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Francis Marion, Chapter II, Campaign of 1780

Maj. James was instantly despatched, at the head of a company of volunteers, with orders to reconnoitre, and count them. Col. Peter Horry was called in, and the general crossed Lynch’s creek, and advanced to give battle. The night after Maj. James received his orders, the moon shone brightly, and by hiding himself in a thicket, close to their line of march, he formed a good estimate of the force of the enemy. As their rear guard passed, he burst from his hiding place, and took some prisoners. On the same night, about an hour before day, Marion met the major half a mile from his plantation. The officers immediately dismounted, and retired to consult, and the men sat on their horses in a state of anxious suspense. The conference was long and animated. At the end of it, an order was given to direct the march back to Lynch’s creek, and no sooner was it given than a hollow groan might have been heard along the whole line. A bitter cup had now been mingled for the people of Williamsburgh and Pedee; and they were doomed to drain it to the dregs: but in the end it proved a salutary medicine. Maj. James reported the British force to be double that of Marion’s; and Ganey’s party of tories in the rear, had always been estimated at five hundred men. In such a crisis, a retreat was deemed prudent. Gen. Marion recrossed the Pedee, at Port’s; and the next evening, at the setting sun, commenced his retreat to North Carolina. (28th August, 1780.) He was accompanied by many officers, the names of all are not now recollected, and it may appear invidious to mention a few; the number of privates had dwindled down to sixty men. Capt. John James, with about ten chosen men, was left behind to succour the distressed, and to convey intelligence. The general’s march, was, for some time, much impeded by the two field pieces, which he attempted to take along; but, after crossing the little Pedee, he wheeled them off to the right, and deposited them in a swamp; where they may since have amused the wondering deer hunter. This was the last instance of military parade evinced by the general. By marching day and night, he arrived at Amy’s mill, on Drowning creek; whence he detached Maj. James, with a small party of volunteers, back to South Carolina, to gain intelligence, and to rouse the militia. Considering the distance back, and the British and tories in the rear, this was a perilous undertaking. The general continued his march, and pitched his camp for some time, on the east side of the White marsh, near the head of the Waccamaw.

At this place, the author had, (in the absence of his father,) the honour to be invited to dine with the general. The dinner was set before the company by the general’s servant, Oscar, partly on a pine log, and partly on the ground; it was lean beef, without salt, and sweet potatoes. The author had left a small pot of boiled homminy in his camp, and requested leave of his host to send for it; and the proposal was acquiesced in, gladly. The homminy had salt in it, and proved, although eaten out of the pot, a most acceptable repast. The general said but little, and that was chiefly what a son would be most likely to be gratified by, in the praise of his father. They had nothing to drink but bad water; and all the company appeared to be rather grave.

At length Maj. James arrived. The news was, that the country through which Wemyss had marched, for seventy miles in length, and at places for fifteen miles in width, exhibited one continued scene of desolation. On most of the plantations every house was burnt to the ground, the negroes were carried off, the inhabitants plundered, the stock, especially sheep, wantonly killed; and all the provisions, which could be come at, destroyed. Fortunately the corn was not generally housed, and much of that was saved. Capt. James had fired upon a party at M’Gill’s plantation; but it only increased the rage of the enemy. Adam Cusan had shot at the black servant of a tory officer, John Brockington, whom he knew, across Black creek. He was taken prisoner soon after, and for this offence, tried by a court martial, and, on the evidence of the negro, hanged. His wife and children prostrated themselves before Wemyss, on horseback, for a pardon; and he would have rode over them, had not one of his own officers prevented the foul deed; from this scene he proceeded on to superintend the execution. But these acts of wantonness and cruelty had roused the militia; and Maj. James reported they were ready to join the general. Marion, in a few days after, returned to South Carolina by a forced march. On the second day, while passing through the tory settlement, on Little Pedee, he traversed sixty miles, and arriving near Lynch’s creek, was joined by Capts. John James and Henry Mouzon, with a considerable force. Here he was informed that a party of tories, but more numerous than his own, lay at Black Mingo, fifteen miles below, under the command of Capt. John Coming Ball. He might soon have been reinforced, but finding his men unanimous for battle, he gratified their wishes. The tories were posted at Shepherd’s ferry, on the south side of Black Mingo, a deep navigable creek, and had command of the passage. To approach them, Gen. Marion was obliged to cross the creek, one mile above, over a boggy causeway and bridge of planks. It was nearly midnight when he arrived at the bridge; and while the party was crossing it, an alarm gun was heard in the tory camp. The general immediately ordered his men to follow him in full gallop, and, in a few minutes, they reached the main road which led to the ferry, about three hundred yards in front of it. Here they all dismounted, except a small body, which acted as cavalry. The general ordered a corps of supernumerary officers, under the command of Capt. Thomas Waties, to proceed down the road, and attack Dollard’s house, where it was supposed the tories were posted, and at the same time he detached two companies to the right, under Col. Hugh Horry, and the cavalry to the left, to support the attack. Before the corps of officers could reach the house, the party on the right had encountered the enemy, who had left the house, and were drawn up in an old field opposite to it. This circumstance gave to the latter all the advantage of a surprise, and their first fire was so severe and unexpected, as to oblige Horry’s men to fall back in some confusion; these were, however, soon rallied by the great exertions of Capt. John James. And the tories in the mean time being attacked on their flank by the corps of officers, and finding themselves between two fires, gave way after a few rounds, and took refuge in Black Mingo swamp, which was in their rear. This action, although of short duration, was so closely and sharply contested, that the loss on both sides was nearly one third, killed and wounded.

