Return to Chapter 4.
1775. Marion is returned for the Provincial Congress from St. John's, Berkeley -- Made Captain in the Second Regiment -- Fort Johnson taken -- Battle of Fort Moultrie.
Engaged in rural and domestic occupations we hear no more of Marion, except as a citizen and farmer, until the beginning of the year 1775. In the latter capacity he is reputed to have been successful; and between the labors and sports of the field, the more violent humors of youth seem to have been dissipated in exercises which are seldom followed by reproach. He was very fond of angling and hunting, and with rod or gun, his leisure was employed in a way that would not have displeased the gentle Isaak Walton. These constituted his chief pastimes for the fourteen years that had elapsed since his Cherokee campaigns. His connection with public events had long since ceased; but, from all accounts, he still continued, in some degree, to fill the eyes of his countrymen. His firmness and purity of character, his gentle temper, known bravery, and the conduct which he had already manifested in war, had secured to him the confidence and the affections of his neighbors. He had attained that place in their esteem which naturally brought him conspicuously before their eyes in the moment of emergency. Emergencies were now approaching of a kind well calculated to bring into the field all the energies, with all the patriotism of the country. The great struggle was at hand between the colonies and that mighty empire by which they had been established. Of the part taken by South Carolina in this conflict, history has already sufficiently informed us. Her movements were made without reserve -- her resolves taken promptly, and steadily maintained with her best blood and treasure. Her battles were among the boldest and bloodiest, as they were among the first and last of the revolution. Of the political steps by which she committed herself to that event, it does not need that we should enter into details. These belong rather to general history than to biography. It will be enough to exhibit those particulars only, of her progress, in which the subject of our memoir was more immediately interested. That he took an early and deep concern in the contest may be inferred from his character. That he should not have become an active politician may also be inferred from his known modesty, and the general reserve of his deportment in society. He was no orator, and no doubt felt quite as awkward in debate as Washington. But his opinions were well known; he was not the person about whose ways of thinking, in trying times, his neighbors could entertain either doubt or discussion.
He formed his opinions as promptly as he fought for them, and his character was above concealment. We find him accordingly, in 1775, returned to the Provincial Congress of South Carolina, as a member from St. John, Berkeley.* This Congress distinguished itself by committing the people of South Carolina to the final destinies of the Revolution. It adopted the American Bill of Rights, as declared by the Continental Congress -- adopted the famous "act of association", recommended by the same federative body to all the colonies, by which the subscribers bound themselves to refuse and to prevent the importation of goods, wares and merchandise, from the mother country; established committees of safety throughout the province, and, in short, in possession of almost dictatorial powers, did not hesitate to use them for the public welfare. It was at particular pains to infuse a martial spirit among the people; and, influenced by this spirit, and under the immediate suggestion, and by direct participation, of this assembly, certain overt acts of treason were committed. The public armory in Charleston was broken open by night, and eight hundred stand of arms, two hundred cutlasses, besides cartouches, flints, matches and other necessary materials of war, were withdrawn without discovery. One party possessed itself of the public powder at Hobcau; another emptied Cochran's Magazine, while a third, as above stated, relieved the state armory of its contents. In all these proceedings, the members of the Provincial Congress displayed the energies of men, who, having once set their hands to the plough, have resolved not to be turned away from it. Under that bolder policy which, by provoking the danger, compels the timid to a part in it from which they might otherwise shrink in terror, they were personally engaged in these acts of treason. We may reasonably conclude that, however silent as a member, Francis Marion was not the person to forbear taking active part in the more hazardous duties which distinguished the doings of the body to which he belonged. There was a generous impulse in his character, which hurried him into performance, whenever work was to be done, or daring became necessary. He could approach such duties with a degree of cheerfulness, which to the ordinary mind, thoughtful only of the consequences and responsibilities of action, seemed to partake of levity and recklessness. There was, indeed, an element of playfulness, we had almost said fun, in his character; a quiet and unobtrusive humor, which enlivened his utterance, and softened, with a gentle aspect, a countenance that might otherwise have been esteemed severe. We have no doubt that the native courage, and the elastic spirit of his temperament made him an active participant in all those deeds of decision, which the deliberations of the body to which he belonged, deemed it necessary should be done. We can very well imagine him conspicuous among those masked and midnight bands, commissioned to do mischief for the public good, by which the arsenals were stripped of their contents, and the tea-chests tumbled into Cooper river.**
The Provincial Congress having thus committed the country, without doubt, to the destinies of war, and having, to some extent, provided against its consequences, adjourned to re-assemble on the 20th June, 1775. But this interval was shortened by the occurrence of events equally unexpected and important. The battle of Lexington, in the meantime, had taken place, and any hopes which might have been entertained, of a final reconciliation between the two countries, without a trial of strength, was fairly dismissed from every reflecting, if not every loyal mind. Instead of the 20th of June, the Provincial Congress was brought together on the first day of that month.*
The members of this body, assembling according to summons, proceeded, with the utmost vigor, to the consideration of the subjects before them. They approached their tasks with equal speed and solemnity. Their labors were commenced with Divine Service, and an act of association was then passed, though not without considerable opposition.
