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ARANCIS MARION was born at Winyab, South Carolina, in 1732. Gabriel, his father, was one of a band of Huguenots who migrated from France in 1690, or thereabouts, to seek in the New World that freedom of conscience which was denied them in the Old. Francis was his youngest child, the last of six, only one of whom was a daughter. He was a puny and diminutive infant, so much so that in the old Spartan times he would scarcely have escaped the horsepond. "I have it from good authority," says the Rev. Mr. Weems, one of his earliest biographers, "that this great soldier at his birth was not larger than a New England lobster, and might easily enough have been put into a quart pot." He was a sort of Tom Thumb Redivivus, if all accounts are true, and realized for a time the old nursery fable. But as the years flew on his physique strengthened, and by his twelfth birthday he was as large and healthy as Inost boys of that age. No anecdotes of his childhood have come down to us, which I dare say is no great loss, so
apocryphal is the juvenile table-talk of your afterward celebrated man. His earliest inclination pointed to the sea. In 1747-8 he embarked in a small vessel for the West Indies. We are not told in what capacity he sailed, whether as cabin boy or before the mast; neither do we know the name of the vessel, or the port to which she was bound. It is enough to know that she foundered at sea, in consequence of injuries received from the stroke of a whale. Her crew, six in number, escaped from the wreck in the jolly boat, saving nothing but their lives. During six days and nights they lay tossing about on the waves, seeing nothing but the blank of sky and the gray and desolate ocean. They had neither provisions
"Water, water everywhere, But not a drop to drink." They lived as long as they could upon a dog, which swam to them from the wreck, eating his flesh, and drinking his blood. Two of them died before they were res
The survivors were picked up by a passing vessel on the seventh day, and finally restored to their homes. So ended Francis Marion's first and last sea venture.
For the next ten years he devoted himself to farming. We hear of him in 1758, near Frierson's Lock, on the Santee Canal, planting with his mother and his brother Gabriel. His father was then dead. In 1759 the brothers separated. Gabriel removed to Belle Isle, while Francis settled at a place called Pond Bluff, in the parish of St. John. It lies within cannon-shot of the battle-ground of Eutaw. Little did he then think, when he first settled there, an obedient subject of the mother country, that his valor would one day defend it against her tyrannies, and help to make it a famous spot.
In the same year that Marion settled at Pond Bluff, a war broke out between South Carolina and the Cherokee tribe of Indians. It is not necessary here to go into the origin of the war, nor to describe the various skirmishes between the contending parties. Suffice it to say that Marion was one of the first to take the field against the Indians, and that he was initiated into military life under the eye of one of his brothers, who commanded a troop of provincial cavalry. We hear nothing of him until the spring of 1761, when he belonged to another regiment of native troops commanded by Colonel Middleton. Some of the officers of this regiment, which, by the way, was one of light infantry, afterward distinguished themselves in the Revolution. Among these were Laureus, Pickens, Huger, and Moultrie. The latter commanded the company to which Marion belonged, and of which he was first lieutenant. Besides the colonists, the force was strengthened by a number of Chickasaw and Catawba Indians; in all there were twenty-six hundred men. On the 7th of June, 1761, they started from Fort St. George, a remote military port on the banks of the Isundiga River, about three hundred miles from Charleston, and took up a line of march for the Cherokee country. They drew near the town of Etchoee, the field of a hard fought battle in the previous campaign, and discovered the Indians waiting for them. They were in possession of a hill on the right flank of the army. Finding their position discovered they opened a sharp
fire on the provincial army, and followed it up with a valiant charge. They were not armed with those romantic weapons, bows and arrows, but with good muskets and bayonets, which they knew how to use, and had already used, to advantage. Their charge was unsuccessful, owing to the vigorous manner in which the rear was supported; they were driven back, and resumed their old position on the hill. The line of March lay along this hill for some distance, and to continue it, without dislodging the Indians, would have been a murderous sacrifice of the troops. The red skins must therefore be dislodged. A forlorn hope of thirty men were chosen from the advanced guard, to force an entrance to the enemy. They were commanded by Lieutenant Marion. The most practicable ascent of the hill was a gloomy defile, through which the brave fellows marched following their commander. A considerable body of their comrades moved forward to support them. The war-whoop sounded as they entered the defile, and a deadly fire swept away twenty-one of them. The rest were saved by the advance, which hurried up and commenced the main action. The Cherokees fought bravely, disputing the ground inch by inch, now pouring a well-directed fire from their places of concealment, and now flying from the terrible bayonet. Dislodged from one position they took another, and defended it until again dislodged. The battle raged from eight in the morning until noon, and though many were slain on both sides, victory inclined to neither; about two o'clock, however, the Cherokees gave way, and the field was won. After that the provincial troops did as they pleased, wasting and spoiling the Indian settlements.
