Turning To Victory: The Revolutionary War Was Won Here
Home to key victories of The Revolutionary War, Upcountry South Carolina played an integral role in America’s independence.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Americans can thank South Carolina for freedom. The Revolutionary War for American independence (1775-1783) was won in the South. Several key battles were won in South Carolina, particularly in the mountainous Upcountry region, where locals also fought over opposing views. The fighting began with the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775 and lasted through the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. After setbacks in the North, British troops brought the fight South, betting on support from Southern loyalists and hoping to enlist slaves to support their cause. Ultimately, Colonial forces prevailed, and the United States of America freed itself from crown rule. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially ended the war.
The Southern Campaign (1778-1781), which occurred during the second half of the Revolutionary War, was a mix of strategic battles and guerilla warfare in Virginia, Georgia, North and South Carolina. Several decisive victories occurred in South Carolina. Over 200 Revolutionary War battles and skirmishes took place in South Carolina—more than in any other colony! While it would be challenging to visit every battlefield and all 495 historical markers across the state, key sites in the Upcountry draw history buffs year-round.
Today, you can tour several battlefields and historic sites in the Upcountry that played important roles in American history: Kings Mountain National Military Park, Cowpens National Battlefield, Walnut Grove Plantation, Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, Oconee Station State Historic Site, and Overmountain Victory Trail. In addition, learn about some locals who had key roles in the Revolutionary War, including Andrew Pickens, for whom an Upcountry county is named. See reenactors, hear presentations, see demonstrations, and more when visiting during a special event.
Revolutionary War Battlefields & Historic Sites in Upcountry South Carolina
Kings Mountain National Military Park
On October 7, 1780, an hour-long battle at Kings Mountain changed the course of the Revolutionary War. Cited as “the turn of the tide of success” by Thomas Jefferson, the battle was the first major American victory after the British invasion of Charleston five months earlier. The battle was between Americans—Patriots seeking independence vs. Loyalists to the crown— with no British troops involved. Patriot militias caught and surrounded Loyalist forces, forcing them to surrender after their commander British Major Patrick Ferguson, was killed. Coming on the heels of several Patriot losses, it boosted morale and ended British plans to invade North Carolina.
“Taken together, Kings Mountain and Cowpens—the battles were three months apart—were the main turning point of the war in the South,”
-William Caldwell, Interpretative Ranger for the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
The losses crippled the British: At Kings Mountain, the British lost local supporters. While 28 of the 900 Patriot troops died, a total of 290 Loyalists were killed and 700 were captured—nearly the entire assembled force. Later in Cowpens, the British lost elite soldiers.
One of the largest revolutionary war sites in the country, the 4,000-acre Kings Mountain National Military Park is located near Blacksburg in Cherokee County. It offers a 1.5-mile trail around the base and crest of the ridge where the battle took place, several monuments marking key battle sites as well as graves (including one at Ferguson’s burial site), an amphitheater where picnics are allowed, an exhibit area, and a 26-minute film about the battle. In addition, a network of hiking trails reaches further into the park and connects with the nearby state park for an opportunity to hike 12 miles in the backcountry.
Located near the National Park in South Carolina’s Piedmont region is Kings Mountain State Park, which offers camping, picnicking, hiking trails, equestrian trails, two fishing lakes, a 19th-century living history farm, and more.
Cowpens National Battlefield
On January 17, 1781, the battle of Cowpens was a turning point in the Revolution: Colonial forces won a major victory over regular British Army troops (not Loyalist volunteers). The battle was key to the surrender of British Commander Charles Cornwallis that ultimately led to the end of the war in 1783.
“Cowpens is one of the smaller but more significant battles of the entire war,”
-William Caldwell, Interpretative Ranger for the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.
The battle of less than an hour was waged on a field about 500 yards square that had been cleared by grazing cattle. “It’s not a big battlefield yet about 1,600 American troops, and about 1,200 British troops were involved. The American forces lost a small percentage of men, but the elite of the British Army was decimated with over 80-percent casualties. It cripples the British for the rest of the war.
The Patriots’ General Daniel Morgan is credited with the tactical masterpiece of the entire war: the double envelopment, a classic military tactic to surround the enemy on all sides. Cowpens was the only successful double envelopment in the American Revolution. Morgan’s unique deployment of troops made effective use of the militia and maximized their strengths.
