The one-line email came last week. A simple, seemingly vague question:
Up for a walk in the woods with a Citadel legend?
The Citadel is a place of legends, you understand. It’s steeped in the ghosts of tradition and story and myth. Yet even so I knew at once what I was being asked to do: spend a weekend wandering through a swamp with Colonel James Rembert, a recently retired English professor and former member of the Army’s Special Forces.
Col. Rembert is a living legend around here, and his “swamp treks” are often the stuff of quiet whispers and astonished shakes of the head. People haven’t died on them (at least that anyone speaks about), but word is they’ve come close.
South Carolina swamps are, by definition, rather inhospitable places. They’re riddled with water, mud, and muck, hemmed in with thick thorny brush and poisonous plants, and filled to the brim with bugs, snakes, gators, boars, and spiders. (Fact: there’s a higher concentration of poisonous things in South Carolina swamps than anywhere else in the country.)
Rembert’s idea of fun? Pick a point “A” on one side of a massive swamp, pick a point “B” on the other side, and then use a compass to travel from “A” to “B” by going through, over, or under whatever obstacles you encounter between them. No trails. No help. Just point to point, lugging the minimal gear you need to survive for the 2-3 days it takes to make the trudge.
That’s a swamp trek, “a walk in the woods with a Citadel legend.” Was I up for one?
Our destination, I’m told, will be Hell Hole Swamp. According to the writer Andrew Mosier,
The renown of Hell Hole Swamp dates back to the Revolutionary War. In a letter to King George, General Cornwallis called the swamp — from which Francis Marion (Mel Gibson’s character in “The Patriot”) and his band of guerrillas mounted their attacks and then vanished — “one hell of a hole of a swamp.”
Another author writes:
Hell Hole Swamp … long has been called “a hell of a hole,” but there are conflicting ideas as to the name’s origin. According to some, moonshiners secluded in the swamp concocted such vile potions that their customers, after a few pulls at the jug, thought they surely were in hell. A more sinister suggestion points to the fact that in a certain area of the swamp, no trees will grow — allegedly a sign that Satan has cursed the ground.
Ghosts of the Revolution, old moonshiner nests, and demonic curses … Who could say “no” to that?