Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cowpens, our very own Upstate SC battlefield

January 17, 1781 – the Battle of Cowpens.

US Memorial Monument in honor of all the men who fought at Cowpens

Last week we featured Ninety Six National Historic Site, site of the American Revolution’s first major land battle in the South. It was a little later in the Revolutionary War that brigadier general Daniel Morgan was sent into western South Carolina with his “Flying Army” to operate on the British left flank and rear (led by British commander in the south Major Gen. Cornwallis). Cornwallis responded by dispatching Banastre Tarleton along with the British Legion to counter Morgan… and the rest is history.

Morgan sent for militia units from SC, NC and Georgia – men who had fought at Musgrove Mill and Kings Mountain – but was still outnumbered when Tarleton caught up to them in Upstate SC. Choosing to stand and fight, Morgan devised a battle plan and dug in at the Cow Pens, a frontier pasturing ground on the road to a ford across the Broad River six miles to the northwest. Today, these fields and surrounding 842 acres are Cowpens National Battlefield. Our recent visit was also on a chilly winter morning – but some 237 years after the battle.

On the morning of the January 17th, 1781, Morgan received word that Tarleton had crossed the Pacolet River 12 miles to the south. He knew what he was up against, and devised a plan to counter British battle tactics, relying on the firing distance of the long rifle (200 yards vs. the musket’s 50) and his chosen topography to win the battle against muskets and bayonets.

He placed his militia sharpshooters on the front line in two small groups. When the British came into view just before dawn, the sharpshooters dropped two-thirds of the British officers before withdrawing behind the second line, Andrew Pickens’ regional militia. Together they were to deliver two volleys ‘at a killing distance’ before falling back to Howard’s Continentals. All went according to plan up until that point – but the British still surged forward, and after fierce fighting the entire line began a retreat. Morgan rallied his troops at the last line, and here the Washington cavalry also joined the melee. Pickens’ militia opened fire on the dragoons and Highlanders, and suddenly, the battle was over. In less than an hour 110 British were killed, 229 wounded and 600 captured (compared to 24 killed and 104 wounded for Morgan), and Tarleton fled, the British Legion cavalry falling in behind him.

We started off on our walking tour of Cowpens National Battlefield from the Visitor Center on the Battlefield Trail. The 1¼-mile self-guided tour takes visitors straight across the battlefield on Green River Road, with informational placards posted at the various points where Morgan’s forces had been stationed. We passed the line of Howard’s Continentals and the Pickens’ Militia, down past where the sharpshooters had been stationed all the way to Tarleton’s front line: the Dragoons, Fusiliers and Infantry. Looking back at the ground we had covered, we found it amazing how well-utilized the topography had been in the battle; the field has three low crests separated by wide swales, and the various lines optimized the high ground as well as cover provided by each.

The trail winds around through a wetlands area and a hardwoods forest, and then arrives back at the Visitor Center. If you haven’t already, watch the short film and explore the exhibits before returning to your car for the driving loop portion of the Cowpens experience.

The Auto Loop Road takes visitors on a 3-mile loop around the perimeter of the battlefield. Wayside exhibits, overlooks and short trails at several points along the way provide additional insight into the battle, while a stop at the 1800s reconstructed Robert Scruggs House provokes thought of how a family with 11 children managed to live in such a small cabin.

Scruggs cabin

A group shelter, restrooms and picnic area are located on the far side of the loop, as well as the trailhead for the 2-mile Cowpens Nature Trail that loops down to the river. After finishing the loop you’ll emerge back out on the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, a short drive from Gaffney, SC.

Cowpens is about a 1-hour drive from Greenville. For hours and other info, please visit their website. The Cowpens National Battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It is also on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, the 330-mile commemorative motor route that shadows the march of the 1,000-strong Patriot militia in 1780.


Cornwallis would continue north to Guilford Courthouse, Petersburg and his eventual surrender in Yorktown in October 1781, but the victory at Cowpens was new hope for the American Revolution. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

The First Flight at Kill Devil Hills

One hundred and fifteen years ago, on a remote, sandy beach in North Carolina, Orville Wright flew. It was the first time that a manned, heavier-than-air machine left the ground by its own power, moved forward without losing speed and landed on a point as high as that from which it started. The site of this first flight has been immortalized as the Wright Brothers National Memorial, and is a testament to the ingenuity and determination of man.

