Remains of America’s first veterans who died at the Battle of Camden in 1780 during the Revolutionary War have been unearthed less than 6 inches (15 cm) below the surface.
Investigators found a total of 14 individuals, 12 of the bodies are Patriot Continental soldiers from Maryland or Delaware, one is a loyalist from North Carolina and the last served with the British 71st Regiment of Foot.
The large amount of remains is rare, experts say, and will reveal the ages, diet and health of soldiers during this epic war.
The bodies of Americans found at the scene also belonged to those who continued to fight during the battle, which was one of the worst defeats the military had witnessed, as many of their fellow soldiers fled to the site of British bayonets.
Researchers have unearthed remains of 14 soldiers who died during the 1780 Battle of Camden in South Carolina. About 13 of the bodies were Americans and one fought for the British Army
The Battle of Camden was the worst defeat Americans have experienced in the field, and it gave the British temporary control of the southern colonies, including Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.
At least 900 Americans died in the battle on August 16, with more than 1,000 captured.
After the capture of Charleston, South Carolina in May 1780, British forces under General Charles Lord Cornwallis established a supply depot and fort in Camden with the aim of taking control of the South Carolina hinterland – Camden was the oldest and largest city at the time.
Some remains were found just six inches below the surface, suggesting their final resting place is where they died fighting
Camden (located by the star) is a backcountry town in North Carolina and one of the oldest in the state
The Battle of Camden was one of the worst defeats experienced by the United States military during the Revolutionary War. At least 900 were killed and more than 1,000 captured
The Americans, led by Major General Haratio Gates, marched into South Carolina two months later to liberate the state from British control.
News of their arrival quickly spread to Cornwallis, who prepared his soldiers for battle and met his opponent at Camden.
After a brief skirmish, Gates formed his men for battle, but made a critical error in his deployment.
According to the custom of 18th century warfare, the most experienced units were placed on the right side of the line.
The Americans lose through a mistake of their general who pitted inexperienced soldiers against the most experience in the British army. Shown is a recent view of the battlefield
The team discovered other artifacts while excavating the remains, including musket flint (pictured), which lit the fire of a small cannon
Gates placed the Maryland and Delaware Line veterans on the right, but Cornwallis died the same way, but since they faced each other, Gates had the most inexperienced Virginia soldiers on the left.
However, the Virginia group immediately fled when they saw the British extend their bayonets, leaving the rest of the Americans in position to quickly collapse.
However, the continental regulars from Maryland and Delaware withstood the attack, which is why researchers believe the remains belong to men from this group.
Doug Bostick, CEO, South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust (SCIAA), said in a statement: “These young men have shown their allegiance in an intense fight for freedom. They are truly America’s first veterans.
“We have a responsibility to honor their sacrifice by ensuring that their remains are protected forever and that their stories of bravery are shared.”
The team discovered other artifacts while excavating the remains, including musket flint and musket balls.
Fragments of musket balls were also found, some of which were used by the French army coming to the aid of the Americans
SCIAA archaeologist James Legg has researched the Camden battlefield for over 40 years and led the field team on site.
“People visit battlefields like Camden, Cowpens and Kings Mountain every day and don’t often think they’re walking in unmarked cemeteries. The dead are still there,” Legg noted.
“The work we do pays tribute to their sacrifice by shedding light on details not yet documented in the historical record and providing them with decently marked graves for the contemplation of visitors to the battlefield.”
While the Battle of Camden gave the British army a head start in the south, things started to crumble a few months later when patriots from the hinterland banded together to attack British Army supply trains, particularly those under Cornwallis.
Confederate patriot militiamen proved their growing strength against loyalist forces at the decisive Battle of King’s Mountain in backcountry North Carolina in October 1780, which gave America one of the first major victories in the South since 1778.
And from this struggle, the Americans began to take back the southern colonies one by one.
In October 1781, Cornwallis’ army fell in an attack at Yorktown, Virginia, against American forces led by George Washington, and French troops were also on their side.
America’s cavalry had finally crossed the Atlantic from France, forcing Cornwallis to surrender on October 9.