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Francis Marion, Chapter II, Campaign of 1780

Col. White soon after took the command of the American cavalry, but with no better fortune. On the 5th of May, he took a British officer and seventeen men of the legion, at Ball’s plantation, near Strawberry, in the morning, and pushed back twenty-five miles, to Lenud’s ferry, on Santee. While crossing there, Tarleton surprised him, at three in the afternoon; who states, that five officers and 36 men of the Americans were killed and wounded, and seven officers and sixty dragoons were taken; while he lost only two men, and retook his dragoons. Cols. White and Washington, Major Jamieson, and several officers and men, escaped by swimming the river, but many perished in the like attempt.1 Thus the American corps of cavalry and infantry, in the open field, was completely annihilated, and from the Saltketcher to the Santee, a distance of one hundred and twenty miles, either terror or a general depression of spirits, had spread through the country. What served to increase this, was the cannonade at the town. This was a novel thing in South Carolina, and along water courses, it was heard more than one hundred miles. In that distance, there were but few families, who had not a husband, father, brother or son in the garrison; and these listened to the sound, with the deepest anxiety, and, as was natural, with no little despondency.

As soon as the town had surrendered, Lord Cornwallis, with 2500 men, and five field pieces, marched from St. Thomas’ to Nelson’s ferry. Thence he detached Tarleton, with 700 infantry and cavalry, in quest of Gen. Caswell and Col. Buford, who had been approaching to the relief of Charleston, with about 700 militia, and between 3 and 400 continentals. At Camden, Caswell, with the militia, quitted Buford, who then commanded the continentals, and retreated by the way of Pedee. Buford’s regiment was soon after placed under the command of Gen. Huger, as an escort to Gov. Rutledge, then at Camden; and was detained, with a fatal security, by the general, for two days in that place. And so much off their guard, were our rulers themselves, that Gov. Rutledge, and his council, were soon after hospitably entertained, at Clermont, by Col. Rugely, an Englishman, professedly opposed to the American cause. At midnight, he woke them up, advised them of Tarleton’s approach, and with some difficulty, persuaded them to escape; at daylight, Tarleton arrived at Clermont.

That morning, Huger gave up the command again to Buford, and took the Charlotte road, with the governor and his two remaining council, Daniel Huger and John L. Gervais. Buford proceeded on rapidly, upon the Salisbury road, and from circumstances, his baggage waggons must have been sent on before he took the command again, that morning; otherwise, in making the very quick march he did, they must have been left far in his rear. But Tarleton blames him, for sending them ahead, because they might have served him as a rampart, and other historians have adopted his account. After a pursuit of one hundred miles, in fifty-four hours, Tarleton approached Buford, about forty miles from Camden, and twenty-six from Clermont; and dispatched Capt. David Kinloch with a flag, summoning him to surrender upon the terms granted to the garrison of Charleston.

Buford called a council of his officers, who deeming it a deception, he continued his march. In the afternoon, Tarleton overtook him, unfortunately, in an open wood, and cut to pieces his rear guard. At the sound of his bugle, Buford drew up his men, all infantry; but Capt. Carter, (not Benjamin,) who commanded his artillery, and led the van, continued his march. Tarleton advanced, with his infantry in the centre, and his cavalry on the wings. He was checked by Buford’s fire; but the cavalry wheeling, gained his rear. Seeing no hope of any longer making a defence, Buford sent Ensign Cruitt with a flag of truce, and grounded his arms. Disregarding the flag, and the rules of civilized warfare, Tarleton cut Cruitt down, and charged upon Buford, with his cavalry in the rear; while Maj. Cochrane, an infuriated Scotchman, rushed with fixed bayonets, in front. A few of Buford’s men, resumed their arms, and fired, when the British were within ten steps, but with little effect;2 as might have been expected, from what has been stated.

Buford’s regiment was entirely broken by the charge, no quarters were given by the British; 113 men were killed of the Americans, and 151 so badly wounded as to be left on the ground. This was nearly two thirds of the whole American force, according to Tarleton’s own account; and the manner in which those left on the ground were mangled, is told, by others, as horrible. No habitation was near, but the lone cabin of a poor widow woman; and the situation of the dead, was fortunate, when compared with that of the living. Tarleton says, he lost but two officers, and three privates killed, and one officer and thirteen privates wounded. The massacre took place at the spot where the road from Lancaster to Chesterfield now crosses the Salisbury road.

