The South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust (SCBPT) revealed Friday the discovery of the remains of 14 Revolutionary War soldiers who had fallen during the Battle of Camden and had never been buried.
“These young men demonstrated their allegiance in an intense battle for liberty. They are truly America’s first veterans,” Doug Bostick, CEO, South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust, said. “We have a responsibility to honor their sacrifice by ensuring their remains are protected in perpetuity and their stories of bravery are shared.”
The remains, which had been unearthed beginning in September, were found through the joint efforts of SCBPT, the Historic Camden Foundation, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Richland County Coroner’s Office, and the South Carolina Institute for Archeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina.
The skeletal remains were found at various locations throughout the battlefield, with some being less than a foot under the ground.
“People visit battlefields like Camden, Cowpens and Kings Mountain every day and don’t often consider that they are walking in unmarked cemeteries. The dead are still there,” said archeologist James Legg. “The work we are doing honors their sacrifice by shedding light on details that are not yet documented in the historical record and by providing them with decent marked graves for the contemplation of battlefield visitors.”
It is believed that 12 of the remains were Patriot Continental soldiers from Maryland and Delaware, while another body was that of a North Carolina loyalist, and the other a British soldier.
The Richland Coroner’s Office will begin inspecting the bodies in the coming months as they hope to find more about each soldier’s age, race, and even where they came from.
“As property owners, we are the caretakers and stewards of not only the resources we can see above ground, but also to the rich history below ground,” said Cary Briggs, the executive director of the Historic Camden Foundation, which owns a large portion of the battlefield.
“When these young men marched into the darkness on that summer night in 1780, they did so out of love for their country despite the consequences that may befall them. Our intent is to lay them to rest with the respect and honor they earned more than two centuries ago,” Briggs added.
The Battle of Camden, which took place on August 16, 1780, was a disaster for the Patriot soldiers who were easily defeated by British-led forces in a battle which nearly spelled doom for the American cause in the South.
The British forces, which were under the command of General Charles Cornwallis, faced off against the Patriots, who were being commanded by Major General Horatio Gates. The British forces included Royalists from North Carolina, and the infamous “Bloody Ban” Banastre Tarleton.
During the battle, which took place in a pine forest just outside of Camden, about two-thirds of the American forces fled while the rest, mainly men from Delaware and Maryland, remained to fight the British.
Credit: Bettmann / Contributor via Getty Images.“Never did troops show greater courage than those men of Maryland and Delaware,” 19th century historian George Bancroft wrote.
The battle ended in a rout for the Americans who had about 1,900 casualties, whereas the British only sustained 324. Included in the American casualties was Major General Johann de Kalb, a Prussian who was given a commission in the army by American diplomats in France eager to get support for American independence.
De Kalb was wounded 11 times during the battle, including several stabbings with bayonets, and died from his wounds days after the battle. In the years after the war, the Prussian was honored with counties and towns named for him throughout the country.
Gate’s failure at Camden let to the rise of Major General Nathanael Greene, sometimes referred to as the “the Savior of the South,” who led the push against the British out of South Carolina in the years before the conclusion of the war in 1783, including the Patriot victory at Cowpens.