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Francis Marion, Chapter II, Campaign of 1780

Detached Narratives for 1780.

As these are intended to be unconnected, and entirely miscellaneous, they will be inserted without much regard to time or place. We have just recorded the fate of the distinguished Ferguson, and the first meed of praise is due to him. Yes! reader, praise to a generous enemy! He was a major, and commanded a rifle corps during the campaign of Washington, in New Jersey. On one occasion Gen. Washington rode out with a few French and American officers to reconnoitre, and Ferguson, with his riflemen, lay in a wood near to the road by which they both went and returned. Washington was conspicuous from his stature, and uniform, and the grey horse which he rode. He passed hard by the corps, at an easy canter, and Ferguson’s men were preparing to fire upon him, when their leader prevented the act. Who would not hereafter applaud the character of Ferguson? In a letter which he wrote to a friend, that contains this narrative, he mentions he was glad he did not know it was Gen. Washington at the time, lest he should have been tempted to fire at him. But the same generous spirit which prevented it in the one case, would, it is more than probable, have actuated him in the other.

The next meed of praise is certainly due to friendship. In this action the hon. Robert Stark, then a boy of fourteen, was among the American combatants. Like a war worn veteran he was seen firing his rifle and encouraging others to the onset. It was here that, actuated by the cause of his country, and the rigourous confinement of his father in irons, he first avenged himself of the enemy. His next battle was at the Cowpens, where he acted as an adjutant under Gen. Pickens.

During the time General Marion lay at the White marsh, Capt. Gavin Witherspoon, of Pedee, with three or four men, were concealing themselves in Pedee swamp: in the night he discovered a camp of the tories, whom he had reason to think were in pursuit of him, and watched them till they had all fallen asleep; he proposed to his men to attack them, but they were fearful of numbers. He then declared he would take them himself. Creeping up cautiously, he found that they had encamped at the butt of a pine, blown up by the roots, and that their guns were piled up against a limb, at the distance of forty or fifty feet from them. He continued to creep till he got possession of their guns, and then called to them loudly to surrender. Not knowing his force, they did so, and Witherspoon’s men came to his assistance and tied them, in number seven. Gavin, and John Witherspoon, his brother, were two active spirited men at this period. They succeeded each other as captains in the neck between Pedee and Lynch’s creek; and at the call of danger were generally foremost. After Capt. Baxter was promoted to be major, Thomas Potts was elected captain of the upper Pedee company; he had been captain in the rifle regiment of state troops, and was a brave soldier and firm patriot.

Major Wemyss, in laying waste the country, was particularly inimical to looms and sheep; no doubt that he might deprive the inhabitants of the means of clothing themselves. What sheep he did not kill for the use of his men, he ordered to be bayoneted. He burnt the Presbyterian church at Indiantown; because, as he said, it was a sedition shop. Before a house was burnt, permission was seldom given to remove the furniture. When he came to Maj. James’ he was met by his lady with much composure. He wished to bring her husband to submission, and said to her, “If he would come in and lay down his arms, he should have a free pardon.” She replied, “As to that she could not have any influence over him. That times were such he was compelled to take a part, and he had taken that of his country.” Wemyss after this had her and her children locked up in a chamber, from whence they did not come out, for two days and a half; and until the house was about to be burnt. Capt. David Campbell (of Edisto,) carried with his own hands, food and other refreshments to a back window for her, apparently unknown to Wemyss. Capt. John James, son of the major, had been taken in Charleston, and paroled. He was ordered into custody, with the threat, that “If he was found to have broken his parole, he would be hanged in the morning to yonder tree.” Accordingly a court martial sat over him in the morning. The witnesses called were his own and his father’s negroes; but, strange to tell, no evidence was given against him, and he was acquitted. Such were the mock trials of the British. As, when we come to speak of the battle of Eutaw, there will be many chiefs of higher title to be named, it is but justice to Capt. James now to mention, that before that time he was exchanged, and fought there with much bravery, as an adjutant. As there was no trade or intercourse between that part of the country and a market, people were to be seen, after the fires, searching for every thing they could find, knife blades, scissors, hinges, nails, &c. Handles were put to the knives, dishes and plates were rudely manufactured out of wood, and log huts were gradually built by the assistance of one another. Many negroes were taken out of Williamsburgh; these were afterwards recovered by Maj. James. Directly after the retreat of Rawdon from Camden, he, at the head of five or six men, passed through the country from Santee to an island near Beaufort, where he found and brought away one hundred and fifty, all plundered from his own neighbourhood. This account has been inserted here, that the chain of events might not hereafter be broken.