Capt. George Logan, of Charleston, had been sick near the White marsh; but, hearing that Marion had marched for South Carolina, he rose from his bed, mounted his horse, and rode eighty miles the day before the action, to join him, and was killed that night at Black Mingo. Such was the energy of this fallen patriot. Two other gallant officers, Capt. Henry Mouzon and his Lieut. Joseph Scott, were, by their wounds, rendered unfit for further service.

Many of the enemy had been lately companions in arms with Marion, and in a short time joined him again, and behaved well afterwards. As many of his party had left their families in much distress, the general gave them leave to go to their homes, and appointed them to meet him at Snow’s island, on the Pedee. They delayed so long, that he began to despair of their coming, and proposed to a few officers, who were with him, to abandon South Carolina, and join Gen. Greene, at Charlotte. But Col. Hugh Horry, who was his bosom friend, and partook more of his confidence than any other man, prevailed upon him to remain. The services of Col. Hugh Horry, in the field, were certainly highly meritorious; but he never rendered his country more effectual aid than by this act of friendly persuasion. The militia at length came in. The general soon after, marched up into Williamsburgh, and gained reinforcements daily. His first intention was to chastise Harrison, on Lynch’s creek; and he was moving up for that purpose, but hearing that Col. Tynes had summoned the people of Salem, and the fork of Black river, out to do duty as his majesty’s subjects, he instantly resolved to break up the party, before its newly made converts should become confirmed in the principles they had unwillingly adopted. — Tynes lay encamped at Tarcote, in the fork of Black river, much off his guard, and Gen. Marion crossing the lower ford of the northern branch of that river, at Nelson’s plantation, marched up and surprised him in the night. The rout was universal, and attended, as Tarcote swamp was near, with more dismay than slaughter. Gen. Marion lost not a man; some tories were killed, and among the rest Capt. Amos Gaskens; a man noted before the war for petty larceny, and after it commenced, for plundering under Major Wemyss. The most of Tynes’ men, soon after joined Gen. Marion, and fought bravely.