This historic site is not quite so remote these days, located at the epicenter of activity on the Outer Banks, in Kill Devil Hills. After making the short drive from Duck, our visit started in a temporary visitor center, as the Visitor Center is undergoing renovations through late summer/fall of 2018. We picked up Jr. Ranger booklets, took a look at the exhibits, and then set out on foot to the reconstructed 1903 hanger and quarters/workshop. The wooden structures depict the hangar used for the flyer that made history on that winter day in 1903, and the workshop is furnished with items like those the Wrights used.

A little further, a granite boulder marks where the first plane left the ground on December 17, 1903. The first flight was only 120 feet, but three more flights that day each flew longer and further, the fourth flying 852 feet in 59 seconds before a gust of wind flipped it over a short while later rendering it earthbound. These four flights are marked by smaller stone markers that allow visitors to walk in the shadow of this historic occasion; remember to stay on the path to avoid sand spurs and prickly pear cacti.

Heading down the walkway in the other direction from the First Flight Boulder takes visitors up to the Wright Brothers Monument atop Kill Devil Hill. The 60-ft monument honors the Wright Brothers and marks the site of the hundreds of glider flights that preceded the first powered flight. The 90-ft sand dune has a great view of the Park, the vista extending to the Atlantic Ocean and over the First Flight Airstrip.

Yes, the Park includes an actual airport! The 3,000-ft paved airstrip serves small planes, and during our visit there was constant air traffic – a perfect backdrop to exploring this historic site. The vantage point from up by the Memorial allows you to watch the small planes taking off and landing, entertaining the younger kids that aren't as interested in the historic aspect of the Park.

On the opposite side of Kill Devil Hill is the December 17, 21903 sculpture. The bronze and stainless steel plane recreates the historic flight, as captured in a photograph taken by John Daniels from the nearby lifesaving station who had come to watch the brothers as they attempted to make history. There are benches and picnic tables nearby, providing a nice place to relax and contemplate the wonder of flight while the kids dream up their own aviation adventures on the life-sized model.

Not even 70 years after the Wrights’ historic first flight on the Outer Banks we’ve landed a man on the moon – to think that the 1903 flyer was the first step in the evolution of human flight… The Wright Brothers National Memorial is an educational stop for visitors to the Outer Banks, one that proved anything is possible – even human flight.

After a short pause we headed back to the visitor center so that the boys could turn in their completed Jr. Ranger booklets, however our day's adventures were far from over; we were headed to nearby Jockey's Ridge for more sand dunes and flight...


Our visit occurred shortly before the anniversary celebration of the first flight, in late November. I recommend taking weather into consideration when planning your visit, as it gets extremely hot in the summer (also, the Park is very exposed to lightning and will shut down if it snows); bring water bottles and sunscreen, it is like a visit to the beach. Winter temperatures are rather mild, but the wind can be brutal. For entrance fees and operating hours, see park website.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Latvia in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games have begun in PyeongChang, South Korea. There are 34 athletes from Latvia, including the Šics brothers (luge medalists in Sochi) and Mārtiņš Dukurs (skeleton medalist in Sochi and Vancouver). The number is considerably down from the previous Olympics, as the Latvian hockey team failed to qualify. However with 9 sports represented and numerous returning medalists, Latvia has a good chance to reach the podium.

Latvia has won eight winter Olympic medals: Mārtiņš Rubenis (luge bronze in Turin), Andris & Juris Šics (silver in doubles luge Vancouver, bronze in Sochi), Mārtiņš Dukurs (skeleton silver in Vancouver & gold in Sochi), Tomass Dukurs (bronze in skeleton, Sochi), Daumants Dreiškens, Oskars Melbārdis, Jānis Strenga & Arvis Vilkaste (gold in 4-man bobsled in Sochi) and Mārtiņš Rubenis, Elīza Tīruma, Andris Šics & Juris Šics (bronze in team relay luge in Sochi). The Sochi gold and bronze skeleton medals were an upgrade after Olympic champion Alexandr Tretiakov was found guilty of doping at the Sochi games in Russia, was banned for life from the Olympics, and stripped of his medals in the 2014 games. Similarly the Melbārdis four-man luge relay received gold after the Russian athletes were disqualified.

