South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trip
Did you know more Revolutionary War battles happened in South Carolina than any other state? Exploring the battlefields, historic sites, and learning about the history takes some time. And the best way to do it is a road trip. Learn about the Revolutionary War in South Carolina with this 11-part series of road trips covering all the best sites in the state.
Throughout the American Revolution, South Carolina’s Upcountry was a sparsely populated frontier boundary between the Charleston elites and Native Americans. Despite the lack of settlements – or maybe because of it – some of the most significant battles happened in this region. When British agents entered the area and threatened its inhabitants, they responded.
And it turned the tide of the war in favor of the Patriots.
This road trip loosely follows the I-85 corridor from Charlotte to Greenville, passing through Gaffney and Spartanburg. The route includes a two-hour drive on the scenic Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway, a possible detour into North Carolina, and two national park units preserving Revolutionary War battlefields.
This post is proudly sponsored by Upcountry South Carolina and South Carolina Association of Tourism Regions.
Road Trip Map
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.
It’s always a good idea to have these essential items for a road trip. But for this road trip, you might also want to pack some of these essentials:
- Garmin DriveSmart 86 – Give voice commands to this device for spoken turn-by-turn directions – works without cellular signal and comes preloaded with North America maps.
- Hydro Flask Wide Mouth 32 oz. Bottle – Enjoy cool water at any time with this insulated stainless-steel water bottle. The wide mouth design features a screw-on lid for quick access and makes it easy to gulp water when you need it most.
- Merrell Men’s Moab 3 Hiking Shoe – Keep your feet protected and ankles supported with these breathable, durable hiking shoes. Also available in women’s sizes.
- National Park Service App – This official app brings all the information about the national park units to your smartphone. Quickly find hours of operation, road and trail closures, and things to do at any national park unit. Download on iOS or Android.
- Osprey Daylite Plus Daypack – Pack everything you need for a day trip in this 30-liter lightweight backpack with dedicated water bottle holder and multiple pockets.
Kings Mountain National Military Park
Like Captain Christian Huck’s orders, Scottish-born Colonel Patrick Ferguson was tasked with subduing the rebellion in the backcountry. In mid-1780, Ferguson threatened militias west of the Appalachian Mountains, declaring “he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”
The threat did little to dissuade the militias from mustering and instead hastened them into action. In September 1780, Colonels William Campbell, Isaac Shelby, John Sevier, and Joseph Winston mustered men from modern-day Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
The “Overmountain Men” began a 330-mile march to confront Ferguson on Kings Mountain in a pivotal battle that changed the course of the American Revolution.
Did You Know?
When the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail was established in 1980, it was the first national historic trail on the east coast. Maintained by an army of volunteers, visitors can drive the Commemorative Motor Route to see various muster grounds and historic sites and hike 87 miles of the historic trail.
Begin your visit to Kings Mountain National Military Park at the visitor center. A film featuring reenactors portrays the battle on the forested mountain summit – it’s one of the best National Park Service films about the Revolutionary War. Browse through their impressive collection of books in the gift shop, and then pick up a park brochure before hitting the trail.
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The 1.5-mile Battlefield Trail loops around the mountain’s summit. The paved trail features dozens of wayside exhibits, monuments, and memorials about the battle. You’ll see a towering monument dedicated to the Patriots who fought there and the gravesite of Patrick Ferguson, who died near the end of the one-hour battle.
Leaving Kings Mountain behind, it’s an easy trek down Interstate 85 to Gaffney. Travelers along the popular commuter highway recognize Gaffney as the home of The Peachoid – a 135-foot-tall water tower resembling a peach that’s become a roadside icon for selfies. But there is more to Gaffney than just a one-million-gallon metallic peach.
In 1804, Irish immigrant Michael Gaffney traveled from Charleston into the South Carolina backcountry. He built a tavern at the intersection of two trading routes between the mountains, Charleston, Charlotte, and Georgia. By 1875, Gaffney’s Crossroads officially became Gaffney.
