Posts Tagged ‘Battlefield’

What better way to spend it than reading about the site of an important Revolutionary War battle where, on October 7, 1780, a ragtag force of Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men obliterated the Loyalist battalion led by flashy British Maj. Patrick Ferguson?

Who doesn’t love Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men?


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U.S. Grant

We all have painfully derived instances of selective memory. Things in the past that we have chosen to forget for the sake of mental health, sanity and quality of life.

Most of Michael’s lost memories revolve around painful sports losses. (He’s lived a charmed life.) Super Bowl XXXVI Rams vs. Patriots. Georgetown in the 1982 and 1985 NCAA basketball championships. 1994 NBA Finals. John Starks. Whenever sports retrospectives mention or show these events the channel is quickly turned. No need to dwell on the past.

Mississippi residents do not have this luxury. Their most ignominious historic event, their most painful collective memory, the South’s most humiliating and debilitating Civil War defeat, the picture of ultimate degradation…it’s a National Park and one of their state’s most known tourist attractions.

The Vicksburg NMP was, of course, set aside as a federal Site by Northerners and most of the first wave of its countless monuments were placed on the land by Northern Civil War vets. A second (and more permanent) siege than Grant’s May-July 4, 1863 lockdown.

We heard more than a few times that Southerners en masse refused to celebrate the July 4 holiday for more than 80 years after Grant’s siege was lifted. The date was too powerful a reminder of their own unsuccessful independence.

Our visit was awkward. Our accent unmistakenly Northern. We were treading on unwelcome historical ground. To the local residents, our prescence in town and on the battlefield could only indicate victorious glee. We destroyed this town and its people in 1863. Shouldn’t we be moving on to more pleasant memories.

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Stillwater, N.Y.
Visited: March 29, 2004
Second Visit: July 23, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 10 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website


Site of two pivotal 1777 Revolutionary War battles.

BEAUTY (5/10)
Hills mixed with forested terrain and open fields characterize the main portion of Saratoga NHP, the approximately 3000-acre battlefield site. A 10-mile self-guided auto tour route scurries the visitor around the countryside to the time-honored places of interest with able battlefield park aplomb. Helpful red and blue stakes throughout the Site remind the visitor of the battle lines held by the British and American soldiers respectively in 1777.

Once you leave the pavement and set off on foot, the landscape’s historical power sinks in. The up-and-down hike from Chatfield Farm to the Balcarres Redoubt delves into the forest, crosses a mild ravine and eventually delivers you to the Barber Wheatfield, and open field where hours of fierce fighting occurred.

The path is the same trail that the American soldiers took over 225 years ago. When you edge out of the forest and see the cannons pointed toward you and the British fortification stakes it is not hard to be transported back in time.

The Schuyler House and the Saratoga Monument sit eight miles northeast of the Saratoga Battlefield grounds and share the small New York town ambiance of their host, Schuylersville. The Schuyler House, country home of General and patroon Philip Schuyler, is a typical two-story yellow Colonial Georgian design, fully restored and ready to tour. The 155-foot tall Saratoga Monument is a surprisingly ornate obelisk that offers spectacular views of the not so spectacular scenery.


The National Parks Guidebook ranks the Battle at Saratoga as one of the 15 most decisive battles in World History. It was our nation’s first significant victory of the Revolution. A Park Brochure states that in 1999 the New York Times Magazine called it the “most crucial battle of the 1000 years.” We are not going to succumb to that kind of hyperbole.

Nevertheless, had we not won, the Britons would have effectively cut New England from the remainder of the breakaway nation, dooming our chances for success. From the victory came French support and perhaps most importantly an impetus to France to rekindle war efforts in Europe against England. No Saratoga victory, no United States.

CROWDS (8/10)

During our first visit, in March of 2004, we saw very few people, just locals walking their dogs and joggers enjoying their isolated park. In March, the auto tour road had not even opened for travel. You can use your car only from April through November.

In August, however, the Saratoga area becomes a tourist mecca with the beginning of Saratoga Spring’s racing season and jam-packed waters of nearby Lake George. Given the season, the Site’s crowds were still not as large as expected. We had the hikes and the auto tour road largely to ourselves.

Schuylerville, N.Y. is ten miles east of Saratoga Springs and I-87, Exit 14 via the winding New York Route 29. The Battlefield is a further eight miles south on U.S. Route 4. Once the auto tour road is opened, the Battlefield is very accessible. But during any time of the year you owe it to yourself to get out of the auto tour rut and walk. Short paved trails to and through the Redoubts make your excursion easy.

Ornate Obelisk
As would be imagined, the Store stocks a good selection of Revolutionary War texts. We bought a nice postcard of Thaddeus Kosciuszko, the handsomest man of the War and designer of the Saratoga Battlefield’s redoubt defense system.

We are pretty sure no other National Park Site vends bottled Saratoga spring water outside its Visitor Center.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $5 per car into the Battlefield portion of the Park. Admission is free with the National Parks Pass and free from November through March (when the roads are closed).