Team Latvia, with President Vējonis (source here)

The Team Latvia Olympic uniforms were unveiled last November, designed and produced by Polish sports clothing company 4F. Traditional Latvian elements such as the skujiņa were incorporated along with the three stars from the Brīvības piemineklis freedom monument and the Olympic rings.

source here

The Latvian Olympic Committee released this schedule of events according to athletes participating, although it is according to the Eastern European Time Zone. Having cross-checked with the CBS Olympics schedule, I’ve identified the key dates/times to watch in hopes of catching the Latvians in action (all listed in EST):

A short video of Latvia's entrance during the Parade of Nations during the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony

Friday, February 9th 8-11pm - Opening Ceremony, NBC

Wednesday, February 14th 9:30-11:30am - Luge (doubles gold medal final), NBCSN
   3-5pm - Luge (doubles gold medal final), NBC A.Šics/J.Šics, P.Kalniņš/O.Gudramovičs
   8-11:30pm - Men's Skeleton (qualifying), NBC (LIVE) M.Dukurs, T.Dukurs

Thursday, February 15th 12:05-1:30am - Men's Skeleton (Run 2 of 4), NBC (LIVE) M.Dukurs, T.Dukurs
    9:30am-12pm - Luge (team relay gold medal final), NBCSN
    8pm-12:30am - Men's Skeleton (Gold medal final runs), NBC (LIVE) M.Dukurs, T.Dukurs

Friday, February 16th 1:05-2am - Luge (team relay gold medal final), NBC

Sunday, February 18th 9:30-10:15am - Two-Man Bobsled, NBCSN O.Melbārdis, O.Ķibermanis

Friday, February 23rd - 8-11pm - Four-Man Bobsled (competition), NBC - O.Melbārdis, O.Ķibermanis

Saturday, February 24th - 8-11pm - Four Man Bobsled (gold medal final Runs), NBC (LIVE)

Sunday, February 25th 8-10:30pm - Closing Ceremony, NBC

Also, keep your eyes peeled during:
   Speed Skating, men’s short track 500m & 1000m - R.Puķītis, R.J.Zvejnieks
   Speed Skating, men's short track 1500m - R. Puķītis
   Speed Skating, men’s 1000m & 5000m – H. Silovs
   Luge, men’s singles - I.Kivlenieks, K.Aparjods, A.Dārznieks
   Luge, women’s singles - E.Cauce, U.Zirne, K.Aparjode
   Biathlon, women's 7.5km sprint, 15km, pursuit & 12.5km mass start - B. Bendika 
   Biathlon, men’s 10km sprint, pursuit, 15km & 20km mass start - A.Rastorgujevs, O.Muižnieks
   Alpine skiing, men’s downhill, combined, slalom, giant slalom & Super G - K.Zvejnieks
   Alpine skiing, women’s giant slalom & slalom - L.Gasūna
   Cross Country Skiing, men’s sprint, 15km freestlye - I.Bikše
   Cross Country Skiing, women’s sprint & 10km freestlye - P.Eiduka, I.Paškovska
   Figure Skating, men’s - D.Vasiļjevs
   Figure Skating, women’s - D.Ņikitina
   Skeleton, women’s - L.Priedulēna

Daumants Dreiskens with the Latvian 4-man bobsled team, source here

Three-time Olympian Daumants Dreiškens will be carrying the Latvian flag in the Opening Ceremony. Dreiškens was part of the gold-medal bobsled team in the Sochi Olympics.

See the above link for the official run times of the Latvian luge team (keep in mind that the first time is PyeongChang time and the one in parenthesis is Eastern European time). Along with skeleton and bobsled, we’ll also be keeping a close eye on women’s slopestyle, where Estonian Kelly Sildaru is considered a medal hopeful.

Two-time Olympics medalist Mārtiņš Dukurs, source here

Let the Games begin!

Important links: Latvian Olympic Committee on Facebook
   PyeongChang official Olympics website
(and if someone can find me an official twitter account, I would be grateful!)   

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Currituck Beach Lighthouse

After spending the afternoon on a Corolla wild horse tour in the very northernmost reaches of the North Carolina Outer Banks, we set out to explore as much of Corolla as the remaining daylight would allow. First stop was the Currituck Beach Lighthouse.

The 162-foot lighthouse was completed in 1875, standing guard over Currituck Sound, the Currituck Outer Banks and the Atlantic. Unlike many of its Carolina counterparts, the brick lighthouse has never been painted; it was the last major brick lighthouse to be built on the Outer Banks.

It is possible to climb the 220 steps to the top for beautiful panoramic views of the Sound and ocean, although there is no access to the lens room; the first order Fresnel lens is the original lens and still operational, its light visible over 18 nautical miles away.

Entry is $10/person, and once inside the lighthouse you’ll find exhibits the history of coastal lighthouses, the Fresnel lens, shipwrecks and the lighthouse keepers. The lighthouse and museum shop are generally open 9am to 5pm – see website for details.

In the shadow of the lighthouse is the Historic Corolla Park. The parks most prominent attraction is Whalehead, a 1920s Art Nouveau-style mansion listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are available, and offer architectural information as well as insight into the history of Corolla. The footbridge that connects the Whalehead island with the mainland on the north side is extremely popular for sunset-viewing over Currituck Sound, and reminds me of Venice's Ponte di Realto.

