Return to Chapter 8.
Marion retreats before a superior Force -- Defeats the Tories at Black Mingo -- Surprises and disperses the Force of Colonel Tynes at Tarcote -- Is pursued by Tarleton.
The solicitude manifested by the British commander in the South to get Marion from his path, soon set the legion of Tarleton, and a strong force under Major Wemyss, in motion for his retreats. The progress of Tarleton was somewhat delayed, and his cooperation with Wemyss prevented. The latter pushed his advance with equal spirit and address. Marion had with him but one hundred and fifty men, when he heard of the approach of his enemies. His force, it must be remembered, was of a peculiar kind, and was constantly fluctuating. His men had cares other than those of their country's liberties. Young and tender families were to be provided for and guarded in the thickets where they found shelter. These were often threatened in the absence of their protectors by marauding bands of Tories, who watched the moment of the departure of the Whigs, to rise upon the weak, and rob and harass the unprotected. The citizen soldiery were thus doubly employed, and had cares to endure, and duties to perform, from which regular troops are usually exempt, and for which regular officers seldom make allowance. The good judgment of Marion, taking these necessities into consideration, exercised that patience with the militia which secured their fidelity. When he found this or that body of men anxious about their families, he yielded most generally without reluctance to their wishes. This indulgence had its effects. Their return was certain. They seldom lingered beyond the time at which they had pledged themselves to reappear.
It was in consequence of this indulgence that his force was thus reduced when the British approach was known. Wemyss was in command of the 63d regiment. He was accompanied by a large body of Tories under Major Harrison. They moved with caution and speed, but the American General was on the alert. He dispatched Major James with a select body of volunteers to reconnoitre. His various outposts were called in, and with his whole present strength, thus united, Marion followed on the footsteps of James, prepared, if the chances promised him success, for doing battle with his enemy.
Major James, meanwhile, who was equally bold and skilful, pressed forward fearlessly till he became aware of the proximity of the British. He was resolved to make sure of his intelligence. He placed himself in a thicket on their line of march, and by a bright moon, was readily enabled to form a very correct notion of their character and numbers. But as the rear-guard passed by, his courageous spirit prompted further performances. He was not content to carry to his general no other proofs of his vigilance but the tidings which he had obtained. His perfect knowledge of the ground, his confidence in the excellent character of his men, and the speed of their horses, moved him to greater daring; and, bursting from his hiding-place, with a terrible shout, he swooped down with his small party upon the startled stragglers in the rear of the Tory march, carrying off his prisoners in the twinkling of an eye, without stopping to slay, and without suffering the loss of a man. Before the enemy could rally, and turn upon his path, the tread of the partisan's horse no longer sounded in his ears.
The intelligence which James bore to his commander was scarcely so encouraging. He reported the British regulars to be double their own force in number, while the Tories in the rear were alone estimated at five hundred men. Retreat, perhaps dispersion, was now inevitable. This was the sort of game, which, in his feebleness, and under the pressure of a very superior foe, our partisan was compelled to play. It was sometimes a humiliating one, and always attended with some discouragements. The evil effects, however, were only temporary. His men never retired beyond his reach. They came again at a call, refreshed by the respite, and assured by the conviction that their commander was quite as careful of their lives as themselves. Such a game was not without its interest, and its peculiarities were such as to give animation to the valor which it exercised. In these peculiarities of his warfare, lies that secret charm which has made tradition, in the southern country, linger so long and so fondly upon the name of Marion.
Judge James gives us, in few words, a lively idea of the consultation which followed the return and the report of Major James. "About an hour before day, Marion met the Major half a mile from his plantation. The officers immediately dismounted and retired to consult; the men sat on their horses in a state of anxious suspense. The conference was long and animated. At the end of it, an order was given to direct the march back to Lynch's Creek (the route to North Carolina), and no sooner was it given than a bitter groan might have been heard along the whole line. A bitter cup had now been mingled for the people of Williamsburg and Pedee, and they were doomed to drain it to the dregs, but in the end it proved a salutary medicine."
