Correspondence of Marion and Greene -- Anecdote of Colonel Snipes --Marion takes Georgetown -- Attempt of Sumter and Marion on Col. Coates -- Battle of Quinby Bridge.
It was while Marion was most actively engaged in the investment of Fort Motte, that a correspondence took place between himself and General Greene, which had nearly resulted in the loss of his invaluable services to the country. A pure and noble spirit, Marion was particularly sensitive to reproach, and felt deeply its injustice. From the moment that Greene took command of the southern army, he had yielded the most profound deference to his wishes, had seconded his slightest suggestions, timed his own movements with a studied regard to those contemplated by the commander, and, whenever the service would allow, had devoted his little band to such duties as would lead to the promotion of all those larger plans which were contemplated for the execution of the grand army. His scouts had served for pioneers, his cavalry procured provisions for the camp, and it was to Marion alone that Greene looked for all his intelligence. But there was one favorite object which Greene had in view, to which our partisan could contribute little. The want of a cavalry force had been particularly felt by the former, and he had been sedulous in the endeavor to supply this want, from the very first of his southern campaigns. He had been pressingly calling upon Sumter, Marion, and every officer, who might be thought able to procure him a supply of horses; and active agents of his own had been scouring every quarter of the country in search of this indispensable agent of all great military operations. His quest had been comparatively vain. The British had been before him throughout the country. The dragoons of Tarleton had swept the stables; and, where this was not the case, the horses were held by militia men, to whom they were quite as indispensable as to the grand army. Marion's troopers could only be of service while in possession of their horses -- they had large and extensive tracts of country to traverse -- could procure no intelligence without -- and, any attempt to dismount a soldier from his favorite steed, would be to produce a degree of discontent in his mind which would most certainly deprive the country of his services. To expect that the partisan militia under Marion and Sumter, who had been constantly on horseback, in the face of the enemy, should deliver their horses up to others who possessed no higher claim upon the country than themselves, was to expect more largely than was altogether reasonable, from the liberality or the patriotism of any set of men.
A few, such as could be spared, had been supplied by Marion. He never, for an instant, contemplated the dismounting of his troopers -- those hardy fellows who had been constant in all vicissitudes -- who had murmured at no tasks -- shrunk from no adventures -- and spared neither themselves nor their property, when the necessities of the country required, at periods when there was no grand army to divide with themselves the honors and the dangers of the war. Nay, to dismount them was, in fact, to disarm himself. It appears, however, that this was expected of him. An unfortunate letter of Col. Lee, dated the 23d May, and addressed to Greene, contained this paragraph:
"General Marion," says the letter, "can supply you, if he will, with one hundred and fifty good dragoon horses, most of them impressed horses. He might, in my opinion, spare sixty, which would be a happy supply."
The effect of this communication upon Greene was immediate and painful. Believing that he had been ill-used, and vexed that Marion, knowing his necessities, and with the power to relieve them, should yet have forborne to do so, though urgently exhorted, he frankly declared his feelings in the very next letter to our partisan. Marion did not dissemble his indignation in his reply. He repels the charge that he had ever withheld supplies which he might have furnished, and concludes his letter by requesting permission to resign -- firmly, but respectfully, intimating his resolution to retire from service as soon as Fort Motte should be reduced. Greene, in an instant, from this reply, perceived the mischief that he had done. He wrote instantly to Marion, and succeeded, though with difficulty, in overcoming his resolution. He says: "My reason for writing so pressingly for the dragoon horses, was from the distress we were in. It is not my wish to take the horses from the militia, if it will injure the public service. The effects and consequences you can better judge of than I can. You have rendered important services to the public with the militia under your command, and have done great honor to yourself, and I would not wish to render your situation less agreeable with them, unless it is to answer some very great purpose; and this, I persuade myself, you would agree to, from a desire to promote the common good." . . .