Fourteen of their towns in the middle settlements alone were ruthlessly destroyed. Their granaries were burned, their cornfields trampled down, while the fugitives-those who were fortunate enough to escape from the sword-fled to their starving families in the barren mountains. That they had provoked and deserved punishment was certain, but scarcely to this extent. The retribution was too severe. So at least seemed to think Marion, who described the engagement in a letter to a friend :
"We arrived at the Indian towns in the
month of July. As the lands were rich, and the season had been favorable, the corn was
bending under the double weight of lusty roasting ears, and pods of clustering beans. The furrows seemed to rejoice under their precious
loads: the fields stored thick with bread. We encamped the first night in the woods, near the fields, where the whole army feasted on the young corn, which, with fat venison made a most delicious treat.
"The next morning we proceeded, by order of Colonel Grant, to burn down the Indian cabins. Some of our men seemed to enjoy this cruel work, laughing very heartily over the curling flames as they mounted, loud crackling, over the tops of the huts; but to me it appeared a shocking sight. 'Poor creatures!' thought I, 'we surely need not grudge you such miserable habitations.' But when we came, according to
orders, to cut down the fields of corn, I could scarcely refrain from tears. For who could see the stalks that stood so stately, with broad green leaves and gayly-tasseled shocks, filled with sweet milky fluid, and flour, the staff of life-who, I say, without grief, could see these sacred plants sinking under our swords, with all their precious loads, to wither and rot untasted in their mourning fields!
"I saw everywhere around the footsteps of little Indian children, where they had lately played under the shelter of the rustling corn. No doubt they had often looked up with joy to the swelling shocks, and gladdened when they thought of their abundant cakes for the coming winter. When we were gone, thought I, they will return, and peeping through the weeds with mournful eyes will mark the ghastly ruin poured over their homes, and the happy fields where they had so often played. 'Who did this?' they will ask their mothers. The white people, the Christians did it,' will be the reply."
Is not that a noble letter? You could not find another like it, I will venture to assert, in the whole range of war-literature. The last paragraph is a poem by itself. Good old Francis Marion! would that more soldiers were like thee!
The Cherokee war being over, Marion returned to his plantation, where he remained until 1775, engaged in the peaceful and happy occupation of a farmer. We hear nothing of him during all that time; but he was doubtless a man of rank in his neighborhood; for we find him returned to the Provincial Congress of South Carolina, in the year just mentioned, as a member from St. John, Berkley. While Congress was in session several regiments were called for to resist the encroachments of the crown. Marion was elected to a captaincy in one of these, the second regiment; Moultrie, his captain in the Cherokee war, was made colonel. Marion was so eager to enter upon his new career, that he commenced recruiting while Congress was still in session.
His first active service under the new
régime was on an expedition against Fort Johnson, which lay on James's Island, hard by the city of Charleston. The fort was taken without bloodshed, having been abandoned by the English. It was placed in Marion's charge, and he busied himself in completing its defenses. Several new regiments being on the tapis, he was promoted to a majority. Ere long he was removed to Fort Sullivan, or Moultrie, as it was afterward called, which stood on the island of that name, at the entrance of Charleston harbor. The fort was yet to be built; for when Marion and the second
regiment entered it, it was little more than an outline. Its shape was traced out on the sand, and the palmetto trees of which it was to be constructed, lay around in rafts. They went to work diligently, but were unable to finish it before the British fleet hove in sight. It was a rude affair; a square inclosed with a wall of logs, laid one upon another, and dovetailed together with timber.
