Editor’s Note: Some of the information for part of this story is taken from “The Narrative History of Union County, South Carolina” by Allan D. Charles.
UNION — The journey of the United States of America to independence during the American Revolutionary War was fraught with peril and the possibility of defeat but on Nov. 20, 1780 the outcome of the Battle of Blackstock in Union County helped set America on the road to final victory less than year later.
The American Revolutionary War was in its sixth year at the beginning of November 1780 with the newly formed United States of America still in a struggle for survival against the British Empire. In the north and in the west, the war stalemated with neither the Americans nor the British able to inflict a decisive defeat on their adversaries. Those stalemates had lead the British to shift their focus to the South with the intention of reconquering the region and achieving the kind of victory that continued to elude them in the other theaters of the war.
That effort began in 1778 and over the next two years proved to be largely successful for the British who were able to take Savannah and Charleston, raising the possibility that the revolution could be successfully suppressed, at least in the South. That initial success, however, would begin coming to an end in Union County where five battles would be fought between American and British forces, four of them ending in American victories.
The most important of these battles was the Battle of Blackstock which took place on Nov. 20, 1780 on the farm of Capt. William Blackstock where, at the recommendation of Col. Thomas Brandon, American forces under the command of General Thomas Sumter stationed themselves on a wooded knoll on the property, taking cover behind trees, fences, and the log house and barns there.
It was there, with their backs to the Tyger River, that the Americans would engage and defeat the British forces under the command of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton who, in his eagerness to defeat Sumter’s forces, would leave behind his artillery and foot soldiers, engaging the enemy with only his mounted infantry (dragoons) and cavalry. At first, however, it seemed like Tarleton’s recklessness might pay off as his dragoons overwhelmed at bayonet point Sumter’s first line of defense. Tartleton’s foolishness soon became apparent, however, when his direct assault against the main force of the Americans atop the wooded knoll and firing from behind cover resulted in a Bunker Hill-like slaughter of his forces.
The immediate result of the battle was three Americans dead and four wounded with Sumter being among the latter group. British losses were much larger with Tarleton reporting only 51 killed and wounded, claiming also that his forces had broken through the center of the American line. The Americans, however, claimed, with greater accuracy it seems, that British losses were 92 killed and 100 wounded.
More importantly, however, the Battle of Blackstock marked the beginning of the unraveling of British plans to reconquer the South. Seeking to regain the initiative and recover from their loss in Union County, the British moved on to what became known as the Battle of Cowpens where, again under the command of Tarleton, they would suffer an even worse defeat at the hands of American forces under the command of General Daniel Morgan.
Their loss at Cowpens completed the process that began at Blackstock as British efforts to reconquer the South collapsed, leading the overall British commander, Lord Cornwallis, to move his forces north, a journey that came to an end at Yorktown in Virginia where, on Oct. 19, 1781, he would surrender to the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington, effectively ending the war.
The important role the Battle of Blackstock played in the American Revolutionary War is recognized with a monument commemorating the battle and its impact on America’s drive for freedom. The road to the site, however, has fallen into disrepair and the monument has been the target of vandalism with thieves stealing the bronze plaque that adorned it, providing information about the site.
All that is about to change thanks to the efforts of the Union County Legislative Delegation which has obtained $100,000 in state funding for the Union County Historical Society to use for making improvements to the site.
A check for the $100,000 was presented Wednesday morning by State Sen. Shane Martin and State Rep. Mike Anthony to members of the Historical Society at the Union County Museum.
Martin said the funding grew out of an invitation three years ago from Historical Society Board Member Jack Burnett who invited the delegation to lunch at the Cross Keys House and a tour of the battlefield. He said that he and his family along with Anthony participated in the lunch and the tour during which they learned about the battle and the role it played in the war.
“As I was sitting there that day and hearing about it I realized that Blackstock gave our country the confidence that it could beat the British,” Martin said. “I don’t want that to be forgotten. I want it preserved so that my children, that everybody’s children can go see it and learn about it.”
Martin said that in the three years that followed he, Anthony, and fellow delegation members State Sens. Harvey Peeler and Ronnie Cromer worked to secure the funding, finally getting it included in the state budget. He thanked the rest of the delegation for their efforts to secure the $100,000 from the SC Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism for the Historical Society to make improvements to the battlefield so that future generations can experience it the way he and his family did.
“This money can only be spent on Blackstock Battlefield,” Martin said. “It can only be used to preserve and protect that history. That’s what we wanted to do.”
For his part, Anthony praised Martin for his efforts to secure the funding.
“I’m grateful to Senator Martin who spearheaded this, who got the PRT to see the importance of this,” Martin said. “My biggest role was to help override it getting vetoed in the House.”
Burnett, who was among those taking part in the presentation, said that it had been fellow board member Buddy Smith who had brought the matter to his attention, about the importance of the battlefield. In addition, Burnett said his father had been “friends with Col. George Fields who was very interested in Blackstock Battlefield and talked my dad into doing some bulldozing there. My dad died four years ago and the board asked me to take his place and I’m working to continue his efforts.”
In the years since, Burnett said he became friends with Martin and three years ago extended to him and the rest of the delegation the invitation to lunch at Cross Keys House and the tour of the battlefield. He said that the tour was conducted by him and USC Union’s Dr. Allan Charles who told the story of the battle and it importance.
Burnett said he is happy that the delegation has been able to secure funding for improvements to the battlefield which he said are much needed.
“The road is bad condition, it’s just like a little driveway,” Burnett said. “The monument had a bronze plaque on it, but someone cut the bolts off of it and stole it. My dad got Murphy’s Florist to engrave what was on the plaque on the monument.”
Museum Director Ola Jean Kelly echoed Burnett’s comments about the conditions of the road and the negative impact it can have on people trying to visit the battlefield.
“The battlefield is in pretty good shape, but the road isn’t,” Kelly said. “If you are not familiar with the site you might just give up in frustration. The road is so long and in such bad condition you might turn around and leave.”
Kelly said she and the rest of the Historical Society are happy about the delegation getting the funding for the needed improvements at the site.
“We’re very happy,” Kelly said. “We’re sure it wasn’t easy.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.