When it rains, it pours. After Charleston was put to the sword, all of its wealth was plundered and expropriated, its citizens imprisoned or impressed into British regiments throughout the far-flung Empire; as Simms described the degradation, “Nothing was forborne, in the shape of pitiless and pitiful persecution, to break the spirits, subdue the strength, and mock and mortify the hopes, alike, of citizen and captive.” At the Battle of Waxhaws near Lancaster, less a battle and more a massacre, Colonel Abraham Buford and his force of Virginian Continentals were mercilessly slaughtered while attempting to surrender by the dastardly villain, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, and his brood of Loyalists. After this wholesale butchery, “Tarleton’s Quarters”, that is, no quarter whatsoever, became an embittering rallying cry for the Patriots. Following so closely behind the sack and occupation of Charleston, the defeat of Buford, along with the only regular force of Continentals remaining in the State, crippled the hopes of the Patriots. As Simms continued, “The country seemed everywhere subdued. An unnatural and painful apathy dispirited opposition. The presence of a British force, sufficient to overawe the neighborhood…and the awakened activity of the Tories in all quarters, no longer restrained…seemed to settle the question of supremacy. There was not only no head against the enemy, but the State, on a sudden, appeared to have been deprived of all her distinguished men.” Moultrie languished in prison, while Governor Rutledge, Thomas Sumter, Peter Horry, and thousands of other Patriots withdrew to North Carolina and the other Northern colonies to join the Patriot cause there.
Marion, meanwhile, still incapacitated, “was compelled to take refuge in the swamp and forest” as a fugitive, constantly on the lam. Still recovering, Marion embarked upon the road to North Carolina to join with a Continental force under Baron de Kalb, later superseded by the pompous Major General Horatio Gates. On his journey, Marion encountered Horry, who lamented that their “happy days were all gone.” Marion, stout-hearted as ever, replied, “Our happy days all gone, indeed! On the contrary, they are yet to come. The victory is still sure. The enemy, it is true, have all the trumps, and if they had but the spirit to play a generous game, they would certainly ruin us. But they have no idea of that game. They will treat the people cruelly, and that one thing will ruin them and save the country.” Gates’ Continentals ridiculed and sneered at Marion’s motley band of irregular partisans. Luckily for Marion, and very unfortunately for Gates, our hero was summoned to command the Whigs of Williamsburg, and thus determined to penetrate into South Carolina. In Marion’s absence, Gates led the Continentals to ruin. At the Battle of Camden, the site of which today is a nice pine stand right off of my favorite country lane, Flat Rock Road, the Americans suffered a devastating rout. Under Gates’ command, the Continental Army suffered its greatest loss of the entire War, thus precipitating that failure’s replacement with Major General Nathanael Greene. Marion, Simms noted, “was one of the few Captains of American militia that never suffered himself to be taken napping.”
Just as Marion had predicted, British General Henry Clinton treated the people despicably. First, Clinton had issued a proclamation proffering “pardon to the inhabitants”, with few exceptions, “for their past treasonable offenses, and a reinstatement in their rights and immunities heretofore enjoyed, exempt from taxation, except by their own legislature.” Simms wrote that “the specious offer…indicated a degree of magnanimity, which in the case of those thousands in every such contest, who love repose better than virtue, was everywhere calculated to disarm the inhabitants. To many indeed it seemed to promise…security from further injury, protection against the Tories who were using the authority of the British for their own purposes of plunder and revenge, a respite from their calamities, and a restoration of all their rights.” However, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Clinton reversed course twenty days later and thereby galvanized the Southern Patriots. His second proclamation, Simms explained, required the people of Carolina to “take up arms for His Majesty, and against their countrymen…a hopeful plan by which to fill the British regiments, to save further importations of Hessians, further cost of mercenaries, and, as in the case of the Aborigines, to employ the Anglo-American race against one another. The Loyalists of the South were to be used against the patriots of the North, as the Loyalists of the latter region had been employed to put down the liberties of the former.”