The Schuylerville sites are both free. You can climb Saratoga Monument and tour the Schuyler House without spending one penny. What a bargain!

There are very helpful Rangers at the Battlefield Visitor Center. Once you get out on the auto tour, however, you are on your own.

It is a different story in Schuylerville where stellar, knowledgeable Rangers spew Revolutionary info at both its attractions.


The Saratoga NHP Visitor Center Museum has seen a flurry of recent additions. In 2002, a new film debuted while in 2005 the Museum welcomed a gargantuan fiber-optic map and new exhibit panels. We were not overly impressed by any of the improvements, especially the 15-minute+ electric map program, which would have been perfect with a good deal of editing.

Kosciuszko's OverlookThe Site’s educational forte is its Rangers. Their talks and understandings are indispensable. Our Ranger-led tour of the Schuyler House was one of the most skilled, subtle and perfect historical teaching talks of our entire trip. A different Ranger, posted at the Saratoga Monument, talked our socks off about Benedict Arnold, the Monument’s quirks, answered dozens of our questions and enchanted us with his vibrant personality.

FUN (8/10)
When we came through Saratoga NHP the first time, we thought a 5-mile hike through the battlefield was sufficient. We were wrong. While we may have gotten the gist of the battles, we missed out on a great house tour and an equally impressive monument, each with their own stories. We made the right choice stopping in Schuylerville this time around.

We toured the Schuylerville sites with wonderful fellow central Pennsylvania tourists and a set of friendly New York history buffs and golfing enthusiasts. Our conversations and laughter with our traveling cohorts were the highlights of our return visit and made us thankful that we had given this Site another chance.

Yes. It is such an important part of American history. If you are in the delightful and historic town Saratoga Springs for the races in August, definitely come. If not, Saratoga NHP deserves far more pilgrimages than it receives. At least as many people as the throngs that flock to Gettysburg.

TOTAL 58/80

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Sharpsburg, Md.
Visited: June 2, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 297 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Antietam Panorama

Site of a September 17, 1862 Civil War Battle; the bloodiest single day battle in United States history. The North referred to the battle as Antietam, the creek that runs through the grounds, while the South referred to the fight as Sharpsburg, the nearest town.

BEAUTY (3/10)
Gab insists that the hazy, anonymous, rolling farmland terrain of Maryland is her least favorite genre of American scenery. Amid the panoramic nothingness, Antietam NB does have it hidden charms.

The land sinks into unexpected gullies and rises to form deceptively steep hills. These shifts are unseen from the wide angle where everything looks flat. The terrain’s disguised whimsy defined the battle’s shape. The fight most famed locale’s name, the Sunken Road, attests to this mystery.

The Battle of Antietam is a tragic American story. Over 20,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured here in the course of a few hours. The slaughtering grounds of the Sunken Road, the Cornfield and the Burnside Bridge remain. Our Ranger talk told us that the Battle was a draw. No gains and no progress made towards the War’s end. Just tens of thousands of tortured souls.

History tells us that the Union won a slight tactical victory here, their first of the war. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln’s two sweeping Antietam inspired actions trumped any importance achieved by the quickly gained and quickly abandoned Maryland farmland.

Burnside BridgeThese two actions were: 1) the removal of the incompetent George McClellan from command of the Union Army and 2) movement towards issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Antietam brought the Decision 1 because McClellan’s ridiculous insubordination to Lincoln and cowardly slow command reached an apex at Sharpsburg. Had McClellan been even the slightest bit aggressive, the War might have ended that September.

Decision 2’s relevance to Antietam is slightly more specious even though the Emancipation Proclamation was issued just five days after the battle. History will forever speculate on Lincoln’s motivations and reasoning. But Antietam revealed to Lincoln that he had to do something. His Army could not rout the enemy’s and end the War, even with more men and countless other advantages.

Sharpsburg’s stalemate had delayed a rumored British entry into the war on the Confederate side. But John Bull’s pro-South leanings were real. The only way to sway their leaders against the Southern cause would be to issue the Proclamation. Antietam was a major Civil War turning point, its importance more intangible and speculative than most battles despite the massive carnage.

CROWDS (6/10)
Not to say that the place wasn’t crowded, but we expected a lot more people – Gettysburg-type numbers. There were no reënactors and to our snooping ears, it sounded like the crowds were a lot less Civil War-savvy that the average battlefield visitors.

Perpendicular ThreeEASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5)
Antietam NB is located about 80 miles west of Baltimore, Md. or 80 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. Interstate 70 and Hagerstown, Md. are located 10 miles north of the Park.

The easiest way to the Park is from the north via I-70, Exit 29A, and then south on Maryland Route 65. The Park entrance will be on your left, bordering Route 65. If you wish to weave your way from Frederick (the east) or Martinsburg, W.Va. (the west) to Antietam via backcountry roads just make sure you have a map.

The Battlefield itself is enclosed and separate from exterior traffic. You will only be driving with other Civil War enthusiasts. The one-ways could get confusing but no one is going to get mad at you for driving at a snail’s pace.