Opposite the bridge is the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, which offers exhibits and outdoor programs designed to help explore the region’s coastal wildlife, natural history and cultural heritage. We did not have the opportunity to tour the Center on this visit – we were too busy flying kites and touring the lighthouse – and when the sun started sinking lower in the sky we headed north.

There are many businesses that offer tours of the area. Corolla Wild Horse Fund is the official non-profit that protects and preserves the Corolla Wild Horses, and their headquarters and museum is located on the corner of Corolla Village Road and Schoolhouse Lane.* Just across the street is Coastal Explorations, a company that offers horse and boat tours as well as rentals: kayak, SUP and bike. The Coastal Explorations pier is a well-kept secret, stretching almost ½ mile out over the marsh and sound. From picturesque views of the lighthouse rising up over the barrier island to sightings of shorebirds in the wetlands, experiencing an Outer Banks sunset over the Currituck Sound is a definite must-see on any trip to the region.

For more on Historic Corolla Park, Whalehead, the lighthouse and the Center for Wildlife Education, please visit the Outer Banks visitor guide website.

* It is my understanding that the Corolla Wild Horses Fund is relocating to 520 Old Stoney Road, south of Corolla and closer to the Audubon Pine Island Sanctuary and Center as of February 1st.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Get your history kicks in Ninety Six

When thinking National Parks, South Carolina probably isn’t the first state to come to mind. But did you know that there are ten sites managed by the National Park Service in the state? Along with Congaree National Park there are also National Monuments, Military Parks and Historic Sites, that preserve the cultural, historical and natural wonders in the region. One of those is Ninety Six National Historic Site, a testament to the events of the 18th century in South Carolina.

This log house dates to the 1700s and was moved here from Greenwood

One explanation for how the town of Ninety Six got its name is that Charleston traders thought that the crossroads of trails was 96 miles south of the Cherokee town of Keowee. Traders traveled the Cherokee Path looking to sell their goods, and Ninety Six became a stopover point when Robert Gouedy opened a trading post in 1751. You’ll learn this (and more) at the Visitor Center, a great place to start your visit to the historic site. Grab a map and Junior Ranger programs for the kids, watch the short video, and then head out on the one-mile walking tour of the Park.

Historic route of the Island Ford Road

The American Revolution’s first major land battle in the South occurred at Ninety Six on November 19, 1775. 1,900 loyalists attacked 600 patriots, several days of fighting ending in a truce. However tensions were not eased, and in June 1781 Gen. Nathanael Greene attempted to take the Ninety Six fort by siege. The walking tour will first lead you to the siege trenches and star fort of this military event.

A birds-eye view of the star fort remains

Although the attack failed, loyalists eventually abandoned the fort, burning the buildings in retreat. Today all that is left of the fort are the earthen mounds that represent the formerly 14-ft high walls.

The earthen mounds visible in the background

There was no water available in the fort, so a communications trench had been dug to connect the star fort with the town of Ninety Six and the stockade fort. The walking tour parallels this trench and eventually enters what was the town on the historic route of the Island Ford Road, the trail that led to the ford on the Saluda River 7 miles north. Continuing south is the historic route of Charleston Road, leading to to Gouedy’s Trading Post and eventually Charleston. Less than 1,000 feet further is the intersection with the historic route of Cherokee Path.

The walking trail cuts west from the town of Ninety Six site, paralleling the historic route of Whitehall Road and the communications trench to the reconstruction of the 1781 Holmes’ fort where loyalists built a stockade around James Holmes’ home to guard the town’s water supply. Across from the reconstruction is the memorial to James Birmingham, the first South Carolinian to lose his life in the Revolutionary War.

In the reconstructed stockade fort

Continuing on the loop you’ll pass a picnic area, then Logan Log House, before finding yourself back at the Visitor Center. The walking tour is only the first of many outdoor opportunities at Ninety Six; in addition to the special events that take place at the Logan House and the ranger-led tours, there are also multiple hiking trails, equestrian trails, and the 26-acre Star Fort Pond which is seasonally open for fishing.

Crossing Spring Branch, with the stockade fort in the background

From the plight of the Cherokee to life of white settlers in the colonial South, Ninety Six became a footnote in history through its role in the American Revolution. While we definitely have more interesting Parks in terms of terrain here in the Upstate, Ninety Six National Historic Site is completely something else – it is history, right here in our backyard.

If you're interested in the other South Carolina National Park Service managed sites...

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