Failing to overtake Marion in his retreat, and unwilling to press upon him in his stronghold, Tarleton turned the heads of his columns in the search after the other famous partisan of Carolina, General Sumter. This gentleman, after the surprise and dispersion of his force, which had followed so closely the defeat of Gates, had fallen back, with the wreck of his command, to the neighborhood of the mountains. But, no sooner was it understood that a second Continental army was on its march for Carolina, than he emerged from his retreat, and renewed his enterprises with as much activity as ever. It was to direct his arms against this enemy, and to restrain his incursions, that Tarleton was recalled from the pursuit of Marion by Earl Cornwallis.
The force under Sumter had increased to about five hundred men when he approached, and took post within twenty-eight miles of the encampment of Cornwallis at Winnsboro'. This approach, particularly as Sumter, unlike Marion, was apt to linger some time in a favorite position, induced the British commander to attempt his surprise. Col. Wemyss was accordingly sent against him with a strong body of British infantry. But Wemyss was defeated, severely wounded himself, and fell into the hands of the Americans. The failure of Wemyss, and the audacity of Sumter, provoked the anxiety and indignation of Cornwallis. Tarleton promptly seconded the wishes of his superior, and rapidly advanced upon his adversary. Sumter, hearing of his approach, and with a force very far superior to his own, commenced his retreat, and threw the Tyger River between himself and his pursuer. Apprehensive only of losing his prey, and not at all doubtful of his victory, Tarleton continued the pursuit with about four hundred mounted men, leaving the main body of his infantry and artillery to follow. As soon as Sumter discovered that the whole of the British army was not at his heels, he discontinued his flight, and waited for his enemy at the house and farm of one Blackstock, on the banks of the Tyger. Here an action followed, in which the British were defeated. Tarleton lost ninety-two slain and one hundred wounded. The Americans lost three men slain and as many wounded. But among the latter was their commander. The wound of Sumter was in the breast, and a very severe one. He was wrapped up in the raw hide of a bullock, suspended between two horses, and, guarded by a hundred faithful followers,* was conveyed in safety to North Carolina, where, unhappily, he lay for some time totally incapacitated from active performance.
-- * Judge James says "a guard of five men". -- A. L., 1996. --
This event was preceded and followed by others quite as encouraging to the American cause. The battle of King's Mountain took place on the 7th October, 1780, in which the British, under Major Ferguson, experienced a total defeat; Ferguson being slain, and the killed, wounded and captured of his army, amounting to eleven hundred men. Meanwhile, the example of Marion and Sumter had aroused the partisan spirit in numerous other places; and every distinct section of the country soon produced its particular leader, under whom the Whigs embodied themselves, striking wherever an opportunity offered of cutting off the British and Tories in detail, and retiring to places of safety, or dispersing in groups, on the approach of a superior force. This species of warfare was, of all kinds, that which was most likely to try the patience, and baffle the progress, of the British commander. He could overrun the country, but he made no conquests. His great armies passed over the land unquestioned, but had no sooner withdrawn, than his posts were assailed, his detachments cut off, his supplies arrested, and the Tories once more overawed by their fierce and fearless neighbors. Marion's brigade, in particular, constantly in motion, -- moving by night as frequently as by day, singularly well informed by its scouts, and appearing at the least expected moment, -- was always ready to prevent the gathering, into force and strength, of the loyalists. And this activity was shown, and this warfare waged, at a time, when, not only was the State without an army, without any distinct embodiment of its own, or of its confederates, -- but when it was covered everywhere with strong and well appointed posts of the enemy. The position of Earl Cornwallis at Winnsboro', completed his chain of posts from Georgetown to Augusta, in a circle, the centre of which would have been about Beaufort, in South Carolina, equidistant from Charleston and Savannah. These posts consisted of Georgetown, Camden, Winnsboro', Ninety-Six and Augusta. Within this circle was an interior chain, at the distance of half the radius, consisting of Fort Watson on the road to Camden, Motte's house, and Granby on the Congaree. Dorchester and Orangeburgh, on the road both to Ninety-Six and Granby, were fortified as posts of rest and deposit, on the line of communication; as was Monck's (spelled Monk's in Simm's original book) Corner, or Biggin Church, and some other small posts on that to Camden. These posts were all judiciously chosen, both for arming the country and obtaining subsistence.*
-- * Johnson's Greene, vol. 1. --
(note by FOC, correct spelling of Monck's Corner was pointed out by an anonymous reader)
Penetrating between these posts, and snatching their prey, or smiting the enemy's detachments, under the very jaws of their cannon, our partisans succeeded in embodying public opinion,
through the very sense of shame, against their enemies. The courage of the Whigs was ennobled, and their timidity rebuked, when they beheld such a daring spirit, and one so crowned by frequent successes, in such petty numbers. The `esprit de corps', which these successes, and this spirit, awakened in the brigade of Marion, necessarily imparted itself to the region of country in which he operated; and the admiration which he inspired in the friendly, and the fear which he taught to the adverse, uniting in their effects, brought equally the faithful and the doubtful to his ranks.
