1780: Week of Christmas – More British Pour into South Carolina, Marion Asks for Assistance

As I stated in my previous post that had Marion’s militia patrolling the Santee looking for British supply boats and troops heading inland to join Cornwallis in Winnsboro, SC past Camden:

… the British have a “Christmas present” for Marion, on 21DEC1780, Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie arrives in Charlestown with 2000 British regulars. The gloves are coming off in South Carolina as the British desperately desire to move into North Carolina in early spring and take aim at Continental Gen. George Washington in the north.

Marion had since retreated to camp a safe distance away and there receives Intel about this threat (or opportunity, depending on how you look at this) as the British continue to prepare for a North Carolina effort in the spring. These troops no doubt will have the duty of ensuring that Marion and his militia remain neutralized as the British prayed he would be with this kind of news.

Marion and his men were camped north of the Santee up river from Kingstree at Benbow’s Ferry on the Black River. Marion’s Capt. John Milton arrives with a letter from Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene. In the past few months, Marion had written Gen. Gates (previous Continental Southern Command commander) ten times and had received only one letter back.

Marion now writes to Greene and informs him about Maj. Gen. Alexander Leslie arriving in Charlestown with a large number of British Regulars. Marion asks for 100 Continentals to come to the Santee and Pee Dee River basins and assist his growing Militia. Marion and his men then depart once again to patrol the “highway” the British use to transfer men and supplies inland, the Santee River and the roads along this river that lead toward Winnsboro. Christmas 1780 finds Marion’s militia on duty one more time.

Nathanael Green, a former Quaker, had formed his own militia in Rhode Island in 1774 and was the most brilliant military mind in the Continental Army, even more so than George Washington. He was a self taught man, with 250 books in his private library. He was promoted from private to major general in the Rhode Island State Army and then was made brigadier in the Continentals at the age of 32. When Gen. George Washington finally received permission from Congress to choose his own leadership, he chose Greene in October 1780 and he finally arrived in North Carolina in early December 1780.

When he arrived to see the condition of the men there in Charlotte, NC, there was a total of 2300, with only 1500 fit for fighting.  He commenced to write to Washington and Jefferson about the state of the army in the south. He also caught up on letters from Marion that Gates had failed to respond to.

Greene was not a fan of the militia and stated that it would take the Continental army to retake control of the states from the British forces. Greenes’ immediate request from Marion was to capture Intel about the British plans and movements and relay them to the Continental staff. By this time Marion knew all about the positives and negatives of militia and had made the effort to ensure that the tendency toward pillaging from whites and blacks on plantations under his command was not to be tolerated. Marion valued what both the Continentals and the militias brought to the patriot cause.

It was in this season of seeing the fifth Continental commander take charge in the south, when Marion and his men, after their Christmas Day patrols retreated to the Snow’s Island location on the Great Pee Dee river to settle in for time in their winter’s quarters. It turns out that they would not be able to stay there long as their services would once again be needed before the end of 1780.

Thinking back, it had been two years since Savannah, GA fell and over six months since Charlestown fell to the British. The fact that the British were still in upstate South Carolina was a testament to the passionate effort these volunteers in the militia expended to not allow the British Empire to regain control of the region or be able to reestablish the colonial legislatures in the south as they had expected. The militia kept the Loyalists from having any psychological edge in the very real civil war that South Carolina was facing.

Stay tuned for more on Marion and his adventures.



01DEC1780 – Psych! PLUS Marion Camps at Snows Island, Ready for the Next Opportunity

As we last heard of Francis Marion’s situation, he had written Gen. Gates about a large encampment of British in Kingstree and wondered if he was ever going to be supported in the effort to keep the British occupied and delayed in the south. As it turns out, Marion’s reputation alone causes this force of almost 300 men to be vary nervous and so they break camp in Kingstree a day later and head to a more secure location, farther away from Marion’s lair, first at Murry’s Ferry on the Santee River and then at Sumter’s abandoned plantation further up river.

.. The Tory reinforcements McLeroth was expecting from Georgetown also had failed to show up; they had gone home after their leader, Barefield, was wounded in the skirmish with Marion’s men. Believing his position too weak to stay at Kingstree, McLeroth moved his 64th Regiment of Foot out of the patriot-infested Williamsburg area ..

Oller, John. The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution

This is not the only instance of the British playing it safe as the December 1780 calendar continues to unfold. This psychological element would be yet one more advantage that the guerrilla patriot force will need to not only survive, but also to continue distracting the British as long as they can.

The British high command were concerned with McLeroth’s performance, that he was more timid than the other commanders they had in the field. McLeroth’s force swelled to over 400 when he was reinforced at Murry’s Ferry before moving to Sumter’s plantation:

There he set up camp around Sumter’s plantation, the site of Marion’s daring rescue mission in August. Unlike Wemyss or Tarleton, though, McLeroth did not vent his frustration by laying waste to the countryside. A Scotsman by birth, he declined to burn the homes of his Scotch-Irish kinsmen, earning him the disdain of Cornwallis and other British officers.

Oller, John. The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution

Apparently, honorable British officers would be marginalized as it seemed that short-term goals were achieved better by the likes of Tarleton and Weymss. This strategy would continue to come back to bite them as the psychological aspect of this war would play a very important role in its outcome.

Marion wrote an updated letter to Gen. Gates on 22NOV1780 that the British moved away from Kingstree, but with limited resources as far as men and ammunition, he and what was left of his men moved to Snows Island on 24NOV1780 through 04DEC1780. Unknown to Marion at this time was that Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on 02DEC1780 and took command of the Southern Army on 04DEC1780. This would bring a different dynamic to the relationship between the Continental army in the south and Marion’s militia in the months to come.

It seems that the non-traditional has an advantage. Marion, trained with British tactics also abandoned these tactics when they did not make sense. Greene as well came from a non-traditional background:

Nathanael Green had what was probably the best military mind in the Continental Army. Yet he had no military training and little formal education. A lapsed Quaker, he was suspended from their meetings after being seen at a public alehouse in 1773; later he formally withdrew from the pacifistic sect. In 1774 he organized a militia in his native Rhode Island to oppose the British. His military learning was self-taught, gained from books among his 250-volume personal library. When the Revolution came in 1775 Greene was promoted from private to major general of the Rhode Island state army, and in June of that year Congress appointed him as a brigadier in the Continental Army. He was only thirty-two.

Oller, John. The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution

So with Greene now in North Carolina, he was able to effect the strategy so desperately needed to delay Cornwallis as more British arrived. Unlike in the north where December meant winter quarters, down here in the South Carolina colony there were plenty of upcoming opportunities as the British attempted to gear up for a springtime move into North Carolina.

Stay tuned as by the end of the first week in December, events would unfold and harvest activities would wrap up so that would have Marion’s ranks swell with volunteers yet again!