All images copyright © by Artist Werner Willis. All rights reserved
Fading in and out of the lowcountry swamps like an early morning fog, Francis Marion and his small band of patriots became legend. Their exploits in ambush and hit and run tactics disrupted British plans for the subjugation of South Carolina and made them the target of one of the most brutal and bloodthirsty British commanders in the South, Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton, known as the "Butcher of the Waxhaws" after his troops slaughtered American patriots even as they attempted to surrender, gave Marion the nickname of the "Swamp Fox" after a seven hour pursuit through woods, swamps and bogs. When Marion and his men proved to be as elusive as those swamp foxes, Tarleton in frustration is reported to have said, "As for that damned old fox, the devil himself could not catch him." Francis Marion's guerrilla operations were instrumental in winning the war in the South.
Marion was born in 1732 to a Huguenot family that had been in South Carolina since 1690. His dream of a life on the high seas ended when he was shipwrecked at the age of 16. He returned home to become a farmer. As a militia Lieutenant Marion distinguished himself in combat against the Cherokees in 1761.
Marion served as a delegate to the South Carolina Provisional Congress in 1775 and joined the Second South Carolina Regiment. He served at the defense of Charleston in 1776 at Fort Sullivan and fIred the last shot at the retreating British fleet. He led his regiment on a gallant but unsuccessful assault at Savannah, Georgia on October 9, 1779.
Spartan in his personal habits, Marion was so opposed to the use of alcohol that he badly fractured his ankle jumping from a second floor window in order to escape a drinking party in Charleston, South Carolina. This injury made him unfit for duty and he was placed on convalescent leave. He thus missed being captured when the British took the city on May 12, 1780.
Marion retired to the swamps of lowcountry South Carolina to start guerrilla operations against the occupying British forces. With a force that rarely numbered more than fifty, he dispersed opposing forces that sometimes outnumbered his own by more than 10 to 1. Operating from a base camp on Snow's Island in the Pee Dee River, he wreaked havoc among the British and Tory sympathizers in the lowcountry.
Marion was 48 years old when he achieved fame as the commander of a band of partisan guerrillas that stayed in the field longer than any others did and best accomplished their mission. On his roan mare named "Red Doe", Marion clad in "a close, round-bodied, crimson jacket and the blue breeches piped in the white of his old Continental regiment" and wearing "the hard, visored helmet of the Second South Carolina, adorned with a plume and, in front, a silver crescent engraved, 'Liberty or death'" led his men into battle and the British on many a merry chase.
Marion's guerrillas dispersed a Tory force at Blue Savannah, destroyed a British outpost at Black Mingo, and quelled a Tory uprising at Tearcoat Swamp. Marion's men raided Georgetown and rescued American patriots held prisoner there. In the greatest battle of his career, he commanded both North and South Carolina militia under General Nathanael Greene at the battle of Eutaw Springs on September 8, 1781. He was involved in one of the very last actions of the Revolution at Fair Lawn, near Charleston, on August 29, 1782.
After the war, Marion served as commandant of Fort Johnson in Charleston
and was elected three times to South Carolina's Senate. He also served
as a delegate to the state's constitutional convention. At age 54 he married
his 49-year-old cousin in what was a first marriage for both of them.
He died at his plantation on February 27, 1795