Marion, the Swamp-Fox
The army of the American General, Gates, had crossed the Pee Dee River, in South Carolina, and was pushing forward to encounter the British who were overrunning that portion of the country. On the march, there suddenly appeared a body of twenty men who asked that they might join the army. It was a sad lot of ill-clad and badly-equipped men and boys, some white and some black, all mounted on the worst looking horses you can imagine. The soldiers of the regular army broke into laughter when they saw this motley crowd of volunteers. And yet this very band was destined to become famous, for its leader was Francis Marion, the Swamp-Fox of South Carolina.
Marion himself was small in size and thin-faced—a modest man, of no better equipment than his men, and riding a horse of which no one could be proud. But his eye flashed with a brave spirit, and he had the manner of a man of high adventure.
General Gates gave no welcome to this ragged soldiery, and, when Marion modestly offered some advice about the best methods of dealing with the British in the South, the conceited General told him he needed no assistance in that line, which was far from the truth.
Governor Rutledge knew Marion, and realized what his service would mean; so a commission as Brigadier-General was given him, much to the delight of his men, who were glad to be under so brave a leader. With this commission, and with his force increased to a hundred or more men, he rode away to carry on warfare according to his own ideas.
The swamps were his headquarters. In their impenetrable thickets, he found hiding-places for his men, from which they could emerge at any time to strike stinging blows at the enemy; and into which they could retreat, safe from attack. No force dared follow them into the dangerous morasses. His little company was constantly changing, at one time numbering several hundred and then shrinking to a mere handful.
The swamps could not feed a large army; still there were game in abundance, and fish to be had in the streams. The nearby farms afforded grain for the horses, and occasional food for the men. The camp was in the middle of some swamp, on dry land, surrounded by thickets and cane-brakes; the paths leading in and out were known only to the men themselves. It was a safe retreat, from which the little band could saunter forth like a drove of hornets, whose blows struck deadly terror to the foe.
A young British officer was sent from Georgetown to treat with Marion for the exchange of prisoners. Marion was glad enough to be rid of prisoners, because he had to guard and feed them. The British officer, by Marion's command, was blindfolded, and led through the swamp to the camp of the brave patriotic leader. When he arrived, and the bandage was removed, he was amazed to see the hiding place of Marion and his men, with great trees around, and deep swamps on every side. In their rough uniforms, the men, lying about, looked more like a band of outlaws, than a camp of soldiers.
He was still more surprised when he saw Marion himself. Instead of a burly giant, there stood a small, quiet man, of polite manners, roughly clad and poorly equipped. Little in his appearance would indicate that he was the dreaded leader, who had spread terror throughout the South among the enemies of his country.
The business of exchange having been arranged, Marion turned to his guest, and said,
"My dear sir, I should be glad to have you dine with me. It has been some time since you have had food, and you will feel better for having eaten. Our dinner is nearly ready."
The officer readily consented, and looked forward to the enjoyment of a meal for which he was quite eager. In a few minutes, a log was brought, upon which the officer and Marion took their seats. Then the cook appeared, carrying a large piece of bark, upon which there were some roasted sweet potatoes.
"Help yourself," said Marion. "This is all we have for dinner to-day," and, taking a large potato he broke it in two, and placed it before his guest.
"Surely, you have more food than this!" exclaimed the astonished soldier. "This cannot be your ordinary fare."
"Yes, indeed," said Marion, "only we have more than usual to-day, there being a guest to serve!"
The officer ate his potato in silence. On returning to Georgetown, he resigned his commission, saying that a people who could live on such simple fare in order to gain their liberty should be allowed their independence.
For many years, Marion and his men carried on their rude but effective warfare, and, in the end, did such valuable service to the American cause that the large armies of General Greene were enabled to drive the British from the Southern States.