American Revolutionary War: 3D Layers to Causes, Principles Used and Results

The advantage of taking on a portion of this ‘American Revolutionary War’ conflict, as I was able to do in reviewing John Oller’s book ‘Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Won the American Revolution‘, was that I could get my head around how South Carolina became ripe for revolution, how principled was the conflict and how South Carolina dealt with their freedom from empire.

The disadvantage is that nothing happens in a vacuum or in isolation, and so in reality one needs to back up to the macro (Thirteen Colony Federation view) and even to a global view to understand more holistically how all this came down. This last disadvantage I was able to partially overcome with the assistance of a book Captain1776, Malibu and myself first ran across at the Camden, SC RevWar historical site bookstore called ‘South Carolina and the American Revolution – A Battlefield History‘ by John W. Gordon.

This book helped me to understand the rather complex web of issues, real or imaginary, physical or psychological that helped evolve the love of family, love of community and even into a love of a colony/region towards violence-based actions that risked these very things (family, community and colony/region and even culture).

The writer is a former US Marine officer and professor at the Citadel in South Carolina who is now involved with national security affairs in Quantico, VA. What was refreshing in John W. Gordon’s approach was the eye towards tactics and strategies that either helped or detracted from the efforts of either the rebel-patriots-Whigs or the loyalists-Brit-Tories in the very real civil war that raged in South Carolina from approximately 1775 until 1783.

One aspect realized, was the early attempt on the part of the British to utilize the Cherokee and Creek to their advantage in the southern theater of this war the British brought to regain control of the colonies actually led to ‘blowback’, where unintended consequences would rule as a result of decisions made. This in conjunction with the assumption that Loyalists would rise to greatly assist the British efforts showed how much out of touch London, England was with the thoughts on the minds of those in the low country, midland and rolling hills leading up to the Blue Ridge felt in 1775, 1778 and 1780.

Another aspect that came to light when reading this book was the pivotal moment the French aligned with the colonies which caused this conflict to spread to English colonies around the globe as this became a very real world war that involved Spain and the Dutch as well as the French.

Primary to all of this was the effect this effort to extract the South Carolina people from British Empire control in how this region unified to a degree during the conflict, that pitted father against son and cousin against cousin. The effect was specifically where, during and and especially after the war, the upstate areas obtained more say in the government. The fact that civil government by the people themselves for three years in absence of the British royals, that was then forced into exile in North Carolina for a time after Cornwallis occupied Charlestown and much of the region and then back in late 1781 showed that South Carolinians could rule themselves!

Decades later, praise for this effort across micro-cultures inside this state would emerge from the pen of George Bancroft in 1857 in “History of the United States”:

Left mainly to her own resources, it was through the depths of wretchedness that her sons were to bring her back to her place in the republic ..  having suffered more, and dared more, and achieved more than the men of any other state.

This struggle matured a generation of men and women towards principles that will be again used eighty years later when another “empire” would be threatening South Carolina in coercive and violent ways once more.

Hats off to South Carolina’s Revolutionary War generation in their fight for their love of future generations and their way of life.


NOTE: Future posts are forthcoming towards a more in-depth review of this new book, South Carolina and the American Revolution – A Battlefield History , in our library

06OCT1780: After Marion’s 3rd Major Militia Victory in a Row, Now What?

I have to admit, I probably told a fib, a lie. You see, part of American history has been dramatized if you will. There was a certain author of “history” that came along later in the early 1800s that put his own spin on American History which subsequently went into many of the textbooks we had in our schooling over the years. You too have probably been impacted. Have you ever heard that George Washington cut down a cherry tree? Enough said.

So too in my rendering of the Black Mingo Creek Battle around midnight back on 29/30SEP1780 when I said:

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.

As the author of The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution John Oller points out, Francis Marion, an attentive guerrilla commander, who never wanted to expose his men to the enemy, would know that at midnight the woods are quiet enough, that horse hooves on a wooden bridge would definitely be heard by the enemy within a mile. Apparently, this particular “historical author”, Parson Weems, liked to embellish history to make a sale according to this Journal of the American Revolution article:

Mason Locke Weems, better known as Parson Weems, considered himself an historian. But, he was far more interested in pleasing people than he was with writing history. His exaggerations and fabrications of fact led one commentator to remark that Weems had “a touch of the confidence man in him.”

Weems was born in 1759 and ordained by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1784. Ten years later he became a traveling book salesman and author. He wrote sermons and religious tracts. His claim to fame, however, are his books on famous Americans from the Revolutionary period; Washington, Franklin, and Francis Marion.

Enough about Weems, and his spin on actual historical events, let’s get back to the story about what alerted John Ball’s Loyalist Militia on that night when Francis Marion’s militia approached.

