by William Moultrie
Washington, D.C. – The nation’s capitol is in full preparation mode this week as the annual Carolina Day celebration is fast approaching. The national mall is being cordoned off, the fireworks displays are being prepared, and South Carolina’s eight-member congressional delegation is being fitted for their ceremonial robes and tri-corner hats.
“I am honored to be presiding over the Carolina Day parade this year,” said President Obama, “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a young boy to stand on the platform at the corner of South Carolina Ave. and 6th St., SE and salute as those brave congressmen and congressional staffers march by in full costume. Frankly, I’ve always thought the Fourth of July festivities the following week were always a letdown.”
This year’s activities will mark the 233rd anniversary of the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, the first decisive victory by the colonies over the British.
Fortunately, the years have been kind to this holiday, and it hasn’t been forgotten by the public, history teachers, politicians, or even South Carolinians themselves. It would have been easy for scholars to minimize the role South Carolina played in the forming of the United States, especially in textbooks written following the Civil War where the state played an equally pivotal, but ultimately ill-advised and unsuccessful role.
Thousands of Americans from around the country are expected to line the parade route.
“I can’t wait till the parade next week,” said seven-year-old Cindy Chatman of Boise, Idaho. “Mommy says I can paint my face like the flag with the palmetto tree and the crescent just like I did last year.”
In addition to the parade on June 28, Government offices around the country will be observing the federal holiday on Monday, June 29. In South Carolina, state offices will be closed for the entire week between Carolina Day and Independence day, but trash pickup will continue as usual.
Outside of the events in Washington, the biggest celebration will be on Sullivans Island. There will be the usual demonstrations of muskets and fortifications, but the highlight of the day is always the Sinking of the Ship, scheduled to take place just after sunset on Sunday near Ft. Moultrie.
“It’s one of the most beautiful sights,” said Flora Cowpens, a longtime Sullivans Island resident. “To see that ship sailing into the harbor, heading towards Charleston… then all of the sudden they set off some fireworks and she sinks to the bottom. It brings a tear to my eye every time.”
The ship-sinking finale commemorates the British ship that was destroyed in the battle. The inclusion of live, unsuspecting British citizens has been somewhat controversial, but is largely accepted as necessary.
“It’s been getting more and more difficult to get the English tourists to go out on that boat every year,” said Wesley Chambers, Director of this year’s festival. “The first couple of years we did the ship thing it was easy, we just handed out free tickets to a ‘Harbor Cruise’ to anyone with an English accent, but they started to catch on. This year, it’s actually a cruise we organized months ago to ferry British nationals from Bermuda to Charleston — it’s going to be great, they have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Last year all of the British ship passengers survived.
On 28 June a British fleet with eleven ships and an invasion force of twenty-nine hundred regulars and marines launched an ill-planned assault on the unfinished palmetto log and sand fort on Sullivan’s Island.
At the end of the day the British withdrew in disarray. American casualties were light in what was a tremendous victory of both the British army and navy.
– “South Carolina: A History” by Walter Edgar. p. 227
The Battle and victory were real. Carolina Day is real. The national acclaim and recognition, alas, is not. There is much speculation about how much South Carolina’s role in the Revolutionary War was downplayed in history texts that were written after the Civil War, but the fact remains that South Carolina was the site of significant victories and had a large role in winning our country’s independence.