From the same letter, we make another extract: "I shall always be happy to see you at headquarters, but cannot think you seriously mean to solicit leave to go to Philadelphia. It is true, your task has been disagreeable, but not more so than others. It is now going on seven years since the commencement of this war. I have never had leave of absence one hour, nor paid the least attention to my own private affairs. Your State is invaded -- your all is at stake. What has been done will signify nothing, unless we persevere to the end. I left a family in distress, and everything dear and valuable, to come and afford you all the assistance in my power, to promote the service. It must throw a damp upon the spirits of the army, to find that the first men in the State are retiring from the busy scene, to indulge themselves in more agreeable amusements. However, your reasons for wishing to decline the command of the militia, and go to Philadelphia, may be more pressing than I imagine; I will, therefore, add nothing more on this subject till I see you."
The adroit mixture of reproach with commendation, was not done without reflection. Greene seems to have understood the character of Marion. But there was some oblique injustice in his letter. A man's patriotism is not to be reproached, because he wishes to escape injustice and indignity. The best of patriots will be apt to become disgusted with a service in which their claims are neglected, their performances slurred over, and their motives impeached; and this, too, at a period, and after long periods, of service, in which they have watched, toiled, and fought, without hope or prospect of reward. When General Greene compared the disagreeableness of Marion's toils with those of others, he certainly overlooked, not only the peculiar character of those toils, but the peculiar privations which distinguished the career of Marion's men, and the particularly painful duties which so frequently belonged to it. His own previously expressed opinions with regard to the warfare, as carried on between Whig and Tory in the south, will be found to furnish a sufficient commentary upon the comparison which he thus makes. Greene himself, by the way, is not without blame in some respects, in relation to the southern commanders of militia. The slighting manner in which he spoke of them, and of their services, in letters not intended to be public, was such, that some of them, Sumter for example, never forgave him. His prejudices were those of the regular service, the policy of which is always to disparage the militia. To Marion himself, his language was of a different character. Take the following extract of a letter, written to the latter only one month before the correspondence above referred to. This letter is dated, from the camp before Camden, April 24, 1781, and will give a faint idea of the true claims of Marion upon the regard of his country. "When I consider," writes Greene, "how much you have done and suffered, and under what disadvantage you have maintained your ground, I am at a loss which to admire most, your courage and fortitude, or your address and management. Certain it is, no man has a better claim to the public thanks than you. History affords no instance wherein an officer has kept possession of a country under so many disadvantages as you have. Surrounded on every side with a superior force, hunted from every quarter with veteran troops, you have found means to elude their attempts, and to keep alive the expiring hopes of an oppressed militia, when all succor seemed to be cut off. TO FIGHT THE ENEMY BRAVELY WITH THE PROSPECT OF VICTORY, IS NOTHING; BUT TO FIGHT WITH INTREPIDITY UNDER THE CONSTANT IMPRESSION OF DEFEAT, AND INSPIRE IRREGULAR TROOPS TO DO IT, IS A TALENT PECULIAR TO YOURSELF. Nothing will give me greater pleasure than to do justice to your merit, and I shall miss no opportunity of declaring to Congress, to the commander-in-chief of the American army, and to the world, the great sense I have of your merit and your services."
The correspondence of Greene with Marion, on the subject of the horses, closed with a letter on the part of the latter, in which he turned off the affair on grounds that proved his feelings tranquillized. A present of a fine horse, for Greene's own use, accompanied this letter. It has been shown that, on the day of the capture of Fort Motte, Greene rode into the camp of Marion, at that place. We can conceive of no other motive for his presence here, than a desire to make his reconciliation perfect. He brought no force with him to promote the object of the besiegers, and his stay was limited to a brief interview.
But the evil effect of this affair did not end here. The militia, alarmed at the idea of having their horses taken from them, soon began to scatter, and, pleading the planting season upon which they had entered -- some, indeed, without any plea, -- they left the camp in numbers, and before the leaguer was well over, the force of Marion was reduced to something less than two hundred men. With this remnant of his brigade, as soon as Fort Motte was yielded, Marion detached himself from the regular troops and struck down towards Monk's Corner, hanging upon the skirts of Lord Rawdon's army, then in full retreat from Camden.
