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Marion Francis - History

Marion Francis - History

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Marion, Francis

Marion, Francis (1732-1795) General: Marion was the grandson of Huguenot immigrants, and grew up in South Carolina. He became a wealthy farmer, although he dreamed of seafaring. During the Revolutionary War, Marion served in the state and federal forces, and was eventually appointed a colonel in the Continental Army and a brigadier general in the South Carolina militia. Until 1780, he spend his time training troops and performing garrison duty, but he finally saw action when the focus of the war moved to the Southern Department. He became known as "Swamp Fox" because of his mastery of guerilla strategy and his intimate knowledge of the terrain. In addition to winning numerous battle victories, Marion was remarkably willing and able to coordinate his state forces with the Continental Army's activities. Although his militia was small and often poorly supplied, Marion and his troops were ale to disrupt British supply lines, strike at enemy forces, and terrorize American loyalists. After the war, Marion got married, rebuilt his farm, and served in the South Carolina Senate.

Francis Marion National Forest

The Francis Marion National Forest is located north of Charleston, South Carolina. It is named for revolutionary war hero Francis Marion, who was known to the British as the Swamp Fox. It lies entirely within the Middle Atlantic coastal forests ecoregion. [3] The park is also entirely in the Subtropical coniferous forest.

This National Forest is contained entirely in the counties of Charleston and Berkeley and is 258,864 acres (1,050 km 2 ) in size. The forest contains the towns of Awendaw, Huger, Jamestown, and McClellanville. Charleston provides emergency services to the southeastern portions of the forest. Forest headquarters are located in Columbia, together with those of Sumter National Forest. There are local ranger district offices located in Cordesville.

In 1989, the forest was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Hugo only the young growth survived the storm and its aftermath. Today, most trees in the forest do not predate this hurricane.

The forest is a multiple use area. Recreation opportunities include campsites, rifle ranges, boat ramps, and several trails for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, including the Palmetto Trail, as well as off-road motorcycling and atv riding specifically at the Wambaw Cycle Trailhead. (OHV) The Forest Service also administers wilderness areas, experimental forests, timber production, and protection and management of wildlife and the watershed.

There are four officially designated wilderness areas lying within Francis Marion National Forest that are part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.


Bass, Robert D. Swamp Fox: The Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion. New York: Holt, 1959.

Clinton Papers. "Letter of John Watson Tadwell" (vol. 232, p. 21). Ann Arbor, Mich.: William L. Clements Library.

Conrad, Dennis M., Roger N. Parks, and Martha J. King. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. Volume IX (11 July-2 December 1781). Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Lee, Henry. Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States. New York: University Publishing Company, 1869.

Lossing, Benson J. The Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. 2 vols. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1851.

Rankin, Hugh F. Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973.

Marion Francis - History

By Christopher Miskimon

Francis Marion did not cut an impressive figure when he joined the Patriot army of Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates in July 1780. The 48-year-old officer stood slightly over five feet and weighed just 110 pounds. He had a narrow face, hooked nose, and his knees almost touched each other when he stood. “I have it from good authority that this great soldier, at his birth, was not larger than a New England lobster, and might easily have been put into a quart pot,” wrote Peter Horry, a fellow militia officer in South Carolina.

But by that time, Marion had become a well-respected military officer fighting the British during the American Revolutionary War. He was intelligent, brave, and ambitious. Although his manner could be harsh, it was largely a reflection of his unbending will. These traits, when combined with his talents as a tactician and strategist, made him a natural leader of men and gave him ample credibility with the raw militia who constituted the majority of the troops in the Patriot armies of the southern theater.

Marion was born in 1732, the same year as General George Washington, in Winyah, South Carolina. He was the youngest son of six children born to Gabriel Marion and Esther Cordes. His paternal grandparents were Benjamin and Judith Baluet Marion. Benjamin Marion was a French Huguenot who had fled France in 1690 for a new life in America free of religious persecution. When Benjamin Marion arrived, he received a 350-acre tract north of Charleston.

Marion’s father eventually discarded the occupation of a planter pursued by his father in favor of becoming a merchant. The family relocated to Georgetown, South Carolina. Unfortunately, Gabriel Marion went bankrupt, which forced his children to make their way in the world as best they could under the circumstances.