The news of these two events, the surrender of the town, and the defeat of Buford, were spread through the country about the same time, and the spirit of the whigs, sunk into despondency. The American cause appeared to be lost; but, on this expedition, Tarleton burnt the house of Gen. Sumter, near Stateburgh,3 and roused the spirit of the lion; at Camden, a party of his men cut to pieces Samuel Wiley, whom they mistook for his brother, John Wiley, then sheriff of the district, at his own house.4 Governor Rutledge and his council again escaped Tarleton, by a few minutes, and by taking the road to Charlotte, in North Carolina. On the 1st of June, Sir Henry Clinton and Admiral Arbuthnot offered to the inhabitants, with some exceptions, “pardon for their past treasonable offences, and a reinstatement in their rights and immunities heretofore enjoyed, exempt from taxation, except by their own legislature.” To many, this specious offer appeared to be all that they had been contending for; and they flocked in from all quarters to gain such high privileges. These, having signed declarations of allegiance, received protections as subjects, or were parolled to their plantations as prisoners of war. But, in the short space of twenty days, a second proclamation was issued, stating, that it was necessary for all persons to take an active part in securing his majesty’s government, that all the inhabitants then prisoners on parole, except those taken at Charleston, and others in confinement, should be freed from their paroles, and restored to the rights of citizens; and all who neglected to return to their allegiance should be considered as rebels.

Nothing could have astonished the people more, than this last proclamation, those who had taken the paroles expected to remain on their plantations in security and ease; but now, they were called upon to return to their allegiance, and assist in securing his majesty’s government. The purport of which was well understood; they were in fact to take up arms against their countrymen: at the very thought of which they were abhorrent. This crooked policy was no sooner adopted, than the British cause began to decline in South Carolina. The thread of the events above recorded, will now naturally lead us to the history of Marion’s brigade.

About the end of June, in this year, Capt. Ardesoif, of the British navy, arrived at Georgetown, to carry the last proclamation of Sir Henry Clinton into effect, and invited the people to come in and swear allegiance to King George. Many of the inhabitants of that district submitted to this new act of degradation. But there remained a portion of it, stretching from the Santee to the Pedee, and including the whole of the present Williamsburgh, and part of Marion district, into which the British arms had not penetrated. The inhabitants of it were generally of Irish extraction; a people, who at all times during the war, abhorred either submission or vassalage. Among them, tradition has handed down the following story: — A public meeting was called, to deliberate upon their critical situation, and Major John James, who had heretofore commanded them in the field, and represented them in legislature, was selected as the person who should go down to Capt. Ardesoif, and know from him, whether, by his proclamation, he meant that they should take up arms against their countrymen. He proceeded to Georgetown, in the plain garb of a country planter, and was introduced to the captain, at his lodgings, a considerable distance from his ship. An altercation of the following nature took place.

After the major had narrated the nature of his mission, the captain, surprised that such an embassy should be sent to him, answered, “the submission must be unconditional.” To an inquiry, whether the inhabitants would not be allowed to stay at home, upon their plantations, in peace and quiet? he replied, “although you have rebelled against his majesty, he offers you a free pardon, of which you are undeserving, for you ought all to be hanged; but as he offers you a free pardon, you must take up arms in support of his cause.” To Major James’ suggesting that the people he came to represent would not submit on such terms, the captain, irritated at his republican language, particularly, it is supposed, at the word represent, replied, “you damned rebel, if you speak in such language I will immediately order you to be hanged up to the yard-arm.” — The captain wore a sword, and Major James none, but perceiving what turn matters were likely to take, and not brooking such harsh language, he suddenly seized the chair on which he was seated, brandished it in the face of the captain, and making his retreat good through the back door of the house, mounted his horse, and made his escape into the country. This circumstance, apparently trivial, certainly hastened the rise of Marion’s brigade. The story narrated, as now told, or embellished, always concluded in the same way: “you must take up arms in support of his majesty’s cause.”