Perhaps the most interesting portions of our traditionary history in the South, will be found to have occurred to the scattered bodies of the partisan cavalry, while on their return movements to and from the army, after such a dispersion as that from which the brigade of Marion was now suffering. It was no easy matter for the small group, or the single trooper, to regain the family homestead, or the friendly neighborhood in which their wives and little ones were harbored. Every settlement through which they passed had its disaffected population. It might be small or large, but its numbers did not affect its activity, and, with the main body of the Whigs in camp, or on the road, the Tories, in remote sections of the country, were generally equally strong and daring. These waylaid the customary pathways, and aware of all the material movements of the regular troops, made their arrangements to cut off stragglers or small detached bodies. When we consider the active malignity by which the civil war in Carolina was marked; the wild forests in which it took place; the peculiar ferocity which it stimulated, and the various characteristics of the local modes of warfare, the chase and the surprise, we shall have no occasion for wonder at the strange and sometimes terrible events by which it was distinguished. One of these, which occurred to Captain, afterwards Colonel Snipes, of Marion's brigade, is a remarkable instance; and, as it has been told elsewhere, in connection with the life of Marion, it may well claim a place in this narrative.
Snipes was a Carolinian, of remarkable strength and courage. He was equally distinguished for his vindictive hatred of the Tories. He had suffered some domestic injuries at their hands, and he was one who never permitted himself to forgive. His temper was sanguinary in the extreme, and led him, in his treatment of the loyalists, to such ferocities as subjected him, on more than one occasion, to the harshest rebuke of his commander. It is not certain at what period in the war the following occurrence took place, but it was on one of those occasions when the partisan militia claimed a sort of periodical privilege of abandoning their general to look after their families and domestic interests. Availing himself of this privilege, Snipes pursued his way to his plantation. His route was a circuitous one, but it is probable that he pursued it with little caution. He was more distinguished for audacity than prudence. The Tories fell upon his trail, which they followed with the keen avidity of the sleuth-hound. Snipes reached his plantation in safety, unconscious of pursuit. Having examined the homestead and received an account of all things done in his absence, from a faithful driver, and lulled into security by the seeming quiet and silence of the neighborhood, he retired to rest, and, after the fatigues of the day, soon fell into a profound sleep. From this he was awakened by the abrupt entrance and cries of his driver. The faithful negro apprised him, in terror, of the approach of the Tories. They were already on the plantation. His vigilance alone prevented them from taking his master in bed. Snipes, starting up, proposed to take shelter in the barn, but the driver pointed to the flames already bursting from that building. He had barely time to leave the house, covered only by his night shirt, and, by the counsel of the negro, to fly to the cover of a thick copse of briars and brambles, within fifty yards of the dwelling, when the Tories surrounded it. The very task of penetrating this copse, so as to screen himself from sight, effectually removed the thin garment which concealed his nakedness. The shirt was torn from his back by the briars, and the skin shared in its injuries. But, once there, he lay effectually concealed from sight. Ordinary conjecture would scarcely have supposed that any animal larger than a rabbit would have sought or found shelter in such a region. The Tories immediately seized upon the negro and demanded his master, at the peril of his life. Knowing and fearing the courage and the arm of Snipes, they did not enter the dwelling, but adopted the less valorous mode of setting it on fire, and, with pointed muskets, surrounded it, in waiting for the moment when their victim should emerge. He, within a few steps of them, heard their threats and expectations, and beheld all their proceedings. The house was consumed, and the intense heat of the fire subjected our partisan, in his place of retreat, to such torture, as none but the most dogged hardihood could have endured without complaint. The skin was peeled from his body in many places, and the blisters were shown long after, to persons who are still living.* But Snipes too well knew his enemies, and what he had to expect at their hands, to make any confession. He bore patiently the torture, which was terribly increased, when, finding themselves at fault, the Tories brought forward the faithful negro who had thus far saved his master, and determined to extort from him, in the halter, the secret of his hiding-place. But the courage and fidelity of the negro proved superior to the terrors of death. Thrice was he run up the tree, and choked nearly to strangulation, but in vain. His capability to endure proved superior to the will of the Tories to inflict, and he was at length let down, half dead, -- as, in truth, ignorant of the secret which they desired to extort. What were the terrors of Snipes in all this trial? What his feelings of equal gratitude and apprehension? How noble was the fidelity of the slave -- based upon what gentle and affectionate relationship between himself and master -- probably from boyhood! Yet this is but one of a thousand such attachments, all equally pure and elevated, and maintained through not dissimilar perils.