Young Francis signed on at the age of 15 as one of six crewmen aboard a merchant schooner bound for the West Indies. On the return leg of the voyage, a whale sank the schooner. He was one of only three who survived being adrift at sea for a week. The experience was sufficient to make him give up the life of a sailor. Marion eventually settled down near his brother Job along the Santee River where the long hours he spent hunting, trapping, and fishing in the region made him intimately familiar with the backwoods.

General Francis Marion.

Twenty-four-year-old Marion joined the provincial militia in 1756 during the French and Indian War. Unable to defend the colony against the Cherokees, interim governor William Bull appealed to the British Army for military assistance. When British forces arrived in South Carolina, Marion noted the haughtiness of their officers.

Marion’s first exposure to war occurred in 1761 when Lt. Col. James Grant arrived in Charleston with 1,200 British regulars for a major expedition against the Cherokees. Captain William Moultrie recruited a regiment of provincial militia to supplement the British regulars, and Marion was made a first lieutenant.

Grant led his army north along the Santee and Congaree Rivers toward Cherokee country. When the army reached a defile where a previous force of regulars and militia had been ambushed, Grant chose Marion to disperse any Cherokees who were laying in ambush. Taking a group of 30 men, Marion fought a sharp action in which 21 of his men became casualties. The upshot of the June 10 skirmish was that Marion would not shrink in the face of a hazardous mission. Grant burned the Cherokee village at Echoe and carved a path of destruction through the Little Tennessee and Tuskegee Valleys. Marion learned many tactical lessons from the Cherokee War, such as the effectiveness of long-range rifles over muskets, the advantage of hit-and-run strikes, and the effectiveness of scorched-earth tactics.

In December 1774 Francis and his brother Job were elected as delegates to the First Provincial Congress of South Carolina. When the legislative body convened the following month, Marion’s brother Gabriel joined them from another parish. Despite their wealth and entrenched economic ties with England, the Marions were staunch Patriots. On April 21, 1775, Patriots in South Carolina seized weapons and ammunition from royal armories and powder magazines throughout the colony.

Marion could not resist the call to arms. The First and Second South Carolina Regiments were created on June 21. Moultrie was promoted to colonel and given command of the Second Regiment. Marion was one of the 10 captains in the regiment. He immediately embarked on a recruiting effort along the Santee, Black, and Peedee Rivers. He found 60 men keen to fight the British. He immediately began drilling his men. By September they were ready for battle.

On September 14 Marion led a detachment against Fort Johnson, which guarded the approach to Charleston Harbor. But when the Americans arrived, the British had withdrawn, leaving a detachment of five men to surrender the fort. For the next few months, the South Carolina Patriots guarded against Tory uprisings in the countryside and improved the defenses of Charleston. These preparations proved useful when the British appeared near the city in June 1776.

Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis had been preparing for an expedition to the Carolinas in Cork in the winter of 1775-1776. He embarked for the colonies aboard the flagship Bristol on February 12, 1776. The fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir Peter Parker. After a storm-tossed voyage, the fleet arrived off Cape Fear, North Carolina, on May 1. At that point, Cornwallis dispatched frigates and troop transports to Charleston. He gave command of the infantry to General Henry Clinton.

Clinton was determined to capture Sullivan’s Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. The Second Regiment manned a half-built fort on Sullivan’s Island with 400 men. The fort was made of palmetto logs and sand since there were no other materials available. Marion kept his men working on the defenses, and he even staged night drills to keep the men alert. Marion was rewarded for his hard work and dedication with a promotion to major on February 22, 1776.

Marion fought as a captain in the Second South Carolina Regiment at Charleston Harbor in 1776. After General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered at Charleston in 1780, Marion turned to guerrilla warfare.

Marion’s vigilance paid off when the British frigates attacked on June 28, 1776. The shells from the frigates had little effect because they were absorbed by the sand and soft logs that constituted the fort’s defenses. What is more, the British lost one of their frigates to American artillery fire. Marion commanded the left wing of the fort during the British amphibious assault. The stout-hearted Patriots repulsed the Redcoats. As a result, the British fleet sailed off to New York. Later that year Marion was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the Second Regiment.

The regiment spent the next two years in Charleston on garrison duty, a tedious time where Marion had to pay much attention to maintaining discipline among his bored men. In November 1778 he took full command of the regiment, albeit without promotion to colonel. The following month war returned to the southern theater.

