John Beakes, a military historian from Maryland will be the guest speaker for the Kershaw County Historical Society program Sunday at 3 p.m. in the County Council Chamber room at the Kershaw County Government Center, 515 Walnut St., Camden.
Speaking in Camden on the eve of the 235th anniversary of the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill, which was fought here, Beakes will provide overall understanding of that engagement and its significance in the Southern Campaign and the War for Independence. The meeting is open to the public.
Charles Baxley, Society Board member and scholar of the Revolution, will introduce Beakes, a historian and author of three books related to the war period, two of those books focusing on leaders in the fight on Hobkirk’s Hill, which took place on April 25, 1781.
Baxley himself often points to the "historical treasure" of a battlefield site entirely within present city limits, the direct line of march in that battle still the main street of the town. He also asserts, "That ‘hometown’ battle at Hobkirk’s Hill undeniably had national consequence."
Beakes’s accomplishments besides in research and writing are also noteworthy in other areas, including science, technology, the military, and business. He is a 1966 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and holds an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
After serving in the U.S. Navy in nuclear submarines, in 1974 Beakes began a business career of executive leadership in technology service companies. He is presently chairman of the Next Century Corporation of technological solutions.
His lifelong passion for military history was sparked in his youth by his father, who loved Civil War history and took the family on several trips to nearby Gettysburg.
When Beakes discovered that there was no published biography of John Eager Howard, outstanding Revolutionary War combat leader from Maryland, he determined to try to bring this story to life. It is now available in Cool Deliberate Courage; John Eager Howard in the American Revolution.
Beakes co-authored the book in 2009 with Dr. Jim Piecuch, whose 2006 documentary history of the Battle of Camden is a primary reference for Revolutionary study.
With his interests growing in forgotten combat leaders of the Revolution, especially those of the Maryland Line, Beakes in 2013 co-authored with Dr. Piecuch ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee in the War for Independence, and then himself completed a military biography of another notable leader, Otho Holland Williams in the American Revolution, which appeared in fall 2015.
Beakes in these projects has been helping to convey "the largely untold story of George Washington's success in building a team of outstanding military leaders from the young clerks, shopkeepers, farmers, and sons of the landed gentry who fought in the Continental Army." His talk on key players at Hobkirk’s Hill, including Howard and Williams, will touch on another Marylander, Col. John Gunby, whom Gen. Greene blamed for disaster resulting from a controversial order in the heat of the battle.
At the program the Society will make available brochures for self-guided tours of battle line positions north of Camden along Greene Street, crossing Broad and Lyttleton streets, an area where detailed signage adds on-sight information about the fight that precipitated British withdrawal thereafter from the backcountry and the Carolinas.
Also seen in the area is the Society’s signage for the lovely historic homes and gardens, now in springtime splendor, but not in existence in any way in 1781 when the site was "merely a huge sandpile with pine trees hovering over a swamp," in the words of Baxley. Guides to historic home sites, largely from the 1800s, may also be purchased at the program, along with illustrated books of the homes. Speaker Beakes will also have his books available for purchase and signing.
Refreshments and conversation will accompany opportunities to examine books. At conclusion of the program, attendees may enjoy taking self-guided driving tours of the sites they have learned about.
Work of the Kershaw County Historical Society in identifying, marking, writing about, and educating the public about historic sites and their preservation has been significant throughout the county since the mid-1900s when the group organized. A successful new-membership campaign added to their ranks last month, and memberships remain open to interested persons on payment of dues. Dues may be paid at meetings or by mail, as well as via a new link for online payments which has been added to the Society’s Facebook and web pages.