Antietam NB’s book selection was stellar but not up to par with most Civil War Battlefields. The souvenir selection ranged from the standard coffee mugs, T-shirts, maps and DVD’s to the downright macabre chintzy plastic toy soldier recreations of the Dunker Church and Burnside Bridge. Wave upon wave of Union soldiers died from sniper fire while trying to cross that fateful bridge. Let’s play again!

COSTS (3/5)
$4 per person, $6 per family, free with the National Parks Pass.

A good number of Rangers wandered the Visitor Center halls and were ready to answer questions.

Explosive SparrowTOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
We were lucky enough to arrive at the Park just as a Ranger was beginning her talk. Problem was, she was speeding through her discussion at an alarming rate, presumably so that she could finish before the intro film started. She should have slowed down, not just because slowness makes for better learning, but also because the film is not very good.

The tiny museum is big on artifacts, including George McClellan’s presentation sword (hardly unique) but small on information and historical explanations. We left the Visitor Center knowing less and feeling more confused than when we started. Regrettably, we failed to heed our on advice: Always bring a companion Civil War book when you travel to a battlefield. We really missed our Battle Cry of Freedom.

We skipped the newly opened Pry House Field Hospital Museum for fear that we would go queasy and pass out because that is what nearly happened at the Chimborazo Medical Museum in Richmond, Va. The Pry Field Hospital Museum is sponsored by and affiliated with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine located in nearby Frederick, Md.

FUN (3/10)
If we had to choose one word to describe our Antietam experience, it is Disappointing. All day, we had geared up for the big Park Experience we were expecting. We feared we wouldn’t have enough time to see and experience everything. We wondered if we should skip Antietam and dedicate an entire day just to this Site.

When it was all said and done, we spent a little more than an hour and a half here. That’s with the Ranger talk, the movie, a thorough review of the museum, the driving tour and a few short hikes, all less impressive than they should have been. We admit we left the movie early; there are only so many scenes of cannons firing, reënactors charging and dropping that we can take.

If you asked the average Joe to name at least two Civil War battles, Gettysburg and Antietam are probably the two that come to mind. The carnage that occurred at Antietam is legendary, its significance hard to dispute. Why then, did we walk away feeling none of that?

A trip to Gettysburg is almost overwhelming and that’s even before the additions of the renovated cyclorama and multi-million dollar Visitor Center. We were shocked when we realized Antietam’s museum extended no further than the four walls we were already viewing and had NO ELECTRIC MAP. Sad Michael.

What you do gain in your trip to Antietam is a better understanding of how the seemingly mundane terrain put the troops in such disarray. A few wrong turns gone right and the ending could have been different. We are not fans of speculation, but one can only imagine how moving Antietam could be if it were given the proper Park Service presentation.

TOTAL 42/80

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Gettysburg, Pa.
Visited: April 9, 2006
NPS Site Visited: 283 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Steadfast SoldierSite of the most famous battle fought on United States soil. The dramatic Civil War fight occurred from July 1-3, 1863 and took more than 50,000 casualties.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Over the last fifteen years, groups like the Friends of the National Park at Gettysburg in accordance with the NPS have slowly but surely worked to bring the battlefield back to its 1863 appearance and feel. The most famous two removals were the Stuckey’s Restaurant that once sat in the middle of Pickett’s Charge’s route and the 307-foot monstrosity known as the Gettysburg National Tower that disturbed horizons in all directions.

Currently, there is nothing to upset the views of the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside other than 1,300 granite monuments and 400+ cannons. The biggest and the best Civil War memorials are here at Gettysburg. Do not let the Chickamauga or Vicksburg people tell you otherwise. The best of the best is, of course, the towering ivory white Pennsylvania Memorial, which sort of looks like the arc de triomphe topped with a dome upon which stands Nike, the winged goddess of victory.

Throughout his schooling, Michael never understood the oft-quoted metaphor of Gettysburg being the high tide of the Confederacy. His teachers would point to the ground where Pickett’s charge ended and say, “Look, right here is the high tide.” He gets it now, sees the powerful imagery but only grudgingly agrees with this eastern-theater-centric vision of the Civil War.

The historical strength of Gettysburg lies in metaphor and symbolic imagery. The ebbs and flows of the battle itself encapsulate the tidal patterns of the war as a whole. The battle was fought over three scorching hot days and saw the most casualties of any fight in American history. Once battle ended, the skies emptied and it rained a deluge. It was July 4th, the day of American Independence.

Four months later, on November 19, Abraham Lincoln came to the former battleground to dedicate the National Cemetery. His speech, the Gettysburg Address, is known to all Americans and memorized by most middle school students.

Virginia MonumentCROWDS (3/10)
An early April Sunday morning, 9:30 a.m. to be exact. We thought we would elude the crowds. No siree Bob. Busload after busload of people were being dropped off and parking spaces around the Visitor Center were hard to find. What summer must bring!

The battlefield auto tour was thick with bumper-to-bumper traffic. We should have walked.