On December 29 British Colonel Archibald Campbell led a 3,000-man force in a successful amphibious landing two miles below Savannah, Georgia. Since his troops greatly outnumbered American Maj. Gen. Robert Howe’s 850 militia force, Campbell easily captured the city.

The following summer the 15,000 Americans under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln holding Charleston were heavily reinforced by the arrival from the West Indies of 3,500 French troops under the command of Admiral Count Charles d’Estaing. The Franco-American army besieged Savannah in mid-September 1779 but received a bloody repulse in a major attack conducted on October 9. Marion’s Second Regiment participated in the ill-fated assault. As a result, the Americans retreated to Charleston.

When Marion suffered a severe injury to his ankle in early March 1780, he had to rest and recuperate. Because he did not have an active command, he was ordered to leave Charleston for the countryside. On March 29, 1780, Lt. Gen. Henry Clinton’s 10,000-strong British army invested Charleston. Lincoln, who commanded the Americans, had only 5,500 men. Following sustained bombardment, Lincoln surrendered the city on May 11 upon the advice of city officials who wanted to spare the city from the horror and destruction of an all-out assault.

The British, who were by that time focusing the bulk of their military operations against the Southern Colonies, added to their success when Cornwallis won a decisive victory over Maj. Gen. Gates’s army at Camden on August 16, 1780.

Marion was ordered to take charge of the militia along the Santee and Black Rivers north of British-occupied Charleston. He established a base on the upper Santee River from which to conduct operations. Despite the Patriots’ low fortunes, he did not hesitate to strike.

On August 23 Marion and his men drove off the guards from Murray’s Ferry. The following day he launched a bold night attack against a British outpost at an abandoned plantation that resulted in the rescue of 150 Patriot prisoners and the capture of 20 British guards. The assault was significant enough that Marion’s senior officers reported it with satisfaction to the Continental Congress. The British became concerned that South Carolina was not as pacified as they had hoped, which delayed their plan for marching north.

Marion sought to keep his command alive and do as much damage as he could. He won two more victories in his first month of campaigning. During the next few months he conducted a series of well-executed raids, skirmishes, and quick strikes. British troops and Tory militias pursued him, but he counterattacked them whenever possible.

Tragically, some pitiless leaders on both sides burned homes, hung men, and killed livestock in an attempt to punish their foe. Marion refrained from this behavior, finding it abhorrent and a punishment of the innocent, particularly women and children. He could not always stop his subordinates from doing so, but he actively discouraged it and reported occurrences to Gates, his commanding officer, in his correspondence.

Marion’s aggressive tactics usually led to success. On September 4 at the Blue Savannah, an open sandy swale surrounded by a dense growth of scrub pines and thick underbrush, Marion’s 53-man force defeated a Tory force five times its size. The Patriots charged into the vanguard of 45 horsemen, which disrupted the main body of infantry behind it. The panicked Tories fled into the swamps.

On September 14, Marion’s Patriots routed a Tory force commanded by J. Coming Ball at Black Mingo Creek. Marion divided his command during the attack, sending it to strike both flanks of Coming’s Tory band. The routed Tories fled into the recesses of the swamp. Marion’s success compelled the irate Tories to retaliate by burning Patriot homes and plundering their farms.

The British continued to raise Tory militias to combat the Patriot groups. Marion heard of one group of 200 encamped near Tearcoat Swamp commanded by Colonel Samuel Tynes, a former Patriot who switched to the British side after the fall of Charleston. Marion, who had 150 men, launched a surprise attack on the Tories under cover of night on October 25. The confident Patriots quickly overran the sleeping Tories, inflicting 43 casualties and yet again watching as the survivors escaped into the swamp. Marion and his men confiscated the ammunition and supplies found in the enemy camp. They also rounded up 80 horses.

Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion leads his mounted militia on a back-country operation.

This string of victories frustrated Cornwallis. Eager to finish Marion quickly, Cornwallis dispatched Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion, a provincial unit whose troops were Tories drawn from New York and Pennsylvania. Tarleton is remembered primarily for brutal treatment of prisoners and his relentless pursuit of the enemy however, in all fairness many leaders during this part of the war acted unduly harsh toward the enemy.

