CAMDEN, S.C. -- Clothed in a linen hunting shirt, deerskin moccasins and a wide-brimmed hat with feathers, Ed Grossheim transformed himself into a man he likes to call "Edmund Gundy," a colonial militiaman who witnessed the earliest days of this nation.
A short, loud pop gave onlookers a start as Grossheim fired a replica colonial musket into the open space of the Historic Camden site Saturday. He described life in the Carolina backcountry and on the Southern Campaign trail, where brave militiamen played a critical role in capturing American freedom.
More than two centuries ago, 2,200 frightened, volunteer Southern militiamen, who easily may have resembled Grossheim's Gundy persona, fled the battlefield in Camden at the sight of the British army approaching.
Left to fend for themselves, their fellow soldiers in the organized Continental Army fell to British forces. It would be one of the last blows to the Patriots during their mostly successful Southern Campaign that eventually sealed the colonials' victory in the Revolutionary War.
These were America's first veterans, and they deserve more credit than they often receive, said Joanna Craig, director of Historic Camden.
The 234th anniversary of the Battle of Camden and those who fought were honored Saturday with a day of learning and remembrance.
"If you don't know where you've been, you don't know where you're going," said Sheila Glover, of Blue Ridge, Ga., who was in Camden visiting her family. "And quite frankly, we don't know how thankful we should be for what our ancestors did."
Glover's grandson, 5-year-old Edwards Graham, of Camden, beamed as he posed for a photo with Grossheim and his musket. Edwards's parents bring him and younger his sister to the site occasionally, Glover said, and he enjoys watching the annual battle re-enactment, which will be held in November this year.
Drawing people to the Historic Camden site helps make learning about history fun, especially for kids, Craig said. On Saturday, folks were able to tour the historic Kershaw House, which served as British headquarters while the town was garrisoned during the Revolutionary War, as well as dress up in traditional colonial frocks and play period games, such as "cup ball" and hoop rolling.
The day also featured a wreath-laying ceremony at the Camden Battlefield, honoring those who died in battle on Aug. 16, 1780, about eight miles from what is now downtown Camden.
"Every time I go up there (to the battle site), I think, 'Thank you, guys,'" Craig said. "'You did it. You gave your lives to make this nation great. To make this nation, period.'"