-- * See a biographical sketch of Tarlton Brown, of Barnwell, S.C., a soldier in the revolutionary army. Charleston, 1844, p. 8. --
While Marion was operating against Forts Watson and Motte, Sumter, with like success, had besieged the British posts at Orangeburg and Granby. It was the loss of these posts, and the dread of the subsequent concentration of the whole American force against Camden, that had prompted the destruction and abandonment of that place by Lord Rawdon. This was the plan and object of Greene. The precipitate movements of Rawdon, who anticipated the purpose of the former, necessarily defeated it. Pickens was operating against Augusta; while Sumter, leaving the investment of Granby, the conquest of which was considered sure, to Col. Taylor, proceeded down the country, with the two-fold object of harassing the descent of the British army, and to prevent them from carrying off the cattle of the inhabitants. In the former object, neither Marion nor himself had much success. They did not succeed in effecting a junction, and the sanguine desire of Sumter, with united forces, to operate boldly upon the retreating army of Rawdon, was not encouraged by Greene, who preferred a safe and sure, though slow progress, to any attainment of his end by a hazardous attempt, however glorious. The task of holding Rawdon in check, was confided to Marion and Sumter, while Greene proceeded with his whole army, to the investment of the post of Ninety-Six, at the village of Cambridge. In the execution of their duties, the two partisans closed in upon the British commander, until he established a line of fortified posts, extending from Georgetown, by Monk's Corner, Dorchester, &c., to Coosawhatchee. Within this line our partisans continually made incursions, keeping the enemy in constant check and apprehension. They were not in force to do more. Georgetown, however, separated by water courses and swamps of great magnitude, from the other posts, was left with a garrison so feeble, as to tempt Marion to proceed against it. The parishes that lie along the Santee, on both sides, towards its mouth, had turned out with so much zeal on his return into their neighborhood, that he soon found himself in sufficient force to cover the country with a strong detachment under Col. Mayham, while, with his main body, he went against Georgetown. He appeared before this place on the 6th of June, and instantly began his approaches. But his simple demonstration was sufficient. The enemy made but a show of resistance. As the attempt was pressed, the garrison fled to their galleys, and took a position in the bay beyond the reach of the Americans. They finally abandoned the harbor altogether. It was not in the power of Marion to man the post efficiently, and his policy forbade that he should do it inadequately. Accordingly, he deliberately removed the military stores and public property, up the Pedee, then, demolishing the works, returned to join his detachment in St. Stephens. While at Georgetown, however, it is recorded that he replenished his wardrobe, and fitted himself out with a becoming suit of regimentals. This was an event, in the career of our partisan, to be remembered by his followers. He indulged, it seems, for the first time, in some other of the luxuries of the campaigner. A couple of mules were employed for the transportation of his baggage, and his usual beverage of vinegar and water was occasionally diversified by a bowl of coffee at breakfast. A little before this, -- perhaps soon after General Greene had penetrated the State, -- he had appointed himself a couple of secretaries for the purpose of greater dispatch in letter writing -- his correspondence necessarily increasing, in consequence of his connection with the more expanded operations of the army. State, he did not affect, and the simplicity and modesty of his character may be easily inferred from this petty enumeration of the aids and comforts which he thought proper to draw from his successes.
While Marion, in person, proceeded against Georgetown, Col. Peter Horry was dispatched with a strong body of men against the loyalists on the Pedee, a wild and bloodthirsty band of borderers, under the conduct of Major Gainey, of whom we have had occasion to speak already. Horry succeeded in awing Gainey into submission, and in extorting from him a treaty by which he consented, with his officers and men, to maintain a condition of neutrality. This submission, though complete, was but temporary. It required subsequently the decisive proceedings of Marion, and his personal presence, to enforce its provisions. But of this hereafter.
