The Historic Camden Foundation is a private 501(c)3 non-profit museum whose mission is to protect, preserve, and celebrate Camden’s extraordinary Colonial and Revolutionary War history.
Our 107 acres sit atop the original 18th-century property of the city’s founder Joseph Kershaw and the fortified Revolutionary War-era town occupied by British General Cornwallis and Lord Rawdon’s men from 1780-81. Visit the site to learn about the prolific Kershaw, Camden’s importance to the war’s Southern Campaigns, and Colonial life in the backcountry. Explore the reconstructed Kershaw-Cornwallis House and recently rehabilitated c. 1800 McCaa’s Tavern, as well as exhibits in other period structures. Join us for tours, programs, and events! See our Admission & Tours page and our events calendar to plan your trip.
Camden Battlefield and Longleaf Pine Preserve
Historic Camden is excited to announce that we have recently assumed ownership of 476 acres of the Battlefield of Camden. The Battlefield is hallowed ground for the hundreds of men who died in this significant battle that took place August 16, 1780. Historic Camden is dedicated to telling the story of this fascinating battle, preserving and studying the archaeological evidence of the site, restoring the Longleaf Pine forest that existed during the 18th century, and providing a space for a variety of outdoor recreational activities. Visit the Camden Battlefield page for more information!
Both the original Historic Camden campus and the Battlefield are on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic Camden is a National Park Service affiliate.
**The following letter (bold/italicized) accompanies the article that follows**
Department of the Army
UNITED STATES ARMY CENTRAL 1 GABRESKI DRIVE
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC 29152
Staff Ride Participants
Welcome to USARCENT’s Battle of Camden Staff Ride.
This will be a terrific day as we all walk some hallowed and sacred ground. We will have time to reflect on the powerful events of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. This staff ride is a vehicle to deepen our understanding of strategic and operational challenges, to build our USARCENT team, and to explore the conditions of the counter insurgency.
We look forward to your insights and your thoughtful analysis of this pivotal engagement, as well as how we can apply lessons from our history to today’s fight. The attached Battle Book will give you the background necessary to understand this battle.
Please focus your thoughts and analysis and be prepared to discuss COIN doctrine as well as how our priorities relate to this and the current fight: Readiness, Protect the Force,
Communicate, Transitions. Also expect that you will be able to address issues relating to your directorate, for instance the G2 discuss the intelligence issues in a COIN fight, the G4 discuss logistics, the Surgeon discuss medical issues etc.
As we discuss these points, make sure you remember that staff rides give us a point of view of something important in history. To make the best use of history, we must learn the lessons and apply them—if applicable—to the situation we find ourselves in today.
I look forward to walking the ground at Camden with you, building our team, and discussing the challenges we face in the CENTCOM AOR.
Michael X. Garrett
Lieutenant General, U.S. Army
HISTORIC CAMDEN FOUNDATION IS PROUD TO ASSIST TODAY’S MILITARY!
Excerpt from US Army Central BATTLE BOOK 9/27/2017 with permission:
This Staff Ride is a vehicle to deepen our understanding of strategic and operational challenges…
Three years after Lexington and Concord, the American Revolution was at a stalemate. The British had the best trained and equipped Army in the world, but they were static in large cities with limited resources due to manpower shortages—the entire British Army only had 60k troops in 1778 and 1/2 of those were in the Colonies. Additionally, there was no joint command—naval and land forces operated independently. The government also had to deal with a huge budget deficit and divided political support. More importantly, France’s declaration of war in 1778 made the colonies an economy of force mission, secondary, particularly for the navy, to defending the West Indies and the home island. The British were undergoing American fatigue.
Hoping for a different outcome with a different approach, the British implemented a “Southern Strategy”: seizing the initiative in the Southern Colonies to capitalize on the supposed large population of Loyalists. The plan was to occupy Savanah, then Charleston, thus pacifying South Carolina and provoking the long-hoped for Loyalist uprising. Then maneuvering through North Carolina and Virginia, thus subduing the rebellion from South to North.
When Charleston SC succumbed to a siege in May 1780, the Brits captured the 5500 man Rebel Army—the greatest loss of the war. The rebellion was in disarray, on the verge of logistical collapse. Rebels across the state surrendered and all active resistance ended. However, after initially giving liberal parole, Lt. Gen. Clinton, Commander-in-Chief for North America, ordered all citizens to sign a loyalty oath and fight for the crown. Furthermore, he didn’t restore civil authorities, but installed a military government.
