Ninety-Six South Carolina’s Star Fort
When talking about battlefields in the South most people think about the Civil War. The War Between the States began in South Carolina, but the Palmetto State is also home to important Revolutionary War sites. For years, I’ve passed signs for the Ninety-Six National Historic Site but never really knew much about it. Now that I’ve visited, I’m wondering what took so long.
Among Revolutionary War sites, Ninety-Six is a true star. This tranquil spot in Greenwood County, northwest of Columbia, was the site of the earliest Revolutionary War land battle in the South. The action all centered on a star shaped fort controlled by Loyalist forces. During the siege in 1781, Patriot General Nathaniel Greene and his troops fought to take the Star Fort and the community of Ninety-Six.
At the entrance to the park visitors can easily spot the Logan Log House . Although it was not originally built on this site, this home dates back to the late 1700’s a time when the area was an important part of South Carolina’s Back Country. Just a few hundred yards away is a much more modern Visitors Center, a great place to start your journey. The park offers a film detailing the history of Ninety-Six upon request. You can also check out the museum which contains dozens of artifacts gathered from the site.
A paved loop trail winds its way from the Visitors Center through the battlefield, Star Fort and up a hill to the Stockade Fort. (Nearly everything along the paved trail is easily accessible). Tall slender pine trees provide a much needed canopy over the path on hot South Carolina summer days. The path first crosses Spring Branch, the main water source for the settlers of Ninety-Six. Just a short distance away, the trail starts running along the edge of the old Island Ford Road, an important route for bringing supplies into the area for both Loyalists and Patriots. A bench at this spot allows visitors to pause for a moment and look over to the clearing where the Star Fort once stood, and the Patriot forces dug trenches to try and overtake it.
At the edge of the battlefield, a raised deck allows for a sweeping overview of the area. And although it is only accessible via steps, the Park Service interpretive marker can be found both on the overlook and right beside it. From either vantage point, it’s easy to imagine the acres in front of you filled with chaos during the siege.
Another striking feature on the Ninety-Six Battlefield is a 30-foot tower made from hewn logs near the Star Fort. Although, the tower is a reconstructed one, it gives a sense of how determined the Patriot forces were during the siege. Loyalists tried several ways to burn down the tower, but couldn’t do so. Instead extra fortifications and defensive measures proved successful enough to keep Patriots from using the tower to their advantage. There’s also a marker at the opening of a tunnel the Patriots tried to dig, a project that was never finished.
The rest of the walk through the Ninety-Six Historic Site stirs your imagination. The town of Ninety-Six was a prosperous community, but nothing remains of it today. Following the seige, the Loyalists left and the British ordered the town to be burned to the ground so Patriots weren’t able to use it. Markers at the park show the boundaries of the town as well as the roads crossing through it. You can almost hear the bustling trade among settlers and people passing through town before the events before the American Revolution sealed its fate. Beyond the town site, resting at the top of a hill, is a replica of the Stockade Fort a place that also saw its share of conflict even before the 1781 siege.
The present-day town of Ninety-Six sits a couple of miles away from the park where the area rail lines were laid. An historic train depot still stands across the street from a unique stone fountain where yellow stones are arranged to reveal the number 96.
If you love history, especially the Revolutionary War period, then a visit to Ninety-Six should be on your list. It helps bring to life what it would have been like to live in the South Carolina back country . It also demonstrates the fierce divisions in the region that ultimately led to the siege that made the site famous. Even if you aren’t big on history, the remote location for this park and its numerous trails provide a truly soothing natural experience.