The spaces between the logs were filled with sand. The garrison amounted to four hundred and thirty-five men; they had but thirty-one cannon, of small caliber. On the 20th of June, 1776, the British ships of war, nine in number, drew up in front of the fort, and began to bombard it. They had two hundred and seventy-six guns, and one bomb vessel. The garrison returned their fire with spirit; having no powder to spare, it was necessary for them to time their discharges, and to make every shot tell. The field officers trained the guns in person; their fire was fatal. They wisely directed their pieces against the largest ships. The "Bristol," a fifty-gun ship, commanded by Sir Peter Parker, the commodore, had seventy men killed and wounded; Sir Peter himself lost an arm. The Experiment," another fifty-gun ship, had fifty-seven killed, and thirty wounded. The loss on the American side, was but thirty-six, only twelve of whom were killed. Their powder beginning to give out, a small party, headed by Marion, left the fort, and proceeding to one of the enemy's armed schooners, seized the ammunition, by which their supply was maintained until five hundred weight more was received from the city. Previous to this their discharges were so slow, that the British thought they had abandoned the fort. The fight was renewed furiously. It was a hot day, and the men were stripped to their work. They took
off their coats, and threw them on top of the merlons; sometimes the shot struck them, and away they went, fluttering in the air. Moultrie, and several of his officers, smoked their pipes during the engagement, only taking them from their lips when they issued orders. A shot from the enemy struck the flag at one time, and carried it away; it fell without the fort. In an instant, one of Marion's men, Sergeant Jasper, sprang out after it; he snatched it from the ground, and binding it to a sponge-staff, restored it to its place, and then climbed back into the fort unhurt. After the battle Governor Rutledge presented him with his own sword. The last shot which was fired on the American side came, it is said, from the hand of Marion. It was aimed by him at the commodore's ship, as a sort of parting salute. It penetrated the cabin, cut down two young officers who were cosily drinking grog, and then, ranging forward, swept three sailors overboard; after which it sank heavily and peacefully into the sea. battle lasted eleven hours.
For the next two or three years Marion was shifted about as he was wanted; now he was in command at Fort Moultrie, now at Savannah, and elsewhere. He was at Savannah, or in its vicinity, in September, 1779, when Count D'Estaign, the American ally, appeared on the coast with a fleet of twenty sail. As soon as it was known that D'Estaign was there, General Lincoln put his army in motion for Savannah; but before he could reach it the French general had disembarked his troops, and, without waiting for the coming army, had summoned the British to surrender. The British commander asked twenty-four hours to consider the proposition, which he foolishly gave him. When D'Estaign first summoned the place, it could not have held out against him; but the day's delay, and the arrival of re-enforcements, enabled the enemy to put it in a very fair state of defense. Marion was enraged at the mistake of D'Estaign, as, indeed, were all the American officers. His forebodings of defeat were fully realized. When the time agreed upon had expired the French and American armies, having waited, besieged the place. They had to erect batteries, and bring cannon from the ships, which were several miles off. On the 4th of October they opened with nine mortars and thirty-seven pieces VOL. XII.-23
of cannon on the land side, and sixteen from the water. They did so little damage in the five following days, that they determined at last to run the risk of an assault. The morning of the 9th of October was fixed upon for the attack; the Americans were paraded at one o'clock; it was four o'clock before the head of the French column reached the front. The combined forces marched in a long line toward an open space, where they were to separate, and take the positions to which they had been assigned. But day breaking as the French column arrived at the open space, Count D'Estaign put himself at the head of his men, and rushed to the attack, unsupported. The British batteries poured such a storm of grape-shot against them as they advanced, and swept them down so when they reached the abatis, with grape-shot and musketry mingled, that they soon got into confusion, and broke. The second and third French column shared the same fate. The American column, headed by Colonel Laurens of the light infantry, and followed by the second South Carolina regiment, under Moultrie and Marion, was more successful. They pressed forward on the Spring Hill redoubts, succeeded in getting into the ditch, and even planted their colors on the berme. The parapet, however, was too high to be scaled in the face of the fire from the walls; and after a severe slaughter they were driven from the ditch. Part of this slaughter may be charged to their determination to save their colors, which had been presented to the regiment by a lady. Sergeant Jasper, who was the standard-bearer on this occasion, fell mortally wounded; and the colors were lost. Count Pulaski fell also. Altogether, the American and French loss was eleven hundred men; the British loss was small. It was a complete defeat; thanks to the chivalrous nonsense of Monsieur le Count D'Estaign.
for his patience with militia; a rare quality in an officer of the regular army.
