Marion's Camp At Snow's Island
Marion's Camp at Snow's Island -- The Character of his Warfare -- Of his Men -- Anecdotes of Conyers and Horry -- He feasts a British Officer on Potatoes -- Quells a Mutiny.
Marion's career as a partisan, in the thickets and swamps of Carolina, is abundantly distinguished by the picturesque; but it was while he held his camp at Snow's Island, that it received its highest colors of romance. In this snug and impenetrable fortress, he reminds us very much of the ancient feudal baron of France and Germany, who, perched on castled eminence, looked down with the complacency of an eagle from his eyrie, and marked all below him for his own. The resemblance is good in all respects but one. The plea and justification of Marion are complete. His warfare was legitimate. He was no mountain robber, -- no selfish and reckless ruler, thirsting for spoil and delighting inhumanly in blood. The love of liberty, the defence of country, the protection of the feeble, the maintenance of humanity and all its dearest interests, against its tyrant -- these were the noble incentives which strengthened him in his stronghold, made it terrible in the eyes of his enemy, and sacred in those of his countrymen. Here he lay, grimly watching for the proper time and opportunity when to sally forth and strike. His position, so far as it sheltered him from his enemies, and gave him facilities for their overthrow, was wonderfully like that of the knightly robber of the Middle Ages. True, his camp was without its castle -- but it had its fosse and keep -- its draw-bridge and portcullis. There were no towers frowning in stone and iron -- but there were tall pillars of pine and cypress, from the waving tops of which the warders looked out, and gave warning of the foe or the victim. No cannon thundered from his walls; no knights, shining in armor, sallied forth to the tourney. He was fond of none of the mere pomps of war. He held no revels -- "drank no wine through the helmet barred," and, quite unlike the baronial ruffian of the Middle Ages, was strangely indifferent to the feasts of gluttony and swilled insolence. He found no joy in the pleasures of the table. Art had done little to increase the comforts or the securities of his fortress. It was one, complete to his hands, from those of nature -- such a one as must have delighted the generous English outlaw of Sherwood forest -- isolated by deep ravines and rivers, a dense forest of mighty trees, and interminable undergrowth. The vine and briar guarded his passes. The laurel and the shrub, the vine and sweet scented jessamine, roofed his dwelling, and clambered up between his closed eyelids and the stars. Obstructions, scarcely penetrable by any foe, crowded the pathways to his tent; -- and no footstep, not practised in the secret, and 'to the manner born', might pass unchallenged to his midnight rest. The swamp was his moat; his bulwarks were the deep ravines, which, watched by sleepless rifles, were quite as impregnable as the castles on the Rhine. Here, in the possession of his fortress, the partisan slept secure. In the defence of such a place, in the employment of such material as he had to use, Marion stands out alone in our written history, as the great master of that sort of strategy, which renders the untaught militia-man in his native thickets, a match for the best drilled veteran of Europe. Marion seemed to possess an intuitive knowledge of his men and material, by which, without effort, he was led to the most judicious modes for their exercise. He beheld, at a glance, the evils or advantages of a position. By a nice adaptation of his resources to his situation, he promptly supplied its deficiencies and repaired its defects. Till this was done, he did not sleep; -- he relaxed in none of his endeavors. By patient toil, by keenest vigilance, by a genius peculiarly his own, he reconciled those inequalities of fortune or circumstance, under which ordinary men sit down in despair. Surrounded by superior foes, he showed no solicitude on this account. If his position was good, their superiority gave him little concern. He soon contrived to lessen it, by cutting off their advanced parties, their scouts or foragers, and striking at their detachments in detail. It was on their own ground, in their immediate presence, nay, in the very midst of them, that he frequently made himself a home. Better live upon foes than upon friends, was his maxim; and this practice of living amongst foes was the great school by which his people were taught vigilance.
