Unlike most historic battlefields in South Carolina , the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site (803/432-9841, www.historic-camden.net , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 1–5 p.m., free) commemorates a British victory. In this “Empire Strikes Back” scenario, American General Horatio Gates, hero of the Battle of Saratoga, and his combined force of Continental troops and untrained militia met a large British force from Charleston  under the command of Lord Cornwallis, better known to history for surrendering to George Washington at Yorktown several years later.
However, Cornwallis had the last laugh this August day in 1780. When the overconfident American troops attacked at daybreak, his redcoat veterans counterattacked with a bayonet charge. Gates’s militia panicked and fled the field of battle, some without firing a shot. Gates accompanied his men on their ignominious flight, during which at least 1000 were killed. Because of the scale and circumstances of the rout, Camden was the worst American defeat of the Revolution.
Despite the unhappy ending for the home team, you’ll get a lot for your sightseeing buck here, though much of it fairly low-key. The 107-acre “outdoor museum” includes the town site of Camden , the oldest inland city in South Carolina. Sprinkled around the grounds are a variety of restored historic buildings, such as the 1785 John Craven House, the 1830 Cunningham House, and the grand Joseph Kershaw mansion (Lord Cornwallis’s headquarters). There’s also a half-mile nature trail.
One caveat: This is not the actual battle site, which is several miles away and largely uninterpreted. What you get here is meant to give background and flavor rather than an up close-and-personal look at the actual fighting. To get to the actual battlefield, go north from Historic Camden about seven miles on Highway 521, then take a left onto Flat Rock Road. The marker commemorating the battle is about two miles up on the right.
You can choose self-guided tours or an assortment of guided tours, such as the full guided tour ($5 adults, $3 ages 6–17, under 6 free) or a tour of the Kershaw-Cornwallis headquarters mansion ($3.50 adults, $1 ages 6–17, under 6 free), the main historic building on-site. Tours leave Tuesdays–Fridays at 10:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3 p.m.; hourly on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.–4 p.m.; and hourly on Sundays 1–3 p.m.
Though the battle was in the heat of a Carolina summer, the first weekend in November from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. you can experience a full-on, black powder reenactment of the battle near the Kershaw-Cornwallis House, in a more favorable climate.