While Greene, with the main American army, was proceeding against Ninety-Six, preparations were made by the British in Charleston, for ravaging the country on the south side of the Santee. The people of St. John's and St. Stephen's parishes, had shown too active a zeal in the cause of liberty, to escape punishment, and it was resolved that their country should be laid waste. The loyalists of Charleston, and that vicinity, had been embodied in a regiment, and, under Col. Ball, prepared to carry this design into execution. But Marion, apprised by his scouts and spies of every movement in the city, and unable with his present force to meet with that of Ball, determined, however painful the necessity, to anticipate his proceedings; and, with his usual celerity, he laid waste the country himself; removing across the Santee to places of safety, not only all the stock and cattle, but all the provisions, that could be collected. They were thus saved, as well for the subsistence of his men, as for the proprietor. Anxious to oppose himself more actively to the enemy, he sent pressing dispatches to Greene for assistance in covering the country. Col. Washington, with his admirable corps of cavalry, was accordingly dispatched to his assistance. We have seen that the commander-in-chief had proceeded in person against the British post at Ninety-Six. To Sumter and Marion had been entrusted the care of Rawdon. They were required to check and prevent his progress in the event of any attempt which he might make to relieve the post. They were unsuccessful in doing so. The arrival of a British fleet with reinforcements, comprising three fresh regiments from Ireland, enabled Rawdon to despise any attempts, which, with their inferior force, our partisans might make. Some idea of the diligence of Marion and the excellence of his plans for procuring intelligence, may be gathered from the fact that the Charleston paper of the 2d of June, announcing the arrival of these regiments, was in his possession the very day on which it was printed, and transmitted instantly, through Sumter's command, to Greene.* Greene was unsuccessful in his attempts on Ninety-Six. The place was relieved, after an obstinate defence, by Rawdon, who, with his new troops, by forced marches, arrived in time for its deliverance. Greene was compelled to retreat after much sanguinary fighting. He was pursued by Rawdon for a small distance; but the latter, contenting himself with having rescued, withdrew the garrison, and abandoned the place to the Americans. He was in no condition to pursue his enemy or to maintain his position. His Irish regiments were not to be trusted, and the maintenance of the city and the seaboard were paramount considerations. With such active and enterprising foes as Marion and Sumter, between his army and his garrison, he felt the insecurity of his hold upon the country. His posts in the interior had now everywhere fallen into the hands of the Americans. Augusta, with the three posts, Cornwallis, Grierson and Galphin, had just been yielded to the arms of Pickens and Lee. There were no longer any intermediate posts of defence, from Orangeburg to Ninety-Six, and the latter was now so thoroughly isolated, that prudence led to its abandonment. This necessity brought with it another, which was much more painful and humiliating to the unfortunate loyalists of that country, who had so long sided with the British arms against their countrymen. They were compelled to abandon their homes and share the fortunes of the retreating army. They were without refuge, and the spirit of the warfare had been such as to leave them hopeless of mercy in any encounter with the Whigs. A mournful cavalcade followed in the train of the British army, and retarded its progress. Greene, as he discovered Rawdon's movements to be retrograde, turned upon his retreating footsteps. His cavalry harassed the enemy and hastened his flight. At Ancrum's ferry on the Congaree, Greene, in advance of his army, joined Marion and Washington, the latter with his cavalry, the former with four hundred mounted militia; and, at the head of these two corps, pressing down the Orangeburg road, on the 6th of July, he succeeded in passing Lord Rawdon. Retaining command of Washington's cavalry, he dispatched Marion with his mounted militia to intercept a valuable convoy, freighted not only for relief of Rawdon's army, but with all the various supplies and material necessary for the establishment of the British post at Granby. Marion was unsuccessful. The convoy under Lieut.-Col. Stewart escaped without being conscious of its danger. He had taken one of two roads, while Marion watched for him upon the other. On the morning of the 8th, Stewart and Rawdon effected a junction in Orangeburg. The condition of the British army on that day is thus described in a letter of Marion to Greene:
-- * Johnson's Greene, vol. 2, p. 146. --
"Their troops are so fatigued they cannot possibly move. Three regiments were going to lay down their arms, and it is believed they will to-day, if they are ordered to march. They have no idea of any force being near them."