Located in Gaffney and part of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks Group, the 841-acre Cowpens National Battlefield offers a 1.2-mile walking trail that crosses through the battlefield, a 3.5-mile biking and driving trail that loops around the battlefield perimeter, interpretative signs, a visitors center with a museum, plus a restored log cabin that belonged to Robert Scruggs who farmed the land before the park was established. Beyond the battlefield, the park offers a picnic area with shelter and restrooms.
Walnut Grove Plantation
During the Revolutionary War, American militia forces met and mustered at Walnut Grove Plantation, the home and plantation belonging to Charles and Mary Moore.
The Moores were active supporters of American independence. Charles Moore allowed his home to serve as a recruitment site for the local militia unit. Son Thomas Moore fought at the battle of Cowpens then went on to pursue a political career. Son-in-law Andrew Barry fought for the patriots throughout the war, eventually becoming a captain in the Spartan Regiment, the local militia unit.
“The Moores were outspoken Patriots.”
-Suzanne Brooks, executive director of Spartanburg County Historical Association
Local tradition says that daughter Margaret Catherine “Kate” Moore Barry, the eldest of Charles and Mary’s 10 children, helped scout Spartanburg County for General Daniel Morgan and was instrumental in helping warn the Americans before the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781. “She received word that the British were coming and jumped bareback on her horse and rode through the woods to alert the local militia, giving them the opportunity to muster and prepare for the Battle of Cowpens,” says Brooks. “According to legend, she tied her toddler to the bedpost before riding out to warn that the British were coming.”
Located near Roebuck (about 15 minutes away from downtown Spartanburg), the home (built in 1767) and outlying buildings (including a schoolhouse, wheat house, smokehouse, blacksmith shop, doctor’s office, and barn) are open year-round for guided tours that last approximately 45 minutes and share the stories of free and enslaved people. In addition, a self-guided option is available for folks who prefer to explore the outlying buildings at their own pace. The 34-acre property—that sprawled thousands of acres when the Moores owned it—also has a cemetery with 146 graves, vegetable and herb gardens, a nature trail, picnic pavilion, and restrooms.
Walnut Grove Plantation is one stop on the Spartanburg Revolutionary War Trail. In addition to items inside the plantation home and outbuildings, some of the Moore family’s belongings alongside other Revolutionary War-era items are displayed at the Spartanburg Regional History Museum.
Musgrove Mill State Historic Site
Musgrove Mill State Historic Site commemorates the Revolutionary War battle that took place on August 19, 1780. Though it lasted just 30 minutes (gunfire lasted just 15 minutes), the battle was very bloody. Though they were greatly outnumbered, the Americans beat the British for an important turning point in the war.
“A force of about 200 Patriots defeated about 500 Loyalists and British troops,” “Patriot forces set up an ambush along the Enoree River and sent a line of 20 men on horseback across the river to draw enemies into an open field.”
-Mark Stanford, an Interpretative Ranger at Musgrove Mill State Historic Site
Today, interpretive signs and exhibits in the visitor center and along 2.5 miles of nature trails share the story of the Battle of Musgrove Mill with visitors. Two trails—the 1-mile British encampment trail and 1.5-mile battlefield trail—are dotted with informational kiosks. Horseshoe Falls is near the beginning of the battlefield trail; the waterfall is also accessible via an ADA path about 200 yards from the parking lot. Leashed dogs are permitted on the trails. The site also offers a fishing pond, access to the Enoree River, and an accessible wraparound porch with rocking chairs at the visitor center for relaxing or picnicking, where you can see the ruins of Edward Musgrove’s home on one side and the river on another. Birdwatchers may spot bald eagles, blue herons, scarlet tanagers, cardinals, and a variety of sparrows.
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail stretches 330 miles through four states (Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina), along the route used by Patriot militia during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. Today it is possible to drive the route or hike 87 miles of trails.
“The little hiking sections are scattered along the corridor,” says William Caldwell, Interpretative Ranger for the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, which is part of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks Group. “There’s a section at Cowpens on an old wagon road that goes through the middle of the park, another section over in Gaffney, and it ends at Kings Mountain; a section through vineyards, one that overlaps with the Purple Martin Trail; So you have everything from a 7.5-mile scenic trail that’s mountain bike quality, to a nice 8-foot wide paved walk alongside a creek for walking, biking, as well as baby strollers and more. I recommend visiting the website to check out each section and plan your adventure based on what the trails are like, what facilities are available, what distances you want to go.”
