It was as several people said during separate funeral and battlefield ceremonies Saturday: It no longer mattered that one of them had been a British subject — a Fraser Highlander — when the others were Patriot Continentals. Thirteen of the “Camden 14,” men and boys who died during the Battle of Camden on Aug. 16, 1780, were all honored as heroes, as fallen dead, as soldiers.
The 14th, a man believed to be a British Loyalist, likely from North Carolina based on where his remains were found, was not included in Saturday’s Camden Burials funeral and ceremony. Based on examinations of his remains conducted during the last six months, he is at least of partial Native American ancestry. Therefore, his remains are being withheld for burial until negotiations are completed with representatives of the Catawba Nation and Lumbee Tribe.
Camden Burials organizer Doug Bostick, who is CEO of the S.C. Battlefield Preservation Trust (SCBPT), said he believes the tribes will allow the Loyalist’s remains to be buried with the other 13 in a new national cemetery to be created at the Battle of Camden site on Flat Rock Road.
The three-day event began Thursday when the remains left the Richland County Coroner’s Office where they had been examined, in new handmade caskets, on board Humvees that traveled to a long list of schools in Kershaw County, starting with Camden Military Academy.
Bostick said he was overwhelmed by the reception at the schools.
“Every school had the entire student body out. It was amazing to see all these children holding American flags, putting their hands over their hearts or saluting,” he said. “I have to admit, it made me cry. If you don’t have hope for America, you should have seen what I saw.”
As he had explained before and did again during a press conference at the S.C. State House on Thursday, the 12 Continental soldiers were likely from Maryland and Delaware. At that press conference and again just before a concert Friday night in front of the Kershaw-Cornwallis House, Bostick noted the weather forecasts. He said that with Saturday being Earth Day, he was going to leave things to God and Mother Nature to keep rain from ruining the ceremonies.
He was right; while there was a little rain here and there on Saturday, it was never enough to cause any noticeable problems.
During Thursday’s press conference, Bostick revealed a copy of a concurrent resolution that recognized Saturday as Camden Burials Days throughout the state.
From the State House, the procession went to Fort Jackson where, Bostick later recounted, hundreds of new recruits lined the streets to honor “America’s first veterans.” Following Fort Jackson, the line of Humvees arrived at Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site where the 13 caskets, 12 draped with American flags, one with a British flag, were respectfully placed into the Kershaw-Cornwallis House where they would stay for the next 30-plus hours.
At 5 p.m. Thursday, Camden Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford and Kershaw County Council Chair Katie Guinn spoke during an official “arrival ceremony.” Following their remarks, those in attendance made their way up the front steps and found nine of the caskets on one side — eight of the Continentals and, in the middle in the back row — the Fraser Highlander — and four in a small room to the right. The caskets were guarded by a rotation of U.S. Army soldiers through midnight Saturday morning.
That evening, University of South Carolina S.C. Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology members Jim Legg and Steve Smith, along with Richland County Deputy Coroners Mattie Atwell and Bill Stevens, were part of a panel that provided details about the remains. Five of the 12 Continentals were teenagers, one likely as young as 15. Others were in the 20s, perhaps 30s, and at least one in his 40s. Other programs took place throughout the weekend as part of the overall event.
Friday saw more people visit the Kershaw-Cornwallis House to see the caskets, but also visit a reenactment camp where they could see interpretations of how men — and women — lived in Revolutionary War-era camps as armies stopped or rested between
Among those on hand were Roy Lightfoot and Lisa Pupkiewicz (Pup-kay-eh-vich). Theirs was a simple campsite where Roy was sharpening one of his knives, while Lisa was putting together shirts. A flag over their tent declared the date May 20, 1775, the date of the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration, considered a precursor to the 13 colonies’ Declaration of Independence creating the United States.
“My character is based on one of my great-great-grandmother[‘s ancestors],” Lisa said. “She was a frontierswoman and I got ideas from her diaries and other papers.”
Lisa is also a gunsmith, accomplished at building pistols. Roy, meanwhile, carves wood, mostly flag staffs, walking sticks, and the like.