At Orangeburg, Rawdon was too strongly posted for any attempts of Greene. Here, with his own force and that of Stewart, numbering fifteen hundred men, he was joined by Col. Cruger from Ninety-Six, with thirteen hundred more. Orangeburg is situated on the east bank of the North Edisto, which half encircles it. North and south are swamps and ravines, which so nearly approach each other as to leave but a narrow and broken passage on the east side. The gaol, a strong brick building of two stories, not inferior to a strong redoubt, with some other buildings, commanded the approach. "The crown of the hill on which it stood, was sufficiently spacious for manoeuvering the whole British army, and the houses and fences afforded shelter against all attempts of the American cavalry or mounted militia," while, in case of defeat, the bridge in their rear afforded as secure means of retreat. An attempt upon such a position, with a force consisting chiefly of mounted infantry, would have been folly, and Greene, after a brief demonstration, determined to withdraw one half of his army towards the Congaree, while the other was sent forward upon that memorable incursion into the lower country, by which the enemy, from all quarters, were driven into Charleston; and, with the exception of the force at Orangeburg, for a brief period, every vestige of British power was swept away, down to the very gates of the former place. The command of this detachment was given to Sumter. Acting under him, were Marion, Lee, the Hamptons, Taylor, Horry, Mayham, and others of those active partisans who had kept alive the war from the beginning. The command consisted of all the State troops, Lee's legion, and a detachment of artillery, with one field piece; in all about a thousand men. The object of this movement was not only to strike at the British line of posts, but to divert the attention of Rawdon from the Congaree, where it was his policy to re-establish himself in force.
The force under Sumter, as it approached the scene of operations, was broken into separate detachments. Dorchester was yielded without resistance to the corps under Lee, while Col. Wade Hampton, pressing to the very lines of Charleston, captured the guard and patrol at the Quarter House, and spread terror through the city. Sumter and Marion then proceeded against the post at Biggin, held by Col. Coates of the British army, a spirited officer,
with a garrison of five hundred infantry, one hundred and fifty horse, and one piece of artillery. The post at Biggin consisted of a redoubt at Monk's Corner, and the church, about a mile distant, near Biggin Bridge. This church was a strong brick building, which covered the bridge, and secured the retreat at that point, by way of Monk's Corner. Biggin Creek is one of many streams which empty into Cooper river. Of these, it is the most northwardly. On the east of this creek, the road to Charleston crosses Watboo and Quinby Creeks. The destruction of Watboo bridge rendered impracticable the retreat by the eastern route, and this bridge, accordingly, became an important object to both the British and Americans. A detachment of Marion's men, under Col. Mayham, was sent forward to destroy the Watboo bridge, and thus cut off the retreat of the enemy. But the position and force of Col. Coates prevented the approach of Mayham, and he waited the advance of the main body. On the 16th July, he was reinforced by a detachment under Col. Peter Horry, who, assuming the command, proceeded to the attempt upon the bridge. The enemy's cavalry opposed themselves to the attempt; a short action ensued; they were defeated, and driven back with loss. The mounted riflemen broke through them, and a number of prisoners were taken. Horry then dispatched a party to destroy the bridge, and remained to cover the men engaged in the work. But the enemy soon reappeared in force, and Horry, with his working party, was compelled to retire, in turn, upon the main body. Sumter, believing that Coates had marched out to give him battle, took post in a defile, and awaited him; but the purpose of the enemy was only to gain time -- to wear out the day, amusing him, while they made secret preparations for flight. Their stores were accumulated in the church, which had been their fortress, and, at midnight, the flames bursting through the roof of the devoted building announced to the Americans the retreat of the foe. The pursuit was immediately commenced, and, in order that it might not be impeded, the only piece of artillery which Sumter had, was unfortunately left behind, under Lieut. Singleton. Lee and Hampton led the pursuit until, having passed the Watboo, they discovered that the cavalry of the enemy had separated from the infantry, taking the right hand route. Hampton then struck off in pursuit of the former, in hope to overtake them before they could reach the river; but he urged his panting horses in vain. They had completed their escape, and secured the boats on the opposite side, before he could come up with them.
