross roads is easily seen by the state of the historic roads coming into and out of the village. These roads, one leading South to Charleston, another towards Augusta, and the third towards the Cherokees are so worn that today, they rest a solid five feet below the surrounding landscape.
By the time of the Revolutionary War, the town boasted maybe 100 inhabitants, most of whom were Loyalist in sympathy. This became a contentious point early in the war. At the end of 1775 (even before the attack on Fort Moultrie, making it the first engagement of the War south of Virginia), Patriots made an attempt to “requisition” military stores that had been previously “requisitioned” by Loyalists. The resulting “battle”, known as the Siege of Savages Old Fields, which occurred just east of the village, was tame in comparison to the Partisan warfare that would engulf the back country by 1780.
That Partisan warfare would impact Ninety Six as well. After the Battle at Kings Mountain, General Nathaniel Greene was given command of the Southern Department and fought numerous battles against Lord Cornwallis throughout the North Carolina Interior. Following the British “victory” at Guilford Courthouse, Cornwallis left with the bulk of his army for the coast and later Yorktown, leaving Greene to begin his reconquest of the South. After defeating Lord Rawdon outside of Camden, Greene marched his army to Ninety-Six, effectively the last British stronghold in the back country.
Greene arrived in the vicinity of Ninety-Six on May 22, 1781 with around 1000 troops. (Concurrently, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee was besieging Augusta). But the garrison at Ninety-Six had formed a star shaped fort just east of town which was also fortified and defended by some 500+ Loyalist regulars plus whatever citizen soldiers there were. They were under the command of Lt. Col. John Cruger.
In the art of war, even with two-to-one odds, assaulting a fort outright with 18th century technology would be a disaster, and so General Greene set about laying siege to the fort by the book. To aid him in this was Polish born military engineer Colonel Kosciuzsko, the same man who had formed the American defenses at Saratoga. Over the next month the Patriots would dig trenches parallel to the the fort (called parallels) and then would create a zig-zag trench running forward some fifty feet (traverse) before digging another parallel. Overall three parallels were dug bringing the Patriots within 30 yards of the Fort. Yet this was not enough for Greene to believe he stood even a remote chance of taking the Fort, even with Lee returning from Augusta and capturing a palisade to the west of the town. He built a tower to fire into the fort, had cannon in support, and was even in the process of digging a mine under the fort yet was still unready.
Ultimately, Greene’s hand was forced. Lord Rawdon was bringing British reinforcements up from Charleston. On June 18th, the Patriots assaulted the Fort but were soon repulsed and unable to summit the walls. With Rawdon so close by, Greene had to retreat back towards North Carolina. Rawdon gave pursuit, but soon gave up the chase and instead burned the entire town and retreated back to Charleston. Greene, recovering from his defeat picked up the chase and began his March on Charleston, engaging the enemy for the last time (at least in SC) at Eutaw Springs.
Today nothing remains of the town, but the earth works still stand. The British fort, while eroded, stands in contrast to the Patriot trenches (somewhat restored). What is most intriguing today is to see how close to each other the third parallel and the fort are. 30 yards is not very far at all, well within shouting range. Of course back then the walls would have been higher, the moat deeper, and the walls defended by musket, cannon, and abatis (sharp sticks). An inconsequential battle perhaps, but for those who fought it, the most important thing in the world at that moment.
Like Curtis mentioned, while walking through the site, it was mind-boggling to imagine how close the Patriots got, yet how that just wasn’t close enough. We took the mile-long loop trail through the park, and added a little side venture through the woods. We walked along the zig-zagging trail that followed the trenches until we came to the end, where we climbed the tower that gave a good overview of the land. Without seeing the village and structures that were there, it’s so hard to imagine what happened, but seeing how small this area of land was puts it into perspective. Why oh why did the British have to burn it all? Didn’t they realize that history lovers like us would one day want to walk through the streets of their village and enjoy imagining what went on in those days? Oh well. We enjoyed our time here – we showed up just an hour before the parking lot gate closed, but thankfully they allow you to park outside of that and keep the park open until dusk. By the time we reached the open area where the trenches were, we were all alone and able to take it all in in peace.
When we finished here, it was well past 5 and we had a long drive to go to get back home. I’m not complaining – we still love long drives! The only thing not to love is having another “vacation” come to an end. I may have spent a good portion of the drive planning our next one. We’re counting down the days until we can finally get a day off to prolong our next getaway! We’re also excited that we only have one more National Site to visit in South Carolina. [Cowpens National Battlefield] We can’t wait to check that one off our list! In other exciting news, we now only have 10 counties left in SC to complete our goal of visiting all 46! Just 3 or 4 trips more and we’ll be done. 😉