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Francis Marion, Chapter III, Campaign of 1781, part 2

Here he received intelligence that the British army commanded by Brigadier Gen. Stewart21 had retreated and halted at the Eutaw Spring, about forty miles below, that they had been reinforced there, and were about to establish a permanent post. To prevent this, he determined to risk a battle, though his force was thought to be inferior. Accordingly he sent back his baggage to Howell’s ferry, and proceeded by easy marches to Burdell’s plantation seven miles from Eutaw, where he was joined by Gen. Marion. Gen. Stewart had posted himself to great advantage at Eutaw; his head quarters were in a strong brick house, which stood at that time a little to the west of the spring or rather fountain. In his rear, to the south, there was an open field; in his front a thick wood covered with pines and scrubby oaks. Below the fountain on his right there was a deep valley, through which the Eutaw creek, five or six feet deep, takes its course towards the north-east. Between the fountain and the brick house the Congaree road passes to the north.

It was down this road Gen. Greene marched to attack the British army, on the memorable 8th of September, 1781. The effective force of each army was nearly equal, except the cavalry, in which Greene would have had the advantage, if the nature of the ground had permitted the use of it, for none of the ground was then open, and particularly on his left it was covered by scrubby oaks. While moving down the road in the morning with much circumspection, Col. Lee in advance met a party which covered another that was foraging. Several of these were killed, and their captain and forty men taken. Pressing forward, Lee soon met another party, with whom another action commenced, and he requested the support of artillery to counteract that of the enemy, which had now opened. Two field pieces were quickly brought up by Capt. Gaines, and began to fire.

During this firing both armies formed. The South Carolina militia under Marion, and the North Carolina under Col. Malmedy occupied the first line; the South Carolinians on the right. The continentals formed the second line. The Virginians under Col. Campbell, occupied the right. Gen. Sumner with the North Carolina new levied troops, the centre; and the Marylanders, under Cols. Williams and Howard, the left, on the Charleston road. Lee had charge of the right, and Henderson of the left flank, with their cavalry. Two field pieces were disposed in the front and two in the rear line. Washington’s horse and Kirkwood’s infantry formed the reserve.

The enemy was drawn up in one line, the Buffs on the right, Cruger’s corps in the centre, and the 63d and 64th on the left. Major Marjoribanks with one battalion of light infantry was posted on the Eutaw creek, flanking the Buffs, and the cavalry under Major Coffin were drawn up in the open field in the rear; these were not numerous. The artillery were posted on the Charleston road and the one leading to Roach’s plantation. — The action commenced about a mile from the fountain. Marion and Pickens continued to advance and fire, but the North Carolina militia broke at the third round. — Sumner with the new raised troops, then occupied their place, and behaved gallantly. Marion’s marksmen firing with great precision, and galling the enemy greatly, had now advanced more than half a mile, when the British charged upon them with fixed bayonets, and Marion ordered a retreat. The Virginia and Maryland troops now advanced with trailed arms, and scarcely had Marion cleared the right of the Virginians, when the crash of bayonets was heard. But by degrees it receded, and becoming less and less audible, a loud shout of huzza for America! told the issue of the contest. — Gen. Marion now rallied his men. Col. Henderson of the South Carolina state troops was wounded early in the action, and the command devolved on Col. Wade Hampton, who made a spirited charge; but being warmly received, Col. Washington brought up the reserve to his aid, and at first charged so briskly that the enemy gave way; but advancing into the thickest part of the woods, Marjoribanks came to the assistance of the Buffs; Washington’s horse was killed under him, and he was wounded and taken. After this, and the loss of many officers and men, the corps was drawn off by Capt. Parsons. Marjoribanks though victorious on the right, now fell back to assist Stewart; and Major Sheridan with the New York volunteers, threw himself into the brick house. Stewart was busily engaged in rallying his men under cover of the fire from Sheridan; and Greene now ordered Lee to charge upon Coffin. Lee at the beginning of the action had advanced with the legionary infantry upon the left of the enemy, and ordered his cavalry under Eggleston to follow in the rear; but sending for Eggleston, at present, he found that by some mistaken order he had gone to assist Washington. Thus a most favourable opportunity of completing the rout already commenced, was irretrievably lost. Greene had now brought up his artillery against the brick house, and sent for Marion who came to his assistance; but the weight of his metal was too light to effect a breach. Here, after losing many men and making unavailing efforts, he was obliged to desist, bringing off one field piece, which he had taken from the enemy, and losing two of his own. Thus Sheridan and Marjoribanks saved the British army.

