While Horry was skirmishing with Campbell, Major John Postelle, who was stationed to guard the lower part of the Pedee, succeeded in capturing Captain Depeyster, with twenty-nine grenadiers. Depeyster had taken post in the dwelling-house of Postelle's father. The latter had with him but twenty-eight militia, but he knew the grounds, and gaining possession of the kitchen, fired it, and was preparing to burn the house also, when Depeyster submitted.
We find, at this time, a correspondence of Marion with two of the British officers, in relation to the detention, as a prisoner, of Captain Postelle, who, it seems, though bearing a flag, was detained for trial by the enemy. Portions of these letters, in which Marion asserts his own humanity in the treatment of prisoners, we quote as exhibiting his own sense, at least, of what was the true character of his conduct in such matters. The reader will not have forgotten the charges made against him, in this respect, in an earlier part of this volume by Lt.-Col. Balfour, in a letter to General Moultrie. One of the present letters of Marion is addressed to Balfour.
"I am sorry to complain of the ill treatment my officers and men meet with from Captain Saunders. The officers are closely confined in a small place where they can neither stand nor lie at length, nor have they more than half rations. I have treated your officers and men who have fallen into my hands, in a different manner. Should these evils not be prevented in future, it will not be in my power to prevent retaliation. Lord Rawdon and Col. Watson have hanged three men of my brigade for supposed crimes, which will make as many of your men, in my hands, suffer."
Again, on the same subject, in a letter to Col. Watson—"The hanging of prisoners and the violation of my flag, will be retaliated if a stop is not put to such proceedings, which are disgraceful to all civilized nations. All of your officers and men, who have fallen into my hands, have been treated with humanity and tenderness, and I wish sincerely that I may not be obliged to act contrary to my inclination."
The British officers thus addressed, alleged against Postelle that he had broken his parole. If this were so, it was a just cause of detention; but it will be remembered that the British themselves revoked these paroles on the assumption that the province was conquered, and when, as citizens, they wished to exact military service from the people. In these circumstances the virtue of the obligation was lost, and ceased on the part of the citizen, because of the violation on the part of the conqueror, of the immunities which he promised. Marion took decisive measures for compelling the necessary respect to his flag, by seizing upon Captain Merritt, the bearer of a British flag, and putting him in close keeping as a security for Postelle. We do not know that he retaliated upon the British soldiers the cruel murders, by hanging, which had been practised upon his own. His nature would probably recoil from carrying his own threat into execution. In answer to one of Marion's reproaches, we are told by Col. Watson, that "the burning of houses and the property of the inhabitants, who are our enemies, is customary in all civilized nations." The code of civilisation is certainly susceptible of liberal constructions. Its elasticity is not the least of its many merits.
Cornwallis pursued Greene into North Carolina, and after much manoeuvering between the armies, they met at Guilford on the 15th of March, 1781. The honors of the victory, small as it was, lay with the British. Their loss, however, was such, that the advantages of the field enured to the Americans. From this field, Cornwallis took his way to Virginia, and his career as a commander in America was finally arrested at the siege of York. During the absence of Greene from South Carolina, Marion's was the only force in active operation against the British. An opportunity so favorable for harassing and distressing the enemy, as that afforded by the absence of their main army in North Carolina, was not neglected; and, calling in his detachments, he once more carried dismay into the heart of the Tory settlements, on both sides of the Santee. His incursions, and those of his officers, were extended as far as the confluence of the Congaree and Wateree, and as low down as Monk's Corner,—thus breaking up the line of communication between Charleston and the grand army, and intercepting detachments and supplies, sent from that place to the line of posts established through the country. This sort of warfare, which seldom reaches events such as those which mark epochs in the progress of great bodies of men, is yet one which calls for constant activity. We have details of but few of the numerous conflicts which took place between our partisan and the Tory leaders. These were scattered over the country, living by plunder, and indulging in every species of ferocity. Greene writes, "The Whigs and Tories are continually out in small parties, and all the middle country is so disaffected, that you cannot lay in the most trifling magazine or send a wagon through the country with the least article of stores without a guard." In addressing himself to this sort of warfare, Marion was pursuing a course of the largest benefit to the country. In overawing these plunderers, subduing the savage spirit, and confining the British to their strong places, he was acquiring an importance, which, if we are to estimate the merits of a leader only by the magnitude of his victories, will leave us wholly at a loss to know by what means his great reputation was acquired. But the value of his services is best gathered from the effect which they had upon the enemy. The insults and vexations which he unceasingly occasioned to the British, were not to be borne; and Col. Watson was dispatched with a select force of five hundred men to hunt him up and destroy him. We have seen Tarleton and others engaged in the pursuit, but without success. Watson was destined to be less fortunate. In the meanwhile, and before Watson came upon his trail, Col. Peter Horry had been engaged in a series of petty but rather amusing skirmishes, in the neighborhood of Georgetown. A party of the British were engaged in killing beeves at White's bridge near Georgetown. Horry's men charged them while at this employment, and killing some, pursued the rest towards that place. The firing was heard in the town, and the facts of the case conjectured. This brought out a reinforcement, before which the detachment of Horry was compelled to retreat. But, on gaining the woods, they were joined also by their friends; and the fight was resumed between the Sampit and Black river roads, with a dogged fierceness on both sides, that made it particularly bloody. In the course of the struggle, Horry at one moment found himself alone. His men were more or less individually engaged, and scattered through the woods around him. His only weapon was his small sword. In this situation he was suddenly assailed by a Tory captain, named Lewis, at the head of a small party. Lewis was armed with a musket, and in the act of firing, when a sudden shot from the woods tumbled him from his horse, in the very moment when his own gun was discharged. The bullet of Lewis took effect on Horry's horse. The shot which so seasonably slew the Tory, had been sent by the hands of a boy named Gwin. The party of Lewis, apprehending an ambush, immediately fell back and put themselves in cover. The conflict lasted through the better part of the day, one side gaining ground, and now the other. It closed in the final defeat of the enemy, who were pursued with a savage and unsparing spirit. One half of their number were left dead upon the ground. Their leader was Major Gainey. Great expectations were formed of his ability to cope with Marion. On this occasion, though he made his escape, his mode of doing so was characterized by a peculiar circumstance, which rendered it particularly amusing to one side and annoying to the other. He was singled out in the chase by Sergeant McDonald, a fierce young fellow, who was admirably mounted. Gainey was fortunate in being well mounted also. McDonald, regarding but the one enemy, passed all others. He himself said that he could have slain several in the chase. But he wished for no meaner object than their leader. One man alone who threw himself in the way of the pursuit became its victim. Him he shot down, and, as they went at full speed down the Black river road, at the corner of Richmond fence, the sergeant had gained so far upon his enemy, as to be able to plunge his bayonet into his back. The steel separated from his gun, and, with no time to extricate it, Gainey rushed into Georgetown, with the weapon still conspicuously showing how close and eager had been the chase, and how narrow the escape. The wound was not fatal.
The next affair was with Col. Tynes, who had been defeated by Marion some time before, made prisoner and sent to North Carolina. But the North Carolina jailors seem to have been pretty generally Tories, for we find Horry complaining that they discharged the prisoners quite as fast as they were sent there; and it was the complaint of some of Marion's officers that they had to fight the same persons in some instances, not less than three or four times. Tynes had collected a second force, and, penetrating the forests of Black river, was approaching the camp of our partisan. Marion went against him, fell upon him suddenly, completely routed him, taking himself and almost his whole party prisoners. He made his escape a second time from North Carolina, and with a third and larger force than ever, reappeared in the neighborhood of Marion's camp. Horry was sent against him with forty chosen horsemen. He travelled all night, and stopped the next day at the house of a Tory, where he obtained refreshments. His men succeeded in obtaining something more. The Tory most liberally filled their canteens with apple-brandy; and when the Colonel got within striking distance of Tynes and his Tories, scarcely one of his troops was fit for action. He prudently retreated, very much mortified with the transaction. Marion captured a part of Tynes' force a few days after, and this luckless loyalist seems to have disappeared from the field from that moment.