From the moment that he eluded the arts, and baffled the pursuit of Tarleton, the people of that tract of country, on a line stretching from Camden, across, to the mouth of Black Creek on the Pedee, including generally both banks of the Wateree, Santee and Pedee, were now (excepting Harrison's party on Lynch's Creek) either ready, or preparing to join him. Under these auspices, with his brigade increasing, Marion began to prepare for new enterprises.
The British post at Georgetown was one of considerable strength and importance. It was of special importance to Marion. From this place he procured, or expected to procure, his supplies of salt, clothing, and ammunition. Of these commodities he was now grievously in want. To surprise Georgetown became as desirable as it was difficult. Marion determined to attempt it. It was only by a surprise that he could hope to be successful, and he made his plans accordingly.
They were unfortunate, and the event was particularly and personally distressing to himself. To expedite his schemes, he crossed Black river, at a retired place, called Potato Ferry, and proceeded by the "Gap-way" towards the object of his aim. Three miles from the town there is an inland swamp, called "White's Bay", which, discharging itself by two mouths, the one into Black river, the other into Sampit, completely insulates the town, which stands on the north side of the latter river near its junction with Winyaw bay. Over the creek which empties into the Sampit, there is a bridge, two miles from Georgetown. In the rear of these swamps, Marion concealed himself with the main body of his force, sending out two parties to reconnoitre. One of these parties was commanded by Col. P. Horry, the other by Capt. Melton. These officers both encountered the enemy, but they were not both equally fortunate in the result. Horry may be allowed to tell his own story. "I was sent," he writes, "by Gen. Marion to reconnoitre Georgetown. I proceeded with a guide through the woods all night. At the dawn of day, I drew near the town. I laid an ambuscade, with thirty men and three officers, near the road. About sunrise a chair appeared with two ladies escorted by two British officers. I was ready in advance with an officer to cut them off, but reflecting that they might escape, and alarm the town, which would prevent my taking greater numbers, I desisted. The officers and chair halted very near me, but soon the chair went on, and the officers gallopped in retrograde into the town.
Our party continued in ambush, until 10 o'clock A.M. "Nothing appearing, and men and horses having eaten nothing for thirty-six hours, we were hungered, and retired to a plantation of my quarter-master's, a Mr. White, not far distant. There a curious scene took place. As soon as I entered the house . . . four ladies appeared, two of whom were Mrs. White and her daughter. I was asked what I wanted. I answered, food, refreshment. The other two ladies were those whom I had seen escorted by the British officers. They seemed greatly agitated, and begged most earnestly that I would go away, for the family was very poor, had no provisions of any sort, -- that I knew that they were Whigs, and surely would not add to their distress. So pressing were they for my immediately leaving the plantation, that I thought they had more in view than they pretended. I kept my eye on Mrs. White, and saw she had a smiling countenance, but said nothing. Soon she left the room, and I left it also and went into the piazza, laid my cap, sword and pistols on the long bench, and walked the piazza; -- when I discovered Mrs. White behind the house chimney beckoning me. I got to her undiscovered by the young ladies, when she said: `Colonel Horry, be on your guard; these two young ladies, Miss F---- and M----, are just from Georgetown; they are much frightened, and I believe the British are leaving it and may soon attack you. As to provisions, which they make such a rout about, I have plenty for your men and horses in yonder barn, but you must affect to take them by force. Hams, bacon, rice, and fodder, are there. You must insist on the key of the barn, and threaten to split the door with an axe if not immediately opened.' I begged her to say no more, for I was well acquainted with all such matters -- to leave the ladies and everything else to my management. She said `Yes; but do not ruin us: be artful and cunning, or Mr. White may be hanged and all our houses burnt over our heads.' We both secretly returned, she to the room where the young ladies were, and I to the piazza I had just left."