Marion's Effect on His Men
The partisans quickly sought to emulate the virtues of Marion which they admired. They became expert in the arts which he practiced so successfully. The constant employment which he gave them, the nature of his exactions, taught activity, vigilance, coolness and audacity. His first requisition, from his subordinates, was good information.
His scouts were always his best men. They were generally good horsemen, and first rate shots. His cavalry were, in fact, so many mounted gunmen, not uniformly weaponed, but carrying the rifle, the carbine, or an ordinary fowling-piece, as they happened to possess or procure them. Their swords, unless taken from the enemy, were made out of mill saws, roughly manufactured by a forest blacksmith. His scouts were out in all directions, and at all hours. They did the double duty of patrol and spies. They hovered about the posts of the enemy, crouching in the thicket, or darting along the plain, picking up prisoners, and information, and spoils together. They cut off stragglers, encountered patrols of the foe, and arrested his supplies on the way to the garrison. Sometimes the single scout, buried in the thick tops of the tree, looked down upon the march of his legions, or hung perched over the hostile encampment till it slept, then slipping down, stole through the silent host, carrying off a drowsy sentinel, or a favorite charger, upon which the daring spy flourished conspicuous among his less fortunate companions.
The boldness of these adventurers was sometimes wonderful almost beyond belief. It was the strict result of that confidence in their woodman skill, which the practice of their leader, and his invariable success, naturally taught them to entertain.
The mutual confidence which thus grew up between our Marion and his men, made the business of war, in spite of its peculiar difficulties and privations, a pleasant one. As they had no doubts of their leader's ability to conduct them to victory, he had no apprehension, but, when brought to a meeting with the enemy, that they would secure it.
His mode of battle was a simple one; generally very direct; but he was wonderfully prompt in availing himself of the exigencies of the affair. His rule was to know his enemy, how posted and in what strength, -- then, if his men were set on, they had nothing to do but to fight. They knew that he had so placed them that valor was the only requisite.
A swamp, right or left, or in his rear; a thicket beside him; -- any spot in which time could be gained, and an inexperienced militia rallied, long enough to become reconciled to the unaccustomed sights and sounds of war, -- were all that he required, in order to secure a fit position for fighting in. He found no difficulty in making good soldiers of them.
It caused him no surprise, and we may add no great concern, that his raw militia men, armed with rifle and ducking gun, should retire before the pushing bayonets of a regular soldiery. He considered it mere butchery to expose them to this trial. But he taught his men to retire slowly, to take post behind the first tree or thicket, reload, and try the effect of a second fire; and so on, of a third and fourth, retiring still, but never forgetting to take advantage of every shelter that offered itself. He expected them to fly, but not too far to be useful. We shall see the effect of this training at Eutaw, where the militia in the advance delivered seventeen fires, before they yielded to the press of the enemy. But, says Johnson, with equal truth and terseness, "that distrust of their own immediate commanders which militia are too apt to be affected with, never produced an emotion where Marion and Pickens commanded."
The history of American warfare shows conclusively that, under the right leaders, the American militia are as cool in moments of danger as the best drilled soldiery in the universe. But they have been a thousand times disgraced by imbecile and vainglorious pretenders.
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