Marion's cavalry, meanwhile, under Col. Mayham, had joined the Legion cavalry in pursuit of the infantry. About a mile to the north of Quinby Creek, the rearguard of the retreating army was overtaken. With this body, which consisted of one hundred men, under Capt. Campbell, was nearly all the baggage of the British army. Terrified by the furious charge of the Americans, they threw down their arms without firing a gun. Favored by this circumstance, the cavalry of Mayham, and the Legion, pressed forward. Coates had passed Quinby Bridge, and made dispositions for its demolition, as soon as the rear-guard and baggage should have passed. The planks which covered the bridge had been loosened from the sleepers, and a howitzer, at the opposite extremity, was placed to check the pursuit. But, as the rear-guard had been captured without firing a shot, their commander was unapprised of their fate, and unprepared for immediate defence. Fortunately for his command, he was present at the bridge when the American cavalry came in view. His main body, at this moment, was partly on the causeway, on the south side of the bridge, and partly pressed into a lane beyond it -- in both situations so crowded as to be almost wholly incapable of immediate action. Coates, however, coolly took measures for his safety. Orders were dispatched to them to halt, form, and march up, whilst the artillerists were summoned to the howitzer, and the fatigue party to the destruction of the bridge.
The legion cavalry were in advance of Mayham's command. Captain Armstrong led the first section. Their approach to the bridge was marked by all the circumstances of danger. They were pressing upon each other into a narrow causeway, the planks of the bridge were fast sliding into the water, and the blazing port-fire hung over the howitzer. The disappearance of the fatigue party from the bridge would be the signal for it to vomit death upon the ranks of the approaching Americans. There was no time for deliberation. Armstrong, followed close by his section, dashed over the bridge and drove the artillerists from the gun. Lieutenant Carrington followed, but the third section faltered. Mayham, of Marion's cavalry, feeling the halt, charged by them; but the death of his horse arrested his career. Captain Macauley, who led his front section, pressed on and passed the bridge. The causeway was now crowded; the conflict was hand to hand. Some of the working party, snatching up their guns, delivered a single fire and fled. Two of the legion dragoons were slain at the mouth of the howitzer, several wounded. But the officers remained unhurt. Coates, with several of the British, covered by a wagon, opposed them with their swords, while their troops were hurrying forward to where they could display. Meanwhile, Lee, with the rest of the legion, had reached the bridge, which they proceeded to repair. A momentary pause for reflection, a glance before and around them, revealed to Armstrong and Macauley, the fact that they were almost alone, unsupported by their party, and with the British recovering themselves in front. They reflected that, only while the British officers were in their rear, should they be secure from the fire of the enemy in front; and, urging their way through the flying soldiers on the causeway, they wheeled into the woods on their left, and escaped by heading the stream. Had they been followed by the whole party, boldly charging across the bridge, the entire force of the enemy must have laid down their arms. The British were so crowded in the lane and causeway, in such inextricable confusion, without room to display or to defend themselves, that they must have yielded by spontaneous movement to avoid being cut to pieces. The reproach lies heavily against the halting cavalry, that could leave to their fate the brave fellows who had crossed the bridge.
Colonel Coates dared not longer trust himself in the open country in the face of a cavalry so active and powerful. Retiring to Shubrick's plantation, after destroying the bridge, he resolved to defend himself under cover of the buildings. These were situated on a rising ground, and consisted of a dwelling-house of two stories, with outhouses and fences. They afforded security against cavalry, and a good covering from the American marksmen.
