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Francis Marion, Chapter III, Campaign of 1781, part 3

Detached Narratives for 1781.

There was with Marion’s brigade throughout, a young man, Robert, commonly called Bob James, but oftener, the general’s right hand man. It was known to very few that Marion employed him often to gain intelligence from the enemy in Georgetown and other places. The general never suffered him to mount guard or do common duties; being an excellent woodsman, he was his favourite guide; being an expert swimmer, he was generally by his side when swimming rivers, or paddled him over in a canoe if they had one; being a good fisherman, he often caught him fish; the general would laugh and joke with him, but with no other private. He did not however employ Bob in these small matters when he had any thing serious for him to do. Surprised at his exact intelligence from Georgetown and other places, the author asked him once “how he got it?” He related several interesting particulars, among others this one: “Just in the outskirts of Georgetown there is a pond full of bushes, and in the middle of it a large gum-tree with a thick top and branches that reach the thicket below. This tree overlooked the garrison and both roads leading out of town. I used to climb into it and watch for days together, and if I saw any thing important, immediately came down, mounted my horse, hid in a neighbouring swamp, and told it to the general myself, or sent the only other person we trusted.” The gum tree stood there lately, but Robert James sleeps with his fathers. “Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him Horatio.” It was generally thought that although he swam so often on horseback, or crossed rivers in unsteady canoes, the general could not swim himself. His body was sufficient for endurance; and his mind, to sagacity and foresight, united the higher virtues of patience and fortitude. In one thing he appeared singular; long swords were now in fashion as best for attack or defence, but Gen. Marion always wore the little cut and thrust, which was in use in the second regiment, and he was seldom, perhaps never, seen to draw it. His messmates told a story, whether true or not is of little consequence, as it shows the public opinion. The sum of this story was, that on one occasion he attempted to draw it, but it was so rusty he could not extricate it from the scabbard. He had a reason for this apparent singularity; a long sword might have tempted him, a small man, to act the common soldier, and he appeared to place no reliance on his personal prowess. Gen. Greene depended entirely upon him for intelligence. — Now, intelligence is the life of an army. Sumter and Greene were then at variance, and if Sumter gained any, he would not condescend to let Greene know it, but take advantage of it himself. Lee, whose particular business it was to furnish Greene with intelligence, was always too fond of seeing his men and horses in good plight, to expose them to hardships. Marion’s were for every day’s use.

An anecdote worthy to be recorded happened at the brick house at the Eutaw. Capt. Laurence Manning, since adjutant general in this state, marched at the head of the legion infantry to batter down the door of the house. Intent on this single object, and relying confidently on his men, he advanced boldly up to the door; when, looking behind him for the first time, behold his men had deserted him. He stood for a moment at the side of the door, revolving what was to be done. — Fortunately a British officer, Capt. Barry, opened the door gently to peep out, and Manning seizing him fast by the collar, jerked him out. He then used him as an ancient warrior would have done his shield, and the enemy, fearing to shoot least they should kill Barry, Manning escaped without a shot being fired at him from the house.

During the struggle of the present year, (1781) Capt. Wm. Allston, of True Blue, on Little river, All Saints parish, served under Gen. Marion. He was a firm patriot and good soldier; indeed he may well be enumerated among the martyrs to the cause of his country; for having been seized with a fever in camp, he had scarcely time to reach his home, where he expired at a middle age. He left behind him, by his last wife, two sons and a daughter; his eldest son he named after the illustrious Washington; and he has since proved himself to be highly worthy of that distinction. In this son will be readily recognised the distinguished artist, Washington Allston; whose pencil has bestowed celebrity upon the place of his birth, and whom every American should be proud to claim as his countryman.

