1780OCT – War Amongst Us, What is that Like?

I do believe it is easy for those insulated from war to have no clue as to the short and long term impact of war on people and society. Many of the politicians, generals and admirals remain out of harms way while giving orders to troops on the ground, in the air and on the oceans treating all of this like a video game. At the end of the day they return to their suburban Northern Virginia homes have been able to compartmentalize their day’s decisions that negatively impacted hundreds if not thousands of men and women not counting tens of thousands innocent men, women and children and the lands and societies they have to deal with on a daily basis. American foreign policy is the root negative issue in most parts of this globe while free market forces are solving poverty and other societal issues worldwide in a positive light.

Returning to the 1780 South Carolina colony that is seeking independence in federation with 12 other American colonies from British rule, if one only reads and understands the dates, stats and facts of the various expeditions the British regulars, American Continentals, and militias on both sides accomplished, one misses understanding what it was like for the average family that endured this 7 or 8 year war that was not regulated to far away fields of battle but took place ‘amongst’ us [movie “The Patriot” clip]:

To learn a “Tier 1” only history about a regional conflict only exposes the tip of the iceberg.  Tier 1, if done right should tease readers and listeners to ask questions about Tier 2, a deeper insight into the daily life of the people involved and how it changed the communities involved.

Americans learn Tier 1 in this history classes in schools, Tier 2 requires one to invest the time to seek out deeper understanding, the ability to enter that period of time IN CONTEXT to fully adsorb what was won and what was lost. In the movie “The Patriot”, only the positives were communicated:

The feel good ending to this movie can only allow reality to counterbalance this by investigating, CSI if you will, how free American colonists were before and after the war. While Benjamin Martin (fictitious character that was the combination of three South Carolina militia leaders Pickens, Sumter and Marion) seems to be doing much better, Francis Marion would tell you differently, and that would be even BEFORE the end of this war!

One of the richest insights can be gained by a read of John Oller’s 2016 book “The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution“.  I have included a few clips below that related directly to the posts I have had about October 1780 recently (here, here and here):

With the quieting of the Tory threat east of Camden, Marion sat at Ami’s Mill pondering his next move. On October 4 he confessed to Gates that he had suffered many fatigues over the previous few weeks but had managed to surmount them. He had never had more than sixty or seventy men with him of all ranks, and sometimes as few as a dozen. In some cases he had been forced to fight against men who had left him to join the enemy; he regretted that he had no authority to punish them. If he had a hundred men from Gates’s army, he thought, he could “certainly pay a visit to Georgetown” and attack the British garrison there. But Gates had answered none of his letters—

So early in October, Marion felt very alone after the three wins his militia had in late September that kept the British distracted from rolling up the colonies towards Virginia and eventually toward Washington’s Continentals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey while British General Clinton totally controlled the port of New York with his troops. It had been a stalemate in the north for months now.

Marion also felt the shift in what his leadership skills had to adjust to in commanding Continental regulars who obey verses volunteer militia that could quit at anytime ESPECIALLY if a command was given that the men did not agree with. I contend that this keeps leadership personnel honest and weeds out “management” personnel who are only worried about the status quo and their own position in the politics of things.

Brilliantly, Marion makes yet another bold move ..

Marion decided to make a little probing incursion against Georgetown anyway. He heard that Micajah Ganey, the Tory whose force he had bested at the Blue Savannah, was in Georgetown to reinforce the British garrison there. On October 9 Marion entered the city unmolested with forty men on horse and, once inside, issued a rather audacious demand to the garrison commander to surrender.

So if you have been reading my Tier 1 posts, you thought that Francis Marion and the men that remained with him took three week off from the conflict when in fact, they did venture into “British occupied territory” to harass the Redcoats!

While the British did not surrender …

Before leaving, however, and to show the enemy he was a force to be reckoned with—or just to show off—he took his men on a little parade through the town. They made off with a few horses and some of the enemy’s equipment and captured several notable Tory military men whom Marion immediately paroled to their homes. If nothing else, Marion served notice that if the British wanted to hold the second-largest population center in South Carolina, they would need to keep men and resources tied down there. “This damned Georgetown business,” as the British called it, would prove an unwelcome distraction for months to come.

Marion again attempts communication in his chain of command:

Marion reported to Gates on his little foray, saying he wished to hear from him as soon as possible, for he had received no word from him in a month. As Marion explained, this lack of information forced him to act with extreme caution lest he fall into the enemy’s hands. He closed by asking Gates to excuse his “scrawl,” as he had no table to write on in “this wild woods.” (Sometimes he lacked even paper to write on, which placed a premium on brevity.)