This act ran as follows: --
"The actual commencement of hostilities against this Continent by the British troops, in the bloody scene of the 19th of April last, near Boston -- the increase of arbitrary imposition from a wicked and despotic ministry -- and the dread of insurrections in the Colonies -- are causes sufficient to drive an oppressed people to the use of arms. We, therefore, the subscribers, inhabitants of South Carolina, holding ourselves bound by that most sacred of all obligations, the duty of good citizens to an injured country, and thoroughly convinced, that, under our present distressed circumstances, we shall be justified before God and man, in resisting force by force -- do unite ourselves, under every tie of religion and honor, and associate as a band in her defence, against every foe -- hereby solemnly engaging, that, whenever our Continental and Provincial Councils shall deem it necessary, we will go forth, and be ready to sacrifice our lives and fortunes to secure her freedom and safety. This obligation to continue in force, until a reconciliation shall take place between Great Britain and America, upon Constitutional principles -- an event which we most ardently desire. And, we will hold all those persons inimical to the liberty of the Colonies, who shall refuse to subscribe to this association."*
-- * Drayton's Memoirs, Vol. 1, p. 28. --
This open declaration was followed up with measures equally fearless and decisive. On the fourth day of the session, the Provincial Congress resolved to raise fifteen hundred infantry, rank and file, in two regiments; and four hundred and fifty horse, constituting another regiment. The troops so to be raised, were to be subjected to military discipline, and to the articles of war, in like manner with the British. On the fourteenth day of their session, a million of money was voted, and a council of safety was elected, vested with the executive power of the colony. Among other acts of this body, non-subscribers to the association were made amenable to the General Committee, and punishable ACCORDING TO SOUND POLICY. Absentees having estates, were, with certain exceptions, required to return; and it was further resolved that no persons ought to withdraw from the service of the Colony, without giving good and sufficient reasons to the Provincial Congress. Military duty was performed day and night, as in a state of actual warfare, by the militia companies in rotation; and thus, having placed the province in a state of preparation, with arms in the hands of the people, and given to the newly arrived Governor, Lord William Campbell, a reception which boded small repose to his authority, the Provincial Congress adjourned itself on the 22d day of June, leaving their authority, in great part, to the Council of Safety and General Committee.