It was not till 3 o'clock, P.M., that Sumter, with the main body of the Americans, reached the ground. He found the British drawn up in a square in front of the house, and ready to receive him. As he had very few bayonets, to march directly up to the attack would have been out of the question. He divided his force into three bodies. His own brigade, led by Cols. Middleton and Polk, Taylor and Lacy, advanced in front, under shelter of a line of negro houses, which they were ordered to occupy. Marion's brigade, thrown into two divisions, was ordered to advance on the right of the British, where there was no shelter but that of fences, and those within forty or fifty yards of the houses held by the enemy. The cavalry constituted a reserve, to cover the infantry from pursuit.
Sumter's brigade soon gained the negro houses, from whence they delivered their rifles with great effect. Col. Taylor with about forty-five men of his regiment, pressing forward to the fences on the enemy's left, drew upon him the bayonets of the British, before which they yielded. Marion's men, in the meantime, seeing the danger of Taylor's party, with a degree of firmness and gallantry which would have done honor to any soldiers, rushed through a galling fire and extricated them; and, notwithstanding the imperfect covering afforded them by the rail fence along which they ranged themselves, they continued to fight and fire as long as a single charge of ammunition remained with the corps. The brunt of the battle fell upon them, and they maintained in this, the reputation acquired in many a border struggle. More than fifty men, all of Marion's, were killed or wounded in this affair, but the loss did not dispirit the survivors. They were drawn off in perfect order, only when their ammunition was expended.
The fight lasted three hours, from four o'clock until dark. Seventy of the British fell. But the want of the field-piece left behind with Singleton, and the failure of their ammunition, not a charge of which remained with the Americans at the close of the fight, saved the enemy, whose infantry alone, according to Sumter, was superior to his whole force. The Americans attacked them with half their number. But Coates held his position, and tidings of the approach of Rawdon, who had left Orangeburg, prompted Sumter to retreat across the Santee. His expedition had not been successful. It does not concern us to inquire by whose errors or defects it failed. Enough, that, in all things, where Marion and his men were concerned, they acquitted themselves in a manner calculated to sustain their former reputation. The attack upon Coates at the house, we are told, was made against Marion's opinion, who blamed Sumter for wasting the lives of his men. Without a field-piece, it was scarcely possible that an inferior should have succeeded against a superior force, in a strong position. Sumter was courageous to rashness. His spirit could not be restrained in sight of the enemy. With a brave force at his command, he was not satisfied to be idle, and his courage was frequently exercised at the expense of his judgment. The men of Marion complained that they had been exposed unnecessarily in the conflict. It is certain that they were the only sufferers. Had Sumter but waited for his artillery, and simply held the enemy in check, the victory must have been complete, and this victory was of the last importance to the Americans. It would have involved the loss of one entire British regiment, at a moment when, two others having been required at New York from South Carolina, the force remaining with Rawdon would have been barely adequate to the retention of Charleston. This necessity would have withdrawn the latter general at once from Orangeburg, and the subsequent bloody battle of Eutaw would have been averted accordingly. Greene, speaking of this combat, writes: -- "The affair was clever, but by no means equal to what it ought to have been. The whole regiment of six hundred men would have been captured, if General Sumter had not detailed too much, and had not mistaken a covering party for an attack." It may be added, that the party actually engaged in the attack on Coates, were almost exclusively South Carolina militia. Under favorite leaders they had betrayed no such apprehensions as are natural enough to men who lack confidence in themselves and captains. They had shown the courage of veterans, though they may have failed of that entire success which is usually supposed to follow from a veteran experience.
Jump to Chapter 16.
Return to Chapter Outline of Marion
Return to SC Revolutionary War Outline Page
Return to Genweb South Carolina Home Page
This HTML version Copyright ©1999, Dr. Frank Oliver Clark. This document may be freely used for private purposes, and included in your own genealogy. However, this document may not be sold, nor given to anyone who may attempt to derive profit from same. Please send any errors, corrections, conjectures, updates, etc. to Dr. Frank O. Clark.
Please inform me of errors and corrections, and parts that may be improved.