So here you get a little insight into JUST Marion’s world (Tier 2), not even his neighbors miles away near the St. Mark’s district closer to Kingstree, the shopkeepers in Georgetown or anywhere else in South Carolina.

If you wonder why Marion might have targeted Georgetown, you do know that as a teenager he attempted being a sailor and sailed out of Georgetown decades before right? Oh that Tier 2 knowledge sure does help with the context of things. You will find that Marion has a heart for the strategic importance of this port and what it would mean to the patriot cause. However, he was well aware of his limits and would not place his few men in harms way for his dream.

I do hope you are now even more curious about what made this militia leader tick .. if so, welcome aboard!


25OCT1780 Battle of Tearcoat Swamp – From Disappointment in Militia to a WIN!

Francis Marion and a subset of his militia had a few weeks rest and most of the others had returned to their homes at harvest season when I posted the last time. Marion decided once again to re-enter the fray against the supporters of the British Empire, the local Tories and their Loyalist militias and on occasion, British regulars.

On 24OCT1780 Marion moves southwest out of the swamps closer to the North Carolina border towards the Kingstree district hoping to gain some men as well as some Intel.  Marion is initially disappointed in the militia support that emerges from the district and momentarily considers leaving to join Continental Gen. Gates at Hillsborough, NC. Militia officer Lt. Col. Hugh Horry talks him out of this move and within hours the militia reforms and reinvigorates Marion. Over 150 men, with some accounts estimating even up to 400, came together and some brought with them Intel that Lt. Col. Sam Tynes with appox. 80 or so Loyalist militia had emerged from the High Hills of the Santee and are camped near what is called Tearcoat Swamp near the Black River.

The next morning, Marion and his men ride towards this camp and send Lt. Col. Tynes and his men back to the hills. Within a few days Lt. Col. Tynes and a few of his officers are actually captured by some of Marion’s militia commanded by Capt. William Snipes.

Lt. Col. Tynes loses include appox. 6 killed, 14 wounded and two dozen prisioners and more importantly, Marion gains eighty horses and muskets from this engagement.

Marion’s own losses are appox. the same as the Loyalist militia but there is a growing tide of defections from the Tories as many of Lt. Col. Tynes’ men actually come in and enlist with Col. Marion. The balance of the prisoners are sent to North Carolina Brig. Gen. Henry William Harrington at Cheraw, SC.

It is at this time that Marion proceeds toward establishing a new camp at Snow’s Island which would provide them a place of refuge in the months to come.

It should be noted that following Lt. Col. Tynes’ Loyalist militia defeat, Lt. Gen. Cornwallis has fifty men sent from Charlestown to Moncks Corner, while also maintaining patrols covering his line of communication at crossings up and down along the Santee River. The British Empire leadership is not amused at the successful guerrilla campaigns waged by Marion and his volunteer militia.

Stay tuned for a ramp up in the British reaction to Tearcoat Swamp!


07OCT1780 Battle of Kings Mountain – Pivotal Event in USEXIT

In my previous post I commented that:

This battle in addition to Marion’s three victories were a major turning point in this war to be free of the British Empire. The resurgence in people’s heart for liberty represented a much needed boost in the morale of the people and soldiers alike, at least for those aligned with the principles of self-government and consent of the governed!

Well, I will guide you to one of the best historians of the region, J. D. Lewis who has researched the Carolina events of the Revolutionary War meticulously. From his page on this battle he states:

Major Patrick Ferguson was patrolling with a force of about 125 Provincials and over 1,000 Loyalist supporters attempting to pacify the countryside. With violence and atrocities rising on both sides, 1,100 to 1,600 Patriot Militiamen, most from North Carolina but with a good number of Virginians and South Carolinians, gathered to stop Major Ferguson and his troops. When Major Ferguson became aware of the large contingent of Patriots gathering, he decided it would be prudent to move back toward Lord Cornwallis’s larger army, now in Charlotte, North Carolina, a little over 40 miles to the east.

The Patriot Militia followed rapidly and, when Major Ferguson realized that they were overtaking him, he organized his defenses atop Kings Mountain, a wooded hill with a fairly clear top. On October 7, 1780, the Patriot Militia arrived at the base of the mountain and surrounded it. Soon they began scaling it on all sides. The Patriots had the advantage that the slopes of the mountain were very wooded, while the summit was not, exposing the Loyalists and Provincial troops to attack by the more-concealed Patriots. The defenders’ losses quickly mounted and, when Major Ferguson was killed, the fight went out of the remaining soldiers.

