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.**
* "For St. John's, Berkeley County—James Ravenel, Daniel Ravenel, JOB MARION, John Frierson, Esqrs., Mr. Gabriel Gignilliat, MR. FRANCIS MARION." Journals of the Provincial Congress of South Carolina.
** It is not so generally known that South Carolina did her part, as well as Massachusetts, in destroying teas and stamped paper.—
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.*
* A letter from ISAAC MARION, one of the brothers of our subject, who dwelt at Little River, the Northern boundary of the province, is worthy of quotation, as serving to show that he was animated with the same public spirit that possessed his more distinguished kinsman. It was written to accompany the express, which brought the news of the battle of Lexington. A letter to him, from R. Howe, of N.C., forwarding the express, remarking, "I know you stand in no need of being prompted when your country requires your service"—would seem to show that he too had shared in the reputation of his brother. The following is the letter of Isaac Marion, addressed to the Committee of Safety of Little River.
Boundary, May 9, 1775, Little River.
Gentlemen of the Committee;—I have just now received an express, from the Committee of the Northern Provinces, desiring I would forward the enclosed packet to the Southern Committees. As yours is the nearest, I request FOR THE GOOD OF YOUR COUNTRY, AND THE WELFARE OF OUR LIVES, LIBERTIES, AND FORTUNES, you'll not lose a moment's time, but dispatch the same to the Committee of Georgetown, to be forwarded to Charleston. In meantime, am, gentlemen, Your obliged humble servant, &c. Isaac Marion. To Danness, Hawkins and others.—
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.
1777-8-9. From the Battle of Fort Moultrie to that of Savannah— Anecdote of Jasper—His Death.
The battle of Fort Sullivan was of immense importance, not merely to Carolina, but to all the confederated colonies. It saved the former, for three years, from the calamities of invasion; a respite of the last value to a country so greatly divided in public feeling and opinion. The battle preceded the declaration of Independence, and, though not generally known to have taken place before that decisive measure was resolved upon, it came seasonably to confirm the patriots in those principles which they had so solemnly and recently avowed. Its farther effect was to dissipate that spell of invincibility, which, in the minds of the Americans, seemed to hover about a British armament;—to heighten the courage of the militia, and to convince the most sceptical, that it needed only confidence and practice, to make the American people as good soldiers as any in the world. The Carolina riflemen were not a little elated to discover that they could handle twenty-six pounders as efficiently as the smaller implements of death, to which their hands were better accustomed. To the defenders of the fortress, their victory brought imperishable laurels. They had shown the courage and the skill of veterans, and their countrymen gloried in the reputation in which they necessarily shared. Moultrie received the thanks of Congress, of the Commander-in-Chief, and of his fellow citizens. The fort was thenceforth called by his name, and he was made a Brigadier-General. His Major, Marion, necessarily had his share in these public honors, and was raised by Congress to the rank of Lieut.-Colonel in the regular service. Two days after the battle, General Lee reviewed the garrison at Fort Moultrie, and thanked them "for their gallant defence of the fort against a fleet of eight men-of-war and a bomb, during a cannonade of eleven hours, and a bombardment of seven." At the same time, Mrs. Barnard Elliott presented an elegant pair of embroidered colors to the Second Regiment, with a brief address, in which she expressed her conviction that they would "stand by them as long as they can wave in the air of liberty." It was in fulfilling the pledge made by General Moultrie, on this occasion, in behalf of the regiment, that the brave Jasper lost his life before the walls of Savannah.
The three years' respite from the horrors of war, which this victory secured to Carolina, was not, however, left unemployed by her citizen soldiery. The progress of events around them kept their services in constant requisition. While a part of them, in the interior, were compelled to take arms against the Cherokee Indians, the troops of the lower country were required against the Tories in Florida and Georgia. Governor Tonyn of the former, an active loyalist, proved a formidable annoyance to the patriots of the latter province. Florida, under his administration, was the secure refuge and certain retreat for all the malcontents and outlaws of the neighboring colonies. He gave them ample encouragement, put arms into their hands, and even issued letters of marque against the property of the colonists, in anticipation of the act for that purpose, in the British parliament. General Lee marched upon Florida with the Virginia and North Carolina troops. He was subsequently joined by those of South Carolina; but, owing to his own ill-advised and improvident movements, the expedition was a total failure.* This result necessarily gave encouragement to the Tories; and, though in too small numbers to effect any important objects without the cooperation of a British force, they were yet sufficiently active to invite the presence of one. They formed themselves into little squads, and, moving through the country with celerity, pursued their marauding habits at little risk, as they sought only unsuspecting neighborhoods, and promptly fled to the fastnesses of Florida on the approach of danger. To direct and properly avail themselves of these parties, the British commanders in America addressed their attention to Georgia. The infancy of that colony necessarily led them to hope for an easy conquest in attempting it. In February, 1777, General Howe, then commanding the troops in North Carolina and Georgia, was advised of the approach of Colonel Fuser, to the invasion of Georgia. He hurried on immediately to prepare Savannah for defence; while Marion, with a force of 600 men, in several vessels, provided with cannon and ammunition, was dispatched, by the inland passage, to his assistance. Marion left Charleston on the 28th of February, but his approach had no farther effect than to precipitate the flight of the enemy, who, meeting with a stout opposition from Colonel Elbert, at Ogechee ferry, had already desisted from farther advance. The British attempts on Georgia were deferred to a later period. But the loyalists were busy, particularly that portion of them, which took the name of Scopholites, after one Scophol, a militia Colonel, whom Moultrie describes as an "illiterate, stupid, noisy blockhead". He proved not the less troublesome because of his stupidity.