The adroitness and address of Marion's captainship were never more fully displayed than when he kept Snow's Island; sallying forth, as occasion offered, to harass the superior foe, to cut off his convoys, or to break up, before they could well embody, the gathering and undisciplined Tories. His movements were marked by equal promptitude and wariness. He suffered no risks from a neglect of proper precaution. His habits of circumspection and resolve ran together in happy unison. His plans, carefully considered beforehand, were always timed with the happiest reference to the condition and feelings of his men. To prepare that condition, and to train those feelings, were the chief employment of his repose. He knew his game, and how it should be played, before a step was taken or a weapon drawn. When he himself, or any of his parties, left the island, upon an expedition, they advanced along no beaten paths. They made them as they went. He had the Indian faculty in perfection, of gathering his course from the sun, from the stars, from the bark and the tops of trees, and such other natural guides, as the woodman acquires only through long and watchful experience. Many of the trails, thus opened by him, upon these expeditions, are now the ordinary avenues of the country. On starting, he almost invariably struck into the woods, and seeking the heads of the larger water courses, crossed them at their first and small beginnings. He destroyed the bridges where he could. He preferred fords. The former not only facilitated the progress of less fearless enemies, but apprised them of his own approach. If speed was essential, a more direct, but not less cautious route was pursued. The stream was crossed sometimes where it was deepest. On such occasions the party swam their horses, Marion himself leading the way, though he himself was unable to swim. He rode a famous horse called Ball, which he had taken from a loyalist captain of that name. This animal was a sorrel, of high, generous blood, and took the water as if born to it. The horses of the brigade soon learned to follow him as naturally as their riders followed his master. There was no waiting for pontoons and boats. Had there been there would have been no surprises.
The secrecy with which Marion conducted his expeditions was, perhaps, one of the reasons for their frequent success. He entrusted his schemes to nobody, not even his most confidential officers. He consulted with them respectfully, heard them patiently, weighed their suggestions, and silently approached his conclusions. They knew his determinations only from his actions. He left no track behind him, if it were possible to avoid it. He was often vainly hunted after by his own detachments. He was more apt at finding them than they him. His scouts were taught a peculiar and shrill whistle, which, at night, could be heard at a most astonishing distance. We are reminded of the signal of Roderick Dhu: --
---- "He whistled shrill, And he was answered from the hill, Wild as the scream of the curlew, From crag to crag, the signal flew."
His expeditions were frequently long, and his men, hurrying forth without due preparation, not unfrequently suffered much privation from want of food. To guard against this danger, it was their habit to watch his cook. If they saw him unusually busied in preparing supplies of the rude, portable food, which it was Marion's custom to carry on such occasions, they knew what was before them, and provided themselves accordingly. In no other way could they arrive at their general's intentions. His favorite time for moving was with the setting sun, and then it was known that the march would continue all night. Before striking any sudden blow, he has been known to march sixty or seventy miles, taking no other food in twenty-four hours, than a meal of cold potatoes and a draught of cold water. The latter might have been repeated. This was truly a Spartan process for acquiring vigor. Its results were a degree of patient hardihood, as well in officers as men, to which few soldiers in any periods have attained. These marches were made in all seasons. His men were badly clothed in homespun, a light wear which afforded little warmth. They slept in the open air, and frequently without a blanket. Their ordinary food consisted of sweet potatoes, garnished, on fortunate occasions, with lean beef. Salt was only to be had when they succeeded in the capture of an enemy's commissariat; and even when this most necessary of all human condiments was obtained, the unselfish nature of Marion made him indifferent to its use. He distributed it on such occasions, in quantities not exceeding a bushel, to each Whig family; and by this patriarchal care, still farther endeared himself to the affection of his followers.
The effect of this mode of progress was soon felt by the people of the partisan. They quickly sought to emulate the virtues which they admired. They became expert in the arts which he practised 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 partisan 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.
