Posted by: Kirsten | Sunday, 30 November 2008

Tarheels held their ground at Moores Creek

Moores Creek National Battlefield is one of those out-of-the-way parks you might’ve never known existed unless you’re a true blue North Carolinian.  Chances are you won’t be driving by on the interstate and see a big brown sign that says Moores Creek NB — exit here.  No, you need to plan your route carefully to get anywhere near this NPS unit.  For us, we were headed home to Maryland from five days in coastal South Carolina.  The fastest way home was up U.S. 17, then to I-40 west, then I-95 north the rest of the way home.  But a slight detour onto U.S. 421 north got us within three miles of the park, and heck, when you’re that close, you just gotta stop, right?

I knew the park was small and visitation was sure to be light.  After all, it was also the day after Thanksgiving and most people on the roads were driving hundreds of miles as fast as possible to get home. We got to the parking lot and except for two vehicles driven by NPS employees, it was deserted. We walked into the visitor center to view the park orientation video, and the ranger on duty actually seemed relieved to see us.  Must’ve been a slow day so far. We watched the very well-made film (better than many other battlefield parks with more nationally well-known events), viewed the well-designed exhibits, then headed out to the loop trail to see the field of battle.

The walkway started out as a very springy, rubberized trackway that you might have seen on a modern playground.  Walking on this surface actually felt GOOD as we strolled through the longleaf pine forest.  After a while the walkway reverted to hard-as-rock asphalt and finally boardwalk once we got to the swampy/creeky area.  The boardwalk crosses the creek away from but within sight of the bridge, and gives you good insight into the swampiness all around that would necessitate using the only bridge for safe crossing.  Cypress trees dominate here, and cypress “knees” (modified roots) pop up from the muck like little pointy-hatted garden gnomes, allowing the cypress to “breathe” during higher water levels.

Once on the far side of the creek, you are walking where the British Loyalists walked, approaching the bridge in the direction of the visitor center (and in 1776, toward the Patriots’ well-entrenched forces).  The bridge was partially dismantled by the Patriots to make crossing difficult, and its condition also sealed the Loyalists’ fate as they realized they were outnumbered, outgunned, and out of options.  Charging into the fray with nothing but pikes and broadswords wasn’t the smartest of ideas either!

Today the bridge is in fine shape, although it’s had a tumultuous history, with neglect, bad choice of materials/design, and bad weather contributing to a succession of new and destroyed bridges over the years.  As you cross southward you see the 1930s version of what the earthworks might have looked like — the actual location of the originals is unknown — at least for now. 

I won’t tell you every detail of how the battle unfolded, but I will say that I arrived not expecting much, and left very satisfied that our entire family left a lot smarter and with a much better appreciation of what transpired south of the Mason-Dixon line during the Revolutionary War.  We even learned where the Tarheels got their nickname!  And although these Patriot soldiers weren’t called Tarheels in their day (that name didn’t “stick” to North Carolina soldiers until the Civil War era), they certainly held their ground and set the precedent for future sons of North Carolina to proudly follow.

Travel note: Despite my overly dramatic opening pessimism, anyone heading east on I-40 toward Wilmington/Cape Fear Nat’l Seashore or points north headed south toward the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area can easily make a slight detour to hit this park.  Check the park’s website for directions and maps.

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