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Francis Marion - A Klos Family Project - Revolutionary War General



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MARION, Francis, soldier, born in Winyaw, near Georgetown, South Carolina, in 1732; died at Pond Bluff, in St. John's parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina, 27 February, 1795. He was a grandson of Benjamin Marion and Louise d'Aubrey, Huguenots, who were driven from France and came to South Carolina in 1690. Their son Gabriel married Esther Cordes, and Francis was the youngest of the six children of this marriage. At birth he is said to have been small enough to put into a quart mug, and during his childhood he was so frail and puny that it was hardly thought he would live. After he had passed his twelfth year he grew strong and hardy, and soon gave evidence of remarkable energy. Like many boys, he conceived a passion for the sea, and at the age of sixteen embarked for the West Indies in a small craft manned by a crew of only six sailors. The vessel was wrecked, and the six men, escaping in the jolly-boat, without food or water, were tossed about on the waves for a week. Two had died of starvation when Marion and the others were picked up by a passing ship. Returning home, young Marion assisted his father in the care of his small plantation.

In 1759, a year or two after his father's death, he became the owner of a plantation at Pond Bluff, which was his home for the rest of his life. But he scarcely had time to become settled in his new home when a war with the Cherokees was begun. It is supposed that Marion took part in Colonel Montgomery's expedition to the Indian country in 1760, but there is some uncertainty on this point. In 1761 the command in South Carolina devolved upon Colonel James Grant, of the Royal Scots, and he was assisted by a regiment of 1,200 state troops under Colonel Middleton. In this regiment Marion served as lieutenant, under the immediate command of Captain William Moultrie. Among the other officers of this regiment who won national distinction in the Revolutionary war were Henry Laurens, Andrew Pickens, and Isaac Huger. The army, numbering about 2,600 men, marched from Fort Prince George, 7 June, 1761, and a few days afterward fought a sanguinary battle with the Indians at Etchoee. The fight was won chiefly by the valor of a forlorn hope of thirty men, led by Marion, who stormed the principal Indian position with a loss of twenty-one men. After this victory fourteen Cherokee villages were laid in ashes, and the red men were forced to sue for peace. From this time until 1775 Marion seems to have lived quietly on his plantation. He was much admired by his neighbors for integrity, ability, courage, and rare sweetness of disposition.  

In 1775 he was a delegate to the Provincial congress of South Carolina, which, shortly after the battle of Lexington, resolved to raise 1,500 infantry, in two regiments, besides a regiment of 450 horse. Marion was appointed captain in the second of these regiments, of which Moultrie was colonel. His commission was dated 21 June, 1775. His friend, Peter Horry, who afterward wrote a biography of him, received a captain's commission at the same time and in the same regiment. Marion took part in the bloodless capture of Fort Johnson, 14 September, 1775, when Lord William Campbell, the royal governor, fled to a British ship in the harbor. He was soon afterward promoted major, and during the next few months showed so much skill in organization and discipline that, he was called "the architect of the second regiment." In the brilliant victory of 28 June, 1776, which drove the British fleet, shattered and crestfallen, from Charleston harbor, Marion played an important part, and was soon afterward promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the Continental army. The victory was so decisive as to relieve the southern states from anything like systematic attack for more than two years. During part of this time Colonel Marion commanded the fortress on Sullivan's island, which ever since the famous battle has been known as Fort Moultrie.

In September, 1779, he took part in the ill-managed and disastrous expedition of Lincoln and D'Estaing against Savannah. It was his opinion that the allied commanders, by proper swiftness of movement, might easily have prevented the British from gaining their advantage of position. His friend Horry declares that tit never saw Marion so angry. "Great God!" he exclaimed, "who ever heard of anything like this before'? First allow your enemy to intrench, and then fight him !"