Mark Your Calendar
The annual South Carolina Peach Festival is held Thursday – Sunday in the middle of July. The family-friendly event began in 1976 to celebrate the “Peach Capital of South Carolina,” connecting customers with farmers. Find more information about the event at https://upcountrysc.com/events/south-carolina-peach-festival/.
Start at the Gaffney Visitor’s Center and Art Gallery, where you’ll find brochures and maps to help you explore the town and region. Then, walk along North Limestone Street – the “main street” through downtown.
If it’s an afternoon on the weekend, you can stop at Peach City Brewing for a cold craft beer – you’ll have to wait until 4 p.m. on Wednesdays – Fridays. Opened in mid-2022, the family-owned brewery features pale ales, pilsners, and seltzers. You can also grab a 12″ pizza – perfect for lunch.
After leaving the brewery, walk down the street to visit the Michael Gaffney log house. Restore and relocated into the middle of town, the house was the original home of the town’s namesake. You can read about his life on a roadside way marker.
Spend the night in Gaffney to give yourself enough time the following day. The Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway is a gorgeous road trip with lots of opportunities for local shopping and snapping landscape photos. Plan to spend about six hours driving the route, visiting Cowpens National Battlefield, and finally arriving in Spartanburg.
Where to Stay in Gaffney
Red Roof Inn invented the affordable roadside model, but this location is a step above with secure interior-access rooms. The barebones amenities mean a low price for the room but no extras. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Hampton Inn features comfortable rooms – some with an added sleeper sofa for families – an outdoor swimming pool, and the best complimentary breakfast of any major hotel chain. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
James Williams Gravesite
James Williams migrated to South Carolina in 1773. He quickly became a prominent leader in his community and was elected to the First and Second Provincial Congresses. When the Revolutionary War officially began, he was appointed a lieutenant colonel of the local militia.
Williams fought in regional skirmishes and commanded a unit at the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill in August 1781. Less than two months later, he joined the Overmountain Men and led a unit at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Williams was killed in the final charge against Ferguson’s Loyalists.
In 1915, Williams’ body was reinterred to an anachronistic monument before the historic Carnegie Library in Gaffney. The monument is flanked by two Civil War-era cannons and a bronze plaque labeling him a “Hero of the Battle of Kings Mountain.”
Did You Know?
During the Cherokee War of 1776, James Williams oversaw a detachment under the command of Andrew Williamson. The war was fought along the frontiers of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. After the war, Williams returned home to present-day Laurens County to command the local militia.
Cowpens National Battlefield
South Carolina Highway 11 begins a 120-mile westward journey in Gaffney. Also known as the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Byway, the two-lane road swings through the Upcountry toward the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The first thirty miles pass through Piedmont farmlands, leading to Cowpens National Battlefield.
After the Fall of Charleston in May 1780 and the disastrous Battle of Camden a few months later in August, the British were in near-complete control of South Carolina. But the Battle of Kings Mountain in October changed everything. Thomas Jefferson recalled the pivotal battle as the “turn of the tide of success.”
Militias commanded by Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter, and Andrew Pickens pinned British General Lord Cornwallis in South Carolina. But when reinforcements arrived in Charleston in early 1781, he planned to move into North Carolina. General Nathanael Greene, the new commander of the Southern Department, split his army with Colonel Daniel Morgan.
Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton after Morgan. But the “Old Wagoner” didn’t retreat from a fight. Relying on scouting from Pickens, Morgan devised a plan to face Tarleton at a “cowpens,” where locals grazed cattle.
On January 17, 1781, Morgan thoroughly defeated Tarleton. It was the only successful double envelopment of the Revolutionary War – a technique that relied on militias feigning retreat, drawing in the British, only to surround them with a deadly barrage.
