Return to Chapter 3.
The Cherokees were very far from being subdued or satisfied. The snake had been "scotched not killed", and stung, rather than humbled by the chastisement they received, they prepared to assume the offensive with sudden vigor. Concentrating a numerous force upon the distant garrison of Fort Loudon, on the Tennessee river, they succeeded in reducing it by famine. Here they took bloody revenge for the massacre of their chiefs at Prince George. The garrison was butchered, after a formal surrender upon terms which guaranteed them protection. This wholesale and vindictive barbarity, while it betrayed the spirit which filled the savages, had the still farther effect of encouraging them in a warfare which had so far gratified very equally their appetites for blood and booty. In addition to this natural effect, the result of their own wild passions, there were other influences, from without, at work among them. Certain French emissaries had crept into their towns and were busily engaged, with bribes and arguments, in stimulating them to continued warfare. This, in all probability,was the secret influence, which, over all, kept them from listening, as well to their own fears, as to the urgent suggestions of the British authorities, for peace. Hitherto, the Cherokees had given no ear to the temptations of the French, whom they considered a frivolous people, and whose professions of faith they were very likely to have regarded with distrust. But the labors of their emissaries at this juncture, harmonizing with the temper of the nation, were necessarily more than usually successful. One of these emissaries, Louis Latinac, an officer of considerable talent, proved an able instigator to mischief. He persuaded them, against the better reason of their older chiefs, to the rejection of every overture for peace. Their successes at Fort Loudon were, perhaps, sufficient arguments for the continuance of war, but there were others not less potent. The king of France was now to be their ally in place of him of Great Britain.
The one "great father" was no less able than the other to minister to their appetites and necessities. His arms and ammunition replaced those which had been withdrawn by the latter; and we may suppose that the liberality of the new allies was such as to admit of very favorable comparison and contrast with that which they had experienced at the hands of the British. Their very excesses in the war were favorable to its continuance; as they might very well doubt the binding force of treaties between parties, the bad faith of whom had been written so terribly in blood. At a great meeting of the nation, at which Louis Latinac was present, he, with something of their own manner, seizing suddenly upon a hatchet, struck it violently into a block of wood, exclaiming, as he did so, "Who is the warrior that will take this up for the king of France?" Salouee, a young chief of Estatoee, instantly tore the weapon from the tree. He declared himself for instant and continued war. "The spirits of our slain brothers," was his cry, "call upon us to avenge their massacre. He is a woman that dares not follow me!"
Such being the spirit of the savages, the Carolinians had no alternative but to resume their arms. Col. Montgomery having gone to England, the command devolved upon Colonel Grant, and the Highlanders were once more ordered to the relief of the province. The Carolinians were now somewhat better prepared to cooperate with their allies. A native regiment of twelve hundred men was raised, and the command given to Col. Middleton, a brave and accomplished provincial officer.
To this regiment Marion was attached, under the immediate command of Moultrie. Many of his associates in this Cherokee war became subsequently, like himself, distinguished in the war with Great Britain. Among these may be mentioned the names of Moultrie,* Henry Laurens, Andrew Pickens and Isaac Huger.
These were all officers, even in that early day, and Marion himself held a lieutenancy -- some proof that, however little we may know of the circumstances by which he secured the confidence of his neighbors, he was already in full possession of it. How much of the future acts and successes of these brave men was due to the exercises and events of this Cherokee war, may reasonably be conjectured by every reader who knows the value of a stern apprenticeship to a hazardous profession. Its successive campaigns against no inferior enemy, and under circumstances of peril and privation of no common order, were such as must have afforded them frequent opportunity of making themselves familiar equally with the exigencies and responsibilities of command.
To the united forces of Colonels Grant and Middleton, were added a certain number of Chickasaw and Catawba Indians; making a total of twenty-six hundred men. This army reached Fort Prince George on the 29th of May, 1761. On the 7th of June following, it took up the line of march for the enemy's country. The advance was conducted with caution, but without molestation, until it reached the place where Montgomery, in the previous campaign, had encountered the Indians, near the town of Etchoee. Here the Cherokees were again prepared to make a stand, and to dispute a pass which, above all others, seemed to be admirably designed by nature for the purposes of defence. Their position was not exactly what it had been on the previous occasion, but its characteristic advantages were the same.