It has been seen that the only share which Marion had in the proceedings of this body, was that of an assenting member. He was not endowed with those talents which could have rendered him conspicuous in a deliberative assembly. But he is not the less entitled to his share in the merit of those proceedings, which so admirably declared and illustrated the patriotism and the spirit of the province; and one of the last, decisive measures of the Provincial Congress, happily enabled him to appear in the character upon which he was more likely to confer distinction, than that of the orator. He was elected a captain in the Second Regiment, of which William Moultrie, formerly his captain in the Cherokee campaign, was made Colonel. The duties of this appointment were immediately begun, with a promptness at once due to the necessities of the case, and his own character. As a proof of the zeal by which the newly made officers were distinguished, we find them seeking recruits so early as the 20th of June, and while the body to which they belonged were still engaged in the most laborious duties of the session.*
-- * Drayton's Memoirs, vol. 1, p. 265. NOTE. --
Marion's commission was made out on the 21st June. Weems, in his life of our subject, gives us some pictures, equally lively and ludicrous, of his progress in the business of recruiting, upon which, in connection with his friend, Captain Horry, he at once begun. This gentleman received his appointment as captain at the same time, and in the same regiment, with Marion. The Provincial Congress had voted a million of money, by which to carry out their measures, but this was yet to be procured, and, as it appears, rather more upon the credit of individuals than that of the colony. But money, in times of danger, seems to have an instinct of its own, by which it hides itself readily from sight and touch. It was no easy matter for our captains to obtain the requisite sums. But faith and zeal did more for them, and for the cause, than gold and silver; and with very inadequate supplies, but in fresh and showy uniforms, our young officers set forth on the recruiting service. Their route lay in the several neighborhoods of Georgetown, Black River, and the Great Pedee. In these parts both of them were known. Here, indeed, Marion was already a favorite. Accordingly, they succeeded beyond their expectations, and were soon enabled to complete the full number for their two companies, of fifty men each. Another circumstance, apart from their personal popularity, probably facilitated their objects. Some of the settlements into which they penetrated were originally founded by the Irish. The bitter heritage of hate to the English, which they brought with them to America, was transmitted with undiminished fervor to their descendants. It was easy to show that the power which had trampled upon the affections of their fathers, and tyrannized over their rights in the old world, was aiming at the same objects in the case of their children in the new. At one remove only from the exiled and suffering generation, the sons had as lively a recollection of the tyrannies of Britain as if the experience had been immediately their own. To this cause our recruiting officers owed some of their success in the present expedition. Some of the bravest fellows of the second regiment were picked up on this occasion. It was the spirit which they brought, and to which the genius of Marion gave lively exercise, that imparted a peculiar vitality at all times to his little brigade. Among these gallant young men there were two in particular, of whom tradition in Carolina will long retain a grateful recollection; these were Jasper and Macdonald. Of these two, both of whom sealed their patriotism with their blood, we shall yet have something further to deliver.
While the friends of liberty were thus active, the adherents of the crown, in the colony, were not less so. These, in many parts of the country, were equally numerous and influential. They possessed, indeed, certain advantages in the discussion, which, in some degree, served to counterbalance the impelling and stimulating influences which always belong to a `mouvement' party. They carried with them the PRESTIGE of authority, of the venerable power which time and custom seemed to hallow; they appealed to the loyalty of the subject; they dwelt upon the dangers which came with innovation; they denounced the ambition of the patriot leaders; they reminded the people of the power of Great Britain -- a power to save or to destroy -- which had so frequently and so successfully been exerted in their behalf in their numerous and bloody conflicts with the Indians, and which might be brought, with such fearful emphasis, upon their own heads. They reminded the people that the Indians were not exterminated, that they still hung in numerous hordes about the frontiers, and that it needed but a single word from the Crown, to bring them, once more, with tomahawk and scalping-knife, upon their defenceless homes. Already, indeed, had the emissaries of Great Britain taken measures to this end. The savage was already shaking off his apathy, scenting the carnage from afar, and making ready for the onset. The assurance, that such was the case, was doing the work of numerous arguments among the timid and the exposed. Such were the suggestions, appealing equally to their fears and gratitude, which the leading loyalists addressed to the people. They were supported by other suggestions, scarcely less potent, which naturally flowed from their own thoughts. Why should they dare the conflict with Great Britain? There was no such reason for it as in the case of the northern colonies. They had known her chiefly by benefactions; they did not conflict with her in shipping or in manufactures; and the arguments for discontent and resistance, as urged by the patriot leaders, did not reach them with sufficient force. What was the tax on tea, of which they drank little, and the duty on stamps, when they had but little need for legal papers? And why should not taxes follow protection, which Great Britain had not often withheld in the need of a favorite colony, as South Carolina had unquestionably been?
