While these photos of the Salkehatchie (SAHL • kuh • HATCH • ee) River were captured near Yemassee, the blackwater river begins in Barnwell and winds through Bamberg, Allendale, Hampton, and Colleton counties before joining with the Little Salkehatchie River to form the majestic Combahee River. (Turkey Creek and the Whippy Swamp drain into the Salkehatchie River ahead of its confluence with the Little Salkehatchie.) The Combahee (KUM • bee) is among the three river systems that comprise the ACE Basin, one of the largest protected estuarine systems on the East Coast. It empties into the St. Helena Sound.
The clear, brown water of the Salkehatchie River receives its color not from sediment but from tannins that have leached into the water as vegetation decays in the slow-moving system. The tannins stain the water, much like tea leaves color water, allowing it to remain clear and clean but with a brown tint. Such rivers are called blackwater rivers, though the color of the water often appears more yellowish-brown.
The Salkehatchie River was the site of a Civil War battle that took place in Bamberg County and is known as the Battle of River’s Bridge. As General Sherman marched his Union troops through South Carolina on his way to Columbia, Major General Lafeyette McLaws and around 1,200 of his Confederate forces positioned themselves to block the Salkehatchie River crossings on February 2, 1865. The Union troops instead built a bridge to cross the river and bypass the Confederates. The following day General Sherman’s men waded through the waters to access the Confederate troops’ flanks and rear, forcing them to retreat to Branchville.