The Best Revolutionary War Sites To Visit In Charleston, SC

The Best Revolutionary War Sites To Visit In Charleston, SC

Are you looking for the best historic sites around Charleston to learn about the American Revolution? Check out our detailed list and review of these top spots.

South Carolina, for the period of the war from 1776-1777, when British offensive efforts were maneuvers in the Middle Colonies or down from Canada, proved a crucial theatre of the American Revolution. It was the critical issue deciding the battleground of the war in the South.

The conflict there was a lengthy one. Fighting in South Carolina started near the beginning and went on to the final days of the war, at a time other locales had long since grown quiet. It proved exasperating and taxing to both sides, but more to the British one.

Because of what happened in South Carolina, the American cause triumphed and Great Britain’s (and that country’s American loyalists’) did not. The successful defense of the Palmetto log-and-sand-fort at the mouth of Charleston Harbor in June 1776 checked British objectives focused on winning back South Carolina (and conceivably more of the South) at an early point in the hostilities. So did a resounding smashing of a Cherokee assault on the frontier and loyalist groups in the backcountry.

Late British efforts to organize and employ a significant force of loyalists and to decimate a mixed force of American Continentals and militia men were trounced at, respectively, King’s Mountain and Cowpens. These two were the watershed engagements that thwarted British aims of dispatching the Americans and reclaiming South Carolina to crown dominion. Cowpens certainly stands as the most consummate tactical triumph of the war and, in actuality, the only time an army of the Americans so effectively subdivided a British force its approximate equal in numbers.

Our Picks For The Best Revolutionary Wars Sites To Visit Around Charleston, South Carolina:

Charleston Museum

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Powder Magazine

Heyward-Washington House

Fort Moultrie

Drayton Hall

Middleton Place

Colonial Dorchester State Historic Sight

Battle of Eutaw Springs Park

There were painful and biting defeats as well: Charleston, in May, 1780, when the Americans lost that city and their only army in the South, and three months later, Camden, when a second American army was crushed and its remnants forced back to North Carolina.

Finally, a ferocious and savage sectarian war rampaged in the backcountry until almost the time when British forces vacated Charleston in 1782.

South Carolina in the 1770s was far from the center of the Revolution and might have continued so but for the decision of the newly assigned British commander of operations opposing the colonies, General Sir Henry Clinton, to relocate his main force there.

His goal was to capture a region bountiful in provisions that were crucial to George Washington, to reinstitute royal authority over a populace he deemed essentially loyalist, and to ferment a campaign he believed he could fight at an advantage over his opponents after three years of vexation in the much more citified theatre of the Middle Atlantic colonies.

Sgt. Jasper In Action – Pic From Jasper County

The strategy promised well in theory, but was to flounder in practice for a medley of reasons. Clinton aimed to leverage divisions between the “plantocracy” of the lowcountry which included some ardent patriots and the farmers of the back country who were thought to favor royal rule to that of coastal plutocrats. Universally, Clinton also solicited aid from the Cherokees, since Indian allies had been so helpful in assisting to defeat the French in 1756-1763. Cherokee involvement ensured the estrangement of the backcountry settlers (due to a contentious and ongoing rivalry) and all too soon the British found they had on their hands a guerilla war thus nullifying their “huge edge” in close-order tactics by the native skills of the habitants despite lacking in training.

What is astounding about the war in South Carolina is how often the two sides clashed in battle and as a consequence how many battles were fought during the period 1779-1781. The territory of the state may include as many battlefields as Virginia does to the Civil War (though they were smaller by comparison but just as bitterly fought).

In three installments we will examine those battles and South Carolina itself as an arena for them. An estimated one-third of all combat actions in the American Revolution took place in South Carolina. It was a contested zone, a place which forced the British to confront the difficult military problem of having to wage a conventional war against American regular forces, the Continentals, while at the same time having to wage a counter-guerilla war against hit and run American regulars, the partisan bands of Marion, Pickens, and Summer.

With so many battles and skirmishes having taken place in South Carolina, it would be difficult to visit every historical marker and battlefield in the state. So we have put together a 450 mile road trip of museums, state historic sites, and national park sites where a visitor can learn about the Revolutionary War across South Carolina. We have plotted this out so you can move easily between each place we recommend. Basically, we’ll be taking a big circle around South Carolina and you can pick up the journey at any point or even reverse it and start at the end. Enjoy!

CHARLESTON

First settled by English colonists in the 1600s Charleston became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the American colonies. By the 1770s, Charleston had grown to be the fourth largest city in the American colonies.

Though some of Charleston’s citizens remained loyal to the crown, many were eager to support the revolutionary movement. In 1773, Charleston citizens seized a tea shipment from the East India Company, and stored it in the Old Exchange building, protesting the same legislation that brought about the Boston Tea Party in Massachusetts that same year. In 1774, South Carolina sent delegates elected in Charleston to the First Continental Congress.

