11FEB1781 – 01MAR1781: With Cornwallis Chasing Nathaniel Greene in NC …

One might think that South Carolina would be out of the limelight with Lord Cornwallis giving chase to the Continentals (Greene and Lee) in North Carolina, but this means all the more that the remaining rebel forces in this colony needs to keep the British hold there in doubt.

It was 11FEB1781 when Francis Marion received a letter that said Thomas Sumter, fellow militia leader in South Carolina, was back in action and that the “Gamecock” was the highest ranking officer in the state/colony. Thomas Sumter was not happy that Daniel Morgan had been given permission by the Continental Army to operate in the Catawba region of SC and made it look easy by what he pulled off at Cowpens, SC in JAN1781:

.. a huge patriot victory at Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17th where Daniel Morgan achieved a double pincer movement that utilized militia in the front lines to supply 2-3 volleys and then retreat which then brought Tarleton’s dragoons into a trap (remember that from the movie ‘The Patriot’?) and resulting of 85% loss in the dragoon’s 1050 man force (100 dead, 230 wounded and 600 captured). Also captured was two field cannon, 800 muskets and 100 horses.

What has to be remembered is that the united States (emphasizing the thirteen sovereign “states” and not necessarily the united or union component) under the Articles of Confederation which was to be formally ratified the next month (March 1781) did NOT give the federation’s government power over the state’s armed forces. Sumter was technically senior to Marion in the SC State militia even though Marion still held a commission in the Continental Army and Sumter had resigned his in 1778. At this point, recently promoted SC militia leader Andrew Pickens and Francis Marion would be reporting to Thomas Sumter who then reported to the SC governor, John Rutledge, who was in exile in North Carolina.

So with Cornwallis chasing Greene and Lee in NC, Sumter directed Marion to assist him in attacking smaller British outposts in SC.  Sumter had just laid siege to Fort Granby on the Congaree River on Feb 19th. Sumter desired Marion’s actions to distract Rawdon, the British officer in charge at Camden, SC.

Unknown to Sumter was that Rowden was on the move and had forced Marion to retreat 20 miles right after Marion had tried to recruit more men west of the Santee.  Marion’s recruiting was not going well because a rogue Whig militia leader named Snipes had been plundering the civilian areas telling people he was under orders from Marion! Marion countered by re-emphasizing his philosophy of no looting and no taking provisions from plantations without direct orders from himself. He also published a proclamation that said unidentified parties not associated with his militia would be identified by name and at that time all would be free to put them to death without prosecution. It had come to that.

Marion then moved back to Snow’s Island with Rowden in pursuit of him. The “Swamp Fox” was almost caught when Rowden was directed to go after Sumter who was threatening Ninety-Six. In Rowden’s reports he lists Marion’s strength at 300 and all mounted.

It wasn’t until Feb 26th that Marion received Sumter’s orders from a letter dated Feb 20th. In the mean time Sumter had given up a siege of Fort Granby which he attempted without artillery and also an aborted effort to storm a stockade at Belleville SC.  Marion responded that the British pressure was too great to his west at this time but would venture out at the next opportunity.  Marion was definitely not enthusiastic about Sumter, considered him a “showboater” and word of his recent attacks seemed like a fools errand.  Marion knew his men did not like being at large distances from home but Marion saw this as an order and moved somewhat slowly 100 miles west toward Sumter, to give the appearance that he was attempting to follow orders.

Thomas Sumter was impatient and therefore struck at Fort Watson on Feb 28th, but called off action after 18 of his men were killed. Sumter again penned a letter emphasizing that Marion needed to connect with him but then on March 1st, Sumter heard of a British unit heading his way so he retreated to the High Hills region above the Santee, grabbed his paralytic wife and their son and rode another 40 miles to Black River at Bradley’s Plantation. More than likely Sumter and Marion passed each other in the night and did not know it.

These actions, although small on paper, demonstrated that South Carolina could not be counted on by the British as a reconquered province. Marion and the other militia leaders would continue to harass the British in their rear .. no pun intended!

March1781 would be a HUGE month for the rebel cause against the British Empire in the American Colonies.

– SF1

05FEB1781 Brig. Gen. Marion Captures 30 British Redcoats, Including Officers

Brig. Gen. Francis Marion starts off February 1781 with an effort many miles south of their normal area of operations. With a group of mounted militiamen, he left the Pee Dee region to head to the Dorchester area which is much closer to CharlesTown itself.

