One of the best-kept secrets among our National Historic Sites is located in the upstate of South Carolina, and an upcoming event on April 13-14 offers a great opportunity to discover this fine park. Revolutionary War Days will include "two days full of fun, excitement and learning with interpretive programs and demonstrations" at Ninety Six National Historic Site.
Earlier this week the Traveler offered readers a good-natured challenge to see if they could identify some "historic firsts" in the National Park System. Space didn't allow time to cover every possible topic in that subject, and Ninety Six was the site of one of those events: the first significant land battle in the South during the American Revolution.
The American Revolution Before 1776
When we think of key events in our fight for independence, we sometimes tend to "start the clock" with the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776, but by that date military action had already begun in several locations. One of those battles occurred on November 19, 1775, at the South Carolina frontier village and fort named Ninety Six.
This may seem an unlikely location for a battle so early in the Revolution, but this outpost of civilization was actually a strategic site in an area undergoing a land boom in the 1770s. Several days of fighting between 1,900 Loyalists (supporters of English rule) and 600 Patriots (supporters of independence) were inconclusive and ended in a truce... but no peace.
The battle also produced what is considered to be the first death of a Patriot in the South during the American Revolution. James Birmingham was a member of the Long Cane Militia, and a marker in the park recalls his story.
The autumn of 1775 was only the beginning of action in the area, and according to the park website, "More Revolutionary War battles & skirmishes took place in South Carolina than any other colony during the American Revolution." Ironically, the area around Ninety Six also saw some of the final action in the war, including a second notable event that began in May 1781: the longest field siege of the War for Independence lasted 28 days.
An Earthen Fort is a Star Attraction
Modern-day visitors to Ninety Six can see ample visual reminders of that siege, including perhaps the country's best-preserved earthen star fort from the time of the Revolution. The Star Fort is an original, while reconstructed examples of numerous earthworks employed by Patriot forces during the siege help visualize the tactics involved in the battle.
The Star Fort, held by Loyalists, survived the siege and subsequent attack by Patriot forces, a conclusion hastened by the impending arrival of a British relief column. A visit to the park will explain why this Patriot's assault was aptly named the Forlorn Hope.
It's difficult to get a feel for the action at too many battlefields around the country today, thanks to encroaching modern development and well-intentioned but often intrusive monuments and memorials. Ninety Six offers a pleasant alternative to the usual crowded scene, since the historic star fort and village site are located well within the interior of the park and nicely screened from the surrounding rural countryside by a forested buffer.
A Fine Park for a Walk
Well-placed interpretive panels along a one-mile loop trail that winds through the earthworks and past the Star Fort help explain the story. The trail is paved and an easy walk; there are a few grades along the route that are steep enough to pose a challenge for wheel chairs and strollers. Two additional unpaved trails, the Cherokee Path and Gouedy Trails, add an additional three miles of pleasant walks; part of those routes follow "sunken" roads dating back to pioneer days. You can add to your visit by downloading a variety of brochures and maps at this link.
The main trail also passes a partial reconstruction of the Stockade Fort, scene of the 1775 fighting, and the Logan Log House. If you're curious about the park's unusual name, a previous article on the Traveler explored that subject, along with a look at the historic Logan Log House.
Don't Miss This Film
Standard advice for almost any park trip includes the admonition to "begin your visit at the visitor center," but that's an especially good idea at Ninety Six. This visitor center is small indeed, but the theater features an excellent twenty-minute film that does an unusually good job of explaining the story that unfolded here.
An excellent time to experience this park is coming up on April 13 and 14, 2013, when the park will host a weekend of "Revolutionary War Days." Activities include a living history encampment, cavalry and historic weapons demonstrations, guided walks and lectures, 18th-century music and special activities for kids. You'll find a schedule at this link. The event is dependent on the weather, so check the forecast, or call the park before making a long drive.
Spring is coming a bit late to this part of the country, but by mid-April, there's a good chance visitors can enjoy dogwood and other seasonal blooms. This is usually a fine time for a visit, but a bit more planning than usual is needed this year, since the park is yet another victim of sequester budget cuts. Even in the best of times this area has a very small staff, and any reductions at all have a big impact.
Make Note of Reduced Operating Hours
Until further notice, the park is currently closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and open on a reduced schedule (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) on the remaining five days of each week. During the special events on Saturday, April 13, hours will be extended to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
I enjoyed several hours at Ninety Six last weekend, thanks to a whim detour prompted by a highway sign along I-26 between Columbia and Spartanburg. It proved to be time well spent, and this park is worth a planned excursion.
Ninety Six National Historic Site is located about five minutes south of the small town of Ninety Six, South Carolina, and within about a hour's drive of Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia. You'll find driving directions and hints for users of GPS and on-line maps on the park website.