Cowpens National Battlefield preserves the small battlefield and allows visitors to walk on history. Begin at the visitor center with the 18-minute introductory film Cowpens: A Battle Remembered. Then, walk the 1.3-mile partially paved Battlefield Trail and read about key moments of the battle at several interpretive sites. Alternatively, you can also drive the 3.8-mile Auto Loop Road, a one-way route around the battlefield with places to park and see the sites with less walking.
Point of Interest
Biggerstaff Hanging Tree
If you’re up for a detour, the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree is a remote stop on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail worth a visit. The site is a 40-minute drive from Chesnee along U.S. Highway 221 through Rutherfordton, North Carolina.
After the Battle of Kings Mountain, the Overmountain Men had over a hundred captive Loyalists. On October 13, less than a week after the battle, they settled for the night at the homestead of Aaron Biggerstaff, a Loyalist killed at the battle.
Eager to make an example, an impromptu trial began that night. 30 men were convicted and sentenced to death. The men were hung from a live oak tree in groups of three. But after just 9 were executed, the militia commanders ended the hangings.
The interpretive site features a kiosk with a history of the area. A trail leads to the supposed tree where the men were hung.
Did You Know?
Captain James Chitwood was a Virginia native who served in the Loyalist militia during the Revolutionary War. On October 13, 1780, he was convicted of treason and was in the last group of three hung from the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree. James Chitwood was my 7th great-granduncle. But don’t worry – I also had relatives who fought for our independence, and one has a monument at his gravesite in Kentucky.
Point of Interest
Strawberry Hill U.S.A.
In the early 1900s, Perry Cooley started a cotton farm in South Carolina’s Upcountry. In 1947, he transferred a small portion of the farm to his son and WWII veteran Gene, who transitioned from cotton to peaches. It was the beginning of one of the largest family-owned farms in the state.
In 1995, Gene’s son, James, planted six acres of strawberries on the family farm. That initial investment grew to become South Carolina’s largest strawberry farm. And that’s how Strawberry Hill U.S.A. became what you’ll find today.
The family farm surrounds SC Highway 11 as far as you can. 115 acres of strawberries and 1,000 acres of peaches, blackberries, squash, cucumbers, and beans. Giant peach tree orchards beside the road turn brilliant shades of pink in the spring, a frequent backdrop to portraits and selfies.
A large, covered produce stand is open seven days a week. Tables are covered with fresh fruits and vegetables, and shelves are stocked with preserves and butters. Across the street, the restaurant serves breakfast and lunch with savory items like pancakes topped with fresh strawberries and thick burgers cooked to order.
Pro Packing Tip
The produce stand could have freshly picked strawberries, peaches, or many other fruits and vegetables, depending on the time of year. But taking them on a road trip is problematic – you must keep them chilled to last longer. If you pack a 12v refrigerator like the EUHOMY 37-quart or Dometic 35-Liter, you can take some delicious snacks for the rest of the road trip.
Spartanburg was founded in 1787, shortly after the end of the American Revolution. The town was named after the Spartan Regiment, a local militia commanded by Andrew Pickens during the Revolutionary War. The militia was named after the famous Spartans because of their toughness at the Battle of Cowpens.
You might be famished after the one-hour-ish drive on SC Highway 9 from Strawberry Hill U.S.A.. Fortunately, Spartanburg is a foodie town.
Park anywhere along Main Street in this walkable small city and explore the shops and restaurants. Delaney’s Irish Pub is a delightfully authentic experience with Irish-style beers on tap and a menu replete with Irish foods. Give Italian food a try at Sophia’s, classic southern dishes at The Tulip Tree, or spend your evening at Initial Q with the “best gastro-smokehouse experience” in the city.
Enjoy an evening outdoors at FR8yard, an outdoor bar built from repurposed shipping containers. Sip cold craft beers from local breweries and chow down on a “yard dog,” enormous gourmet hotdogs.
Spartanburg has lots to explore beyond the Revolutionary War, like downtown shopping and dining. Plan to spend at least one night, but you could extend your trip with two nights in the “Hub City” and enjoy a break from the driving.