As John Oller’s research shows:

At least four separate pension applications independently submitted under oath by veterans who fought with Marion at Black Mingo state that before crossing Willtown Bridge they spread blankets on it to prevent the Tories from hearing them ..

Well there you have it. Francis Marion’s leadership, combined being conservative with taking calculated risks, to make a difference one day or one battle at a time. It is this aspect that not only caused his men to trust him and go the extra mile for their leader, endeared many especially in the southern colonies after the war who saw him as the difference maker in their effort towards independence, but also caused many places to be named after Marion all over the country after the Revolutionary War for years to come.

So what did alert the Loyalist militia that night? Intel!

… in Marion’s letter to Gates a week after the battle. “They had intelligence of our coming,” Marion explained. That would indicate that it was not loud horse hooves a few moments before the battle that tipped off the Tories but rather some earlier advance warning. Marion was not the only person who had spies working for him. Plenty of Tories in the Black Mingo area would have been eager to spoil a patriot attack. Certainly that was true of Elias Ball. “He had about a hundred and fifty slaves, and he was a mean fella,” one of his descendants recalled. Perhaps Elias Ball or another local Tory got wind of the action and told his brother John…

Intelligence activities was a crucial aspect of this war, something we probably discount. But the fact that almost 40% of the civilian population considered themselves loyalists at some point of this war sure was a factor.

The impact of Marion’s militia delivering three victories in a row caused the Loyalists and their militia in the Santee area of South Carolina to lay low and refuse to take the field fearing Marion and his men would come calling. This psychological edge was dearly needed as this actually created a break in the violence on the innocent in this regions communities and also offered many of Marion’s men to return to their homes, especially the ones in the burnt-over districts that British leader Tarleton had laid waste to weeks earlier.

Immediately after Black Mingo, Marion wanted to go after Wigfall, who, along with Ball, had been sent into the Williamsburg area to keep the Whigs in check. Wigfall was now stationed with about fifty men at the Salem Black River Presbyterian Church upriver from Kingstree and was an especially enticing target for Marion. He had served under Marion earlier in the war, and Marion pointedly excluded him by name from the thanks he gave his officers at Dorchester. John Wigfall was one of those South Carolinians who blew with the prevailing winds, siding with whoever held the advantage. Marion wanted to pursue him but, as he told Gates, could not because “so many of my followers was so desirous to see their wifes and family, which have been burnt out.”

This lull in the action also allowed whatever harvesting that could be done to happen in earnest as the crops were getting ready and winter was coming.

Stay tuned for the next October adventure in American Revolutionary War South Carolina that did NOT include Francis Marion or his militia, the Battle of King’s Mountain on 07OCT1780 over 150 miles from where Marion and his men accomplished their victory on 29SEP1780.

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!

More on this tomorrow …


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.


08SEP1780: In Only Two Weeks of Irregular Warfare, Marion’s 150 Men are Targeted by the British

The last we heard of Marion, he had split his militia force in the face of larger British/Tory numbers into three units. Maj. James had some intel that indicated on the evening of 07SEP1780 that 400 Redcoats/Tories under Wemyss were in Kingstree only 20 miles west of Marion with orders to finish Marion off. Marion was also made aware of 200 more Redcoats coming north out of the port of George Town heading his way as well.

With the news of overwhelming forces headed their way, Marion took counsel with the militia leadership and decided to move back east and north away from this pressure. Many of the men we audibly anxious about this news as they knew their homes in the Williamsburg area would be subjected to the pillaging efforts of the British as they gave chase to the fox (Marion).

The morning of 08SEP1780, Marion had more intel about the same force he had dispersed at Blue Savannah, Gainey and his Tory militia was headed toward Marion from the east. It is at this point that Marion makes the call to release those under his command to go and give aid and comfort to their own families as well as other patriotic families in the region and left with the balance, 60 men in all, to move north. Maj. James with a small band of men were to move directly in the path of Wemyss in the Williamsburg area to do what they can to counter act the wrath of the British.

By this time, from the west, the British force under Wemyss was only two miles away and so Marion decided to address the items he had that slowed him down, two old iron artillery pieces, probably six-pounders, and dumped them in the swamp just before crossing the North Carolina border.

By 15SEP1780, Marion and his men would be safely in Great White Marsh which is in eastern North Carolina, 30 miles past the border. Francis Marion, like a fox, sensed eminent danger and pressure from all sides and safely withdrew into a swamp area that offer protection and rest for the remainder of his men. Without a direct conflict in a week, Marion reflects on his efforts in late August / early September 1780.

With two weeks of irregular warfare with NO support from the Continentals prompted Francis Marion to use this time in relative safety to write Gen. Gates and explain that he and his men would remain in North Carolina until he heard from Gates or had another opportunity.