British troops tried to occupy Charleston in 1776, but were repelled at Fort Moultrie. In the spring of 1780, British forces under General Sir Henry Clinton laid siege to Charleston in the first major engagement in the Revolution’s Southern campaign. After an initial attack, British warships made their way past the defenses of Fort Moultrie, blocking the patriot’s means of escape or reinforcement.

Clinton bombed the city with artillery and heated shots, eventually forcing the Revolutionaries (under General Benjamin Lincoln) to surrender. On May 12, more than 5,200 American soldiers were captured, making it the largest surrender in the war.

Although the British succeeded in taking the city and striking a major blow against the Americans, partisan guerillas continued to launch raids into the city. The British finally evacuated the city in 1782.

Charleston Museum

The best place to begin to learn about the war in Charleston is The Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in the country. The museum has a huge collection of artifacts and information from Charleston’s creation in 1680 through modern times.

Things to Do:

  • Becoming Americans – Spend some time in this exhibit, which uses a variety of artifacts to help tell the history of Charleston’s role in Colonial America and the Revolutionary War.
  • The Armory – This exhibit features a variety of historic weaponing, including swords and muskets dating to the American Revolution and earlier.

Good to Know: There are several options for ticket packages with other sites, so check out the website ahead of time to see which option is the best fit for your visit.

Be sure to visit the gift shop or the ground level for books on the Revolutionary War.

The Charleston Museum
360 Meeting Street
Charleston, SC
843 722 2996
www.charlestonmuseum.org/visit/museum-information/

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon is one of the most historical and fascinating buildings to tour in Charleston. Completed in 1771, the Old Exchange Building was the first customs house in the city.

When the British occupied Charleston in 1780, they converted the basement level of the building into a provost or dungeon. Patriots captured when Charleston fell were chained in the basement, including three of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1791, President George Washington spoke from the Old Exchange building during a week-long stay in Charleston. The Old Exchange also hosted a concert and ball to celebrate his visit to the city.

Things to Do:

  • Tour each of the building’s levels with a historian/docent to learn more about Charleston.
  • View artifacts relating to the history of Charleston, the American Revolution, and piracy.
  • Tour the dungeon.
  • Learn about George Washington’s visit to Charleston and the parties that were held in the Old Exchange in his honor.

Good to Know: In the Isaac Haynes Room, you’ll find information on several other Revolutionary War battles throughout South Carolina, such as Kings Mountain and the Battle of Huck’s Defeat.

Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon
122 East Bay Street
Charleston, SC
843 727 2165
www.oldexchange.org

The Powder Magazine

Built in 1712, the Powder Magazine is the oldest remaining building in South Carolina. With 26” thick walls topped with several tons of sand in the ceiling, the building was used to store gunpowder for the city’s defenses against the Spanish, French, and even pirates.

Things to Do:

  • Museum Exhibits – The powder magazine’s museum and exhibits focus on interpreting colonial military history, including the history of the Revolutionary War in Charleston.
  • Architecture – Make sure to take a few minutes to look closely at the building’s walls and arches. These original features were designed to help minimize the damage of a powder explosion.

Good to Know: Look into booking a tour with one of the several sites recommended by the Powder Magazine.

The Powder Magazine
79 Cumberland Street
Charleston,SC
(843) 722-9350
www.powdermagazine.org

Heyward-Washington House

In 1772, Daniel Heyward built a three-story double brick house on the site of a previous home. His son Thomas resided there. Thomas Heyward was one of four Charlestonians to sign the Declaration of Independence. When the British occupied Charleston in 1780, he was arrested and sent to prison in St. Augustine leaving his wife and sister-in-law to live in the house.

After the war, he returned to Charleston and became a judge. At one time the Heyward family had the largest slaveholding in the US.

Things to Do:

  • Artifacts and Furniture – The Heyward-Washington House contains a variety of colonial era furniture, including the well-known Holmes Bookcase (one of colonial America’s greatest cabinet making masterpieces).
  • Kitchen Building – Home to the only 1740s-era kitchen in Charleston that has been restored for the public.
  • Gardens – The property is home to formal gardens that include plants commonly found in the late 18th century helping to recreate the South Carolina Lowcountry of the late 1700s.

Good to Know: The Heyward-Washington House is owned and operated by the Charleston Museum so make sure to purchase the ticket packages that include all of the (3) sites you are interested in visiting.

Heyward-Washington House
87 Church Street
Charleston, SC
(843) 722-2996
https://www.charlestonmuseum.org/historic-houses/heyward-washington-house/

Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie is made up of a series of fortifications on Sullivan’s Island, SC, just across the harbour of Charleston. Fort Moultrie has served as a defensive system for the South Carolina coastline since the time of the American Revolution.