Clinton returned to New York City leaving his second in command, Lt. Gen. Cornwallis, with ~8,000 troops to occupy SC and GA as well as NC—total population of 500k and approximately the size of Iraq. The British/Loyalists quickly won a series of small battles, including a pursuit and “massacre” by their most aggressive and successful commander, Lt. Col. Tarleton. They occupied fortified outposts (Forward Operating Bases and Combat Outposts) along the coast from Savannah to Georgetown, and in an arc across central SC from Augusta to Camden.
Cornwallis led the occupation of Camden, then returned back to the main base at Charleston to command the Southern theater and attend to administrative duties. He left the capable Lord Rawdon in command of the interior posts. However, the British victories and occupation did not end the rebellion in South Carolina; instead their actions stirred up the ongoing brutal civil war between Loyalists and Rebels. Both sides employed information operations, and when the Rebels won several small battles, the rebellious spirit was kept alive and the Loyalist population was cowed into neutrality.
A small Continental Army force of 1,400 regulars was in Virginia moving south when Charleston fell, thus escaping that disaster. This force was both a dilemma and an opportunity for the British. As long as the rebels had a nucleus of regular troops, the occupied areas could never be properly garrisoned or pacified as British logistics and lines of communication remained a weakness throughout the campaign. Conversely, the Rebel army was a center of gravity that the British regulars were best suited to defeat.
Rebel Maj. Gen. Gates assumed command of the “Army of the South” in late July, and this force became the nucleus of a 4,000 man militia and Continental army. Within a week, Gates, ignoring advice from subordinates who knew the area of operations, immediately began marching into SC via a direct, unsustainable route, preparing to fight conventional forces in a conventional manner using mostly irregular troops.
Moreover, Gates ignored readiness, bungled transitions, communicated poorly, disregarded logistics, snubbed cavalry, and marginalized partisans. As his precipitous flight from the battlefield would show, he also lacked physical courage. All this contributed to the complete defeat at Camden, the second largest rebel defeat of the war, and the second loss of an army in SC in three months.
The Battle of Camden marked the high water mark for the British in the South. At this point, there was no longer any rebel Army in the South (only 700 rebel soldiers were able to regroup in NC after the battle), and Brits seemed to control the entire state. However, only one year after this conventional victory, the Rebels would engage again at Camden, the British would have compressed all forces remaining in SC into Charleston, and Cornwallis would be under siege at Yorktown.
By Lance Player
Staff Member – Historic Camden
Many people are aware of Kershaw County’s vast and significant history, but what they may not know is how far back that history actually extends. Camden is often cited for its pivotal role in America’s infancy, playing host to a variety of key events. In 1730, upon the request of King George II, Governor Robert Johnson proposed the Township Act. This act, put into effect by the Colonial government, called for the establishment of eleven townships throughout South Carolina’s interior. Soon after, the Fredericksburg Township (now Camden) was established and was situated along the Wateree river. It wouldn’t take long before seven families took offers of land grants, making them Camden’s first settlers but not the area’s earliest inhabitants.
Archaeological evidence confirms that people inhabited Kershaw County dating back roughly 12,000 years. The earliest people-group, the Paleo-Indians, were a group of hunter gatherers. They left behind a significant number of projectile points, common knives and scrapers, along with other valuable aritifacts. In the period that followed came the Archaic Indians, some 8,000 years ago. An innovative people, they designed various advanced tools and weapons such as the atlatl. Around 5000 B.C. people began to place more focus on horticulture, thus gaining prominence. This change came with the introduction of the Woodland Indians and their shift towards greater stability and more permanent settlements. Then, around 950 C.E. a new group emerged, the Mississippian Indians. A people-group originally indigenous to the west, they relocated, settling throughout areas in the east. Among those areas was the Wateree River Valley in Kershaw County. There, they built famed mounds such as the Chesnut and Adamson mounds, which present-day scholars suggest belonged to the powerful chiefdom of Cofitachequi.