A little further over, closer to the central part of the camp, was Peter Demetni, portraying a rifleman with the S.C. 2nd Regimental Unit, albeit with 21st century sunglasses. As his wife, Robin, worked on household-type matters, Peter explained some of his duties to a passer-by, and showed off a long-shirt he said could work during the day under his uniform or by itself as a night shirt.
Away from camp, behind Historic Camden’s main office and gift shop, came the aroma of freshly baked bread. A sign out front read “Half-Crown Bakehouse, 1749.” Manning the hand-built clay-and-mortar oven (that includes mud and rice straw as part of its material) was Justin Nathaniel Cherry who is the resident baker at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon in Virginia.
He and his team sold “Provision Plates” that included a slice of Carolina rice bread with salt pork butter, smokehouse bacon and clothbound cheese. Rice bread could also be sold by the loaf, and they had griddle corn cakes with honey and butter.
Several hours later, at 6 p.m. in front of the Kershaw-Cornwallis House, Camden’s own Jonathan and Matthew Slade, accompanied by a member of the U.S. Army Old Guard, kicked things off with fife and drum ahead of an Old Guard tactical demonstration and concert by Fort Jackson’s 282nd Army Band.
The Old Guard, also known as the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard and, officially, as Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, preceded the concert with a demonstration of Revolutionary War-era tactics. The guard used fully-operable “Brown Bess” muskets, each affixed with an 11- to 13-inch bayonet. Even loaded only with black powder, the muskets still made audience members jump when fired. The Old Guard demonstration included a division made up of two 10-man plus commanding officer platoons, with a division commander over them — in this case, 1st Lt. Thomas Montano — accompanied by a fife player, drummer and a color ensign. Firing is done by one platoon and then the other in an effort to keep the enemy from being able to fire back, although part of the demonstration included a simultaneous mass firing from both platoons.
The Old Guard then demonstrated an anti-cavalry tactic, forming a rectangle around Montano and firing outward in all directions. Finally, after reforming their line, the Old Guard rushed across the field, bayonets out, to charge, much to surprise to some of the audience on that side.
Once they left the field, band narrator Sgt. 1st Class Corey Walton introduced 282nd Band Conductor 1st Sgt. David Newcomb who launched the musicians into a rousing opening rendition of “Let Freedom Ring.” Later in the concert, an energetic Sgt. Mitchell Dunham — a relative newcomer to the band — took over conducting responsibilities from Newcomb, starting off with “American We,” by Henry Filmore. During Dunham’s time in front of the band, he brought up Cpl. Alexus Monroe to sing “God Bless America” and, later, with the audience singing along, a Ray Charles-inspired rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
Saturday was a far more somber day with a near-silent procession of the caskets out of the Kershaw-Cornwallis House around 8:30 a.m. to their caissons, and the caissons on to Bull, Broad and DeKalb streets, followed by a retinue of reenactors. They arrived with plenty of time to spare at Bethesda Presbyterian Church for a funeral unlike many in modern history: an outdoor, joint Anglican-Presbyterian service. The caissons arrived approximately an hour ahead of the 11 a.m. service, not only providing attendees with a chance to see the caskets unloaded and moved onto Bethesda’s original sanctuary’s rear patio, facing DeKalb Street.
“This is the first time these Continental soldiers have been reunited with their commanding officer,” noted retired Maj. Gen. Julian Burns, of Camden, motioning to the obelisk in front of that patio under which Gen. Johann de Kalb is buried.
The early arrival of the caissons also provided time for those attending to meet dignitaries and even members of the press from other states and countries. On hand for both the funeral and the battlefield ceremony were Rachel Galloway, the British General Consul in Atlanta, on behalf of His Majesty King Charles III; Col. Alcuin Johnson, assistant military attaché, of the British Embassy; Delaware Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Michael Berry; Brigadier Gen. Joseph D. Reale, representing Maryland’s adjutant general; and other representatives from American Revolution allies France and Germany.
The reverends Josie Holler, of Kingtree’s Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, and William F. Owens Jr., of Camden’s St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church, led the service, which lasted exactly one hour. Afterward, some said the highlight of the service was the homily, given by Holler.
She asked those present to consider “silence.”