Of the Loyalist and Provincial troops, 157 were killed, 163 were severely wounded and 698 were captured. The Patriot Militia lost 28 killed and 62 wounded.

This battle was a direct result of Lord Cornwallis’ desire to squelch the patriot fever in the back-country of South Carolina. Cornwallis had thought that this effort would allow him to roll up into North Carolina and Virginia and suppress the quest for independence from the British Empire.

With three militia victories under Francis Marion and this militia victory at Kings Mountain, the southern colonies again had hopes that independence was still possible.

Francis Marion took this period of time to rest and regroup:

  • 30SEP – 11OCT1780 Marion camps at Drowning Creek and has comms with Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates who informs him that South Carolina Gov. John Rutledge is in Hillsborough, NC.
  • 12OCT – 23OCT1780 – Marion moves back to his camp at Port’s Ferry and rests.

On 24OCT1780 Marion would receive more Intel about some Loyalists in the area and set some plans in motions.

Stay tuned ..


29SEP1780 Marion’s Militia Does it Again!

The last post I crafted from Francis Marion’s adventures as a leader of the militia and he re-entered South Carolina had him south of the Great Pee Dee River, poised to once again attack British/Tory forces. These attacks were not just against an invader of their communities, but in response to the British tactic (desperation?) of violence against the innocent civilian population as well as depriving them of life and or property in their efforts in this part of South Carolina. Some of Marion’s men were directly impacted by these barbarous tactics.

Have received Intel about a Loyalist militia being positioned at a cross roads near Shepherd’s Ferry on Black Mingo Creek, Marion had aroused his men after a few hours of sleep and moved south in the night. As his militia crossed the Willtown Bridge only a mile or so from Col. John Coming Ball’s camp the noise from the bridge’s planks alerted the Loyalist militia.

The sentry fires an alarm gun and Marion and his men ride hard TOWARD the tavern at this crossroads. The patriot militia assume that the Loyalists are inside Dollard’s Tavern and some dismount several hundred yards away to make their assault now, like they did at Nelson’s Ferry, having the element of surprise gone BUT having their momentum remaining. Marion commands his cavalry to the left of Dollard’s Tavern and Horry with some of the infantry to the right flank. The Tory leader (and well known relative to Francis Marion himself) Col. John Ball awakes his men at the sound of the alarm and commands them to the open field west of the tavern.

As Horry’s infantry charges through the field, the Loyalist militia is only 30 yards away as they are surprised with the first volley. Three of Horry’s patriot officers fall with Capt. George Logan killed and Capt. Henry Mouzon (author of the 1775 map above) and Lt. John Scott severely wounded.

Patriot Capt. John James, Jr., the man who brought Marion the Intel that made this raid possible, rallies the rest of the men and stops the eminent slaughter. The rest of Marion’s militia creep forward until Capt. John Waties moves up on the right with his men and skirts Dollard’s house called the Red House, causing the Loyalists break and run into the Black Mingo Swamp.

The battle only lasts 15 minutes or so and to offset his loses, Marion and his men captures well needed supplies like guns, ammunition, baggage, and especially horses since they operate best in guerrilla style warfare on fresh horses. Francis Marion gets Col. John Coming Ball’s own horse, which Col. Marion chooses for himself and renames “Ball”. Marion will ride Ball for the balance of this war!

Again, one of the best sources I have found to paint Marion’s world so that one can enter his time and his experiences better is John Oller’s “The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution“. Here are some clips from his book that gives you a flavor as to the situation Marion found himself on the last day or two of September 1780.

Black Mingo, like so many engagements in the South during the Revolution, involved relatively few men on either side: Ball’s Tories totaled only forty-seven, while Marion had perhaps seventy. (It was one of the few times he actually outnumbered his opponent, although it is not clear he knew this going into the encounter.) But because of the sharp exchange of fire at close range, the casualties were comparatively heavy. The Tories lost three killed and thirteen captured or wounded—a third of their unit—plus some unknown number later found dead or wounded in the swamp and adjoining woods.

It can’t be emphasized enough how valuable the Intel that Marion’s Capt. John James Jr. brought to the attention of his leader. So many times, the ability of the militia to respond the same day or night to this information made a huge difference in the psychological aspect of not only the American Revolution, but also the internal civil war being fought in South Carolina.

Marion suffered two killed and eight wounded, but the psychological loss was greater—one of the dead was George Logan, who had left his sickbed and ridden miles to rejoin the brigade. The wounded included Marion’s friend Henry Mouzon, who was shot up so badly that he never took the field again. Such was the nature of the many small actions and skirmishes in South Carolina, where the death or dismemberment of a few friends or relatives could have a greater impact on the participants’ psyches than the loss of hundreds or thousands of strangers in full-scale army battles.