Let us do justice to this people. The loyalists -- or, as they were more commonly called, and as we shall hereafter be compelled to call them, the Tories -- were, probably, in the majority of cases, governed by principle, by a firm and settled conviction, after deliberate examination of the case. That they might have thought otherwise, nay, would gradually have adopted the opinions of the patriots, is not improbable, had more time been allowed them, and had the course of the latter been more indulgent and considerate. Unfortunately, this was not the case; and the desire to coerce where they could not easily convince, had the effect of making a determined and deadly, out of a doubtful foe. This was terribly proved by the after history. To this cause we may ascribe, in some degree, the terrors of that sanguinary strife, in which, to use the language of a distinguished officer, they "pursued each other rather like wild beasts than men."* We shall see something of this history as we proceed in ours.
-- * Letter of General Greene. See Johnson's Greene. --
There was yet another circumstance which tended, in some degree, to give courage to the Tories. It was the somewhat temporizing policy of the patriots. There was still a feeling of doubt, a hesitancy, on the part of the latter, as the prospects grew stronger of a final breach with Great Britain. There were many who still clung to the hope that the differences of the two nations might yet be reconciled; and though the means of such reconciliation did not make themselves obvious, they yet fondly cherished the conviction that something might turn up, at the last moment, to prevent the absolute necessity of bloodshed. This portion of the patriots necessarily influenced the rest; those who, looking beyond the moment, saw the true issue, and properly regarded the declared objects of difference as pretexts which must suffice when the better reasons might not be expressed. They dared not openly broach the idea of national independence, which, there is very little question that the noblest of the American patriots everywhere, though secretly, entertained from the beginning. The people were not prepared for such a revelation -- such a condition; and appearances were still to be maintained. Their proceedings, accordingly, still wore, however loosely, a pacific aspect. Though actively preparing for war, the professions of the patriots declared their measures to be precautionary only -- a refuge, an alternative, in the event of greater oppression. They still spoke the language of loyalty, still dealt in vague assurances of devotion to the crown. But such professions deceived nobody, and least of all the loyalists. They derived courage from the reluctance of the patriots to embark in a struggle, for the fruits of which, if successful, they evidently longed. They were not less active -- nay, in the interior, they were even more active -- than their opponents; had already taken arms, and gained advantages, which nothing but decisive movements on the part of the people along the seaboard could possibly induce them to forego. This necessity was apparent for other reasons. In consequence of the temporizing policy already mentioned, the crown was still in possession of most of the shows of power in and about Charleston. The royal governor was still in the city, and in some degree exerting his authority. Fort Johnson, on James' Island, was suffered to remain in the hands of the king's troops for more than three months after the Provincial Congress had ordered a levy of troops, and had resolved on taking up arms. Two British armed vessels, the Tamar and Cherokee, lay in Rebellion Roads, opposite Sullivan's Island. This force was quite sufficient, under existing circumstances, to have destroyed the town. But the royal leaders were not prepared for this issue; they shared the reluctance of the patriots to begin a conflict, the issues of which were so extreme. Their policy, like that of the patriots -- influencing it, and possibly influenced by it -- was equally halting and indecisive. It was sufficiently satisfactory if, by the presence of such a force, the citizens should be overawed and kept from action.