The evil here deplored was the temporary abandonment, for the first time, of this particular section of country. Hitherto, the enemy had never appeared in their neighborhood with such a force as enabled them to overrun it without fear of opposition. Now, they were destined to suffer from those tender mercies of British and Tories, which had written their chronicles in blood and flame, wherever their footsteps had gone before. Bitter, indeed, was the medicine, to whom its taste was new. But, as writes the venerable biographer, it was salutary in the end. It strengthened their souls for the future trial. It made them more resolute in the play. With their own houses in smoking ruins, and their own wives and children homeless and wandering, they could better feel what was due to the sufferings of their common country.
It was at sunset the next evening that Marion commenced his flight to North Carolina. He kept with him only sixty men. The rest dropped off by degrees as they approached their several hiding-places, lying snug, until they again heard the signal of their commander, -- frequently nothing but a whisper, -- which once more brought them forth, to turn the pursuit upon their enemies and avenge themselves by sudden onslaught for the ruin of their homesteads. On this retreat, Marion took with him the two field-pieces which we found him placing in battery on the Pedee a short time before. His desire to save these pieces was due rather to the supposed effect which their possession had upon the minds of the Tories, than because of any real intrinsic use which they possessed in his hands. They encumbered his flight, however, and he disposed of them, finally, without compunction. Wheeling them into a swamp he left them, where, possibly, they remain to this day, the object of occasional start and wonderment to the stalking deer-hunter. This, says Judge James, "was the last instance of military parade evinced by the General." Marching day and night he arrived at Amy's Mill, on Drowning Creek. From this place, he sent forth his parties, back to South Carolina, to gain intelligence and rouse the militia. He himself continued his march. He pitched his camp finally, on the east side of the White Marsh, near the head of the Waccamaw. There may have been a motive, other than the desire for safety, which led Marion to choose and retain this position. The borders of North Carolina swarmed with Tories, chiefly descendants of the Scotch, who constituted, on frequent subsequent occasions, the perplexing enemies with whom our partisan had to contend. It is not improbable, though history does not declare the fact, that he chose the present occasion for overawing the scattered parties, who were always stretching with lawless footsteps from Cape Fear to the Great Pedee. It was while he lay at this place, that the venerable Judge James, then a boy of sixteen, had the honor, for the first time, to dine with Marion. It was in the absence of Major James, the father of the boy, who was one of the volunteers sent back to South Carolina. The artless description which the Judge has given us of this event, so characteristic of Marion, and of the necessities to which he was habitually compelled to submit, will better please than a much more elaborate narrative.
"The dinner was set before the company by the General's servant, Oscar, partly on a pine log and partly on the ground. It consisted of lean beef, without salt, and sweet potatoes. The author had left a small pot of boiled hominy in his camp, and requested leave of his host to send for it, and the proposal was gladly acquiesced in. The hominy had salt in it, and proved, though eaten out of the pot, a most acceptable repast. The General said but little, and that was chiefly what a son would be most likely to be gratified by, in the praise of his father. We had nothing to drink but bad water; and all the company appeared to be rather grave."
That the party should be rather grave, flying from their homes and a superior foe, eating unsalted pottage, and drinking bad water, was, perhaps, natural enough. That this gravity should appear doubly impressive to a lad of sixteen, in a presence which he was taught to venerate, was still more likely to be the case. But Marion, though a cheerful man, wore ordinarily a grave, sedate expression of countenance. Never darkened by gloom, it was seldom usurped by mere merriment. He had no uproarious humor. His tastes were delicate, his habits gentle, his sensibilities warm and watchful. At most a quiet smile lighted up his features, and he could deal in little gushes of humor, of which there was a precious fountain at the bottom of his heart. That he was capable of a sharp sarcasm, was also generally understood among his friends. Horry remarks, that few men ever excelled him at retort. But he was singularly considerate of the sensibilities of others, and had his temper under rare command. His powers of forbearance were remarkable. His demeanor, whether in triumph or despondency, was equally quiet and subdued. He yielded to few excitements, was seldom elevated by successes to imprudence -- as seldom depressed by disappointments to despondency. The equable tone of his mind reminds us again of Washington.