As in all wars, there are gains, but their are significant losses as well. How better would have been if the British could have promised independence for the American colonies over time, I believe that this country could have morphed into several republics that would not have needed a sense for a strong centralized government to protect itself in this world. With several republics in this land, the so-called “Civil War” would have not been necessary either!

I can dream can’t I?

Back to John Oller’s insights:

.. Several Tories captured by Marion at Black Mingo took an oath of allegiance and joined his brigade. After escaping, Peter Gaillard, the Tory second in command, made it known that he too would like to enlist with Marion’s band if they would have him without unduly humiliating him. Intermediaries (including Gaillard’s brother-in-law, Job Marion) arranged an interview between him and Marion. The partisan commander cordially received his former foe, praised his bravery at Black Mingo, and personally escorted him into the patriot camp in front of the rest of the men so as to quash the bitterness many of them felt toward their Tory neighbor.

Is this not rich or what? Not only the character to pronounce that these temporary enemies could someday be friends, but to welcome an actual enemy to join their militia WITH leadership’s display of vetting and backing is something to remember from the Battle of Black Mingo!


28SEP1780: South Carolina’s Internal Civil War Means It’s About Family

The wars this nation (originally known as the united States of America, emphasis on States OVER “united” or ‘union’) has been involved in since the so-called “Civil War” from 1861-1865 have rarely pitted family members against each other. Sure there are many of those whose family have come over from a land where true civil war was fought. However, a war that splits families and generations only has occurred in 1775-1783 and 1861-1865 in the USA.

NOTE: The definition of civil war implies that the contestants or factions desire control of the entire country. This was NOT the case when the southern States started seceding in late 1860 and by spring 1861 had formed a federation fashioned after the original 13 States, whose goal was independence of 7 states NOT control of > 30 states! But I digress.

By 1780 in South Carolina, there were those who have switched sides (Tory to Whig or visa versa) especially after the British secured Charleston harbor. Many former militiamen were now Tory/Loyalists and backing the crown, King George, and the Redcoats.

Francis Marion’s family was no exception to the rule. One can read history and easily gloss over the names and not be aware that these people were in the same circles, were at each other’s weddings and funerals before the war.

It is essential to get some background at this point of Marion’s story as he re-enters South Carolina in late September. From the book, The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution, the author John Oller states pretty clearly the relationships and relational lines that connected many of these men that were shooting at each other:

… Marion knew these Tories. They were from St. James and St. Stephens Parishes, the French Santee and English Santee of Marion’s family. John Coming Ball, a local rice planter, was a half-brother of Elias Ball, the Tory whose tip had helped Banastre Tarleton defeat the rebels at Lenud’s Ferry in May. A Whig militiaman who switched sides after Charleston fell, Elias Ball was married to a Gaillard, whose sister married Marion’s brother Job (his second marriage), with Marion serving as best man…

… Peter Gaillard, another member of that prominent Huguenot family, was John Coming Ball’s second in command. Although only a lukewarm Tory, Gaillard was under the influence of his rabidly loyalist father and had served on one of the early expeditions designed to hunt down Marion. John Peyre, whose family was related by marriage to the Gaillards, Balls, and Marions, had been neutral until the fall of Charleston, after which he took British protection and became a strong Tory.

Needless to say, not only was there societal connections, there were also plenty of reasons to opt for revenge. Once again Francis Marion rises above the others and with his leadership offers a long-term view:

Although these neighbors and relatives were out to kill him, Marion took none of it personally. He would later describe the Tory militia at Black Mingo Creek as “men of family and fortune” who had shown themselves to be “good men” before the outbreak of civil war. He even hoped to convert some of them to his cause.

What a refreshing attitude to have in the middle of this life and death struggle among families. How many men (and women) today would consider the high road when faced with desperate times such as these?

Before twilight on 28SEP1780, Marion and his men had crossed the Great Pee Dee River on flatboats and camped at Witherspoon’s Ferry. Here, Marion met up with Capt. John James Jr. and Capt. Henry Mouzon (the author of the 1775 map I use in this series). Good Intel about a Tory presence was shared and again Marion chose to keep it secret and to rest his troops for a few hours before waking them up to ride south towards Dollard’s Tavern on Black Mingo Creek 15 miles away.

In a future post I will cover what happened at that tavern one of the few times Marion outnumbered his opponents. It involves a man, John Coming Ball, and his horse, and a whole lot more.

Stay tuned.