Watson and Doyle pursue Marion -- He baffles and harasses them -- Pursues Doyle -- His Despondency and final Resolution.
The preparations of Col. Watson for pursuing and destroying our partisan in his stronghold, were at length complete. He sallied forth from Fort Watson about the first of March, and, with a British regiment and a large body of loyalists -- a force quite sufficient, as was thought, for the desired object -- marched down the Santee, shaping his course for Snow's Island. At the same time, Col. Doyle, at the head of another British regiment, intended for cooperation with Watson, was directed to proceed by way of M`Callum's Ferry, on Lynch's, and down Jeffers' Creek, to the Pedee. Here they were to form a junction.
Marion had no force to meet these enemies in open combat. His number did not much exceed three hundred, but he had other resources of his own which better served to equalize them. Doyle's approach was slow, and it seems partially unsuspected. In fact, in order to meet his enemies, and make the most of his strength, Marion had generally called in his scouting parties. Of Watson's movements he had ample information. His scouts, well provided with relays of horses, traversed the country between his camp and Camden. Advised correctly of Watson's progress, he made one of those rapid marches for which he was famous, and met him at Wiboo Swamp, about midway between Nelson's and Murray's ferries. At this place commenced a conflict as remarkable as it was protracted. The advance of Watson consisted of the Tory horse, under Col. Richboo. Col. Peter Horry led Marion's advance, consisting of about thirty men. The remainder of the brigade lay in reserve. The encounter of the two advanced parties produced a mutual panic, both recoiling upon their main bodies; but that of Horry was the first to recover; and the command to charge, given by Marion himself, produced the desired effect. Horry was at length driven back by Watson's regulars, and the field-pieces, which finally dislodged him. They were pursued by the Tory horse of Harrison, which, pressing upon the main body, gained some advantages; and, in the uncertainty of the event, while there was some confusion, afforded an opportunity for several instances of great individual valor. As the column of Harrison pressed over the causeway, which was narrow, Gavin James, a private of great spirit and gigantic size, mounted on a strong grey horse, and armed with musket and bayonet, threw himself in advance of his comrades, and directly in the path of the enemy. Taking deliberate aim, he fired his piece, dropped his man, and drew a volley from those in front of him, not a shot of which took effect. His determined position and presence, in the centre of the narrow causeway, produced a pause in the advance. A dragoon rushed upon him, and was stricken down by the bayonet. A second, coming to the assistance of his comrade, shared the same fate, but, in falling, laid hold of the muzzle of James' musket, and was dragged by him in the retreat some forty or fifty paces. This heroism was not without its effect. If the men of Marion faltered for a moment, such examples, and the voice of their general, re-invigorated their courage. Capts. Macauley and Conyers, at the head of the cavalry, arrested the advance of the Tories; and Harrison himself fell, mortally wounded, by the hands of Conyers. The Tories were dispersed, and sought shelter from the infantry of Watson, before the advance of which Marion deemed it prudent for the time to retire.
Marion lost nothing by this meeting. Its effect upon the Tories was highly
beneficial. They had suffered severely in killed and wounded, and were thus
intimidated at the outset. Watson encamped that night on the field of battle,
and Marion a few miles below. The next morning the pursuit was resumed. Watson
marched down the river, Marion keeping just sufficiently ahead of him to
be able to post an ambuscade for him at the first point that seemed suitable
for such a purpose. At Mount Hope, Watson had to build up the bridges, and
sustain a second conflict with a chosen party of Marion's, led by Col. Hugh
Horry. By bringing forward his field-pieces, and drilling the swamp thickets
with grape, he succeeded in expelling Horry, and clearing the way for his
column. But the same game was to be renewed with every renewal of the
When Watson drew near to Murray's Ferry, he passed the Kingstree road; and, coming to that of Black river, which crosses at the lower bridge, he made a feint of still continuing along the Santee; but soon after wheeled about, and took the former route. This manoeuvre might have deceived a less wary antagonist than Marion. He was soon aware of the enemy's intention. Detaching Major James, at the head of seventy men, thirty of whom were M`Cottry's rifles, he ordered him to destroy the bridge, and so post himself as to command it. He himself kept his eye fixed upon Watson. This bridge was on the main pass to Williamsburg, and the men chosen for its defence were judiciously taken from that part of the country. It was naturally supposed that, in sight of their cottage smokes, they would struggle manfully against the enemy's forces.
