History of the Horn Work and the Siege of Charleston

Press Release from our friends at American Battlefield Trust and their Liberty Trail Initiative

In 1757, during the French and Indian War, Lieutenant Emanuel Hess, a Swiss engineer serving in the British 60th Regiment of Foot, designed a series of fortifications to surround Charles Town, South Carolina. Central to this plan was Charles Town’s Horn Work, a large gate flanked by horn-shaped half-bastions covering three city blocks. Before this plan could be fully executed, the threat of a French attack on Charles Town was contained by British victories in Canada and funding for building the fortification system was withdrawn.

However, the Revolutionary War brought a new threat to Charles Town — this time from the British, and work to fortify the city was resumed by determined Patriots. The Horn Work, with its 30-foot-high walls constructed from an oyster-shell cement called tabby, became the centerpiece of the city’s defensive line and the headquarters for American commanding officers.

Beginning in late March 1780, the British laid siege to Charles Town and trapped the American forces in the city. On May 12, 1780, American Generals Benjamin Lincoln and William Moultrie — standing under the Horn Work’s arched gateway — surrendered to the British, in what was the largest American surrender of the war. The fight for American independence looked bleak on that day, but the resolve of the Patriots in the coming months would turn the tide toward victory.

Modern-Day Archeology

In the years following the Revolutionary War, the tabby walls of the Horn Work were dismantled to make way for the growth of the city. Today, all that remains above ground of the once towering structure is a small remnant in Charleston’s Marion Square — a vibrant urban park located in the heart of downtown Charleston and named for Revolutionary War general and backcountry tactician, Francis Marion. Yet, just a foot under the surface of Marion Square, there is much more to discover about the Horn Work.

In February of this year, graduate students from the Clemson/College of Charleston Historic Preservation program, working on behalf of the American Battlefield Trust and South Carolina Battleground Trust’s Liberty Trail, commenced an archeological study to fully document the exact footprint of the Horn Work for the first time. This study was undertaken in partnership with many organizations, including the Charleston County Library, the Charleston Museum, the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Washington Light Infantry and Sumter Guards.

More than 250 years after work began to build the Horn Work, these graduate students utilized modern technology, including ground penetrating radar, to ensure the protection of this important historic resource and enhance future endeavors to tell its story.

Charleston Gateway

While no period drawings or plans of the Horn Work are known to have survived, the findings of this archeological study, together with historical research on comparable tabby fortifications built in the same area and time by the same engineer, have made it possible to create a rendering of the Horn Work for the first time. With this rendering complete, we are now able to explore a variety of opportunities to interpret the Horn Work in the very place it once stood.

Our goal is to create an outdoor exhibit in Marion Square utilizing an array of interpretive techniques, including physical signage, in-ground markers tracing the footprint of the Horn Work, and Augmented Reality — all designed to bring the Horn Work and the Siege of Charleston to life for visitors. Augmented Reality, in particular, presents a chance to use cutting-edge 21st Century technology to tell this 18th Century story.

Just as the Horn Work was the gateway into Charleston before and during the Revolutionary War, we now seek to create a gateway into the Liberty Trail through Marion Square, which will encourage visitation to battlefields throughout South Carolina and beyond.

For more information on this subject, click here.

Thank you to Catherine Noyes, Liberty Trail Program Director for bringing this to our attention,

This entry was posted in Emerging Revolutionary War, Memory, Preservation, Revolutionary War and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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