Hitherto, the Indians had shown considerable judgment in the selection of their battle-grounds, and in the general employment of their strength. This judgment they probably owed in great part to their present adversaries. Quick in their instinct, and surprisingly observant, they had soon learned the use of European weapons. The various lessons of European tactics, the modes of attack and defence, were, in their united struggles with the French, equally open to their study and acquisition. They had not suffered these lessons to escape them. But they probably owed something of their skill in the present war to the active counsels of the French emissaries. The fact is not recorded by the historian, but there is no reason to suppose that the officers who counselled the war, would withhold themselves when the opportunity offered, from giving directions in the field. The French had frequently distinguished themselves, by leading on forces entirely composed of Indians. The practice was common. Even at the defeat of Braddock, the French troops bore but a small proportion to their Indian allies. There is no reason to suppose that Louis Latinac was not present at one or both of the bloody fields of Etchoee.
The provincial army marched in good order upon the suspected position. The Indian auxiliaries, who were in the van, first discovered signs of an enemy. The Cherokees were in possession of a hill, strongly posted, and in considerable force, upon the right flank of the army. Finding themselves discovered, they opened their fire upon the advanced guard, and followed it up with a gallant charge. But the van being vigorously and promptly supported, they were driven back, and resumed their position upon the hill. Under this hill the line of march lay for a considerable distance. To attempt, therefore, to continue the march before dislodging the enemy in possession of it, would be to expose the troops to a protracted fire, the more murderous, as it would be delivered by a foe in a position of perfect security. The advanced guard was ordered upon this duty, and from this body a forlorn-hope of thirty men was chosen, to force the perilous entrance to the foe. The command of this devoted corps was assigned to Francis Marion, still a lieutenant under the command of Moultrie, in the provincial regiment of Middleton. The ascent of the hill was by means of a gloomy defile, through which the little band, headed gallantly by their leader, advanced with due rapidity; a considerable body of the army moving forward at the same time in support of the advance. Scarcely had the detachment penetrated the defile, when the war-whoop gave the signal. The savages, still concealed, poured in a deadly fire, by which no less than twenty-one of this fated band were prostrated.* Fortunately their leader was not among them. He seems, like Washington, to have been the special care of Providence. The residue were only saved from destruction by the proximity of the advance, whose hurried approach, while giving them safety, brought on the main action. The battle was fought with great carnage on both sides. The Cherokees were not only well posted, but they were in great numbers. Repeatedly dislodged by the bayonet, they as repeatedly returned to the attack; and, driven from one quarter, rallied upon another, with a tenacious and unshaken valor becoming in men who were defending the passes to the bosom of their country.
From eight in the morning until noon, the fight was continued, not only without intermission, but seemingly without any decisive results on either side. But, at length, the patient resolution of the whites prevailed; and, about two o'clock in the day, the field was yielded by the reluctant Cherokees to their superior foes. This victory determined the fate of Etchoee, a town of considerable size, which was reduced to ashes.
-- * Weems, p. 21. Horry's MS. Memoir, p. 58. --
The result of this fierce engagement seems to have broken the spirit of the nation. They had chosen the position of greatest strength to make their stand, and brought to the struggle their best spirits and bravest warriors. In the issue, they had shown, by their dogged and determined valor, the great importance which it carried in their eyes. The day once decided against them, they appeared to be equally without heart and hope; they no longer appeared in arms -- no longer offered defence -- and the army of the Carolinians marched through the heart of the nation, searching its secret settlements, and everywhere inflicting the severest penalties of war. The rest of the campaign was an easy progress, and terrible was the retribution which it brought with it. No less than fourteen of their towns, in the middle settlements, shared the fate of Etchoee. Their granaries were yielded to the flames, their cornfields ravaged, while the miserable fugitives, flying from the unsparing sword, took refuge, with their almost starving families, among the barren mountains, which could yield them little but security. A chastisement so extreme was supposed to be necessary, in order to subdue for ever that lively disposition for war, upon the smallest provocation, which, of late years, the Cherokees had manifested but too frequently; but it may be doubted whether the means which were employed for administering this admonitory lesson, were of the most legitimate character. We must always continue to doubt that humanity required the destruction of towns and hamlets, whose miserable walls of clay and roofs of thatch could give shelter to none but babes and sucklings -- women with their young -- those who had never offended, and those who could not well offend -- the innocent victims to an authority which they never dared oppose.