In route they destroy or utilize large quantities of enemy stores and provisions and even proceeded damaged the Redcoat quarters at Wando Landing, about 15 miles from CharlesTown. Francis Marion and his men surprised the British troops and captured 30 prisoners, including officers, before continuing towards Dorchester.

Beyond this there is not much action the first half of February 1781, but spring is coming to South Carolina, and the actions is about to ramp up!


24JAN1781: “Lighthorse” Harry Lee and Marion’s Amphibious Assault on British at Georgetown, SC

22JAN1781 finds Lt. Col. “Lighthorse” Henry Lee arriving in Marion’s camp on Snows Island giving the militia a boost in spirits. The very next day, Lee has tow companies of his men depart down the Pee Dee River in flatboats guided by some of Marion’s men. Destination is Georgetown, a primary source of salt, rice and if lucky, some guns, horses and ammunition as well. These two leaders were about to bring their forces to bear on Georgetown in a coordinated amphibious assault (by land and sea).

By dawn on 24JAN1781 these flatboats reach the mouth of the Pee Dee River and Lee’s men hide on a small island in Winyah Bay (that leads to the Atlantic Ocean) to await the arrival of their companions coming via land. Brig. Gen. Francis Marion gathers his Militia at Kingstree on 24JAN1781,
then he and Lt. Col. Henry Lee ride hard, arriving near Georgetown at dark.

Delays in the land portion led to a premature attack from the sea the morning of the 25th. During the early morning hours, Lt. Col. Lee’s men in the flatboats slip undetected from their hiding place in Winyah Bay and
land on Georgetown’s undefended waterfront at Mitchell’s Landing. Continental office Capt. Carnes leads one party to seize Lt. Col. George Campbell in his headquarters near the parade ground.

With the Georgetown British garrison’s commander and four others  captured, and eventually paroled, the element of surprise was gone and the taking of Georgetown would not be that day. Had the Patriots really assaulted the redoubt, Lt. Col. Lee and Brig. Gen. Marion might then have taken the cannons there and used them on the houses. However, they do not want to risk unnecessary losses, and they quickly depart the small town. Both commanders erred appropriately toward preserving their men’s live than achieving a bloody victory.

The psychological impact was there as the British held back resources to protect Georgetown which as a supplier of salt in the region as well as a transportation crossroads.


JAN1781: A New Year on Paper, A New Title for Marion .. However – Same Mission

While it always looks good on paper, a new title and all, the men of principle stay the course and so not let promotions distract from their mission.

In January of 1781, Marion’s mission was intact. This was not an easy thing to do as we will see this month unfold. When the militia asks for resources (like having more than the typical 3-4 rounds of ammo these men had on them at any one time), the larger Continental force would ask for horses.

Nathaniel Green’s appetite for horses almost harmed this regular / militia partnership. Greene realized that the fight in the south meant traversing deep rivers (horses swim better than most men, so horses helped) and and moving in and around impassible creeks/swamps. Greene was a quick study using maps to understand the geography and in weeks he knew more than Cornwallis did in half a year. Marion would sometimes not reply directly to the request for horses since he had none to spare as his own men, who routinely had little ammo needed the horses in their hit-n-run style. His men were also farmers, and horses were essential to a good working farm. Greene would remind Marion and would drop the exiled SC governor’s name (Rutledge) to force the issue and even ask how many Marion had and how many he could spare. Marion’s men, unpaid volunteers, giving their horses to an army that was supplied by the Continental Congress? Some of Marion’s men deserted him when they learned of this, and rightly so.

The fact of the matter was, Marion’s cavalry tactic meant that the British could never force a decisive action on the militia. Even with bird shot, effective at only 20-30 yards, Marion’s men could effectively harass the British. In time Greene admitted that taking horses from the militia was like robbing Peter to pay Paul, so eventually he got the message.

By 14JAN1781 Marion thanked Greene for a shipment of ammo and also addressed the need for some reinforcements as the Tories near the North Carolina border were joining forces with other Tories around Georgetown. Within about a week (delayed because of difficulty in finding the Swamp Fox) a detachment of 250 men (mix of cavalry and infantry) led by Lt. Col. “Light-Horse” Harry Lee age 25 (father of Robert E. Lee) arrived at Snow’s Island.

So with a new year arrives a new partner in this mission with a different style than Marion’s. “Light-horse” Harry was different in being a highly educated Virginia gentleman who dressed elegantly and had his men in full uniform with short green coats (similar to Tarleton’s on the British side). This color accent hampered his ability to find Marion as the locals were very suspect of the green!