The Swamp Fox
The Swamp Fox

The next enemy Gen. Marion proceeded to encounter was the renowned Col. Tarleton. Hearing that he had left Charleston, where he had been for some time past confined with a fever, and that he was to cross at Nelson’s ferry with a body of cavalry, Gen. Marion lay in wait for him, in the river swamp, a part of two days. (Nov. 1780.) He had cut bushes, and planted them on the road side in such a manner as would have ensured him a deadly fire. But in the evening of the second day, he was informed that Tarleton had passed before he had arrived on his way to Camden; and the general immediately commenced his march up the road in the same direction. In the night he stopped in a wood, near where Mr. Charles Richardson now lives, and was about to encamp; but seeing a great light towards Gen. Richardson’s plantation, he concluded that it was the houses of the plantation on fire, and that Tarleton was there. While deliberating what was to be done, Col. Richard Richardson came in, and informed him the enemy was there, and at least double his number, with two field pieces; and it was discovered that one of his men had deserted to them. Finding Tarleton had now a guide, and that his position was unsafe, Marion immediately retreated; and crossing the Woodyard, then a tremendous swamp, in the most profound darkness,12he never stopped till he had passed Richbourgh’s mill dam, on Jack’s creek, distant about six miles. Having now a mill pond and miry swamp between him and the enemy, and the command of a narrow pass, the first words the general was heard to say were, “Now we are safe!” As soon as Tarleton received intelligence of Gen. Marion’s position, and had got a guide, he thought to make sure of his prey, and commenced his march: he was led in silence to the spot which he contemplated as another scene of slaughter; but his intended victim had flown. He pursued to the Woodyard, but could not pass that night. The next morning Marion, knowing the vigilance of his foe, decamped betimes; and pursuing his route down Black river, for thirty-five miles, through woods, and swamps and bogs, where there was no road, encamped the following night on advantageous ground, at Benbow’s ferry, now Lowry’s bridge, about ten miles above Kingstree, on the east side of Black river. In a partisan warfare this position was the best that could have been taken. He could now defend himself, first at Black river itself; and after that at three difficult passes, of swamps, in his rear; all within ten miles, on that side of the river, before he reached Kingstree; but on the direct road to that place, on the west, there was but the one defile at the river; besides the possibility of being overtaken before he reached it. Here then Marion determined to make a stand, and felled trees across the road to impede the enemy. On the morning after the retreat, Tarleton found Marion’s trail across the Woodyard, but went round it, and pursued, as he says, “for seven hours, through swamps and defiles.” In fact he pursued about twenty-five miles, when arriving at Ox swamp,13 which was wide and miry, and without a road to pass it, he desisted, saying to his men, “Come my boys! let us go back, and we will soon find the game cock, (meaning Sumter) but as for this d—-d old fox, the devil himself could not catch him.” After this, the two generals were thus characterized. It is amusing to read Tarleton’s pompous account of this pursuit. He insinuates that Marion’s sole view was to save himself; as Tarleton stopped ten or twelve miles short of Benbow’s, he might not have heard of the preparations made there to receive him. For the same distance Marion had been skirting the south branch of Black river, and could at any time, in a few minutes, have plunged into it, and no regular body of cavalry could have followed him. Had Tarleton proceeded with his jaded horses to Benbow’s, he would have exposed his force to such sharp shooting as he had not yet experienced, and that in a place where he could not have acted either with his artillery or cavalry.

On this expedition, Tarleton burnt the house, out houses, corn and fodder, and a great part of the cattle, hogs and poultry, of the estate of Gen. Richardson. The general had been active with the Americans, but was now dead; and the British leader, in civilized times, made his widow and children suffer for the deeds of the husband and parent, after the manner of the East, and coast of Barbary. What added to the cruel nature of the act, was that he had first dined in the house, and helped himself to the abundant good cheer it afforded. But we have seen before the manner in which he requited hospitality. It was generally observed of Tarleton and his corps, that they not only exercised more acts of cruelty than any one in the British army, but also carried further the spirit of depredation.

The wise policy of Gen. Marion had hitherto been to keep his own party, as yet but small, constantly in motion, and thus to multiply it, in the view of the enemy; and immediately to strike at all other parties preparing to join them. Had parties from the country been suffered to incorporate with the British, and to unite in their principles and views, the sense of a dereliction of duty, and the punishment expected to await it, as well as the pride of opinion, usually attending a new conversion, might have kept them firm in their apostacy. Of a truth, Gen. Marion made many converts to the cause of his country.

Many from inclination and principle felt a strong desire to join him, and again to reconcile themselves to the cause they had at first adopted and deserted with the utmost reluctance, and became confirmed in their views, by his apparent abilities and successes; others had felt the suddenness and unexpected severity of his midnight blows, and thought the step of uniting with him would be the most prudent or politic. From the operation of both sentiments, the people of that tract of country, on a line, stretching from Camden across to the mouth of Black creek, on Pedee, including generally both banks of the Wateree, Santee and Pedee, down to the sea coast, were now (excepting Harrison’s party on Lynch’s creek) either ready or preparing to join Gen. Marion. Many had already served under him, within the lines of the British or tories, and submitted to all the subsequent losses; which although the more to their credit, it is now much to be regretted, that they cannot be particularized. As to the people of old Cheraw district, above the line designated, and especially on the Pedee, they were at this time under their leader Gen. Thomas, waging an exterminating warfare with the tories on their borders; which still remains, and it is more than probable ever will remain, unrecorded.