The current Gettysburg NMP Visitor Center is located just south of downtown Gettysburg along Pa. Route 134 (Taneytown Road), a few miles from U.S. Route 15. If you do not have a map, the easiest entry is from the south. The Pa. Route 134 exit will take you directly north for about 2 miles. The VC is on your left.

Gettysburg, Pa. is located along U.S. Route 15, a pleasant 90 minute drive north of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The nearest beautiful metropolis is Harrisburg, a quick 40 mile jaunt to the northeast. So if your coming to Gettysburg, also make the trip to Harrisburg. Give us a call and we will show you the ins and outs of our fair city.

The Gettysburg Battlefield is comparatively easy to maneuver. The fighting took place over three days, but much of it was isolated within a three-mile radius. You will not be driving to the ends of the earth like at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, Richmond and Petersburg.

What if they built a bookstore, stocked it with every imaginable Civil War book and frequently brought in authors to sign and discuss their works. Doesn’t that sound great? Now, what if they stuffed said bookstore with triple the room’s capacity making it impossible to walk around the store and browse the collection. Well, that is Gettysburg.

Existentially, do the books even exist if you can’t get to them?

Explosive BeautyCOSTS (2/5)
The website boasts that entry into the Gettysburg NMP is “free of charge”. True, but the electric map costs $4 per person. The Gettysburg NMP is the only battlefield in the NPS that charges for its electric map presentation, which is easily the worst electric map we have ever seen. Couldn’t they have replaced the burnt-out bulbs?

“Licensed Battlefield Guide” tours run anywhere from $45-$135 depending on the number of people in your party. We did not begin to research this option. There are no free guided Ranger tours at Gettysburg. Guided auto-tour cassette tapes cost between $10 and $15. If you intend to learn anything at the Park, it could get expensive.

The day after our visit, April 9, 2006, the local newspaper, the Gettysburg Times, wrote that federal budget cuts to the National Park Service would mean probable job losses for at least three Park Rangers. In the past ten years, federal budget cuts have forced Gettysburg NMP to fire 12 full-time staff members and 24 part-timers. In those same ten years, the Park has seen nearly 20 million visitors. The visitation rate has not declined. These stories regarding Gettysburg NMP has become so commonplace that the Harrisburg paper does not cover them any longer.

While federal NPS jobs are being cut, a much needed new $100M Museum and Visitor Center is being built less than a half-mile from the current location. “How could this be?” we wondered. Like Mount Rushmore N MEM’s new VC construction, the building is being built entirely through private funds. Private funding, private building initiatives and self-guided learning are the future of the National Park Service. Educational Park Rangers are a thing of the past.

Luckily, we did find one Ranger lurking among the help desk with dozens of volunteers. He answered a few of our questions about the new Museum before having to stop because of a barrage of other tourists’ questions. They all wanted to know where they could get something to eat.

Admittedly, one person per every group touring the Battlefield carries himself like an expert. Hands pointing, pompous posture and a know-it-all gleam. It is almost like being at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. So if you do have a Civil War question, just cozy on up to the tourists next to you and ask them. There is a high probability that one of them is dressed as a Civil War soldier. We are sure they would be pleased to answer your question.

The best part about the tours/classes at Gettysburg NMP is that a new Museum will be opening up in the near future.

In the mean time, buy one of the 18 million books written about July 1-3, 1863.

What Are You Looking At?FUN (6/10)

The great thing about Gettysburg NMP is that it is possible to walk much of the battlefield in one day’s time. About three years ago, we walked down the third day Union line, across the field where Pickett’s charge occurred, down the Confederate line, through the Peach Orchard, Devils Den and the Wheatfield, up Big Round Top and Little Round Top and back to the Visitor Center. That is everything right there.

This year we drove the same area; felt rushed, crowded and did not enjoy our trip nearly as much. If you have the time and the stamina, we suggest walking. You won’t shed the crowds physically but you may be able to separate yourself from them mentally. Your concentration can focus on the battle, the troop movements and the historical impact rather than worrying about finding a parking space and the slow driver in front of you.

The Gettysburg NMP is an iconic American destination and the crowds are commensurately large. Sadly, the current infrastructure matches neither the area’s historical prominence nor its 2M people per year tourist influx. The new $100M VC set to open in 2007-08 should fix the situation. We say wait until then to come.

Right now, the museum is bad, the cyclorama is closed for renovations, the crowds are thick and the Ranger help is small. And who knows, perhaps by 2008 there will have been a decision made regarding the proposed Gettysburg casino. Video poker, slot machines, old town Gettysburg, Abe Lincoln, brother fighting brother and the turning point in the Civil War = fun for all.

TOTAL 48/80

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Greensboro, N.C.
Visited: October 31, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 277 of 353
NPS Website

General GreeneWHAT IS IT?
Site of a bloody March 15, 1781 Revolutionary War battle won by the British forces commanded by General Cornwallis.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Battlefield endangerment purists probably won’t like it here because much of the Battleground lays outside the Park boundaries, victims of development. There are also lots and lots of monuments. Monuments and statues honoring everyone from War heroes like Nathanael Greene (hence Greensboro) to North Carolina’s Declaration of Independence signatories to a woman who lost her son in the battle to the countless people who made the Guilford Courthouse NMP possible.

