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Cowpens National Battlefield Invites Visitors to Enjoy a Backcountry Holiday at the Scruggs House


Cowpens visitors get drill instruction during the Backcountry Holiday at the Robert Scruggs House. NPS photo.

In addition to the site of a famous Revolutionary War battle, Cowpens National Battlefield preserves the 1828 Robert Scruggs House. The “Backcountry Holiday” that the park hosts at the Scruggs House each November entertains and educates visitors of all ages.

Cowpens National Battlefield is located in rural Spartanburg County, South Carolina. It was here at the “Cow Pens” pasturing area on January 17, 1781, that American Brigadier General Daniel Morgan used a double envelopment strategy – the first and only use of this tactic in the entire war -- to defeat a British force under Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton (aka “Bloody Tarelton”). Cowpens was one of the Revolutionary War’s most important battles. Coming on the heels of a decisive defeat at Kings Mountain the previous October, this unexpected defeat pretty much sealed the fate of Cornwallis’ army, which surrendered at Yorktown just nine months later.

Cowpens was established as a national battlefield site in 1929, transferred from the War Department in 1933, redesignated in 1972, expanded several times, and now consists of 842 acres containing a visitor center (with movie, museum, and /bookstore), historic house, picnic area, nature trail, 1.3-mile battlefield trail, and three mile auto tour loop. The parking lot/trailhead for the battlefield trail (and start of the auto tour loop) offers access to the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

The above-mentioned historic house, the Robert Scruggs House, is situated within a quarter-mile of the battlefield but isn’t otherwise associated with the Battle of Cowpens. The little log structure (“house” is an exaggeration) was built in 1828, nearly half a century after the battle. The Scruggs House is nevertheless one of the park’s important historical resources. Few structures from the early 1800s still exist in the South Carolina upcountry, and this one has been restored, is easy to get to, and is open to the public (as scheduled).

An historical marker at the site provides this spare information about the house and it’s original occupants:

Robert Scruggs married Catherine Connell, and in 1828 his father, Richard Scruggs, gave them 200 acres of land. They had eleven children and added onto the house as the family grew.

Life at the time was hard; yeomen farmers raised corn, wheat, potatoes and livestock, while their wives tended to household tasks such as spinning wool into yarn, rendering animal fat into soap and maintaining a vegetable garden.

Oddly, the park website provides almost no information about the Scruggs House. It does, however, provide highly useful hotlinks to additional sources. In 1974, the Park Service published a highly detailed historic structure report on the Scruggs House written by the eminent park historian Ed Bearss.

Visit this site for Scruggs House photos and additional information.

The Scruggs House is located on the auto tour loop road about two miles past the visitor center. Park visitors commonly stop at the site, which offers an excellent photo op. A log cabin is, after all, “history with a capital H”.

On a special day less than three weeks from now, visitors will have an even better reason to visit the Scruggs House. It’s almost time for the annual Backcountry Holiday. The Park Service has extended this invitation:

Start a new holiday tradition at Cowpens National Battlefield. On Sunday, November 22, 2009 from 2:00pm – 4:00pm, park staff and volunteers will present “A Backcountry Holiday” at the Robert Scruggs House. This 1828 log cabin will be decorated for the season and open to the public.

In addition, costumed interpreters will demonstrate and encourage participation in Colonial-era activities. Young patriots (and the young at heart) can make candles by dipping the wicks in wax melted over an open fire. Learn to churn butter. Try your hand at spinning raw wool into yarn or sit on the lawn enjoying the autumn weather while you listen to a professional storyteller. Cider and gingerbread cookies will be served behind the cabin.

Come join us at the Scruggs House at Cowpens National Battlefield on November 22nd to get a glimpse of what life was like in the early nineteenth century.

OK, so it’s a bit of a stretch to blend the concept of “Colonial-era activities” and life on a farm established long after the end of the Colonial era. But it seems to work just fine at Cowpens.

Postscript: Cowpens is on the short list of national parks I want to personally visit in 2009. Time’s running out, and this park still hasn’t been moved to the “been there, done that” side of the ledger. The Backcountry Holiday is penciled in on my calendar.

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