In June 1776, the British (under the command of Commodore Sir Peter Parker and General Lord Cornwallis) attempted an early invasion of Charleston. While Cornwallis landed on the nearby Isle of Palms, Parker sailed his fleet to a position near a simple fort on Sullivan’s Island.

Colonel William Moultrie had been tasked with building a fort on the island to protect from possible invasion. The only readily available building materials on the Island were palmetto trees. When Parker opened fire on Fort Sullivan, the cannonball would either bounce off the spongy palmetto logs or at the very least be absorbed. This led to significant Patriot success early in the war.

Nothing remains of the original palmetto log fort on Sullivan’s Island. In 1798, a new masonry fort was completed on the same site and named Fort Moutrie in honor of Colonel William Moultrie.

Things to Do: 

  • Guided Tour – If you can, try to participate in a guided tour of the fort, typically offered at 11.00am or 2.30pm daily but be sure to check the times before you go.
  • Exhibits on the history of Fort Moultrie – Utilize the park’s interpretive guide and brochures to explore the fort.
  • Public dock, picnic, and outdoor spaces – Fort Moultrie location on Sullivan’s Island offers a variety of opportunities for nature walks, fishing, viewing wildlife, and observing both Fort Sumter and the city of Charleston across the harbor.

Good to Know: Be sure to watch the orientation film at the visitors’ center.

Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter National Historic Park
1214 Middle Street
Sullivan’s Island, SC
(843) 883-3123
www.nps.gov/fosu

Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall is the only surviving original plantation on the Ashley River (about 15 miles northwest of Charleston) and considered to be one of the greatest examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in the country. Built by John Drayton in 1742, his son William Henry Drayton was born in the house. He later became a Royal privy councilor in Charleston, but was replaced by an Englishman. Angered, Drayton began to support the independence movement, and when South Carolina formed its own government in 1775, he was appointed the first chief justice.

Things to Do:

  • House tour – Take part in a guided house tour to learn more about the estate, its residents, and the preservation efforts to date.
  • Connections program – This 30 minute program, offered twice daily, helps teach visitors about the experiences of the enslaved African Americans on the estate.
  • African American Cemetery – Visitors to the estate can see a burial ground for African Americans dating to 1790 or earlier.
  • Self-guided tour – Walk the gorgeous grounds surrounding the plantation house.

Good to Know: Explore all of the plantations’ private and group tour options ahead of time to maximize your experience at the estate based on your interests.

Drayton Hall
3380 Ashley River Road
Charleston, SC
(843) 769-2600
www.draytonhall.org/

Middleton Place

Established in 1705, Middleton Place (about 15 miles northwest of Charleston) was the plantation home of the Middleton family. In 1742, Arthur Middleton was born at Middleton Place and grew up on the plantation. In 1776, Arthur succeeded his father as a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, where he became one of four Charlestonians to sign the Declaration of Independence.

It is a central tenet of the foundation operating the site that it should be telling the story not just of the plantation’s white owners, but also its African American population.

Things to Do:

  • Guided tour – Tour the plantation house.
  • Explore the surroundings – Freely explore the oldest landscaped gardens in the country.
  • Visit Elija’s House – A museum providing a look into the everyday life of the enslaved people, both their labor and the lives they led when their daily tasks were done.

Good to Know: Be sure to purchase a copy of the deeply researched book, Beyond the Fields: Slavery at Middleton Place, at the visitor center.

Middleton Place
4300 Ashley River Road
Charleston, SC
(843) 556-0020
www.middletonplace.org

Colonial Dorchester State Historic Sight

In the early 1700s the only powder magazine in the Lowcountry region was located in Charleston. Fears of a French invasion prompted the construction of a second powder magazine and a fort, which was built from 1757 to 1760. The fort and powder magazine were made of tabby, a concrete material made of lime, sand, and oyster shells.

Also located in the small town of Dorchester was St. George’s Anglican Church, which was originally erected and completed in 1719. The bell tower, which stands today, was added in 1751.

In preparation for the impending war, the town of Dorchester was transformed into a military depot and American troops assembled in town. In 1775, the magazine and fort was fortified and the fort was commanded by Captain Francis Marion. After Charleston fell to the British in May 1780, Dorchester was occupied by British and Loyalist troops. In December 1781, American forces (led by Colonel Wade Hampton and General Nathanial Greene) advanced on the town and the British were driven out of Dorchester. However, they unfortunately burned the church before retreating.