Gen. Greene, in this manner disappointed in the most sanguine expectation of a complete victory, collected all his wounded, except those under the fire of the enemy, and placing a strong picket on the field of battle, retired sullenly from the ground in search of water. The battle had taken place on a dry thirsty soil, and in a hot day, and the want of water was severely felt. Four or five miles up the Congaree road, there is a remarkably boggy pond, still the dread of travellers; the cavalry had passed through it, twice or thrice in the course of the day; and it was now become a filthy puddle; but into this did the men as soon as they arrived, throw themselves headlong, over the shoulders of each other, and drink with an avidity which seemed insatiable. This was the first water in Greene’s rear, which is mentioned by historians, as being resorted to by his army.22 The battle had lasted more than three hours.

Next morning, Marion and Lee were ordered by a circuitous route to gain the enemy’s rear, in order, as it was expected they would retreat, to retard their march and prevent their being reinforced. On the evening of the 9th of September, Stewart piled up the arms of his dead and wounded, and set them on fire, destroyed his stores, left seventy of his own wounded, and some of Greene’s, at the Eutaw; and retreated precipitately towards Monk’s corner. So hurried was his retreat for fifteen miles, that he brought his first division within a few miles of M`Arthur, coming to his aid, before Marion and Lee reached Ferguson’s swamp, their point of destination. To fight between two fires, became hazardous, and the junction of the enemy was effected. Capt. O`Neal of Lee’s horse, fell upon the cavalry of their rear guard, and took most of them prisoners; but Stewart continued his retreat to Wantoot, (Ravenel’s plantation,) about twenty miles below Eutaw, and Greene pursued to Martin’s tavern, fifteen miles. In this battle, the British lost by Greene’s account six hundred men, killed and wounded, and five hundred made prisoners. According to Stewart’s return, he lost eighty-five killed,23 three hundred fifty-one wounded, and two hundred fifty-seven missing. The loss of the Americans was five hundred killed and wounded; among whom were sixty officers. The disparity in these returns of the different commanders is great, but Greene’s prisoners could be counted at leisure. Lieut. Col. Campbell fell as he was leading the Virginia line to the charge. Gen. Greene says of him, “though he fell with distinguished marks of honour, yet his loss is much to be regretted; he was the great soldier, and the firm patriot.” Gen. Marion had many of his men and Col. Hugh Horry wounded; but fewer killed than at Quimby; among the latter was the brave Capt. John Simons, of Pedee.

The British shot generally about five feet too high; but the wind blew that day favourably for Marion’s marksmen, and they did great execution. They fired from fifteen to twenty rounds each man. Both sides claimed the victory; but the fruits of one were with the Americans.

It being now autumn, and his men sickly, Gen. Greene retired to the High Hills of Santee, his favourite encampment; Col. Lee calls them, “The benign hills of Santee.” At this time Gen. Greene encamped on the range of hills immediately below Stateburgh. His head quarters were at Mr. James’, on the right going downwards, a beautiful spot, but now deserted. Many of Greene’s wounded officers and men died, and lie buried on a hill near where the author is now writing. An officer, who died of his wound, (Capt. De Wolfe,) lies interred near De Wolfe’s spring, on his plantation. He was a most gallant soldier. No mound or grave stone points out the spot where such brave men repose. Even the mounds, where the dead at Eutaw were buried, have been lately violated by the cutting of a ditch through them. Alas! my country, why have such things been suffered?

Marion retired to his favourite encampment, at Peyre’s plantation, in Santee river swamp. On the banks of the river at that time there were extensive cornfields on all the plantations, and the most of the low places were cultivated in rice.24 The crops of three or four years past had been housed, and kept out of the enemy’s reach by the difficulty of approach and their retired situation. Here the general fixed himself, much to his liking, in a cane brake, about a quarter of a mile from the river, which however was soon cleared to thatch the huts of himself and his men. Some lakes which skirted the high land, rendered the post difficult of approach, and here was forage for horses, and beef, pork, rice, and green corn25 for the men, in the greatest abundance. Such a place suited Marion’s views exactly, and here, or in the neighbourhood, he encamped often; but did not stay long at present. It appears now there was very little sickness at that day.

