Marion and The Later Years

Erick Nason

One of the problems with most people today is that they believe the War for American Independence ended with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. This was far from the truth. In fact, the number of British, German and Loyalist forces which surrendered at Yorktown was small if compared to other British forces in the colonies. There were still some 30,000 British soldiers stationed in and around New York City with General Clinton. The fighting did not end with Cornwallis' surrender; it was one event amongst many other engagements. After Cornwallis won his pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse and marched to Virginia, Greene and partisan leaders like Marion were still busy conducting military operations in the Carolinas.

"The Partisan Swamp Fox" © by Bryant White from his
2007 calendar which can be purchased from his website.

On December 30th, 1780 Francis Marion was promoted by Governor Rutledge to Brigadier General due to "his rare abilities. As a Continental officer he had rallied, inspired, and lead the militia to victory after victory. He was a sound strategist, a keen tactician and a savage fighter. He was a stern disciplinarian, observing and demanding the highest standards of military efficiency. And yet he was kind, humane, and thoroughly sympathetic to his suffering, ill-equipped followers." Marion set about forming his brigade, appointing Colonel Hugh Ervin, the senior militia officer as his second-in-command. Captain Milton was selected as his aide, Captains Ogier and Elliott as his junior aides. Elliot would be responsible for Marion'scorrespondences with the governor and General Greene. Colonel Peter Horry retained command of the cavalry and Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Horry assumed command of the infantry regiment due to Colonel McDonald being a prisoner on parole. Due to a lack of ammunition, parts of the infantry were converted to cavalry, local blacksmiths forging broad swords.

The Southern Army was keeping the British forces in the Carolinas so tied up that they would be no factor in the up coming siege at Yorktown. Marion supporting Greene conducted numerous sieges against British outposts and forts, slowly driving the British to Charleston. General Washington had instructed Greene to keep the British from leaving South Carolina. Along with smaller raids and ambushes, Marion and his men conducted more and more conventional-style of warfare. Loyalists were marching in groups of 400 to 500 men, ravaging the area south of the City of Charleston. Greene asked Marion to help Colonel Harden, one of Marion's old partisans. Marion's men engaged a combined British, German, Provincial and Loyalist force under Lieutenant Colonel von Borck at Parker's Ferry. Marion's men lost 1 killed and 3 wounded, to approximately 125 killed and 80 wounded of the British force.

On September 8th, Greene with Marion attacked the British camp at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. Greene was not winning the battles, but his strategy was destroying the British. They had abandoned Camden, Ninety-Six and lost Fort Watson. Greene had found Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart's camp and was planning to attack when Marion arrived at his camp. This surprised Greene, for he did not realize Marion was that close by. In the opening engagement, Greene was able to push the British out of their camp, Marion and his brigade in the first line. Green commented that Marion's men "would have graced the veterans of the great king of Prussia."

Marion's men ran out of ammunition and had to withdraw, which they did in good order. However, the British were able to organize a counter-attack and drove Greene from the field. While Stewart claimed victory, it was a Pyrrhic victory like Cornwallis'. Stewart's army was destroyed, the Battle of Eutaw Springs was considered the most bloodiest of the southern battles.

Due to the losses suffered by Marion, Greene attached a contingent of 600 "over the mountain" militiamen from Colonels Shelby and Sevier. Marion sent Mahan with some of the Shelby's illustrious riflemen to attack the British redoubt at Wappetaw. The British saw the force approaching and abandoned their post. On November 10th, Marion received news of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown. Marion organized a victory ball and invited the ladies. He was celebrating not only because of the surrender, but what the surrender meant. Men freed up to be sent south to reinforce them and their campaign against the British in South Carolina.

The British attempted to reinforce and defend the position at Fair Lawn Plantation. Marion decided to attack for the British seemed confused and unorganized. Marion sent Mahan and 200 riflemen once more. Along the way, they found another British post and attempted to lure the cavalry into a fight. The British did not take the bait, but followed close behind when Maham moved on. When Maham arrived at Fair Lawn, he observed the British fort to be too strong to attack. With the British cavalry approaching, Maham attacked one of the out buildings which were the hospital which quickly surrendered. Maham captured 300 stands of arms and other stores. 150 medical and invalids were captured and paroled. The hospital was burned in view of the British and Maham withdrew.

