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Francis Marion, Chapter III, Campaign of 1781, part 2

Gen. Marion soon after taking Fort Motte, re-crossed the Santee, and encamped at Cantey’s plantation, a little more than midway from Nelson’s to Murray’s ferry, and here he reposed his men for some time and collected reinforcements. In consequence of the evacuation of Camden, and recent successes, the militia turned out well and in high spirits. About the 3d of June, he marched for Georgetown, and appearing before it on the 6th, began his approach by breaking ground; but on the night after the garrison evacuated the town, and took shipping. Remaining here for some time, the general threw off his old habiliments, furnished his wardrobe anew, and fitted himself out with a suit of regimentals. He also procured a couple of mules to transport his baggage. His privations, during the period passed over, were so great that he even wanted a blanket, for on a certain night his bed of pine straw catching fire under him, while he was soundly reposing after one of his forced marches, half of the only one he had was burnt,15 and his leather cap was wrinkled upon one side, from the contact of the same element. Hereafter he indulged himself with the luxury of coffee for breakfast, but often without bread to it, and he seldom tasted wine or spirits; but was fond of vinegar and water, the drink of a Roman soldier. However, Georgetown was no Capua to him. He soon returned again to Cantey’s plantation, and kept out scouts constantly towards Biggen church, where the enemy had a garrison of considerable force.

About this period, Gen. Marion sent Col. Peter Horry with a force to negociate a treaty with Major Ganey and his party. As he could not well turn his arms against him, and the whig settlements on Pedee were left exposed to his depredations, it was good policy to awe him, and to endeavour to keep him quiet. After a little time Horry negociated a treaty, humiliating enough to Ganey; by which, among other matters, he and his officers agreed to lay down their arms and remain neutral, to deliver up all those who refused to comply with the treaty and all deserters from the Americans, and also to restore all negroes and other plundered property. This treaty was ratified on the 17th of June, but was not strictly complied with until Marion afterwards found leisure to enforce it; as shall be narrated in its place.

Soon after the siege of Fort Motte, Gen. Greene proceeding on with his main army, laid siege to Ninety-Six; in which Lieut. Col. Cruger commanded a garrison of five hundred men, and defended himself with energy and ability. On the right of the besiegers was a strong stockade fort, and on the left a work called the Star redoubt. On the night of the 26th of May, the celebrated Kosciusko, who acted at that time as an engineer for Greene, raised two block batteries within three hundred and fifty yards of the besieged. Soon after a third and a fourth were erected, and lastly a rifle battery within thirty yards of the ditch of the fort. The abbatis was turned, and two trenches and a mine were extended within six feet of the ditch. The fort must soon have been taken; but Lord Rawdon was approaching fast to the relief of the garrison, with two thousand men, which he had lately received from Ireland; (18th June) and Gen. Greene was obliged to raise the siege and retreat over the Saluda. His loss before the fort was about one hundred and fifty men. Lord Rawdon followed the Americans, as far as the Ennoree; but finding the pursuit fruitless, he drew off a part of the garrison from Ninety-Six, and fixed a detachment of his army at the Congaree. Gen. Greene, finding the British force divided, faced about and offered Lord Rawdon battle; but he, in his turn, retreated to Orangeburgh.

About the beginning of July, in this year, Lord Rawdon still lay in Orangeburgh, strongly posted, and Gen. Greene was near, watching his motions. While thus situated, Col. Cruger evacuated his post at Ninety-Six, and marching down through the fork of Edisto, joined Rawdon. As there was no other place at which the Edisto could then be passed but at Orangeburgh, it was out of Greene’s power to prevent the junction; and Rawdon’s army being thus reinforced, Gen. Greene thought it prudent to retire to Bloom hill, Richardson’s plantation, at the High Hills of Santee. Before retiring, however, he detached Gen. Sumter as commander, and ordered Marion to join him, to strike at the posts below. On his way down, Sumter made several successful attacks on British outposts, which were conducted more immediately by Col. Lee and Col. Wade Hampton. Generals Sumter and Marion formed a junction near Biggen, and marched to attack the fort there, garrisoned by five hundred infantry and one hundred cavalry, and commanded by Col. Coates, a spirited officer. His cavalry at first repulsed Sumter’s advance, but were driven in by the state troops under Col. Hampton. In the evening after, Col. Coates set fire to the church, which contained all his heavy baggage and stores, and retreating by the Strawberry road over Watboo bridge, destroyed it, and thus gained a considerable advance upon Sumter, who had to march round by a ford in pursuit. Coates, in like manner, threw the plank off Huger’s bridge, and proceeded rapidly for Quimby. Here he had loosened the planks of the bridge, and was waiting for his rear guard; but, in the mean time, Lee had come up with and taken it. Dr. Irvine, by advancing too far among the combatants, was wounded in this affair,16 together with several of Lee’s men. While Coates was waiting, Capt. Armstrong, at the head of five of his own men, and Capt. James M`Caulay’s troop of militia horse crossed the bridge and charged in among the enemy, who at first threw down their arms, but seeing the force so small, soon resumed them, and began to fire; but Armstrong made good his way through them down the road. In the mean while, the passage of the cavalry over the bridge had opened such a chasm17 in the plank, that Lee could not cross to follow up the advantage thus gained, and the critical moment was lost. The enemy had time to recover from their panic, and to post themselves in Col. Shubrick’s house and out houses, which were near. After some delay, Sumter arrived and ordered an attack, which was led on by Marion, whose men, and a regiment of Sumter’s, under Col. Thomas Taylor, marched up in open ground, with a view of gaining a fence near the houses; and were exposed to a most galling fire, from riflemen aiming at them from behind cover. More than fifty were killed and wounded, generally of Marion’s men, who were most exposed. Capt. Perry and Lieut. June, of his brigade, were killed; and Lieut. Col. John Baxter, who was very conspicuous, from his gigantic size and full uniform, received five wounds; Major Swinton was also severely wounded. A retreat was ordered. The attack was made against Marion’s opinion, who blamed Sumter afterwards for wasting the lives of his men. But, with such a force, Sumter had not the disposition to be idle, and wanted only a field piece to have ensured success. Col. Coates had now the command of boats, and a wide river before him, and could easily have effected his retreat in that way to Charleston; but Sumter did not attack him again; because, it was said, a reinforcement was coming to his assistance. After this, Gen. Marion retired to the Santee, and took post at Cordes’, and afterwards at Peyre’s plantation, near the mouth of the present Santee canal, where he reposed his men and horses, until about the 25th of August.