It was while Marion remained at White Marsh, that one of his captains, Gavin Witherspoon, whom he had sent out with four men, achieved one of those clever performances, that so frequently distinguished the men of Marion. He had taken refuge in Pedee Swamp from the pursuit of the enemy, and, while hiding, discovered one of the camps of the Tories who had been in pursuit of him. Witherspoon proposed to his four comrades to watch the enemy's camp, until the Tories were asleep. But his men timidly shrunk from the performance, expressing their dread of superior numbers. Witherspoon undertook the adventure himself. Creeping up to the encampment, he found that they slept at the butt of a pine tree, which had been torn up by the roots. Their guns were piled against one of its branches at a little distance from them. These he first determined to secure, and, still creeping, with the skill and caution of an experienced scout, he succeeded in his object. The guns once in his possession, he aroused the Tories by commanding their surrender. They were seven in number, unarmed, and knew nothing of the force of the assailant. His own more timid followers drew near in sufficient time to assist in securing the prisoners. There was another Witherspoon with Marion, John, a brother of Gavin, and like him distinguished for great coolness, strength, and courage. Both of the brothers delighted in such adventures, and were always ready to engage in them, -- the rashness of the attempt giving a sort of relish to the danger, which always sweetened it to the taste of our partisans.
The return of the various scouting parties which Marion sent out, soon set his little brigade in motion. The intelligence which they brought was well calculated to sting his soldiers, as well as himself, into immediate activity. The medicine which the British had administered to the country they abandoned, had not been suffered to lose any of its bitterness. As had been feared, the Tories had laid waste the farms and plantations. The region through which Major Wemyss had passed, for seventy miles in length and fifteen in breadth, displayed one broad face of desolation. It had been swept by sword and fire. Havoc had exercised its most ingenious powers of destruction. On most of the plantations the houses were given to the flames, the inhabitants plundered of all their possessions, and the stock, especially the sheep, wantonly shot or bayoneted. Wemyss seems to have been particularly hostile to looms and sheep, simply because they supplied the inhabitants with clothing. He seldom suffered the furniture to be withdrawn from a dwelling which he had doomed to be destroyed: Presbyterian churches he burnt religiously, as so many "sedition-shops". It was fortunate for the wretched country, thus ravaged, that the corn was not generally housed; it was only in part destroyed. Had the Tories played the same game in the cornfields of the patriots, that Grant's men had done in those of the Cherokees, as recorded in an early page of this volume,* the devastation would have been complete. They had not limited their proceedings to these minor crimes. They had added human butchery and hanging to those other offences for which vengeance was in store. The wife and children of one Adam Cusack, threw themselves across the path of Wemyss to obtain the pardon of the husband and the father. The crime of Cusack was in having taken arms against the enemy. Their prayers were in vain. But for the interference of his own officers, the ruthless Briton would have ridden over the kneeling innocents. This was not the only savage murder of the same description which this wretched people had to endure. But such atrocities were sharp medicines, benefits in disguise, good against cowardice, selfishness, double-dealing, and deficient patriotism. They worked famously upon the natives, while they proved the invader to be as little capable of good policy, as of ordinary humanity. They roused the spirit of the militia, whet their anger and their swords together, and, by the time that Marion reappeared, they were ready for their General. He asked for nothing more. He re-entered South Carolina by a forced march. Travelling night and day, he hurried through the Tory settlements on Little Pedee, a space of sixty miles, on the second day of his journey. At Lynch's Creek he was joined by Captains James and Mouzon, with a considerable body of men. He was prepared to give them instant employment. Major Wemyss had retired to Georgetown, but Marion was advised of a large body of Tories at Black Mingo, fifteen miles below, under the command of Capt. John Coming Ball. Marion was in expectation, every moment, of additional troops, but he determined not to wait for them. He found his men in the proper mood for fight, and at such times small inequalities of force are not to be regarded. He resolved to give the humor vent, and at once commenced his march for the enemy's encampment. He found the Tories strongly posted at Shepherd's Ferry, on the south side of the Black Mingo, on a deep navigable stream, the passage of which they commanded. There was but one other approach to them, about a mile above their position, through a boggy causeway, and over a bridge of planks. It was nearly midnight when Marion's troops reached this pass. While the horses were crossing the bridge, an alarm-gun was heard from the Tory camp. Celerity now became as necessary to success as caution, and Marion ordered his men to follow him at full gallop. When they reached the main road, about three hundred yards from the enemy, the whole force, with the exception of a small body acting as cavalry, dismounted.