Soon after the battle of Eutaw, Gen. Alexander Leslie took command of the British army. On the 17th of September Gen. Greene wrote to Marion: “I have the pleasure to congratulate you on the arrival of Count De Grasse, in Chesapeake bay, with twenty-eight sail of the line, a number of frigates and six thousand land forces; Gen. Washington is also arrived in Virginia to take command of the army. From these circumstances, and from some further intelligence of Lord Cornwallis’ movements, it is highly probable that his lordship will endeavour to retreat through North Carolina to Charleston. I must therefore entreat that you will use every exertion to collect a large force of militia together, and as speedy as possible, that we may be able to intercept his lordship.” As Gen. Marion’s scouts at this time frequently passed round the enemy, and harrassed them much between their camp and Charleston, it has often been a matter of surprise why he should recross the Santee; but this letter explains it, for he crossed it to collect his men, and he encamped at Cantey’s plantation a considerable time for that purpose. On the 1st of Sept. Gov. Rutledge had ordered out only the half of the militia; now all were again directed to take the field as formerly.

Another good reason for Gen. Greene and Marion’s lying so long inactive at this season, is to be found in a letter in the correspondence mentioned; and though the date is later than the present period, yet the fact comes in properly here. Gen. Marion, as it appears from what follows after, had written to Greene and the governor for ammunition on the 9th of October. On the 10th, Gov. Rutledge answers his letter: “I received yours yesterday, by Mr. Boone, and wrote in the most pressing terms to Col. Williams, (Gen. Greene not being yet returned from Charlotte, for which place he set out on Friday) for a supply of ammunition; I wish to God it was in my power to send you ammunition instantly, but it is not.” Col. Otho Williams, who was second in command of the army, writes to Gen. Marion, and, although his letter is not dated, the connection of the correspondence is evident: “As Gen. Greene is not in camp, I took the liberty of opening your letter of the 9th instant. Our stock of ammunition is quite exhausted — we have not an ounce of powder, or a cartridge, in store. The arrival of some military stores which we expect every hour, will put it in the general’s power to supply you amply. His excellency Gov. Rutledge has intimated that you meditated an expedition over the Santee; in making your determination, if it is not settled, permit me to recommend to your consideration, that the general depends upon you entirely for intelligence of the enemy’s motion.” These extracts of letters must be read with astonishment. — With what uncommon fortitude must such men have been endowed, to bear up under such continued discouragements. As Gen. Marion lay a long time here, it will give occasion to relate some other matters, which as fortunate events have for some time past thickened, would have perplexed the narrative to have introduced before.

About the 10th August, Georgetown was burnt. — One Manson, commanding a small armed vessel, arrived within gunshot of the town, and sent a party in a boat under cover of his guns, and set fire to some houses on a wharf at the lower end of the Bay, and the wind favouring, the whole town, except a few houses on the outskirts, was burnt. No doubt Manson had his orders from Balfour.

As the continental troops were without pay and clothing, a plan was adopted by the governor and council to impress all the indigo for public service which could be found, and it was expected that it would now serve instead of money as a medium of exchange. The principle had been authorised by an old militia law, but it was a rigourous measure and a poor expedient, although the best that could be devised at the time. Many thrifty planters had hoarded up their indigo, ever since the commencement of the war, hoping some day to turn it into money. Capt. Wm. Richardson, of Bloomhill, was appointed commissary general by the governor, and assistants were appointed by him in the several districts of the state; who went about with press warrants in their pockets, and parties to assist them, and set a price upon each man’s indigo, for which they gave him a receipt, promising payment from the state. The general depot was fixed at Bloomhill.

It was in contemplation at the time likewise to raise two regiments of state troops to be attached to Marion’s brigade, and for this purpose all the horses fit for cavalry were impressed, except those of men actually in service. These were indeed high handed measures, but appeared necessary at the time. Winter was approaching, and Gen. Greene states in a letter to Col. Peter Horry, of the 11th of November, “Blankets are so scarce with us, that more than three-fourths of our men are without.” A few goods fit for service were afterwards purchased for indigo, but at an enormous advance.26