12 of America's First Heroes to Be Reburied in South Carolina

The Revolutionary War soldiers lost their lives at the Battle of Camden
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 15, 2023 8:40 AM CDT
12 of America's First Heroes to Be Reburied in South Carolina
Forensic anthropologists, archeologists and volunteers prepare the remains of an unidentified Revolutionary War soldier killed in the Battle of Camden in 1780 for reburial on Thursday, March 30, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina.   (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

The 12 US soldiers died in a pine forest in South Carolina in 1780, their bodies hastily buried beneath a thin layer of soil as their comrades fled from the British who appeared ready to put a quick and brutal end to the American Experiment. But later this month, the carefully gathered and studied remains of the dozen unknown soldiers are getting a proper memorial and burial where they fell on the Camden battlefield. It's part of the ongoing 250th anniversary commemorations of the Revolutionary War, which historians hope will highlight history that unites instead of divides, reports the AP.

Several of the fallen were teenagers, and one had a musket ball in his spine. Their names may soon be discovered through DNA testing and genealogy. However, there are limits to what can be discovered. Time took its toll on the bodies. Bones that didn't decompose to dust were scattered by wild animals, souvenir hunters, and a mid-1900s farmer growing watermelons. Some of the remains showed scars from plows or other equipment. "For a lot of these people, we were not able to ascertain their exact cause of death. The skeletons are very fragmented," said Madeline Atwell, a deputy coroner and forensic anthropologist with the Richland County Coroner's Office.

Atwell's office has spent several months helping other archeologists carefully dig up the soil at the site. When remains were found, they were draped in a US flag and a veteran escorted them to a truck. The remains have been X-rayed, tested, and meticulously cataloged. They are now being prepared for a reburial ceremony worthy of what historians are calling America's first heroes. It'll take place in South Carolina from April 20-22. The soldiers will be honored at the national cemetery at Columbia's Fort Jackson Army basic training base before heading on a 20-mile procession to Camden. They will lie in state for two days before horse-drawn caissons carry them back to their resting places.

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These soldiers are the lucky ones—they can be remembered. Many of the 900 killed in the Battle of Camden on August, 16, 1780—one of the most disastrous battles for the US—were left above ground, where wild animals and South Carolina’s heat and humidity removed any trace of them within a few years. But it was a turning point. The Continental Congress followed George Washington's recommendation and appointed Nathanael Greene to take over the Southern armies. In a little more than a year, Greene's forces pushed the British north into Virginia, eventually trapping them with French help at Yorktown, effectively winning the Revolutionary War. (The AP has much more on the story here.)

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