-- * History of Greene, p. 225, vol. 2. --
Marion was admirably supported by his followers. Several officers of the brigade were distinguished men. Of Major John James we have already seen something. All the brothers were men of courage and great muscular activity. The Witherspoons were similarly endowed. His chief counsellors were the brothers Horry, and Postelle, -- all like himself descended from Huguenot stocks. To the two last (the brothers Postelle) it has been remarked, that "nothing appeared difficult."* Captains Baxter and Conyers were particularly distinguished, -- the first for his gigantic frame, which was informed by a corresponding courage; the latter by his equal bravery and horsemanship. He was a sort of knight-errant in the brigade, and his behavior seemed not unfrequently dictated by a passion for chivalrous display. An anecdote, in connection with Conyers, is told, which will serve to show what was the spirit of the patriotic damsels of the revolution. Marion had environed Colonel Watson, at a plantation where Mary, the second daughter of John Witherspoon, was living at the time. She was betrothed to Conyers. The gallant captain daily challenged the British posts, skirmishing in the sight of his mistress. His daring was apparent enough -- his great skill and courage were known. He presented himself frequently before the lines of the enemy, either as a single champion or at the head of his troop. The pride of the maiden's heart may be imagined when she heard the warning in the camp, as she frequently did -- "Take care, -- there is Conyers!" The insult was unresented: but, one day, when her lover appeared as usual, a British officer, approaching her, spoke sneeringly, or disrespectfully, of our knight-errant. The high spirited girl drew the shoe from her foot, and flinging it in his face, exclaimed, "Coward! go and meet him!" The chronicler from whom we derive this anecdote is particularly careful to tell us that it was a walking shoe and not a kid slipper which she made use of; by which we are to understand, that she was no ways tender of the stroke.
-- * Judge James' Sketch of Marion. --
The Horrys were both able officers. Hugh was a particular favorite of Marion. For his brother he had large esteem. Of Peter Horry we have several amusing anecdotes, some of which we gather from himself. It is upon the authority of his MS. memoir that we depend for several matters of interest in this volume. This memoir, written in the old age of the author, and while he suffered from infirmities of age and health, is a crude but not uninteresting narrative of events in his own life, and of the war. The colonel confesses himself very frankly. In his youth he had a great passion for the sex, which led him into frequent difficulties. These, though never very serious, he most seriously relates. He was brave, and ambitious of distinction. This ambition led him to desire a command of cavalry rather than of infantry. But he was no rider -- was several times unhorsed in combat, and was indebted to the fidelity of his soldiers for his safety.* On one occasion his escape was more narrow from a different cause. He gives us a ludicrous account of it himself. Crossing the swamp at Lynch's Creek, to join Marion, in the dark, and the swamp swimming, he encountered the bough of a tree, to which he clung, while his horse passed from under him. He was no swimmer, and, but for timely assistance from his followers, would have been drowned. Another story, which places him in a scarcely less ludicrous attitude, is told by Garden.** He was ordered by Marion to wait, in ambush, the approach of a British detachment. The duty was executed with skill; the enemy was completely in his power. But he labored under an impediment in his speech, which, we may readily suppose, was greatly increased by anxiety and excitement. The word "fire" stuck in his throat, as "amen" did in that of Macbeth. The emergency was pressing, but this only increased the difficulty. In vain did he make the attempt. He could say "fi-fi-fi!" but he could get no further -- the "r" was incorrigible. At length, irritated almost to madness, he exclaimed, "SHOOT, d----n you, SHOOT! you know what I would say! Shoot, and be d----d to you!" He was present, and acted bravely, in almost every affair of consequence, in the brigade of Marion. At Quinby, Capt. Baxter, already mentioned, a man distinguished by his great strength and courage, as well as size, and by equally great simplicity of character, cried out, "I am wounded, colonel!" "Think no more of it, Baxter," was the answer of Horry, "but stand to your post." "But I can't stand," says Baxter, "I am wounded a second time." "Lie down then, Baxter, but quit not your post." "They have shot me again, colonel," said the wounded man, "and if I stay any longer here, I shall be shot to pieces." "Be it so, Baxter, but stir not," was the order, which the brave fellow obeyed, receiving a fourth wound before the engagement was over.