But we liked it. The Park occupies a lovely narrow bit of public green space wedged between the suburban sprawl of Greensboro. Its humble acreage creates a cozy, well-trod feel. The Battlefield was manageably walked and easily completed in less than two hours.

“Another such victory would ruin the British Army,” was the response of Charles James Fox, head of Parliament’s opposition party, when informed of the results at Guilford Courthouse. He was, as they say over there, spot on.

In fact, the British Army never got a chance to win again. Their “victory” came at a high cost: the loss of the American colonies. General Cornwallis lost ¼ of his 1,900 men and was forced to retreat to Yorktown, Virginia where he would surrender his Army seven months later.

The Site claimed Guilford Courthouse as the most important Revolutionary War battle fought south of Philadelphia. We agree. We also agreed when the same thing was said at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Fort Moultrie, Moore’s Creek and Yorktown… but we really agree this time.

A Pleasant WalkCROWDS (8/10)
We saw hundreds of Greensboro-ians enjoying the beautiful day at their National Park. No, they were not touring the battlefield, they were picnicking, running, walking and utilizing the grounds more as a pleasant City Park than a Battlefield. Seeing non-history-buff-type people was nice, especially after walking mile after lonely rural mile through the Carolina’s other Revolutionary War parks.

The sprawl of Greensboro, N.C. has completely engulfed the once separate village of Guilford Court House. The Park is located just off U.S. Route 220, about three miles northwest of downtown. An isolated 2¼-mile auto tour, populated with more joggers than cars, circles the battlefield. Numerous paved and unpaved trails weave around the battlefield meeting at unexpected angles.

The Guilford Courthouse NMP is so extensive and chock full o’ titles that we openly wondered, “are you sure this wasn’t a Civil War battle?” You know, because the Civil War-related bookstores are all great. OK, maybe this is only funny to us; we have been to a lot of battlefields.

COSTS (4/5)
Free. An in-depth Revolutionary War education is cheap.

Rangers are posted at the entrance desk armed with answers. The fully self-guided Museum is bound to generate questions.

When did “electric maps” become “fiber-optic battle presentations”? Guilford Courthouse’s fiber optic presentation is encased in a soundproof glass booth. We felt like we were on a quiz show.

The tremendous map is par for the Guilford Courthouse’s educational course. An excellent and new Museum examines the southern campaign of the Revolutionary War at great length with skilled panels and original artifacts. The Museum also included a tactile map of the Battlefield, combined in its display with a Braille recap of the different stages of the fight. Amazing stuff.

If the free NPS exhibits do not satiate your 18th-century appetite, the Tannebaum Historic Park is less than a ¼ mile away.

Charming BridgeFUN (7/10)
Guilford Courthouse NMP offers the best learning experience of the seven Carolina NPS Revolutionary War Parks. We came here last, which was not a bad choice. The Museum tied together everything we had learned over the course of our whirlwind tour.

March 18-19, 2006 marks the 225th Anniversary of the Battle that won the Revolutionary War. If you are in Greensboro on that date, you should definitely enjoy the festivities. Why would you be in Greensboro then, you ask? Well, that date coincides with Greensboro’s hosting of the 2006 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The first round games are on the 16th, second round on the 18th. We say go to the second round games and enjoy history on the 19th. Go Hoyas!

TOTAL 61/80

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near Chesnee, S.C.
Visited: October 24, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 269 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Super VaulterWHAT IS IT?
Site of a flat, frontier pasture where, on January 17, 1781, the Continental Army led by General Daniel Morgan soundly defeated the proud British Legion led by General Banastre “Bloody” Tarleton.

BEAUTY (4/10)
The historic dirt road remains of the Green River Road still bisect the wide swath of open land remembered as the Cowpens Battlefield. The long sightlines and sparse tree cover make imagining the Patriot’s famed doubles envelope maneuvers easy to imagine. That is once you figure out what exactly is a double envelope stratagem.

Your pictures from the Park won’t win any beauty contests but at least they won’t be cluttered by marble monuments and two-ton memorials. Although we would have enjoyed a frozen-in-time statue portraying an athletic Patriot’s pole vault hurdle across the Loyalist cannon line which, according the wayside exhibit’s account, brought the good guys great success.

The Battle of Cowpens has captured the imagination of generations. Its combatants were national heroes. Their portraits were hung prominently in the Peale Museum, the western hemisphere’s first museum, and can still be seen at the Portrait Gallery located at Independence NHP in Philadelphia.

More recently, Mel Gibson chose the Cowpens battle as the setting for the climax his film, The Patriot. Mel got a few of the details and participants wrong but he too understood the historical power of Cowpens: it was the battle where the Patriots kicked the most butt.

CROWDS (6/10)
We saw just one other person at Cowpens NB. He was a single-minded traveler who we had run into atop Kings Mountain and, according to our shared itineraries, just missed at Camden, Ninety Six and Charleston. It is either a small world or a world with few Revolutionary War-themed travelers and few places for them to go.