Things to Do:

  • Tabby fort – Take a self-guided tour through the best preserved tabby fortification in the country.
  • Cemetery – Take a self guided tour of the cemetery of St. George’s Anglican Church.
  • Bell tower – Walk inside the bell tower, the only remains of St. George’s Anglican Church.
  • Interpretive trails – A kiosk and interpretive trail offer exhibits on the history of the village and the process of discovery through continued archaeological digs.

Good to Know: Geocaching is permitted. Several geocaches are located in the park.

Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site
300 State Park Road
Summerville, SC
(843) 873-1740
https://southcarolinaparks.com/colonial-dorchester

Battle of Eutaw Springs Park

In the spring of 1781, General Charles Lord Cornwallis moved into Virginia intent on destroying Patriot supply centers. He left the Carolinas garrisoned with roughly 2,500 men. American General Nathaniel Greene took advantage of Cornwallis’ absence and entered the Carolinas with between 1900 and 2100 men. Despite suffering violent setbacks at Hobkirk Hill and Ninety Six, Greene won other minor victories and led his army toward Charleston.

British Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart, with anywhere from 2100 to 2400 men, came out from Charleston to do battle on September 8, 1781, on a patch of hills along the Santee River near the town. Scouts and informants brought Greene excellent information regarding the British position. At first, all went well for the Americans. Greene achieved surprise, managing in mid-morning to brush past some South Carolina loyalist cavalry. The plan was for the main body of Americans to attack in two lines with the militia moving forward in the first line. This line was to be followed by one made up of Continentals.

Both lines, one behind the other, advanced on a stockaded plantation house where the British had positioned themselves through trees interspersed by fields. Despite their surprise, the British quickly formed their own line and began fighting in volleys. The militia performed well in this action, managing to inflict considerable losses on their opponents. At that point the militia lost momentum, however, and Greene sent forward the second line, the Continentals. This had been his plan all along. It was a step he presumed would drive the British back and win him the battle.

It worked initially. The redcoats fell back but in good order. Greene appeared on the verge of victory when two things happened to unhinge the American advance. The first was that his troops, as they pushed the British back, got into the considerable provisions and supplies the Eutaw Springs camp offered….including rum. Forward motion was lost as troops who had lived through a hard spring and a worse summer began breaking into boxes, barrels, and casks.

Most accounts of the battle refer to this occurrence, and undoubtedly it played a factor in the outcome. But a specific tactical move by the British played a much more discernible role. Major John Majoribank, commander of the right side of the British line, decided to pull his units back and reform them in a new position, one of considerable tactical advantage. In this way they were partially protected by the plantation house’s garden wall and a portion of the palisade. Most of all, from this point they could fire directly into the American’s left flank. They now opened up a heavy fire, even managing to hit some of the American soldiers who had stopped to help themselves to the riches of the British camp.

On this move, the battle turned from an American victory into, at best, a draw. Majoribanks action jolted the attackers, caused confusion, and helped set up a British counterattack against the other flank of the American line. Instead of advancing, the Americans began to fall back. Greene may have already lost control of his attacking units, and in the face of this sudden British move and withering fire, had no choice but to fall back. Steward and his red coats still held Eutaw Springs.

The battle had lasted three hours and had been fought in scorching temperatures. Both sides had fought hard and casualties were high. The killed for the Americans amounted to more than 600 men of the approximately two thousand engaged. On the British side, with slightly higher numbers engaged, the losses were somewhat larger, with just over 800 killed and wounded. The British also lost Majoribanks as he succumbed days later from wounds he incurred in the battle.

Steward received reinforcements from Charleston, but soon decided to withdraw to that city. Greene had no reinforcements and decided to take his army back to High Hills, SC. Of the four battles he had fought since taking over in the South (Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk’s Hill, Ninety-Six and now Eutaw Springs) he had not won a single one. And yet, the end result was always the same for his opponents: bravely fought, hard-won tactical victories that were followed by decisions to withdraw with the victories purchased at a cost that could not be sustained.

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major engagement of the war in the Carolinas. Surprisingly, there isn’t much to see at the Battle of Eutaw Springs Park despite its historical significance.

Things to Do:

  • Information displays – Informative postings about the battle.
  • Major John Majoribanks grave – Visit the grave of the British officer that was so instrumental in stemming a most certain defeat. The grave was removed to the present site when Lake Marion was formed in 1941.
  • Lake Marion – Walk the beautiful wooded shoreline of Lake Marion, named for the American Revolutionary War officer Francis Marion, known legendarily as “the Swamp Fox”.

Good to Know: Eutaw Springs Battle Park is going to be expanded and enhanced as part of its inclusion in the system of Liberty Trails that aims to connect all of the Revolution’s battlefields located in South Carolina.

Eutaw Springs Battlefield Park
12933 Old Number Six Highway
Eutawville, SC
https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/eutaw-springs