Saturday, February 20, 2016

Palmetto Trail, Blackstock Battlefield Loop (Blog Hike #564)

Trail: Palmetto Trail
Hike Location: Blackstock Battlefield
Geographic Location: west of Union, SC
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2016
Overview: A short loop through a Revolutionary War battlefield and along the Tyger River.

Directions to the trailhead: Between Spartanburg and Clinton, take I-26 to SR 49 (exit 44).  Exit and go north on SR 49.  Drive SR 49 north 5.5 miles to Blackstock Road and turn left on Blackstock Rd.  There is a sign for Blackstock Battlefield at this intersection.  Drive Blackstock Rd. 1.2 miles to Monument Road and turn right on Monument Rd.  There is no sign for the battlefield at this intersection.  Drive single lane Monument Road, which is paved at first but then turns to gravel, 1.4 miles to the small Palmetto Trail parking area on the left.  There is no road sign for the parking area, but there is a large trailhead sign visible from the road.

The hike: The date was November 20, 1780 when the focus of the American Revolution turned to upstate South Carolina’s Blackstock Plantation.  Following the Patriots’ major victory at Kings Mountain the previous month, Patriot Brigadier General Thomas Sumter worked to build support in interior South Carolina.  A month later, Sumter’s efforts had resulted in a Patriot militia under his command with over 1000 members.  In an attempt to disrupt Sumter’s recruiting activity, British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis dispatched his subordinate Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who had never been defeated in battle, with 500 men to interior South Carolina.
            Despite being outnumbered 2 to 1, Tarleton’s troops had superior training and chased Sumter around South Carolina’s interior.  Sumter finally decided to make a stand at Blackstock Plantation, figuring he could use the land’s high relief and plantation’s sturdy buildings to his defensive advantage.  Although Sumter was severely wounded in the battle, his calculation proved accurate: the British took more than 150 casualties while the Patriots took only 7.  Also, Sumter’s wounding forced him to resign his command, which led General Washington to appoint Nathanael Greene as Patriot commander in the South.  Greene would be the man to ultimately lead the Patriots to victory.
            Blackstock Battlefield was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.  The plantation’s structures no longer stand today, but the area’s high relief can still be experienced on this short loop, which also takes you to the former plantation site.  This loop currently stands alone, but when fully completed the state-long Palmetto Trail will pass through the site.  This section of the Palmetto Trail will connect north to the trail’s Glenn Springs passage and south to the trail’s Enoree Passage.
Trailhead signboard at parking lot
            Two trail entrances marked by carsonite posts present themselves near the large trailhead signboard, one going straight and the other going right.  These two trails form the battlefield loop.  This trail description will start on the one going straight and return on the one going right, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  The trail heads northwest through a pine planting, climbing slightly.  The loop is marked with red paint blazes, but some of the famous yellow i-shaped blazes of the Palmetto Trail also appear here.
            In 400 feet, you cross one of many old dirt roads that criss-cross this area.  Soon you reach the edge of a bluff that is steep enough to feel like the edge of the world, an odd sight in this part of the state.  The trail descends the bluff using several switchbacks (real mountain switchbacks!) to reach the Tyger River floodplain.
Tyger River
            A Palmetto Trail camp site with picnic tables appears to the left as you approach the bank of the Tyger River, which was wide and muddy on my visit.  Upon reaching the river, the trail curves right and joins another old road to climb briefly.  Chunks of milky quartz rock, easily identified by its shiny white color, jut up on and around the trail.
            At 0.4 miles, the trail curves left to leave the old road and rejoin single-track path.  Watch for the red blazes to ensure you do not miss this turn.  For the next 0.4 miles the trail parallels the river on a fairly level track.  Thick stands of privet appear beside the trail.
            0.8 miles into the hike, the trail curves right to leave the river and head directly up the hillside.  Fortunately this hill is a lot less steep than the one you descended a few minutes ago.  Just shy of 1 mile, you come out on the edge of a meadow that used to be one of Blackstock Plantation’s fields.
Entering the meadow
            The trail curves right to follow the edge of the field.  Watch for a white metal diamond with an arrow and the word “trail” to find where the trail reenters the woods on the right, but before you exit the meadow area angle left to visit the Blackstock Battlefield monument.  The monument consists of a single stone pillar with an interpretive sign that stands near the crest of the hill on which the plantation once stood.  Imagine being a Patriot militiaman standing here with your rifle waiting for the British to emerge from the trees on the other side of the field below.
Blackstock Battlefield monument
            The gravel road that cul de sacs around the monument area is an extension of the road you drove in on, but to stay on single-track trail longer head back to the metal diamond trail marker to continue the loop.  The trail climbs moderately but only for a short distance to reach the highest elevation of the hike.  The thick pine forest prohibits any views.  A brief descent returns you to the trailhead area to complete the hike.

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