About this time Sir Henry Clinton came down from New York with ten thousand choice British troops, and a large and heavy train of artillery, and invested Charleston. The Americans had but four thousand men to defend it with, half of whom were raw militia. To discourage them still further, the small-pox, always a dreaded disease, made its appearance among them. The city fell into the hands of the enemy, and a large number of American officers were taken prisoners; among these was Colonel Moultrie. Marion escaped, owing to an odd accident which had befallen him. While the city was invested he was dining with a party of friends at the house of an over-hospitable gentleman of the old school of hard drinkers; the which gentleman took it into his vinous fancy to lock up his guests for the purpose of making them drunk. Not being a disciple of Bacchus Marion opened a window, and threw himself out into the street. It was a second story window, and he broke his ankle. Being unfitted for service he retired to his residence in St. John's Parish. When the city fell the enemy set their hounds on his track, and he was compelled to take refuge in the swamps and forests. His friends carried him about from place to place, watched him while he slept, and sped with him from house to house, from swamp to swamp. He was several months in this helpless situation. As soon, however, as he was able to ride on horseback, he collected a few followers and set out for North Carolina, to join a continental force which was on its way from Virginia, under Baron De Kalb. Before he reached the army Gates had superseded De Kalb, and it was to him that Marion and his men offered their services. They were thus described by one of Gates's officers, in a letter to a friend:
Colonel Marion, a gentleman of South Carolina, has been with the army a few days, attended by a very few followers, distinguished by small leather caps, and the wretchedness of their attire. Their number does not exceed twenty men and boys, some white, some black, and all mounted, but all miserably equipped. Their appearance is in fact so burlesque that it is with much difficulty the diversion of the regular soldiery is restrained by the officers.
Before the war was over, however, Marion and his ragged regiment proved
themselves no laughing matter, especially to the British.
While Marion was in Gates's camp a messenger from the Whigs of Williamsburgh summoned him to be their leader. Governor Rutledge gave him a general's commission, and he set out to join his new companions in arms. His first step on reaching them was to sack the neighboring saw - mills in order to supply his brigade with weapons. He collected all the saws he could lay hands on, and turned his men into extempore blacksmiths. They hammered them into something like saber blades, and thus equipped waited for an opportunity to distinguish themselves. Nor did they have to wait long, for on the second day after taking command General Marion crossed the Pedee at Post's Ferry, and led them to Britton's Neck against a large body of Tories commanded by Major Gainey. They rode all night, and came up with the enemy just at dawn. Gainey was surprised and defeated; he lost a captain and several privates. Two of Marion's men were wounded, none killed. Learning that another party of Tories was in the neighborhood, he started off the next day to disperse them. As they outnumbered his own men he resorted to a stratagem which he frequently practiced afterward. He placed a portion of his men in ambush, and feigning a retreat with the remainder, drew the enemy from their stronghold, and cut them to pieces leisurely.
When Marion left the camp of Gates, that valiant general, confident of an easy victory over Lord Cornwallis, instructed him to employ his men in the destruction of all the flat-boats, screws, ferry-boats, barges, and other marine conveyances, whereby the doomed Britains might ateempt to escape. Instead of Cornwallis, however, it was Gates who was defeated. Not knowing that fact Marion dispatched Colonel Peter Harry, one of his best officers, with four companies, to execute Gates's order, to break up all communication with Charleston, and to obtain a supply of ammunition. To show how scantily off Marion's men were for the necessaries of war, it is said that they frequently went into action with less than three rounds to a man. Nay, half of them were sometimes mere lookers-on, owing to their lack of powder and balls. When a friend or an enemy fell they would be supplied, and