In Marion’s absence, the British left an indelible impression on the region:

Upon his arrival in Indiantown around September 7 Wemyss burned the Presbyterian church there, calling it a “sedition shop.” (Ironically, Wemyss was himself a Presbyterian.) Over the next few days he put the torch to several more homes, including that of Major James, allegedly because James’s wife refused to provide information as to her husband’s whereabouts.

He also hanged Adam Cusack, a local ferryman, in front of his wife and children as they pleaded for his life. According to American accounts, Cusack was executed either for refusing to ferry Wemyss’s officers across a creek or because he fired a shot across the creek at a slave of Tory militia captain John Brockinton. When Dr. James Wilson tried to intercede on Cusack’s behalf, Wemyss burned his house too. …

On his march north from Kingstree to the town of Cheraw, Wemyss cut a path of destruction seventy miles long and five miles wide on both sides of the Pee Dee River, burning fifty houses and plantations along the way. He claimed that these “mostly” belonged to people who had broken their paroles or oaths of allegiance and were now in arms against the British. (He offered no justification for burning the others.) Wemyss also ordered his men to destroy blacksmith shops, looms, and mills and to shoot or bayonet any milk cows and sheep not taken by the British for themselves. The residents thus lost not only their shelter but also their means of livelihood, food, and clothing. Wemyss’s scorched-earth policy would have echoes in Sherman’s famous march through the South in the Civil War.

Oller, John. The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution (Kindle Locations 1093-1106). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.

There is a term that is used in the 21st century to describe the unintentional consequences of this kind of warfare on the civilian population, BLOWBACK. The US Empire’s CIA is well aware of what happens when these kind of tactics are used in that a majority of the population is so incensed that freedom fighters/insurgents are “birthed” at incredible rates. This is what would be the case in 18th century South Carolina, where any gains the British had after practically overrunning the whole state by the end of May 1780 would be erased by the conduct of British officers and Tory/Loyalists.

While it was tempting for the patriotic forces to mimic the British in a “tit-for-tat” move, for the most part Marion was able to control those under his command. While some junior officers did go rogue and follow the British “total war” strategy, Marion sought to distance himself from this and communicated with Gen. Gates specifically which officers had crossed that line. Unfortunately, there were few if any British officers that reined in their men like Marion did, and the civilian population in South Carolina took the brunt of this immoral use of military troops directly on families, their livelihood and their property.


25AUG1780 Early Morning Hours: Marion Awakes His Militia on its First Mission

My previous post talked about how intelligence was leaked to Francis Marion about 150 Maryland prisoners of war held at Thomas Sumter’s abandoned house on the north savanna of the Santee River guarded with 90 British. Knowing that “leaks” can happen in either direction, he kept this information from his men as they went to bed on August 24th and were awakened before dawn on the 25th to ride to the first Francis Marion led militia effort (as well as his first military expedition leadership effort in the three months since the fall of Charles Town (Charleston, SC)).

Before this point in the war, Marion was operating within the Continental line with infantry and other units. His operational structure now, at this desperate hour, was with volunteer militia who received no pay for their service. Freedom fighters who sacrificed time and sometimes their lives in securing their family, friend and communities from the tyranny of the British Empire.

Battle of Nelson’s Ferry / Great Savannah involved 23 killed or captured British regulars in order to release all the prisoners. Even after this heroic effort, MOST elected NOT to join Marion’s Militia. It is fairly certain that this was the first time British General Cornwallis heard of Marion.

Col. Francis Marion leadership that day included:

  • Lt. Col. Lemuel Benton (Cheraws regiment) with 16 men
  • Kingstree regiment led by Lt. Col. Hugh Horry and Maj. John James  with four (4) known companies, led by:
    -Capt. John James, Jr.-Capt. John McCauley, Capt. Robert McCottry, Capt. William McCottry
  • Berkeley County Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
    Capt. William Dukes
  • Lower Craven County Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by: Capt. Henry Mouzon

[Source material from JD Lewis at ]

The reaction of Lt. Gen. Charles Lord Corwallis is to issue this order to Maj. James Wemyss to move from the High Hills of the Santee to Kingstree:

“I should advise your sweeping the country entirely from Kingstree bridge to Pedee, and returning by the Cheraws. I would have you disarm in the most rigid manner, all persons who cannot be depended on and punish the concealment of arms and ammunition with a total demolition of the plantation.”

Cornwallis, who thought that he was done in South Carolina is now having to send troops back into the Kingstree district to suppress the momentum shift due to Marion’s surprise victory and release of 150 prisoners of war. Hope is renewed from this small 60 man force!

Irregular warfare is about to emerge, and the British are ill equipped strategically to counter act it.