Where to Stay in Spartanburg
Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens is an exquisite bed and breakfast in a 1913-era Colonial house owned by South Carolina native Pontheolla and her husband, Paul. A red caboose parked behind the home offers a chance to comfortably sleep in a unique environment. Book with Booking.com or at clevedaleinn.com
AC Hotel by Marriott is Spartanburg’s premier downtown lodging featuring comfortable rooms with spectacular city views, an outdoor swimming pool, and within walking distance to the local eateries around Morgan Square. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Hampton Inn & Suites is in a busy part of town beside the shopping mall, but you won’t notice with the indoor swimming pool, spacious lobby, and the best complimentary breakfast of any major hotel chain. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Plan a Road Trip with Google Maps
Use this step-by-step guide to create a custom map, add stops and a route, and upload to your mobile device.
Point of Interest
Daniel Morgan Statue
Before the American Revolution, Daniel Morgan was a Virginia planter and wagoner. But when the Revolutionary War began, he left that life behind to serve in the Continental Army. He was captured in Canada and held prisoner for six months, fought at the victorious Battle of Saratoga, and devised the brilliant strategy that won the Battle of Cowpens.
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On the west end of Morgan Square in Spartanburg, a bronze statue towers over the public park atop a 21′ tall granite column. Erected in 1881 on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens, the statue is dedicated to Colonel Daniel Morgan. All thirteen original states and Tennessee funded the granite column.
No need to move the car – the Daniel Morgan Statue is near the restaurants in the heart of the city.
After visiting the statue, continue a block further south on Main Street to Smallcakes Cupcakery and Creamery. The dessert shop bakes a dozen cupcake flavors every day. But you don’t eat the cupcakes. Instead, the cupcake is blended with homemade ice cream to create a thick, delicious milkshake.
Walnut Grove Plantation
In 1765, Charles and Mary Moore settled on a 1,000-acre land grant near present-day Spartanburg. With a large family of eight children – and two more in the following years – the Moores built the one-story Manor House that tour guide John described as “the backcountry’s version of a Charleston mansion.”
During the Revolutionary War, their son-in-law Andrew Barry and son Thomas Moore served in the local Spartan Regiment militia. Charles and Mary supported the Patriot effort by offering supplies and hospice for injured soldiers.
Local stories, though, are focused on the exploits of Margaret Catherine Moore Barry. The legend of “Kate” Moore Barry includes a heroic midnight ride to warn her husband about an impending British attack. But Lauren Friedrich, Director of Education and Outreach at the Spartanburg County Historical Association, points out that although no evidence exists of the infamous ride, “We know that women’s stories were more often than not left out of the narrative, plus, what woman wouldn’t warn her husband that the enemy was on its way?”
Walnut Grove Plantation is one of the must-see Revolutionary War historic sites in South Carolina. Take a guided tour of the Manor House and listen to the docents’ stories about the Moore family. Then, go for a short walk to the family cemetery to see where Charles and Marry Moore are buried alongside their daughter, Margaret Moore Barry, and Patriot hero Andrew Barry.
One of the unexpected outcomes of the Cherokee War of 1776 was the Treaty of Dewitt’s Corner. After rowdy bands of Cherokee, armed with British guns and black powder, failed to retake the frontier settlements, they were beaten back by a combined expeditionary force led by Andrew Williamson. In 1777, the Cherokees were forced to cede all their remaining land in South Carolina, including present-day Greenville County.
In 1797, Lemuel Alston purchased 400 acres and established Pleasantburg. The town was renamed Greenville in 1821. Today, Greenville is one of the largest cities in South Carolina and the perfect base for exploring the upcountry and Appalachian Mountain foothills.