A body of picked men, under Captain Waties, was ordered down the road to attack Dollard's house, where the Tories had been posted. Two companies, under Col. Hugh Horry, were sent to the right, and the cavalry to the left, to support the attack, Marion himself bringing up the reserve. It so happened, however, that the Tories had taken the alarm, and having withdrawn from the house, had chosen a strong position in an old field near it. Here they encountered Horry's command, on the advance, with a fire equally severe and unexpected. The effect was that of a surprise upon the assailants. Horry's troops fell back in confusion, but were promptly rallied and brought to the charge. The battle was obstinate and bloody, but the appearance of the corps under Waties, suddenly, in the rear of the Tories, soon brought it to a close. Finding themselves between two fires, the enemy gave way in all directions, and fled for refuge to the neighboring swamp of Black Mingo. So warmly contested was this affair, that, though soon over, fully one third of the men brought into the field were put `hors de combat'. The loss of Marion was proportionably very considerable. Captain Logan was among his slain; and Captain Mouzon and Lieut. Scott so severely wounded as to be unfit for future service. The force of the Tories was almost twice as great as that of the Whigs. They lost their commander, and left nearly half their number, killed and wounded, on the ground. But for the alarm given by the tread of Marion's horses, while crossing the neighboring bridge, the Tories would most probably have been surprised. At any rate, the affair would have been settled without subjecting the brigade to the severe loss which it sustained. After this event Marion adopted the precaution, whenever about to cross a bridge by night, with an enemy near, to cover the planks with the blankets of his men. But he generally preferred fords, where they could possibly be had, to bridges.
-- * See ante, pp. 50-52 [End of Chapter 4]. --
This victory was very complete. Many of the Tories came in, and joined the ranks of the conqueror. Those who did not, were quite too much confounded to show much impatience in taking up arms against him. His uniform successes, whenever he struck, had already strongly impressed the imaginations of the people. His name was already the rallying word throughout the country. To join Marion, to be one of Marion's men, was the duty which the grandsire imposed upon the lad, and to the performance of which, throwing aside his crutch, he led the way.
We have already shown why the force of Marion was so liable to fluctuation. The necessity of providing for, and protecting destitute families, starving wives and naked children, was more imperative than that of a remote and fancied liberty. These cases attended to, the militia came forth, struck a few blows, and once more returned to their destitute dependents. The victory over the Tories of Black Mingo, was, from this cause, followed by a more than usually prolonged inactivity of our partisan. His men demanded a respite to go and see their families. He consented, with some reluctance, for the business of the campaign was only beginning to open itself before him. They promised him, as usual, to return in season; but remained so long absent, that, for the first time, he now began to doubt and despair of them. This feeling was not natural with him. It was probably only due now to some derangement of his own health, some anxiety to achieve objects which presented themselves prominently to his mind. He had probably heard of the advance of General Greene, who, having succeeded to Gates, was pressing forward with fresh recruits, and the remnant of the fugitives who survived, in freedom, the fatal battle of Camden. A laudable anxiety to be active at such a time, to show to the approaching Continentals that there was a spirit in the State which they came to succor, of which the most happy auguries might be entertained, prompted his morbid impatience at the long delay of his absentees. There were other causes which led him to feel this delay more seriously now than at other times. The Tories were again gathering in force around him. Under these circumstances, and with these feelings, he consulted with his officers whether they should not leave the State and join the approaching army of Greene. Hugh Horry counselled him strenuously against it. His counsel was seconded by the rest.
They prevailed with him. It was fortunate that they did so; for the great efficiency of Marion was in the independence of his command. While the matter was yet in debate, the militia began to reappear. He had not sufficiently allowed for their exigencies, for the scattered homes and hiding-places of famishing hundreds, living on precarious supplies, in swamp and thicket.
How could he reproach them -- fighting as they were for love of country only, and under such privations -- that country yielding them nothing, no money, no clothes, no provisions, -- for they were nothing but militia. They were not enrolled on the Continental pay list. That they should seek the field at all, thus circumstanced, will be ever a wonder to that class of philosophers who found their systems upon the simple doctrine of human selfishness.
