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CROSSING INTO THE VIRTUAL

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, Members of the Sons of the American Revolution show off a replica ferry boat patterned after those used to transport Gen. Nathanael Greene’s forces across the Dan. The ferry boat is being displayed in the parking lot of the South Boston-Halifax County Museum. Darryl Addington, above, representing of the Sons of the American Revolution of North Carolina, appeared in period costume for the Zoom celebration of the 240th anniversary of the Crossing of the Dan. (Liza Fulton photos)
SoVaNow.com / February 22, 2021



Saturday’s 240th commemoration of the Crossing of the Dan brought the unveiling of a new historical exhibit at the South Boston-Halifax County Museum explaining the Revolutionary War maneuver which helped to set the stage for British surrender at Yorktown.

The Crossing of the Dan anniversary celebration, held this year via Zoom due to the pandemic, drew the attention of history buffs around the nation who participated virtually. The Crossing of the Dan has been designated a Tier 1 event by the Sons of the American Revolution, elevating it to a SARs status shared by better-known battles such as Yorktown and Ramsour’s Mill.

Viewers joined the celebration from their homes dressed in 1780s-era apparel. Several saluted wreathes to honor their ancestors who fought in the American Revolution.

The Crossing of the Dan exhibit has been moved from The Prizery to the museum and expanded to more fully explain the history of the winter river crossing by American troops under the command of Gen. Nathanael Greene, thwarting the dogged pursuit by British troops. The expanded exhibit was completed “on time and on budget,” said museum president Paul Smith.

A ribbon cutting ceremony led off the Crossing of the Dan virtual celebration. South Boston Mayor Ed Owens and Halifax County Administrator Scott Simpson had the honor of welcoming the public to the exhibit’s new home at the museum.

“I welcome you all to come and enjoy the rich history of our community,” said Simpson to viewers on the Zoom call.

The South Boston-Halifax County Museum of Fine Arts and History promotes and preserves local history without charging an admission fee, due to the generosity of the Town of South Boston and Halifax County. Smith recognized museum director Jennifer Bryant for her hard work and successful efforts on the design to showcase the history of the Crossing of the Dan.

“We are delighted to find a new permanent home for the exhibit,” said Halifax Historical Society President Barbara Bass.

Guest speaker Mike Cecere joined the celebration from Williamsburg. Cecere is author of numerous books on Virginia’s Revolutionary War experience. Cecere is teacher, lecturer, and historical interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg, where he lives and grows tobacco.

Although organizers concede the virtual event isn’t how they planned to mark the 240th anniversary of the Feb. 15, 1781 river crossing, the format did allow participation from as far away as California. “Isn’t technology wonderful to be able to celebrate with people from all over the states?” said Anne Raab, speaking on behalf of the Berryman Greene Chapter, Virginia Daughters of American Revolution.

Saturday was not the first time Cecere has keynoted the annual observance — about five years ago, Cecere offered remarks and then led a crew of historical reenactors in a ferryboat crossing of the Dan River amid driving snow. “Everyone was so happy saying this is a Greene kind of day,” said Raab, recalling how the ferry boatmen had “a wonderful time” replicating the war tactic under realistic weather conditions.

In his Zoom talk Saturday, Cecere hailed the importance of the Crossing of the Dan as a turning point in the American effort to defeat the British Gen. Cornwallis. The race to the Dan River began after American forces achieved decisive victory in the Battle of the Cowpens in South Carolina, executed by a small wing of Greene’s army led by Daniel Morgan.

Although the battle was won, the Continental army remained in a precarious position — undermanned, undernourished and under pressure from a British army that was stung by defeat. British forces were determined to hunt down the patriot army and teach it a lesson.

“Imagine being in their position with anxiety, uncertainty of troops, and little food,” said Cecere of Greene’s army, noting the historical literature that refers to soldiers as naked due to a lack of clothing.

Without infantry support in North Carolina, Greene decided that crossing the Dan River was the best option to achieve separation from the British. After a long and dangerous march through North Carolina, with many skirmishes along the way, Greene’s army was able to reach safety in Halifax County, gaining reinforcements at Camp Halifax near the Banister River.

“Those days after crossing the river, all of a sudden everything changes because Greene is informed help is on the way,” said Cecere.

The Town of Halifax is working to develop signage that highlights Greene’s camp gaining supplies wayside of the Banister River. Halifax Mayor Dexter Gilliam said grant funds have been secured from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to restore and repair the stone piers where a display will be installed to tie-in with the Boyd’s Ferry outdoor exhibit, located on the river below The Prizery.

“We hope to have the Camp Halifax site fully integrated into the Crossing of the Dan event next year,” said Gilliam.

Gary Hall, president of the Dan River Chapter, Virginia Society Sons American Revolution, emceed the event and offered appreciation to the following for their assistance: Aleigha Link, a Halifax County Middle School chorus member sang the National Anthem; Berryman Greene Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution; the Halifax County Historical Society; Halifax County and the Towns of South Boston and Halifax; Dan River Chapter of Sons of the American Revolution; the Crossing of the Dan Committee; and the South Boston-Halifax County Museum.

The museum is located at 1540 Wilborn Avenue in South Boston. For more information about the exhibit call 434-572-9200 or visit online at https://sbhcmuseum.org/



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