Marion moves secretly to Pon-Pon -- Rescues Col. Harden -- Defeats Major Frazier at Parker's Ferry -- Joins the main Army under Greene -- Battle of Eutaw.
After the battle of Quinby the joint forces of Sumter and Marion were separated. The former retired up the Congaree; the latter took charge of the country on the Santee; while Greene placed himself in a camp of rest at the High Hills in the district which has since taken the name of Sumter. His troops were in a wretched state of incapacity, in consequence of sickness. The region to which he retired was famous for its salubrity, and the intense heat of the season effectually forbade much military activity. The opposing generals were content to watch each other. It was while he held this position that Col. Hayne, of the militia, was executed as a traitor by the British. The case of this gentleman was that of many in the State. He had taken parole at a time when the country was overrun by the enemy. This parole was subsequently withdrawn by the conquerors, when they supposed the people to have been subdued, and desired their services as militia. But the British were in turn driven from the field. The Americans acquired the ascendant. The section of the country in which Hayne resided was overrun by a detachment of Marion, under Col. Harden, and Hayne availed himself of the occasion to take up arms for his country. He was a popular gentleman, and soon gathered a strong party of militia. His career was distinguished by some small successes, and, with a party of Col. Harden's horse, by a sudden dash in the vicinity of Charleston, he succeeded in taking prisoner General Williamson, formerly of the Americans, whose life was forfeited to the country. The capture of Williamson put all the available cavalry of the British into activity, and by an unfortunate indiscretion, Hayne suffered himself to be overtaken. His execution soon followed his capture. This was a proceeding equally barbarous and unjustifiable -- neither sanctioned by policy nor propriety. It took place after a brief examination, and without any trial. The proceeding was equally unauthorized by civil and martial law. It was not long before this, as the reader will remember, that Marion, in consequence of the execution of some of his men by the British, had threatened them with retaliation. Greene, who knew the decisive character of Marion, and was apprehensive that this wanton crime would render him as prompt as he was fearless, in avenging it, thus writes to prevent him: "Do not take any measures in the matter towards retaliation, for I do not intend to retaliate upon the TORY officers, but the BRITISH. It is my intention to demand the reasons of the Colonel's being put to death; and if they are unsatisfactory, as I am sure they will be, and if they refuse to make satisfaction, as I expect they will, to publish my intention of giving no quarter to British officers, of any rank, that fall into our hands. Should we attempt to retaliate upon their militia officers, I am sure they would persevere in the measure, in order to increase the animosity between the Whigs and Tories, that they might stand idle spectators, and see them butcher each other. As I do not wish my intentions known to the enemy but through an official channel, and as this WILL BE DELAYED FOR SOME FEW DAYS TO GIVE OUR FRIENDS IN ST. AUGUSTINE TIME TO GET OFF, I wish you not to mention the matter to any mortal out of your family."
Weems represents Marion as being greatly averse to this measure of retaliation, and as having censured those officers of the regular army who demanded of Greene the adoption of this remedy. But the biographer wrote rather from his own benevolent nature than from the record. Marion had no scruples about the necessity of such a measure in particular cases; and, however much he might wish to avoid its execution, he was yet fully prepared to adopt it whenever the policy of the proceeding was unquestionable. Fortunately, the decisive resolutions which were expressed by the Americans, their increasing successes, the fact that they had several British officers of reputation in their hands, -- all conspired to produce, in the minds of the enemy, a greater regard to the rights of justice and humanity. As retaliation in such cases is justifiable only as a preventive and remedial measure, it now ceased to be necessary; and, with proper views of the affair, the resolves of Greene and Marion were suffered to remain unexpunged, in proof of their indignation, rather than their purpose. But a few days had elapsed after the execution of Hayne when a party of Marion's men, under Captain Ervine, fell in with and captured a favorite British officer, Captain Campbell, with two subalterns, in charge of a convoying detachment. They were at once committed to the provost guard, and soon communicated their apprehensions to Charleston. A meeting of British officers was held, and their dissatisfaction at this new feature, introduced into the warfare of the country, was expressed in such terms, as contributed, along with the prompt proceedings of the Americans, to bring Balfour, the commandant of Charleston, under whose authority the execution of Hayne had taken place, to a better sense of mercy and prudence. We shall have no farther occasion to refer to these proceedings. It is enough that the threat of retaliation, followed up by such decided movements as left no doubt of the resolution of the Americans, produced all the beneficial effects which could have accrued from its execution.