True to their chief, he rejoiced once more in their fidelity; and, marching into Williamsburg, he continued to increase his numbers with his advance. His present object was the chastisement of Col. Harrison, who was in force upon Lynch's Creek; but his progress in this direction was suddenly arrested by his scouts, who brought him tidings of large gatherings of Tories in and about Salem and the fork of Black River. In this quarter, one Colonel Tynes had made his appearance, and had summoned the people generally, as good subjects of his majesty, to take the field against their countrymen. It was necessary to check this rising, and to scatter it before it gained too much head; to lessen the influence of Tynes and his party, over those who were doubtful, and afford the friends of the patriots an opportunity to come out on the proper side. There were other inducements to the movement. Col. Tynes had brought with him from Charleston, large supplies of the materials of war and comfort -- commodities of which the poor patriots stood grievously in need. They hungered at the tidings brought by the scouts, of new English muskets and bayonets, broad-swords and pistols, saddles and bridles, powder and ball, which the provident Colonel had procured from Charleston for fitting out the new levies. To strike at this gathering, prevent these new levies, and procure the supplies which were designed for them, were controlling objects to which all others were made to yield. The half naked troops of the brigade found new motives to valor in the good things which the adventure promised. Tynes lay at Tarcote, in the forks of Black River, and, as Marion was advised, without exercising much military watchfulness. The head of his column was instantly turned in this direction. Crossing the lower ford of the northern branch of Black River, at Nelson's plantation, he came upon the camp of Tynes at midnight. A hurried, but satisfactory survey, revealed the position of the enemy. No preparation had been made for safety, no precautions taken against attack. Some of the Tories slept, others feasted, and others were at cards -- none watched. Marion made his arrangements for the attack without obstacle or interruption. The surprise was complete, -- the panic universal. A few were slain, some with the cards in their hands. Tynes, with two of his officers, and many of his men, were made prisoners, but the greater number fled. Few were slain, as scarcely any resistance was offered, and Tarcote Swamp was fortunately nigh to receive and shelter the fugitives, many of whom shortly after made their appearance and took their places in the ranks of the conqueror. Marion lost not a man. The anticipations of his people were gratified with the acquisition of no small store of those supplies, arms and ammunition, of which they had previously stood in so much need.
These spirited achievements, however small, were so cleverly executed, so unexpectedly, and with such uniform success, as to occasion a lively sensation through the country. Hope everywhere began to warm the patriots of the State, bringing courage along with it. The effect upon the enemy, of an opposite temper and tendency, was quite as lively. Cornwallis, whom we have already seen urging Tarleton to the pursuit of our partisan, frankly acknowledged his great merits, and was heard to say that "he would give a good deal to have him taken."* His language to Sir Henry Clinton, in a letter dated from his camp at Winnsborough, December 3d, 1780, of a different tone, indeed, was of like tenor. It spoke for the wonderful progress and influence of our hero -- a progress and influence not to be understood by the reader, from the meagre account which we are enabled to give of the battles, skirmishes and happy stratagems, in which his men were constantly engaged. Cornwallis writes, -- "Col. Marion had so wrought on the minds of the people, partly by the terror of his threats and cruelty of his punishments, and partly by the promise of plunder, that THERE WAS SCARCELY AN INHABITANT BETWEEN THE SANTEE AND PEDEE, THAT WAS NOT IN ARMS AGAINST US. SOME PARTIES HAD EVEN CROSSED THE SANTEE, AND CARRIED TERROR TO THE GATES OF CHARLESTON."
