Marion, The Swamp Fox
Perhaps the most noted partisan leader was Francis Marion, of South Carolina. He was born in Georgetown, South Carolina, in 1732, and was therefore the same age as Washington. Although as a child he was very frail, he became strong as he grew older. As a man he was short and slight of frame, but strong and hardy in constitution.
When the British began to swarm into South Carolina, Marion raised and drilled a company of neighbors and friends, known as “Marion’s Brigade.” These men were without uniforms or tents, and they served without pay. They did not look much like soldiers on parade, but were among the bravest and best fighters of the Revolution. Their swords were beaten out of old mill-saws at the country forge, and their bullets were made largely from pewter mugs and other pewter utensils. Their rations were very scant and simple. Marion, their leader, as a rule, ate hominy and potatoes and drank water flavored with a little vinegar.
The story is told that one day a British officer came to the camp with a flag of truce. After the officers had talked, Marion, with his usual delicate courtesy, invited the visitor to dinner. We can imagine the Englishman’s surprise when, on a log which made the camp table, there was served a dinner consisting only of roasted sweet potatoes passed on pieces of bark! The officer was still more amazed to learn that even potatoes were something of a luxury.
Marion’s brigade of farmers and hunters seldom numbered more than seventy, and often less than twenty. But with this very small force he annoyed the British beyond measure by rescuing prisoners, and by capturing supply-trains and outposts.
One day a scout brought in the report that a party of ninety British with two hundred prisoners were on the march for Charleston. Waiting for the darkness to conceal his movements, Marion with thirty men sallied out, swooped down upon the British camp, capturing the entire force and rescuing all the American prisoners.
It was the custom of Marion’s men, when hard pressed by a superior force, to scatter, each man looking out for himself. Often they would dash headlong into a dense, dark swamp, to meet again at some place agreed upon. Even while they were still in hiding, they would sometimes dart out just as suddenly as they had vanished, and surprise another squad of British which might be near at hand. “Swamp Fox” was the name the British gave to Marion.
With the aid of such partisan bands, and with skilful handling of his army, Greene was more than a match for Cornwallis. He was not strong enough just yet for a pitched battle, but he kept Cornwallis chasing without losing his own army. That was about all he could hope to do for a while.
But when he received recruits from Virginia, he thought it wise to strike a blow, even though he could not win a victory. Turning, therefore, upon his enemy, he fought a battle at Guilford Court House, North Carolina (March, 1781).
He was defeated, but came off as well as he expected, and so crippled the British army that Cornwallis had to retreat. He went to the coast to get supplies for his half-starved men. Like the battle of Bunker Hill, it was a dearly bought victory for the British.
Cornwallis now saw clearly that he could not hope longer for success in the south, and having taken on fresh supplies, he marched northward to try his luck at Yorktown, Virginia.
Washington, with an army of French and American troops, was at the time in camp on the Hudson River, waiting for the coming of the French fleet to New York. That city was still in the hands of the British. As soon as this fleet should arrive, Washington expected to attack the British army in New York by land, while the fleet attacked it by sea.
But the French fleet was well on its way to the Chesapeake instead of to New York as expected. When this information came to Washington, he worked out a bold and brilliant scheme. It was to march his army as quickly and as secretly as possible to Yorktown, a distance of four hundred miles, there join the American army under Lafayette, and, combining with the French fleet on its arrival, capture the British under Cornwallis.
This daring scheme succeeded so well that Cornwallis surrendered his entire army of eight thousand men on October 19, 1781. This important event, which practically ended the war, we shall speak of again.
The surrender at Yorktown ended the fighting, although the treaty of peace was not signed until 1783. By that treaty the Americans won their independence from England. The country which they could now call their own extended from Canada to Florida, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.
After the treaty of peace was signed, and the army disbanded, General Greene went home. In 1785 he moved with his family to a plantation which the State of Georgia had given him. Here he lived in quiet and happiness, but only a short time, for he died of sunstroke at the age of forty-four. His comrade Anthony Wayne, voiced the feeling of his countrymen when he said: “I have seen a great and good man die.”