*1* This little narrative will give some idea of the straits to which the good whig matrons of Carolina were sometimes reduced in those days. But no time was allowed Horry to extort the provisions as suggested. He had scarcely got to the piazza when his videttes gave the alarm. Two shots warned him of the approach of the foe, and forgetting that his cap, sabre and pistols, lay on the long bench on the piazza, Horry mounted his horse, left the enclosure, and rushed into the melee. The British were seventeen in number, well mounted, and commanded by a brave fellow named Merritt. The dragoons, taken by surprise, turned in flight, and, smiting at every step, the partisans pursued them with fatal earnestness. But two men are reported to have escaped death or captivity, and they were their captain and a sergeant. It was in approaching to encounter Merritt that Horry discovered that he was weaponless. "My officers," says he, "in succession, came up with Captain Merritt, who was in the rear of his party, urging them forward. They engaged him. He was a brave fellow. Baxter, with pistols, fired at his breast, and missing him, retired; Postelle and Greene, with swords, engaged him; both were beaten off. Greene nearly lost his head. His buckskin breeches were cut through several inches. . . . I almost blush to say that this one British officer beat off three Americans."*2* The honor of the day was decidedly with Merritt, though he was beaten. He was no doubt a far better swordsman than our self-taught cavalry, with broadswords wrought out of mill saws. Merritt abandoned his horse, and escaped to a neighboring swamp, from whence, at midnight, he got into Georgetown.*3* Two of Horry's prisoners proved to be American soldiers; "the sergeant belonged to the 3d Regiment of South Carolina Continentals, and a drummer formerly belonged to my own Regiment (the 5th). The drummer was cruelly wounded on the head; the sergeant was of Virginia, and wounded on the arm. They said they had enlisted from the Prison Ship to have a chance of escaping and joining their countrymen in arms,"*4* and would have done so that day but that the British captain was in the rear, and they dared not. Horry rejoined Marion in safety with his prisoners.
Captain Melton was not so fortunate. He came in contact with a party of Tories, much larger than his own force, who were patrolling, under Captain Barfield, near White's Bridge. A sharp, but short action followed, in which Melton was compelled to retreat. But Gabriel Marion, a nephew of the general, had his horse shot under him, and fell into the hands of the Tories. As soon as he was recognized he was put to death, no respite allowed, no pause, no prayer.* His name was fatal to him. The loss was severely felt by his uncle, who, with no family or children of his own, had lavished the greater part of his affections upon this youth, of whom high expectations had been formed, and who had already frequently distinguished himself by his gallantry and conduct. He had held a lieutenancy in the Second South Carolina Regiment, and was present at the battle of Fort Moultrie. Subsequently, he had taken part in most of the adventures of his uncle. Marion felt his privation keenly; but he consoled himself by saying that "he should not mourn for him. The youth was virtuous, and had fallen in the cause of his country!" But this event, with some other instances of brutality and murder on the part of the Tories, happening about this time, gave a more savage character than ever to the warfare which ensued. Motives of private anger and personal revenge embittered and increased the usual ferocities of civil war; and hundreds of dreadful and desperate tragedies gave that peculiar aspect to the struggle, which led Greene to say that the inhabitants pursued each other rather like wild beasts than like men. In the Cheraw district, on the Pedee, above the line where Marion commanded, the Whig and Tory warfare, of which we know but little beyond this fact, was one of utter extermination. The revolutionary struggle in Carolina was of a sort utterly unknown in any other part of the Union.
-- * Judge James writes: "Gabriel Marion . . . was taken prisoner; but as soon as his name was announced, he was inhumanely shot. The instrument of death was planted so near that it burnt his linen at the breast." -- A. L., 1996. --
The attempt upon Georgetown was thus defeated. The British had taken the alarm, and were now in strength, and in a state of vigilance and activity, which precluded the possibility of surprise. Marion's wishes, therefore, with regard to this place, were deferred accordingly to a more auspicious season. He retired to Snow's Island, where he made his camp. This place acquired large celebrity as the "camp of Marion". To this day it is pointed out with this distinguishing title, and its traditionary honors insisted upon. It was peculiarly eligible for his purposes, furnishing a secure retreat, a depot for his arms, ammunition, prisoners and invalids -- difficult of access, easily guarded, and contiguous to the scenes of his most active operations. "Snow's Island" lies at the confluence of Lynch's Creek and the Pedee. On the east flows the latter river; on the west, Clark's Creek, issuing from Lynch's, and a stream navigable for small vessels; on the north lies Lynch's Creek, wide and deep, but nearly choked by rafts of logs and refuse timber. The island, high river swamp, was spacious, and, like all the Pedee river swamp of that day, abounded in live stock and provision. Thick woods covered the elevated tracts, dense cane-brakes the lower, and here and there the eye rested upon a cultivated spot, in maize, which the invalids and convalescents were wont to tend.