Promoted to General, Francis Marion took command of the country, donning a leather cap emblazoned with a silver crescent, inscribed with, “Liberty or Death!” Marion was simple, modest, taciturn, a man who taught by example rather than oratory, who “secured the fidelity of his men by carrying them bravely into action, and bringing them honorably out of it.” His watchword was activity, his anathema indolence. His first order of business upon assuming command was to supply some desperately needed provisions for his men. The first effort made on this front was to sack the sawmills, where “the saws were wrought and hammered by rude blacksmiths into some resemblance to sabers.” Thus provided, Marion set his men into action, launching a series of perfectly-orchestrated ambush attacks on Loyalist partisans, striking hard and then melting away into the backwoods as quickly as they had appeared. In an all too familiar refrain for Southrons past, present, and future, Marion was badly-equipped, often entering engagements “with less than three rounds to a man — half of his men were sometimes lookers-on because of the lack of arms and ammunition — waiting to see the fall of friends or enemies, in order to obtain the necessary means of taking part in the affair. Buckshot easily satisfied soldiers, who not unfrequently advanced to the combat with nothing but swan-shot in their fowling-pieces.”
We must remember that Marion’s band of partisans was the only body of American troops in the State of South Carolina that dared openly oppose the triumphal ascendance of the British. Simms elaborated that “the Continentals were dispersed or captured; the Virginia and North Carolina militia scattered to the four winds; Sumter’s legion cut up by Tarleton, and he himself a fugitive, fearless and active still, but as yet seeking, rather than commanding, a force.” At Nelson’s Ferry, Marion’s scouts alerted him to a British guard detachment approaching their position, with a large cohort of American prisoners from Gates’ disaster in Camden in tow. Near the pass of Horse Creek, Marion ambushed them and freed all 150 Continentals, of which only three could be bothered to join him. Simms, somewhat sardonically, noted that “it may be that they were somewhat loth to be led, even though it were to victory, by the man whose ludicrous equipment and followers, but a few weeks before, had only provoked their merriment.” Earl Charles Cornwallis, falsely portrayed nowadays as a saintly gentleman, enforced severe and ruthless punishment for any Patriots or Patriot sympathizers, including the expropriation of all of their worldly belongings. Amidst widespread British and Tory atrocities, Marion ran the Enemy ragged, cutting supply and communication lines while denying the darkness any sense of security. Marion was so successful that Cornwallis sent Tarleton on an ultimately futile search and destroy mission to assassinate the Carolinian.
Marion, as all great leaders do, loved his men dearly. His force was in constant flux, as his men, citizen soldiers, “had cares other than those of their country’s liberties. Young and tender families were to be provided for and guarded in the thickets where they found shelter. These were often threatened in the absence of their protectors by marauding bands of Tories, who watched the moment of [their] departure…to rise upon the weak, and rob and harass the unprotected.” If at all practicable, Marion granted all requests for leave; the loyalty of his men was such that their return was certain. Eventually, Marion’s band of backwoods freedom fighters was forced to temporarily retreat in the face of Tarleton’s contingents of Tories; it was with incredible reluctance that they left their communities unprotected, completely exposed to the vindictive cruelties of the British and their Tory lapdogs, “which had written their chronicles in blood and flame, wherever their footsteps had gone before.” Bitter though this was, Simms wrote that “it was salutary in the end. It strengthened their souls for the future trial. It made them more resolute in the play. With their own houses in smoking ruins, and their own wives and children homeless and wandering, they could better feel what was due to the sufferings of their common country.” Though at first glance, this might be one bridge too far in attempting to put a positive spin on the wholly negative, Simms raised an interesting question; can we truly fight for that which we love if we have not experienced its loss? Can we understand the suffering of our countrymen if we have not ourselves suffered? Must we? Comfort does, after all, breed complacency; it must be noted that, obviously, comfort encompasses much aside from material luxury. It is a truism that we cannot appreciate what we have until it is lost to us.
Scouts brought Marion the devastating news that, just as he and his men had feared, the Tories, under Major James Wemyss, had in their absence “laid waste to the farms and plantations”, in a broad swathe of desolation, “swept by sword and fire.” Indeed, “on most of the plantations, the houses were given to the flames, the inhabitants plundered of all their possessions, and the stock, especially the sheep, wantonly shot or bayoneted. Wemyss seems to have been particularly hostile to looms and sheep, simply because they supplied the inhabitants with clothing…Presbyterian churches he burnt religiously, as so many ‘sedition-shops.’” The General thus led his men homewards again, and they routed a large Loyalist force at the Battle of Black Mingo, driving them from the country. Though the attack still came off according to plan, Marion’s surprise was ruined when his horses crossed a wooden bridge, the sound of their hooves alerting the Enemy; from that point forward, Marion made sure to lay blankets down across bridges to muffle his horses’ hooves. Black Mingo was followed up with another successful ambush at Tarcote, in which some of the treacherous Tories, who had been gambling and reveling in camp, were slain with their cards still clutched in their hands in a macabre tableau.
