Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site

Location: Camden, South Carolina

Webpage: South Carolina State Historic Site

General Description: The Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War was initiated by the English with the capture of Savannah, Georgia in 1778 and continued with the siege of Charleston, South Carolina in January 1780 by General Clinton capturing most of the Continental Army in the south.  The remainder of the Continental Army was chased out of South Carolina ending with the Battle of Waxhaws in May 1780.  With these victories, the English were left unopposed in South Carolina and Georgia, at least along the coast.  They began to consolidate their control by establishing outposts throughout the state, the farthest outpost to the west being Ninety-Six.  The Continental Army began to reform in Charlotte, North Carolina under the command of General Gates, the “hero of Saratoga” in July 1780.  Even though over 2500 of the 3700 soldiers were untrained militia, General Gates immediately started towards the English army now under the command of General Cornwallis in Charleston, beginning with Camden.  Learning of this army coming from Charlotte, General Cornwallis marched reinforcements to Camden and the two armies met 9 miles north of Camden on the morning of August 16, 1780.  Both armies had cavalry out ahead scouting and they ran into each other at 2:00 am along the Great Wagon Road.  After a brief skirmish they disengaged and both armies formed up for combat after daybreak.  It was traditional to place the weakest troop on the right flank and following tradition General Gates moved his untrained North Carolina militia on his right flank.  Of course, General Cornwallis also put his weakest forces on his right flank which meant his strongest and best trained regiments were on his left flank directly in front of these militia.  The forces were approximately equal with 3700 patriots against 2100 redcoats.  However, when the veteran English troops fired a volley followed by a bayonet charge, the patriot militia facing them panicked and fled since none of them had bayonets.  Seeing his left flank collapse, General Gates fled with the militia believing the battle was lost.  His left flank held for a while but was soon threatened by the English turning the right flank and English cavalry under Major Tarleton coming around behind their position.  They soon broke and ran for the surrounding swamps to escape the English.  The Continental Army lost 2000 dead and 1000 captured.  After the defeat of this second Continental Army, General Cornwallis believed the way to North Carolina and Virginia was now open.  The English fortified Camden building a wooden palisade around the town and six redoubts outside the palisade.  They continued to occupy the town and use it as an important base for supplies and troops in the frontier region of South Carolina until April, 1781.  After crushing defeats at Kings Mountain in October and Cowpens in January and a costly victory at Guliford Courthouse in March, General Cornwallis was in retreat back to Wilmington, North Carolina for supplies and reinforcements.  After replacing General Gates following his defeat at Camden, General Greene was now leading his Continental Army and local militia is driving the English from South Carolina.  In April, 1781 General Greene led a small of less than 1000 soldiers against an approximately equal number of English garrisoning in Camden.  The two small forces met on April 25 with the English under Rowden managing to run the patriots from the field.  Even though they were victorious at the Battle of Hobkirk Hill, Rowden pulled his troops out of Camden two weeks later to English held Charleston.



1) I was disappointed with Historic Camden since it consisted of three old buildings and a barn, especially when I found out they had all been moved there from other locations.  Part of my disappointment was that none of the buildings were open on Sundays.  When I found out that the English burned Camden before they evacuated in 1781 and the residents choose to relocate the town to the north instead of clearing the ruins and fortifications, I understood the need to bring in other structures.


2) The partially reconstructed palisade and a couple of the redoubts were interesting and made the visit worthwhile.  We also saw the remaining stump of a live oak tree that was part of the town square during the Revolutionary War.


3) They have located all six redoubts that surrounded the palisade and have reconstructed two of them.  Unfortunately, one of these redoubts is split down the middle by a residential road.


4) The battlefield is located north of Camden and was, in my opinion, more interesting than Historic Camden.  They have created two trails on either side of the highway, which follows the Great Wagon Road, to provide information about the battle.  There are interpretive signs giving troop placements and an historical account of the battle, which lasted only about an hour.  It was interesting to note that this was an open field during the time of the battle rather than the current loblolly pine plantation.  I am curious whether the state has any plans to recreate the conditions at the time of the battle.


5) All of the Battle of Hobkirk Hill is now covered with residential housing and the only indication of the battle is an historical sign along the highway.

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