* Drayton's Memoirs, vol. 2, p. 336.—
Marion was more or less employed during this period, in various situations. He was never unemployed. We find him at length in command of the fort which he had formerly contributed to defend and render famous. He was placed in charge of the garrison at Fort Moultrie. The value of this fort was estimated rather according to its celebrity, than its real usefulness. Subsequent events have shown that its capacity was not great in retarding the approach of an enemy's fleet to the city. It was the error of Sir Peter Parker—obeying an old but exploded military maxim, not to leave an armed post of the enemy in his rear—to pause before a fortress, the conquest of which could in no wise contribute to his success,—and defeat before which, must necessarily endanger his final objects. It was still the impression of the Carolinians that Fort Moultrie must be assailed as a preliminary step to the conquest of Charleston, and the post, as one of the highest honor and danger, was conferred upon Marion.* It was not known, indeed, at what moment the gallantry of the garrison might be put to the proof. The British were known to be making large marine and military preparations at New York, intended, as it was generally understood, for the south. Charleston or Savannah, were supposed indifferently to be the places of its destination. It might be very well supposed that the enemy would seek, at the former place, to recover those honors of war of which its gallant defenders had deprived him.
* When the British under Prevost, were in possession of the neighboring islands, Moultrie writes, "we were apprehensive the enemy would attempt to surprise Fort Moultrie; we, therefore, always kept a strong garrison there under General Marion."—
But, any doubt as to the destination of the British fleet was soon removed. In December, 1778, thirty-seven sail appeared before Savannah, and four thousand British regulars were disembarked. The American force left in defence of Savannah was a feeble one, of six or seven hundred men, under General Howe. General Howe was but little of a soldier. Instead of withdrawing this force, he suffered it to be sacrificed. Badly posted, he was surprised, and his troops beaten and dispersed with little difficulty. Savannah fell at once into the hands of the enemy, and the whole colony very shortly after. General Prevost was in command of the British. Opposed to him was Major-General Lincoln, of the Continental army. While Prevost occupied the posts of Savannah, Ebenezer, Abercorn, and other places, he was active in pushing select parties forward to Augusta, and other commanding points in the interior. The force under Lincoln did not enable him to offer any active opposition to their progress. His headquarters were at Purysburg, on the Savannah river, but a few miles from Abercorn, where Colonel Campbell lay with the main body of the enemy. General Ashe, of the Americans, occupied the post at Brier Creek, and, thus placed, the opposing commanders seemed disposed for a while to rest upon their arms, waiting events and reinforcements.
It was while the second South Carolina regiment lay at Purysburg, that an adventure occurred, which has so often been repeated in connection with the name and life of Marion, that we should scarcely be excused from introducing it here, as properly in place in this memoir. Weems asserts that Marion was present at this time with his regiment at Purysburg. It is impossible to say whether he was or not. It is not improbable that he was with his regiment, and yet the weight of evidence inclines us to the opinion that he was still at Fort Moultrie. It is not unlikely, however, that, when the direction of the British fleet was known, and it was ascertained that Savannah and not Charleston was its object, he immediately joined his regiment at Purysburg, leaving Fort Moultrie in the charge of some less distinguished officer. At all events the point is not of importance to the anecdote we have to relate. Personally, Marion had nothing to do with it. It was only because the actors in the adventure belonged to his regiment, and were of "Marion's men", that tradition has insisted on associating his name with theirs. It is not for us to have it otherwise. The reader is already somewhat acquainted with the name of William Jasper—perhaps Sergeant Jasper is the better known. This brave man possessed remarkable talents for a scout. He could wear all disguises with admirable ease and dexterity. Garden styles him "a perfect Proteus".* He was equally remarkable for his strategy as for his bravery; and his nobleness and generosity were, quite as much as these, the distinguishing traits of his character. Such was the confidence in his fidelity and skill that a roving commission was granted him, with liberty to pick his associates from the Brigade. Of these he seldom chose more than six. "He often went out," says Moultrie, "and returned with prisoners, before I knew that he was gone. I have known of his catching a party that was looking for him. He has told me that he could have killed single men several times, but he would not; he would rather let them get off. He went into the British lines at Savannah, as a deserter, complaining, at the same time, of our ill-usage of him; he was gladly received (they having heard of his character) and caressed by them. He stayed eight days, and after informing himself well of their strength, situation and intentions, he returned to us again; but that game he could not play a second time. With his little party he was always hovering about the enemy's camp, and was frequently bringing in prisoners."** We have seen what reason was alleged by this brave fellow for not accepting the commission tendered to him by Governor Rutledge, for his gallantry in the battle of Fort Moultrie. The nature of his services was no less a reason why he should reject the commission. The fact that he seldom allowed himself a command of more than six men declared sufficiently the degree of authority to which he thought his talents were entitled.