In May of 1539, Spanish Conquistador, Hernando de Soto began his exploration of the Southeast region of the United states in what is now known as Florida. De Soto was contracted by the King of Spain to explore and determine areas suited for settling. A year later, during his exploration of Florida, he heard rumors of gold and silver further north. With this newfound information he would travel north into what we now know as South Carolina. His journey led him into what is present-day Camden, where he had hoped to find gold, silver and other riches. Instead, he encountered the Cofitachequi, who were hospitable and gifted de Soto with food aplenty and freshwater pearls. Unfortunately, De Soto became greedy and took more pearls and then kidnapped their leader, the lady of Cofitachequi. The leader would find herself fortunate, as she managed to escape captivity. Though she escaped, she did not escape alone, and would flee with an African slave who was a member of de Soto’s expedition and is now sometimes referred to as her husband. De Soto would continue his expedition, traveling through the Southeast before falling ill and dying in Mississippi in 1542. He would be succeeded by Louis de Moscolo, who would lead the remaining members of the expedition into Mexico in 1543 where their journey would reach its end.
Much of Camden and Kershaw County’s prestigious and storied history was shaped by its early inhabitants and the events that took place. While it may be true that Camden is often looked upon as a Colonial town, it is much more than that. Kershaw County is host to a multitude of events, people and locations that culminate in a history that reaches back in time almost 12,000 years. While a great deal has been uncovered, one can imagine what we have yet to discover. You may look around and set your eyes upon history that spans thousands of years and a number of bygone periods, but often it is what lies beneath our feet that can be the most awe-inspiring.
By Virginia Zemp
Executive Director – Historic Camden
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Connected to Camden by DNA, terra ferma or physical presence, my life and heart are interwoven with yours. I have enjoyed being welcomed home- when in fact I have been a transient visitor until now. At the same time, the care I have for this piece of ground is more powerful than I realized.
How each of us are connected to this place provides strings of its relevance. I have been encouraged and energized by stories involving peoples from so many different areas of the world. Either way our connections flow, they are all relevant to the story of this place.
Kershaw County and the City of Camden are leading a pathway for telling our cultural and historical story. Cultural organizations, along with Historic Camden, and individual citizens add unique pictures. Together, we want to engage ourselves and visitors in the important role we have played in our families, our towns, the community and United States history. Envisioning and preserving these roles is the mission of our generation!
Historic Camden will be enhancing our story of backcountry settlement, the hardships and triumphs of indigenous peoples and immigrant colonists. These connections provide teaching opportunities in perseverance and critical thinking. Our historic reactions to nature, disease and societal change, relate a timeline of why South Carolina has grown to become the cultural patchwork it is today.
Preservation of encounters along the pathway of the Great Wagon Road, connects Camden to the nation’s story. The wealth of information on colonial trade and harnessing natural resources continues to be more accessible through records and technology. These records enrich the value of learning and enhance our preservation efforts. Historic Camden’s archaeology and architectural assets provide context to those written records.
The recent talk at the Robert Mills Courthouse, “Why is the American Revolution Still Relevant” was held in conjunction with our 49th Annual Rev. War Field Days. Our uniquely Camden story continues to be significant because as noted in the introduction to the talk, “ In 1775, all people on this earth were subjects. Whether to a czar, a czarina, king, queen, duke, duchess or doge, every mere citizen was a subject”. As we move into our 50th Anniversary, highlighting the spirit of liberty, through preservation efforts, continues to be the goal of the Historic Camden Foundation.
By Virginia Zemp
Executive Director – Historic Camden
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: We mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor…
HCF IS VESTED IN THE BATTLE OF CAMDEN SITE and CITY OF CAMDEN VISITORS CENTER
Doug Bostick is the Executive Director of the South Carolina Battleground Trust. He has worked for 25+ years to mark, preserve and interpret South Carolina’s hallowed grounds reflecting battles fought in both the American Civil War and the American Revolutionary War. Historic Camden Foundation caught up with Doug on the Liberty Trail during their newly announced Battle of Hanging Rock initiative.
- Your work on the SC Revolutionary War battlegrounds has moved into a new, exciting and accessible phase for the Liberty Trail- How will the technology help engage visitors?