The incursion of Sumter and Marion into the low country, drew Lord Rawdon from Orangeburg, with five hundred men, to Charleston, from which place, after lingering just long enough to witness the death of Hayne, he sailed for New York. He left Lieut.-Col. Stewart in command at Orangeburg. From this post, Stewart moved to McCord's ferry, on the Congaree, on the south side of which he took post, amidst the hills near the confluence of the Wateree and Congaree. Greene's camp lay directly opposite, and the fires of the mutual armies were distinctly seen by each other. The heat of the weather suspended all regular military operations. Two large rivers intervening secured each from sudden attack, and their toils were confined to operating in small detachments, for foraging or convoy. In this service, on the American side, Col. Washington was detached -- as soon as the course of Stewart was ascertained -- down the country across the Santee; Lee was sent upward, along the north bank of the Congaree; the latter to operate with Col. Henderson, then in command of Sumter's brigade, at Fridig's ferry, and the former to strike at the communication between the enemy and Charleston, and to cooperate with Marion and Mayham, in covering the lower Santee. Col. Harden, at the same time, with a body of mounted militia, had it in charge to straiten the enemy upon the Edisto.
The activity of these several parties and their frequent successes, were such that Stewart was compelled to look for his supplies to the country below him. This necessity caused him to re-establish and strengthen the post at Dorchester, in order to cover the communication by Orangeburg; and to place a force at Fairlawn, near the head of the navigation of Cooper river, from which supplies from Charleston were transported to headquarters over land. As this route was watched by Marion, Washington and Mayham, the British commander was compelled, in order to secure the means of communication with the opposite bank of the Congaree and to draw supplies from thence, to transport boats adapted to the purpose, on wagon-wheels, from Fairlawn to the Congaree.
Such were the relative positions of the two armies until the 22d of August, when Greene, calling in all his detachments except those under Marion, Mayham and Harden, broke up his camp at the High Hills and proceeded to Howell's ferry, on the Congaree, with the intention immediately to cross it and advance upon Stewart. That officer, on hearing of the movement of the Americans, fell back upon his reinforcements and convoys, and took up a strong position at the Eutaw Springs.
Meanwhile, Marion disappeared from the Santee on one of those secret expeditions in which his wonderful celerity and adroit management conducted his men so frequently to success. His present aim was the Pon-Pon. Col. Harden was at this time in that quarter, and closely pressed by a superior British force of five hundred men. Detaching a party of mounted militia to the neighborhood of Dorchester and Monk's Corner, as much to divert the enemy from his own movements as with any other object, he proceeded with two hundred picked men on his secret expedition.
By a forced march, he crossed the country from St. Stephen's to the Edisto -- passing through both lines of the enemy's communication with Charleston, and reached Harden -- a distance of one hundred miles -- in season for his relief. His approach and arrival were totally unsuspected by the enemy, for whom he prepared an ambush in a swamp near Parker's ferry. A small body of his swiftest horse were sent out to decoy the British into the snare. A white feather, rather too conspicuously worn by one of his men in ambush, had nearly defeated his design. Some Tories passing, discovered this unnecessary plumage, and one of them fired upon the wearer. This led to an exchange of shots; but Major Frazier, by whom the British were commanded, assuming the party thus concealed to be that of Harden, whom it was his aim to find, pursued the horsemen whom Marion had sent out to entice him to the ambuscade. His cavalry was led at full charge within forty yards of the concealed riflemen. A deadly fire was poured in, under which the British recoiled; attempting to wheel and charge the swamp, they received a second; and, closely wedged as their men were upon the narrow causeway over which they came, every shot bore its warrant. There was no retreating, no penetrating the ambush, and the British cavalry had but to go forward, along the road to the ferry, thus passing the entire line of the ambuscade. The corps was most effectually thinned by the time it got beyond rifle reach; and still more fatal would have been the affray to the advancing infantry of Frazier -- a large body, with a field-piece -- but for one of those lamentable deficiencies of materiel, which so frequently plucked complete success from the grasp of the Americans. The ammunition of our partisan failed him, and he was compelled to yield the ground to the enemy, who was otherwise wholly in his power. The British loss was unknown. Twenty-seven dead horses were counted on the field the day after; the men had all been buried. As Marion's men fired with either a ball or heavy buck-shot, and as none would aim at horses, the loss of the British must have been very great. Nine days after, at the battle of Eutaw, they had few cavalry in the field.