The British lay near M`Cord’s ferry, with a strong party at Monk’s corner and Dorchester, and Gen. Greene was still encamped at Richardson’s plantation on the High Hills of Santee, directly opposite the enemy, where they might easily see each other; but with a wide swamp between them. About this time Gen. Greene ordered Marion to go to the assistance of Col. Harden, who was then much pressed by the enemy, to the south of the Edisto. Immediately he detached a party of mounted militia under Capt. George Cooper, to the neighbourhood of Dorchester and Monk’s corner, to create a diversion there, whilst he with about two hundred picked men, by a circuitous route and forced march of at least one hundred miles, crossed the Edisto, joined Harden and approached the British. When sufficiently near he drew up his men in a swamp upon the road near Parker’s ferry, and sent out some of his swiftest horse to lead the British into the ambuscade. While lying there a small party of tories crossed at the ferry, and in passing on one of them called out that he saw a white feather, and fired his gun. This occasioned an exchange of a few shots on both sides; but (as is supposed) it was thought by Major Fraser, who commanded the British, to be only Harden’s party that was in the swamp; he pursued the horsemen sent out as a decoy, and led his corps in full charge within forty or fifty yards parallel to the ambuscade. A deadly fire from the swamp, was the first notice he had that a greater force than Harden’s was there. He attempted to wheel and charge into the swamp, but only exposed his men the more, as they were thus delayed before the fire, and were wedged up on a causeway so closely that every shot had its utmost effect. Finding all his efforts ineffectual, Fraser at length retreated along the road to the ferry, and thus passed the whole ambuscade. A large body of infantry with a field piece, were now seen advancing, and Marion retreated without counting the dead, but men and horses were seen lying promiscuously in heaps on the road. Although a large body of infantry was advancing, yet Marion in his situation had not much to fear from them, and indeed had often encountered such; therefore the true cause of his retreating could not have been because they were advancing; but the probability is, because he wanted ammunition. How often he was thus impeded in his enterprizes was known only to himself. A party under Capt. Melton, went out the next day to the battle ground, and counted twenty-seven dead horses; the men had been buried. As Marion’s men fired with either a ball and buck shot, or heavy buck shot alone, and as none would aim at horses, the loss of the British must have been great. — But though their loss could not be ascertained, the effect of this well conducted affair soon became evident, for at the battle of Eutaw, nine days after, the enemy had but few cavalry in the field. It is not a little surprising that there is no record or date of this action to be found, but in the thanks of congress to Gen. Marion, which fix it on the 31st of August.