DB: The South Carolina Liberty Trail will utilize technology in a variety of ways. First, on the battlefields itself, we will utilize on-site interpretive signage such as the signs that currently mark the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill. Additionally, on-site interpretation will be enhanced by cutting-edge digital offering. Some battlefields will include augmented reality interpretations where visitors can “see” the battle. Other battlefields will use GPS-triggered beacons to offer audio presentations of the personal stories of combatants.
All of the sites on the Liberty Trail will be connected by an engaging interactive mobile tour APP that will connect all of our battlefields. The APP will offer driving directions, itinerary-building features, dining and lodging options, and recommend other nearby historic sites, recreational and cultural activities.
2) I am fascinated with the archaeology and science behind your research on these sites- Tell us about your comparison of historical maps to current conditions?
DB: Historic maps are very helpful in our research, but we augment these resources with modern technology that allows us to confirm the maps and, in some cases, correct the maps. Battlefield archaeology allows us to confirm the battlefield footprint and even determine where each army stood or advanced by where they were shooting. Other artifacts allow us to confirm or document the various regiments that were engaged.
LiDAR is a near infrared light technology that provides us with a great look at the raw topography of the land unencumbered by trees and underbrush. These surveys allow us to spot historic roadbeds and see geographic features often written about in contemporary battlefield reports.
GZ: There are so many discoveries to be found all over the state. Thank you for educating us in the possibilities.
3) The Battle of Camden site preservation started in 1909 by the DAR with the placement of the DeKalb Monument. The opportunities SCBT and ABT have invested with Historic Camden’s 700 acres will give an in-depth look at this turning point in the Revolutionary War- Give us a glimpse of some of the panel stories.
DB: In a broad view, Camden was a devastating defeat for the Patriot cause, but the response to this loss created an important turning point in the war. Patriots lost many good men in this battle, but none were more keenly felt than the loss of Baron de Kalb. The upcoming battlefield interpretation will, in part, focus on his service to the cause of Liberty. Additionally, we have focused much of our time in documenting the stories of individual participants, both Patriot and British, in the battle. Traditionally, battle interpretation focuses on the officers and commanders. While we will certainly interpret the decision-makers, we are also readily focusing on the junior officers, the sergeants, the privates, and the militia that served on both sides. There is a wealth of personal stories related to the Battle of Camden that has survived.
4) The new Visitors Center on Broad Street will guide visitors to the battle site and add engagement of the Revolutionary War Southern Campaign. How will this new exhibit interface with the statewide Liberty Trail as well as encourage tourism in Kershaw County?
DB: The new Visitors Center will serve as a Gateway to not only the Battle of Camden and the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, but to the entire Liberty Trail. We are working on a key exhibit within the Center that will propel visitors to visit the battlefield itself. Once they visit the battlefield site, an effective combination of traditional interpretive signage and stories delivered through new technologies will provide visitors with a stimulating and engaging experience.
GZ: The Kershaw Cornwallis House and grounds have their own unique story to tell with regard to colonial trade and Rev War military strategy. HCF looks forward to engaging the importance of our location’s impact on the story of Kershaw County.
5) The stories of those who fought and died in Camden are integral to the South Carolina Revolutionary War story and the national story of independence. How will our collaborative efforts get these stories out for the 250th Anniversary?
DB: We are focusing on a broad cross-section of stories of the people tied to this battle … a British sergeant in the 23rd Regiment of Foot who was captured by General Gates’ men at Saratoga, escaped, and then faced Gates again at Camden with much different results. We will tell the stories of multiple African-American soldiers in the North Carolina militia; the stories of women driving the wagons in the Quartermaster corps; soldiers who lost their lives in the battle and others who were captured and served long terms as prisoners-of-war in brutal conditions. There is also a little understood story of Americans fighting Americans. Many of the “British” troops at the Battle of Camden were actually American-born Provincial soldiers choosing to fight for the King.
GZ: HCF has added a visual display of flags of the 13 colonies, flying at the front entranceway to the main office. This display is to remind passersby that the 7000 individuals who stood on that hallowed ground on August 16, 1780 came from all over the colonies and the world. Some fought as loyalists, some as patriots, many didn’t fight but attended to their troops. Their stories are intertwined forever in the American story of liberty.
GZ: Thank you Doug, the SC Battleground Trust and the American Battlefield Trust for celebrating our extraordinary story with us!