-- * MS. Memoir, p. 51. ** Anecdotes, first series, p. 30. --
It was while Marion was lying with his main force at the camp at Snow's Island, that two circumstances occurred which deserve mention, as equally serving to illustrate his own and the character of the warfare of that time and region. One of these occurrences has long been a popular anecdote, and, as such, has been made the subject of a very charming picture, which has done something towards giving it a more extended circulation.* The other is less generally known, but is not less deserving of the popular ear, as distinguishing, quite as much as the former, the purity, simplicity, and firmness of Marion's character. It appears that, desiring the exchange of prisoners, a young officer was dispatched from the British post at Georgetown to the swamp encampment of Marion, in order to effect this object. He was encountered by one of the scouting parties of the brigade, carefully blindfolded, and conducted, by intricate paths, through the wild passes, and into the deep recesses of the island. Here, when his eyes were uncovered, he found himself surrounded by a motley multitude, which might well have reminded him of Robin Hood and his outlaws. The scene was unquestionably wonderfully picturesque and attractive, and our young officer seems to have been duly impressed by it. He was in the middle of one of those grand natural amphitheatres so common in our swamp forests, in which the massive pine, the gigantic cypress, and the stately and ever-green laurel, streaming with moss, and linking their opposite arms, inflexibly locked in the embrace of centuries, group together, with elaborate limbs and leaves, the chief and most graceful features of Gothic architecture. To these recesses, through the massed foliage of the forest, the sunlight came as sparingly, and with rays as mellow and subdued, as through the painted window of the old cathedral, falling upon aisle and chancel. Scattered around were the forms of those hardy warriors with whom our young officer was yet destined, most probably, to meet in conflict, -- strange or savage in costume or attitude -- lithe and sinewy of frame -- keen-eyed and wakeful at the least alarm. Some slept, some joined in boyish sports; some with foot in stirrup, stood ready for the signal to mount and march. The deadly rifle leaned against the tree, the sabre depended from its boughs. Steeds were browsing in the shade, with loosened bits, but saddled, ready at the first sound of the bugle to skirr through brake and thicket. Distant fires, dimly burning, sent up their faint white smokes, that, mingling with the thick forest tops, which they could not pierce, were scarce distinguishable from the long grey moss which made the old trees look like so many ancient patriarchs. But the most remarkable object in all this scene was Marion himself. Could it be that the person who stood before our visitor -- "in stature of the smallest size, thin, as well as low"** -- was that of the redoubted chief, whose sleepless activity and patriotic zeal had carried terror to the gates of Charleston; had baffled the pursuit and defied the arms of the best British captains; had beaten the equal enemy, and laughed at the superior? Certainly, if he were, then never were the simple resources of intellect, as distinguishable from strength of limb, or powers of muscle, so wonderfully evident as in this particular instance. The physical powers of Marion were those simply of endurance. His frame had an iron hardihood, derived from severe discipline and subdued desires and appetites, but lacked the necessary muscle and capacities of the mere soldier. It was as the general, the commander, the counsellor, rather than as the simple leader of his men, that Marion takes rank, and is to be considered in the annals of war. He attempted no physical achievements, and seems to have placed very little reliance upon his personal prowess.***