Cornwallis declared that he “would give a good deal to have him taken”, writing to Clinton that “Marion had so wrought on the minds of the people…that there was scarcely an inhabitant between the Santee and the Pee Dee, that was not in arms against us. Some parties…carried terror to the gates of Charleston.” Why was Marion so successful? The guerrilla warfare which he pioneered and mastered was “that which was most likely to try the patience, and baffle the progress, of the British commander. He could overrun the country, but he made no conquests. His great armies passed over the land unquestioned, but had no sooner withdrawn, than his posts were assailed, his detachments cut off, his supplies arrested, and the Tories once more overawed by their fierce and fearless neighbors.” Marion’s notoriety was an inspiration to the scorched and defiled yeomen of South Carolina, responsible for the birth of countless other small partisan bands, their unrecorded exploits now lost to us. Simms continued that “the examples of Marion and Sumter had aroused the partisan spirit…and every distinct section of the country soon produced its particular leader, under whom the Whigs embodied themselves, striking wherever an opportunity offered of cutting off the British and Tories in detail, and retiring to places of safety, or dispersing in groups, on the approach of a superior force.” Tarleton, unable and unwilling to carry on his fruitless and now swamp-arrested pursuit of our hero, was recalled to hound Thomas Sumter. During this withdrawal, Tarleton spoke his most famous words: “Come, my boys! Let us go back. We will soon find the Game Cock [Sumter], but as for this damned Swamp Fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.”
The Southern Theater of the War of Independence had a far more savage character to it than the war in the North, notwithstanding the Hessians’ penchant for mounting decapitated Patriot heads on pikes, as “motives of private anger and personal revenge embittered and increased the usual ferocities of civil war; and hundreds of dreadful and desperate tragedies gave that peculiar aspect to the struggle.” Greene wrote that “the inhabitants pursued each other rather like wild beasts than like men”; indeed, “in the Cheraw district, on the Pee Dee, above the line where Marion commanded, the Whig and Tory warfare, of which we know but little beyond this fact, was one of utter extermination. The revolutionary struggle in Carolina was of a sort utterly unknown in any other part of the Union.” Few men escaped the struggle for liberty unscathed. At Georgetown, a party of Loyalists shot Gabriel Marion’s horse out from under him, and, as soon as the young Marion, the General’s nephew, fell he was executed, with “no respite allowed, no pause, no prayer.” Simms wrote that “the loss was severely felt by his uncle, who, with no family or children of his own, had lavished the greater part of his affections upon this youth…who had already frequently distinguished himself by his gallantry and conduct.” Marion grieved to himself, yet was consoled by saying that he “should not mourn for him. The youth was virtuous, and had fallen in the cause of his country!”
After this latest depredation, Marion retired to his legendary swamp fortress on Snow’s Island, along the Pee Dee in present-day Florence County. “Retired” is perhaps not the proper word, though, as Marion kept up the fight, continuing operations from his new, perfect, and secure headquarters. As Simms wrote, “The love of liberty, the defense 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.” Simms described the natural fortress beautifully, writing that “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 [as] an eagle from his eyrie, and marked all below him for his own.” Though “there were no towers frowning in stone and iron”, there were better towers, “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.”
Marion did very little to “increase the comforts or the securities of his fortress. It was one, complete to his hands, from those of nature…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…The swamp was his moat…Here…the partisan slept secure.” He camped in “one of those grand natural amphitheaters 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 mellow and subdued, as through the painted window of the old cathedral, falling upon aisle and chancel.”
Tarleton had not named Marion the Swamp Fox for nothing; he was its master. In the swamp, on the Enemy’s own ground, “in the very midst” of the Crown and its minions, he made himself a home. Aside from pure audacity, Marion lived among the Enemy for another reason, for his maxim was that it was always better to live upon the resources of foes than of friends. In his swamps, “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 militiaman in his native thickets, a match for the best-drilled veteran of Europe. Marion seemed to possess an intuitive knowledge…He beheld, at a glance, the evils or advantages of a position.” Marion “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.”