The Great BisectorEASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5)
The Park’s Main Gate sits along South Carolina Route 11 a/k/a the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, about two miles east of the small town of Chesnee, S.C. From the west, take I-85’s Cowpens exit and travel north on S.C. Route 110, the Cowpens Battlefield Scenic Highway. From the east, take I-85 Exit 92 and go north on S.C. 11. In 10 miles, you will be at the Park.

Unlike Kings Mountain NMP, Cowpens NB’s environs are completely flat. Easy loop trails allow you to traverse the battleground and enjoy the beautiful South Carolina backcountry.

The hardcore Revolutionary War traveler might want to traverse the Overmountain Victory Trail from Cowpens to Kings Mountain. Make sure you have a map; the auto trail is poorly marked.

We were drawn to the obsessive biographies of some of the battle’s lesser-known participants and the well-titled Devil of a Whipping, by Lawrence Babits which may be the historic standard recounting Cowpens. While the bookstore carries a fine set of Cowpens esoterica, its selection is not as good as the nearby Kings Mountain NMP. We know the history was wrong, but why not include the DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, if only to spark heated discussion between the hardcore and neophyte history buffs.

COSTS (4/5)
Entry is free! Rumors of a pay-per-view electronic map were false. The map was free too!

“Hello? Anyone here?” we asked after standing at the front desk for about five minutes. Eventually, a Ranger appeared; we just wanted him to start the electric map.

We encountered a disheveled, museum-less Cowpens NB Visitor Center. The film was even cordoned off. Sad Michael and Gabby. Not so for you. New exhibits and new carpeting were scheduled to appear in time for the Battle’s 225th Anniversary Celebration on January 17, 2006. If these exhibits are anything like those enjoyed by Kings Mountain NBP for their 225th, then we have reason to return and alter our rating.

In the mean time, we loved the 13-minute long fiber optic electric map presentation. Is there anything more helpful to a battlefield visit than an electric map? They are always clean, succinct, laden with information and full of answers.

FUN (4/10)
This Park has a great storyline and an even better result: Patriots defeat British Legion led by dastardly cavalry commander. The battlefield is flat and the self-guided walking tour a pleasant 1½ miles long.

Imaging?WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Pre renovation, this Site was for the die-hard Revolutionary War historian only. Post-renovation, well, we do not know yet. The Cowpens story could definitely become very compelling especially with a new film starring determined re-enactors.

We enjoyed Kings Mountain and Guilford Courthouse more, but there are plenty of reasons Cowpens could be your Carolina Revolutionary Battlefield of choice: 1) we actually won; 2) we faced British troops; 3) Asheville N.C., Spartanburg S.C. and Charlotte N.C. are all nearby; 4) the military tactics are easily imagined and very impressive (in an 18th-century warfare kind of way); 5) the self-guided walk is not taxing and 6) it is fun to fully realize Mel Gibson’s egregious historical errors.

TOTAL 41/80

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Blacksburg, S.C.
Visited: October 24, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 268 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Along the TrailWHAT IS IT?
Site of an important Revolutionary War battle where, on October 7, 1780, a ragtag force of Scots-Irish Appalachian mountain men obliterated the Loyalist battalion led by flashy British Maj. Patrick Ferguson.

BEAUTY (6/10)
Kings Mountain NMP stands at the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountain Range just a few miles south of the N.C.-S.C. border. It is all downhill from here to the Atlantic Ocean. The Battlefield Trail dips and dives along a paved pathway through the woods and ends along a ridgeline. Still, do not expect wide vistas of the surrounding countryside, the forest is just too dense.

Most of the battlefield’s monuments are small, old, unobtrusive and even tucked away off the path. The Trail feels more like a peaceful walk in the woods than a journey through history. You must walk the Trail to see the battlefield; there is no driving tour.

By 1780, the primary military theater of the Revolutionary War had shifted from the mid-Atlantic States to the Carolinas. General Cornwallis believed there were enough Loyalist sympathizers, or at the very least pragmatic frontiersmen in the South. He could easily sway these lackadaisical patriots to his side with the hopes of being on the surefire winning team.

The Loyalist’s successful rout of Horatio Gates’ forces at Camden, S.C. in August, 1780 proved the sagacity of the tactic. By September, the British forces had successfully raised a Loyalist army. The Patriots had had trouble getting enlistees post-Camden, with most Carolinians either joining the Brits or sitting on the fence. It was then that the haughty Major Ferguson unnecessarily opened his big mouth and addressed the heretofore-sleeping giant, the Appalachian Mountain Man.

Ferguson announced, “He would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country to waste with fire and sword.” By most accounts, the “Overmountain Boys” had not cared about the War… until that point. Swiftly they marched over the rugged Appalachians ready to find this bold Briton.

Death of a Haughty BritonHe was not that hard to find. Ferguson always rode into battle with his trademark red-checkered shirt. His two mistresses rode with him as well. Those three were the only Britons at Kings Mountain. When Cornwallis heard the mountain men were coming, he told Ferguson he was on his own. The forthcoming fight was fought entirely by Americans, Loyalist Carolinians versus newly formed Patriots from Appalachia.