Watson's march against Marion was conducted with great caution. The operations of the partisan, meanwhile, were continued without interruption. About the middle of February, he was apprised of the march of Major McIlraith from Nelson's Ferry, at the head of a force fully equal to his own. This British officer seems to have been singularly unlike his brethren in some remarkable particulars. He took no pleasure in burning houses, the hospitality of which he had enjoyed; he destroyed no cattle wantonly, and hung no unhappy prisoner. The story goes that while Marion was pressing upon the steps of the enemy, he paused at the house of a venerable lady who had been always a friend to the Whigs, and who now declared her unhappiness at seeing him. Her reason being asked, she declared that she conjectured his purpose—that he was pursuing McIlraith, and that so honorable and gentle had been the conduct of that officer, on his march, that she was really quite unwilling that he should suffer harm, though an enemy. What he heard did not impair Marion's activity, but it tended somewhat to subdue those fiercer feelings which ordinarily governed the partisans in that sanguinary warfare. He encountered and assailed McIlraith on the road near Half-way Swamp, first cutting off two picquets in his rear in succession, then wheeling round his main body, attacked him at the same moment in flank and front. McIlraith was without cavalry, and his situation was perilous in the extreme. But he was a brave fellow, and Marion had few bayonets. By forced marches and constant skirmishing, the British major gained an open field upon the road. He posted himself within the enclosure upon the west of the road. Marion pitched his camp on the edge of a large cypress pond, which lay on the east, and closely skirted the highway. Here McIlraith sent him a flag, reproaching him with shooting his picquets, contrary, as he alleged, to all the laws of civilized warfare, and concluded with defying him to combat in the open field. The arguments of military men, on the subject of the laws of civilized warfare, are sometimes equally absurd and impertinent. Warfare itself is against all the laws of civilisation, and there is something ludicrous in the stronger reproaching the feebler power, that it should resort to such means as are in its possession, for reconciling the inequalities of force between them. Marion's reply to McIlraith was sufficiently to the purpose. He said that the practice of the British in burning the property of those who would not submit and join them, was much more indefensible than that of shooting picquets, and that while they persisted in the one practice, he should certainly persevere in the other. As to the challenge of McIlraith, he said that he considered it that of a man whose condition was desperate; but concluded with saying that if he, McIlraith, wished to witness a combat between twenty picked soldiers on each side, he was not unwilling to gratify him.
Here was a proposal that savored something of chivalry. McIlraith agreed to the suggestion, and an arrangement was made for a meeting. The place chosen for the combat was in a part of a field, which is very well known, south of an old oak tree, which was still, up to the year 1821, pointed out to the stranger. It may be standing to this day, for the oak outlasts many generations of brave men. Marion chose for the leader of his band, Major John Vanderhorst, then a supernumerary officer in his brigade. The second in command was Capt. Samuel Price, of All Saints. The names of the men were written on slips of paper and handed to them severally. Gavin Witherspoon received the first. The names of the others are not preserved. Not one of them refused. When they were separated from their comrades, they were paraded near the fence, and Marion addressed them in the following language:
"My brave soldiers! you are twenty men picked this day out of my whole brigade. I know you all, and have often witnessed your bravery. In the name of your country, I call upon you once more to show it. My confidence in you is great. I am sure it will not be disappointed. Fight like men, as you have always done—and you are sure of the victory."
The speech was short, but it was effectual. It was, perhaps, a long one for Marion. His words were usually few, but they were always to the purpose. More words were unnecessary here. The combatants heard him with pride, and hailed his exhortations with applause. While their cheers were loudest, Marion transferred them to their leader.
Vanderhorst now asked Witherspoon, "at what distance he would prefer, as the most sure to strike with buckshot?"
"Fifty yards, for the first fire," was the answer.
"Then," said Vanderhorst, "when we get within fifty yards, as I am not a good judge of distances, Mr. Witherspoon will tap me on the shoulder. I will then give the word, my lads, and you will form on my left opposite these fellows. As you form, each man will fire at the one directly opposite, and my word for it, few will need a second shot."
Nothing, indeed, was more certain than this; and how McIlraith proposed to fight with any hope of the result, knowing how deadly was the aim of the Americans, is beyond conjecture. If he relied upon the bayonet, as perhaps he did, his hope must have rested only upon those who survived the first fire; and with these, it was only necessary for the Americans to practise the game of the survivor of the Horatii, in order to gain as complete a victory. They had but to scatter and re-load—change their ground, avoid the push of the bayonet, till they could secure a second shot, and that certainly would have finished the business. But McIlraith had already reconsidered the proceeding. His men were formed in a straight line in front of the oak. Vanderhorst was advancing and had got within one hundred yards, when a British officer was seen to pass hurriedly to the detachment, and the next moment the men retreated, with a quick step, towards the main body. Vanderhorst and his party gave three huzzas, but not a shot was fired.
McIlraith committed two errors. He should not have made the arrangement, but, once made, he should have suffered it to go on at all hazards. The effect was discreditable to himself, and detrimental to the efficiency of his men. Marion would have fought his enemy all day on the same terms. His followers were on their own ground, with a familiar weapon, while the soldiers of the British were deprived of all their usual advantages—the assurance of support after the fire of the enemy was drawn. The militia seldom stood the encounter of the bayonet, but they as seldom failed to do famous execution with the first two or three discharges.
That night McIlraith abandoned his heavy baggage, left fires burning, and retreating silently from the ground, hurried, with all dispatch, along the river road towards Singleton's Mills, distant ten miles. Marion discovered the retreat before daylight, and sent Col. Hugh Horry forward with one hundred men, to get in advance of him before he should reach the mill. But Horry soon found this to be impossible, and he detached Major James, at the head of a select party, well mounted on the swiftest horses, with instructions to cross the mill-pond above, and take possession of Singleton's houses. These standing on a high hill, commanded a narrow defile on the road between the hill and the Wateree swamp. James reached the house as the British advanced to the foot of the hill. But here he found a new enemy, which his foresters dreaded much more than the British or Tories—the small-pox. Singleton's family were down with it, and James shrank from availing himself of any advantage offered by the situation. But before he retired, one of his men, resting his rifle against a tree, shot the commander of the British advance. He was mortally wounded, and died the next day. Marion was displeased with this achievement. The forbearance of McIlraith, while passing through the country, had touched his heart. He withdrew his forces, not displeased that his enemy had secured a stronghold in Singleton's Mill. The conscientiousness of the British officer is said to have incurred the displeasure of his commander, and that of his brother officers. When he reached Charleston he was put into coventry. Our authorities ascribe this to his gratuitous humanity, his reluctance to burn and plunder, with such excellent examples before him, as Cornwallis and Tarleton. We rather suspect, however, that it was in consequence of the unfortunate issue of the pitched battle, as agreed upon between himself and Marion; a more probable cause of odium among his comrades, than any reluctance, which he might express, to violate the common laws of humanity.
Watson and Doyle pursue Marion—He baffles and harasses them—Pursues Doyle—His Despondency and final Resolution.
The preparations of Col. Watson for pursuing and destroying our partisan in his stronghold, were at length complete. He sallied forth from Fort Watson about the first of March, and, with a British regiment and a large body of loyalists—a force quite sufficient, as was thought, for the desired object—marched down the Santee, shaping his course for Snow's Island. At the same time, Col. Doyle, at the head of another British regiment, intended for cooperation with Watson, was directed to proceed by way of M'Callum's Ferry, on Lynch's, and down Jeffers' Creek, to the Pedee. Here they were to form a junction.
Marion had no force to meet these enemies in open combat. His number did not much exceed three hundred, but he had other resources of his own which better served to equalize them. Doyle's approach was slow, and it seems partially unsuspected. In fact, in order to meet his enemies, and make the most of his strength, Marion had generally called in his scouting parties. Of Watson's movements he had ample information. His scouts, well provided with relays of horses, traversed the country between his camp and Camden. Advised correctly of Watson's progress, he made one of those rapid marches for which he was famous, and met him at Wiboo Swamp, about midway between Nelson's and Murray's ferries. At this place commenced a conflict as remarkable as it was protracted. The advance of Watson consisted of the Tory horse, under Col. Richboo. Col. Peter Horry led Marion's advance, consisting of about thirty men. The remainder of the brigade lay in reserve. The encounter of the two advanced parties produced a mutual panic, both recoiling upon their main bodies; but that of Horry was the first to recover; and the command to charge, given by Marion himself, produced the desired effect. Horry was at length driven back by Watson's regulars, and the field-pieces, which finally dislodged him. They were pursued by the Tory horse of Harrison, which, pressing upon the main body, gained some advantages; and, in the uncertainty of the event, while there was some confusion, afforded an opportunity for several instances of great individual valor. As the column of Harrison pressed over the causeway, which was narrow, Gavin James, a private of great spirit and gigantic size, mounted on a strong grey horse, and armed with musket and bayonet, threw himself in advance of his comrades, and directly in the path of the enemy. Taking deliberate aim, he fired his piece, dropped his man, and drew a volley from those in front of him, not a shot of which took effect. His determined position and presence, in the centre of the narrow causeway, produced a pause in the advance. A dragoon rushed upon him, and was stricken down by the bayonet. A second, coming to the assistance of his comrade, shared the same fate, but, in falling, laid hold of the muzzle of James' musket, and was dragged by him in the retreat some forty or fifty paces. This heroism was not without its effect. If the men of Marion faltered for a moment, such examples, and the voice of their general, re-invigorated their courage. Capts. Macauley and Conyers, at the head of the cavalry, arrested the advance of the Tories; and Harrison himself fell, mortally wounded, by the hands of Conyers. The Tories were dispersed, and sought shelter from the infantry of Watson, before the advance of which Marion deemed it prudent for the time to retire.