Key Figures: Upcountry People of The Revolutionary War
Thousands of people gave their lives for American freedom, often in South Carolina. “There were several hundred actions in South Carolina, and they were very brutal,” says William Caldwell, interpretative ranger for the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. “South Carolina is really where the British lost the Revolutionary War. According to U.S. Army official records, approximately 30 percent of American casualties during the American Revolution occurred in South Carolina, which was where more battles, raids, and skirmishes occurred than any other state.”
Americans weren’t universally united behind one political view. “Here in the South, so many Loyalists were living next door to Patriots who supported American independence, and they’d turn on each other,” says Caldwell. In historical records, “there are multiple references of families with sons on both sides who saw each other during battle and tried to kill each other. One General wrote in his journal about how shocked he was that the fighting was so bloodthirsty. The backcountry people really changed the outcome of the war.”
The motivations and thought processes behind the Revolutionary War were not as simple as freedom fighters versus British soldiers. The situation was layered and complex. “It’s not just red coats against blue coats; there are many different sides with many different views,” says Caldwell. “A big part of the story is that so many Native Americans, including Cherokee and Creek, were British allies fighting against the American settlers. Meanwhile, the Catawba were fighting on the American side and helped the Patriots fight the British and Cherokee. It’s a very complicated story. In South Carolina, about 70 percent of the population were enslaved Africans and African-Americans, so the big question is: Who would they fight for?” According to The History Channel, between 5,000 to 8,000 African-descended people fought on the Patriot side of the Revolutionary War, while more than 20,000 served the crown.
Many individual stories are known. Some are famed: General George Washington commanded the American forces, assisted by Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold, Horatio Gates, John Paul Jones, and others. The British leaders included
- Charles Cornwallis
- John Burgoyne
- Thomas Gage
- and William Howe among others.
The American cause was greatly aided by French ships and troops and by the presence of the French nobleman and soldier the Marquis de Lafayette.
Touring museums and reading information provided at any Revolutionary War site will introduce you to a wide variety of different people who fought for their strong-held beliefs. Among the cast of characters:
Andrew Pickens—for whom one of the Upcountry’s six counties is named—moved to the Waxhaws region as a teenager. As an adult, he commanded a brigade of the South Carolina militia at the Battle of Cowpens, a decisive Patriot victory. In 1782, he was elected to the state’s General Assembly, which he held for a decade. He constructed Hopewell Plantation on the Seneca River, which became a frequent site for negotiations with Native American tribes. From 1793 to 1795, Pickens represented South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Daniel Morgan was a brilliant military strategist willing to try new approaches. His storied and death-defying career eventually led to his serving as brigadier general and commanding one arm of the Southern forces in the South Carolina backcountry during the Revolutionary War. His victory at Cowpens secured his reputation as a skilled military tactician. He later served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Margaret Catherine “Kate” Moore Barry was instrumental in helping warn the Americans before the Battle of Cowpens on January 1781. By warning the local militia that the British were coming, she gave them the opportunity to muster and prepare. Learn more about her and her story—as well as the legends her actions inspired—at Walnut Grove Plantation.
William Washington, a distant cousin of George Washington, was an educated gentleman who joined the American Revolution in a move that changed the trajectory of his life. His most notable victory was at the Battle of Cowpens, for which he was one of 11 to be awarded a silver medal by Congress for his tremendous service. Later in the war, he was captured in Charleston. Eventually released and later married, he went on to serve as a representative, senator, and state assemblyman, before returning to military service.
Recurring Events: Commemorating The Revolutionary War in Upcountry SC
From reenactments to demonstrations, guided hikes to engaging talks, displays to hands-on activities, many of the Upcountry’s Revolutionary War sites host one-time and recurring special events. Check our event calendar or contact host venues for details. Some perennial favorites include…
Cowpens National Battlefield
January – Anniversary events are typically held the weekend nearest January 17. Activities include
- cannon drills
- 18th-century weapons firing demonstrations
- a wreath-laying ceremony
- a living history encampment where visitors can interact with reenactors
- ranger-led battlefield walks (including lantern walks at night)
- ranger talks
- fife and drum corps
- author lectures
- and even a 25-mile, two-day march to the battlefield.
July – Special events are routinely held near July 4.
Check the Cowpens National Battlefield events calendar for details.
Kings Mountain National Military Park
May – Special displays are typically erected for the weekend nearest Memorial Day each year.
October – Anniversary events are usually hosted at Kings Mountain on the weekend nearest October 7. On the anniversary date, the reenactors who march the Overmountain Victory Trail will arrive at Kings Mountain. A special program relays the story of the march as well as the battle and how it changed the war.
