A Revolutionary Re-enactment

Camden historical park.

Camden, SC

November 7th, 1999


Camden is reportedly the oldest existing inland town in South Carolina. It all started with some instructions issued by King George II in 1730. These instructions specified that a township should be created on the River Watery. Three years later, when done, the town became Fredricksburg Township. It was later changed to Pine Tree Hill. Many American towns have their contributing fathers who through their inspiration and foresight have guided the community into a prosperous existence. Examples of this can be found in the persona of Milton Hershey of Hershey, Pa., and Samuel Slater of Pawtucket, RI. Camden also had its favorite son. Joseph Kershaw arrived in the area in 1758. Within a short period of time he had built a grist mill, saw mill and a flour mill. By 1760 the town had attained a first rank position as an inland center of population and trade. In 1768, at the suggestion of Kershaw, the name of the town was changed to Camden in honor of Charles Pratt (Lord Camden), a British Parliamentary champion of colonial rights. Although the history of the town's earliest settlers is somewhat vague, by 1760, with the influx of the Scotch-Irish, a recognizable town had appeared, made up mostly of log cabins. As the town grew and prospered, examples of elegance began to appear. Among them was Joseph Kreshaw's mansion, later to be know as the Cornwallis House. It was begun in 1777 just prior to the Revolutionary action in the south. In 1780, after the fall of Charleston, General Lord Charles Cornwallis led a detachment of British infantry to Camden to seize the powder magazine and establish a supply depot for further operations in the area. General Cornwallis seized the Kershaw mansion and converted it to his military headquarters. The British would remain, building a palisade around the town. There was an attempt to dislodge the British, early in their occupation, with disastrous results. Finally events in the North would require Cornwallis to move much of his army out of the area, leaving Lord Francis Rowdon to carry on. A second attempt to overthrow the garrison would occur with another victory by the British, however, heavy British losses forced the abandonment of Camden and brought an end to the southern campaign. The mansion survived for almost a century through war, weather, and the changing of hands but during the Civil War, would finally succumb to the war when it was burned to the ground in 1865 It was re-constructed in 1977.
Our arrival in Camden was timed to coincide with the opening day of "Revolutionary War Field Days". This is a week-end in which Camden's Historic Park is converted into a living museum where elements of the British Army clash with those of the Revolutionary army for the Battle of Camden. It is quite a gala event
and re-enactment, in which the Town of Camden gets together and produces not one but several representative companies of British troops. There were the famous British Grenadiers with their tall hats, and a Scottish company with their pipes and drums. They were joined by a Hussein company and supported by a rowdy group of loyalists who did their own thing. Opposing this complement were the well dressed and extensively drilled American troops, supported by yet another band of rebel rousing rogues acting independently in support of their army. Upon arrival we were introduced to Joanna Craig, the Park's Director, who gave us a warm welcome and the run of the park. She took time out to explain the efforts made by the local residents to make the town and the park a living place of remembrance. As we walked outside, she showed us the Commons, located between the Kershaw house and the main portion of Camden. This area was the scene of numerous military exercises throughout the years. Occupying British troops used the field as a parade ground, and the revolutionary hero The Marquis De Lafayette reviewed troops here in 1825. The area also served as a center for militia activities and a mustering point for local volunteers leaving for war. The name of the water head at the foot of the hill, Muster Spring is a reminder of the field's military function. On either side of this unoccupied field were the opposing army encampments. As these were some of her busiest days, Joanna was quickly pulled away to direct the movement of one of the participating elements. We had entered the grounds about a half mile from the Kershaw house where the British were encamped. Our first exposure was to the American army and the supporting rabble that camped with them. While the Army tents were regimented and orderly, the civilian camp was a scattered mingling of men and women, who very much looked the part for which they were playing. Tents and covering of every description lay about while the participants cooked, drank and sat around smoking their long clay pipes and telling stories of their daring deeds in other engagements. The food they cooked was real and so apparently were their appetites. One group even had a mummified mascot of the enemy stuck on a post which received ample repute and ridicule from the passersby. In our roving,

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