This condition of things could not continue. The very nature of the movement was adverse to indecision. It needed but a first step -- a first stroke -- and this was to be taken by the patriots. They brooked impatiently the humiliating position in which the city stood, controlled by an inferior enemy; and it was resolved that Fort Johnson should be subdued. It was on this occasion that Marion first drew his sword against the British. He was one of those Captains who, with their companies, were dispatched on this expedition. The command was given to Col. Moultrie. A strong resistance was expected, as, but a short time before, the garrison had been reinforced from the armed vessels. At midnight on the fourteenth of September, 1775, the detachment crossed to James' Island. The disembarkation was effected with delay and difficulty, occasioned by the inadequate size and number of the boats. The forlorn hope, consisting of a detachment from the grenadiers of Capt. Pinckney, joined by the Cadets, and led by Lieut. Mouatt, were to scale the walls of the fort on its south bastion; Col. Moultrie with the rest of Pinckney's Grenadiers, and Marion's Light Infantry, were to enter or force the gates over the ravelin; while Capt. Elliott, with his grenadiers, penetrated the lower battery over the left flank. It was broad daylight before the landing was effected; and on making the assault they were surprised by an easy victory. The fort was abandoned. The enemy had probably been apprised of the attack. A detachment from the ships had landed some hours before -- had dismantled the fort, dismounted the cannon, and withdrawn the garrison; retreating in safety to the ships. A gunner and three men only, fell into the hands of the provincials. The very day that this event occurred, Lord William Campbell, the Governor, fled to the Tamar sloop of war. His flight was no doubt hastened by a proceeding so decisive. That evening he dispatched his secretary to Fort Johnson, which he was not permitted to enter. He was met at the water-side by Capt. Pinckney, of whom he demanded, in the name of the Governor, by what authority he had taken and held possession of the fortress. The answer to this demand brought up the vessels of war, which, on the seventeenth of September, presented themselves within point blank shot of the fort. Up to this time, but three of the dismantled cannon had been remounted and put in order for action. With these, the provincials prepared for battle, relying, however, less upon their cannon than upon their ability to oppose the landing of any body of men. But the demonstration of the squadron was without fruits. They hauled off without a shot, and resumed their former less offensive position.
Here, however, the popular leaders were not disposed to suffer them to remain. Still they hesitated at coming to blows. They adopted a middle course, which, in such cases, is generally the worst. They ordered that the ships should not be victualled or supplied with water from the city, except from day to day. This produced a threat from Captain Thornborough that, unless supplied as before, he should prevent the ingress, or departure, of any vessel from the harbor. A menace of this kind, to have been properly met, should have been answered from the eighteen pounders of Fort Johnson. And, but for the reluctance of several highly esteemed patriots, such would have been the mode of answer. This temporizing policy continued to prevail until the 9th November, 1775, when the Provincial Congress resolved, "by every military operation, to oppose the passage of any British Armament." Such were the orders issued to the officer commanding at Fort Johnson. This fort had now been in possession of the popular party for nearly two months. It was in some degree prepared for use. It was well manned with a portion of those brave fellows who afterwards fought the good fight of Fort Sullivan. They would have done as good service here. The resolution of the Province once adopted, it was communicated as well to the commanders of the British vessels, as to the officers of the fort. There was still an open passage, through Hog-Island channel, by which the British vessels might approach the town without incurring any danger from the Fort. This passage it was determined to obstruct; and an armed schooner, called the Defence, fitted up for the occasion, was ordered to cover and protect a party which was employed to sink a number of hulks in that narrow strait. This drew upon them the fire of the British. It was returned by the "Defence", but with little injury to either side. The garrison at Fort Johnson endeavored to take part in this little action, but the distance was too great for any decisive results from its fire. Some of the shots took effect, but after a few rounds the fire was discontinued.