* "He was a perfect Proteus, in ability to alter his appearance; perpetually entering the camp of the enemy, without detection, and invariably returning to his own, with soldiers he had seduced, or prisoners he had captured."
** Moultrie's Mem., vol. 2, p. 24.—
It was while in the exercise of his roving privileges that Jasper prepared to visit the post of the enemy at Ebenezer. At this post he had a brother, who held the same rank in the British service, that he held in the American. This instance was quite too common in the history of the period and country, to occasion much surprise, or cause any suspicion of the integrity of either party. We have already considered the causes for this melancholy difference of individual sentiment in the country, and need not dwell upon them here. William Jasper loved his brother and wished to see him: it is very certain, at the same time, that he did not deny himself the privilege of seeing all around him. The Tory was alarmed at William's appearance in the British camp, but the other quieted his fears, by representing himself as no longer an American soldier. He checked the joy which this declaration excited in his brother's mind, by assuring him that, though he found little encouragement in fighting for his country, "he had not the heart to fight against her." Our scout lingered for two or three days in the British camp, and then, by a 'detour', regained that of the Americans; reporting to his Commander all that he had seen. He was encouraged to repeat his visit a few weeks after, but this time he took with him a comrade, one Sergeant Newton, a fellow quite as brave in spirit, and strong in body as himself. Here he was again well received by his brother, who entertained the guests kindly for several days. Meanwhile, a small party of Americans were brought into Ebenezer as captives, over whom hung the danger of "short shrift and sudden cord". They were on their way to Savannah for trial. They had taken arms with the British, as hundreds more had done, when the country was deemed reconquered; but, on the approach of the American army, had rejoined their countrymen, and were now once more at the mercy of the power with which they had broken faith. "It will go hard with them," said the Tory Jasper to his Whig brother; but the secret comment of the other was, "it shall go hard with me first." There was a woman, the wife of one of the prisoners, who, with her child, kept them company. William Jasper and his friend were touched by the spectacle of their distress; and they conferred together, as soon as they were alone, as to the possibility of rescuing them. Their plan was soon adopted. It was a simple one, such as naturally suggests itself to a hardy and magnanimous character. The prisoners had scarcely left the post for Savannah, under a guard of eight men, a sergeant and corporal, when they took leave of their host, and set forth also, though in a different direction from the guard. Changing their course when secure from observation, they stretched across the country and followed the footsteps of the unhappy captives. But it was only in the pursuit that they became truly conscious of the difficulty, nay, seeming impossibility, of effecting their object. The guard was armed, and ten in number; they but two and weaponless. Hopeless, they nevertheless followed on. Two miles from Savannah there is a famous spring, the waters of which are well known to travellers. The conjecture that the guard might stop there, with the prisoners, for refreshment, suggested itself to our companions; here, opportunities might occur for the rescue, which had nowhere before presented themselves. Taking an obscure path with which they were familiar, which led them to the spot before the enemy could arrive, they placed themselves in ambush in the immediate neighborhood of the spring. They had not long to wait. Their conjecture proved correct. The guard was halted on the road opposite the spring. The corporal with four men conducted the captives to the water, while the sergeant, with the remainder of his force, having made them ground their arms near the road, brought up the rear. The prisoners threw themselves upon the earth—the woman and her child, near its father. Little did any of them dream that deliverance was at hand. The child fell asleep in the mother's lap. Two of the armed men kept guard, but we may suppose with little caution. What had they to apprehend, within sight of a walled town in the possession of their friends? Two others approached the spring, in order to bring water to the prisoners. Resting their muskets against a tree they proceeded to fill their canteens. At this moment Jasper gave the signal to his comrade. In an instant the muskets were in their hands. In another, they had shot down the two soldiers upon duty; then clubbing their weapons, they rushed out upon the astonished enemy, and felling their first opponents each at a blow, they succeeded in obtaining possession of the loaded muskets. This decided the conflict, which was over in a few minutes. The surviving guard yielded themselves to mercy before the presented weapons. Such an achievement could only be successful from its audacity and the operation of circumstances. The very proximity of Savannah increased the chances of success. But for this the guard would have taken better precautions. None were taken. The prompt valor, the bold decision, the cool calculation of the instant, were the essential elements which secured success. The work of our young heroes was not done imperfectly. The prisoners were quickly released, the arms of the captured British put into their hands, and, hurrying away from the spot which they have crowned with a local celebrity not soon to be forgotten, they crossed the Savannah in safety with their friends and foes. This is not the last achievement of the brave Jasper which we shall have occasion to record. The next, however, though not less distinguished by success, was unhappily written in his own blood.