Many of the people of Williamsburgh had submitted and taken paroles, but to be obliged to imbrue their hands in the blood of their countrymen, was in their minds a breach of one of the commands of God, and they shuddered at the very thought. — They had besides, had two officers put over them, by the British commander, Amos Gaskens and John Hamilton; the first they despised on account of his petty larceny tricks, and the last they hated because of his profanity. About this time, news of the approach of Gates having arrived, a public meeting of this people was called, and it was unanimously resolved to take up arms in defence of their country. Major James was desired to command them as heretofore, and they again arrayed themselves under their captains William M`Cottry, Henry Mouzon, John James,5 of the lake, and John M`Cauley. The four companies, resolved on this great enterprise, consisted of about two hundred men. Shortly after, Col. Hugh Giles, of Pedee, proposed to join them, with two companies, Whitherspoon’s and Thornly’s; and his offer was gladly accepted. Gen. Gates had now arrived on the confines of the state, and in a consultation, held among these officers, it was agreed to send to him, to appoint them a commander. This was a wise resolution, and attended with the most salutary consequences. In the mean time, they made prisoners of Col. Cassels, Capt. Gaskens, and most of the officers appointed over them by the British, and took post at the pass of Lynch’s creek, at Witherspoon’s ferry. At this period, the tories on Lynch’s creek, in the neighbourhood of M`Callum’s ferry, had already begun their murders and depredations. Messrs. Matthew Bradley, Thomas Bradley, and John Roberts, respectable citizens, who had then joined neither party, and also, some others, were killed by them, in their own houses. These were headed by the two Harrisons, one afterwards a colonel, the other a major in the British service; whom Tarleton calls men of fortune. They were in fact two of the greatest banditti that ever infested the country. Before the fall of Charleston they lived in a wretched log hut, by the road, near M`Callum’s, in which there was no bed-covering but the skins of wild beasts; during the contest the major was killed; but after it was over, the colonel retired to Jamaica, with much wealth, acquired by depredation. Capt. M`Cottry was now posted in advance of Witherspoon’s ferry, at Indian town, and Col. Tarleton, having crossed at Lenud’s ferry, and hearing of the Williamsburgh meeting, advanced, at the head of seventy mounted militia and cavalry, to surprise Major James. M`Cottry, first receiving notice of his movement, sent back for a reinforcement, and immediately marched his company, of about fifty mounted militia, to give him battle. Tarleton had been posted at dark, at the Kingstree, and M`Cottry approached him at midnight, but Tarleton marched away a few hours before he arrived. By means of the wife of Hamilton, the only tory in that part of the country, he had gained intelligence of M`Cottry’s approach, as reported to him, with five hundred men. — The latter pursued, but, perhaps fortunately, without overtaking him. In this route Tarleton burnt the house of Capt. Mouzon; and after posting thirty miles, from Kingstree up to Salem, took Mr. James Bradley prisoner, the next day. Soon after this Lieut. Col. Hugh Horry arrived from Georgetown; and by right he would have had the command of Major James’ party, but he declined it for some time. Of him more will be said hereafter.

On the 10th or 12th of August, General Marion arrived at the post, at Lynch’s creek, commissioned by Governor Rutledge to take the command of the party there, and a large extent of country on the east side of Santee. He was a stranger to the officers and men, and they flocked about him, to obtain a sight of their future commander.6 He was rather below the middle stature of men, lean and swarthy. His body was well set, but his knees and ankles were badly formed; and he still limped upon one leg. He had a countenance remarkably steady; his nose was aquiline; his chin projecting; his forehead was large and high, and his eyes black and piercing. He was now forty-eight years of age; but still even at this age, his frame was capable of enduring fatigue and every privation, necessary for a partisan.

His wisdom and patriotism will become henceforth conspicuous. Of a character, so much venerated, even trifles become important. He was dressed in a close round bodied crimson jacket, of a coarse texture, and wore a leather cap, part of the uniform of the second regiment, with a silver crescent in front, inscribed with the words, “Liberty or death.” He was accompanied by his friend Col. Peter Horry, and some other officers.