Downtown Greenville is enormous, spread across dozens of city blocks. Start your evening on North Main Street at Mast General Store, a regional chain mimicking the general stores of the past with clothing, outdoor gear, and collectibles. Get a savory dinner of roasted chicken or pan-seared scallops at the casual upscale Roost, or stop next door at Antonio Bertolo’s Pizza for delicious garlic knots, spaghetti, or made-to-order pizzas. Finish your evening at the rustic Sip Whiskey and Wine Bar with craft cocktails and local wines.
You might consider spending an evening at the other end of downtown beside Falls Park on the Reedy, the last stop on this road trip itinerary. Passerelle Bistro is the only restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the waterfall – their French-inspired menu includes herb-crusted trout and crème brulee. Jianna is an Italian restaurant with a twist – they also serve freshly shucked oysters in a gorgeous, modern dining space. Experience Persian cuisine with dinner at Pomegranate on Main or stay closer to home at Smoke on the Water, a “saucy southern tavern” with American-style foods.
The Whale Collective is a craft beer tap room to experience craft beers on tap worldwide. After opening their first location in Asheville, North Carolina, a second location was opened on South Main Street in Greenville in 2019. Their tap menu includes almost two dozen beers at any time, many from across the United States. Grab a cozy seat at the bar or slide into one of the lightweight aluminum chairs at the high-top tables and enjoy some great craft beer.
If you’re limited on time, Greenville is the best place to spend an extra night on this road trip. Spend the first night exploring downtown. Then, take a short drive to Traveler’s Rest for dinner and drinks on the second night. In between, consider visiting Paris Mountain State Park or spending an afternoon at Falls Park on the Reedy.
Where to Stay in Greenville
Grand Bohemian Lodge is the pinnacle of lodging in South Carolina’s Upcountry. Modeled after the grand lodges in western national parks, you’ll find impeccable guest rooms, gorgeous city views from upper-floor balconies, and an on-site restaurant and bar. Book with Booking.com
Hampton Inn & Suites is a convenient location near Falls Park, featuring suites with a sleeper sofa perfect for families, gorgeous city views from most of the rooms, and the best complimentary breakfast of any major hotel chain. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com
Upcountry History Museum
Visiting the Upcountry History Museum is more like walking through time than merely reading about it. The museum features life-size historical sets interpreting the region’s history. The interactive tabletop map will walk you through the early frontier days, the Revolutionary War, and the early days of Greenville County. Then, explore the museum’s exhibits to learn how the frontier became an industrial center and metropolis in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Falls Park on the Reedy
In 1768, Richard Pearis was the first European settler to establish roots in this area of South Carolina’s backcountry. He built a grist mill powered by a waterfall on the Reedy River and a trading post on his 50,000-acre tract. Pearis operated as an Indian trader and built a strong relationship with the natives.
But during the Revolutionary War, he was accused of helping Loyalist Patrick Cunningham steal a shipment of gunpowder near Ninety Six. The incident led to the Battle of Ninety Six, South Carolina’s first battle of the American Revolution.
Pearis was later arrested and sent to Charleston for trial. While languishing in jail, rumors circulated that he was harboring violent Cherokees and Loyalists on his plantation on the Reedy River. Colonel Thomas Neel took a regiment of 300 men to the plantation but found only his wife and children. Still, Neel burned the plantation, seized his property, and Pearis was banished from South Carolina.
In the early 2000s, Falls Park on the Reedy opened to the public. The park is built around the waterfall on the Reedy River in the middle of downtown Greenville. But the main attraction is the 355-foot long, curved Liberty Bridge – a concrete and steel suspension bridge only open to pedestrian traffic.
It’s a great place to enjoy a stroll where history happened, though you wouldn’t know it by the looks of the urban park today.
South Carolina Revolutionary War Road Trips
Read the other articles of this 11-part series:
Part 7 – Charleston (coming soon)
Part 8 – Georgetown (coming soon)
Part 9 – Pee Dee Country (coming soon)
Part 10 – Santee Cooper Country (coming soon)
Part 11 – The Capital Region (coming soon)