The Elusive Swamp Fox


One by one the British posts fell. After repulsing Greene, the British evacuated Camden. Augusta surrendered, and Fort Granby. The British blew up their own fort at Nelson’s Ferry. Marion dashed to Georgetown and this time took it. Greene himself unsuccessfully laid siege to Ninety-Six, but the enemy soon evacuated it and pulled back and consolidated at Orangeburg on the Edisto. Marion, Sumter, and Lee spent a vigorous summer striking behind the enemy army, ranging almost to Charleston, while Greene refreshed his hard-marched army in the cool oak-and-hickory woods of the High Hills of Santee below Camden.

Late in August Greene came down from the High Hills to fight his last pitched battle of the war, at Eutaw Springs near Nelson’s Ferry, on September 8. For the first time since the assault on Savannah in 1779, Marion found himself in formal battle, in command of the right wing of Greene’s front line. The whole first line was made up of North and South Carolina militia. It must have seemed strange to Marion’s partisans to be there. But for once militia did not panic; before falling back under enemy pressure they delivered seventeen rounds and wrung from Greene praise for a firmness that he said “would have graced the veterans of the great King of Prussia.”

It was pretty much a drawn battle. Both sides retreated. But Greene had damaged the British so severely that soon they withdrew into their lines at Charleston and never emerged again.

Though Whigs and Tories murdered each other with unrelenting bitterness for more than a year longer, and hard-hitting raids took men slashing and shooting through the swamplands, and Marion added more names to his roster of fights, the question of ultimate victory in the South was settled. On the day following the battle of Eutaw Springs, a French fleet returned to Chesapeake Bay in Virginia and sealed the fate of the ambitious English earl whom Greene had driven into a faraway trap at a village called Yorktown.

In December of the next year, 1782, under the gnarled live oaks at Wadboo plantation, Marion discharged his brigade, its mission accomplished.

Today many of Marion’s battle sites are under man-made lakes, sacrificed to the need for water power. Others are long lost under towns and roads and domesticated fields, and others simply cannot be identified. But the old maps show where he rode and the brittle documents tell what he did, and it was a magnificent performance.

After the war Marion married his cousin and lived out his last years in comfort as a small planter on the Santee. When he died in 1795, it made scarcely a stir; he was simply another old officer of the Revolution. So, perhaps, it was justice, after all, that Parson Weems came along.