James proceeded with great rapidity, and, avoiding the road, crossed the river by a shorter route. He reached the bridge in time to throw down two of the middle arches, and to fire the string pieces at the eastern extremity. As soon as the chasm was made, he placed M`Cottry's riflemen at the end of the bridge and on each side of the ford. The rest of his detachment were so stationed as to cooperate, when required, with their comrades. Marion arriving soon after, strengthened the force of James with the Pedee company under Captain Potts, and took post himself, with the main body, in the rear. These arrangements had scarcely been effected when Watson made his appearance. At this place the west bank of the river is considerably higher than the east. The latter is low and somewhat swampy. On the west, the road passes to the bridge through a ravine. The river was forty or fifty yards wide, and though deep, was fordable below the bridge. The ravine was commanded by M`Cottry's rifles. As soon as Watson approached the river, which he did from the west, his field-pieces opened upon the passage which conducted to the ford. But the position assigned to Marion's men, on the eastern side of the river, effectually protected them. To bring the field-pieces to bear upon the low grounds which they occupied, was to expose the artillerists, upon the elevated banks which they occupied, to the deliberate and fatal fire of the riflemen. Watson was soon made aware of the difficulties of the passage. Not a man approached within gun-shot that did not pay the penalty of his rashness; and those who drew nigh to succor or carry off the wounded, shared the same fate. It was determined to attempt the ford, and the advance was put forward, as a forlorn hope, with this desperate purpose. The officer leading it, came on very gallantly, waving his sword aloft and loudly encouraging his men. His progress was fatally arrested by M`Cottry's rifle. The signal drew the fire of the riflemen and musketeers, with whom the banks were lined, and the heavy and deliberate discharge drove back and dispersed the British advance, nor did the reserve move forward to its assistance. Four brave fellows attempted to carry off the officer who had fallen, but they remained with him.
Watson was terrified. He was heard to say that "he had never seen such shooting in his life." There was no effecting the passage in the face of such enemies, and stealing down to the banks of the river, on the side which they occupied, and wherever the woods afforded shelter, the British skirmished with Marion's flankers across the stream until night put an end to the conflict.
The next morning Watson sent that dispatch to Marion which, from its lugubrious tenor, has acquired a degree of notoriety much greater than the name of the officer from whom it emanated. He complained to Marion of his modes of fighting, objected to the ambuscades of the partisan, and particularly complained that his picquets and sentinels should be shot down when they had no suspicion of danger. He concluded by urging upon Marion to come out and fight him like a gentleman and Christian, according to the laws of civilized warfare. While the tone of the letter was thus lugubrious, its language was offensive. He applied to the partisans the epithets "banditti and murderers". Marion returned no answer to this precious document, but renewed his order to his nightly patrols, to shoot the sentinels and cut off the picquets as before. He thought the measure quite as legitimate in such a war, as the burning the house and hanging the son of the widow.
But though Marion returned no answer by the flag, to the letter of Watson, there was a dispatch by one of the brigade, of a somewhat curious character. There was a sergeant in the brigade by the name of McDonald, of whom something has been heard before. He was the same bold fellow who had so closely pursued Major Gainey into Georgetown, leaving his bayonet in the possession and person of the latter. He was distinguished by his great coolness and courage, an extraordinary degree of strength, and a corresponding share of agility. He was as notorious among the enemy for his audacity, as he was among his comrades for his great modesty and goodness of heart. It appears that, among some of Watson's captures, while pressing hard upon our partisans, had been the entire wardrobe of McDonald. The sergeant felt it as something more than a loss of property that his clothes should be taken by the enemy. It was a point of honor that he should recover them. His message to Watson was of this purport. He concluded with solemnly assuring the bearer of the flag, that if the clothes were not returned he would kill eight of his men. Watson was furious at a message which increased the irritation of his late discomfiture. Knowing nothing himself of McDonald, he was disposed to treat the message with contempt; but some of his officers, who knew better the person with whom they had to deal, begged that the clothes of the sergeant might be returned to him, for that he would most certainly keep his word if they were not. Watson complied with the suggestion. When the clothes appeared, McDonald said to the bearer, "Tell Col. Watson, I will now kill but four of his men." Two days after he shot Lieut. Torriano through the knee with a rifle, at a distance of three hundred yards.