Marion lost nothing by this meeting. Its effect upon the Tories was highly beneficial. They had suffered severely in killed and wounded, and were thus intimidated at the outset. Watson encamped that night on the field of battle, and Marion a few miles below. The next morning the pursuit was resumed. Watson marched down the river, Marion keeping just sufficiently ahead of him to be able to post an ambuscade for him at the first point that seemed suitable for such a purpose. At Mount Hope, Watson had to build up the bridges, and sustain a second conflict with a chosen party of Marion's, led by Col. Hugh Horry. By bringing forward his field-pieces, and drilling the swamp thickets with grape, he succeeded in expelling Horry, and clearing the way for his column. But the same game was to be renewed with every renewal of the opportunity.
When Watson drew near to Murray's Ferry, he passed the Kingstree road; and, coming to that of Black river, which crosses at the lower bridge, he made a feint of still continuing along the Santee; but soon after wheeled about, and took the former route. This manoeuvre might have deceived a less wary antagonist than Marion. He was soon aware of the enemy's intention. Detaching Major James, at the head of seventy men, thirty of whom were M'Cottry's rifles, he ordered him to destroy the bridge, and so post himself as to command it. He himself kept his eye fixed upon Watson. This bridge was on the main pass to Williamsburg, and the men chosen for its defence were judiciously taken from that part of the country. It was naturally supposed that, in sight of their cottage smokes, they would struggle manfully against the enemy's forces.
James proceeded with great rapidity, and, avoiding the road, crossed the river by a shorter route. He reached the bridge in time to throw down two of the middle arches, and to fire the string pieces at the eastern extremity. As soon as the chasm was made, he placed M'Cottry's riflemen at the end of the bridge and on each side of the ford. The rest of his detachment were so stationed as to cooperate, when required, with their comrades. Marion arriving soon after, strengthened the force of James with the Pedee company under Captain Potts, and took post himself, with the main body, in the rear. These arrangements had scarcely been effected when Watson made his appearance. At this place the west bank of the river is considerably higher than the east. The latter is low and somewhat swampy. On the west, the road passes to the bridge through a ravine. The river was forty or fifty yards wide, and though deep, was fordable below the bridge. The ravine was commanded by M'Cottry's rifles. As soon as Watson approached the river, which he did from the west, his field-pieces opened upon the passage which conducted to the ford. But the position assigned to Marion's men, on the eastern side of the river, effectually protected them. To bring the field-pieces to bear upon the low grounds which they occupied, was to expose the artillerists, upon the elevated banks which they occupied, to the deliberate and fatal fire of the riflemen. Watson was soon made aware of the difficulties of the passage. Not a man approached within gun-shot that did not pay the penalty of his rashness; and those who drew nigh to succor or carry off the wounded, shared the same fate. It was determined to attempt the ford, and the advance was put forward, as a forlorn hope, with this desperate purpose. The officer leading it, came on very gallantly, waving his sword aloft and loudly encouraging his men. His progress was fatally arrested by M'Cottry's rifle. The signal drew the fire of the riflemen and musketeers, with whom the banks were lined, and the heavy and deliberate discharge drove back and dispersed the British advance, nor did the reserve move forward to its assistance. Four brave fellows attempted to carry off the officer who had fallen, but they remained with him.
Watson was terrified. He was heard to say that "he had never seen such shooting in his life." There was no effecting the passage in the face of such enemies, and stealing down to the banks of the river, on the side which they occupied, and wherever the woods afforded shelter, the British skirmished with Marion's flankers across the stream until night put an end to the conflict.
The next morning Watson sent that dispatch to Marion which, from its lugubrious tenor, has acquired a degree of notoriety much greater than the name of the officer from whom it emanated. He complained to Marion of his modes of fighting, objected to the ambuscades of the partisan, and particularly complained that his picquets and sentinels should be shot down when they had no suspicion of danger. He concluded by urging upon Marion to come out and fight him like a gentleman and Christian, according to the laws of civilized warfare. While the tone of the letter was thus lugubrious, its language was offensive. He applied to the partisans the epithets "banditti and murderers". Marion returned no answer to this precious document, but renewed his order to his nightly patrols, to shoot the sentinels and cut off the picquets as before. He thought the measure quite as legitimate in such a war, as the burning the house and hanging the son of the widow.
But though Marion returned no answer by the flag, to the letter of Watson, there was a dispatch by one of the brigade, of a somewhat curious character. There was a sergeant in the brigade by the name of McDonald, of whom something has been heard before. He was the same bold fellow who had so closely pursued Major Gainey into Georgetown, leaving his bayonet in the possession and person of the latter. He was distinguished by his great coolness and courage, an extraordinary degree of strength, and a corresponding share of agility. He was as notorious among the enemy for his audacity, as he was among his comrades for his great modesty and goodness of heart. It appears that, among some of Watson's captures, while pressing hard upon our partisans, had been the entire wardrobe of McDonald. The sergeant felt it as something more than a loss of property that his clothes should be taken by the enemy. It was a point of honor that he should recover them. His message to Watson was of this purport. He concluded with solemnly assuring the bearer of the flag, that if the clothes were not returned he would kill eight of his men. Watson was furious at a message which increased the irritation of his late discomfiture. Knowing nothing himself of McDonald, he was disposed to treat the message with contempt; but some of his officers, who knew better the person with whom they had to deal, begged that the clothes of the sergeant might be returned to him, for that he would most certainly keep his word if they were not. Watson complied with the suggestion. When the clothes appeared, McDonald said to the bearer, "Tell Col. Watson, I will now kill but four of his men." Two days after he shot Lieut. Torriano through the knee with a rifle, at a distance of three hundred yards.
Marion, the next day, took post on a ridge below the ford of the river, which is still popularly called "The General's Island". His rifles still effectually commanded the passage and baffled every attempt of Watson to cross. Pushing M'Cottry and Conyers over the river, they exercised themselves in cutting off his patrols and picquets. To save himself from these annoyances, Watson retreated a little higher up the river and pitched his camp at Blakeley's plantation, in the most open field that he could find. Here he remained for ten days almost environed by his adroit and active enemy. Night and day was he kept in a condition of alarm and apprehension. The cavalry beat up his quarters when he slept, while the riflemen picked off his men the moment they exposed themselves. It was while he was in this situation that the brave Capt. Conyers presented himself daily before the lines of the enemy, either as a single cavalier, or at the head of his troop, demanding an opponent. The anecdote has been already narrated in another chapter.