The reckless destruction of their granaries -- fields yet growing with grain -- necessarily exposed to the worst privations of famine only those portions of the savage population who were least guilty. The warrior and hunter could readily relieve himself from the gnawing necessities of hunger. He could wander off to remote tribes, and, armed with rifle or bow, could easily secure his game, sufficient for his own wants, from the contiguous forest. But these were resources inaccessible to the weak, the old, the timid, and the imbecile. Surely, it was a cruel measure of war, and if necessary to the safety of the whites, renders still more criminal the wanton excesses of the latter, by which it was originally provoked. It is pleasing to be able to show that Marion felt, in this matter, as became that rare humanity which was one of the most remarkable and lovely traits in his character, -- the more remarkable, indeed, as shining out among endowments which, in particular, designated him for a military life -- a life which is supposed to need for its stimulus so much that is sanguinary, if not brutal, in one's nature. It is recorded of him, that the severities practised in this campaign filled him, long after, with recollections of sorrow. Writing to a friend,* he gives a brief description of the calamities of the war, in terms equally touching and picturesque. "We arrived," he writes, "at the Indian towns in the month of July. As the lands were rich, and the season had been favorable, the corn was bending under the double weight of lusty roasting ears and pods of clustering beans. The furrows seemed to rejoice under their precious loads -- the fields stood thick with bread. We encamped the first night in the woods, near the fields, where the whole army feasted on the young corn, which, with fat venison, made a most delicious treat.
-- * In a letter quoted by Weems. [The poetic language here suggests the possibility that this letter may be one of Weems' inventions. -- A. L., 1996.] --
"The next morning we proceeded, by order of Colonel Grant, to burn down the Indian cabins. Some of our men seemed to enjoy this cruel work, laughing very heartily at the curling flames as they mounted, loud-crackling, over the tops of the huts. But to me it appeared a shocking sight. "Poor creatures!" thought I, "we surely need not grudge you such miserable habitations." But when we came, ACCORDING TO ORDERS, to cut down the fields of corn, I could scarcely refrain from tears. For who could see the stalks that stood so stately, with broad green leaves and gaily-tasselled shocks, filled with sweet milky fluid, and flour, the staff of life -- who, I say, without grief, could see these sacred plants sinking under our swords, with all their precious load, to wither and rot untasted, in their mourning fields!
"I saw everywhere around the footsteps of the little Indian children, where they had lately played under the shelter of the rustling corn. No doubt they had often looked up with joy to the swelling shocks, and gladdened when they thought of their abundant cakes for the coming winter. When we are gone, thought I, they will return, and peeping through the weeds with tearful eyes, will mark the ghastly ruin poured over their homes, and the happy fields where they had so often played. `Who did this?' they will ask their mothers. `The white people, the Christians did it!' will be the reply."
"It would be no easy matter," says Hewatt, the earliest regular historian of Carolina, "to describe the hardships which this little army endured, in the wilderness, from heat, thirst, watching, danger, and fatigue. Thirty days did Colonel Grant continue in the heart of the Cherokee territories, and upon his return to Fort Prince George, the feet and legs of many of his army were so mangled, and their strength and spirits so much exhausted, that they were unable to march farther." But the chastisement which the Indians had received, secured the object for the attainment of which it was inflicted. The Cherokees sued for peace, and Marion once more retired to the obscurity of rural life; we may well believe with a human sense of satisfaction, that the painful duty upon which he had been engaged was at length over. Unhappily, the details of the war, beyond those which we have given, do not enable us to ascertain the extent of his services. We are simply told that he behaved well, with skill and spirit. More than this perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect from any degree of talent, in the subordinate situation which he at that time occupied.
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