But, though the victory was incomplete, Marion had attained his object. He had rescued Harden, without loss to himself. He had traversed more than two hundred miles of country, through a region held by the enemy; returned by the same route, -- delivered his prisoners to the care of Mayham, -- returned twenty miles below the Eutaw, in order to watch the communication between that place and Fairlawn -- then, at the call of Greene, made a circuit and passed the British army, so as to reach a position on the south side of the Santee, in the track of Greene's advance; and all this in the brief compass of six days. Yet, of these movements, which merited and received the particular thanks of Congress, we are without any data in our records. The complimentary resolution of Congress fixes the battle at Parker's ferry on the 31st August.
Seventeen miles from Eutaw Springs, at Lauren's plantation, Marion effected a junction with the commander-in-chief. Greene was pressing forward to a meeting with Stewart. Of this object the latter seemed to have been profoundly ignorant up to this moment. But the day before, he knew that Marion was twenty miles below him, and did not conjecture that, by marching the whole night, he had thrown himself above him to join with Greene. Without this junction he had no apprehension that the latter, with an inferior force, would venture an attack upon him, in the strong position which he held. On the afternoon of the 7th September, the army reached Burdell's tavern on the Congaree road, seven miles from the Eutaws. The force under Greene amounted to two thousand men, all told. That under General Stewart was probably about the same. It is estimated to have been two thousand three hundred. These were all disciplined troops, and a large proportion of the old regiments consisted of native marksmen from the ranks of the loyalists. In cavalry, Greene had the advantage, but a great portion of his men were militia. In artillery the two armies were equal. The British had five and the Americans four pieces.
The memorable battle of the Eutaw Springs was fought on the 8th September. At four o'clock in the morning the Americans moved from their bivouac down to the attack. The day was fair, but intensely hot; but the combatants at the commencement of the battle were relieved by the shade of the woods. The South Carolina State troops and Lee's legion formed the advance under Colonel Henderson. The militia, both of South and North Carolina, moved next, under Marion. Then followed the regulars under Gen. Sumner; and the rear was closed by Washington's cavalry, and Kirkwood's Delawares, under Col. Washington. The artillery moved between the columns. The troops were thus arranged in reference to their order of battle.
Of the approach of the Americans Stewart was wholly ignorant on the evening of the 7th. The only patrol which had been sent up the Congaree road had been captured during the night, and Stewart himself says, in excuse, that "the Americans had waylaid the swamps and passes in such a manner as to cut off every avenue of intelligence." So entirely secure had he felt himself in his position, which was a strong one, that he had sent out an unarmed party of one hundred men, in the very direction of Greene's advance, to gather sweet potatoes. This party, called a rooting party, after advancing about three files, had pursued a road to the right, which led to the river plantations. Advised, by two deserters from the North Carolina militia, of Greene's approach, Stewart dispatched Captain Coffin, with his cavalry, to recall the rooting party, and to reconnoitre the Americans. Before Coffin could effect either object, he encountered the American advance, and, in total ignorance of its strength, charged it with a degree of confidence, which led Greene to imagine that Stewart with his whole army was at hand. Coffin was easily repulsed; the rooting party, alarmed by the firing, hurried from the woods, and were all made prisoners. Meanwhile, Stewart, now thoroughly aware of the proximity of his enemy, pushed forward a detachment of infantry, a mile distant from the Eutaw, with orders to engage and detain the American troops while he formed his men and prepared for battle. But Greene, whom the audacity of Coffin had deceived, halted his columns where they stood, and proceeded to display them. The column of militia formed the first line; the South Carolina militia in equal divisions on the right and left, and the North Carolinians in the centre. General Marion commanded the right, General Pickens the left, and Col. Malmedy the centre. Col. Henderson, with the State troops, including Sumter's brigade, covered the left of this line, and Col. Lee, with his legion, the right. The column of regulars also displayed in one line. The North Carolinians, under Gen. Sumner, occupied the right; the Marylanders, under Col. Williams, the left; the Virginians, under Col. Campbell, the centre. Two pieces of artillery were assigned to each line. Col. Washington moved in column in the rear, keeping himself in reserve. In this order, the troops pressed forward slowly, as the country on both sides of the road was in wood, and prevented much expedition. Moving thus, the first line encountered the advance parties of Stewart, and drove them before it, until the entire line of the British army, displayed in order of battle, received, and gave shelter to, the fugitives.