Marion, the next day, took post on a ridge below the ford of the river, which is still popularly called "The General's Island". His rifles still effectually commanded the passage and baffled every attempt of Watson to cross. Pushing M`Cottry and Conyers over the river, they exercised themselves in cutting off his patrols and picquets. To save himself from these annoyances, Watson retreated a little higher up the river and pitched his camp at Blakeley's plantation, in the most open field that he could find. Here he remained for ten days almost environed by his adroit and active enemy. Night and day was he kept in a condition of alarm and apprehension. The cavalry beat up his quarters when he slept, while the riflemen picked off his men the moment they exposed themselves. It was while he was in this situation that the brave Capt. Conyers presented himself daily before the lines of the enemy, either as a single cavalier, or at the head of his troop, demanding an opponent. The anecdote has been already narrated in another chapter.
The temper of Watson was very much subdued by this sort of warfare. His next letter to Marion was of very different tone from that sent but a few days before. He now solicits a pass from his enemy for Lieut. Torriano and others wounded, whom he desired to send to Charleston. This was promptly granted. Meanwhile he employed a negro from Chevin's plantation to carry a letter to the commandant at Georgetown. In endeavoring to make his way, the negro was killed and the letter fell into the hands of Marion. It contained a woful complaint of the unfair mode of fighting pursued by the partisans, and implored a reinforcement.* In fact Watson was literally besieged. His supplies were cut off, his progress arrested, and so many of his men perished in the continual skirmishing, that he is reported by tradition to have sunk them in Black river in order to conceal their numbers. He was finally compelled to decamp. If his path was beset with dangers, it was death to remain in his present situation. Making a forced march down the Georgetown road, he paused when he reached Ox swamp, six miles below the lower bridge. His flight had been harassed by light parties of the Americans; but here he found them prepared for, and awaiting him. The road through which he was to pass, was skirted by a thick boggy swamp, and before him the causeway was covered with trees which had been felled to obstruct his passage. The bridges were destroyed, and Marion lay directly in his path, prepared for a final encounter. Watson shrunk from the prospect, and determined upon another route. Wheeling to the right he dashed through the open pine woods, for the Santee road, about fifteen miles. When overtaken by Marion upon this road, his infantry were hurrying forward, like horses, at a full trot. But few natural obstacles attended his progress on this path, and the extraordinary rapidity of his flight had put him considerably ahead of his pursuers. But he was not yet to escape. The cavalry of Horry, and the riflemen of M`Cottry, galled him at every step in flank and rear. When he reached Sampit bridge a last skirmish took place, which might have terminated in the complete defeat of the enemy, but for the cowardice of a Lieut. Scott, of Horry's detachment. Watson was attacked fiercely in the flank and rear by the whole force of Marion. His horse was killed, and his own life endangered. The affair was equally short and sharp, and had it not been that the ambush placed by Horry failed to discharge its duty, Watson would, in all probability, never have reached Georgetown, or only reached it on parole. He gained it finally in safety, thoroughly harassed and discomfited by the subtle enemy whom he had gone forth, with a superior force, and a confident hope, to destroy or capture.