Here Marion made his fortress. Having secured all the boats of the neighborhood, he chose such as he needed, and destroyed the rest. Where the natural defences of the island seemed to require aid from art, he bestowed it; and, by cutting away bridges and obstructing the ordinary pathways with timber, he contrived to insulate, as much as possible, the country under his command. From this fortress, his scouting parties were sent forth nightly in all directions. Enemies were always easy to be found. The British maintained minor posts at Nelson's Ferry and Scott's Lake, as well as Georgetown; and the Tories on Lynch's Creek and Little Pedee were much more numerous, if less skilfully conducted, than the men of Marion.
Marion's encampment implied no repose, no forbearance of the active business of war. Very far from it. He was never more dangerous to an enemy, than when he seemed quietly in camp. His camp, indeed, was frequently a lure, by which to tempt the Tories into unseasonable exposure. The post at Snow's Island gave him particular facilities for this species of warfare. He had but to cross a river, and a three hours' march enabled him to forage in an enemy's country. Reinforcements came to him daily, and it was only now, for the first time, that his command began to assume the appearance, and exhibit the force of a brigade.* He became somewhat bolder in consequence, in the tone which he used towards the Tories. We find him at this period,** sending forth his officers with orders of a peremptory nature. He writes to Adjutant Postelle: "You will proceed with a party down Black river, from Black Mingo to the mouth of Pedee, and come up to this place. You will take all the boats and canoes from Euhaney up, and impress negroes to bring them to camp -- put some men to see them safe. You will take every horse, to whomsoever he may belong, whether friend or foe. You will take all arms and ammunition for the use of our service. You will forbid all persons from carrying any grains, stock, or any sort of provisions to Georgetown, or where the enemy may get them, on pain of being held as traitors, and enemies to the Americans. All persons who will not join you, you will take prisoners and bring to me, &c."
--* December 30, 1780. ** Correspondence of Marion, quoted by James. --
He then laid the country under martial law, the proper measure for straitening an enemy, and compelling sluggish and doubtful friends to declare themselves. In this proceeding he was justified by the authority of Governor Rutledge, from whom, with a brigadier's commission, he had received military command over a region of country of vast extent, which the indefatigable partisan contrived to compass and coerce, if not altogether to command and control. Similar orders with those which were given to Postelle, were addressed to Col. P. Horry; and they were both dispatched; the one, as we have seen, between Black and Pedee rivers, the other to Waccamaw Creek. Other parties were sent out in other quarters, with like objects; and, with the whole contiguous country thus placed under the keenest surveillance, Marion hailed the close of the year in his swamp fortress. All these parties were more or less engaged with the enemy, at different periods, while on their scouting expeditions. Several small, but spirited achievements, of which history condescends to furnish no details, occurred among them, in which, however, the partisans were not always successful. One instance may be mentioned. Lieutenant Roger Gordon had been dispatched with a small party to patrol on Lynch's Creek. He suffered himself, while taking refreshments at a house, to be surrounded by a party of Tories, under Capt. Butler. The enemy made good his approaches to the house, and set it on fire. Finding himself greatly outnumbered, and perceiving that resistance would be useless, Gordon surrendered upon terms; but as soon as his party had yielded up their arms, they were murdered to a man. These bloody events were accompanied and followed by others of a like character. Nor were the Tories always, or exclusively guilty. The sanguinary warfare began with them, but it was perpetuated by mutual excesses. Shortly after the murder of Gabriel Marion, the person who was supposed to have been guilty of the savage crime, was taken prisoner by Horry. While on the road, returning to the camp, environed by his guards, the prisoner was shot down by an officer, who escaped detection under cover of the night. Prisoners, after this, were seldom made on either side, where the Whigs and Tories came in conflict. No quarter was given. Safety lay in victory alone, and the vanquished, if they could not find refuge in the swamps, found no mercy from the conqueror. Even where, under the occasional influence of a milder mood, or milder captain, the discomfited were admitted to present mercy, there was still no security for their lives. There were a few infuriated men, who defied subordination, by whom, on both sides, the unhappy captives were sure to be sacrificed.
We need not say, in behalf of Marion, and his superior officers, that, where he or they commanded in person, no countenance was given to these bloody principles and performances. Marion was notoriously the most merciful of enemies. The death of the prisoner in the ranks of Horry, though the unhappy man was charged with the murder of his favorite nephew, was a subject of the greatest soreness and annoyance to his mind; and he warmly expressed the indignation which he felt, at an action which he could not punish.
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