Marion renews his Pursuit of Doyle -- Confronts Watson -- Is joined by Col. Lee -- Invests and takes Fort Watson -- Fort Motte taken -- Anecdote of Horry and Marion.
Marion instantly put his men in motion in pursuit of Doyle. In crossing the swamp of Lynch's Creek, during the night, several of the soldiers lost their arms, in consequence of the freshet. The swamp was inundated, and it required all their dexterity and promptitude to save themselves. Snatching a hasty breakfast, the pursuit was continued all day, and resumed the next morning until ten o'clock, when they found such signs of the superior speed and haste of the enemy, as to preclude all possibility of overtaking him. They had been necessarily delayed by the passage of the swamp, and had not made sufficient allowance for the speed with which an enemy might run when there was occasion for it. Here they found that Doyle had destroyed all his heavy baggage, and had sped in such confusion towards Camden, that his encampment, and the road which he traversed, were strewn with canteens and knapsacks, and everything, not necessary to defence, which might retard his progress.
Marion, somewhat surprised at a flight for which he could not then account, for his own force was far inferior to that of Doyle, yet saw that the fugitive was beyond present pursuit. He wheeled about, accordingly, and set his men in motion for another meeting with Watson. That commander, now strengthened, and just doubling the numbers of our partisan, with fresh supplies of provisions and military stores, had once more pushed for the Pedee. He took the nearest route across Black river, at Wragg's Ferry, and, crossing the Pedee at Euhaney, and the Little Pedee at Potato Ferry, he halted at Catfish Creek, one mile from the present site of Marion Courthouse. Marion crossed the Pedee, and encamped at the Warhees, within five miles of the enemy. Here he planted himself, in vigilant watch of the force which he could not openly encounter. In addition to the want of men, he labored under a still greater want of ammunition. When asked by Capt. Gavin Witherspoon, whether he meant to fight Watson -- a measure which Witherspoon thought particularly advisable -- before he was joined by any more bodies of Tories, he answered, "That would be best, but we have not ammunition."
"Why, general," said Witherspoon, "my powder-horn is full."
"Ah, my friend!" was the reply of Marion, "YOU are an extraordinary soldier; but for the others, there are not two rounds to a man."
Thus stood the two parties; and thus it but too frequently stood with our partisan -- wanting the most simple resources by which to make his own genius and the valor of his men apparent. That the former was alive and equal to emergencies, even in such a condition of necessity, may be inferred from the fact, that he should dare take such a position, so immediately contiguous to an enemy double his own force, and abounding in all the requisite materials of war. The inactivity of Watson is only to be accounted for by his total ignorance of the resourceless state of Marion's rifles.
While Marion and Watson were thus relatively placed, the former was apprised of the return of Greene to South Carolina. This intelligence accounted for the hasty retreat of Doyle. He was summoned by Lord Rawdon to Camden, to strengthen that position against the American force, which was advancing in that direction. The reappearance of Greene was a source of heartfelt joy to those who, but a little while before, had anticipated the necessity of flying before the foe, and taking shelter in the mountains. It was because of the absence of the American army that Rawdon was enabled, as we have seen, to concentrate his chief force upon Marion. The presence of Greene, which had caused the recall of Doyle, must, as Marion well knew, effect that of Watson also. He was preparing himself accordingly, when further advices brought him news of the approach of Colonel Lee, with the Continental Legion, to his own assistance. He dispatched a guide to Lee, and by means of boats, which he always kept secreted, the Legion was transported over the Pedee, and a junction with Marion's force was effected on the fourteenth of April.
The tidings which had brought such gratification to the camp of Marion, had as inspiring, though not as grateful an effect in that of Watson. He lost no time in breaking up his encampment. The safety of Rawdon and Camden was paramount, and, wheeling his two field-pieces into Catfish Creek, and burning his baggage, as Doyle had done, he sped, with similar precipitation, in the same direction. The route taken in his flight declared his apprehensions of Marion. He trembled at the recollection of the recent race between them -- the harassings and skirmishings night and day -- the sleepless struggles, and unintermitting alarms. Recrossing the Little Pedee, and avoiding Euhaney, he passed the Waccamaw at Greene's Ferry, and, retreating through the Neck, between that river and the sea, crossed Winyaw Bay, three miles in width, and, in this manner, arrived in Georgetown. A slight glance at any map of the country, keeping in mind that Watson's object was really Camden, will show the reader the extent of his fears of that wily and indefatigable enemy from whom he had previously escaped with so much difficulty.