“Take a moment to think about how silent in Camden in 1780,” Holler said. “The streets are closed today, so the normal sounds of life are muted for our service. However, this street is usually bustling with activity — cars and tractor trailers are whizzing by not to mention the sounds of sirens and the occasional jet overhead. Life today is loud. It’s busy. It’s complicated. It is interesting that we’re so accustomed to these sounds that, most of the time, we don’t even notice they’re going on.”
The sounds were much different, Holler said, for those the soldiers in 1780 whether fighting for King and Country or fighting for a new nation. The sounds of life then, she said: livestock, crickets or, perhaps, the snap of twigs or slosh of water or the crunch of pine straw as they moved through the woods north of Camden.
“We gather here, 243 years after their deaths, to honor their conviction and their sense of duty and I can’t help but to think about how much the world has changed since they walked through this area,” Holler said, in terms of advancements and luxuries. “We have the ability to travel from around the country or around the world expeditiously just so we could be here for this service today. I think about the freedom that we have and the ability that we have to live peacefully, which was a direct result of their bravery and actions, and of many, many others who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Holler pointed out that today, many years later, Britain and the U.S. are friends and allies, something she said might have been “mind-boggling” to the men whose caskets were laid out behind her.
“I imagine that they would have been astounded that all of these years later, we are gathered here today to pay respect to them in this very special way, even though we do not know their names or many details about them. I imagine they would be quite astounded to know the attention detail to that was taken to make sure that this worship service, to the best of our ability is true to a Presbyterian and Anglican human in the 1700s,” she said.
With two exceptions, she noted: It was customary for 1700s Presbyterians to stand during the prayers as opposed to hymns — and that those prayers were 15 to 30 minutes long; and that there were no ordained female pastors such as herself at the time.
Holler noted that, even more deeply than the simple fact that these 13 men and boys were not afforded much of a respectful burial, that those involved in planning the service and those attending it, wanted to thank them for their courage, their convictions, and their lives.
“They deserve this celebration of the witness of the resurrection, even if it is 243 years later,” she said.
Holler said that when she spoke to a friend about the plans for the service — about how it would encompass thanks for both the men who fought for freedom and a man who fought for his king — the friend responded, “Can you think of anything more beautiful or a truer image of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the incredibly abundant grace of God than welcoming in mortal enemies at the same time.”
At the service’s end, a squadron of four F-16s roared overhead, with one heading “heavenward.”
By the time another three hours had passed, thousands of people had arrived at the longleaf pine forested Battle of Camden site for the Camden Burials ceremony. There, Bostick introduced S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster who, after a short speech, welcomed Galloway, who expressed gratefulness to South Carolina and the U.S. for not only welcoming her and her fellow British citizens, but for the care of the Fraser Highlander.
Also speaking were Todd McCaffrey whom McMaster recently named as secretary of the S.C. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Rick Wise, one of the SCBPT’s historians, who spoke about the fate that brought everyone to Camden on Saturday, so long after the Camden 14 perished.
Members of the U.S. Army brought over the 12 Continental caskets from their caissons parked on Flat Rock Road. And, as they had done at every point on Saturday, seven members of the 2nd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland carried the Fraser Highlander’s casket. Each of the 12 American flags were folded as was the British flag that had been draped over the Highlander’s casket. Each in turn was presented to 13 honorary pallbearers: South Carolina’s McMaster, Delaware’s Berry, Maryland’s Reale, McCaffrey, S.C. Adj. Gen. Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, Historic Camden Board Chair Martha Clarke, SCBPT Board of Directors President Steve Osborne, American Battlefield Trust President Emeritus O. James Lighthizer, Camden’s Drakeford, Kershaw County’s Guinn, S.C. American Revolution Sestercentennial Commission Chairman Charles Baxley of Camden, Office of Army Cemeteries Executive Karen Durham-Aguilera, and for the British flag, Col. Johnson.
Afterward, a trio of Apache helicopters thundered over the old battlefield, signaling an end to the ceremony and the three days of honor Camden, Kershaw County, South Carolina, the U.S. and the world gave to then men and boys who died there more than 242 years earlier.