Tarleton set out after Marion with great gusto, and the two forces played a cat-and-mouse game. Each side laid ambushes for the other. Tarleton chased Marion until the tables turned and Tarleton was the one having to seek refuge in the local swamps. Tarleton eventually tired of the chase. “As for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him,” he wrote.

It was this statement that gave birth to Marion’s nickname, “Swamp Fox,” yet there is no clear evidence anyone ever called him that while he was alive. The first mention of it was in a biography published in 1809, more than a decade after his death.

In December 1780 Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Greene replaced the incompetent Gates as commander of the Continental forces in the South. The army he inherited was small, poorly equipped, and unsuited for further action. Although Greene had to focus most of his energy on overhauling the army and preparing it for a showdown with Cornwallis, the Rhode Island Quaker took time to correspond regularly with Marion in an effort to help him as best he could. In return, Greene requested that Marion send him horses for his Continental cavalry units. Greene clearly saw the value in supporting Marion and knew that the crafty guerrilla leader was bearing the brunt of the effort against British forces in coastal South Carolina.

By January 1781 Marion was camped at Snow’s Island, running his operations from there. At times he operated with Lt. Col. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, the famed Continental cavalrymen, who led a legion similar to Tarleton’s. Marion and Lee enjoyed a harmonious relationship, although they had their fair share of arguments.

On January 24 they marched against the British garrison at Georgetown, a city 60 miles north of Charleston. Marion hoped to take it as this would deny the British yet another base, but as with other attempts to capture the town, this effort failed. It was a setback, but one that served to reinforce to the British the seriousness of the threat Marion posed to them.

Cornwallis dispatched Lt. Col. John Watson Tadwell-Watson to hunt down the Swamp Fox. Watson was unpopular with his fellow officers and chasing Marion was an independent command that got him away from them. He had 300 infantry, 150 Tory cavalry, and 20 dragoons along with a pair of 3-pounder cannon, something Marion’s men had never faced before. The two men met on March 8, staring at each other from horseback across a narrow causeway at Wiboo Swamp. Marion pulled his force back in an apparent retreat and the British pursued, only to discover it was a feint. The Patriots charged, but the British counterattacked with a bayonet charge supported by artillery. Marion was compelled to fall back.

This marked the beginning of a two-week running battle known as the Bridges Campaign. The culmination came at a bridge over the Black River where Marion’s riflemen took cover overlooking the bridge and a nearby ford. The bridge was wrecked and the riflemen soon took a fearful toll of the enemy. The British artillerymen could not depress their barrels sufficiently and the grapeshot went harmlessly overhead. Watson quit pursuing Marion afterward. The Swamp Fox had survived yet another attempt to eradicate him.

The next few months saw Marion conduct multiple raids against British garrisons and Tory bands. He conducted a skillful ambush at Parker’s Ferry that caused more than 100 enemy casualties at the cost of only four Patriot casualties.

Marion and his men share their meager fare with a British officer. Marion could be gracious, but also cunning and brutal if conditions warranted such conduct.

Afterward, Marion’s Patriots joined Greene’s Continental army in the pitched battle fought on September 8, 1781, at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina. Greene set up his lines using the same method that the veteran campaigner, Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan, had used in his decisive victory over Tarleton’s British army at Cowpens earlier in the year. This approach consisted of deploying militia in front with ranks of regulars behind them. The plan was for the militia to fire several sharp volleys before falling back through the Continental regulars stationed behind them. Marion commanded the militia line, which was composed of his troops and those from other commands throughout the Carolinas.

The 700 militiamen advanced to firing range under a sunny late summer sky. Marion’s men fired first followed by the other militia. After firing several volleys, the militiamen fired at will, shouting words of encouragement to steady each other. Most of the men averaged 17 volleys, an unprecedented number for militia. The North Carolina militia proved an exception, retreating after three volleys, but a portion of the Continental troops moved up to replace them.

The rest of the militia eventually fell back, too. At that point, the British began their methodical advance with fixed bayonets. The Redcoats ran into the second line of Maryland and Virginia Continentals who fired a sharp volley before counterattacking with bayonets. The Redcoats reeled under the counterattack. They were driven back through their camp, which the Americans seized.

Unfortunately, the American troops also seized a quantity of liquor, which some of the men proceeded to consume. The British took the opportunity to counterattack. The battle ended in a bloody stalemate. The British force held the field, but they were too weak to exploit the opportunity. Debate continues to this day over who won the battle, but Marion could boast that his brigade performed well either way.