Total secrecy was one of the keys to his success; before jaunting off on another expedition, the only way for the men to ascertain the distance of their mission was to observe Marion’s cook to see the quantity of foodstuffs he packed. The General “entrusted his schemes to nobody, not even his most confidential officers. He…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…He was often vainly hunted after by his own detachments. He was more apt at finding them than they him.” When Lieutenant Colonel Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee sought Marion before a joint raid on Georgetown, he could not locate the partisan; eventually, one of Lee’s scouts made contact with a small provisioning party of Marion’s, and even then, his own men spent several hours locating their commander.
Though Major General Greene and his Continentals were necessary to restore South Carolina and Georgia to the American confederacy, they were not sufficient; they could not have been victorious without the “native spirit” of the partisans of the backwoods. When Greene arrived at Hicks’ Creek, he found a country “laid waste. Such a warfare as had been pursued among the inhabitants, beggars description. The whole body of the population seems to have been in arms, at one time or another…A civil war, as history teaches, is like no other. Like a religious war, the elements of a fanatical passion seem to work the mind up to a degree of ferocity, which is [far beyond] the usual provocations of hate in ordinary warfare.” He wrote that “the inhabitants pursue each other with savage fury…The Whigs and the Tories are butchering one another hourly. The war here is upon a very different scale from what it is to the northward. It is a plain business there. The geography of the country reduces its operations to two or three points. But here, it is everywhere; and the country is so full of deep rivers and impassable creeks and swamps, that you are always liable to misfortunes of a capital nature.” While Marion never hesitated to fulfill his duty, he was always averse to “those brutal punishments which, in the creature, degrade the glorious image of the Creator.” General Moultrie wrote that Marion “always gave orders to his men that there should be no waste of the inhabitants’ property, and no plundering.” In the punishment of those of his own men who disgraced both him and the Patriot cause, he favored a scornful mercy, merciful insofar as he preferred not to execute men whom he did not have to, yet scornful in that he essentially shunned them with the utmost contempt, a punishment which usually sent them well on their way.
Lee, the father of our General Robert E. Lee, adroitly described Marion; unerringly and “enthusiastically wedded to the cause of liberty, he deeply deplored the doleful condition of his beloved country. The common weal was his sole object; nothing selfish, nothing mercenary soiled his ermine character.” Lee continued, “Fertile in stratagem, he struck unperceived, and retiring to those hidden retreats…in the morasses of Pee Dee and Black River, he placed his corps, not only out of the reach of his foe, but often out of the discovery of his friends.” Throughout the arduous course of war through which Marion passed, “calumny itself never charged him with molesting the rights of person, property, or humanity. Never avoiding danger, he never rashly sought it…he risked the lives of his troops only when it was necessary.” He was “never elated with prosperity, nor depressed by adversity.” At dinner one evening, Marion was made aware that a group of Lee’s men were hanging Tory captives; instantly, he “hurried from the table, seized his sword, and running with all haste, reached the place of execution in time to rescue one poor wretch from the gallows. Two were already beyond rescue or recovery. With drawn sword and a degree of indignation in his countenance that spoke more than words, Marion threatened to kill the first man that made any further attempt in such diabolical proceedings.” Even after the War, Marion was merciful to the defeated Tories, declaring, “Then, it was war. It is peace now. God has given us the victory; let us show our gratitude to Heaven, which we shall not do by cruelty to man.” When word reached the Swamp Fox of a British officer abusing some of his men in captivity, he wrote the Redcoat that “I have treated your officers and men who have fallen into my hands, in a different manner. Should these evils not be prevented in future, it will not be in my power to prevent retaliation.” To another British commander, he wrote that “the hanging of prisoners and the violation of my flag, will be retaliated [for] if a stop is not put to such proceedings, which are disgraceful to all civilized nations. All of your officers and men, who have fallen into my hands, have been treated with humanity and tenderness, and I wish sincerely that I may not be obliged to act contrary to my inclination.” Though Marion never wished to sully himself with such excesses, he certainly would if his hand was forced.