Marion was exceedingly anxious to pursue Watson, but Lee, though subordinate, succeeded in preventing this desire. Instructions which he brought from Greene, and which he earnestly dwelt upon, required their cooperation against the British posts below Camden. Lee urged, also, that such a pursuit would take them too far from Greene, with the movements of whose army it was important that Marion's force should act as intimately as possible. Marion yielded the point with great reluctance, and was heard repeatedly after to regret that his orders did not permit him to follow the dictates of his own judgment. Had he done so, with his force strengthened by the Continental bayonets, and new supplies of powder for his rifles, Watson's flight to Georgetown, which he could scarcely have reached, would have been far more uncomfortable than he found it on the previous occasion.
Lee led the way with his legion towards the Santee, while Marion, placing Witherspoon with a small party on the trail of Watson, pursued his line of march through Williamsburg. Having once resolved, Marion's movements were always rapid and energetic. On the fifteenth of April, only a day after the junction with Lee, he was before Fort Watson.
This was a stockade fort, raised on one of those remarkable elevations of an unknown antiquity which are usually recognized as Indian mounds. It stands near Scott's Lake on the Santee river, a few miles below the junction of the Congaree and Wateree. The mound is forty feet in height, and remote from any other elevation by which it might be commanded. The garrison at this post consisted of eighty regular troops, and forty loyalists. It was commanded by Lieut. McKay, a brave officer, of the regular service. To the summons of Marion he returned a manly defiance, and the place was regularly invested.
Besieged and besiegers were alike without artillery; with a single piece, the former might well have defied any force which Marion could bring against him. The place would have been impregnable to the Americans. As it was, its steep sides and strong palisades forbade any attempt to storm. To cut off the garrison from Scott's Lake, where it procured water, was the first step taken by the besiegers. But the besieged, by sinking a well within the stockade, below the level of the contiguous water, counteracted the attempt. For a moment, the assailants were at fault, and, without artillery, the prospect was sufficiently discouraging. But while doubting and hesitating, Col. Mayham, of the brigade, suggested a mode of overawing the garrison which was immediately adopted. At a short distance from the fort there grew a small wood, a number of the trees of which were hewn down, and transported upon the shoulders of the men within a proper distance of the mound. Here, during the night, all hands were actively employed in piling the wood thus brought, in massive and alternate layers, crosswise, until the work had reached a sufficient elevation. At dawn, the garrison were confounded to find themselves, at wakening, under a shower of rifle bullets. Thus overlooked, the fort was no longer tenable; and a party of volunteers from the militia, headed by Ensign Baker, and another of Continentals, from the legion, led by Mr. Lee, a volunteer, ascended the mound with great intrepidity, and gained the abbatis, which they proceeded to destroy. This movement brought the garrison to terms, and a capitulation immediately followed. But the leaguer had consumed eight days, the progress of which had been watched with equal anxiety by both parties. The Americans apprehended, and the garrison anticipated, the approach of Watson with an overwhelming force for the relief of the besieged. But Watson did not appear. He no longer had an overwhelming force. His flight to Georgetown was marked by loss and desertion. It appears that his panic, or his sense of duty, led him rather to avoid Marion and to reach Camden without interruption. He very prudently, therefore, after crossing the Santee, on the route from Georgetown, moved down by Monk's Corner, added to his force the garrison of that place, and then cautiously advanced to the Santee. He resolved rather to leave Fort Watson to its fate, than risk a force which might be necessary to the exigencies of Rawdon. Watson was considered by the British one of their best partisans, yet never had poor warrior been so worried and harassed, as, with a superior force, he had been by Marion. Yet, in his second expedition in pursuit of the latter, had he been able to cooperate with Doyle, with the Tories of Harrison and Gainey, all preparing for the same object, the escape of our partisan would have been miraculous. At no time, during their pursuit of him, was his force equal to the smallest one of theirs. He must have been expelled the country, as he himself seemed to apprehend, or he must have fallen in the conflict.