Nevertheless, the war drew toward a conclusion with the stunning American victory on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia. As the conflict wound down, fighting continued in South Carolina until the British finally evacuated on December 14. Marion won his last battle at Wadboo Plantation near Charleston on August 29, 1782. Shortly afterward he returned to his plantation to await formal peace.

After the war Marion served three terms in the South Carolina Senate, served as commandant of Fort Johnson and served as a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention in 1790. Marion passed away at the age of 63 on February 27, 1795. He is revered as a hero not only in South Carolina but throughout the United States. Although reckless and at times brutal, Marion was a courageous, honorable, and passionate commander who possessed an excellent grasp of strategy and tactics. His successful guerrilla operations played an important role in the eventual victory of American forces in the southern theater.



Named for Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion (the “Swamp Fox”), the Francis Marion Hotel became an instant Charleston landmark when it opened in 1924. Rising 12 stories above the Historic District, the hotel offers spectacular views of Charleston’s church steeples, historic mansions, and famous harbor, providing easy access to the wealth of Charleston’s attractions.

An award-winning restoration in 1996 refurbished all of the 234 guestrooms and suites, which now feature plush furnishings and marble baths. Located downtown on Marion Square, the hotel is within walking distance of the magnificent gardens, house museums, antique shops, local boutiques, restaurants, and nightlife that has made Charleston one of the south’s premier cities.

With such on-site amenities as Spa Adagio, the Swamp Fox Restaurant and Bar, Starbucks, and 18,000 square feet of meeting space, no one will fault you if you end up staying inside the Francis Marion Hotel for the duration of your stay.

Francis Marion Hotel, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 1999.

Looking for the perfect gift for any occasion? Give the gift of a stay at the historic Francis Marion Hotel or a dinner at the Swamp Fox Restaurant.

Francis Marion

Francis Marion (1732-1795) was a South Carolinian militia commander during the Revolutionary War. Marion’s family were French Protestants who settled in South Carolina in the early 18th century. As a young man, Marion had a short but unsuccessful career as a sailor, before becoming a planter and serving in the colonial militia during the French and Indian War. Marion became successful enough to earn a seat in the South Carolina assembly. On the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, he volunteered for service and held two commissions, serving as a brigadier general with the South Carolina militia and as a colonel with the Continentals.

For the first three years of the war, Marion’s contribution was confined to training troops and commanding garrisons. As the war moved into the southern colonies (1779-80) Marion became a prominent leader of small militia brigades. Under Marion’s command, they carried out raids and ambushes, targeting British positions, supply lines, convoys and well-known Loyalists. Marion’s tactical skill, his thorough understanding of local terrain and his use of wetlands to elude trackers earned him the nickname ‘Swamp Fox’. The character of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) in the 2000 motion picture The Patriot was modelled on Marion’s military exploits. Unlike Martin, however, Marion was notorious for his brutality, the worst of which he visited on African-Americans and Native Americans who sided with the British. Marion was a slave owner himself and historians have unearthed evidence of his brutality and sexual assault against his slaves.

“Swamp Fox” routs Loyalists while Gates’ men fall ill

On August 15, 1780, American Lieutenant Colonel Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” and his irregular cavalry force of 250 rout a party of Loyalists commanded by Major Micajah Gainey at Port’s Ferry, South Carolina. Meanwhile, General Horatio Gates’ men consumed half-baked bread, which sickened them overnight and contributed to their disastrous performance at the Battle of Camden, also in South Carolina, the following day.

Marion, a mere five feet tall, won fame and the “Swamp Fox” moniker for his ability to strike and then quickly retreat without a trace into the South Carolina swamps. Famed as the only senior Continental officer to escape the British following the fall of Charleston on May 12, 1780, his military strategy is considered an 18th-century example of guerilla warfare and served as partial inspiration for Mel Gibson’s character in the film The Patriot (2000).

Marion took over the South Carolina militia force first assembled by Thomas Sumter in 1780. Sumter, the other inspiration for Mel Gibson’s character in the film, returned Carolina Loyalists’ terror tactics in kind after Loyalists burned his plantation. When Sumter withdrew from active fighting to care for a wound, Marion replaced him and joined forces with Major General Nathaniel Greene, who arrived in the Carolinas to lead the Continental forces in October 1780.