It is stated, (page 45) that Col. Tarleton took Mr. James Bradley prisoner; the manner in which this was done, and the subsequent treatment of Bradley, are well deserving a place in this narrative. After being chased from his breakfast, thirteen miles below, by M’Cottry, Tarleton and a few officers came to Bradley’s at midday, passed himself as Col. Washington, and requested an early dinner. Bradley provided dinner for him, and unsuspectingly communicated to him the plans of his countrymen. After dinner, Tarleton asked him to guide him over two difficult fords across two branches of Black river, near his house; Bradley consented, and after they had passed Magirt’s swamp, Tarleton told him he was a prisoner. A wild Arab would not have treated him thus. Bradley, though circumvented in this manner, was a wise but unsuspicious man; and before that had much influence in the legislature.

He was sent to Camden gaol, and confined in heavy irons; he was often carted to the gallows and saw others executed; he expected death, and was prepared for it; but he had many friends in Marion’s brigade, and it was well known to the enemy that his execution would have been severely retaliated. He was not released from gaol until the 10th of May the next year, when Rawdon retreated from Camden; and he bore the marks of the irons until his death. Being requested, on one occasion he showed these to the author, then a youth, and said, “If the good of your country requires the sacrifice, be ready to suffer imprisonment and death in its cause.” Soon after his confinement, Mrs. Bradley petitioned Tarleton to liberate her husband, but he treated her with scurrilous language and great brutality. This man, who had been treated by Mrs. Bradley to a plentiful meal, after he had fasted for twenty-four hours, and when he and his followers were fainting with fatigue and want, had now the impudence and cruelty to call her by the grossest names in the vocabulary of bilingsgate. Mrs. Bradley! one of the most humane, gentle and affectionate of her sex, who would willingly have offered him bread in his true character. Tarleton even denied her admittance with her supplies to her husband; and she sought and obtained it elsewhere.

To people of good feelings, but particularly the religious, this period (1780 and 1781) was truly distressing. From the time of the fall of Charleston, all public education was at an end, and soon after, all public worship was discontinued. Men from sixty years of age, down to boys of fourteen, (few of whom dared to stay at home) were engaged in active and bloody warfare. These had their minds in constant occupation, which, in whatever moral situation a man may be placed, brings with it a certain degree of satisfaction, if not contentment. All were actuated by the love of country, and but few by the love of fame: and next to the duties of religion, the exercise of those of patriotism excites the highest energy and brings the most sublime satisfaction to the human mind. But to the female sex, and the superannuated of the male, little consolation of that nature could be afforded. Even these were exposed to that kind of danger which might be inflicted by brutality at home, and most of them had relatives in the field to whom they were bound by the most tender and sacred ties, who were subjected to constant dangers, and for whose fate they were unceasingly anxious. — There was no place for the pleasures of society, for in the country these were too remote from a home that must constantly be watched. As a comfort in this situation females employed themselves in domestic occupations, in which that of the distaff had a considerable share, and all might indeed have exercised their private devotions; but that faint picture of heaven, that sweet consolation which is derived from associating with one’s friends in public worship, was wholly denied them. Most of the churches in towns and the country, were either burnt or made depots for the stores of the enemy; some in fact were converted into stables; and of the remainder, all in the country were closed. — In a warfare of such atrocity there was little safety in any situation where numbers were collected, and as we have seen that the tories, by their murders, violated the sanctity of private dwellings, how then could it be expected they would be awed by the holiness of a church? In a camp, where was no permanency and but little rest, there was no place for chaplains,18 and at home there was not security even for pious pastors; consequently, as the most prudent course, they generally went into exile. Among these one shall be mentioned, the Rev. Dr. Thomas Reese, of Salem, on Black river. It was in his congregation that the murders perpetrated by Harrison and his followers first began, and three respectable men of his flock had already fallen victims to civil rage. Had he gone about to administer comfort out of his own family, it would have been termed sedition, and Dr. Reese would have made himself a voluntary martyr. He took the wiser course of retiring with his family before the storm, and under many privations, continued to preach. In theology, modern philosophy, and all the sciences connected with his profession he was deeply read. For classic literature, which it is so common for the superficial to decry, he was a great advocate, and to evince his sincerity retained his knowledge of the dead languages as long as he lived. In his discourses he was neither an extempore preacher, nor did he read. He wrote out his sermons correctly, and then committing them carefully to memory, left the copy at home, and afterwards delivered them from the pulpit with all the energy of extemporary preaching, and so tenacious was his memory that he was never known to faulter. He wrote many excellent sermons, all of which except two, preserved in the American Preacher, and those not his best, are believed to be lost. He also wrote an essay “on the influence of religion in civil society”, which, from Princeton college, where he was educated, obtained for him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. But like most American productions, it was soon neglected, and did not pass into a second edition. In contemplating the meek and unobtrusive virtues of this pious man, we do not hesitate to say he was a pattern of Christian charity, as nearly resembling his divine master as has been seen in modern times. The author knew him well for several years after the peace of 1782; he was his friend and tutor, and he owes to Dr. Reese the highest obligations, and to his memory the most profound respect.