We have so little at the hands of Marion, in the shape of correspondence, that we are tempted to give his official letter to General Greene, apprising him of the fall of Fort Watson. It is dated --
Fort Watson (Scott's Lake), April 23, 1781.
Lieut.-Col. Lee made a junction with me at Santee, the 14th inst., after a rapid march from Ramsay's mill, on Deep River, which he performed in eight days. The 15th we marched to this place and invested it. Our hope was to cut off their water. Some riflemen and Continentals immediately took post between the fort and the lake. The fort is situated on a small hill, forty feet high, stockaded, and with three rows of abbatis round it. No trees near enough to cover our men from their fire. The third day after we had invested it, we found the enemy had sunk a well near the stockade which we could not prevent them from [doing]; as we had no entrenching tools to make our approach, we immediately determined to erect a work equal in height to the fort. This arduous work was completed this morning by Major Maham, who undertook it. We then made a lodgment on the side of the mound, near the stockade. This was performed with great spirit and address by Ensign Johnson, and Mr. Lee, a volunteer in Col. Lee's legion, who with difficulty ascended the hill and pulled away the abbatis, which induced the commandant to hoist a flag. Col. Lee and myself agreed to the enclosed capitulation, which I hope may be approved by you. Our loss on this occasion is two killed, and three Continentals and three militia wounded. I am particularly indebted to Col. Lee for his advice and indefatigable diligence in every part of these tedious operations, against as strong a little post as could well be made, and on the most advantageous spot that could be wished for. The officers and men of the legion and militia performed everything that could be expected; and Major Maham of my brigade, had, in a particular manner, a great share of this success by his unwearied diligence in erecting the tower which principally occasioned the reduction of the fort. In short, sir, I have had the greatest assistance from every one under my command. Enclosed is a list of the prisoners and stores taken, and I shall, without loss of time, proceed to demolish the fort; after which I shall march to the high hills of Santee, encamp at Capt. Richardson's, and await your orders.
(Signed) Francis Marion.
In taking post at the Santee Hills, the object of Marion was to take such a position as would enable him to watch all the several roads by which Watson could make his way to Camden. It was important, if possible, to prevent his junction with Lord Rawdon, thus increasing the ability of that commander to cope with Greene's army, which now lay before that place. But Marion was not able to encounter Watson without assistance. Lee, with his legion, had been withdrawn by Greene soon after the capture of Fort Watson, and our partisan's force in camp, from concurring circumstances, was now reduced to about eighty men. Eighty of his brigade were detached under Col. Irvine to Rafting Creek, in order to cut off supplies from Camden. Another party was engaged in watching a rising of the Tories on the Pedee, who, in the absence of Marion himself, had manifested a disposition to resume the offensive; Col. Harden, with another detachment, was on the Salkehatchie, having first succeeded in the capture of Fort Balfour at Pocotaligo, in which he made nearly a hundred prisoners. Other small detachments had thinned the little army of our partisan to such a degree that it was of small efficiency where it was; and, just at this juncture, numerous desertions took place from two concurring circumstances. The approach of Marion to the hills had brought on the battle of Camden. Unwilling that Greene's force should be increased by the militia of the former, Rawdon had resolved not to wait for Watson, but to march out and give battle before the coming of either. He did so. The affair was not decisive, but Greene was compelled to yield the field to his enemy. He lost nothing, whether of honor or position, by this result. But, as the news spread, the defeat was exaggerated. It was supposed to be another affair such as that of Gates, and Marion's small body of men was still farther lessened by desertion. There was still another reason for its present feebleness. The time of the year was the very height of the planting season, and the farmer-soldiers, in numbers, left the camp in order to hurry to their homes and set their crops. This, though not allowed by the regular disciplinarian, was, in the mind of the militia-man, a duty quite as imperative as any that he owed to his family. Indeed, it was inseparable from his necessities that, where the Government did not give him bread, he must make it for himself. His family could not starve, and if he could fight without pay, it was not possible that he should do so without food. In the sort of warfare which Marion had hitherto carried on, he had been willing to recognize these necessities on the part of his followers. Cooperating with an army differently constituted, it was scarcely possible to do so, with any hope of their permanent usefulness. Just at this juncture, in particular, he felt the peculiarly mortifying character of his situation.