Greene was given the Southern command after Gates’ poor decision to fight the British with his ailing troops at Camden. After suffering over the night of August 15 with diarrhea, Gates engaged the British on the morning of August 16. Although the Continentals outnumbered the British two to one, the encounter was a disaster for the Patriots, leaving 900 men dead and 1,000 as British captives.

South Carolina – Revolutionary War Hero – General Francis Marion

South Carolina SC History SC Revolutionary War Resources General Francis Marion General Brigadier Francis Marion, known as the "Swamp Fox," was one of the fathers of modern guerilla warfare. The Patriot, a film by Mel Gibson, was influenced by Marion's military exploits.

A Georgetown native, Marion was famous for his uncanny ability to elude and outsmart British forces. He typically led groups of irregular troops – soldiers who fought without pay, supplied their own arms and horses, and in many cases, even their own food. Many of their supplies were captured from British or Loyalist armies.

Some Brits still feel pangs of resentment from Marion's guerilla styling. British author Neil Norman, writing in The Evening Standard, called Marion "a thoroughly unpleasant dude who was, basically, a terrorist."

Of course, Americans, past and present, feel otherwise. General Nathanael Greene praised Marion's leadership when he wrote, "Surrounded on every side by a superior force, hunted from every quarter with veteran troops you (Marion) have found means to elude their attempts and to keep alive the expiring hopes of an oppressed militia, when all succour seemed to be cut off."

Today Marion is widely considered a hero of the American Revolution – one who not only fought against tremendous odds but was indispensable in securing America's freedom.

Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox

Y ou won’t find much information about Francis Marion in American history textbooks today. Marion did not serve in the Continental Congress or the Constitutional Convention, and he never held a position in the federal government. Yet, without him, the American War for Independence may have taken a decidedly different direction. Washington rightfully received generous accolades after the war as the great hero of the Revolution, and Franklin was the diplomatic mastermind who secured needed French assistance, but Marion, the able and determined hero of the “swamps” who fought a rear-guard guerilla war to save his state from British occupation, has disappeared from our historical consciousness. His reputation has been revived in recent years, due in part to Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, which had a Marion-like hero, but he still presents problems for the politically correct interpretation of the Founding generation and has generally not received the attention he deserves.

Marion was born in 1732 at St. John’s Parish, Berkeley County, South Carolina in the American colonies, to Gabriel and Esther Marion. The Marion family arrived in South Carolina in 1690 as part of a wave of French Huguenots seeking refuge in North America. Marion was a puny and sickly child, the “size of a lobster” at birth as one contemporary joked. He spent his youth at his father’s plantation on the Santee Canal, and with the exception of one tragic foray into a life at sea, he remained there until his father died in 1758. Marion moved to Pond Bluff shortly thereafter and established himself as a prosperous and well respected planter.

Like many in the Founding generation, Marion received his first taste of combat on the frontier in bloody and brutal engagements against American Indian tribes. When tensions rose between the Cherokee and white settlements from Pennsylvania to Georgia in 1759, several state militias were called out to quell the distress. South Carolina mustered a considerable force, and Marion volunteered for service. The war spirit died down for a time, but after several Cherokee chiefs were butchered at a remote South Carolina outpost in 1761, the Cherokee nation called for war. Marion again answered the call of his state and this time saw action as a lieutenant in the militia. He led his men in a desperate attack on a fortified Cherokee position and took part in the subsequent burning of Cherokee towns and crops. He lamented his role in this destruction and said he could “scarcely refrain from tears” when ordered to burn fields of mature corn. The only ones who suffered were the “little Indian children” who would know that the “white people, the Christians” made them starve. He returned to his plantation and led a quiet and uneventful life until duty called in 1775. His community elected him to serve in the South Carolina Provincial Congress, and Marion sat through the debates over the call for independence. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the Congress reassembled and decided on a course of action. Marion did not participate in the debates, but he voted for war and readily accepted the will of his state in the crisis.