The campaign which followed was distinguished by several vicissitudes, but the general result was the weakening and dispiriting of the American forces. Brigadier General Ashe was surprised in his camp and utterly defeated, and the British army not only penetrated into Georgia, but made its appearance at Beaufort in South Carolina. Here it was met by Moultrie in a spirited encounter, which resulted in a drawn battle. Meanwhile, General Lincoln found the militia refractory. They refused to submit to the articles of war, and desired to serve only under those laws by which the militia was governed. Chagrined with this resistance, Lincoln transferred the militia to Moultrie, and, at the head of about 2000 troops of the regular service, he marched up the country to Augusta, proposing by this course to circumscribe the progress of the enemy in that quarter. Taking advantage of this movement, by which the regular troops were withdrawn from the seaboard, the British General, Prevost, immediately crossed the Savannah with the intention of surprising Moultrie, who, with 1200 militia-men, lay at Black Swamp. But Moultrie, advised of his enemy, retired to Coosawhatchie, where he placed his rear guard; his headquarters being pitched on the hill, east of Tuliffinnee, two miles in advance, and on the route to Charleston. Here the rear-guard, under Colonel Laurens, engaged the enemy's advance, and was driven before it. Moultrie gradually retired as Prevost advanced, and the contest which followed between the two, seemed to be which should reach Charleston first. The defenceless condition of that city was known to the British General, whose object was to take it by 'coup de main'. Moultrie erred in not making continued fight in the swamps and strong passes, the thick forests and intricate defiles, which were numerous along the route of the pursuing army. His policy seems to have been dictated by an undue estimate of the value of the city, and the importance of its safety to the state. But for this, even an army so much inferior as his, could have effectually checked the enemy long before the city could have been reached. Moultrie continued in advance of Prevost, and reached Charleston a few hours before him; just in season to establish something like order, and put the place in a tolerable state of defence. The fire from the lines arrested the British advance. The place was summoned, and defiance returned. Night followed, and the next morning the enemy had disappeared. His object had been surprise. He was unprepared for the assault, having no heavy artillery, and his departure was hastened by intercepted advices from Lincoln and Governor Rutledge, which announced to the garrison the approach of the regular troops and the country militia. Prevost retired to the neighboring islands, and established himself in a strong fort at Stono ferry. Here he was attacked by General Lincoln in a spirited but unsuccessful affair, in which the latter was compelled to retreat. The attack of Lincoln was followed by one of Moultrie, in galleys. The situation of the British became unpleasant, and they did not wait a repetition of these assaults, but retreated along the chain of islands on the coast, until they reached Beaufort and Savannah. Both of these places they maintained; the latter with their main army, the former with a strong body of troops, apart from their sick, wounded and convalescent. Here they were watched by General Lincoln, in a camp of observation at Sheldon, until the appearance of a French fleet on the coast led to renewed activity, and hopes, on the part of the Americans, which were destined to bitter disappointment.
Marion was certainly with his regiment at Sheldon, and when it became probable that there was some prospect of battle, we find him at Fort Moultrie, when Prevost was in possession of the contiguous islands. But a junction of the French and American forces, necessarily compelling the concentration of the whole of the southern invading army at Savannah, lessened the necessity of his remaining at a post which stood in no manner of danger.
Early in September, 1779, the French admiral, Count D'Estaign, with a fleet of twenty sail, appeared upon the coast. As soon as this was certainly known, General Lincoln put his army in motion for Savannah. But the French forces had disembarked before his arrival, and the impatience and imprudence of their admiral did not suffer him to wait the coming of the American. He was a rash man, and, as it appears, on bad terms with his subordinate officers, who were, indeed, not subordinate.* He proceeded to summon the place. The answer to his demand was, a request of twenty-four hours for consideration. By a singular error of judgment the French admiral granted the time required. His only hope had been in a 'coup de main'. He had neither the time nor the material necessary for regular approaches; nor, had he acted decisively, do these seem to have been at all necessary. The place was not tenable at the period of his first summons. The prompt energies of the British commander soon made it so. Instead of considering, he consumed the twenty-four hours in working. The arrival of Lieutenant-Colonel Cruger, with a small command, from Sunbury, and the force of Lieutenant-Colonel Maitland, from Beaufort, soon put the fortress in such a condition of defence as to enable its commander to return his defiance to the renewed summons of the combined armies. There seems to have been but one opinion among the Americans as to the mistake of D'Estaign, in granting the required indulgence. Weems, speaking for General Horry, says, "I never beheld Marion in so great a passion. I was actually afraid he would have broken out on General Lincoln. 'My God!' he exclaimed, 'who ever heard of anything like this before? First allow an enemy to entrench, and then fight him! See the destruction brought upon the British at Bunker's Hill—yet our troops there were only militia; raw, half-armed clodhoppers, and not a mortar, or carronade, not even a swivel—only their ducking-guns! What, then, are we to expect from regulars, completely armed, with a choice train of artillery, and covered by a breastwork.'"
