After the French pledged formal allegiance to the United States and officially recognized it as an independent country in 1778, the British changed their war strategy. Since the initiation of hostilities in 1775, the bulk of the fighting had taken place in the Northeast. The British, however, decided to leave their occupation of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and initiate a Southern campaign in South Carolina with the intention of subduing the colony and then moving north and eventually vanquishing Washington and the Continental Army. They seemed to be off to a good start after capturing Charleston and thoroughly thrashing Gen. Horatio Gates’ army at Camden. Gen. Gates fled the battlefield like a scalded dog all the way to Charlotte, North Carolina. At this point, the only resistance left was a ragtag group of guerrilla fighters under the leadership of Francis Marion — The Swamp Fox.
Francis Marion, 48, was a Continental Army officer from the South Carolina Lowcountry who had fought in the French and Indian War as well as under Gen. William Moultrie during Britain’s first failed attempt to take Charleston in 1776. At 5 feet 2 inches and 110 pounds, Marion did not have the aura of a military commander like the tall and physically imposing George Washington, but he did possess a steely countenance and wiry frame that reflected a determination to persevere and succeed. The Swamp Fox by John Oller takes the reader through the various engagements conducted by Marion and brings to life this famous hero and his leadership abilities. Oller reports that more battles were fought in South Carolina than in any other colony, and 20 percent of all American battlefield deaths during the entire Revolutionary War took place here. This book is a must-read for every South Carolinian and anyone interested in the American Revolution in general.
Marion and his men constantly frustrated the British with small engagements and hit-and-run tactics, never allowing the British army to release enough military resources to continue its intended progression north. At one point, British Gen. Charles Cornwallis directed Banastre “Bloody Ban” Tarleton and his dragoons to eliminate Marion and his force of patriots. After failing to bait Marion, Tarleton chased him through swamps and creeks until he became exasperated and called off the chase, stating, “… as for this damned old fox, the Devil himself could not catch him,” thus, far from insulting him, originating Marion’s immortal nickname, The Swamp Fox.
Oller does far more than recite events and battles. He very effectively paints a three dimensional portrait of Marion that gives the reader true insight into his character and personality. Francis Marion has been dubbed the George Washington of the South, and rightly so. The American Revolution was as much an internecine civil war as a war of independence from the British. Much of the fighting was between American Whigs and American Tories, with each side exacting revenge when the opportunity presented itself. Marion’s integrity was exemplified by not allowing his troops to plunder Tory plantations even though the Tories were plundering Whig plantations. He held himself and his men to a high standard, hence inspiring due admiration through the ages.