Towards the conclusion of this year, Maj. Edward Hyrne, one of Gen. Greene’s aids, was commissioned by him to negociate a cartel of exchange of prisoners in Charleston. He had to conduct this with Col. Balfour, who was haughty and unreasonable as well as cruel; his demands were so exorbitant, that Maj. Hyrne, after waiting upon him several times with much patience, at length declared they were utterly inadmissible, and took his leave. Returning to his lodgings, he wrote a note to each British officer on parole in town, informing him he must prepare to follow him into the country the next day. His firmness or good policy had the desired effect; Balfour’s quarters were soon besieged by at least forty officers, many of whom were of higher rank than himself, and Major Hyrne succeeded to the extent of his wishes.

The party under Major John Postell, which was ordered out on the 29th January in this year, and succeeded in taking eleven British waggons with soldiers’ clothing at Keithfield, consisted with the officers, commanding of thirty-eight men.32 They carried off what clothing they could, and what they could not they burnt. What was carried away was sold for a division, and bought in, as it appears, in continental dollars, on the 2d February, 1781.

The prices of a few are inserted; sixteen blankets were sold.

1 Bought by Major Postell for $1590
1 do. Capt. Wm. Capers 2200
1 do. (the lowest priced) by Capt. Thomas Potts, 900
1 Loaf of sugar, Francis Greene, 2000
1 Coat by Capt. Capers, 6210
1 Knife and fork, A. Simons, 700
1 Pair of Stockings, Capt. Capers, 800
&c. &c. &c.

Most of this party were supernumerary officers, who placed themselves under the command of Major (then Captain) Postell, who was justly considered as one of the most enterprising officers in Marion’s brigade. Of these thirty-eight men, the only survivor is Richard Greene, who has been long a respectable and opulent planter on Black river. The account of sales is in the hand writing of Capt. Thomas Potts. There is a list of the names of the thirty-eight, many of whom fought then and afterwards with great bravery. — John Futhey, then a lieutenant, after being promoted to a captaincy was killed in a skirmish at Avant’s ferry on Black river. Thomas Potts, jun. a lieutenant, was twice wounded. John M`Bride, father of the late friend of the author, Dr. James M`Bride, was always at his post. What a loss to science was the early death of the son? Capt. Wm. Capers was imprisoned by Balfour in the upper story of his provost, and made his escape by slipping past the keeper at night when he brought their scanty supper to the prisoners. He had then to descend a steep flight of stairs and pass the guard at the bottom. Luckily he stumbled at the head of the stairs and fell to the bottom, and the guard mistaking him for the keeper, raised him up and gave him much consolation. He had only to refrain from speaking and to utter a few groans, which being an indistinct tone of the voice, made no discovery, and the guard suffered him to pass. A friend furnished him with a small boat to pass Cooper river; but now the difficulty was to get through the British guard ships which lined the river. Being a pretty good mimic, he bethought himself of assuming the character of a drunken sailor going on board his own ship, and acted his part so admirably well, that he was suffered, though often threatened, to pass through the whole fleet. Capt. Capers lost no time in joining Gen. Marion, with whom he fought bravely in the ranks until the general advanced down into St. Thomas’ parish, where he commanded a company, and where he had left property at the mercy of the enemy.33 Capt. Wm. Capers, and his brother G. Sinkler Capers, were often afterwards the terror of the enemy, who had early oppressed and imprisoned them, for G. S. Capers had also made his escape from the provost.

Francis G. Deliesseline, the present sheriff of Charleston district, joined Marion when a boy, and made if possible a still more surprising and narrow escape out of the same provost; but as the narrative would expose certain names which he wishes concealed, he has declined giving it publicity. At so early an age, none behaved better than Deliesseline, and no one has refreshed the author’s memory more in the detail of facts of that period.

Many of the privates of Marion’s brigade were men of character and honour; most of them lost their fortunes by the war, and many made them, or at least handsome competencies, after it; but it is believed that more, cast out of the ways of industry and economy, and losing their all, sunk under the pressure brought upon them. Where they are known, what an injustice would it be to pass over the merits of such men? — On the monument erected by the Greeks at Thermopylae, the names of Leonidas and his three hundred men were not inscribed, because it was thought impossible to imagine they could ever be forgotten.