* Major-General T. Pinckney's account of the siege of Savannah, quoted by Garden.—
The anticipations of Marion were fully realized. When the junction of the French and American armies was effected, it was determined to reduce the place by siege. Batteries were to be erected, and cannon brought from the ships, a distance of several miles. Meanwhile, the works of the besieged were undergoing daily improvements, under an able engineer. Several hundred negroes were busy, day and night, upon the defences, stimulated, when necessary, to exertion, by the lash. On the 4th of October the besiegers opened with nine mortars and thirty-seven pieces of cannon from the land side, and sixteen from the water. They continued to play for several days, with little effect, and the anxiety of the French admiral to leave the coast, at a season of the year when it is particularly perilous to shipping to remain, determined the besiegers to risk everything upon an assault. The morning of the 9th October was fixed upon for the attack. The American army was paraded at one o'clock that morning, but it was near four before the head of the French column reached the front. "The whole army then marched towards the skirt of the wood in one long column, and as they approached the open space, was to break off into the different columns, as ordered for the attack. But, by the time the first French column had arrived at the open space, the day had fairly broke; when Count D'Estaign, without waiting until the other columns had arrived at their position, placed himself at the head of his first column, and rushed forward to the attack."* This was creditable to his gallantry, if not to his judgment. But it was valor thrown away. "The column was so severely galled by the grape-shot from the batteries, as they advanced, and by both grape-shot and musketry, when they reached the abbatis, that, in spite of the efforts of the officers, it got into confusion, and broke away to their left, toward the wood in that direction; the second and third French columns shared, successively, the same fate, having the additional discouragement of seeing, as they marched to the attack, the repulse and loss of their comrades who had preceded them. Count Pulaski, who, with the cavalry, preceded the right column of the Americans, proceeded gallantly, until stopped by the abbatis; and before he could force through it received his mortal wound."** The American column was much more successful. It was headed by Colonel Laurens, with the Light Infantry, followed by the Second South Carolina Regiment, of which Marion was second in command, and the first battalion of Charleston militia. This column pressed forward, in the face of a heavy fire, upon the Spring Hill redoubt, succeeded in getting into the ditch, and the colors of the second regiment were planted upon the berm. But the parapet was too high to be scaled under such a fire as proceeded from the walls, and, struggling bravely but vainly, the assailants were, after suffering severe slaughter, driven out of the ditch. This slaughter was increased in the effort to retain and carry off in safety the colors of the regiment.
* Major-General Thomas Pinckney, in a letter quoted by Garden.
** Major-General Thomas Pinckney. See Garden.—
These colors, as we have seen, were the gift of a lady. Moultrie, in the name of the regiment, had promised to defend them to the last. The promise was faithfully remembered in this moment of extremity. One of them was borne by Lieutenant Bush, supported by Sergeant Jasper; the other by Lieutenant Grey, supported by Sergeant M'Donald. Bush being slightly wounded early in the action delivered his standard to Jasper, for better security. Jasper a second time and now fatally wounded, restored it to the former. But at the moment of taking it, Bush received a mortal wound. He fell into the ditch with his ensign under him, and it remained in possession of the enemy. The other standard was more fortunate. Lieutenant Grey, by whom it was borne, was slain, but M'Donald plucked it from the redoubt where it had been planted, the moment the retreat was ordered, and succeeded in carrying it off in safety. The repulse was decisive. The slaughter, for so brief an engagement, had been terrible, amounting to nearly eleven hundred men; 637 French, and 457 Americans. Of the former, the Irish Brigade, and of the latter the 2d South Carolina Regiment, particularly distinguished themselves and suffered most. The loss of the British was slight; the assailants made no impression on their works. "Thus was this fine body of troops sacrificed by the imprudence of the French General, who, being of superior grade, commanded the whole.* In this battle Jasper was mortally wounded. He succeeded in regaining the camp of the Americans. The fatal wound was received in his endeavor to secure and save his colors." Another distinguished personage who fell in this fatal affair, was Col. Count Pulaski, a brave and skilful captain of cavalry, better known in history for his attempt upon the life of Stanislaus Poniatowski, King of Poland.
* Major-General T. Pinckney.—
From the Battle of Savannah to the Defeat of Gates at Camden.