-- * General Marion, in his swamp encampment, inviting the British officer to dinner. Painted by J. B. White; engraved by Sartain; published by the Apollo Association. ** Henry Lee's Memoirs. He adds: "His visage was not pleasing, and his manners not captivating. He was reserved and silent, entering into conversation only when necessary, and then with modesty and good sense. He possessed a strong mind, improved by its own reflections and observations, not by books or travel. His dress was like his address -- plain, regarding comfort and decency only. In his meals he was abstemious, eating generally of one dish, and drinking water mostly. He was sedulous and constant in his attention to the duties of his station, to which every other consideration yielded. Even the charms of the fair, like the luxuries of the table and the allurements of wealth, seemed to be lost upon him. The procurement of subsistence for his men, and the continuance of annoyance for his enemy, engrossed his entire mind. He was virtuous all over; never, even in manner, much less in reality, did he trench upon right. Beloved by his friends, and respected by his enemies, he exhibited a luminous example of the beneficial effects to be produced by an individual who, with only small means at his command, possesses a virtuous heart, a strong head, and a mind directed to the common good." -- Appendix to 'Memoirs', vol. 1 p. 396. *** The dislike or indifference of Marion, to anything like mere military display, was a matter of occasional comment, and some jest, among his followers. Among other proofs which are given of this indifference, we are told, that, on one occasion, attempting to draw his sword from the scabbard, he failed to do so in consequence of the rust, the result of his infrequent employment of the weapon. Certainly, a rich event in the life of a military man. The fact is, that Marion seldom used his sword except in battle, or on occasions when its employment was inseparable from his duties. Long swords were then in fashion, but he continued to wear the small cut and thrust of the second regiment. Such a weapon better suited his inferior physique, and necessarily lessened the motives to personal adventure. --
The British visitor was a young man who had never seen Marion. The great generals whom he was accustomed to see, were great of limb, portly, and huge of proportion. Such was Cornwallis, and others of the British army. Such, too, was the case among the Americans. The average weight of these opposing generals, during that war, is stated at more than two hundred pounds. The successes of Marion must naturally have led our young Englishman to look for something in his physique even above this average, and verging on the gigantic. Vastness seems always the most necessary agent in provoking youthful wonder, and satisfying it. His astonishment, when they did meet, was, in all probability, not of a kind to lessen the partisan in his estimation. That a frame so slight, and seemingly so feeble, coupled with so much gentleness, and so little pretension, should provoke a respect so general, and fears, on one side, so impressive, was well calculated to compel inquiry as to the true sources of this influence. Such an inquiry was in no way detrimental to a reputation founded, like Marion's, on the successful exercise of peculiar mental endowments. The young officer, as soon as his business was dispatched, prepared to depart, but Marion gently detained him, as he said, for dinner, which was in preparation. "The mild and dignified simplicity of Marion's manners had already produced their effects, and, to prolong so interesting an interview, the invitation was accepted. The entertainment was served up on pieces of bark, and consisted entirely of roasted potatoes, of which the general ate heartily, requesting his guest to profit by his example, repeating the old adage, that 'hunger is the best sauce.' "But surely, general," said the officer, "this cannot be your ordinary fare." "Indeed, sir, it is," he replied, "and we are fortunate on this occasion, entertaining company, to have more than our usual allowance."* The story goes, that the young Briton was so greatly impressed with the occurrence, that, on his return to Georgetown, he retired from the service, declaring his conviction that men who could with such content endure the privations of such a life, were not to be subdued. His conclusion was strictly logical, and hence, indeed, the importance of such a warfare as that carried on by Marion, in which, if he obtained no great victories, he was yet never to be overcome.