The temper of Watson was very much subdued by this sort of warfare. His next letter to Marion was of very different tone from that sent but a few days before. He now solicits a pass from his enemy for Lieut. Torriano and others wounded, whom he desired to send to Charleston. This was promptly granted. Meanwhile he employed a negro from Chevin's plantation to carry a letter to the commandant at Georgetown. In endeavoring to make his way, the negro was killed and the letter fell into the hands of Marion. It contained a woful complaint of the unfair mode of fighting pursued by the partisans, and implored a reinforcement.* In fact Watson was literally besieged. His supplies were cut off, his progress arrested, and so many of his men perished in the continual skirmishing, that he is reported by tradition to have sunk them in Black river in order to conceal their numbers. He was finally compelled to decamp. If his path was beset with dangers, it was death to remain in his present situation. Making a forced march down the Georgetown road, he paused when he reached Ox swamp, six miles below the lower bridge. His flight had been harassed by light parties of the Americans; but here he found them prepared for, and awaiting him. The road through which he was to pass, was skirted by a thick boggy swamp, and before him the causeway was covered with trees which had been felled to obstruct his passage. The bridges were destroyed, and Marion lay directly in his path, prepared for a final encounter. Watson shrunk from the prospect, and determined upon another route. Wheeling to the right he dashed through the open pine woods, for the Santee road, about fifteen miles. When overtaken by Marion upon this road, his infantry were hurrying forward, like horses, at a full trot. But few natural obstacles attended his progress on this path, and the extraordinary rapidity of his flight had put him considerably ahead of his pursuers. But he was not yet to escape. The cavalry of Horry, and the riflemen of M'Cottry, galled him at every step in flank and rear. When he reached Sampit bridge a last skirmish took place, which might have terminated in the complete defeat of the enemy, but for the cowardice of a Lieut. Scott, of Horry's detachment. Watson was attacked fiercely in the flank and rear by the whole force of Marion. His horse was killed, and his own life endangered. The affair was equally short and sharp, and had it not been that the ambush placed by Horry failed to discharge its duty, Watson would, in all probability, never have reached Georgetown, or only reached it on parole. He gained it finally in safety, thoroughly harassed and discomfited by the subtle enemy whom he had gone forth, with a superior force, and a confident hope, to destroy or capture.
* Horry's MS.—
But the success of our partisan against Watson did not necessarily dispose of his enemies. While he had been engaged in the events, as just given, Col. Doyle had succeeded in penetrating to his haunts on Snow's Island. That famous retreat had been entrusted to a small body of men under the command of Col. Ervin. Ervin was defeated, and Doyle obtained possession of all Marion's stores. Arms and ammunition were emptied into Lynch's Creek, and this at a period, when every ounce of powder, and pound of shot, were worth, to our partisans, their weight in gold. It was while moving from Sampit towards Snow's Island, that Marion was apprised of this mortifying intelligence. It was a matter to be deplored certainly, but it was one of those events that could not have been prevented. The force of Marion was too small to suffer him to play the admirable game, already described, with Watson, yet leave a sufficient body of men in camp for its protection. He had only to console himself by taking his revenge, and he turned the head of his columns in pursuit of Doyle. This officer made his way to Witherspoon's Ferry, on Lynch's Creek, where he lay in a good position on the north side of the Ferry. Marion approached him cautiously, with M'Cottry's mounted riflemen in advance. Arriving at the creek a detachment of the British was found on the opposite side, engaged in scuttling the ferry boat. The riflemen drew nigh unperceived, and poured in a well directed and deadly fire, which produced the utmost consternation. The fire was returned in volleys, but the limbs and branches of the trees suffered infinitely more than the riflemen who lay behind them. Marion now made his arrangements for crossing the stream. But this was not to be done in the face of the enemy, with the creek before him wide and swollen. Marion moved rapidly up the creek, which he swam at the first favorable point some five miles above Witherspoon's. This brought him nearer to Doyle's position, but the latter had not waited for him. Whether it was that he had little taste for the sort of annoyances to which Watson had been subjected, or that he had received instructions from Lord Rawdon to join him at Camden, in all haste, it is certain that he made the greatest speed in hurrying in that direction.
It was at this period that Marion held a consultation with Horry, in which he is represented by that officer as in an unusual state of despondency. His enemies were accumulating around him with unwonted rapidity, and in greater force than ever. Watson, furious at his late disasters, and mortified with the result of his confident anticipations, had sallied forth from Georgetown with a reinforcement. He had gone towards the Pedee, where he strengthened himself with the large body of Tories which Gainey had commanded. Horry tells us of a third body of men at the same time in the field, with Doyle and Watson, and all addressing themselves to the same object, his utter expulsion from the country. At that moment the expulsion of our Partisan would leave the conquest of the State complete.
In these emergencies, with these foes accumulating around him, the mind of Marion naturally addressed itself with more gravity than usual to the task of his extrication from his enemies. His countenance, as Horry describes it, was troubled. But, with his usual taciturnity, he said nothing on the subject of his anxieties. Seeing him walking alone, and in deep revery, Horry approached him, and said—
"General, our men are few, and, if what I hear be true, you never wanted them more."
Marion started, and replied—
"Go immediately to the field officers, and know from them, if, in the event of my being compelled to retire to the mountains, they will follow my fortunes, and with me carry on the war, until the enemy is forced out of the country. Go, and bring me their answer without delay."
It was a peculiarity in Marion's character, that he should have entrusted such a commission to a subordinate. But it accords with all that we have seen of the reserve and shyness of his moods. The simple remark to Horry indicates his admirable firmness, his calculations, even of possible necessities long in advance, and his instinctive mode of encountering them as he best might. His determination, on his own account, to carry on the war against the enemy in the mountains, till they or himself were expelled from the country, denotes the unsubmitting patriot. The reader must not forget that, at this moment, there was no force in the State but his own, arrayed against the British. Sumter was still 'hors de combat' from his wound. The army of Greene, having with it Pickens, and other native militia, was in North Carolina, watching the movements of Cornwallis. Lord Rawdon, with a strong British garrison, held Camden. Charleston and Georgetown, Ninety-Six and Granby, Forts Watson and Motte, were all held, with numerous other conspicuous points, by the British; and with Watson, whose force now numbered a thousand men, Doyle half that number, and several active and large bodies of Tories prepared to cooperate with these against our partisan, the danger of Marion's situation, and his patriotic resolve of character, are conspicuous at a glance.
Horry sought the officers, and promptly returned to his commander. To a man they had pledged themselves to follow his fortunes, however disastrous, while one of them survived, and until their country was freed from the enemy. Marion's countenance instantly brightened—we cannot forbear the use of Horry's own language, though it may provoke a smile—"he was tip-toed"—(i.e.)—he rose upon his toes—and said "I am satisfied—one of these parties shall soon feel us."*
* Horry's MS., pp. 59, 60.—
Marion renews his Pursuit of Doyle—Confronts Watson—Is joined by Col. Lee—Invests and takes Fort Watson—Fort Motte taken—Anecdote of Horry and Marion.
Marion instantly put his men in motion in pursuit of Doyle. In crossing the swamp of Lynch's Creek, during the night, several of the soldiers lost their arms, in consequence of the freshet. The swamp was inundated, and it required all their dexterity and promptitude to save themselves. Snatching a hasty breakfast, the pursuit was continued all day, and resumed the next morning until ten o'clock, when they found such signs of the superior speed and haste of the enemy, as to preclude all possibility of overtaking him. They had been necessarily delayed by the passage of the swamp, and had not made sufficient allowance for the speed with which an enemy might run when there was occasion for it. Here they found that Doyle had destroyed all his heavy baggage, and had sped in such confusion towards Camden, that his encampment, and the road which he traversed, were strewn with canteens and knapsacks, and everything, not necessary to defence, which might retard his progress.
Marion, somewhat surprised at a flight for which he could not then account, for his own force was far inferior to that of Doyle, yet saw that the fugitive was beyond present pursuit. He wheeled about, accordingly, and set his men in motion for another meeting with Watson. That commander, now strengthened, and just doubling the numbers of our partisan, with fresh supplies of provisions and military stores, had once more pushed for the Pedee. He took the nearest route across Black river, at Wragg's Ferry, and, crossing the Pedee at Euhaney, and the Little Pedee at Potato Ferry, he halted at Catfish Creek, one mile from the present site of Marion Courthouse. Marion crossed the Pedee, and encamped at the Warhees, within five miles of the enemy. Here he planted himself, in vigilant watch of the force which he could not openly encounter. In addition to the want of men, he labored under a still greater want of ammunition. When asked by Capt. Gavin Witherspoon, whether he meant to fight Watson—a measure which Witherspoon thought particularly advisable—before he was joined by any more bodies of Tories, he answered, "That would be best, but we have not ammunition."
"Why, general," said Witherspoon, "my powder-horn is full."
"Ah, my friend!" was the reply of Marion, "YOU are an extraordinary soldier; but for the others, there are not two rounds to a man."
Thus stood the two parties; and thus it but too frequently stood with our partisan—wanting the most simple resources by which to make his own genius and the valor of his men apparent. That the former was alive and equal to emergencies, even in such a condition of necessity, may be inferred from the fact, that he should dare take such a position, so immediately contiguous to an enemy double his own force, and abounding in all the requisite materials of war. The inactivity of Watson is only to be accounted for by his total ignorance of the resourceless state of Marion's rifles.
