Monday, February 13, 2012

Seeking forgotten fort on Ashley

Seeking forgotten fort on Ashley

Potential park site might hold key

Monday, February 13, 2012

SUMMERVILLE -- The slight rise above the Ashley River takes on an eeriness as Steven Steele speaks about it: 300 horses, hundreds of men and an earthen redoubt with a field of fire that could turn artillery against attack from upstream or down.
This could be the spot where "Swamp Fox" Francis Marion camped and trained militia, where he guarded the bridge between Round O and the White Meeting House that was the social hub of Colonial Dorchester. It could have been the sneak backwoods river crossing to attack Dorchester and Charleston's less protected rear during the Revolutionary War.
This spot might just have held Gen. William Moultrie's "lost fort," one of the most significant regional sites from the period still to be located. And the property is in negotiations to become the next Dorchester County park.
County leaders are beginning to realize just how historically important a park there might be -- an inland counterpoint of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, the national monument whose palmetto log walls withstood a British bombardment and became a state emblem. The promise quickly has become one of the reasons for the purchase, said council Chairman Larry Hargett.
To save the history for the county, as Steele says bluntly.
"This was Charleston's 'hanging flank.' Whoever controlled this crossing had the flank of Charleston," Steele says as he looks around the wooded rise. "This is a major site for Revolutionary War, win, lose or draw, especially for Dorchester County. We're within 50 feet of it right now."
The property is near today's Bacon's Bridge on Bacon's Bridge Road outside of Summerville. Steele is a local historian who specializes in the period and posts the Swamp Fox Brigade blog. He suspected the 83-acre tract might hold the site, and asked county leaders to give him access when they toured it. He and County Councilman David Chinnis, both Revolutionary War re-enactors who have studied battle strategies, reached the rise at the river's edge, stopped and stared.
"This bump in the river gives you a 180-degree field of fire," Chinnis said. "That's what you want. You want the artillery out in front." He's found other indications.
The "bump," it turned out, also sits along a high ground corridor from the Ashley River Road straight to the White Meeting House on Dorchester Road, the common sense route to run a wagon road through wetland bottoms. It sits roughly across the river from an historic cemetery and what archaeologists think might be the site of a fortified frontier settlement of a century earlier.
Steele says the place fits descriptions from Marion's and Moultrie's letters. The flat ground behind it is expansive enough to have held an Army camp that would have included everything from drill grounds and graves to latrines -- unlike other locations nearby. And the contour of the land has a sculpted quality that is different than anything upstream or down.
Steele wants to do core samples and other tests to try to confirm his assessment. The samples could turn up soil evidence or even artifacts from a fort in the period. If he's right, a park there could become one of those places history buffs come to see.
Bacon's Bridge is one of the more under-appreciated pieces of history in the region anyway, a place where skirmishes, ambushes and hairs-breadth escapes took place between Patriot and British fighters during the Revolution, among two centuries of lore.
"It's a very, very important staging area at very strategic crossing on the Ashley River," said Ashley Chapman, manager of the Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site two miles down the river.
Locating the redoubt and the camp would create an opportunity for people to learn about a missing link to the history that includes Colonial Dorchester and its tabby fort, the river plantations and other toured spots. "We're all connected."
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744.

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