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Marion Square: Shedding light on its underground history


By Douglas Bostick


Marion Square is known to locals and visitors as the place to get locally grown vegetables in the summer, witness raptors take flight during the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition and enjoy a picnic or toss a frisbee. However, like many modern public amenities of the Holy City, the site’s history mostly lies a foot below ground:  Only a mysterious slab of gray, concrete-like material behind a modest iron fence offers a hint as to what this place once was. The marker reads:  “Remnant of Horn Work, May 1780, Siege of Charleston.” This brief text imparts little of the dramatic story behind the massive structure that once dominated the site during the American Revolution.

The “Horn Work” was a large fortification that once straddled the “Broad Path” (now King Street), just north of Charleston’s Boundary Street (now Calhoun). The name “Horn Work” is a generic term used to describe a broad fortress with a central gateway built to control the flow of traffic in and out of a town. On its east and west sides, the gate in King Street was flanked by pair of horn-like half-bastions that projected northward, away from the town. Constructed during the French and Indian War with a footprint of approximately 10 acres, Charleston’s Horn Work was the northernmost link in a chain of fortifications surrounding the peninsular capital of South Carolina.

It was designed in 1757 by Lieutenant Emanuel Hess, a Swiss engineer serving the British 60th Regiment stationed in Charleston who also designed new fortifications on James Island during his brief tenure in the city, Port Royal Island and at Dorchester, all of which were built of an oyster-shell cement called tabby and shared many design features. George Roupell, one of the local Commissioners of Fortifications, designed a decorative “gateway at the entrance into town through the Horn Work, which was approved and built in 1758. Local funding for the project was canceled in early 1759 after British victories in Canada dispelled the threat of further French offensive actions and work ceased in April of that year. 

After more than a decade of neglect, S.C. forces readied the Horn Work for service shortly after the commencement of the American Revolution in 1775. The sudden appearance of a British army under General Augustine Prevost in the spring of 1779 caused panic in Charleston, but the sight of the massive Horn Work convinced the British to withdraw and return later with a larger force. When a British force of approximately 14,000 men under the command of Gen. Henry Clinton occupied the ground north of Charleston in the spring of 1780 and commenced a protracted siege of the town, the Horn Work formed the centerpiece of the American defensive line and the headquarters of the commanding officers.

Eighteen of the defenders’ largest cannon stood on an elevated platform and fired through embrasures in the Horn Work’s northern walls — one French officer remarked that the cannon within the Horn Work fired from a height of 30 feet above the surrounding terrain. Under the direction of French engineers in early 1780, laborers enclosed the unfinished southern side of the Horn Work with a large earthen ravelin (a fortified gateway), designated by American command the tabby fortress a “place of retreat for the whole army.” Despite their heroic efforts, the garrison was overwhelmed and capitulated. Standing under the arched gateway of the Horn Work, American Generals Benjamin Lincoln and William Moultrie personally surrendered the Horn Work and the town to British Gen. Henry Clinton and Gen. Alexander Leslie on May 12, 1780. 

Following the conclusion of the war in 1783, S.C.’s state government ceded the Horn Work and other urban fortifications to the newly incorporated city of Charleston and in 1784 the city paid laborers to demolish its tabby walls to make room for expanding development. Some portions of the Horn Work’s northeastern curtain line, including the slab now standing in Marion Square, escaped destruction by serving as partition walls between newly subdivided residential lots on the east side of King Street.

In 1833, the city of Charleston sold the six-acre public square to the Fourth Brigade of the S.C. Militia to be used as a military parade ground and public mall in perpetuity. The state legislature authorized the creation of the S.C. Military Academy In 1842 which was housed in the state-owned arsenal and guard house (now the Embassy Suites Hotel). The Fourth Brigade of the S.C. Militia allowed The Citadel to use their parade ground (then known as Citadel Square). By 1865, only one small remnant of the Horn Work at Citadel Square remained standing. 

In 1882, the city renamed Citadel Square in honor of Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion, and in 1883 the sole remnant of the Horn Work was enclosed inside a protective iron fence. As the city slowly transformed Marion Square from a military parade ground to a public park in the 20th century, the modest slab of tabby was protected, but rarely regarded. Although it no longer served exclusively as a parade ground, Marion Square is now owned by the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards, the only remaining units that formerly made up the Fourth Brigade of South Carolina Militia.

Today, Marion Square visitors can experience history in a new way. This spring, after the conclusion of several years of research by a variety of partners, the American Battlefield Trust unveiled 32 bronze plates that follow the path of the Revolutionary War Horn Work, each marker sharing a part of the story of this large fortification built in 1758 to defend the state’s oldest port city. The experience will expand this summer through the use of augmented reality (AR). Visitors will be able to see a digital recreation of the Horn Work and events that took place there nearly 250 years ago.

The Marion Square markers are the most recent addition to The Liberty Trail, an innovative driving route and heritage tourism initiative designed to connect key Revolutionary War battlefields throughout the Palmetto State.

For more information on The Liberty Trail initiative, including historic background and a list of those sites that are part of the Initial Phase of the project, visit or

download The Liberty Trail Mobile Tour app from the Apple Store or Google Play. As The Liberty Trail takes shape, partners, friends and history enthusiasts are invited to follow its progress on social media using the hashtag #TheLibertyTrail.


Remembering Doug Bostick


The Charleston Mercury is honored to be able to remember our friend Doug Bostick as we continue to converse about one of Doug’s favorite topics:  the American Revolution and South Carolina’s important role therein. Doug passed away on October 24 of last year and was the executive director and CEO of the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust.

When we write about our friend and place his name near the history he loved, he lives among us and in our hearts. Rest in peace, old friend. — Charles W. Waring


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