With the British presence diminishing in South Carolina, the Colonials decided to take back Charlestown and began a siege of the city. By January 1782, the city was surrounded by partisans, militia and regular soldiers. General Alexander Leslie was in command of the British forces in the city. To protect the city, he had several outposts constructed which were supported by armed galleys. British Major Brereton put soldiers on Videau's Bridge on January 3rd, 1782 to protect the crossing. Colonel Richardson of Marion's brigade attacked the British. The British were able to fire a volley that killed 22 partisans and disrupted the attack. The British chased after the disorganized partisans and a six-mile running battle ensued.

Not all was well within Marion's ranks. Colonel Horry and Maham did not like each other. Maham was an independent Continental cavalry officer and would not take orders from Horry. Though Marion was a Continental officer, he had been elected to the South Carolina General Assembly as a senator. While he was away at the assembly in Jacksonboro, Horry was left in command. Maham would follow on Greene's orders, not Horry's. On the advice of Marion, Horry moved the brigade to Wambaw Creek near the Santee. Loyalist Colonel Benjamin Thompson heard of the brigade's move and the break down between Horry and Maham. He decided to assemble all of the cavalry in Charlestown and attack the brigade near Durant's plantation. The attack faltered as the rickety bridge which the Loyalist was riding across collapsed.

After hearing of the attack, Marion left the general assembly and returned to his men. On February 25th, 1782 Thompson's infantry was moving with their captured booty of cattle. This was a deception, for Thompson was moving with his cavalry and mounted infantry to attack Marion again. He believed Marion would have returned to his camp after his last attack. Both were surprised when their cavalry ran into each other and furiously attacked one another. Thompson quickly recovered and attacked while Marion rallied his men a half mile away. Marion had lost most of their arms and horses. Following the battle, Marion's regiment only numbered 60 and Horry's command was decimated. Marion reverted to partisan tactics and faded into the woods. Thompson's raid allowed the British to freely forage from February to April.

On March 15th, 1782 Marion's men attacked a group of Loyalists near Middleton Plantation which killed three and captured one. Marion continued to send out patrols to check on the British intentions as the war wound down. During a patrol in August 1782, Captain Capers of Horry's cavalry ran into twenty-six black dragoons led by two black officers, Captain March and Lieutenant Mingo. After defeating the dragoons, Capers was able to free three neighbors who had been prisoners. General Leslie sent another foraging party towards Monck's Corner under Major Fraser for meat to supply the hospital. Marion learned of this patrol and organized an ad hoc force to go after them. Marion organized an ambush for Fraser near Wadboo River. As the British came within thirty yards, Marion's men gave a cheer and fired a volley. Unfortunately the horse with Marion's ammunition wagon bolted at the sound of gunfire. Fraser kept looking for an advantage, but Marion had emplaced his ambush well. Unfortunately, his men ran out of ammunition and Marion was forced to fall back.

This was Marion's last official fight. Marion was asked to strike against another foraging party; however Marion guarded the British as they looked for food. Marion stated, "My brigade is composed of citizens, enough of whose blood has already been shed. If ordered to attack, I shall obey; but with my consent, not another life shall be lost on the eve of their departure." Nineteen months after Lincoln surrendered Charleston and Marion began his life as a partisan, General Leslie evacuated Charleston. He had agreed not to destroy the city if the Patriots allowed his men to depart in safety. It was the 14th of December 1782; the war itself would end officially six months later.

Francis Marion married his first cousin Mary Ester Videau on February 20th, 1786. Marion remained a little in politics, being a delegate to South Carolina's Constitution Convention. After seeing South Carolina joining the union, Marion withdrew from political life. Marion still remained the soldier, devoting his attention to the militia. He retained the command of his brigade, and attended musters, advised the new officers, trained them, until the reorganization in 1794. Marion finally accepted retirement and settled down to be a normal citizen. However, Marion had one last battle. The years of campaigning, days and nights in the swamps, were now having their effects on his health. Comrades came and paid their respects. Peter Horry stopped one evening at the two old war horses stayed up recalling exploits of their campaigns. Francis Marion soon answered a new call to assemble on February 27th, 1795 when he passed away. His family buried him in the family plot on Gabriel's Plantation on Belle Isle.

Copyright © 2007 Erick Nason. All rights reserved.