Also, Light-horse Harry was an egotist, a self-promoter ,unlike Marion BUT similar to Francis with being small in stature as well. Both were believers in discipline, agility and speed.

Light-horse Harry would eventually tout his own achievements in his memoirs while settling scores with his enemies including Thomas Jefferson. But in the end, Harry would speak fondly of Francis Marion even though in his reports he used “I” where he should have used “we”.

By the last week of January 1781 there would emerge a target that both Marion and Lee would need to engage. Little did they know, until after this next battle near Georgetown, South Carolina (alternative seaport that the British used to keep it inland forces supplied) that there was a huge patriot victory at Cowpens, South Carolina on January 17th where Daniel Morgan achieved a double pincer movement that utilized militia in the front lines to supply 2-3 volleys and then retreat which then brought Tarleton’s dragoons into a trap (remember that from the movie ‘The Patriot’?) and resulting of 85% loss in the dragoon’s 1050 man force (100 dead, 230 wounded and 600 captured). Also captured was two field cannon, 800 muskets and 100 horses.

On the heels of this action at Cowpens, Cornwallis chose the offensive and even after having lost 25% of his force, proceeded to chase Morgan and Greene. These two commanders headed towards VA (called later “The Race for the Dan (River)”) for supplies and reinforcements. Cornwallis with Gen Alexander Leslie’s 1500 men would burn their own supply train, including the rum, and chase Greene throughout NC.

That pretty much covers up the January 1781 action with Marion and his militia except for the “amphibious” landing in Georgetown, the source of most of the salt in the region which is critical for the preservation of meat. This action will be covered in my next post in this series that follows the calendar year events of Francis Marion during his two year effort to keep the British Empire from prevailing in their attempt to retain control of the American Colonies.


1775 Snapshot of South Carolina: What Triggered SoCaroxit?

Post French-Indian War – Proclamation 1763

We are all very familiar to Brexit, and other exit movements with the EU here in 2019. Back in the 1770s, there had been seeds of an effort toward self government in South Carolina for well over a decade. The book ‘South Carolina and the American Revolution‘ by John W. Gordon does a good job at painting the social, military and economic climate in this colony that pitted the success of this colony due to Mother England against a very typical desire for autonomy of the political class present at this point in time.

This post represents the first of several in which I hope to capture the overarching issues at play when people, families and communities risked their own lively-hood for the dream of self-governance and self-determination that liberty minded people rightfully act on out of love for themselves, their children and generations to come.

We should know that the roots of political conflicts, known as wars, usually run back in time to previous wars and their treaties and compromises. Such is the case of setting the state for 1775 in South Carolina. The 1763 Treaty of Paris (not to be confused with the 1783 version that settled the American Revolutionary War) was the culmination of seven years of fighting not just in North America, but among the three global powers in the world at the time, Spain, France and England. While the English technically won the conflict and received various territories as a result, this empire also took on much debt toward that result.

England gained Florida from Spain and Canada from the French but were restricted from settling areas beyond the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains as seen in the map at the top of this post:

“We do therefore, with the Advice of our Privy Council, declare it to be our Royal Will and Pleasure, that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our Colonies of Quebec, East Florida, or West Florida, do presume, upon any Pretence whatever, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass any Patents for Lands beyond the Bounds of their respective Governments, as described in their Commissions: as also that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our other Colonies or Plantations in America do presume for the present, and until our further Pleasure be known, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass Patents for any Lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West and North West, or upon any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them.”

Since the British empire had a large navy and a rather small army, and was most interested in sail trade, the priority of lands far removed from the oceans were just not high enough on their list. With the war over, it was now time to settle the war debt which included imposing new taxes on the thirteen American colonies as they had benefited from the protection from the French and the Indians.

If you look closely at the map at the top of the post, you can see where Indian lands are in 1763 South Carolina in the upstate region. The Cherokee, which inhabited much of the state in previous decades, had sided with the British during the 1758-1761 French & Indian Wars and were rewarded with protection by the British empire with this Proclamation of 1763. This is what upset the pioneer spirited settlers of South Carolina as they moved west as more people came to the colonies in the decade to follow. This “penned in” action helped the settlers to decide rather quickly if they wanted to stick with the British Empire, or to risk the path to independence.

By 1775, with similar rumblings in the northern British Colonies in America, South Carolina decided that they had what it took to manage their own affairs, even if it meant they no longer had the naval protection the British Navy offered from overseas forces that could threaten their independence.

Obviously, this independent spirit for liberty lingered on through the generations all the way to December 1860 when once again, South Carolina would attempt another “SoCaroxit”