-- * Horry's MS. --
But the success of our partisan against Watson did not necessarily dispose of his enemies. While he had been engaged in the events, as just given, Col. Doyle had succeeded in penetrating to his haunts on Snow's Island. That famous retreat had been entrusted to a small body of men under the command of Col. Ervin. Ervin was defeated, and Doyle obtained possession of all Marion's stores. Arms and ammunition were emptied into Lynch's Creek, and this at a period, when every ounce of powder, and pound of shot, were worth, to our partisans, their weight in gold. It was while moving from Sampit towards Snow's Island, that Marion was apprised of this mortifying intelligence. It was a matter to be deplored certainly, but it was one of those events that could not have been prevented. The force of Marion was too small to suffer him to play the admirable game, already described, with Watson, yet leave a sufficient body of men in camp for its protection. He had only to console himself by taking his revenge, and he turned the head of his columns in pursuit of Doyle. This officer made his way to Witherspoon's Ferry, on Lynch's Creek, where he lay in a good position on the north side of the Ferry. Marion approached him cautiously, with M`Cottry's mounted riflemen in advance. Arriving at the creek a detachment of the British was found on the opposite side, engaged in scuttling the ferry boat. The riflemen drew nigh unperceived, and poured in a well directed and deadly fire, which produced the utmost consternation. The fire was returned in volleys, but the limbs and branches of the trees suffered infinitely more than the riflemen who lay behind them. Marion now made his arrangements for crossing the stream. But this was not to be done in the face of the enemy, with the creek before him wide and swollen. Marion moved rapidly up the creek, which he swam at the first favorable point some five miles above Witherspoon's. This brought him nearer to Doyle's position, but the latter had not waited for him. Whether it was that he had little taste for the sort of annoyances to which Watson had been subjected, or that he had received instructions from Lord Rawdon to join him at Camden, in all haste, it is certain that he made the greatest speed in hurrying in that direction.
It was at this period that Marion held a consultation with Horry, in which he is represented by that officer as in an unusual state of despondency. His enemies were accumulating around him with unwonted rapidity, and in greater force than ever. Watson, furious at his late disasters, and mortified with the result of his confident anticipations, had sallied forth from Georgetown with a reinforcement. He had gone towards the Pedee, where he strengthened himself with the large body of Tories which Gainey had commanded. Horry tells us of a third body of men at the same time in the field, with Doyle and Watson, and all addressing themselves to the same object, his utter expulsion from the country. At that moment the expulsion of our Partisan would leave the conquest of the State complete.
In these emergencies, with these foes accumulating around him, the mind of
Marion naturally addressed itself with more gravity than usual to the task
of his extrication from his enemies. His countenance, as Horry describes
it, was troubled. But, with his usual taciturnity, he said nothing on the
subject of his anxieties. Seeing him walking alone, and in deep revery, Horry
approached him, and said --
"General, our men are few, and, if what I hear be true, you never wanted them more."
Marion started, and replied --
"Go immediately to the field officers, and know from them, if, in the event of my being compelled to retire to the mountains, they will follow my fortunes, and with me carry on the war, until the enemy is forced out of the country. Go, and bring me their answer without delay."
It was a peculiarity in Marion's character, that he should have entrusted such a commission to a subordinate. But it accords with all that we have seen of the reserve and shyness of his moods. The simple remark to Horry indicates his admirable firmness, his calculations, even of possible necessities long in advance, and his instinctive mode of encountering them as he best might. His determination, on his own account, to carry on the war against the enemy in the mountains, till they or himself were expelled from the country, denotes the unsubmitting patriot. The reader must not forget that, at this moment, there was no force in the State but his own, arrayed against the British. Sumter was still `hors de combat' from his wound. The army of Greene, having with it Pickens, and other native militia, was in North Carolina, watching the movements of Cornwallis. Lord Rawdon, with a strong British garrison, held Camden. Charleston and Georgetown, Ninety-Six and Granby, Forts Watson and Motte, were all held, with numerous other conspicuous points, by the British; and with Watson, whose force now numbered a thousand men, Doyle half that number, and several active and large bodies of Tories prepared to cooperate with these against our partisan, the danger of Marion's situation, and his patriotic resolve of character, are conspicuous at a glance.
Horry sought the officers, and promptly returned to his commander. To a man they had pledged themselves to follow his fortunes, however disastrous, while one of them survived, and until their country was freed from the enemy. Marion's countenance instantly brightened -- we cannot forbear the use of Horry's own language, though it may provoke a smile -- "he was tip-toed" -- (i.e.) -- he rose upon his toes -- and said "I am satisfied -- one of these parties shall soon feel us."*
-- * Horry's MS., pp. 59, 60. --
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