Even before the Congress adjourned, Marion was actively recruiting men for the cause of independence. He was elected a captain in the Second Regiment of the South Carolina militia and quickly found his quota of fifty volunteers, many of whom were Scots-Irish Protestants. Marion participated in the capture of Fort Johnson and then distinguished himself during the battle of Sullivan’s Island on 28 June 1776. The British navy began a bombardment of the little American fort—Fort Sullivan, later called Fort Moultrie—in Charleston Harbor in the morning, and after an eleven-hour battle, two fifty-gun men-of-war were destroyed while the fort, made from soft palmetto logs, escaped substantial damage. Marion reportedly ordered the last shot of the engagement, a blast that killed two British officers and three seamen. In total, two hundred British sailors were killed or wounded while the South Carolina militia suffered only thirty-eight casualties. This victory kept the British out of the South for three years. For his service and leadership, Marion was rewarded with a promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel and was given command of Fort Sullivan, a prestigious honor, because the fort was the presumed focal point of any future British attack.

When the British returned to the South in 1778, however, they first attacked Savannah, Georgia. American forces attempted to retake the city in 1779. Marion moved south with the South Carolina militia but was exasperated by the French contingent who arrived first and imprudently allowed the British to fortify their positions. He reportedly flew into a fit of rage after learning of the French incompetence. “My God! Who ever heard of anything like this before? First, allow an enemy to entrench, and then fight him? See the destruction brought upon the British at Bunker’s Hill—yet, our troops there were only militia raw, half-armed clodhoppers, and not a mortar, or carronade, not even a swivel—only their ducking- guns! What, then, are we to expect from regulars, completely armed, with a choice train of artillery, and covered by a breastwork?” Marion participated in the frontal assault on the British position at Savannah. His Second Regiment suffered heavy casualties, and in little time the British reduced the combined Franco-American forces by 1,100 men. Marion escaped, but some of the best men in his regiment did not.

The British lost few men and held the city. The American forces retreated, and Marion was given the task of drilling and organizing the South Carolina militia. Everyone presumed the British would next attempt to take Charleston, and in 1780 Marion marched into the city with his men to prepare for its defense. Fate intervened. Marion was invited to a dinner party with friends, and when the host locked them in until all the wine was finished, the temperate and sober Marion decided to leave by jumping from a second-story window. The fall broke his ankle, and Marion was forced to retire to his home in St. John’s Parish.

This proved to be a stroke of luck for the American cause. Due to the incompetence of Benjamin Lincoln, the Northern general sent to defend the city, the entire American army was captured at Charleston in the ensuing assault, but Marion, home healing, escaped and ultimately became the most conspicuous officer in the Southern theater fighting for American independence.

The Swamp Fox

While still suffering from his ankle injury, Marion organized a small group of men and moved north to meet with the Continental Army under the command of Horatio Gates. When he arrived, Gates could scarcely refrain from laughing at the disheveled band of South Carolinians. Marion hobbled on his broken ankle, and his men—both white and black— were poorly equipped and ragged. Gates ordered them to the interior of South Carolina. Officially, they were sent to scout enemy movements, but really Gates was just trying to get rid of Marion and his band. This decision proved to be vital to the American cause. Gates was routed at the Battle of Camden, leaving Marion’s men to be a major obstacle against British occupation of South Carolina. Marion’s base of operations, Williamsburg, South Carolina, had a strong patriot population, and he recruited troops there. His men served without pay, and provided their own supplies and horses. They were an efficient, hard-hitting, guerilla group that could evaporate into the swamps when threatened.

Before the Battle of Camden, Marion and other South Carolinians had encouraged a “Fabian strategy” in the South, a line of attack named after the Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus who used a war of attrition to wear down superior Carthaginian forces under Hannibal in the Punic Wars. Now that the regular American Southern army was all but destroyed, Marion, along with Generals Thomas Sumter and Andrew Pickens, adopted this approach in an effort to erode British resolve and keep them from moving north.

He would attack when the numbers favored him, and when they didn’t he led the British into the swamps where he was uncatchable. He was called the “old fox” or the “swamp fox” by the British. Marion disrupted supply and communications, and acted as a nuisance to British commanders in the region. The British sent Colonel Banastre Tarleton after him in 1780, but without success. “Bloody Ban” had reportedly slaughtered Americans who had surrendered at the Battle of Waxhaws. He resorted to similar pitiless tactics in an attempt to capture Marion. Like General William Tecumseh Sherman in the War Between the States, “Bloody Ban” burned homes and other property, stole food and supplies, and left a swath of destruction in his path.