The failure of the combined forces of France and America before the walls of Savannah, left the cause of the latter, in the South, in much worse condition than before. The event served to depress the Carolinians, and in the same degree, to elevate and encourage the enemy. The allies withdrew to their ships, and, shortly after, from the coast. General Lincoln, with the American army, retreated to the heights of Ebenezer, and thence to Sheldon. Proceeding from this place to Charleston, he left Marion in command of the army. On the thirty-first of January, 1780, he writes to the latter as follows: "The state of affairs is such as to make it necessary that we order our force to a point as much and as soon as possible. No troops will be kept in the field except two hundred Light Infantry and the Horse (Washington's). You will therefore please to select from the three regiments with you, two hundred of your best men, and those who are best clothed, and organize them into corps, with proper officers. All the remainder, with the baggage of the whole (saving such as is absolutely necessary for light troops), will march immediately for this town. You will please take command of the light infantry until Lieut. Col. Henderson arrives, which I expect will be in a few days. After that, I wish to see you as soon as possible in Charleston."
In the February following, Marion was dispatched to Bacon's Bridge on Ashley river, where Moultrie had established a camp for the reception of the militia of the neighborhood, as well as those which had been summoned from the interior. It was to Marion that Lincoln chiefly looked for the proper drilling of the militia. In his hands they lost the rude and inefficient character, the inexpert and spiritless manner, which, under ordinary commanders, always distinguish them. Feeling sure of their Captain, he, in turn, rendered them confident of themselves. Speaking of Marion's "PATIENCE with the militia"—a phrase of great importance in this connection—Horry, in his own memoirs, which now lie before us, adds, "No officer in the Union was better calculated to command them, and to have done more than he did."* Lincoln knew his value. The admirable training of the Second South Carolina Regiment had already done high honor to his skill as a disciplinarian. He discovered the secret which regularly bred military men are slow to discern, that, without patience, in the training of citizen soldiers for immediate service, they are incorrigible; and patience with them, on the part of a commanding officer, is neither inconsistent with their claims nor with their proper efficiency.
* MS. Memoir of Gen. Horry, p. 55.—
The accumulation of troops at Bacon's Bridge was made with the view to the defence of Charleston, now threatened by the enemy. Many concurring causes led to the leaguer of that city. Its conquest was desirable on many accounts, and circumstances had already shown that this was not a matter of serious difficulty. The invasion of Prevost the year before, which had so nearly proved successful; the little resistance which had been offered to him while traversing more than one hundred miles of country contiguous to the Capital; and the rich spoils which, on his retreat, had been borne off by his army, betrayed at once the wealth and weakness of that region. The possession of Savannah, where British Government had been regularly re-established, and the entire, if not totally undisturbed control of Georgia, necessarily facilitated the invasion of the sister province. South Carolina was now a frontier, equally exposed to the British in Georgia, and the Tories of Florida and North Carolina. The means of defence in her power were now far fewer than when Prevost made his attempt on Charleston. The Southern army was, in fact, totally broken up. The Carolina regiments had seen hard service, guarding the frontier, and contending with the British in Georgia. They were thinned by battle and sickness to a mere handful. The Virginia and North Carolina regiments had melted away, as the term for which they had enlisted, had expired. The Georgia regiment, captured by the British in detail, were perishing in their floating prisons. The weakness of the patriots necessarily increased the audacity, with the strength, of their enemies. The loyalists, encouraged by the progress of Prevost, and the notorious inefficiency of the Whigs, were now gathering in formidable bodies, in various quarters, operating in desultory bands, or crowding to swell the columns of the British army. All things concurred to encourage the attempt of the enemy on Charleston. Its possession, with that of Savannah, would not only enable them to complete their ascendency in the two provinces to which these cities belonged, but would probably give them North Carolina also. Virginia then, becoming the frontier, it would be easy, with the cooperation of an army ascending the Chesapeake, to traverse the entire South with their legions, detaching it wholly from the federal compact. Such was the British hope, and such their policy. There was yet another motive for the siege of Charleston, considered without reference to collateral or contingent events. Esteemed erroneously as a place of great security—an error that arose in all probability from the simple fact of the successful defence of Fort Moultrie—it was crowded with valuable magazines. As a trading city, particularly while the commerce of the North remained interrupted, it had become a place of great business. It was a stronghold for privateers and their prizes, and always contained stores and shipping of immense value.
The temptations to its conquest were sufficiently numerous. Ten thousand choice troops, with a large and heavy train of artillery, were accordingly dispatched from New York for its investment, which was begun in February, 1780, and conducted by the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, Sir Henry Clinton, in person. He conducted his approaches with a caution highly complimentary to the besieged. The fortifications were only field works, and might have been overrun in less than five days by an audacious enemy. The regular troops within the city were not above two thousand men. The citizen militia increased the number to nearly four thousand. For such an extent of lines as encircled the place, the adequate force should not have been less than that of the enemy. The fortifications, when the British first landed their 'materiel', were in a dilapidated and unfinished state, and, at that time, the defenders, apart from the citizens, scarcely exceeded eight hundred men; while the small pox, making its appearance within the walls, for the first time for twenty years—an enemy much more dreaded than the British,—effectually discouraged the country militia from coming to the assistance of the citizens. Under these circumstances, the conquest would have been easy to an active and energetic foe. But Sir Henry does not seem to have been impatient for his laurels. He was willing that they should mature gradually, and he sat down to a regular and formal investment.