Meanwhile, the alarm was beat in Charleston, where the troops stood to their arms, and every heart throbbed with the expectation of a close and bloody fight. But the time was not yet. Indecisive in itself, this brief combat was of great importance in one point of view. It was the beginning of the game. The blow for which all parties had been waiting, was now fairly struck. The sword had been drawn from the scabbard, not again to be sheathed, till the struggle was concluded. The local Congress proceeded vigorously. Ships were impressed for the purpose of war, new troops were enlisted and armed, and bills of credit issued. The British vessels, meanwhile, became more than ever troublesome, and, carrying out the menace of Captain Thornborough, proceeded to the seizure of all vessels within their reach, whether going from or returning to the port. It became necessary to drive them from the roadstead. To effect this, Col. Moultrie, with a party of newly raised Provincials and the Charleston Artillery, took post on Haddrill's Point, and, mounting a few pieces of heavy artillery, opened upon them with a well-directed fire, which drove them out to sea. This step was followed by one of preparation. The fortifications at Fort Johnson and Haddrill's Point were completed -- the city was fortified -- a new fort was raised on James', and another begun on Sullivan's Island. The militia were diligently trained, the provincial troops augmented and disciplined, and all means within the power of the Colony were put in requisition to prepare it for defence. Among other preparations, a military post was established at the town of Dorchester, and strongly fortified. This post was nearly at the head of navigation, on Ashley river, about twenty miles from Charleston. Though now utterly desolate, Dorchester was, prior to the Revolution, a town of considerable population and importance. Its abandonment may be ascribed to the Revolution, during which it was maintained as a military post by the Americans or British. To this place the public stores and records were in great part transferred from Charleston, as to a place of safe-keeping. The command was given to Marion. While in this command we do not find the occurrence of any events of importance. A couple of his original letters, dated from this post, lie before us. They refer only to ordinary events, but contain some expressions which denote the ardency of his patriotism, and the disappointments to which it was not unfrequently subjected in consequence of the apathy of others. Referring to the reluctance shown by many, of whom the utmost patriotism was expected, to rally around the flag of the country, he exclaims -- in a partial perversion of Scripture language, but without irreverence, "Tell this not in the streets of Charleston," &c.
From this post Marion was removed to Charleston, very probably at his own solicitation. Events were ripening in that quarter, of a nature calculated to give becoming employment to a mind always active, and desiring nothing more than to serve his country. From Charleston, he was dispatched to Fort Johnson, where he was busily employed in completing the defences of that place. Weems preserves an anecdote of him, while in command of this fort, in January, 1776, which pleasantly describes the quiet and not unamiable sort of humor in which Marion was frequently said to indulge. While exceedingly busy in his preparations for defence, there came to him a thoughtless young officer, who loved the cockpit much better than consisted entirely with his duties. Christmas and New Year's Holidays were famous at that early period, for the exercise of this cruel sport in some parts of Carolina. To obtain leave of absence, however, on any holiday pretence, the young officer very well knew was impossible. Approaching his Commander with a lie in his mouth, he obtained the desired permission, in order to receive the last blessing of a dying father; and, exulting in the unworthy artifice, he hurried to Dorchester, which, on that occasion, was to be the scene of his recreation. During his absence, Marion arrived at the truth of the story, but said nothing. When the youth returned, which he did after two weeks' absence, he proceeded to the marquee of his Commander, to report himself, and began a tedious apology for having stayed, so long. Marion gently interrupted him, and, with a smile, in the presence of all the officers, replied -- "Never mind it, Lieutenant -- there's no harm done -- we never missed you." The effect of this sarcasm is said to have been admirable; and to have resulted in the complete reform of the offender, who, from being a trifling, purposeless, and unscrupulous young man, grew considerate equally of his duties and his word, and, by a career of industry, sobriety and modesty, made ample amends, in future days, for all the errors of the past.