Marion and his ensemble of yeoman Patriots endured grinding poverty and privation for years, all for the sake of their, and our, liberty. Indeed, Marion himself went over a full year without the meager luxury of a blanket when he slept. His men often trekked seventy miles per day, with nothing to eat but a handful of cold potatoes and a single draught of cold water, clothed only in hair-thin homespun. On one occasion, one of his officers sought to reassure the Swamp Fox that their ammunition situation was not as dire as he feared, telling Marion that “my powder-horn is full.” Marion smiled gently, and replied, “Ah…you are an extraordinary soldier; but for the others, there are not two rounds to a man.” We cannot overstate the destitution of the Patriots, and particularly those Patriots of our Southland. Congress was bankrupt, South Carolina likewise without means. For three years, Simms noted, “South Carolina had not only supported the war within, but beyond her own borders. Georgia was utterly destitute, and was indebted to South Carolina for eighteen months for her subsistence; and North Carolina, in the portions contiguous to South Carolina, was equally poor and disaffected.” How then, was the War to be carried on? Marion’s men “received no pay, no food, no clothing. They had borne the dangers and the toils of war, not only without pay, but without the hope of it. They had done more — they had yielded up their private fortunes to the cause. They had seen their plantations stripped by the enemy, of negroes, horses, cattle, provisions, plate…and this, too, with the knowledge, not only that numerous Loyalists had been secured in their own possessions, but had been rewarded out of theirs.”
Simms explained their condition well, writing that “the Whigs were utterly impoverished by their own wants and the ravages of the enemy. They had nothing more to give. Patriotism could now bestow little but its blood.” And yet, as Marion well understood, that blood of patriotism was capable of so much more than just itself. He vowed that, were he “compelled to retire to the mountains”, he would, alone if necessary, “carry on the war, until the enemy is forced out of the country.” To a man, his partisans swore to remain at his side until the bitter end, pledging themselves to “follow his fortunes, however disastrous, while one of them survived, and until their country was freed from the enemy.” To this display of devotion, our hero merely replied, “I am satisfied; one of these parties shall soon feel us.” This iron constitution, this ethereal determination, is no mystery; as Greene wrote to Marion, “Your State is invaded — your all is at stake. What has been done will signify nothing, unless we persevere to the end.” If they did not hold fast and keep up the fight, if they did not seize victory, all that had come before, all of the pain, suffering, and trauma, was for naught. If we do not take back our country, the last two and a half centuries are forever smothered. Greene praised the South Carolinian, continuing, quite rightly, that “to fight the enemy bravely with the prospect of victory, is nothing; but to fight with intrepidity under the constant impression of defeat, and inspire irregular troops to do it, is a talent peculiar to yourself.” Even simpler than that, however, is the simple truth that we are impelled to do whatever it takes to protect and preserve hearth and home; we cannot help but recall that classic of American action, Red Dawn, and its most valuable line: “Because we live here.”
Our first War of Independence was no grand triumphal narrative, but an incredibly bitter war of attrition. At its close, the British were finally worn down, their will to carry on pulverized and crumbled to dust. Marion’s men “were not yet disbanded. He himself did not yet retire from the field which he had so often traversed in triumph. But the occasion for bloodshed was over. The great struggle for ascendancy between the British Crown and her colonies was understood to be at an end. She was prepared to acknowledge the independence for which they had fought, when she discovered that it was no longer in her power to deprive them of it. She will not require any eulogium of her magnanimity for her reluctant concession.” Now, the British Army withdrawn from Carolina, “the country, exhausted of resources, and filled with malcontents and mourners, was left to recover slowly from the hurts and losses of foreign and intestine strife. Wounds were to be healed which required the assuasive hand of time, which were destined to rankle even in the bosoms of another generation, and the painful memory of which is keenly treasured even now.” South Carolina, along with all of her sisters, including those already sharpening their knives for her demise, was free. America emerged from its baptismal blood, breaking the chains of Empire, an unprecedented victory achieved in no small part due to the labors of our Swamp Fox, Francis Marion.
The partisan par excellence, Marion was the grand master of strategy, the wily fox of the swamps impassable but to him, “never to be caught, never to be followed — yet always at hand, with unconjectured promptness, at the moment when is least feared and is least to be expected.” Historian Sean Busick writes that Marion “kept alive the hope of patriots in the Southern States when victory and independence were most in doubt — after the fall of Charleston and the rout of the Continental Army at Camden. In the darkest hours of the Revolution, when the Continental Army had been run out of South Carolina, Marion and his small band of citizen soldiers took the field against the British Regulars. By keeping up a constant harassment, they made sure the British were never able to rest after their victories in South Carolina, and helped to drive them from the State and toward their final defeat at Yorktown.” When the cause of liberty was uniformly considered hopeless, when all was believed lost, when the blackest shadow fell and threatened to engulf our flickering flame, the consecrated fire was yet kept alive.
