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Explore South Carolina’s First Revolutionary War Battle at Ninety Six National Historic Site

Visit one of the most intact earthen star forts in the world at this South Carolina national historic site.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

Located on these road trip routes:

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The Star Fort is almost 250 years old. It’s the only eight-pointed earthen fort in North America. It features the only Revolutionary War-era tunnels. And you can walk inside the fort.

Authorized by Congress in 1976, Ninety Six National Historic Site preserves the Star Fort, a recreated stockade fort, a small replica of a Maham Tower, and the site of two pivotal Revolutionary War battlefields.

Seven months after the first shots of the war were fired at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the first shots were fired in South Carolina. After Major Andrew Williamson arrested a notorious Loyalist, his small militia was surrounded by a ragtag group of a thousand angry Loyalists. In November 1775, the Battle of Ninety Six was South Carolina’s first Revolutionary War battle, leading to the state’s first casualty.

Six years later, the fight returned to the frontier village when General Nathaniel Greene laid siege to the British at the Star Fort. The 37-day siege was the longest of the Revolutionary War and ultimately led to the British retreat back to Charleston.

At Ninety Six National Historic Site, you can walk a paved trail through the battlefield, visit the Star Fort, and learn about the bookend battles that were South Carolina’s first and last significant engagements of the war.

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Map of Ninety Six National Historic Site

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.

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Southern Campaign of the American Revolution

As frequently happens in the National Park Service, several national park sites in South Carolina are administratively combined. The three parks – Cowpens National Battlefield, Kings Mountain National Military Park, and Ninety Six National Historic Site – form the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution Parks in South Carolina.

These parks preserve the battlegrounds of some of the most significant Revolutionary War battles in South Carolina – and some might say the entire American Revolution.

You must visit all three of these parks to understand the complete story of South Carolina’s entry into the war, the Overmountain Men, and the importance of the Battle of Kings Mountain and the Battle of Cowpens.

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Visitor Center and Museum

All national park adventures should start at the visitor center, but a real treat awaits guests at Ninety Six National Historic Site. The 22-minute Crossroads of a Revolution is an award-winning film about the development of the frontier trading town, the Battle of Ninety Six, and the culmination of the Siege of Ninety Six. It’s one of the highest-quality orientation films about a national park site.

After watching the film, sift through the small gift shop of history and nature books and collectibles, explore the small museum, get your National Park Passport Book stamped, and pick up a map showing the stops along the Historic Interpretive Trail.

Although the visitor center is only open on Wednesdays through Sundays, the park grounds are open daily during daylight hours. The entrance gates close daily at 4:30 p.m., but don’t worry if you get trapped inside – the automatic gates open for vehicles leaving the parking lot.

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Historic Interpretive Trail

From the visitor center, the 1-mile Historic Interpretive Trail (bookmark on AllTrails) loops through the Revolutionary War battlefield, connecting sites like the recreation of the Stockade Fort, the Old Village of Ninety Six, and the Star Fort. The paved path is accessible and easy to walk. Walking takes about 30 minutes, but plan for 60-90 minutes if you read the interpretive signs.

The “correct” way to walk the path is heading left, facing the visitor center. However, I went the “wrong” way during my first visit – I went right while facing the visitor center. I found this to be a better direction because you’ll come to the site of the Battle of Ninety Six and the Old Ninety Six Village first, saving the infamous Star Fort for last.

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Cherokee Path Trail

The Cherokee Path was a trading route between Charleston and the Lower Towns of the Cherokees. The path began in the Lower Towns – a Cherokee region in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains – near present-day Clemson. The path continued through South Carolina to present-day Columbia at the Congaree River, where it forked, one direction leading to the Catawba National near present-day Rock Hill and the other to Charleston.

In the 1700s, the route became increasingly crucial as colonial traders sold gunpowder and lead to Cherokees, and purchased deer skins to export to England. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord – the definitive beginning of the Revolutionary War – British agents frequently traveled the route attempting to lure the Cherokees into an alliance.

When a shipment of gunpowder along the Cherokee Path from Charleston Patriot leaders to the Cherokees was intercepted by Loyalists, it lead to the Battle of Ninety Six, South Carolina’s first battle of the Revolutionary War.

The 1.5-mile Cherokee Path Trail begins near the Old Village of Ninety Six along the paved Historic Interpretive Trail. The roundtrip hike takes about an hour, tracing the route of the historic Charleston Road – a deep gouge in the land from decades of wagon traffic.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Gouedy Trail

In 1751, Robert Gouedy purchased 250 acres to establish an Indian trading post – becoming the first permanent colonial settler in the region. He developed a relationship with the Cherokees and became a prominent frontier figure.

But when relations between colonial officials and Cherokees reached their lowest point, the Cherokee War of 1760 broke out along the frontier. A stockade fort was built around Goudy’s Trading Post and was named Fort Ninety Six. In early 1760, the settlers inside the fort successfully repelled two Cherokee attacks.

The Gouedy Trail begins on Charleston Road near the Old Village of Ninety Six. The 1.5-mile trail (bookmark on AllTrails) loops around several sites in the wooded area, returning to the Charleston Road. You’ll pass the site of the trading post, Goudey’s gravesite, and Ninety Six Creek on the trail that takes about an hour to complete.