-- * Moultrie's Memoirs. --
Where his lordship speaks of the successes of Marion, his great influence over the people, and the audacity with which they urged their progress through all parts of that section of country, which had been yielded to his control by Governor Rutledge, his statement is true to the very letter. It sums up very happily the results of his activity and conduct. But, when his lordship alleges cruelty and threats, and the hopes of plunder, as the means by which these results were produced, we meet his assertion with very flat denial. All the testimonies of the time, but his own, show that, in this respect, he wandered very widely from the truth. No single specification of cruelty was ever alleged against the fair fame of Francis Marion. His reputation, as a humane soldier, is beyond reproach, and when questioned, always challenged and invited investigation. The charge made by Cornwallis was urged by Lt.-Col. Balfour, commandant of Charleston, in a correspondence with General Moultrie. The latter answered it in a frank and confident manner, which showed what he thought of it. "I am sorry," he writes to Balfour, "to hear that General Marion should use his prisoners ill. IT IS CONTRARY TO HIS NATURAL DISPOSITION: I KNOW HIM TO BE GENEROUS AND HUMANE."*1* He adds elsewhere: "General Marion always gave orders to his men that there should be no waste of the inhabitants' property, and no plundering."*2* Marion had lived in the family of Moultrie,*3* had repeatedly served under him, and if any man knew thoroughly his true disposition, the hero of Fort Sullivan was certainly that man. But the testimony of all who knew him was to the same effect. Indeed, the gentleness of his nature made him a favorite wherever known. Touching the lessons and hopes of plunder, which his men are said to have received, this scarcely requires any answer. We have seen, and shall see hereafter, the state of poverty and privation in which the brigade of Marion subsisted. A few little facts will better serve to show what their condition was. During the whole period in which we have seen him engaged, and for some months later, Marion himself, winter and summer, had slept without the luxury of a blanket. He had but one, on taking command of the "Brigade", and this he lost by accident. Sleeping soundly, after one of his forced marches, upon a bed of pine straw, it took fire, his blanket was destroyed, and he himself had an escape so narrow, that one half of the cap he wore was shrivelled up by the flames. His food was hominy or potatoes; his drink vinegar and water, of which he was fond. He had neither tea nor coffee, and seldom tasted wine or spirits. And this moderation was shown at a time when he held in his possession a power from Governor Rutledge, to impress and appropriate whatever he thought necessary to his purposes.*4* The charge against him of cruelty and plunder is perfectly absurd, and rests on the vague assertions of an enemy, who specifies no offence and offers no sort of evidence. It was but natural that such charges should be made by an astonished and disappointed foe -- natural that the conqueror should ascribe to any but the right cause the reluctance of a people to submit to a monstrous usurpation, and their anxiety to avail themselves, by the presence of a favorite leader, of a principle and prospects to which their affections were really surrendered. Could the British commanders in America have really been brought to admit that the affections of the people were not with their sovereign, the war must have found a finish much sooner than it did. Their hopes were built upon this doubt; and hence their anxiety to show the coercive measures of the chieftains by whom this control, adverse to their wishes, was maintained over the minds of the people. The great influence of Marion was due to other acts. It was by the power of love, and not of terror, that he managed his followers. They loved him for himself, and loved his cause for their country. His rare command of temper, his bland, affectionate manner, his calm superiority, and that confidence in his courage and conduct, as a leader, without which militia-men are never led to victory, -- these were the sources of his influence over them, and of their successes against the enemy. It was through these that he "carried terror to the very gates of Charleston." We shall see indeed, that, under Marion, the militia were never conducted to defeat.
Whatever may have been the causes of his victories, first over the minds of his people, and next over their foes, the British found it necessary that his influence should be restrained, and his farther progress arrested. Cornwallis, as we have seen, was willing to "give a good deal to have him taken." Tarleton is affectionately invoked to this pleasant duty, by the sincere hope that he would "get at Mr. Marion." This, however desirable, was no easy matter. Marion was a very "will o' the wisp" in military affairs, almost as difficult to find, at times, by his own followers, as by the enemy. He was the true model of a partisan in a country, like ours, of swamp and thicket; leading the pursuing foe, like Puck, "through bog and through briar," till he wearied out his patience, exhausted his resources, and finally laid him open for defeat. He seldom lingered long in any one spot, changing his ground frequently, with Indian policy; his scouts, well chosen, were always on the alert; and, by constant activity and enterprise, he not only baffled pursuit, but deprived retreat of its usual mortifications. The employment which he thus gave his men, not only hardened them against every turn of fortune, but kept them always in good spirits.