The Battle of Kings Mountain was over almost as soon as it began. In less than an hour, nearly all of Ferguson’s troops were dead. Ferguson died spectacularly, foot in stirrup, horse dragging him until the end. He is buried at Kings Mountain, next to his one mistress who felt the wrath of Appalachia. His second mistress was one of the few that eluded the Mountainman bullets.

The Overmountain Boys’ victory swayed the Carolinas’ allegiance toward the Patriot side. The success of Cornwallis’ Southern strategy was now doubtful. The tide of the Revolutionary War turned at Kings Mountain and in one year’s time, Cornwallis would surrender his army at Yorktown.

CROWDS (7/10)
We experienced a swath of schoolchildren, a few historical tourists and some locals enjoying the paved mountain trail and the crisp high-country air.

The Visitor Center is about three miles south of Interstate 85, Exit 2 via South Carolina Route 216 a/k/a Battleground Drive. Charlotte, N.C. is 40 miles to the east.

A paved 1½-mile battlefield trail circles Kings Mountain. The sometimes steep walk roller coasters through the depths of dense forest scenery ending along the ridge of the Patriot assault.

We loved the huge selection of Revolutionary War books, glassware, old photographs and assorted living history knickknacks. So did the class of Charlotte-area middle-schoolers, all of whom were eagerly spending their allowance money.

COSTS (4/5)
Entry is free.

More Rangers would have been nice, but we got nearly an hour’s worth of questions answered by a terrific volunteer.

The Park’s new History Channel-produced film is high on drama, rippling with stunning costumes and full of historic holes. The film gets you excited about the battle but then confuses you with disjointed facts and implausible explanations.

Here is one of many examples. The question: how could Ferguson, a rifle designer and skilled sharpshooter, lose a battle so quickly when his troops held pre-fight control of the high ground? The film’s answer: because his troops forgot to adjust their aim angle and shot over the charging soldiers’ heads. Are we idiots?

The film extracted a lengthy list of questions, all of which were ably answered by a volunteer Ranger. He too was dismayed at the film’s incredulous superficiality (our words, not his). His answer for Ferguson’s quick loss was that the Major was so arrogant that he failed to dig trenches and earthworks. As a result, his men were easily overpowered. The 1.5-mile historical trail proves his hypothesis; there is a shocking dearth of earthworks in this highly protected and isolated wilderness.

Gab Inside Hollowed Out Museum TreeThe new Museum similarly emphasizes flash over substance. Sure, the exhibits are all self-contained in reproduced plastic tree trunks and there are lots of flat-screen TV’s. Birds chirp and drums roll on a looped overhead audio track. What exactly do these things tell us about the Battle of Kings Mountain? Not much, but they sure would seem interesting to a busload full of middle school kids.

FUN (7/10)
Great story, agreeable outcome, pleasant walk, obliging Rangers, unique museum and stellar historical villain = fun time.

Kings Mountain NMP makes for a terrific, off-the-beaten-path day trip destination from Charlotte or Asheville, NC, especially since the park is less than three miles south of Interstate 85. The Site’s museum and film are definitely entertaining for all ages. The 1.5-mile trail is a satisfying distance for the day-tripper (not too long, not too short) and challenging enough to make you think you have done some exercising. If your good-feeling patriotism is not stirred by the events at Kings Mountain then it never will be.

TOTAL 55/80

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Camden, S.C.
Visited: October 21, 2005
NPS Site Visited: Not an Official Site
NPS Affiliate Site Visited: 14 of 26
Local Website

The Fun Happened Long AgoWHAT IS IT?
An affiliate National Park Site consisting of reconstructed (in 1977) Revolutionary War-era buildings.

The Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site is so lame that it does not merit a full review. Camden is NOT a National Park Site, it is an affiliate site, meaning your National Parks Pass does not work.

The August 1870 Battle of Camden did NOT take place here. It occurred up the road at a separate Site where the Redcoats routed the Patriots. We did not want to travel to one of our country’s worst home defeats, so we didn’t.

Why did we come here, the place where English General Cornwallis and his men camped that winter? Well, somehow, the Site finagled a National Parks Passport Stamp and we are inveterate collectors. Imagine our disappointment and boiled-up anger when we arrived to see a sign on the bookstore door reading, “Back in One Hour”.

We waited and walked through the “Revolutionary War-era buildings” that were younger than us, having been built in 1977. Most were in various stages of disrepair, despite their relative youthfulness. One actually included a surly looking mannequin slumped over a tavern table, mug in hand, a disturbing image indeed.

Then, out of nowhere, two things arrived at the Site: a torrential downpour and a busload full of middle-aged male history tourists. They huddled at the closed book store’s entrance while we walked through the rain and took pictures. Eventually, a worker was summoned, she open the bookstore to a locust-like descent from the travelers, we got our stamp and left.