Pardon me, ye sons of my fellow soldiers! should my memory be found not so tenacious; and should I have passed over the merits of many of your fathers without even a shade of remembrance.

1 This was the same Rugely who behaved so generously to Governor Rutledge. It seems Lord Cornwallis intended to have promoted him, but after this affair he wrote to Tarleton, “Rugely will not be made a brigadier.”

2 Marion’s letter, 22d February.

3 Letter of Marion, 7th March.

4 About ten days, as it appears from the dates of his letters.

5 This young lady was Mary, the second daughter of John Witherspoon, who after the war, was married to Conyers. One day when her lover made his appearance as usual, a British officer made use of language disrespectful to him, which she bore for some time with patience; at last he said something indelicate to herself. She immediately drew off a walking shoe from her foot, and flung it in his face, saying, “coward! go meet him.” In those days kid slippers were not fashionable.

6 Horry’s Narrative.

7 Greene’s letters, 4th and 17th April.

8 Gen. Greene’s elegant letter to Marion, 9th May.

9 Marion’s letter, 23d April.

10 By a copy of Major Postell’s parole, preserved in Horry’s correspondence, it appears he was paroled in Charleston; but, soon after, the British or tories stripped him of all his property, which was a breach of it on their part. In a letter to Gen. Marion, 14th Jan. he says, “My honour is all I have left — my family has been reduced to beg their bread.”

11 This is partly extracted from Lee’s Memoirs.

12 Capt. Smith, afterwards well known in this state as Col. John Smith, of Darlington, surrendered himself prisoner to a lieutenant of the British; and after he had delivered his sword, was struck by the lieutenant with the broad side of it. At the battle of Guilford, Smith had killed Col. Stewart, of the British guards, in a single rencounter; and his bravery was otherwise so well known that the British officers invited him to a dinner in Camden. Before dinner, he mentioned how he had been treated by the lieutenant, and it was agreed among them, that, as that officer was to be present at the dinner, Smith should be at liberty to treat him as he thought fit. Accordingly Smith kicked him down stairs; and as he did not resent it, he was soon after cashiered.

13 As all the accounts of the movements of Greene and Col. Lee, into South Carolina, are confused, from a want of information of the local situation of the country, and the clashing of the names of places; the present note has been subjoined to rectify misconceptions. From Ensign Johnson Baker’s account we have seen Lee at the Long bluff, since called Greenville, now Society-hill. At that time, the marshes of Black creek, and the bogs of Black river, were impassable (except to Marion,) on any direct route to Camden, or Scott’s lake, or Santee; but there was an Indian path, by the way of the present Darlington court house and Day’s ferry, on Lynch’s creek, to Kingstree; and from the latter place there was a road to Murray’s ferry on Santee. From the necessity of the case, therefore, this must have been Lee’s route, for he cannot explain it himself. Lee had been the principal adviser of Greene to return to South Carolina, for which the country can never be too grateful to him; and being now about to invest fort Watson, he sent Dr. Matthew Irvine, for whom both leaders had a great friendship, and who, from his persuasive powers was highly fitted for the mission, to inspire Greene with hope and confidence. Irvine obtained a guide and an escort from Col. Richardson, and proceeded by the route of the Piny lands, back of the Santee hills, then a pathless wilderness, now a thickly settled country, and on the first broad road he fell in with in this tract, he unexpectedly met with Greene, about fifteen miles from Camden. Irvine continued with him, until descending a range of Sand hills between little and great Pinetree creeks, about a mile from Camden, he crossed great Pinetree creek at the place now called M`Crae’s mill. From the latter place, Greene proceeded about three miles to an old mill on Town creek, called English’s; and here Irvine left him, and Cantey met with him as a general and his army emerging from the wilderness. This first broad road must again from the necessity of the case, for there was no other at that time, have been the road from Cheraw hill to Camden. Thus have the accounts of two respectable witnesses, Dr. Irvine and Gen. Cantey, been reconciled, which appeared at first sight impossible.