With the formation of new regiments, under the resolves of the Council of Safety, Marion was promoted to a Majority. This appointment materially enlarged the sphere of his duties. But he was one of those remarkable men, who, without pretension, prove themselves equal to any trust which may be imposed upon them. Without the presence of an actual enemy, he addressed himself to the task of preparing his men for the encounter with them. He was constantly on parade, at the drill, closely engaged in the work of training, in which business, while very gentle, he was very exact; and, in such a degree had he improved the officers and men immediately under his charge, that they were very soon regarded as a model for all the rest. He was called the "architect of the Second Regiment". Weems, speaking for Col. Horry, says, "Indeed, I am not afraid to say that Marion was the ARCHITECT of the Second Regiment, and laid the foundation of that excellent discipline and confidence in themselves, which gained them such reputation whenever they were brought to face their enemies." The value of this training was very soon to be subjected to the most thorough of all possible tests. He was ordered with his Regiment, under command of Col. Wm. Moultrie, to take post at Fort Sullivan, on the island of that name, which stands at the entrance of Charleston harbor,and within point blank shot of the channel. The difficulties and deficiencies of this post, furnished some admirable preparatory lessons for the great conflict which was to follow. They imposed the necessity of diligent industry and hard labor, equally on men and soldiers. This was one of the famous schools of Roman discipline. Fort Sullivan, better known as Fort Moultrie -- was yet to be built. When the Second Regiment entered it, it was little more than an outline. Its shape was described upon the sand, and the palmetto rafts lay around it, waiting to be moulded into form. The structure was an inartificial one - a simple wall, behind which young beginners might train guns to do mischief to a veteran enemy in front. Its form was square, with a bastion at each angle, sufficiently large, when finished, to cover a thousand men. It was built of logs, laid one upon another in parallel rows, at a distance of sixteen feet, bound together at frequent intervals with timber, dovetailed and bolted into the logs. The spaces between were filled up with sand. The merlons were walled entirely by palmetto logs, notched into one another at the angles, well bolted together and strengthened with pieces of massy timber. Such was the plan of the work; but, with all the diligence of the officers, and all the industry of the men, it remained unfinished at the perilous moment when a powerful British fleet appeared before its walls. The defence was confided to Col. Moultrie. The force under his command was four hundred and thirty-five men, rank and file, comprising four hundred and thirteen of the Second Regiment of Infantry, and twenty-two of the Fourth Regiment of Artillery. The whole number of cannon mounted on the fortress was thirty-one, of these, nine were French twenty-sixes; six English eighteens; nine twelve and seven nine pounders.*
-- * Weems, in his Life of Marion, represents the cannon as made up principally of TWENTY-FOUR and THIRTY-SIX pounders; but the official accounts are as I have given them. See Drayton's Memoirs, vol. 2, pp. 290-1. --
General Charles Lee, who had been dispatched by the Continental Congress, to take command of the Army of the South, would have abandoned the fortress even before the appearance of the enemy. He was unwilling, in such a position, to abide the conflict. He seems, naturally enough for an officer brought up in a British Army, to have had an overweening veneration for a British fleet, in which it is fortunate for the country that the Carolinians did not share. In the unfinished condition of the fort, which really presented little more than a front towards the sea, his apprehensions were justifiable, and, could the fort have been enfiladed, as the British designed, it certainly would have been untenable. From the moment of his arrival, to the very moment when the action was raging, his chief solicitude seems to have been to ensure the defenders of the fortress a safe retreat. It is to their immortal honor that this mortifying measure was unnecessary.
On the 20th of June, 1776, a day ever memorable in the annals of Carolina, the British ships of war, nine in number,*1* commanded by Sir Peter Parker, drew up abreast of the fort, let go their anchors, with springs upon their cables, and commenced a terrible bombardment. The famous battle which followed makes one of the brightest pages in our history. Its events, however, are too generally known to make it necessary that we should dwell upon them here. A few, however, belong properly and especially to our pages. The subject of this memoir was a conspicuous sharer in its dangers and in its honors. The fire of the enemy was promptly answered, and with such efficiency of aim as to be long remembered by the survivors. Having but five thousand pounds of powder, with which to maintain a conflict that raged for eleven hours, with unabated violence, it became necessary, not only that the discharge from the fort should be timed, but that every shot should be made to do execution. In order to do this the guns were trained by the field-officers in person; hence, perhaps, the terrible fatality of their fire. The Bristol, 50 gun ship, Commodore Sir Peter Parker, lost 44 men killed and thirty*2* wounded. Sir Peter himself lost an arm. The Experiment, another 50 gun ship, had 57 killed and 30 wounded.*3*