Such an error has often been committed by military commanders, of whom there have been very few in history so quick in perception and so prompt in movement as Marion. In the murderous assault of 9 October he showed heroic bravery; under a terrible fire his regiment pressed into the ditch of the Spring Hill redoubt, and its colors were for a few moments planted upon the parapet, but the fire proved too hot to be endured. It was in rescuing these colors that the famous Sergeant Jasper and Lieutenants Bush and Grey were successively slain; they were at length recovered and carried down the hill in safety by Sergeant Macdonald. Nearly 1,100 men were lost in this fruitless assault. The French fleet then sailed away, and General Lincoln retreated to Sheldon, where he left Colonel Marion in temporary command of the army, while he himself went to Charleston to look after its defenses.  

In the following February, Marion was placed in command of a training-camp at Bacon's Bridge, on Ashley river; it was thought that no one else could so speedily organize an army out of raw materials. Before the investment of Charleston by the British was quite completed, he happened one evening to be supping with a party of friends in that city. In a spirit of droll hospitality the host turned the key upon his guests, so that none might leave the room while the wine held out. Colonel Marion was abstemious in his habits, and had business on hand. Wishing to retire without disturbing the company, he stepped quietly to an open window and jumped out. His agility was like that of a squirrel, but on this occasion it did not save him from a broken ankle. In the beleaguered city there was no room for officers unfit for active duty, and, while egress was still possible, Colonel Marion was carried out on a litter and taken to his home at Pond Bluff. The accident turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for it saved Marion from being cooped up in Charleston with the army, which was soon surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton. After that catastrophe, as soon as he was able to mount a horse, Colonel Marion set out with a few friends for North Carolina to meet the army that Washington had sent to the rescue under Baron de Kalb. When Marion reached the army he found that able commander already superseded by the weak and vain glorious Gates, who had no sense of the value of partisan warfare and did not know how to make use of such talents as Marion's. The latter officer accordingly soon returned to South Carolina, and began raising and organizing the force thenceforth known as " Marion's brigade." After the crushing defeat of Gates at Camden, 16 August, and of Sumter at Fishing Creek two days later, this was the only American force worth mentioning in South Caroling. It was armed and equipped as the fortune of war permitted. Some of the men carried old saws that had been wrought at a country forge into the rude likeness of sabres, while many of the bullets were cast from melted pewter mugs and dishes. 

With such a command, Marion, now commissioned brigadier-general, undertook to harrass the enemy in the northern and eastern districts of South Caroling. On 20 August he attacked two regiments of British regulars on their way from Camden to Charleston with 150 prisoners of the Maryland line ; with a loss of only one man killed and one wounded, he threw the enemy into some disorder, killed and wounded twenty-seven of their number, and set free all the prisoners. His swiftness of movement seemed 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 collect ed his men and struck a staggering blow at some distant and ill-guarded point. This surprising celerity was favored by the ease with which lit and his men endured hardship. Their food was of the simplest. Marion's ordinary diet was hominy and potatoes, and a favorite drink with him was water flavored with a few drops of vinegar. The story of his once inviting a British officer to dinner and regaling him with baked sweet potatoes is known to every school-boy, like Washington's cherry-tree and Newton's apple. He endured the extremes of heat and cold with indifference, and usually slept on the ground without a blanket. He was very kind to his men, while maintaining perfect discipline, He never would allow them to burn or plunder houses; and in his whole career no specific instance of rapacity or cruelty was ever alleged against him. In view of the brutality with which the war was at that time waged by both parties, such a fact bears striking testimony to his wonderful control over his men.  

In the course of August and September, 1780, Marion was engaged in two skirmishes of considerable dimensions, in one of which he defeated a strong force of Tories at the Black Mingo river; in the other he routed and dispersed a detachment of regulars under Colonel Tynes at Tarcote. The rest of his work consisted largely in cutting off the enemy's supplies, intercepting despatches, and breaking up recruiting parties. On one occasion he led Tarleton a long and fruitless chase, till that commander is said to have exclaimed,

" Come, boys, let us go back and find the game-cock [Sumter]; as for this damn swamp-fox, the devi1 himself could not catch him."