BEAUTY (3/10)
CROWDS (3/10)
COSTS (2/5)
FUN (2/10)

TOTAL 26/80

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Currie, N.C.
Visited: October 18, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 263 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Grease is the WordWHAT IS IT?
Site of a February 27, 1776 Revolutionary War battle that preceded the signing of the Declaration of Independence by more than three months. The Patriot victory ended British authority in the North Carolina colony.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Two trails lead through Moores Creek NB’s 80+ acres. The Tar Heel Trail takes you amid soaring longleaf pine trees that are used in the creation of tar and turpentine, North Carolina’s primary economic source in Revolutionary times, hence the Tar Heel State.

The History Trail weaves through reconstructed Patriot Earthworks and to the infamous Moores Creek Bridge. The creek is mildly swampy and surprisingly narrow. Why exactly did the Loyalists have to cross here and here alone? The remainder of the History Trail passes Monuments that remember the Loyalists, Patriots and the first president of the Moores Creek Monument Association.

In the winter of 1775-76, both the Carolinas and the South, in general, were undecided in revolutionary spirit. A few were vehement American patriots and some were loyal to the Crown. Most were waiting to see which side would be successful first; the Carolinians were very pragmatic. Who would have guessed?

Eager unresolved eyes watched when, in February 1776, a regiment of 1,600 Loyalists marched across Carolina towards the port town of Wilmington and a rendezvous with British warships. The English knew the South’s ambivalence and believed if they conquered the Carolinas they would suppress the rebellion began in Massachusetts the previous April.

The Loyalist’s march necessitated a bridge crossing at Moores Creek, 20 miles to the north of Wilmington. 1,000 Patriots understood the Redcoats’ route and raced to be the first to Moores Creek. The Patriots got there first.

Monument Valley
With the Loyalists camped just a few miles away, the Patriots dismantled the bridge and greased the girders. Nature smiled on the Patriots. That morning, a thick fog masked the trap. Loyalist after Loyalist fell into the water ambushed by rifle fire. 70 Loyalists were killed or wounded while the Patriots lost only one man.

Their decisive victory brought a wave of patriotism to the Carolinas. Loyalist property was seized en masse and the British sympathizers were banished to Canada. The British invasion was stopped before it even began. Just three months later, the North Carolina delegation at the Continental Congress became the first colony to vote for Independence from Britain.

CROWDS (6/10)
We were the only people there.

We are still unclear why all 1770’s roads to Wilmington passed through this part of the turpentine woods. If you visit this remote Tar Heel hamlet, you will be confused too. The Port of Wilmington has not moved but its sprawl is inching closer to Moores Creek every day. If you are coming from Port City, take U.S. Route 421 north for about 20 miles until you reach North Carolina Route 210. Turn left (west) onto 210 and the Battlefield should appear on your left in about three miles.

From Interstate 40, take Exit 408 (Rocky Point). You should be on NC 210. Take 210 west for about 15 miles and you should see the NPS facility. You could probably reach the Park Site in a quicker fashion using unmarked back roads. We tried this option, however, and got lost.

The Visitor Center is currently under construction so a teaching trailer currently houses the bookstore. The good if not overwhelming selection of Revolutionary texts contains more books about other Carolina battles than Moores Creek. But really, how much can you say about such a short fight?

COSTS (4/5)
It is free.

The Ranger on duty in the trailer seemed startled by us. Is visitor traffic at Moores Creek that slow? Another Ranger mulled around in a side office poised to help. We think. Neither helped us understand the pre-Declaration of Independence fight that well but heck, there were two of them and two of us.

Tar Heel ZoneTOURS/CLASSES (3/10)
We two Pennsylvania travelers had no idea a Revolutionary War battle occurred in North Carolina months before the colonies formally seceded. We had only a vague idea that the Southern colonies experienced any of the War. Everything we learned at Moores Creek was new and a shock to our historical reference points.

The 30-year old cartoon film and the confusing Ranger were a poor introduction. We began to sort things out via the Park brochure and the History Trail’s wayside exhibits but achieved a better understanding only after visiting Carolina’s other Revolutionary War sites. In the meantime, our chronology and perspective were a bit off.

FUN (4/10)
The story of Moores Creek reads more like fraternity prank than a War. The Patriot men greased a bridge, wore kilts and saw only one casualty. The story also presents a villainous opposition, the Loyalists, true to the Crown and downright un-American.

After spending the previous week trolling Virginia Civil War battlefields where deaths numbered in the hundreds of thousands, a fight where only 40 died (Loyalists, even) feels almost light-hearted and fun. The good guys won, too.

Before our trip, the Wilmington, N.C. area elicited thoughts of the venerable WB Network show Dawson’s Creek and the twice-made horror film Cape Fear, not a decisive Revolutionary War battle. We assumed Moores Creek (and four other Carolina sites) honored Civil War battles. We were off by almost 100 years.

Nonetheless, Moores Creek NB was the least remarkable of the Revolutionary War sites and recommended only to the most hardcore Patriot historian. The knowledge that the battle happened is good enough for us; we did not need to see the famous bridge, now reconstructed and crossable.

TOTAL 38/80

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