Simms elaborated that it is to him, more than any other, whom “we owe that the fires of patriotism were never extinguished, even in the most disastrous hours, in the lowcountry of South Carolina. He made our swamps and forests sacred, as well because of the refuge which they gave to the fugitive Patriot, as for the frequent sacrifices which they enabled him to make, on the altars of liberty and a becoming vengeance.” Marion’s name “was the great rallying cry of the yeoman in battle — the word that promised hope — that cheered the desponding patriot — that startled, and made to pause in his career of recklessness and blood, the cruel and sanguinary tory.” At the moment of defeat, in the putrescent slough of despond, the dark before dawn, the people of South Carolina merely waited for the reanimation that only Marion could provide. Simms noted that “the very fact that the force of Marion was so [numerically] insignificant, was something in favor of that courage and patriotism.” Busick affirms that, as we have seen, time and again, the success of the South Carolina Patriots was “due more to the sacrifices of the humble than to the decisions of the famous.”
Marion, our Carolinian Cincinnatus, happily returned to the agrarian life which he cherished, but it would not be with ease, as the world was “to be begun anew.” The Revolution left him “destitute of means, almost in poverty, and more than fifty years old.” His small fortune “had suffered irretrievably. His interests had shared the fate of most other Southern Patriots, in the long and cruel struggle through which the country had gone. His plantation in St. John’s, Berkeley…was ravaged, and subjected to constant waste and depredation.” Furthermore, again sharing the fate of all of his compatriots but the upper echelons of the Patriot command, the Swamp Fox “received no compensation for his losses, no reward for his sacrifices and services.” The Congress voted to award the hero, who had sacrificed so much for the new nation, a gold medal; whether or not the medal was actually given to him, though, is up for debate. Before we begin celebrating this honor, Simms cautioned us to understand that “cheaply, at best, was our debt to Marion satisfied, with a gold medal, or the vote of one, while Greene received ten thousand guineas and a plantation. We quarrel not with the appropriation to Greene, but did Marion deserve less from Carolina? Every page of her history answers, ‘No!’” The duty of the warrior is often a thankless one. He was returned to the State Senate by the people of St. John’s, and was later awarded a modest sinecure; his ultimate reward, however, was his legacy. The early Republic revered the Swamp Fox. In our present age of deracinated ignorance, it must come as a surprise that there are more places named for Francis Marion than for any other soldier of the War, aside from President George Washington; as Simms declared, “His memory is in the very hearts of our people.”
Upon his retirement from public life and the resignation of his commission in the State Militia in 1794, an assembly of the citizens of Georgetown addressed him thus: “Your achievements may not have sufficiently swelled the historic page. They were performed by those who could better wield the sword than the pen — by men whose constant dangers precluded them from the leisure, and whose necessities deprived them of the common implements of writing. But this is of little moment. They remain recorded in such indelible characters upon our minds, that neither change of circumstances, nor length of time, can efface them. Taught by us, our children shall hereafter point out the places, and say, ‘Here, General Marion…made a glorious stand in defense of the liberties of his country…’ Continue, General, in peace, to till those acres which you once wrested from the hands of a rapacious enemy.” It would without a doubt strike these men as poisoned barbs into their very souls, were they to see the noxious depths to which the education of our children has fallen, were they to discover that, in relatively few generations, the memories which they believed to be so indelibly recorded have faded away. Many of the irreplaceable primary documents regarding the life of Marion were incinerated when Simms’ home, including his Alexandrian library of ten thousand books and manuscripts, was put to the torch when General William Sherman’s rabid horde of fiends sacked and razed his Woodlands plantation. As the gentlemen of Georgetown said, the Patriots of the Carolina backcountry were not learned men, and were in any case too busy bleeding to bother with documenting their exploits. Their tales of unparalleled heroism need not have been written to be remembered; this barely scratches the surface of our failure to live up to their standards, to the shining examples their lives set for ours.
