Francis Marion was an officer in the South Carolina Militia and Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He fought in the Battle of Sullivan's Island, waged guerilla warfare on Loyalist and British forces, and fought at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. After the war, he served in the South Carolina Assembly.
Biography of Francis Marion
Francis Marion was an officer in the South Carolina Militia during the American Revolutionary War, and was known as the “Swamp Fox.” He was a veteran of the French and Indian War. He entered politics and was elected to the South Carolina Provincial Congress, and in June 1775, he was commissioned as a Captain in the 2nd South Carolina Regiment, under the command of William Moultrie. Marion fought at Fort Moultrie during the Battle of Sullivan’s Island and helped stop the British attack on Charleston. In September 1776. he was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army and then participated in the Siege of Savannah. American and French forces, under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln, failed to take Savannah from the British and fell back to Charleston. In 1780, the British laid siege to Charleston, and Lincoln was forced to surrender. Roughly 5,000 American troops were taken prisoner, but Marion was not among them. He was recovering from a broken ankle and was not there. After a portion of the British army sailed north, Marion organized a small force of militia — “Marions’ Men” — and, for a time, was the only American military resistance in South Carolina. Marion and his men conducted “guerrilla warfare” against British supply lines. In July 1780, Marion and his men joined the army under the command of General Horatio Gates. Gates sent Marion on a mission to gather intelligence, and he was not present at the Battle of Camden, the disastrous defeat of Gates in the South. In November 1780, General Charles Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to capture him. Tarleton chased after him, but Marion escaped through a swamp. Afterward, he fought at the Siege of Fort Watson, Siege of Fort Motte, and commanded the right-wing of the army, under the command of General Nathanael Greene, at the Battle of Eutaw Springs. In January 1782, he was elected to the South Carolina Assembly and left the army. In 1790, he helped write the South Carolina Constitution and then retired.
This illustration depicts Francis Marion making his escape from Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Images.
Five Important Facts About Francis Marion
1. Francis Marion was a planter in South Carolina at the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.
He was likely born around 1732, in the area of St. John’s Parish in Berkeley County, near Georgetown, South Carolina. He died on February 27, 1795, at his estate, Pond Bluff, in South Carolina.
2. Marion used unconventional tactics to fight the British.
In August 1780, he waged guerrilla warfare against Loyalists and British forces along the Pee Dee River and Santee River. He fought off three Loyalist groups and then attacked British supply lines. He carried out raids on Georgetown and escaped the British Dragoons under the command of Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.
Banastre Tarleton failed to capture Marion. Image Source: Wikipedia.
3. Marion earned the nickname “Swamp Fox” and was promoted to Brigadier General.
After Tarleton failed to capture Marion, he said, “as for this damned old fox, not even the devil himself could not catch him.” After that, people started to refer to Marion as the “Swamp Fox.” He was also promoted to Brigadier General by Governor John Rutledge.
4. Marion’s cooperation with Nathanael Greene helped force the British to the coast.
Unlike some South Carolina military leaders, Marion was willing to work with General Nathanael Green, who was in command of the Southern Army. In April 1781, Marion helped capture Fort Watson, and then Fort Motte a month later. Those two victories forced the British to leave Camden, South Carolina. At the Battle of Eutaw Springs, Marion commanded South Carolina Militia and helped gain a tactical victory in the last major battle of the war that took place in the Carolinas. Afterward, the British retreated to the coast, which eventually led them to find refuge in Yorktown, where they were trapped between the Continental Army and the French Navy at the Battle of Yorktown.
5. The legacy of Francis Marion has been memorialized — and exaggerated — by popular culture.
Marion’s exploits have been the basis of both television and film. “The Swamp Fox” was an 8-episode mini-series produced by Walt Disney Productions. The series, which was originally broadcast from 1959 to 1962, featured Leslie Neilson as Marion. In 2000, the feature film “The Patriot” used Marion, Marion’s Men, and Banastre Tarlton as the basis for its main characters.
Francis Marion is important to the history of the United States for his service in the South Carolina Militia and Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. His military exploits and reputation are somewhat legendary, and he went on to serve in the South Carolina Assembly and helped write the state constitution.