Cayce has a rich history and does a good job of explaining its past.
You can learn a lot at Cayce Historical Museum, you can check out the wayside exhibits along the Cayce Riverwalk, or you can take virtual history tours offered through the 12,000 Year History Park. I love the museum, but for the purposes of this blog, we’ll focus on the wayside exhibits and the history tours, which before Covid 19 were walking tours on the Timmerman Trail. Hopefully, they will return to the outdoors soon.
During the summer, new wayside exhibits were installed on the 12,000 Year History Park Trail (also known as the Timmerman Trail), telling the story of the Civil War Battle of Congaree Creek. They were installed in a collaborative effort between the City of Cayce, The River Alliance, South Carolina State Museum and the Central Carolina Community Foundation. The new exhibits bring the total along that two-mile loop of trail to 23, along with one South Carolina Historical Marker.
The exhibits stick to the facts, based on eye-witness reports of the battle. The pain and suffering isn’t ignored. Panels filled with diary entries stress the horrors of Civil War combat. Battle reports indicate seven Union and 33 Confederate soldiers died in the skirmish on Feb. 15, 1865. Many more were injured.
The Confederates had been expecting for months to confront Union troops coming up State Road from the Lowcountry. The region where curvy Congaree Creek empties into the Congaree River seemed an ideal choke point, and enslaved or free African-Americans were conscripted to build an earthworks on the north bank of the creek on either side of the well-traveled road. But Union troops flanked the earthworks and crossed the flooded creek in a four-hour battle before the remaining Confederate soldiers were forced to pull back. Columbia fell two days later.
The wayside exhibits explain the strategy and timeline of the battle along a creek, which follows much the same path as 150 years ago. Incredibly, the earthworks remain intact, though no doubt worn down by time and floods. Large trees have put down roots in the mound. The exhibits also discuss the armaments used by either side, what the landscape looked like at the time of the battle and how modern archaeology has helped fill in historical details.
A National Park Service cultural resource study completed in 2014 is a great source for information on the battle as well as the land’s rich pre-Civil War history. Archaeology digs indicate indigenous people began gathering near where the creek meets the river around 12,000 years ago. One of the earliest European settlements in the interior of the state, Saxe Gotha, was a mile or so upstream. Later, the community of Granby and various versions of Fort Congaree were built in the general vicinity.
Michael Fey, director of exhibits at the State Museum, relied on the cultural resource study and other documentation in creating the wayside exhibits. With a wealth of information, the goal was to highlight what’s going to interest the most people. A topic had a better chance of making the cut if it can be depicted in images or maps. Fortunately, the art work created for the NPS cultural resource study was available.
Former NPS archaeologist John Jameson as well as experts from the State Museum and the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum provided the content, and Fey edited it tightly to fit the signs, to be entertaining as well as educational, and to be easily understood by an eighth-grade-level student. Similar exhibits tell the story of the Columbia Canal at Riverfront Park and the Saluda River canal and bridge at the Saluda Riverwalk. All totaled, there are nearly 80 wayside exhibits along the greenway trails.
About half of the wayside exhibits along the 12,000 Year History Trail deal with the Civil War battle. The others delve into indigenous residents, medicinal plants, the important deerskin trade of the 1700s and the early forts and settlements in the area. (If you’re compulsive about chronological order, the way the exhibits jump from topic to topic and period to period as you walk the trail loop might get under your skin.)
All together, they touch on several chapters in the S.C. History textbooks used in state schools. In the past, volunteers have led tours for class field trips, but in today’s environment, local teachers might want to offer extra credit for students who walk or bike the trail with their families and later answer questions based on the exhibits.
Jameson now works as a consultant with Cayce on the 12,000 Year History Park, which eventually will include a visitors center on Fort Congaree Trail. He and knowledgeable volunteers have led walking history and biology tours along the greenway for several years. But with Covid 19 restrictions on gatherings, the decision was made to offer the tours virtually this fall.
If you’re just finding out about the tours, you’ve missed the first two of this season. But there are three more, on Dec. 8, 10 and 15. Go here for links to registration. With his background with the National Park Service, Jameson makes history fun and easy to understand.
As always, if you have questions about this blog, I’ll respond to comments left on this site or sent to holl[email protected].