These epithets were afterward commonly applied to the two great partisan chiefs. After the brilliant victory of the western militia at King's Mountain the Whigs in South Carolina took fresh courage, and recruits came to swell the numbers of Marion's brigade. In December he made his first unsuccessful attempt upon Georgetown, in which his nephew, Gabriel Marion was taken prisoner and murdered in cold blood. After this he retired to Snow's island, at the confluence of Lynch's creek with the Pedee river, and made this the starting-point for his rapid movements. When General Greene in December took command of the remnants of Gates's army collected at Charlotte, he advanced with his main force to the Pedee, and put himself in communication with Marion. On 12 January, 1781, Colonel Henry Lee arrived with his legion, and next day, in concert with him, Marion made a second attempt upon Georgetown, which was unsuccessful, although the Americans got so far as to enter the town and carry off the commandant and several other officers as prisoners. During Greene's movement into North Carolina, Marion remained in the neighborhood of the Pedee river, engaged almost incessantly in operations against the enemy's partisan officers, Watson and Doyle. Upon Greene's return in April, 1781, he directed Marion to co-operate with Lee in reducing Fort Watson, which commanded the communications of Lord Rawdon at Camden. Fort Watson stood upon a mound forty feet high in the middle of a wide, flat plain. At the suggestion of one of Marion's officers, Major Mayham, a rude wooden tower was built, which commanded the fort so as to make it untenable. On 23 April, Fort Watson surrendered at discretion, and Rawdon, finding his communications severed, was obliged to evacuate Camden and retreat to Monk's Corner. The enemy's grasp upon the interior of South Carolina was thus seriously loosened.

Marion then proceeded to besiege and capture Fort Motte, and afterward, in concert with Sumter, undertook to hold Rawdon in check while Greene laid siege to Ninety-Six. In the course of these operations Marion made his third attempt upon Georgetown, and captured the place. The arrival of British re-enforcements enabled Rawdon to escape and raise the siege of Ninety-Six, but Marion and Sumter, moving upon his communications, made it necessary for him to abandon that post and retreat upon Orangeburg. In a sharp fight at Quimby Bridge, 17 July, the two American generals tried to sever his communications and force him from Orangeburg, but this attempt did not succeed. In the Eutaw campaign, a month later, General Marion made a brilliant and useful raid, traversing 200 miles of country, making a complete circuit about the British army, and in an action at Parker's Ferry, 31 August, struck a blow at the enemy's cavalry which crippled it for the rest of the campaign. At the decisive battle of Eutaw Springs, 8 kept., Marion commanded the right of the first line, and after the victory he joined with Lee in the pursuit, in which great numbers of prisoners were taken. From this time until the evacuation of Charleston by the British, 14 December, 1782, though there were no serious campaigns, there was more or less desultory fighting, in which Marion had a hand to the last. Before he had time to undertake the restoration of his modest estate, which had suffered greatly during the war, he was elected to the state senate, where he was kept by re-elections till 1790. In 1784 he was appointed commandant of Fort Johnson, and in the same year he married Miss Mary Videau. He had no children. In 1790 he was a member of the convention for framing a constitution for the state of South Carolina, after which he retired from public life. In the senate he was conspicuous for his advocacy of gentle measures toward the Tories, and for his energetic condemnation of the confiscation act of 1782.  

In person General Marion was short and slight, but extremely lithe and sinewy. His habitual gravity of manner was relieved by flashes of keen humor. His dark eyes were at once soft and brilliant. With an almost womanly delicacy, he had a commanding dignity of manner. He was invariably courteous, kind, and humane, and his character was of spotless purity. He was the perfect ideal of a true knight and Christian gentleman. The accompanying illustration represents Marion's grave. His biography has been written by his old companion-in-arms, General Horry, assisted by the eccentric Mason Weems (Baltimore, 1815; new ed., Philadelphia, 1824); also by W. D. James (Charleston, 1821) ; and by William Gilmore Simms (New York, 1844). See also "Moultrie's Memoirs" (New York, 1802); "Henry Lee's Memoirs" (Philadelphia, 1812); "Drayton's Memoirs" (Charleston, 1821); and "Tarleton's History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 " (London, 1797).  

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM
Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

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