Out in the boondocks of southwestern York County, near what seems like nowhere, this weekend there is a tangible, visible feeling that you are somewhere.
That something special happened on the ground on which anybody can stand and watch people, who in regular life fix computers or sell insurance, shoot each other dead.
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It is a spot that helped make America.
In the grass of the place stood a man and wife Friday, the very first ones out there at the Revolutionary War site. The man sweated under a real canvas tent, held by stout hemp ropes. The tent poles were rough pine. The man quit his job a few years ago, dropped everything, so that he could stand on this very spot.
“My great-grandfather five times over – great, great, great, great, great – his name was Merrill, he fought with Colonel Bratton right here in this battle,” said Dave Gillespie. “He may have walked through the door of the Bratton home. He fought here. He helped make this country. And to be here, where it happened, and be a part of it, it just buckles your knees.”
Gillespie, from Pickens County, left his job and with his wife started a business of making and restoring gravestones from that era, and traveling to sell period books and crafts too. In 2013, the age of phones that can talk and take pictures and give directions, he is stonecutter circa 1780.
And more, he spends much of his life going up and down the Eastern seaboard and Midwest, to battle sites that forged America in the Revolutionary War.
Just like the site in York County he stands on now.
Today and Sunday, out at Historic Brattonsville 15 miles southwest of Rock Hill, is the annual re-enactment of the 1780 Battle of Huck’s Defeat. Capt. Christian Huck led the British loyalists against the Patriots who wanted independence. Huck had burned and pillaged his way across the backcountry of South Carolina, putting preachers in gallows, burning crops and homes, and generally becoming the worst rotten scoundrel in state history up to that point.
Until about 140 Patriots ambushed Huck’s men on July 12, 1780, and kicked the tar out of them in a rout.
And thankfully for anybody who likes baseball instead of cricket, coffee instead of tea, cold beer instead of warm beer, the British were thrashed. Colonel Christian Huck, well, Huck not only lost but he got killed. So did another 30 redcoats, but just one of the “good guys” was killed in the surprise attack.
The Patriots went on to larger victories at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, other parts of the colonies that changed the war from a loser to a winner.
On Friday, truck after car, SUV after van pulled into York County’s Brattonsville site, run by York County’s Culture and Heritage Museums. Re-enactors and visitors come from as far away as Florida, Georgia and Virginia.
“You learn history in a book, but this weekend, people live it, watch it, experience it,” said Jason Luker, who helps run the Brattonsville site and this weekend’s battle re-enactments. “They can even be a part of it, participate in it. Many of them, they eat what people ate then, wear what they wore, live for the weekend just like people did back then.”
Today and Sunday, people who not only study history but live it and breathe it and work in it will show what life was really like at the time of the battle. A couple hundred hardy souls will participate in the battle, ride the horses or rush toward destiny, and fall to the ground with fake wounds from old muskets and bayonets.
The re-enactment this year has taken on an even larger historic significance, as in late June and early July tens of thousands of people descended on Gettysburg, Pa., for re-enactments of the battle that changed the Civil War 150 years ago.
And just last September, after years of research, York County historians found out the exact spot of the Huck’s defeat battle.
The Huck’s defeat re-enactment is from the Revolutionary War – British colonials versus the Americans who would forge a new country if they won, or be hung from the gallows if they lost.
Near the old Bratton home, where Col. William Bratton lived and fought this important battle, a couple from Indian Land in Lancaster County named Mel and Beth Kemt set up their campsite for the weekend. The battles are great, and exciting, but it is the history that draws them more.
The rough shoes the couple wear, the boots, are the same as back in 1780. The scratchy clothes, the handmade plates and utensils, the campfire, the hardscrabble country food cooked over an open fire.
“This tent is no different than the tent the Patriots used to camp here,” Mel Kemt said. “We try to be authentic with just about everything. We think all the time about what those courageous people stood for, the Patriots. They risked everything for freedom.”
It all happened right there where the Kemts were first to camp and others started arriving by the carload.
Beth Kemt said the history of the battle spot and Brattonsville, the importance to America, is something that draws them each year along with so many others.
“This very spot is part of the history of our country,” she said.