While Marion and Watson were thus relatively placed, the former was apprised of the return of Greene to South Carolina. This intelligence accounted for the hasty retreat of Doyle. He was summoned by Lord Rawdon to Camden, to strengthen that position against the American force, which was advancing in that direction. The reappearance of Greene was a source of heartfelt joy to those who, but a little while before, had anticipated the necessity of flying before the foe, and taking shelter in the mountains. It was because of the absence of the American army that Rawdon was enabled, as we have seen, to concentrate his chief force upon Marion. The presence of Greene, which had caused the recall of Doyle, must, as Marion well knew, effect that of Watson also. He was preparing himself accordingly, when further advices brought him news of the approach of Colonel Lee, with the Continental Legion, to his own assistance. He dispatched a guide to Lee, and by means of boats, which he always kept secreted, the Legion was transported over the Pedee, and a junction with Marion's force was effected on the fourteenth of April.
The tidings which had brought such gratification to the camp of Marion, had as inspiring, though not as grateful an effect in that of Watson. He lost no time in breaking up his encampment. The safety of Rawdon and Camden was paramount, and, wheeling his two field-pieces into Catfish Creek, and burning his baggage, as Doyle had done, he sped, with similar precipitation, in the same direction. The route taken in his flight declared his apprehensions of Marion. He trembled at the recollection of the recent race between them—the harassings and skirmishings night and day—the sleepless struggles, and unintermitting alarms. Recrossing the Little Pedee, and avoiding Euhaney, he passed the Waccamaw at Greene's Ferry, and, retreating through the Neck, between that river and the sea, crossed Winyaw Bay, three miles in width, and, in this manner, arrived in Georgetown. A slight glance at any map of the country, keeping in mind that Watson's object was really Camden, will show the reader the extent of his fears of that wily and indefatigable enemy from whom he had previously escaped with so much difficulty.
Marion was exceedingly anxious to pursue Watson, but Lee, though subordinate, succeeded in preventing this desire. Instructions which he brought from Greene, and which he earnestly dwelt upon, required their cooperation against the British posts below Camden. Lee urged, also, that such a pursuit would take them too far from Greene, with the movements of whose army it was important that Marion's force should act as intimately as possible. Marion yielded the point with great reluctance, and was heard repeatedly after to regret that his orders did not permit him to follow the dictates of his own judgment. Had he done so, with his force strengthened by the Continental bayonets, and new supplies of powder for his rifles, Watson's flight to Georgetown, which he could scarcely have reached, would have been far more uncomfortable than he found it on the previous occasion.
Lee led the way with his legion towards the Santee, while Marion, placing Witherspoon with a small party on the trail of Watson, pursued his line of march through Williamsburg. Having once resolved, Marion's movements were always rapid and energetic. On the fifteenth of April, only a day after the junction with Lee, he was before Fort Watson.
This was a stockade fort, raised on one of those remarkable elevations of an unknown antiquity which are usually recognized as Indian mounds. It stands near Scott's Lake on the Santee river, a few miles below the junction of the Congaree and Wateree. The mound is forty feet in height, and remote from any other elevation by which it might be commanded. The garrison at this post consisted of eighty regular troops, and forty loyalists. It was commanded by Lieut. McKay, a brave officer, of the regular service. To the summons of Marion he returned a manly defiance, and the place was regularly invested.
Besieged and besiegers were alike without artillery; with a single piece, the former might well have defied any force which Marion could bring against him. The place would have been impregnable to the Americans. As it was, its steep sides and strong palisades forbade any attempt to storm. To cut off the garrison from Scott's Lake, where it procured water, was the first step taken by the besiegers. But the besieged, by sinking a well within the stockade, below the level of the contiguous water, counteracted the attempt. For a moment, the assailants were at fault, and, without artillery, the prospect was sufficiently discouraging. But while doubting and hesitating, Col. Mayham, of the brigade, suggested a mode of overawing the garrison which was immediately adopted. At a short distance from the fort there grew a small wood, a number of the trees of which were hewn down, and transported upon the shoulders of the men within a proper distance of the mound. Here, during the night, all hands were actively employed in piling the wood thus brought, in massive and alternate layers, crosswise, until the work had reached a sufficient elevation. At dawn, the garrison were confounded to find themselves, at wakening, under a shower of rifle bullets. Thus overlooked, the fort was no longer tenable; and a party of volunteers from the militia, headed by Ensign Baker, and another of Continentals, from the legion, led by Mr. Lee, a volunteer, ascended the mound with great intrepidity, and gained the abbatis, which they proceeded to destroy. This movement brought the garrison to terms, and a capitulation immediately followed. But the leaguer had consumed eight days, the progress of which had been watched with equal anxiety by both parties. The Americans apprehended, and the garrison anticipated, the approach of Watson with an overwhelming force for the relief of the besieged. But Watson did not appear. He no longer had an overwhelming force. His flight to Georgetown was marked by loss and desertion. It appears that his panic, or his sense of duty, led him rather to avoid Marion and to reach Camden without interruption. He very prudently, therefore, after crossing the Santee, on the route from Georgetown, moved down by Monk's Corner, added to his force the garrison of that place, and then cautiously advanced to the Santee. He resolved rather to leave Fort Watson to its fate, than risk a force which might be necessary to the exigencies of Rawdon. Watson was considered by the British one of their best partisans, yet never had poor warrior been so worried and harassed, as, with a superior force, he had been by Marion. Yet, in his second expedition in pursuit of the latter, had he been able to cooperate with Doyle, with the Tories of Harrison and Gainey, all preparing for the same object, the escape of our partisan would have been miraculous. At no time, during their pursuit of him, was his force equal to the smallest one of theirs. He must have been expelled the country, as he himself seemed to apprehend, or he must have fallen in the conflict.
We have so little at the hands of Marion, in the shape of correspondence, that we are tempted to give his official letter to General Greene, apprising him of the fall of Fort Watson. It is dated—
Fort Watson (Scott's Lake), April 23, 1781.
Lieut.-Col. Lee made a junction with me at Santee, the 14th inst., after a rapid march from Ramsay's mill, on Deep River, which he performed in eight days. The 15th we marched to this place and invested it. Our hope was to cut off their water. Some riflemen and Continentals immediately took post between the fort and the lake. The fort is situated on a small hill, forty feet high, stockaded, and with three rows of abbatis round it. No trees near enough to cover our men from their fire. The third day after we had invested it, we found the enemy had sunk a well near the stockade which we could not prevent them from [doing]; as we had no entrenching tools to make our approach, we immediately determined to erect a work equal in height to the fort. This arduous work was completed this morning by Major Maham, who undertook it. We then made a lodgment on the side of the mound, near the stockade. This was performed with great spirit and address by Ensign Johnson, and Mr. Lee, a volunteer in Col. Lee's legion, who with difficulty ascended the hill and pulled away the abbatis, which induced the commandant to hoist a flag. Col. Lee and myself agreed to the enclosed capitulation, which I hope may be approved by you. Our loss on this occasion is two killed, and three Continentals and three militia wounded. I am particularly indebted to Col. Lee for his advice and indefatigable diligence in every part of these tedious operations, against as strong a little post as could well be made, and on the most advantageous spot that could be wished for. The officers and men of the legion and militia performed everything that could be expected; and Major Maham of my brigade, had, in a particular manner, a great share of this success by his unwearied diligence in erecting the tower which principally occasioned the reduction of the fort. In short, sir, I have had the greatest assistance from every one under my command. Enclosed is a list of the prisoners and stores taken, and I shall, without loss of time, proceed to demolish the fort; after which I shall march to the high hills of Santee, encamp at Capt. Richardson's, and await your orders.
(Signed) Francis Marion.