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Old Village of Ninety Six

The Village of Ninety Six was established at the intersection of the Cherokee Path and several other trading routes. Officially, it was the seat of the Ninety Six District. But without a courthouse, holding elections or trials in the district was impossible. Crime was exceptionally high, leading to the rise of Regulators – self-styled vigilantes who were just as criminal as the ones they attempted to capture.

In 1769, the Circuit Court Act authorized the construction of a courthouse and jail in Ninety Six. Completed in 1772, the small village finally began to grow. The population fluctuated throughout the Revolutionary War as tensions rose between Patriots and Loyalists. Then, when the British abandoned the Star Fort in 1781, they burned the village – permanently ending its existence.

Today, the site of the Village of Ninety Six is marked along the Historic Interpretive Trail at Ninety Six National Historic Site. A nearby sign points toward Charlestown, Keowee, Island Ford, and Augusta – a reminder that the village was established at a critical crossroads.

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The Star Fort

British Lieutenant Colonel John Harris Cruger supervised the construction of the earthen star-shaped fort beginning in December 1780 and ending in early 1781. The original fort’s walls were 14 feet tall, with sandbags on the top to give it an additional 3 feet.

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It was the most important British inland post and the most extensive inland fortification. And in May 1781, it became General Nathaniel Greene’s target. After defeating Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in North Carolina, Greene marched into South Carolina and laid siege to the Star Fort.

Lasting 37 days, it was the longest siege of the American Revolution. But unable to breach its walls, Greene retreated in mid-June. Ironically, when British reinforcement arrived on the heels of Greene’s retreat, they relayed orders for Cruger to abandon the fort and return to Charleston as the British abandoned all inland posts. The Star Fort was never captured in battle.

Two hundred years later, the fort remarkably remained. Park ranger Adrian Stewart explained, “The Star Fort was built out of red clay. It was hard to build and even harder to destroy.” Today, it’s the only intact original star fort in North America and one of only a few in the world.

The Star Fort’s walls have rounded with erosion but still stand about six feet tall. Visitors can enter the fort on the path, but please refrain from climbing the walls. The well used for water and the entrance to the siege trenches are nearby. If you spot the short wooden tower along the trail nearby, that’s a recreation of a Maham Tower – and you can learn about the innovative structure at the interpretive display.

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Star Fort Pond

One of the prime mandates of the National Park Service is stewardship of the land. Considering that, the 27-acre Star Fort Pond is a treat if you enjoy fishing.

Fishing on the small pond requires a valid South Carolina license. Live bait is prohibited – all you can bring is a rod and lures.

Star Fort Pond is open seasonally from April through October during daylight hours.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

Where to Stay

The nearest places to stay is a 20-minute drive into nearby Greenwood, a charming small town in the heart of South Carolina’s Old 96 District.

Inn on the Square is a delightful boutique hotel within walking distance of downtown shops and restaurants. The hotel features spacious guest rooms, complimentary breakfast, and an on-site bar. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

Holiday Inn Express features an outdoor swimming pool to cool off after hiking on hot summer days. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

Hampton Inn also features an outdoor swimming pool but comes with the best complimentary hot breakfast of any major hotel chain. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

Baymont is a budget-friendly choice without sacrificing quality or comfort. Enjoy the outdoor swimming pool at this motel during your stay. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the town called Ninety Six?

Nobody knows how the town of Ninety Six got its name, but there are theories.

One theory was that the village was located approximately ninety-six miles from the Cherokee Lower Town of Keowee on the Cherokee Path. Keowee was a vital trade town during the 1700s.

What was the significance of the Battle of Ninety Six?

The Battle of Ninety Six was significant because it was the first Revolutionary War battle in South Carolina and led to the state’s first casualty of the war. While the war had started precisely seven months earlier, on April 19, this was South Carolina’s first of many battles for independence.

Where was the Battle of Ninety Six located?

The Battle of Ninety Six happened around the newly-built jail in the Old Village of Ninety Six. A hastily built stockade fort protected the Patriots as a thousand angry Loyalists surrounded them. A recreation of the Stockade Fort is located along the Historic Interpretive Trail in the national park site.

Who won the Battle of Ninety Six?

Nobody won the Battle of Ninety Six. After a two-day siege, both sides agreed to a truce and retreated from Ninety Six.

Why is the Siege of Ninety Six important?

The Siege of Ninety Six was part of a series of battles led by General Nathaniel Greene that ultimately drove the British back to Charleston. The Star Fort in Ninety Six was the largest and most important inland post for the British. Although repelling Greene’s advances during the Siege of Ninety Siege, the British ultimately abandoned the fort and effectively lost control of the South Carolina frontier.

Who won the Siege of Ninety Six?

The British, led by Lieutenant Colonel John Harris Cruger, won the Siege of Ninety Six. After a 37-day siege that failed to capture the fort, General Nathaniel Greene was forced to retreat into North Carolina when British reinforcements arrived from Charleston.

However, although victorious, the British ultimately abandoned the Star Fort immediately following the siege because the fort was too far inland from their current supply lines.

What is Ninety Six National Historic Site?

The Ninety Six National Historic Site preserves the 1,022-acre site where two pivotal Revolutionary War battles occurred. The National Park Service unit maintains the Star Fort, the recreation of a Maham Tower and Williamson’s Fort, and several miles of trails throughout the park.

What is a National Historic Site?

A national historic site is a designation of the National Park Service describing a site that contains a single historical feature, typically a structure or battlefield.

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