The troops of Stewart were drawn up in one line at about two hundred yards west of the Eutaw Springs; the Buffs on the right, Cruger's corps in the centre, and the 63d and 64th on the left. Major Marjoribanks, with three hundred of his best troops, was strongly posted, so as to flank the Buffs, under shelter of a thick wood on the Eutaw Creek, which covered the right of the whole line; the left was, in military `parlance', `in air' -- resting in the wood, and supported by Coffin's cavalry -- reduced to a very small number -- and a respectable detachment of infantry. His ground was altogether in wood, but, at a small distance, in the rear of his line, was an open field, on the edge of which stood a strong brick dwelling, with offices, out-houses, and a palisadoed garden, in all of which a stout resistance might be made. On this brick house, Stewart had already cast his eyes, as the means of saving his army in any `dernier' necessity. The house was of two stories, and abundantly strong to resist small arms. Its windows commanded all the open space around. Major Sheridan was ordered to throw himself into it, with his command, in case of an unfavorable issue to the fight; and in this position to overawe the Americans, and cover the army. Feeble in cavalry, in which the Americans were strong, there was no other means for retreat and support in the event of a capital misfortune.
The American approach was from the west. The first line, consisting wholly of militia, went into action, and continued in it with a coolness and stubbornness which, says Greene, "would have graced the veterans of the great king of Prussia." Such conduct was almost invariable on their part, wherever Marion or Pickens commanded. Steadily and without faltering, they advanced into the hottest of the enemy's fire, with shouts and exhortations, which were not lessened by the continual fall of their comrades around them. Their line was all the while receiving the fire of double their number -- they were opposed to the entire line of the British. The carnage was severe, and very equal on both sides. The two pieces of artillery were at length disabled, and after exchanging seventeen rounds with the enemy, the militia began to falter. Gen. Sumner was ordered up to their support, with the North Carolina Continentals. With the advance of Sumner, Stewart brought into line on his left, the infantry of his reserve, and the battle, between fresh troops on both sides, raged with renewed fury. From the commencement of the action, the infantry of the American covering parties, right and left, had been steadily engaged. The State troops, under Henderson, had suffered greatly. The American left, which they flanked, falling far short of the British right in length, they were exposed to the oblique fire of a large proportion of the British left, and particularly of the battalion commanded by Marjoribanks. Henderson himself was disabled, and his men, denied to charge the enemy under whose fire they were suffering -- for they were necessary to the safety of the artillery and militia -- were subjected to a trial of their constancy, which very few soldiers, whatever may have been their training, would have borne so well.
Meanwhile, the brigade of Sumner recoiled from the fire of the greater numbers opposed to them in front. At this sight, the exultation of the British Left hurried them forward, assured of certain victory. Their line became deranged, and the American general, promptly availing himself of the opportunity, issued his command to Col. Williams, who had in charge the remaining portion of his second line, to "advance, and sweep the field with his bayonets." The two battalions obeyed the order with a shout. The Virginians, when within forty yards of the enemy, poured in a destructive fire, and the whole second line with trailed arms pressed on to the charge. The advanced left of the British recoiled, and, just at this juncture, the legion infantry delivered an enfilading fire, which threw them into irretrievable disorder. The British centre, pressed upon by the fugitives, began to give way from left to right, and the fire of the Marylanders, poured in at the proper moment, completed their disaster. Their whole front yielded, and the shouts of the Americans declared their exultation, as at a victory already won. Unquestionably, the day was theirs. The enemy had fled from the battle. But a new one was to begin, in which victory, at present so secure, was taken from their grasp. In the effort to prevent the enemy from rallying, and to cut him off from the brick dwelling, into which Sheridan, obeying the commands of Stewart, had thrown himself as soon as the necessity became apparent, the greatest loss of the Americans was sustained. Marjoribanks still held his ground, with his entire battalion, in the thick woods which skirted Eutaw Creek, and so well covered was he that, in an attempt to penetrate with his cavalry, Col. Washington became entangled in the thicket, and fell into the hands of the enemy, while his men suffered severely from their fire, and his troop was routed. A second time were they brought to the charge, but with no better success than before. Marjoribanks still maintained his position, watching the moment when to emerge from the thicket with the best prospect of safety to himself, and hurt to the Americans. He was soon to have an opportunity.
