South Carolina Military History

SOUTH CAROLINA: The military, past and present

South Carolina’s history from the American War for Independence from Britain, the American Civil War, the World Wars, and more recent conflicts.

While many people have to read about military history, South Carolina residents can see it up close. Here, the American armed forces first took up arms, and that presence is still alive and well, even hundreds of years later.
From the American War for Independence from Britain to today’s War on Terror, South Carolina and its citizens have played an important role in each military conflict faced by the United States. The Palmetto State is small in size compared to many other states, but its place in military history is considerable.
Fort Sumter National MonumentAs one of the original 13 American colonies, South Carolina played a crucial role in the struggle for American independence. In fact, the first British invasion (and, hence, the first American defence) occurred at Charleston in 1776. From that time until the end of the war, more than 214 battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the state.

Today, this Revolutionary War history comes to life in South Carolina’s museums, battlefield memorials, historic sites, and living history events.

Travel the trail of colonial life and revolutionary resistance. Learn about famed fighters such as hero Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” whose guerrilla tactics exhausted British troops. Find out how the palmetto tree helped save Charleston, and visit the battlefields where armies fought for and won American independence.

Nearly a hundred years later, South Carolina was the site of another war – the American Civil War. This is where the first shots of the Civil War were fired: as the first Southern state to secede from the Union, South Carolina was a major player in the Civil War.

Tour South Carolina Civil War plantations, where rival armies once took refuge. Take a Civil War walking tour of historic Charleston, the site of the first British invasion. Visit Fort Sumter National Monument, where Confederate troops fired the first shots of the Civil War. And explore the battlegrounds where Confederate and Union troops clashed during General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march through the state.

For those interested in more recent history, South Carolina has a Military Heritage Trail that commemorates the role of the Palmetto State and its citizens in all of the United States’ military conflicts. From the shores of Charleston to the Upcountry mountains, visitors can learn more about the important roles South Carolinians have played in many of the United States’ major battles.

The Military Heritage Trail spans 14 counties, has more than 20 sites, and covers history from the founding of the colony of Carolina until the Second World War. The trail celebrates the bravery of South Carolinians who have risked their lives to defend their state and their union.

Here is a short overview of South Carolina’s military history, divided by region. It may also be the basis for your travel itinerary.
The Coast

USS YorktownSouth Carolina’s military history begins in Charleston, so that’s probably the best place to start your journey. You can retrace the events leading up to the first shots of the Civil War by taking the ferry to Fort Sumter National Monument. Then head to nearby Fort Moultrie, where about 100 years earlier, British cannonballs bounced off palmetto logs, helping the Patriots to defend the coastline; eventually, the Palmetto tree became an enduring symbol used for the South Carolina flag. See

Visit the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine to sink a ship in combat. Pulled from the Atlantic 136 years after she sank, taking a crew of eight with her, the boat now rests in a 340,687-litre tank. The crew was buried in 2004 with full military honours in Magnolia Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 2,000 Civil War veterans, including five Confederate generals. See

Fast-forward another 80 years and head to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, one of the largest museums of its kind. You can tour the USS Yorktown, which was used during the Second World War, patrolled the western Pacific during the Cold War, and returned the crew members of Apollo 8 to shore after their mission circling the moon. You also can tour the USS Clamagore, the Medal of Honour Museum, the Cold War Submarine Memorial, and the only Vietnam Support Base Camp within the United States. See

South of Charleston along the coast near Hilton Head lies Parris Island, the famous training camp for the United States Marine Corps. The training base lies near French and Spanish settlements from the 16th century and near the remnants of two Spanish forts.

You can tour the Parris Island Museum, which chronicles the history of the Marine Corps and that of the surrounding region, including the French and Spanish settlements.

While you’re in the area, be sure to stop at the ruins of Old Sheldon Church, dating to the 1740s, which was first burned down by troops loyal to the King of England during the American Revolution and then later burned again by Union troops in the American Civil War. See

The Middle of the State

Confederate Relic RoomToday the small town of Camden is a paradise for horse lovers and history buffs, who love the town’s quiet Southern hospitality. But 235 years ago it wasn’t quite so calm and peaceful. Camden, South Carolina’s oldest inland town, is where General Lord Charles Cornwallis and his forces established their headquarters and handed the Americans one of their sharpest defeats. Historical reenactments are popular and take place several times during the year. Visit the site, which is spread out over more than 100 acres and includes battlefields, hiking trails, historic houses, and more. See

Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, would be ideal as your next stop. Many locations tell the story of the city’s survival in the American Civil War. Start at the South Carolina Statehouse, where you can wander among the monuments on the grounds. Look for the brass stars on the side of the building that mark where Union cannonballs struck it in 1865. Stroll inside the graceful old building and gaze at the paintings, including the moving Angel of Marye’s Heights, which depicts a Confederate soldier from South Carolina providing water to a wounded Union soldier as the shooting ceased for his mercy mission during the Battle of Fredericksburg.

Few other buildings survived the Civil War because in 1865, General Sherman and his troops marched through Columbia and burned down many historical buildings.

Visit the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum, founded in 1896 by the Daughters of the Confederacy and now a depository for relics and memories from the American Revolution through the present.

Also, Fort Jackson in Columbia is a massive modern United States Army training post. You can tour Fort Jackson’s museum and even watch a graduation, which usually takes place on Fridays.

Northern South Carolina

The American Revolution was fought across most of South Carolina, not just the coast. Head north to Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, which tells the story of a fierce fight in August 1780 between about 200 Patriot militiamen and 600 Loyalists and provincial regulars from Ninety Six. Then drive over to Ninety Six National Historic Site to see the wooden fences of the Star Fort built by Loyalists and their slaves in 1780. See

Two more Revolutionary War battlefields, sites of crucial Patriot victories, are located a bit further upstate at Cowpens National Battlefield and Kings Mountain National
Military Park.

At Cowpens, the Americans won a decisive, quick battle against a better-trained British army. The victory gave the Patriots the moral support that they needed in order to continue fighting and win just nine months later. Cowpens Battlefield has a walking trail and a marked driving tour, visitors centre, and exhibits. Much of the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot was filmed here. See

At Kings Mountain National Military Park, you can retrace the steps of the Southern Patriots who defeated British forces in what historians call the “turning point of the Revolutionary War in the South.” The park features a film, exhibits, and a self-guided battlefield hiking trail. See

Historic Brattonsville, which was also used as a location for the filming of the movie The Patriot, was once the site of the Battle of Huck’s Defeat. Now the 775-acre site is home to more than 30 historic structures that are open to the public. These buildings provide a glimpse at what life in South Carolina was like from the 1750s to the 1840s. See
For more information about South Carolina, contact the South Carolina Tourism Office. Tel.: (803)734-1700 E-mail: or you can visit us on the Internet at

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