1 Two boys, Francis G. Deliesseline and Samuel Dupre, had the boldness to undertake, and did recover fourteen of White’s cavalry horses from the British, and delivered them to Major Jamieson in Georgetown, refusing a reward he offered.

2 See Dr. Brownfield’s account of this affair, which throws more light upon it, than any thing heretofore written. Appendix, p. 1. To paliate his conduct, Tarleton has written a most partial account of it, which has been followed by Moultrie, and substantially by Ramsay. The faults committed by Buford, he says, were his sending his baggage ahead, and not firing till the cavalry were within ten steps. — But Buford, notwithstanding all the odium excited against him by his ill fortune, was tried by a court martial, and acquitted. Tarleton excuses his cruelty, by stating, that his horse was knocked down, at the first fire: and his men, thinking him killed, to avenge his death, were more sanguinary than usual, and he was unable, from that circumstance, for a while to restrain them. But Lord Cornwallis approved the whole, and praised and caressed Tarleton, while he was fortunate.

3 The proper name is Stateburgh. But so great is the propensity of Americans for introducing the S into the already hissing English language, that it is now written commonly Statesburgh.

4 Tarleton despatched his favourite sergeant Hutt, who always charged by his side, with a sergeant’s guard, to perform this deed. The visit was quite unexpected by Wiley. In going up to his house, two men were left concealed, behind two large gate posts, at the entrance of the yard; while Hutt, with the rest, broke into the house abruptly; he demanded Wiley’s shoe buckles, and while he stooped down to unbuckle them, the wretch Hutt aimed a stroke with his sword at his head. Wiley, seeing the gleam of the descending weapon, parried the blow from his head, by his hand, with the loss of some fingers; then, springing out of the door, he ran for the gate, where the two concealed men despatched him with many blows. The cause of offence was, that John Wiley, as sheriff, had superintended the execution of some men under the existing state laws, at that time against treason. After the battle of Cowpens Hutt disappeared.

5 He was second cousin to the major. Of this family, there were five brothers, than whom no men under Marion were more brave; these were John, William, Gavin, Robert and James. Gavin died a few weeks since, with whom the family became extinct. More of Gavin and Robert hereafter. 20th July, 1821.

6 He was not appointed a general till some time after this, but as we have not the date of his commission, henceforth he will be styled general; and his other officers, to avoid repetitions, are designated generally by the rank they held at the disbandment of the brigade.

7 Had Gen. Gates reached the important pass of Gum Swamp, and occupied it properly, the fortune of war might have been changed. It is a miry creek, impassible for many miles, except at the road. He missed it only by a few minutes. And his popularity, though gained by much merit, was lost by no greater crime than that of trusting too much to militia.

8 The Marquis De La Fayette and Baron De Kalb arrived in the United States in the same small vessel, which made the land at North inlet, near Georgetown, about the middle of June, in the year 1777. They lay in the offing, and seeing a canoe, with two negroes in it, come out of the inlet a fishing, they sent off a boat, which intercepted them. Fortunately they belonged to Capt. Benjamin Huger, who had just arrived at North Island with his family, to spend the summer. The negroes conducted the marquis and baron to their master’s house, where he received them with joy, and, it need not be added, with hospitality. Never was a meeting of three more congenial souls. The major afterwards conducted his two illustrious guests to Charleston. Major Huger was the father of Col. Huger, who afterwards engaged in the well known enterprize of delivering the marquis from the dungeon of Olmutz; and perhaps the seeds of that honourable undertaking were sown under his father’s roof.

9 Puff. L.N. viii.6.24. Vatt. B.2.C.14. S.214-15.

10 Ibid, B.2.C.13. S.200.

11 Vattel B.2.C.17. S.304. B.3.C.13. S.201.

12 Darkness visible.

13 This Ox swamp is twenty-three miles above Kingstree, another mentioned hereafter, is thirteen miles below.

14 Inland swamps in the lower and middle country are called Bays, from their natural growth, which is the bay tree, a name sufficiently appropriate.

15 Bella, plus quam civilia; bella, nullos habitura triumphos.

16 He was taken from Capt. Ball, at Black Mingo.

17 Notwithstanding the bruit made in history about this defeat of Sumter, the author can re-assert, and from written evidence now before him, that Sumter was in three days at the head of a very respectable force. This was not obtained by any communication from the general, but by an investigation of dates.

18 Marion was often without a surgeon to dress his wounded, and if a wound reached an artery the patient bled to death.