-- * Garden -- Anecdotes -- First Series, p. 22. --
The next anecdote, if less pleasing in its particulars, is yet better calculated for the development of Marion's character, the equal powers of firmness and forbearance which he possessed, his superiority to common emotions, and the mingled gentleness and dignity with which he executed the most unpleasant duties of his command. Marion had placed one of his detachments at the plantation of a Mr. George Crofts, on Sampit Creek. This person had proved invariably true to the American cause; had supplied the partisans secretly with the munitions of war, with cattle and provisions. He was an invalid, however, suffering from a mortal infirmity, which compelled his removal for medical attendance to Georgetown, then in possession of the enemy.* During the absence of the family, Marion placed a sergeant in the dwelling-house, for its protection. From this place the guard was expelled by two officers of the brigade, and the house stripped of its contents. The facts were first disclosed to Marion by Col. P. Horry, who received them from the wife of Crofts. This lady pointed to the sword of her husband actually at the side of the principal offender. The indignation of Marion was not apt to expend itself in words. Redress was promised to the complainant and she was dismissed. Marion proceeded with all diligence to the recovery of the property. But his course was governed by prudence as well as decision. The offenders were men of some influence, and had a small faction in the brigade, which had already proved troublesome, and might be dangerous. One of them was a major, the other a captain. Their names are both before us in the MS. memoir of Horry, whose copious detail on this subject leaves nothing to be supplied. We forbear giving them, as their personal publication would answer no good purpose. They were in command of a body of men, about sixty in number, known as the Georgia Refugees. Upon the minds of these men the offenders had already sought to act, in reference to the expected collision with their general. Marion made his preparations with his ordinary quietness, and then dispatched Horry to the person who was in possession of the sword of Croft; for which he made a formal demand. He refused to give it up, alleging that it was his, and taken in war. "If the general wants it," he added, "let him come for it himself." When this reply was communicated to Marion he instructed Horry to renew the demand. His purpose seems to have been, discovering the temper of the offender, to gain the necessary time. His officers, meanwhile, were gathering around him. He was making his preparations for a struggle, which might be bloody, which might, indeed, involve not only the safety of his brigade, but his own future usefulness. Horry, however, with proper spirit, entreated not to be sent again to the offender, giving, as a reason for his reluctance, that, in consequence of the previous rudeness of the other, he was not in the mood to tolerate a repetition of the indignity, and might, if irritated, be provoked to violence. Marion then dispatched his orderly to the guilty major, with a request, civilly worded, that he might see him at head quarters. He appeared accordingly, accompanied by the captain who had joined with him in the outrage, and under whose influence he appeared to act. Marion renewed his demand, in person, for the sword of Croft. The other again refused to deliver it, alleging that "Croft was a Tory, and even then with the enemy in Georgetown."
-- * The brigade of Marion was for a long period without medical attendance or a surgeon to dress his wounded. If a wound reached an artery the patient bled to death. To illustrate the fierce hostility of Whigs and Tories, a single anecdote will suffice. On one occasion, Horry had three men wounded near Georgetown. A surgeon of the Tories was then a prisoner in his ranks, yet he positively refused to dress the wounds, and suffered a fine youth named Kolb, to bleed to death before his eyes, from a slight injury upon the wrist. --
"Will you deliver me the sword or not, Major ------?" was the answer which Marion made to this suggestion.
"I will not!" was the reply of the offender. "At these words," says Horry in the MS. before us, "I could forbear no longer, and said with great warmth, 'By G--d, sir, did I command this brigade, as you do, I would hang them both up in half an hour!' Marion sternly replied, -- 'This is none of your business, sir: they are both before me! -- Sergeant of the guard, bring me a file of men with loaded arms and fixed bayonets!' -- 'I was silent!' adds Horry: 'all our field officers in camp were present, and when the second refusal of the sword was given, they all put their hands to their swords in readiness to draw. My own sword was already drawn!'"