Check the Kings Mountain National Military Park events calendar for details.
Musgrove Mill State Historic Site
Saturdays – Typically, on the first Saturday of each month, a ranger-guided battlefield hike is offered that lasts approximately two hours. Learn the history during this informative walk.
April – The last weekend in April is usually a living history weekend where reenactors portray a 1780s encampment (not the battle).
Check the Musgrove Mill State Historic Site events calendar for details.
Oconee Station State Historic Site
March – The site’s annual Native American Day features demonstrations of traditional American Indian skills such as pottery making, bow making, and flint knapping.
Check the Oconee Station State Historic Site events calendar for details.
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
September 25-October 7 – the Overmountain Victory Trail Association recreates the march to Kings Mountain each year on the historical dates of the march, ending on October 7 at Kings Mountain. The volunteers, all dressed like mountain frontiersmen, hold special programs along the trail, including dramatic storytelling and displays about the Battle of Kings Mountain on the anniversary date of October 7.
Check the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail events calendar for details.
Walnut Grove Plantation
April-August – One Saturday each month is designated ‘living history Saturday’ with reenactors on-site for a more hands-on, face-to-face visitor experience. Hosted activities from butter churning to cannon demonstrations, bracelet-making to quill writing, and more are included with the price of admission.
October – Time travel back to 1781, the first full weekend in October when the plantation hosts a reenactment of the realities of farming the backcountry in that era. The two-day event typically includes
- demonstrations of dozens of colonial-era crafts and trades from artillery to weaving, blacksmithing to soap-making, and much more.
Over 150 historians fully immerse in roles to bring the Revolution-era to life. The 2021 event, set for October 2-3, will include some drive-through aspects. (Note that while the enslaved experience is part of the Plantation’s regular guided tour, no interpreters currently act as enslaved people during this annual event.)
Check the Walnut Grove Plantation events calendar for details.
Timeline of Major Events and Battles of the American Revolution
April 18 – Revere and Dawes Ride
April 19 – Battles of Lexington and Concord, MA
May 10 – Ethan Allen and Green Mountain Boys seize Fort Ticonderoga, Second Continental Congress meets
June 15 – George Washington appointed commander-in-chief
June 17 – Battle of Bunker Hill
July 3 – George Washington assumes command of the Army outside Boston
November 19-21 – First Siege of Ninety Six, SC
December 22 – Battle of Great Cane Brake, SC
December 23-30 – Snow Campaign, SC
January 10 – Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense
April 12 – Halifax Resolves, NC—The first colony to authorize its delegates to vote for independence
June 28 – Battle of Sullivan’s Island, SC
July 4 – Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence
September 22 – British execute Nathan Hale, a soldier in the Continental Army
June 14 – Flag Resolution- Congress declared, “That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field”
July 5 – British capture Fort Ticonderoga
December 19 – Washington and his army winter in Valley Forge
June 18 – British abandon Philadelphia, Continental Army marches out of Valley Forge
December 29 – British capture Savannah, GA
February 3 – Battle of Port Royal Island, SC
June 20 – Battle of Stono River, SC
September 16 – October 19 – American/French effort to retake Savannah fails.
November – Washington’s Main Army begins camping at Morristown, NJ
May 12 – British capture Charleston, SC
May 29 – Battle of Waxhaws, SC
August 6 – Battle of Hanging Rock, SC
August 16 – Battle of Camden, SC
August 19 – Battle of Musgrove Mill, SC
October 7 – Battle of Kings Mountain, SC
October 14 – Gen. Nathanael Greene named commander of the southern Continental Army
January 17 – Battle of Cowpens, SC
March 2 – Articles of Confederation adopted; Battle of Clapp’s Mill, NC
March 15 – Battle of Guilford Courthouse, NC
April 25 – Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, SC
May 15 – Battle of Fort Granby, SC
May 22–June 18 – Siege of Ninety Six, SC
September 8 – Battle of Eutaw Springs, SC
September 28-October 19 – Siege of Yorktown, VA
October 19 – General Cornwallis officially surrenders at Yorktown, VA
July 11 – British evacuate Savannah, GA
November 4 – Encounter at John’s Ferry, SC
November 30 – British and Americans sign preliminary Articles of Peace
December 14 – British evacuate Charleston, SC
April 19 – Congress ratifies a preliminary peace treaty
September 3 – the US and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris
December 4 – Washington bids farewell to his officers in New York City
December 23 – Washington resigns as commander in Annapolis, MD
Source: American Battlefields Trust