Tarleton rose from a sick bed to undertake his capture. He had been confined for some time in Charleston with fever. The first moment of convalescence was seized upon for carrying into effect the wishes of Cornwallis. He concerted his plans before he left the city. His legion, which was at Camden, were instructed to meet him, while with a troop of horse he set forward for some point upon the Wateree. From this point he was to descend the Wateree in quest of our partisan. His plan of pursuit, as furnished by his own pen, will be seen hereafter. Marion was not unadvised of his progress, but, either from the rapidity of Tarleton's movements, or some error in the report of his scouts, he failed of success in the object which he aimed at. This was the capture of Tarleton, while, with his troop of horse, he was on his way to join the legion. With this object he pressed his march for Nelson's Ferry on the Santee, and placed his men in ambush in the river swamp. He arrived too late. Tarleton had already crossed fully two days before. Marion passed the river in pursuit, advancing with some earnestness on the footsteps of his foe, still under the impression that Tarleton was only in command of the small troop with which he had marched from Charleston. But the British commander had already effected the junction with his legion, and was at hand in greater force than our partisan dreamed of. At night, having reached a strong position in the woods, Marion was taking his usual precautions for making his camp. He was suddenly struck with a great light, seemingly at the plantation of General Richardson. This awakened his anxieties, and led him at once to suspect the presence of his enemy in that quarter. The progress of the British was thus usually distinguished when they reached a settlement of the patriots. The suspicions of Marion were soon confirmed by the arrival of Colonel Richardson, from whom he learned that Tarleton was really at the plantation, the fires of which he saw, in force with his whole legion, and two field-pieces. The strength of the British was double his own, and, to increase his anxieties, it was discovered that one of his men, -- probably one of the late converts, who had joined the ranks after the defeat of Tynes, -- had deserted to the enemy. In command of a force so superior, and in possession of a guide well acquainted with the country, Tarleton was too strong to be withstood. The position of Marion was no longer safe. He at once fell back, and crossing in silence and darkness a dense and gloomy swamp of vast extent, called the "wood-yard", halted on Jack's creek, a distance of six miles from his late encampment. This post was temporarily a secure one. Tarleton, meanwhile, was conducted faithfully by the deserter into the "wood-yard", -- but the bird had flown. He pressed the pursuit the next day, with that hot haste by which he was quite as much distinguished as by his cruelties. But Marion knew his foe, and had already changed his ground. Pushing his way through a wild extent of country, full of bogs and swamps, he reached Benbow's Ferry, about ten miles above Kingstree, where, taking a strong position, he resolved to defend himself. The place was one with which himself and men were familiar. It was not only eligible in itself, commanding the passage of the river, but it was one in which defeat was not necessarily final. It had resources, and means of rally, which are always important considerations to a militia command. There were three difficult passes, through the swamp, in Marion's rear, at each of which, if driven by the enemy, his men could make a stubborn fight. His position taken, he proceeded promptly to strengthen its natural defences by art.
Trees were felled across the track, and the post so improved as to reconcile the inequalities of his own with the pursuing force of Tarleton. Had the latter made his appearance, as Marion fully hoped and expected, the fatal rifles of the "Brigade" thus planted, would have very quickly emptied his best saddles. But the commander of the legion grew weary of the chase, at the very moment when it halted to await him. Of the pursuit he has given us a somewhat vainglorious description. He represents himself as having been nearly successful, by means of his great adroitness and the excellence of his strategy. He says -- "According to the reports of the country, General Marion's numbers were hourly increasing, which induced Lt.-Col. Tarleton to move his corps, for a short time, in a very compact body, lest the Americans should gain any advantage over patrols or detachments. But as soon as he found that the account of numbers was exaggerated, and that the enemy declined an engagement, he divided his corps into several small parties, publishing intelligence that each was on patrol, and that the main body of the King's troops had countermarched to Camden. Notwithstanding the divisions scattered throughout the country, to impose upon the enemy, Lt.-Col. Tarleton took care that no detachment should be out of the reach of assistance; and that the whole formed after dark every evening a solid and vigilant corps during the night. This stratagem had not been employed more than three days, before General Marion was on the point of falling a sacrifice to it. He advanced on the 10th before day, with five hundred militia, to attack Lt.-Col. Tarleton (who had notice of his approach), and arrived within two miles of his post, when a person of the name of Richardson discovered to him his misconception of the British force."
But, as we have seen, Marion's advance upon Tarleton was only the continuation of the pursuit which he began under the impression that the latter was still forcing his way to Camden with the small force with which he had crossed the Santee. Of the descent of the legion from above, he knew nothing, and the three days' strategy of Tarleton were wasted upon him. The caution of the British Colonel in all this time might have been spared. It influenced the course of Marion in no respect. We have seen that, when the latter discovered his enemy, it was before day had closed, and not just before day. We have also seen that Tarleton's own bonfires had already revealed the secret of his presence, in strength, to his wary antagonist. If Col. Richardson had never entered the camp of Marion, the blazing dwellings of the Richardson family would have led to such precautions, on the side of the partisan, as must have effectually baffled the objects of the British Colonel. This indulgence in the usual British passion for burning the homesteads of women and children, which Tarleton could not resist, even though his immediate aim required the utmost watchfulness and secrecy, at once revealed to Marion not only that his enemy was there, but that he was there, with a force, in the strength of which he had the utmost confidence. It is not to be supposed that a small detachment, a scouting party of horse, a troop sent out for intelligence, -- such as the British Colonel represents his several parties to have been, when his force was broken up in detail, to beguile the partisan, -- would be likely to commit such excesses as to draw the eye of the country suddenly upon them, at a time, too, when a wary adversary was within two miles with a force of five hundred men.