In the regular service, and with officers accustomed to, and bred up in, the severe and stern sense of authority which is usually thought necessary to a proper discipline, the refractory offender would most probably have been hewn down in the moment of his disobedience. The effect of such a proceeding, in the present instance, might have been of the most fatal character. The 'esprit de corps' might have prompted the immediate followers of the offender to have seized upon their weapons, and, though annihilated, as Horry tells us they would have been, yet several valuable lives might have been lost, which the country could ill have spared. The mutiny would have been put down, but at what a price! The patience and prudence of Marion's character taught him forbearance. His mildness, by putting the offender entirely in the wrong, so justified his severity, as to disarm the followers of the criminals. These, as we have already said, were about sixty in number. Horry continues: "Their intentions were, to call upon these men for support -- our officers well knew that they meant, if possible, to intimidate Marion, so as to [make him] come into their measures of plunder and Tory-killing." The affair fortunately terminated without bloodshed. The prudence of the general had its effect. The delay gave time to the offenders for reflection. Perhaps, looking round upon their followers, they saw no consenting spirit of mutiny in their eyes, encouraging their own; for, "though many of these refugees were present, none offered to back or support the mutinous officers;" -- and when the guard that was ordered, appeared in sight, the companion of the chief offender was seen to touch the arm of the other, who then proffered the sword to Marion, saying, "General, you need not have sent for the guard."* Marion, refusing to receive it, referred him to the sergeant of the guard, and thus doubly degraded, the dishonored major of Continentals -- for he was such -- disappeared from sight, followed by his associate. His farther punishment was of a kind somewhat differing from those which are common to armies, by which the profession of arms is sometimes quite as much dishonored as the criminal. Marion endeavored, by his punishments, to elevate the sense of character in the spectators. He had some of the notions of Napoleon on this subject. He was averse to those brutal punishments which, in the creature, degrade the glorious image of the Creator. In the case of the two offenders, thus dismissed from his presence, the penalty was, of all others, the most terrible to persons, in whose minds there remained the sparks even of a conventional honor. These men had been guilty of numerous offences against humanity. Marion expelled them from his brigade. Subsequently, their actions became such, that he proclaimed their outlawry through the country.** By one of these men he was challenged to single combat, but he treated the summons with deserved contempt. His composure remained unruffled by the circumstance.
-- * Horry's MS., from which the several extracts preceding have been made. -- pp. 100-103. ** He set up on trees and houses, in public places, proclamations in substance thus, that Major ---- and Capt. ---- did not belong to his brigade, that they were banditti, robbers and thieves, -- were hereby deemed out of the laws, and might be killed wherever found. -- Horry's MS. pp. 104, 105. --
In this affair, as in numerous others, Marion's great knowledge of the militia service, and of the peculiar people with whom he sometimes had to deal, enabled him to relieve himself with little difficulty from troublesome companions. Of these he necessarily had many; for the exigencies of the country were such that patriotism was not permitted to be too nice in the material which it was compelled to employ. The refugees were from various quarters -- were sometimes, as we have seen, adopted into his ranks from those of the defeated Tories, and were frequently grossly ignorant, not only of what was due to the community in which they found themselves, but still more ignorant of the obligations of that military law to which they voluntarily put themselves in subjection. Marion's modes of punishment happily reached all such cases without making the unhappy offender pay too dearly for the sin of ignorance. On one occasion, Horry tells us that he carried before him a prisoner charged with desertion to the enemy. "Marion released him, saying to me, 'let him go, he is too worthless to deserve the consideration of a court martial.'" Such a decision in such a case, would have shocked a military martinet, and yet, in all probability, the fellow thus discharged, never repeated the offence, and fought famously afterwards in the cause of his merciful commander. We have something yet to learn on these subjects. The result of a system in which scorn is so equally blended with mercy, was singularly good. In the case of the person offending (as is frequently the case among militia) through sheer ignorance of martial law, it teaches while it punishes, and reforms, in some degree, the being which it saves. Where the fault flows from native worthlessness of character the effect is not less beneficial. One of Marion's modes of getting rid of worthless officers, was to put them into coventry. In this practice his good officers joined him, and their sympathy and cooperation soon secured his object. "He kept a list of them," said Horry, "which he called his Black List. This mode answered so well that many resigned their commissions, and the brigade was thus fortunately rid of such worthless fellows." The values of such a riddance is well shown by another sentence from the MS. of our veteran. "I found the men seldom defective, were it not for the bad example set them by their officers."*
Return to Table of Contents