In the mean time, Capt. Cooper passed on to the Cypress, and there routed a party of tories, and then proceeding down the road, he drove off the cattle from before the enemy’s fort at Dorchester. He next moved on down the Charleston road; a body of tories lay in a brick church, which stood then twelve miles from town; he charged and drove them before him. Next, passing into Goose creek road, he proceeded to the ten mile house, returned and passed over Goose creek bridge, took a circuitous route around the British at Monk’s corner and arrived in camp at Peyre’s plantation near the canal, where Gen. Marion now lay, with many prisoners, and without the loss of a man. In his letter of the 10th of August, 1781, noted above, Gen. Greene writes to Marion, “you will see by Col. Harden’s letter, the enemy have hung Col. Hayne; do not take any measure in the matter towards retaliation, for I do not intend to retaliate on the tory officers, but the British. It is my intention to demand the reasons of the colonel’s being put to death, and if they are unsatisfactory, as I am sure they will be, and if they refuse to make satisfaction, as I suppose they will, to publish my intentions of giving no quarters to British officers of any rank that fall into our hands. This will be delayed for some few days, to give our friends in St. Augustine18 time to get off.” The measure thus proposed was quite too extensive in its nature to have been carried into effect. The true reason why there was no retaliation was the last, respecting the friends in St. Augustine, and it is suspected that it originated with the governor and council. The British army was now no longer commanded by Lord Rawdon; he had retired to Europe, and was succeeded by Brigadier Gen. Stewart. Lord Rawdon had defended Camden as long as he could with vigour and ability; but lately stained his reputation by the execution of Col. Hayne. In extenuation of this act, it is said by his friends, he only obeyed the orders of his superior; but if he really disapproved that act of cruelty, he could easily have avoided taking a part in it, for as he was shortly to sail for Europe, he might have left the execution of it to Col. Balfour; as being congenial to his natural disposition. This proceeding was sudden and unexpected, and produced a great sensation in the American army. When Gen. Greene demanded the reason of it, Lord Rawdon had either departed or returned no answer; but Balfour stated, that “it took place by the joint order of Lord Rawdon and myself, in consequence of the most express directions of Lord Cornwallis to us, in regard to all those who should be found in arms, after being, at their own request, received as British subjects.” Now, although Lord Cornwallis, when flushed with victory, issued cruel orders; yet it is not to be presumed he acted the tyrant so far as to communicate private orders to Rawdon and Balfour; but the only case in which his public orders directed a capital punishment, is the following: “I have ordered in the most positive manner, that every militia man, who has borne arms with us, and afterwards joined the enemy, shall be immediately hanged.” But it was never pretended that Col. Hayne had borne arms with the British; when he submitted, he expressly stipulated with Gen. Patterson, that he was not to do so; and when, notwithstanding such stipulation, he was called upon for that service, he positively refused, although threatened with confinement. Besides, both Moultrie and Ramsey assert he did not serve with the British; and as far as negative proof can go, this should be conclusive. But the fact that he bore arms with the British is not charged against him; his accusation was, “being at his own request received as a British subject.” Then Col. Hayne neither came within the letter, nor the penalty of the order issued by Lord Cornwallis; and his blood rests upon the heads of Rawdon and Balfour. A fair state of the case is, that Col. Hayne had been considered by the British a character of great influence, and after the fall of Charleston, having applied to Gen. Patterson, then commandant, for a parole, he was refused one, and was threatened with confinement if he would not subscribe a declaration of allegiance. Under the influence of this threat, by the advice of friends, and the stipulation above stated, he was induced to sign the declaration; and he was now tried for a breach of his allegiance. Lord Cornwallis punished for breaches of parole, but this was a new charge, made by Rawdon and Balfour themselves. But Hayne’s signature to that instrument, had been obtained by duresse, and the part of the country in which he lived had been for several months in the possession of the Americans, and the British were unable to protect him in his allegiance. These, and no doubt other grounds, might have been alleged in his defence, but he was at first promised, and afterwards refused to be heard by counsel. The law of nations, as we have seen, was often on the lips of Balfour, and here was a case which came clearly within that code. Then the forms of justice should have been carefully observed; the accused should have been heard in his defence; the spirit of the law should have been the guide of the judges, with a leaning in favour of lenity and mercy; the passions ought not to have been suffered to interfere, where the minds of the court should have been regulated by justice and wisdom; and finally, the judges should have proceeded deliberately, avoiding every thing like haste in their decision. Such is the law of nations.19 But neither the forms of justice, nor the spirit of the law were observed; the accused was tried by a court martial, in which, after the production of the declaration of allegiance, the only inquiry made was, “whether he had been taken in arms?” And that being proved, the defendant received a summary sentence of death. A most feeling intercession was made in his behalf, but in vain; all that could be obtained was a few days delay of the execution, which otherwise would have been hurried on in the most indecent manner. Col. Hayne died, not indeed the death, but with the spirit of a soldier, and a martyr in the cause of civil liberty; he met his fate calmly on the gibbet. The character of Balfour was already so black there was scarcely room for an additional blot; but the execution of Col. Hayne must ever continue a stain upon the reputation of Lord Rawdon. He had not even the excuse that it was the law of the conqueror; for Lord Cornwallis and himself were conquerors no more.

The two hostile armies still lay encamped and watching each other in the positions before mentioned, at Bloomhill and M`Cord’s ferry; but about the beginning of September, Gen. Greene, for the want of boats, marched up the Wateree and crossed it not far below Camden,20 and marching down through the fork between the two rivers, passed the Congaree at Howell’s ferry and encamped at Motte’s plantation, on a direct route to meet the enemy, who had been encamped but a short distance below him.