Of British officers Tarleton was possibly the most despised man by the patriots. Marion sometimes resorted to similar methods—he commandeered food and supplies he never burned homes—but whereas Tarleton left only blood and tears behind, Marion and his men left receipts, most of which were honored by the South Carolina government after the war. Guerilla warfare took its toll on the British. Instead of methodically moving north and sacking North Carolina, they were bottled up in South Carolina chasing a “swamp fox” that often disappeared rather than fight.

Marion’s fame grew. South Carolina Governor John Rutledge, leading the state “from the saddle” in exile, heard of his exploits and commissioned him a brigadier-general. Marion was ordered to take Georgetown, South Carolina, in January 1781, but failed. In the same month, however, American forces in the region won a stunning victory over the British at the Battle of Cowpens.

Newly appointed commander Nathanael Greene recognized Marion’s success and adopted a Fabian strategy during 1781 to keep the British out of North Carolina. He summarized it this way, “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.” Marion’s motto would have been, “We fight only the battles we should win, and we win if not, we disappear, and fight again.”

Marion was able to secure Fort Watson and Fort Motte, and he rescued a small American contingent in August 1781, a deed that resulted in an official letter of appreciation from the Continental Congress. He also stopped American General Charles Lee, the man who would have lost Fort Moultrie in 1776 if not for the genius of the South Carolinians, from slaughtering Loyalist captives at the conclusion of the battle of Fort Motte.

Marion despised cruelty in all its forms. British General Lord Charles Cornwallis determined that the American army in the South was being supplied through Virginia. In the spring of 1781, he left South Carolina for Virginia and, in the process, let Nathanael Greene slip back into the state. Marion helped Greene push the British back to the coast through a series of bloody engagements. He commanded the militia during the final battle in the Southern theater, the Battle of Eutaw Springs in September 1781, a battle immortalized in the South Carolina state song.

Marion had no more battles to fight. His heroic efforts had not only made him a household name in South Carolina, but might have provided the turning point of the war, tying up British troops that would otherwise have advanced North and possibly captured George Washington in a vise.

Marion retired to a plantation destroyed by war. The life-long bachelor, who one subordinate officer described as an “ugly, cross, knock kneed, hook-nosed son of a bitch,” took his cousin, Mary Esther Videau, as his wife in 1786. She was a wealthy widow, and Marion needed the money, if nothing else. He served in the South Carolina Senate in 1781, 1782, and 1784, and as the honorary commander of Fort Johnson from 1784 to 1790. He was elected as a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1790 and served again in the state senate the following year.

Marion died at his home in St. John’s in 1795 at the age of 63. His tombstone read: “HISTORY will record his worth, and rising generations embalm his memory, as one of the most distinguished Patriots and Heroes of the American Revolution: which elevated his native Country TO HONOUR AND INDEPENDENCE, AND Secured to her the blessings of LIBERTY AND PEACE. . . . ”

The politically incorrect soldier

Marion was a dedicated servant to South Carolina throughout his life. That is his allure. He never served in the Continental Army and considered South Carolina to be his native “country.” When duty called, he served with honor, and like Washington, the more famous “citizen-soldier,” returned to his plantation when the fighting was over. He owned slaves, but fought alongside blacks for much of the war. John Blake White, in an 1830s painting, portrayed Marion as a gentleman offering an “enemy” officer supper, a depiction that also included Marion’s body servant, Oscar, the man who fought side-by-side with him during the darkest days of the Revolution. Washington is often chastised for his refusal to allow black soldiers to fight in the Revolution—he later changed course—but they did fight in the Southern theater. Marion proved that.

Historians have also been critical of Marion for the role he played on the frontier, fighting Indians, in 1761. Wars against the Indian tribes were typically brutal, often inhumane affairs, with barbarism exhibited on both sides. Marion showed remorse for his deeds, even during the conflict, and never appeared to be an “Indian hater.” Marion is one of the true heroes of the Founding generation, a man who played no political role, but who personified the spirit and determination of South Carolina’s patriots.


Francis Marion National Forest

The Francis Marion is a forest literally steeped in history.

Sumter National Forest

If it's a sense of adventure or a longing for solitude that you seek, the Sumter National Forest has something special waiting for you.

Watch the video: Legends and Lies: Francis Marion (August 2022).