21 September 2008

Siege? Fail.

Ok, so our last stop was on the way back to the Wife's Dad's house, at the Ninety-Six National Historic Site. This was a very important settlement in the Colonial days, and was the site of two Revolutionary War battles. The painting above, in the visitor center, depicts the later battle.
We begin in the visitor center, where artifacts from the entire war are on display
History is.... sexy?

The park trail does not follow the historical timeline, so for ease of understanding, the photos are not in order, but arranged so the story is easier to follow.

This is the historic Charleston Road. Down this road was a trading post built by Robert Gouedy in 1751. He became the area's first permanent settler, and an influential man in the future Ninety-Six village. In 1759, a stockade was built around one of his barns, also believed to be somewhere down the Charleston road, which came to be known as Fort Ninety-Six. This fort held up well against two attacks by Cherokees on February 3 and March 3, 1760.

This is the site of the Village of Ninety-Six. It is believed that the town got its name from being ninety-six miles from the Cherokee settlement of Keowee, but this distance turned out to be wrong. Following the attacks in 1760, the Cherokee signed a treaty in 1761 that limited their travel and influence past the town of Keowee. Following the treaty, many settlers came to the area, now free from fear of Indian attacks. But with the outbreak of the Revolution, fears were again raised and a stockade was built around the village. The tall grass in the photo above shows where the stockade was located. Sentiments in the Carolina Backcountry were far more divided than along the coast, and for that matter, than in most of the rest of the country. Some settlers remained loyal to the Crown for protection against future Indian threats, while others felt the British had not done anything to help them, and thus sided with independence. These divided loyalties clashed in the first major land battle of the Revolution in the South.

In November of 1775, Patriot forces in Charleston sent gunpowder and other supplies west to the Cherokees, supposedly for hunting. In addition, a Patriot leader local to Ninety-Six, Major Andrew Williamson, arrested the local Loyalist leader Robert Cunningham and sent him to Charleston. These actions caused the Loyalists to unite a force of about 1,900 under Cunningham's brother, Patrick. Williamson responded by building a stockade fort with 600 Patriots. The reconstruction of this fort is seen in the photo above. On November 19, fighting began, and was heavy, but sporadic for three days until the two forces agreed to let their superiors settle their differences. This was short lived however, because Patriot Colonel Richard Richardson arrived, arrested several Loyalist leaders, and sent them to Charleston. While the first major battle was over, the area continued to be plagued by skirmishes for the next several years.

Site of the Ninety-Six jail, which the Loyalists used as a stronghold during the battle.

Grave of James Birmingham, killed in the Battle of Ninety-Six and the first South Carolinian killed in the cause of freedom.

The next major battle didn't come until 1781. The British, having reached a stalemate with the Americans in the Northern colonies, had launched their Southern Campaign. Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina were captured and the American army was shamed at Camden. But Patriot victories at King's Mountain and Cowpens, coupled with the high casualties of Guilford Courthouse and the constant partisan activities of Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, and Andrew Pickens, had all but run the British out of the Carolinas. General Nathanael Greene, following Guilford Courthouse, had begun a campaign of retaking British outposts begining with Fort Watson and Camden, where the Americans had been so badly defeated just a year before.
On May 21, 1781 Greene arrived at the British outpost of Ninety-Six with a force of about 1,000 men. Pictured above is the Island Ford road, which the Patriots arrived on.

The Patriots discovered that the British had created an elaborate defensive layout. The town still had its pallisade fence to protect it, and the stockade fort from the 1775 battle had been rebuilt on the same spot, which also contained the town's water supply. But the most formidable creation was the new Star Fort, a large earthen fort on the other side of the town. The three areas were connected by trenches to carry supplies and information. These trenches are today marked by the small white posts seen in the photo above leading to the rebuilt stockade fort.
Greene realized that the Star Fort was the heart of the defenses, but also knew it was too strong for a direct assault. This point was driven home on the night of May 22, when Americans building an assault position seventy yards from the fort were driven off by the British. To solve the problem, he turned to Polish engineer Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko, to direct a series of approach trenches. While not a siege in its normal sense, its method of execution was the same. The first trench was built over 200 yards from the fort, well out of firing range. The intense heat, mosquitoes, and nearly rock hard southern clay made the digging nearly impossible. Nevertheless, the first trench was completed on June 1.

From the first trench, a line of approach trenches were created in a zig-zag pattern to prevent the British from firing directly down the trench. The concept allowed soldiers in the first trench to shoot over their comrades heads to defend them while they dug. About seventy yards from the fort, the second trench was dug, being completed on June 3. From here, more approach trenches were dug, until the third and final trench was built on June 10, at forty yards, musket rage, from the fort.
An example of a canon the Americans used to protect their trenches
During the night of June 13, the Americans built a thirty foot rifle tower out of logs near the third trench. This was built to allow rifleman to take out British soldiers who had been shooting into the trenches from the fort and killing American soldiers. The tower was so effective that the British commander, Lt. Col. John Cruger used sandbags to raise the walls of the fort six feet, and attempted to burn down the tower with heated canon shot. The attempt failed due to the freshness of the wood.
Also near the third trench, the Americans began to dig a mine shaft with the idea of placing gunpowder under the wall of the fort and exploding it. the mine was never completed, but the idea would resurface eighty-three years later at the bloody siege of St Petersburg in the Civil War.

Greene now learned that 2,000 British reenforcements were enroute to the town, and decided that an attack was needed before he became trapped. At noon on June 18, the attack began. Col "Lighthorse Harry" Lee captured the stockade fort, and Greene's men surged from the third, and closest, trench. Canon attempted to breach the earthen wall, while men with axes cut through the pallisade surounding the fort and men with hooks sliced open the sandbags atop the fort. Cruger ordered his men to stop the attack and sent them into the ditch surrounding the fort. After very bloody hand to hand fighting, the Americans were driven off. Greene collected his forces and left, next appearing at Eutaw Springs. In July the British and Loyalists left Ninety-Six for Charleston, burning what they could and attempting to destroy the Star Fort.
This house was built nearby in 1787, and moved here in 1968.
The house interior is now made to look like an 18th century inn.

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