In taking post at the Santee Hills, the object of Marion was to take such a position as would enable him to watch all the several roads by which Watson could make his way to Camden. It was important, if possible, to prevent his junction with Lord Rawdon, thus increasing the ability of that commander to cope with Greene's army, which now lay before that place. But Marion was not able to encounter Watson without assistance. Lee, with his legion, had been withdrawn by Greene soon after the capture of Fort Watson, and our partisan's force in camp, from concurring circumstances, was now reduced to about eighty men. Eighty of his brigade were detached under Col. Irvine to Rafting Creek, in order to cut off supplies from Camden. Another party was engaged in watching a rising of the Tories on the Pedee, who, in the absence of Marion himself, had manifested a disposition to resume the offensive; Col. Harden, with another detachment, was on the Salkehatchie, having first succeeded in the capture of Fort Balfour at Pocotaligo, in which he made nearly a hundred prisoners. Other small detachments had thinned the little army of our partisan to such a degree that it was of small efficiency where it was; and, just at this juncture, numerous desertions took place from two concurring circumstances. The approach of Marion to the hills had brought on the battle of Camden. Unwilling that Greene's force should be increased by the militia of the former, Rawdon had resolved not to wait for Watson, but to march out and give battle before the coming of either. He did so. The affair was not decisive, but Greene was compelled to yield the field to his enemy. He lost nothing, whether of honor or position, by this result. But, as the news spread, the defeat was exaggerated. It was supposed to be another affair such as that of Gates, and Marion's small body of men was still farther lessened by desertion. There was still another reason for its present feebleness. The time of the year was the very height of the planting season, and the farmer-soldiers, in numbers, left the camp in order to hurry to their homes and set their crops. This, though not allowed by the regular disciplinarian, was, in the mind of the militia-man, a duty quite as imperative as any that he owed to his family. Indeed, it was inseparable from his necessities that, where the Government did not give him bread, he must make it for himself. His family could not starve, and if he could fight without pay, it was not possible that he should do so without food. In the sort of warfare which Marion had hitherto carried on, he had been willing to recognize these necessities on the part of his followers. Cooperating with an army differently constituted, it was scarcely possible to do so, with any hope of their permanent usefulness. Just at this juncture, in particular, he felt the peculiarly mortifying character of his situation.
To enable Marion to contend with Watson, Greene dispatched Major Eaton, with a body of Continentals, to his assistance, with instructions to throw himself across the path of Watson. But Eaton, by an unhappy misunderstanding of his duty, failed to reach him in season for this object. When he did join him, which was on the evening of the 2d of May, it was too late. Marion, writing to Greene, says, "Major Eaton's not coming up sooner has made me lose a great deal of precious time. I shall cross the Santee at Wright's Bluff to-morrow." He did so, but Watson had already passed, and succeeded in eluding Greene also, and in reaching Camden in safety.
We have spoken of Col. Harden's proceedings against Fort Balfour, and the capture of that post. This officer was a very brave and active gentleman, rapid in his movements, and resolute in his objects. As soon as Marion had received intelligence of Greene's approach to South Carolina, he had dispatched Harden with seventy select men, well mounted, to penetrate through the country, and crossing the enemy's lines of communication, to stir up the people in all that region which lies southwest of Charleston. So rapid and unexpected were his movements, that he took the enemy everywhere by surprise, and rendered himself, for the time, the very terror of the loyalists upon the route. His force increased with its progress. The inhabitants yearned for an escape from British authority, and joined his troop. His seventy men soon became two hundred, and while he baffled the pursuit of the superior, he visited with sudden and severe chastisement the disaffected, along and on both sides of the Savannah river. Ascending this, he soon communicated with Pickens, then operating against Augusta and Ninety-Six. Nothing now was wanting but the fall of the enemy's chain of posts, to complete the recovery of the whole country within thirty miles of the sea. In contributing to this desirable object Marion, now strengthened by the Continentals of Lee and Eaton, invested Fort Motte on the river Congaree.
This post was the principal depot of the convoys from Charleston to Camden, and sometimes of those destined for Forts Granby and Ninety-Six. A large new mansion-house belonging to Mrs. Motte, situated on a high and commanding hill, had been chosen for this establishment. It was surrounded with a deep trench, along the inner margin of which a strong and lofty parapet was raised. To this post had been assigned a sufficient garrison of one hundred and fifty men. This force was increased by a small detachment of dragoons from Charleston, which had been thrown into it a few hours before the appearance of the Americans. The garrison was commanded by Capt. McPherson, a firm and gallant officer.
Opposite to Fort Motte, to the north, stood another hill, where Mrs. Motte, who had been expelled from her dwelling, resided in an old farm-house. On this, Lee took position with his corps: Marion's men occupied the eastern declivity of the same ridge on which stood the fort.
The place was very soon invested. The six pounder with which Greene had furnished Marion, was mounted on a battery raised in the quarter which he occupied, for the purpose of raking the northern face of the enemy's parapet. McPherson was in the possession of a wall-piece, but he had not been able to adapt it for use before the investment took place. It does not seem to have been even used during the siege. His chief hopes lay in being relieved by a detachment from Camden, not doubting its arrival before his assailant could push his preparations to maturity. The works of the latter advanced rapidly, and the place was summoned on the 20th of May. The reply declared the determination of the besieged to try the strength and patience of the besiegers. These had now every motive for perseverance. They were advised of the approach of Rawdon, with all his force, to the relief of the fort. That stern commander, finding Camden was no longer tenable against the increasing forces of the Americans, and unable to maintain his several posts with his diminished strength, was aiming to contract his scattered bodies into narrower limits. Having made a second, but unsatisfactory, demonstration upon Greene, he destroyed his unnecessary baggage, and, leaving Camden in flames, he once more abandoned it to the Americans. Greene advised Marion of his retreat, and urged him to expedition. On the next night he reached the country opposite Fort Motte, and his numerous fires on the highest grounds on his route, encouraged the garrison with hopes of success, which were not to be realized.
What was to be done, was to be done quickly, on the part of the besiegers. The process of battering by cannon would be too slow. Some shorter mode was to be adopted, to anticipate the approach of Rawdon. The ready thought of our partisan suggested this process. It was known that the large mansion of Mrs. Motte occupied the greater part of the area of the fort; but a few yards of ground within the works remained uncovered by it. To burn the house by fire would compel the surrender of the garrison.
The necessity was very reluctantly communicated to the widow by whom the property was owned. But she was one of those glorious dames of the Revolution, to whom the nation is so largely indebted for the glory of that event. She had received the American officers with a hospitality which made them almost shrink from suggesting their purposes; but as soon as they were made known, she put them perfectly at ease upon the subject. With something more than cheerfulness—with pride—that any sacrifice on her part should contribute to the success of her countrymen, in so dear an object, she herself produced a bow, with all the necessary apparatus, which had been brought from India,* and which she had preserved. By the arrows from this bow the fire was to be communicated to her dwelling.
* The origin of this bow, though unimportant, is nonetheless the subject of great differences. James says an "Indian bow and arrows", though one would expect he meant "American Indian" from the context. Weems implies that it was from Africa.—A. L., 1996.—
Everything being in readiness, the lines were manned and an additional force stationed at the batteries, lest the enemy, in the moment of desperation, might prefer risking an assault, rather than endure the mortification of a surrender. A flag was sent to McPherson, but the sight of Rawdon's fires on the other side of the river encouraged him with the belief that he might still resist successfully.
The bow was put into the hands of Nathan Savage, a private in Marion's brigade. It was noon when the attempt was made. The scorching rays of the noonday sun had prepared the roof for the conflagration. Balls of blazing rosin and brimstone were attached to the arrows, and three several shafts were sent by the vigorous arm of the militia-man against the roof. They took effect, in three different quarters, and the shingles were soon in a blaze. McPherson immediately ordered a party to the roof, but this had been prepared for, and the fire of the six-pounder soon drove the soldiers down. The flames began to rage, the besiegers were on the alert, guarding every passage, and no longer hopeful of Rawdon, McPherson hung out the white flag imploring mercy. The gentle nature of Marion readily yielded to his prayer, though, as Lee tells us, "policy commanded death."