To these two vessels in particular, the attention of the fort was directed. The words, passed along the line by officers and men, were -- "Look to the Commodore -- look to the fifty gun ships."*4* The smaller vessels suffered comparatively little. Their loss of men was small. The injury to the vessels themselves was greater, and one of them, the Acteon, run aground, and was subsequently burnt. The Carolinians lost but twelve men killed and twice that number wounded. One of the former was the brave fellow Macdonald, of whom we have already spoken. When borne from the embrasure where he received his mortal wound, he cried out to those around him -- "Do not give up -- you are fighting for liberty and country." The want of powder was severely felt. But for this, judging from the effects of the fire from the fort, the British Commodore must have struck, or his fleet must have been destroyed. So slow, at one time, were the discharges -- so great the interval of time between them, -- that the British were of opinion that the place was abandoned. But a new supply of powder was obtained by Marion, who, with a small party, leaving the fort, proceeded to the armed schooner Defence, lying in Stop Gap Creek, and seized upon her powder, by which the fire was kept up until a supply of five hundred weight was received from the city.*5*
This caused a renewal of the conflict in all its fury. The garrison fought with a coolness which would have done honor to veterans. The day was very warm, and the men partially stripped to it. Moultrie says, "When the action begun (it being a warm day), some of the men took off their coats and threw them upon the top of the merlons. I saw a shot take one of them and throw it into a small tree behind the platform. It was noticed by our men, and they cried out, "look at the coat!" A little incident that speaks volumes for their coolness. Moultrie himself and several of his officers smoked their pipes during the action, only removing them when it became necessary to issue orders. In the hottest fire of the battle the flag of the fort was shot away, and fell without the fort. Jasper, with whom we have already brought the reader acquainted as one of Marion's men, instantly sprang after it upon the beach, between the ramparts and the enemy, and binding it to a sponge staff, restored it to its place, and succeeded in regaining his own in safety. We shall hear more hereafter, of this gallant fellow.*6* The coolness -- nay the cavalier indifference -- displayed by the Carolinians throughout the combat, is not its least remarkable feature. There is something chivalric in such deportment, which speaks for larger courage than belongs to ordinary valor. Mere bull-dog resolution and endurance is here lifted, by a generous ardor of soul, into something other than a passive virtue. The elasticity of spirit which it shows might be trained to any performance within the compass of human endowment.
*1* Two ships of fifty guns; five of twenty-eight; 1 of twenty-six and a bomb-vessel. Moultrie, vol. 1 pp. 174-5.
*2* Weems says 100.
*3* British account.
*4* Moultrie, Memoirs, Vol. 1, NOTE, p. 177.
*5* MS. Life of Brig.-Gen. Peter Horry, p. 21.
*6* Gen. Horry (then a captain) thus relates the incident:
"I commanded an eighteen pounder in the left wing of the fort. Above my gun on the rampart, was a large American flag hung on a very high mast, formerly of a ship; the men of war directing their fire thereat, it was, from their shot, so wounded, as to fall, with the colors, over the fort. Sergeant Jasper of the Grenadiers leapt over the ramparts, and deliberately walked the whole length of the fort, until he came to the colors on the extremity of the left, when he cut off the same from the mast, and called to me for a sponge staff, and with a thick cord tied on the colors and stuck the staff on the rampart in the sand. The Sergeant fortunately received no hurt, though exposed for a considerable time, to the enemy's fire. Governor Rutledge [after the battle], as a reward, took his small sword from his side, and in presence of many officers, presented it to Sergeant Jasper, telling him to wear it in remembrance of the 28th June, and in remembrance of him. He also offered Jasper a Lieutenant's commission, but as he could neither read nor write, he modestly refused to accept it, saying, `he was not fit to keep officers' company, being only bred a Sergeant.'"
-- MS. Life of Brig.-Gen. Peter Horry, pp. 19-20. --
Tradition ascribes to the hand and eye of Marion, the terrible effect of the last shot which was fired on this bloody day. It was aimed at the Commodore's ship, which had already received something more than her due share of the attention of the fort. This shot, penetrating the cabin of the vessel, cut down two young officers who were drinking, we may suppose, to their fortunate escape from a conflict which seemed already over -- then ranging forward, swept three sailors from the maindeck into eternity, and finally buried itself in the bosom of the sea. This curious particular was derived from five sailors who deserted from the fleet that very night.
Jump to Chapter 6.
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.