Tarleton was known for cruelty and slaughter. When his troops took Marion's nephew Gabriel prisoner during an unsuccessful attempt to capture Georgetown, Tarleton followed up by murdering Gabriel in cold blood. But Marion did not engage in any similar brutality or seek revenge by killing British prisoners of war. it's a testament to his moral character and to "a scrupulous piety that was part of his Huguenot background" (Smith, 1976, p. 1437). By his own upright behavior he set a standard for those who served him, and the men under him made it their standard too (American Revolution - General Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox web site).
Marion got his nickname "The Swamp Fox" from the enemy. Colonel Banastre ("Bannister") Tarleton called him that because of his elusive tactics (the Swamp Fox web site). Cornwallis was determined to put an end to Marion's daring exploits and had sent Tarleton to capture him, but Marion was "as elusive as quicksilver" disappearing with his men into the familiar swamp (Smith, 1976, p. 1439). He and his small band of irregulars often defeated British troops with much greater numbers by surprising them suddenly and moving rapidly. The Brigade had the practical advantage of knowing the land. The woods and swamps were friendly to them, whereas they were strange and alien to the British who were coming from far across the sea: "Living off the land, Marion and his men harassed British troops by staging small surprise attacks in which they captured small groups of British soldiers, sabotaged communication and supply lines, and rescued American prisoners" (the American Revolution web site). Tarleton complained that it was impossible to catch the old "Swamp Fox" because after these attacks he and his men always withdrew to the swamp, which was unfamiliar to the British. Despite their greater numbers (12,000 reinforcements came to South Carolina from New York in 1779, for example) they could not outwit Marion's Brigade.
Simms (1844) observes, "Marion is proverbially the great master of strategy -- the wily fox of the swamps -- never to be caught, never to be followed, -- yet always at hand, with unconjectured promptness, at the moment when he is least feared and is least to be expected. His pre-eminence in this peculiar and most difficult of all kinds of warfare, is not to be disputed" (Introduction to the Life of Francis Marion). When his men were getting the worst of it in combat, Marion would withdraw them, but immediately they would reappear somewhere else where the enemy was weakest. At one point, Tarleton got so fed up with trying to catch Marion that he decided to give it up and go after Sumter instead. He said, "Come, boys, let us go back and find the Gamecock [Sumter]; as for this damn Swamp-Fox, the devil himself could not catch him" (Smith, 1976, p. 1440). To the enemy, he seemed almost superhuman: "When hard pressed he would suddenly disband his force and take to the woods; and while the enemy were vainly searching for him he would in some incomprehensible way have collected his men and struck a staggering blow at some distant and ill-guarded point" (American Revolution web site).
According to historian Page Smith (1976) Marion used classic guerrilla warfare tactics. "Making the greatest possible use of the mobility of his little force, he never camped two nights in the same spot. He marched under the cover of darkness from one friendly woods or swamp to another, setting off at sunset making camp at dawn, and resting his men in the daytime with sentinels constantly on the alert" (p. 1437). His continual harassment of the British troops kept the fires of rebellion alive in South Carolina. He inspired patriotism. In fact, Cornwallis said he "had so wrought on the minds of the people...that there was scarce an inhabitant [in the region] that was not in arms against us" (Tuchman, 1988, p. 203).
The success of the brigade lay in the tactical strategy of their leader because they were small in number, ragged, hungry, and under-equipped. To make bullets, they melted down pewter candlesticks, mugs, and dinnerware. Some of the men carried old saws that they had ground down at a country forge and turned into homemade sabers (American Revolution web site; and Commager & Morris, 1983). The constant pressure of their "hit and run" tactics eventually brought them victory because "while the one army was encamping and...
It was from the craftiness and ingenuity of Marion, the celerity with which he moved from post to post, that his enemies gave to him the significant appellation of the "Swamp Fox" (p. 1147).
A good example of Marion's way of fighting can be found in one of the last battles toward the end of the war. A soldier who was in Col. Henry Lee's unit of regulars that joined together with Marion towards the end wrote about it afterwards. "Overtaking General Marion on Kingstree, Black River, S.C., we immediately united with his troops. Marion's route lay then between the Santee and Little Pedee rivers; and being desirous to intercept and defeat Col. Watts, who was then marching at the head of 400 men between Camden and Georgtown, every arrangement and preparation was made to carry into execution his design" (Commager & Morris, 1983, pp. 1146-1147). When they were ready, they spotted Watts leading a large British force. They marched down the road "with great show and magnificence" (p. 1147), intending to intimidate the inhabitants, no doubt. When Watts spotted the patriots, he ordered his men on horses to surround them.
Marion, with his characteristic shrewdness and sagacity, discovered their maneuvers, anticipated their object and retreated to the woods, some four or five hundred yards, and prepared for them. In a few moments they came dashing up, expecting to find us all in confusion and disorder, but to their astonishment we were ready for the attack, and perceiving this, they called a halt, at which time Marion and Horry ordered a charge (cited in Commager & Morris, 1983, p. 1147).
The patriots killed "a goodly number" of the British on horseback before they could return to their main body and pursued them very close to their lines. Once the horse riders re-entered the main body, however, the British began shooting a cannon at the patriots. Fortunately, the cannon fire mostly did not hit them but tore down the limbs and branches of the trees that were between them. On the American side, one man and one horse were wounded. Marion's force was only about 200 men, too small to continue in open battle, so he ordered the brigade to guard the bridges and swamps in the area and to pick the British off one at a time as they passed by. Thus, he did quite a bit of damage to the British without losing any of his own.
Following this episode heavy rains soaked the countryside. Marion found this favorable for further action. He dispatched 70 men across the Santee River to attack the British at Scott's Lake and Monk's Corner. The 70 divided into two companies of 35 men each. One company went to Scott's Lake, but found the place too well fortified to attack. Meanwhile, the other company went to Monk's Corner. At daybreak they charged so suddenly and unexpectedly that the British did not have time to fire a single gun. They took 33 prisoners, "found twenty-odd hogsheads of old spirits, and a large supply of provisions" (Commager & Morris, 1983, p. 1148). When the news that Marion's men had attacked the British at Monk's Corner reached the fort at Scott's Lake, they sent assistance, but it was too late. Marion's men had already left with their prisoners and supplies. One of them, Cap. James Postell, heard that the British at Scott's Lake were moving to assist their friends at Monk's Corner." He returned to Monk's Corner and burned the fort down.
Smith (1976) points out that the patriots in the Southern campaign had nobody but themselves to defeat the British. Their French allies were more of a hindrance than help, and all the odds were against them. Initially, they experienced some disastrous setbacks, mainly because the first commanders tried to fight the war conventionally, "...but finally, in a campaign that is a textbook study in the tactics and techniques of partisan warfare, recovered, for all practical purposes, the Carolinas and Georgia" (p. 1507). They used cavalry more effectively than in any other theater of the war, and they succeeded in liberating the Southern states from the British. Unlike Sumter, who was also very successful but couldn't work with other people and was always off…
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