To enable Marion to contend with Watson, Greene dispatched Major Eaton, with a body of Continentals, to his assistance, with instructions to throw himself across the path of Watson. But Eaton, by an unhappy misunderstanding of his duty, failed to reach him in season for this object. When he did join him, which was on the evening of the 2d of May, it was too late. Marion, writing to Greene, says, "Major Eaton's not coming up sooner has made me lose a great deal of precious time. I shall cross the Santee at Wright's Bluff to-morrow." He did so, but Watson had already passed, and succeeded in eluding Greene also, and in reaching Camden in safety.
We have spoken of Col. Harden's proceedings against Fort Balfour, and the capture of that post. This officer was a very brave and active gentleman, rapid in his movements, and resolute in his objects. As soon as Marion had received intelligence of Greene's approach to South Carolina, he had dispatched Harden with seventy select men, well mounted, to penetrate through the country, and crossing the enemy's lines of communication, to stir up the people in all that region which lies southwest of Charleston. So rapid and unexpected were his movements, that he took the enemy everywhere by surprise, and rendered himself, for the time, the very terror of the loyalists upon the route. His force increased with its progress. The inhabitants yearned for an escape from British authority, and joined his troop. His seventy men soon became two hundred, and while he baffled the pursuit of the superior, he visited with sudden and severe chastisement the disaffected, along and on both sides of the Savannah river. Ascending this, he soon communicated with Pickens, then operating against Augusta and Ninety-Six. Nothing now was wanting but the fall of the enemy's chain of posts, to complete the recovery of the whole country within thirty miles of the sea. In contributing to this desirable object Marion, now strengthened by the Continentals of Lee and Eaton, invested Fort Motte on the river Congaree.
This post was the principal depot of the convoys from Charleston to Camden, and sometimes of those destined for Forts Granby and Ninety-Six. A large new mansion-house belonging to Mrs. Motte, situated on a high and commanding hill, had been chosen for this establishment. It was surrounded with a deep trench, along the inner margin of which a strong and lofty parapet was raised. To this post had been assigned a sufficient garrison of one hundred and fifty men. This force was increased by a small detachment of dragoons from Charleston, which had been thrown into it a few hours before the appearance of the Americans. The garrison was commanded by Capt. McPherson, a firm and gallant officer.
Opposite to Fort Motte, to the north, stood another hill, where Mrs. Motte, who had been expelled from her dwelling, resided in an old farm-house. On this, Lee took position with his corps: Marion's men occupied the eastern declivity of the same ridge on which stood the fort.
The place was very soon invested. The six pounder with which Greene had furnished Marion, was mounted on a battery raised in the quarter which he occupied, for the purpose of raking the northern face of the enemy's parapet. McPherson was in the possession of a wall-piece, but he had not been able to adapt it for use before the investment took place. It does not seem to have been even used during the siege. His chief hopes lay in being relieved by a detachment from Camden, not doubting its arrival before his assailant could push his preparations to maturity. The works of the latter advanced rapidly, and the place was summoned on the 20th of May. The reply declared the determination of the besieged to try the strength and patience of the besiegers. These had now every motive for perseverance. They were advised of the approach of Rawdon, with all his force, to the relief of the fort. That stern commander, finding Camden was no longer tenable against the increasing forces of the Americans, and unable to maintain his several posts with his diminished strength, was aiming to contract his scattered bodies into narrower limits. Having made a second, but unsatisfactory, demonstration upon Greene, he destroyed his unnecessary baggage, and, leaving Camden in flames, he once more abandoned it to the Americans. Greene advised Marion of his retreat, and urged him to expedition. On the next night he reached the country opposite Fort Motte, and his numerous fires on the highest grounds on his route, encouraged the garrison with hopes of success, which were not to be realized.
What was to be done, was to be done quickly, on the part of the besiegers. The process of battering by cannon would be too slow. Some shorter mode was to be adopted, to anticipate the approach of Rawdon. The ready thought of our partisan suggested this process. It was known that the large mansion of Mrs. Motte occupied the greater part of the area of the fort; but a few yards of ground within the works remained uncovered by it. To burn the house by fire would compel the surrender of the garrison.