Tarleton proceeds: "A pursuit was immediately commenced, and continued for seven hours, through swamps and defiles. Some prisoners fell into the possession of the legion dragoons, who gained ground very fast, and must soon have brought the enemy to action, when an express from Earl Cornwallis, who had followed the tracks of the march, recalled Lt.-Col. Tarleton."
Such is the British narrative. We have reason to think it faulty in several respects. We doubt that it was the express of Earl Cornwallis that arrested the pursuit of our Legionary Colonel. We are disposed to ascribe it to his own weariness of the game. The dispatch of Cornwallis to which he refers, was dated at Winnsboro' on the 9th of the month. It was on the night of the 10th, as we see by Tarleton's own statement, that he commenced the close and earnest pursuit of Marion. The distance from Winnsboro' to the `wood-yard', even allowing that the instincts and information of the express should bring him directly upon the trail of the Legion, would have employed him fully two days to overcome. These two days would have brought him to the close of the twelfth, up to which period, had Tarleton continued the chase, he might have enjoyed the satisfaction of shaking hands with his antagonist in his defences at Benbow's Ferry. There, at the first proper position in which he might, with any hopes of success, oppose his adversary, had Marion taken his stand. There, having entrenched himself, he was busy in bringing together his forces. "Had Tarleton," says Judge James, "proceeded with his jaded horses to Benbow's, he would have exposed his force to such sharp shooting as he had not yet experienced, and that in a place where he could not have acted with either his artillery or cavalry."
But Tarleton had tired of the adventure. After a pursuit of twenty-five miles, he found his progress arrested by a swamp, wide and deep, through which his eye could discern no beaten road. But this should have discouraged no resolute commander, having his enemy before him. Marion had already preceded him in the passage, and was then within ten miles, awaiting his approach. He could have reached him in three hours, and four might have sufficed for the march and conflict. The express of Cornwallis might have yielded that time, since it was not on the necessity of the Earl that he had written. Tarleton insinuates that the sole desire of Marion was to save himself. Now, one fact will suffice to show the incorrectness of this notion. For a distance of twelve miles on his retreat, the course of the partisan skirted the south branch of Black River. He could, at any time and in a few minutes, have plunged into it, and no regular body of cavalry could have followed him. Besides, so close, we are told, was the pursuit, that the dragoons were taking prisoners. The enemy must have been overtaken, but for the express. Under such circumstances it seems strange that Tarleton should show such singular deference to the express as to forbear the blow, when his sabre was already uplifted, and one of his most troublesome enemies was actually beneath it. It is scarcely possible that, with his dragoons so close on the heels of the fugitives and informed by prisoners of the proximity of his foe, he should not have heard that he was finally posted and in waiting for him. We will suppose, however, that he did not. He turned the head of his column at the very moment when his object was attainable. Popular tradition represents him as expressing himself discouraged at the sight of Ox swamp, and exclaiming, "Come, my boys! let us go back. We will soon find the `Game Cock' (meaning Sumter), but as for this d----d `Swamp Fox', the devil himself could not catch him." From this speech of Tarleton, we are given to understand that the two popular names were derived, by which Sumter and Marion were ever after known by their followers.
Tarleton gained nothing by the pursuit of his wily antagonist. Marion remained in perfect mastery over the whole territory which he had been wont to overrun, with a strength somewhat increased by the fact that he had succeeded in baffling and eluding the attempts of one who had hitherto been successful in all his enterprises. From this moment the career of Tarleton ceased to be fortunate. His failure to capture Marion was the first in a long train of disappointments and disasters, some of which were also attended by the most disgraceful and humbling defeats.
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