It was an error of the Carolinians, under such circumstances, to risk the fortunes of the State, and the greater part of its regular military strength, in a besieged town; a still greater to do so in defiance of such difficulties as attended the defence. The policy which determined the resolution was a concession to the citizens, in spite of all military opinion. The city might have been yielded to the enemy, and the State preserved, or, which was the same thing, the troops. The loss of four thousand men from the ranks of active warfare, was the great and substantial loss, the true source, in fact, of most of the miseries and crimes by which the very bowels of the country were subsequently torn and distracted.
It was the great good fortune of the State that Francis Marion was not among those who fell into captivity in the fall of Charleston. He had marched into the city from Dorchester, when his active services were needed for its defence; but while the investment was in progress, and before it had been fully completed, an event occurred to him, an accident which was, no doubt, very much deplored at the time, by which his services, lost for the present, were subsequently secured for the country. Dining with a party of friends at a house in Tradd-street, the host, with that mistaken hospitality which has too frequently changed a virtue to a vice, turned the key upon his guests, to prevent escape, till each individual should be gorged with wine. Though an amiable man, Marion was a strictly temperate one. He was not disposed to submit to this too common form of social tyranny; yet not willing to resent the breach of propriety by converting the assembly into a bull-ring, he adopted a middle course, which displayed equally the gentleness and firmness of his temper. Opening a window, he coolly threw himself into the street. He was unfortunate in the attempt; the apartment was on the second story, the height considerable, and the adventure cost him a broken ankle. The injury was a severe and shocking one, and, for the time, totally unfitted him for service. He left the city in a litter, while the passage to the country still remained open for retreat, in obedience to an order of General Lincoln for the departure of all idle mouths, "all supernumerary officers, and all officers unfit for duty." Marion retired to his residence in St. John's parish. Here, suffering in mind and body, he awaited with impatience the progress of events, with which, however much he might sympathize, he could not share. His humiliation at this unavoidable but melancholy inaction, may be imagined from what we know of his habits and his patriotism.
The siege of Charleston, in consequence of the firm bearing of the besieged, and the cautious policy of the British Government, was protracted long after the works had been pronounced untenable. It was yielded unwillingly to the conqueror, only after all resistance had proved in vain. It fell by famine, rather than by the arms of the enemy. The defence was highly honorable to the besieged. It lasted six weeks, in which they had displayed equal courage and endurance. The consequences of this misfortune leave it somewhat doubtful, whether the determination to defend the city to the last extremity, was not the result of a correct policy; considering less its own loss, and that of the army, than the effect of the former upon the rustic population. Certainly, the capture of the army was a vital misfortune to the southern States; yet the loss of the city itself was of prodigious effect upon the scattered settlements of the country. The character and resolve of the capital cities, in those days, were very much the sources of the moral strength of the interior. Sparsely settled, with unfrequent opportunities of communion with one another, the minds of the forest population turned naturally for their tone and direction to the capital city. The active attrition of rival and conflicting minds, gives, in all countries, to the population of a dense community, an intellectual superiority over those who live remote, and feel none of the constant moral strifes to which the citizen is subject. In South Carolina, Charleston had been the seat of the original 'movement', had incurred the first dangers, achieved the first victories, and, in all public proceedings where action was desirable, had always led off in the van. To preserve intact, and from overthrow, the seat of ancient authority and opinion, was surely a policy neither selfish nor unwise. Perhaps, after all, the grand error was, in not making the preparations for defence adequate to the object. The resources of the State were small, and these had been diminished wofully in succoring her neighbors, and in small border strifes, which the borderers might have been taught to manage for themselves. The military force of the State, under any circumstances, could not have contended on equal terms with the ten thousand well-appointed regulars of Sir Henry Clinton. The assistance derived from Virginia and North Carolina was little more than nominal, calculated rather to swell the triumph of the victor than to retard his successes.
If the movements of the British were slow, and deficient in military enterprise, where Sir Henry Clinton commanded in person, such could not be said of them, after the conquest of Charleston was effected. The commander-in-chief was succeeded by Earl Cornwallis, and his career was certainly obnoxious to no such reproaches. We shall have more serious charges to bring against him. Of the gross abuse of power, wanton tyrannies, cruel murders, and most reckless disregard of decency and right, by which the course of the British was subsequently distinguished, we shall say no more than will suffice to show, in what dangers, through what difficulties, and under what stimulating causes, Francis Marion rose in arms, when everything appeared to be lost.