The necessity was very reluctantly communicated to the widow by whom the property was owned. But she was one of those glorious dames of the Revolution, to whom the nation is so largely indebted for the glory of that event. She had received the American officers with a hospitality which made them almost shrink from suggesting their purposes; but as soon as they were made known, she put them perfectly at ease upon the subject. With something more than cheerfulness -- with pride -- that any sacrifice on her part should contribute to the success of her countrymen, in so dear an object, she herself produced a bow, with all the necessary apparatus, which had been brought from India,* and which she had preserved. By the arrows from this bow the fire was to be communicated to her dwelling.
-- * The origin of this bow, though unimportant, is nonetheless the subject of great differences. James says an "Indian bow and arrows", though one would expect he meant "American Indian" from the context. Weems implies that it was from Africa. -- A. L., 1996. --
Everything being in readiness, the lines were manned and an additional force stationed at the batteries, lest the enemy, in the moment of desperation, might prefer risking an assault, rather than endure the mortification of a surrender. A flag was sent to McPherson, but the sight of Rawdon's fires on the other side of the river encouraged him with the belief that he might still resist successfully.
The bow was put into the hands of Nathan Savage, a private in Marion's brigade. It was noon when the attempt was made. The scorching rays of the noonday sun had prepared the roof for the conflagration. Balls of blazing rosin and brimstone were attached to the arrows, and three several shafts were sent by the vigorous arm of the militia-man against the roof. They took effect, in three different quarters, and the shingles were soon in a blaze. McPherson immediately ordered a party to the roof, but this had been prepared for, and the fire of the six-pounder soon drove the soldiers down. The flames began to rage, the besiegers were on the alert, guarding every passage, and no longer hopeful of Rawdon, McPherson hung out the white flag imploring mercy. The gentle nature of Marion readily yielded to his prayer, though, as Lee tells us, "policy commanded death."
In this siege Marion lost two brave fellows, one of whom has been more than once conspicuous in this narrative -- the daring Sergeant McDonald, and Lieutenant Cruger. McDonald had reached a lieutenancy before he fell. The prisoners were paroled, but their officers before leaving partook of a sumptuous dinner given by Mrs. Motte to the victors. This noble lady, whose grace of demeanor is represented as quite equal to her patriotism, presided at her table, in such a manner as to render all parties at home. Col. P. Horry tells us of some of the incidents which took place at the dinner. A captain of the British army, taken among the prisoners, on finding himself near Horry, said to him:
"You are Col. Horry, I presume, sir." Horry answered in the affirmative. "Well," said the other, "I was with Col. Watson when he on Sampit fought your General Marion. I think I saw you there with a party of horse. I think you were also at Nelson's Ferry, when Marion surprised our party at the house? But," added the officer, "I was hid in high grass and escaped. Were you not there also?" Horry answered, "No! It was my brother Hugh." "Well," said the captain, "YOU were fortunate in your escape [at Sampit] for Watson and Small had 1200 men." "If so," said Horry, "I certainly was fortunate, for I did not suppose they had more than half that number." The captain then added -- "I consider myself equally fortunate in escaping at Nelson's old field." "Truly, you were," answered Horry drily; "for Marion had but 30 militia on that occasion." "At this," says our worthy Colonel, "the captain's countenance fell, and he retired, and avoided me the rest of the day. General Greene, the next day (Greene had reached Marion's camp that night) said to me, `Col. Horry, how came you to affront Capt. Ferguson?' I answered, he affronted himself by telling his own story. It militated so greatly against himself as to compel the officers who were near to laugh. The captain and I, sir, agreed that we were both equally fortunate in war. Greene replied, `Capt. Ferguson's memory was only too good.'"*
-- * Horry's MS. Narrative, pp. 74-75. --
While at the hospitable table of Mrs. Motte, it was whispered in Marion's ears, that Col. Lee's men were even then engaged in hanging certain of the Tory prisoners. Marion instantly hurried from the table, seized his sword, and running with all haste, reached the place of execution in time to rescue one poor wretch from the gallows. Two were already beyond rescue or recovery. With drawn sword and a degree of indignation in his countenance that spoke more than words, Marion threatened to kill the first man that made any further attempt in such diabolical proceedings.*
-- * Horry's MS. Narrative, p. 75. --
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