The British line had yielded and broken before the American bayonet. The latter pressed closely upon their heels, made many prisoners, and might have cut them off, and, by isolating Marjoribanks, forced him to surrender, but for one of those occurrences which so frequently in battle change the fortunes of the day. The course of the fugitives led them directly through the British encampment. There everything was given up for lost. The tents were all standing, the commissaries had abandoned their stores, and the numerous retainers of the army were already in full flight for Charleston. When the pursuing Americans penetrated the encampment, they lost sight of the fugitives in the contemplation of various objects of temptation which, to a half-naked and half-starved soldiery, were irresistible. The pursuit was forborne; the Americans fastened upon the liquors and refreshments scattered among the tents; and the whole army, with the exception of one or two corps, then fell into confusion. Yet, so closely had the British been pursued to the shelter of the house, and so narrow was their escape, that some of the Americans had nearly obtained entrance with them. It was only by shutting the door against some of their own officers, that they made it secure against the enemy; and in retiring from the house, now a citadel, the Americans only found safety by interposing the bodies of the officers, thus made captive at the entrance, between themselves and the fire from the windows. One ludicrous incident is told of Major Barry, who was taken in this manner, and made use of as a shield by Lieut. Manning, as he retreated from before the house, which otherwise he could not have left in safety. Without struggling or making the slightest effort for his extrication, Barry only enumerated his own titles with a profound solemnity. "Sir, I am Henry Barry, Deputy Adjutant General of the British army, Secretary to the Commandant of Charleston, Captain in the 52d regiment," &c. "Enough, enough, sir," answered Manning. "You are just the man I was looking for. Fear nothing: you shall SCREEN ME from danger, and I shall take special care of you." Manning escaped in safety with his prisoner. But there were many brave officers far less fortunate. Many were destined to perish in the miserable after struggle, who had gone gloriously through the greater dangers of the fight. The British tents had done what the British arms had failed to do. Victory was lost to the Americans. Scattered throughout the encampment, the soldiers became utterly unmanageable. The enemy, meanwhile, had partially recovered from their panic. The party of Sheridan were in possession of the house. Another party held possession of the palisaded garden. Coffin was active with his remnant of cavalry, and Marjoribanks still held a formidable position in the thicket on Eutaw Creek. From the upper windows of the house, the musketry of Sheridan traversed the encampment, which the Americans now trembled to leave, lest they should suffer from their fire. Every head that emerged from a tent was a mark for their bullets. Aware, by this time, of the extent of his misfortune, Greene ordered a retreat, which Hampton's cavalry was commanded to cover. In the execution of this duty Hampton encountered the British cavalry. A sharp action ensued; the latter fled, and in the ardor of pursuit, the American horse approached so near to the position of Marjoribanks as to receive a murderous fire, which prostrated one-third of their number and scattered the rest. Before they could again be brought together, Marjoribanks, seizing upon the chance afforded by a temporary clearing of the field, emerged from the wood, at a moment which enabled him to put a successful finish to the labors of the day. Two six-pounders, which had been abandoned by the British, had been turned upon the house by the Americans; but in their eagerness they had brought the pieces within the range of fire from the windows of the house. The artillerists had been shot down; and, in the absence of the American cavalry, Marjoribanks was enabled to recover them. Wheeling them under the walls of the house, he took a contiguous position, his own being almost the only portion of the British army still in a condition to renew the action. The Americans yielded the ground about the house, but were promptly rallied in the skirts of the wood. The British were too much crippled to pursue; and the respite was gladly seized upon by the Americans to plunge headlong into the neighboring ponds, to cool the heat and satisfy the intense thirst occasioned by such efforts under the burning sun of a Carolina September. Both sides claimed the victory, and with equal reason. In the first part of the day it was clearly with the Americans. They had driven the enemy from the field, in panic and with great loss. They were in possession of five hundred prisoners, nearly all of whom they retained. They had taken two out of the five pieces of artillery which the British had brought into the action; and, something more to boast, considering the proverbial renown of the British with this weapon, it was at the point of the bayonet that they had swept the enemy from the ground. The British took shelter in a fortress from which the Americans were repulsed. It is of no consequence to assert that the latter might have taken it. They might -- it was in their power to have done so, -- but they did not; and the promptitude with which the British availed themselves of this security, entitles them to the merit which they claim. We are constrained to think that the business of the field was strangely blundered by the Americans at the sequel. This may have arisen from the carnage made at this period among their officers, particularly in their persevering, but futile endeavors, to extricate the soldiers from their tents. Under cover of a contiguous barn, the artillery presented the means of forcing the building and reducing the garrison to submission. The attempts made at this object, by this arm of the Americans, were rash, badly counselled, and exposed to danger without adequate protection. The British were saved by this error, by the luxuries contained within their tents, by the spirited behavior of Coffin, and the cool and steady valor of Marjoribanks.
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