Charleston in possession of the enemy, they proceeded with wonderful activity to use all means in their power, for exhausting the resources, and breaking down the spirit of the country. Their maxim was that of habitual tyranny—"might is right". They seemed to recognize no other standard. The articles of capitulation, the laws of nations, private treaty, the dictates of humanity and religion, were all equally set at naught. The wealth of private families,—slaves by thousands,—were hurried into the waists of British ships, as the legitimate spoils of war. The latter found a market in the West India islands; the prisoners made by the fall of Charleston were, in defiance of the articles of capitulation, crowded into prison-ships, from whence they were only released by death, or by yielding to those arguments of their keepers which persuaded them to enlist in British regiments, to serve in other countries. Many yielded to these arguments, with the simple hope of escape from the horrors by which they were surrounded. When arts and arguments failed to overcome the inflexibility of these wretched prisoners, compulsion was resorted to, and hundreds were forced from their country, shipped to Jamaica, and there made to serve in British regiments.* Citizens of distinction, who, by their counsel or presence, opposed their influence over the prisoners, or proved themselves superior to their temptations, were torn from their homes without warning, and incarcerated in their floating dungeons. Nothing was forborne, in the shape of pitiless and pitiful persecution, to break the spirits, subdue the strength, and mock and mortify the hopes, alike, of citizen and captive.
* Moultrie's Memoirs, Vol. 2, 'Correspondence'.—
With those who kept the field the proceedings were more summary, if not more severe. The fall of Charleston seems necessarily to have involved the safety of the country from the Savannah to the Pedee. In a few weeks after the capture of the city, the British were in peaceable possession of the space between these limits, from the seaboard to the mountains. They had few opponents—an isolated body of continentals, a small squad of militia, for the first time drilling for future service, or a little troop of horse—and these were quickly overcome. On these occasions the British were generally led by Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton. This officer acquired for himself an odious distinction in his progress through the South in the campaigns which followed. He was rather an active than a skilful commander. Rapid in his movements, he gave little heed to the judicious disposition of his troops, and aiming more at impressing the fears of his enemy, than overcoming him by science, his chief successes were the result of the panic which his surprises and his butcheries inspired. He seems never to have been successful against an equal and resolute foe. But, as courage and activity are, perhaps, after all, and before all, the most necessary requisites for a soldier, Tarleton's services were inappreciable to the invading army. In one month after its arrival, his legion was mounted and began its career of slaughter. While yet the city was sustaining the siege, he penetrated the country, in pursuit of those bands of militia horse, which, by direction of the American commander, still kept the open field. On the 18th of March, he surprised a company of militia at Salkehatchie Bridge, killed and wounded several and dispersed the rest. Five days after, another party at Pon-Pon shared the same fortune. He was not so successful at Rantowles on the 23d of the same month, where in a rencounter with Col. Washington, his dragoons were roughly handled, and retreated with loss. He avenged himself, however, on Washington, in less than a month after, by surprising him at Monk's Corner. Col. White soon after took command of the southern cavalry, and obtained some trifling successes, but suffered himself to be surprised at Lenud's ferry on the Santee. These events all took place prior to the surrender of the city. The activity of Tarleton, with the general remissness, and want of ordinary military precautions on the part of the militia which opposed itself to him, made his progress easy, and thus enabled him to cut off every party that was embodied in the field. He was now to succeed in a much more important and much more bloody enterprise. A Continental force from Virginia of four hundred men, under Col. Beaufort,* had been dispatched to the relief of Charleston. Beaufort had reached Camden before he was apprised of the surrender of that city. This event properly determined him to retreat. Earl Cornwallis, meanwhile, had taken the field with a force of twenty-five hundred men, and was then in rapid progress for the Santee. Hearing of the advance of Beaufort, he dispatched Tarleton in quest of him, with a select body of infantry and cavalry, in all, seven hundred men. Beaufort was overtaken near the Waxhaw settlements, and summoned to surrender. This person does not seem to have been designed by nature for military operations. He halted at the summons, hesitated awhile, sent his wagons ahead, consulted with his officers, and did little or nothing farther, either for flight or conflict. While thus halting and hesitating he was attacked by the impetuous Tarleton, offered a feeble resistance, unmarked by conduct or spirit, suffered the enemy to gain his rear, and finally grounded his arms. He either did this too soon or too late. His flag was disregarded in the flush of battle, the bearer of it cut down by the hand of Tarleton, and the British infantry, with fixed bayonets, rushed upon the inactive Americans. Some of Beaufort's men, seeing that their application for quarter was disregarded, resolved to die like men, and resumed their arms. Their renewed fire provoked the massacre of the unresisting. A terrible butchery followed. The British gave no quarter. From that day, "Tarleton's Quarters", implying the merciless cutting down of the suppliant, grew into a proverbial phrase, which, in the hour of victory, seemed to embitter the hostility with which the American strove to avenge his slaughtered comrades.