14 Major Burnet’s letter, 28th April. He was aid to Gen. Greene.

15 Nothing shows the moderation of Gen. Marion more than this simple matter of fact. Although the country at that time was plundered and miserably poor, yet he had only to express a wish and he would have had a dozen homespun blankets. He had then in his pocket a power from the governor to impress them.

16 Dr. Irvine was riding between Cols. Lee and Maham, and was wounded by a discharge of small arms from the enemy, as they wheeled at a short turn of the road. Lee had two surgeons in his corps, Irvine and Skinner; Irvine was apt to expose himself to danger, but Skinner, although he had on one occasion killed his adversary in a duel, was a coward; and the method he now took to punish Irvine for what he called his temerity, was not to dress his wounds until the last.

17 Lee states that he found such a chasm in the bridge his men could not cross it.

18 These St. Augustine friends, were sixty-two influential characters, citizens of Charleston, whom Lord Cornwallis, soon after the town surrendered, had ordered to be sent and imprisoned at St. Augustine, contrary to the terms of the capitulation.

19 Vatt. B.1.C.13. S.170-2. Montesq. B.6.C.3.

20 It is believed, at English’s ferry, nine miles below Camden.

21 Col. Doyle gives him that title in a letter hereafter noticed.

22 Plenty of water might have been procured, in Eutaw creek, some hundred yards from the battle ground; and why the retreat was not directed there, or to Santee river, distant a mile, the author is at a loss to discover: unless it was that Greene’s force was scattered up the road, and he wished to concentrate it. It was not from dread of the enemy.

23 Maj. Marjoribanks, by whom in conjunction with Sheridan, the British army was saved, lies buried on the Santee canal road, about half a mile below the chapel; he was a brave and generous enemy; and on an old head board, the following inscription is still to be seen: “JOHN MARJORIBANKS, Esqr. late major to the 19th regt. inf’y and commanding a flank bat’n. of his majesty’s army. Obiit. 22d October, 1781.”

24 Very soon after the revolutionary war, this scene was entirely changed. Planters, in clearing their land, had rolled logs and other rubbish from their fields, into the lakes and creeks leading from the river, and many threw trees into it to get them quickly out of the way. The upper country also soon became more opened, and gave freer vent from above to the waters. There came on a succession of six or seven years, which were wet; and the consequence was, that the usual passages for the waters below being obstructed, they flooded the low grounds, and ruined the planters. Where fine corn grew at that time, trees may now be seen a foot and a half in diameter, in the midst of briars and cane brakes.

25 Commonly called mutton corn, a corruption of matin, that is early corn.

26 Instance — New England rum at $3 75. Soldier’s saddles $25. Blankets none as yet. Best indigo in exchange three shillings sterling. Letter 9th October.

27 Governor Rutledge had but two of his council with him at this time, Daniel Huger and John L. Gervais.

28 For an example of its present depreciation, see p. 152. [Detached Narratives for 1781, Paragraph 6 — list of prices. — A. L.]

29 Greene’s letter, 24th Nov.

30 This date is given both here and in Simms’ Life of Marion, but it must be an error, as Cornwallis did not surrender until the 19th. The 29th October or 9th November are more likely dates. — A. L., 1997.

31 Greene’s letters, 13th and 14th December.

32 This statement is confusing. To paraphrase, Postell’s party (which made this attack) consisted of thirty-eight supernumerary officers. — A. L., 1997.

33 The following is a curious fact in natural history. When Capt. G. S. Capers returned to his plantation in 1782, it had been completely stripped of all live stock and poultry, except one cock. When the British chased him he had always taken refuge under a kitchen low to the ground. This bird was carefully preserved. After the war, it was the fashion for ladies to wear scarlet cloaks, and so strong was his recollection (must it be so called) of the colour of the British uniform, that whenever he saw ladies in scarlet cloaks, he would squall out, as such birds usually do at sight of danger, and run directly under the kitchen.