A devout Christian, “an humble believer in all the vital truths of faith”, Marion was ready to meet his Maker; he declared, “Death may be to others a leap in the dark, but I rather consider it a resting-place where old age may throw off its burdens.” As he was peacefully translated from our world to the next, he spoke his last words: “For, thank God. I can lay my hand on my heart and say that, since I came to man’s estate, I have never intentionally done wrong to any.” He could die in that sublime satisfaction that he had done his duty, that he had risen to the occasion, just as we now must rise to the occasion and defend to our last that which his generation secured for ours, all of these long years later. We should savor and echo the words of Major General George Pickett, written to his wife one day after his Charge, doomed to fail but destined for enshrinement in the most hallowed annals of Western man: “My brave boys were full of hope and confident of victory as I led them forth…and though officers and men alike knew what was before them, knew the odds against them, they eagerly offered up their lives on the altar of duty, having absolute faith in their ultimate success. Over on Cemetery Ridge, the Federals beheld a scene never before witnessed on this continent, a scene which has never previously been enacted and can never take place again — an army forming in line of battle in full view, under their very eyes — charging across a space nearly a mile in length…moving with the steadiness of a dress parade, the pride and glory soon to be crushed by an overwhelming heartbreak. Well, it is all over now. The battle is lost, and many of us are prisoners, many are dead, many wounded, bleeding, and dying. Your Soldier lives and mourns and but for you, my darling, he would rather, a million times rather, be back there with his dead, to sleep for all time in an unknown grave.” Pickett signed as “your sorrowing Soldier.”
As we approach ever-nearer to the precipice, to what appears and threatens to be a danger graver than any that we have ever faced, it is easy to fold, to crumple under the tremendous weight of it all. As John Derbyshire writes, we live in “an occupied nation, dominated by a bizarre cult of anti-white totalitarianism, against which we dissenters have no organization, no leadership, and almost no public voice. It is hard to think that this will end well.” We are, by design, made to feel completely alone. But we are not. While our dismal condition is on the path to eclipse that which faced our Confederate ancestors, and while we stand on the cusp of a terrible darkness, a palpable evil permeating the air in our dying land, all is not lost. We must carry the fire, just as that great South Carolinian Francis Marion did, holding his hands cupped around the embers of faith, keeping hope kindled in the bosoms of his people, our people. Make no mistake — while, now, the Enemy tears down and casts asunder our monuments, our physical memories serving as proxies for the cultural memories that we have failed so spectacularly to inculcate in our brainwashed children, memory is not their ultimate target. No, their target is us. When we see our monuments defiled and obliterated, know that it is mere sublimation. This is what they desire for us, our monumental marble nothing less than transubstantiated blood. And yet, they cannot succeed while one of us lives; Donald Livingston, President of the Abbeville Institute, recently likened our position to that of monks, preserving our sacred texts against the darkling gloom, for a brighter day ahead. This is of course, however, the worst-case scenario, only the case if we have not taken our stand in time to prevent ruin.
In these deflating days, the fires apparently too numerous to extinguish, my spirits were immeasurably lifted upon being blessed to attend the 147th Confederate Memorial Day at the Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This idyllic patch of land, lost in time, is maintained solely by the devotion of the Southern Memorial Association, a group of valiant Southern women, our great treasure as always. How heartening it was to see these women, and their many supporters, spend their time and money to honor our ancestors, to preserve their beautiful resting-place; for a century and a half, these proud Southrons have gathered to remember their forefathers of the Trans-Mississippi and the selfless deeds which they wrought, echoing in our hearts even now.
These are the men whom we must emulate; their golden example, itself following that of our Swamp Fox, must be our beacon in the roiling gale now overtaking us. Each unmarked grave, most holding the bones of men lost at the disastrous Battle of Pea Ridge, was adorned with a brilliant battle-flag, the sight of which never fails to fuel the fire within. A lovelier sight we have yet to behold. Several dozen people turned out; though the mood was certainly somber, we drew strength from one another, and cut a scene that could not have been any different from the anarchy reigning in cities across the “United” States of America. After some speechifying from representatives of the Association, the Sons, and the Daughters, we dedicated new markers for each section of the cemetery, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana, and laid wreaths at the foot of the gorgeous, pristine monument at its center. The marker for the Arkansawyer veterans reads, “Weep, for richer blood was never shed.” On the monument is inscribed, “These were men whom power could not corrupt, whom Death could not terrify, whom defeat could not dishonor.”
The band played Dixie.
Neil Kumar is a graduate of the University of Chicago and is currently a student at the University of South Carolina School of Law. He is a proud member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with roots in South Carolina that extend to the Revolutionary War. He calls Bentonville, Arkansas, home.