In this siege Marion lost two brave fellows, one of whom has been more than once conspicuous in this narrative—the daring Sergeant McDonald, and Lieutenant Cruger. McDonald had reached a lieutenancy before he fell. The prisoners were paroled, but their officers before leaving partook of a sumptuous dinner given by Mrs. Motte to the victors. This noble lady, whose grace of demeanor is represented as quite equal to her patriotism, presided at her table, in such a manner as to render all parties at home. Col. P. Horry tells us of some of the incidents which took place at the dinner. A captain of the British army, taken among the prisoners, on finding himself near Horry, said to him:
"You are Col. Horry, I presume, sir." Horry answered in the affirmative. "Well," said the other, "I was with Col. Watson when he on Sampit fought your General Marion. I think I saw you there with a party of horse. I think you were also at Nelson's Ferry, when Marion surprised our party at the house? But," added the officer, "I was hid in high grass and escaped. Were you not there also?" Horry answered, "No! It was my brother Hugh." "Well," said the captain, "YOU were fortunate in your escape [at Sampit] for Watson and Small had 1200 men." "If so," said Horry, "I certainly was fortunate, for I did not suppose they had more than half that number." The captain then added—"I consider myself equally fortunate in escaping at Nelson's old field." "Truly, you were," answered Horry drily; "for Marion had but 30 militia on that occasion." "At this," says our worthy Colonel, "the captain's countenance fell, and he retired, and avoided me the rest of the day. General Greene, the next day (Greene had reached Marion's camp that night) said to me, 'Col. Horry, how came you to affront Capt. Ferguson?' I answered, he affronted himself by telling his own story. It militated so greatly against himself as to compel the officers who were near to laugh. The captain and I, sir, agreed that we were both equally fortunate in war. Greene replied, 'Capt. Ferguson's memory was only too good.'"*
* Horry's MS. Narrative, pp. 74-75.—
While at the hospitable table of Mrs. Motte, it was whispered in Marion's ears, that Col. Lee's men were even then engaged in hanging certain of the Tory prisoners. Marion instantly hurried from the table, seized his sword, and running with all haste, reached the place of execution in time to rescue one poor wretch from the gallows. Two were already beyond rescue or recovery. With drawn sword and a degree of indignation in his countenance that spoke more than words, Marion threatened to kill the first man that made any further attempt in such diabolical proceedings.*
* Horry's MS. Narrative, p. 75.—
Correspondence of Marion and Greene—Anecdote of Colonel Snipes—Marion takes Georgetown—Attempt of Sumter and Marion on Col. Coates—Battle of Quinby Bridge.
It was while Marion was most actively engaged in the investment of Fort Motte, that a correspondence took place between himself and General Greene, which had nearly resulted in the loss of his invaluable services to the country. A pure and noble spirit, Marion was particularly sensitive to reproach, and felt deeply its injustice. From the moment that Greene took command of the southern army, he had yielded the most profound deference to his wishes, had seconded his slightest suggestions, timed his own movements with a studied regard to those contemplated by the commander, and, whenever the service would allow, had devoted his little band to such duties as would lead to the promotion of all those larger plans which were contemplated for the execution of the grand army. His scouts had served for pioneers, his cavalry procured provisions for the camp, and it was to Marion alone that Greene looked for all his intelligence. But there was one favorite object which Greene had in view, to which our partisan could contribute little. The want of a cavalry force had been particularly felt by the former, and he had been sedulous in the endeavor to supply this want, from the very first of his southern campaigns. He had been pressingly calling upon Sumter, Marion, and every officer, who might be thought able to procure him a supply of horses; and active agents of his own had been scouring every quarter of the country in search of this indispensable agent of all great military operations. His quest had been comparatively vain. The British had been before him throughout the country. The dragoons of Tarleton had swept the stables; and, where this was not the case, the horses were held by militia men, to whom they were quite as indispensable as to the grand army. Marion's troopers could only be of service while in possession of their horses—they had large and extensive tracts of country to traverse—could procure no intelligence without—and, any attempt to dismount a soldier from his favorite steed, would be to produce a degree of discontent in his mind which would most certainly deprive the country of his services. To expect that the partisan militia under Marion and Sumter, who had been constantly on horseback, in the face of the enemy, should deliver their horses up to others who possessed no higher claim upon the country than themselves, was to expect more largely than was altogether reasonable, from the liberality or the patriotism of any set of men. A few, such as could be spared, had been supplied by Marion. He never, for an instant, contemplated the dismounting of his troopers—those hardy fellows who had been constant in all vicissitudes—who had murmured at no tasks—shrunk from no adventures—and spared neither themselves nor their property, when the necessities of the country required, at periods when there was no grand army to divide with themselves the honors and the dangers of the war. Nay, to dismount them was, in fact, to disarm himself. It appears, however, that this was expected of him. An unfortunate letter of Col. Lee, dated the 23d May, and addressed to Greene, contained this paragraph:
"General Marion," says the letter, "can supply you, if he will, with one hundred and fifty good dragoon horses, most of them impressed horses. He might, in my opinion, spare sixty, which would be a happy supply."
The effect of this communication upon Greene was immediate and painful. Believing that he had been ill-used, and vexed that Marion, knowing his necessities, and with the power to relieve them, should yet have forborne to do so, though urgently exhorted, he frankly declared his feelings in the very next letter to our partisan. Marion did not dissemble his indignation in his reply. He repels the charge that he had ever withheld supplies which he might have furnished, and concludes his letter by requesting permission to resign—firmly, but respectfully, intimating his resolution to retire from service as soon as Fort Motte should be reduced. Greene, in an instant, from this reply, perceived the mischief that he had done. He wrote instantly to Marion, and succeeded, though with difficulty, in overcoming his resolution. He says: "My reason for writing so pressingly for the dragoon horses, was from the distress we were in. It is not my wish to take the horses from the militia, if it will injure the public service. The effects and consequences you can better judge of than I can. You have rendered important services to the public with the militia under your command, and have done great honor to yourself, and I would not wish to render your situation less agreeable with them, unless it is to answer some very great purpose; and this, I persuade myself, you would agree to, from a desire to promote the common good."...
From the same letter, we make another extract: "I shall always be happy to see you at headquarters, but cannot think you seriously mean to solicit leave to go to Philadelphia. It is true, your task has been disagreeable, but not more so than others. It is now going on seven years since the commencement of this war. I have never had leave of absence one hour, nor paid the least attention to my own private affairs. Your State is invaded—your all is at stake. What has been done will signify nothing, unless we persevere to the end. I left a family in distress, and everything dear and valuable, to come and afford you all the assistance in my power, to promote the service. It must throw a damp upon the spirits of the army, to find that the first men in the State are retiring from the busy scene, to indulge themselves in more agreeable amusements. However, your reasons for wishing to decline the command of the militia, and go to Philadelphia, may be more pressing than I imagine; I will, therefore, add nothing more on this subject till I see you."
The adroit mixture of reproach with commendation, was not done without reflection. Greene seems to have understood the character of Marion. But there was some oblique injustice in his letter. A man's patriotism is not to be reproached, because he wishes to escape injustice and indignity. The best of patriots will be apt to become disgusted with a service in which their claims are neglected, their performances slurred over, and their motives impeached; and this, too, at a period, and after long periods, of service, in which they have watched, toiled, and fought, without hope or prospect of reward. When General Greene compared the disagreeableness of Marion's toils with those of others, he certainly overlooked, not only the peculiar character of those toils, but the peculiar privations which distinguished the career of Marion's men, and the particularly painful duties which so frequently belonged to it. His own previously expressed opinions with regard to the warfare, as carried on between Whig and Tory in the south, will be found to furnish a sufficient commentary upon the comparison which he thus makes. Greene himself, by the way, is not without blame in some respects, in relation to the southern commanders of militia. The slighting manner in which he spoke of them, and of their services, in letters not intended to be public, was such, that some of them, Sumter for example, never forgave him. His prejudices were those of the regular service, the policy of which is always to disparage the militia. To Marion himself, his language was of a different character. Take the following extract of a letter, written to the latter only one month before the correspondence above referred to. This letter is dated, from the camp before Camden, April 24, 1781, and will give a faint idea of the true claims of Marion upon the regard of his country. "When I consider," writes Greene, "how much you have done and suffered, and under what disadvantage you have maintained your ground, I am at a loss which to admire most, your courage and fortitude, or your address and management. Certain it is, no man has a better claim to the public thanks than you. History affords no instance wherein an officer has kept possession of a country under so many disadvantages as you have. Surrounded on every side with a superior force, hunted from every quarter with veteran troops, you have found means to elude their attempts, and to keep alive the expiring hopes of an oppressed militia, when all succor seemed to be cut off. TO FIGHT THE ENEMY BRAVELY WITH THE PROSPECT OF VICTORY, IS NOTHING; BUT TO FIGHT WITH INTREPIDITY UNDER THE CONSTANT IMPRESSION OF DEFEAT, AND INSPIRE IRREGULAR TROOPS TO DO IT, IS A TALENT PECULIAR TO YOURSELF. Nothing will give me greater pleasure than to do justice to your merit, and I shall miss no opportunity of declaring to Congress, to the commander-in-chief of the American army, and to the world, the great sense I have of your merit and your services."
