Friday, June 14, 2013

The Swamp Fox and the Ghostly Sentry

To look at Francis Marion, no one would have guessed that he would be one of the heroes of the American Revolutionary War. He was small of a statue standing at only five feet tall, and he had malformed ankles. 

History has viewed him in two very different lights. Americans view him as the crafty “Swamp Fox” who won the war in the South for America. 

The British viewed him as a cruel butcher who killed Indians for fun during the French and Indian War and raped the female slaves he owned. The truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two views.

Francis Marion never claimed to be noble, he instead was a product of the times he lived in. He did own slaves, and he was a vicious fighter during the French and Indian War in 1760. It was during this fight that Marion learned valuable lessons in warfare that would help America. 

He observed that the Cherokee Indians while fighting, used the surrounding landscape to their advantage. They would conceal themselves in the Carolina backwoods and then ambush the unsuspecting colonists. 

Decades later Marion used these same tactics--that would eventually become known as “guerrilla warfare”-- against the British.

In 1775 Marion was newly elected to the South Carolina Provincial Congress when the Revolutionary War began, after the battles of Lexington and Concord. 

He joined the fight as a Patriot and for the first few years he was in charge of guarding Fort Sullivan. Which he did successfully. 

In 1780, while attending a dinner party, Marion suffered through the traditional toast after toast. The host had locked all the doors in the home and Marion never one to overindulge managed to escape the house by jumping from a second story window--he broke his ankle in the fall. 

As he was recuperating in the country the British took Charleston--Marion laid up evaded capture. As fate would have it, this changed the course of the war in the South.

Recovered, Marion took command of his first militia where he and fifty men--both white and black-- raided a large British encampment by hiding in dense foliage--they attacked from behind and managed to rescue 150 American prisoners. 

Often outnumbered, Marion's militia continued to use guerilla tactics to surprise the Redcoats. This strategy was very successful-- for the British never knew where he would attack next. 

Marion was able to both constantly needle the enemy--he was particularly adroit at disrupting the British supply lines-- and inspire patriotism among the locals.

By November of 1780, Marion earned the name, “Swamp Fox” which he is remembered by today. 

A British Lieutenant Colonel gave him the name after he chased him for seven hours over 26 miles at which point Marion managed to escape into a swamp. 

The Colonel stated, “As for that damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him.” The story spread, and the locals who loathed British occupation now cheered the Swamp Fox.

Francis Marion never commanded a large army or led a major battle, but his efforts after the devastating defeat at Charleston helped keep the cause for American independence alive in the South. 

After the war ended, Marion served in the South Carolina Assembly. He was opposed to punishing Americans who had remained loyal to the British during the war. This is another reason Americans admired him. *

The Swamp Fox had an unusual ally during the Revolutionary War. 

William Wragg who owned Wedgefield Plantation near Georgetown was a staunch Tory--meaning he was a loyalist who supported the British. His home was often used to keep Patriot prisoners that were captured. 

Unbeknownst to Wragg, his daughter was a staunch Patriot who became a spy for the Swamp Fox. She communicated with Marion by leaving notes in a crack in a tombstone in Prince George Churchyard.

One note she left for the Swamp Fox resulted in a haunting that has continued for over 130 years. 

Wragg’s daughter told the Swamp Fox that the father of one of his men had been captured along with several other Patriots and they were imprisoned in her home. 

She informed Marion that the entire household including all but one British sentry was to attend a party at a neighboring Tory Plantation the following Friday. He quickly planned a rescue.

As the Swamp Fox and his men entered Wedgefield’s yard the one remaining sentry did not suspect foul play, in fact, he greeted the group. 

As legend has it, Marion or one of his men took out their saber and chopped off this man’s head. Morbidly, it is noted his decapitated body fell to the ground and continued to twitch like a chicken without its head. 

The prisoners were released, and Wragg finding them gone was incensed. He had no idea his daughter had aided their freedom.

Late one night, several weeks later Wragg’s daughter was awakened by the sound of pounding horse hoofs. She flew to her second-floor bedroom window to see who had entered the yard. 

Curiously, she spied no horses below. But what she did see horrified her. She saw a headless figure dressed in a British uniform stagger up onto the veranda and then just disappear. 

She was just the first witness to see this odd apparition. Many others have seen this headless figure at Wedgefield, over the years. The most recent sighting happened in the 1930s just before the old house was torn down.

*  After the war, General Marion was a national hero second only to George Washington.


Unknown said...

I have two ancestors who fought with the Swamp Fox...both as scouts for him.

Virginia Lamkin said...

I bet they had stories to tell.