The correspondence of Greene with Marion, on the subject of the horses, closed with a letter on the part of the latter, in which he turned off the affair on grounds that proved his feelings tranquillized. A present of a fine horse, for Greene's own use, accompanied this letter. It has been shown that, on the day of the capture of Fort Motte, Greene rode into the camp of Marion, at that place. We can conceive of no other motive for his presence here, than a desire to make his reconciliation perfect. He brought no force with him to promote the object of the besiegers, and his stay was limited to a brief interview.
But the evil effect of this affair did not end here. The militia, alarmed at the idea of having their horses taken from them, soon began to scatter, and, pleading the planting season upon which they had entered—some, indeed, without any plea,—they left the camp in numbers, and before the leaguer was well over, the force of Marion was reduced to something less than two hundred men. With this remnant of his brigade, as soon as Fort Motte was yielded, Marion detached himself from the regular troops and struck down towards Monk's Corner, hanging upon the skirts of Lord Rawdon's army, then in full retreat from Camden.
Perhaps the most interesting portions of our traditionary history in the South, will be found to have occurred to the scattered bodies of the partisan cavalry, while on their return movements to and from the army, after such a dispersion as that from which the brigade of Marion was now suffering. It was no easy matter for the small group, or the single trooper, to regain the family homestead, or the friendly neighborhood in which their wives and little ones were harbored. Every settlement through which they passed had its disaffected population. It might be small or large, but its numbers did not affect its activity, and, with the main body of the Whigs in camp, or on the road, the Tories, in remote sections of the country, were generally equally strong and daring. These waylaid the customary pathways, and aware of all the material movements of the regular troops, made their arrangements to cut off stragglers or small detached bodies. When we consider the active malignity by which the civil war in Carolina was marked; the wild forests in which it took place; the peculiar ferocity which it stimulated, and the various characteristics of the local modes of warfare, the chase and the surprise, we shall have no occasion for wonder at the strange and sometimes terrible events by which it was distinguished. One of these, which occurred to Captain, afterwards Colonel Snipes, of Marion's brigade, is a remarkable instance; and, as it has been told elsewhere, in connection with the life of Marion, it may well claim a place in this narrative.
Snipes was a Carolinian, of remarkable strength and courage. He was equally distinguished for his vindictive hatred of the Tories. He had suffered some domestic injuries at their hands, and he was one who never permitted himself to forgive. His temper was sanguinary in the extreme, and led him, in his treatment of the loyalists, to such ferocities as subjected him, on more than one occasion, to the harshest rebuke of his commander. It is not certain at what period in the war the following occurrence took place, but it was on one of those occasions when the partisan militia claimed a sort of periodical privilege of abandoning their general to look after their families and domestic interests. Availing himself of this privilege, Snipes pursued his way to his plantation. His route was a circuitous one, but it is probable that he pursued it with little caution. He was more distinguished for audacity than prudence. The Tories fell upon his trail, which they followed with the keen avidity of the sleuth-hound. Snipes reached his plantation in safety, unconscious of pursuit. Having examined the homestead and received an account of all things done in his absence, from a faithful driver, and lulled into security by the seeming quiet and silence of the neighborhood, he retired to rest, and, after the fatigues of the day, soon fell into a profound sleep. From this he was awakened by the abrupt entrance and cries of his driver. The faithful negro apprised him, in terror, of the approach of the Tories. They were already on the plantation. His vigilance alone prevented them from taking his master in bed. Snipes, starting up, proposed to take shelter in the barn, but the driver pointed to the flames already bursting from that building. He had barely time to leave the house, covered only by his night shirt, and, by the counsel of the negro, to fly to the cover of a thick copse of briars and brambles, within fifty yards of the dwelling, when the Tories surrounded it. The very task of penetrating this copse, so as to screen himself from sight, effectually removed the thin garment which concealed his nakedness. The shirt was torn from his back by the briars, and the skin shared in its injuries. But, once there, he lay effectually concealed from sight. Ordinary conjecture would scarcely have supposed that any animal larger than a rabbit would have sought or found shelter in such a region. The Tories immediately seized upon the negro and demanded his master, at the peril of his life. Knowing and fearing the courage and the arm of Snipes, they did not enter the dwelling, but adopted the less valorous mode of setting it on fire, and, with pointed muskets, surrounded it, in waiting for the moment when their victim should emerge. He, within a few steps of them, heard their threats and expectations, and beheld all their proceedings. The house was consumed, and the intense heat of the fire subjected our partisan, in his place of retreat, to such torture, as none but the most dogged hardihood could have endured without complaint. The skin was peeled from his body in many places, and the blisters were shown long after, to persons who are still living.* But Snipes too well knew his enemies, and what he had to expect at their hands, to make any confession. He bore patiently the torture, which was terribly increased, when, finding themselves at fault, the Tories brought forward the faithful negro who had thus far saved his master, and determined to extort from him, in the halter, the secret of his hiding-place. But the courage and fidelity of the negro proved superior to the terrors of death. Thrice was he run up the tree, and choked nearly to strangulation, but in vain. His capability to endure proved superior to the will of the Tories to inflict, and he was at length let down, half dead,—as, in truth, ignorant of the secret which they desired to extort. What were the terrors of Snipes in all this trial? What his feelings of equal gratitude and apprehension? How noble was the fidelity of the slave—based upon what gentle and affectionate relationship between himself and master—probably from boyhood! Yet this is but one of a thousand such attachments, all equally pure and elevated, and maintained through not dissimilar perils.
* See a biographical sketch of Tarlton Brown, of Barnwell, S.C., a soldier in the revolutionary army. Charleston, 1844, p. 8.—
While Marion was operating against Forts Watson and Motte, Sumter, with like success, had besieged the British posts at Orangeburg and Granby. It was the loss of these posts, and the dread of the subsequent concentration of the whole American force against Camden, that had prompted the destruction and abandonment of that place by Lord Rawdon. This was the plan and object of Greene. The precipitate movements of Rawdon, who anticipated the purpose of the former, necessarily defeated it. Pickens was operating against Augusta; while Sumter, leaving the investment of Granby, the conquest of which was considered sure, to Col. Taylor, proceeded down the country, with the two-fold object of harassing the descent of the British army, and to prevent them from carrying off the cattle of the inhabitants. In the former object, neither Marion nor himself had much success. They did not succeed in effecting a junction, and the sanguine desire of Sumter, with united forces, to operate boldly upon the retreating army of Rawdon, was not encouraged by Greene, who preferred a safe and sure, though slow progress, to any attainment of his end by a hazardous attempt, however glorious. The task of holding Rawdon in check, was confided to Marion and Sumter, while Greene proceeded with his whole army, to the investment of the post of Ninety-Six, at the village of Cambridge. In the execution of their duties, the two partisans closed in upon the British commander, until he established a line of fortified posts, extending from Georgetown, by Monk's Corner, Dorchester, &c., to Coosawhatchee. Within this line our partisans continually made incursions, keeping the enemy in constant check and apprehension. They were not in force to do more. Georgetown, however, separated by water courses and swamps of great magnitude, from the other posts, was left with a garrison so feeble, as to tempt Marion to proceed against it. The parishes that lie along the Santee, on both sides, towards its mouth, had turned out with so much zeal on his return into their neighborhood, that he soon found himself in sufficient force to cover the country with a strong detachment under Col. Mayham, while, with his main body, he went against Georgetown. He appeared before this place on the 6th of June, and instantly began his approaches. But his simple demonstration was sufficient. The enemy made but a show of resistance. As the attempt was pressed, the garrison fled to their galleys, and took a position in the bay beyond the reach of the Americans. They finally abandoned the harbor altogether. It was not in the power of Marion to man the post efficiently, and his policy forbade that he should do it inadequately. Accordingly, he deliberately removed the military stores and public property, up the Pedee, then, demolishing the works, returned to join his detachment in St. Stephens. While at Georgetown, however, it is recorded that he replenished his wardrobe, and fitted himself out with a becoming suit of regimentals. This was an event, in the career of our partisan, to be remembered by his followers. He indulged, it seems, for the first time, in some other of the luxuries of the campaigner. A couple of mules were employed for the transportation of his baggage, and his usual beverage of vinegar and water was occasionally diversified by a bowl of coffee at breakfast. A little before this,—perhaps soon after General Greene had penetrated the State,—he had appointed himself a couple of secretaries for the purpose of greater dispatch in letter writing—his correspondence necessarily increasing, in consequence of his connection with the more expanded operations of the army. State, he did not affect, and the simplicity and modesty of his character may be easily inferred from this petty enumeration of the aids and comforts which he thought proper to draw from his successes.