This Day in History: The Swamp Fox outwits Loyalists at Blue Savannah
On this day in 1780, Francis Marion wins a victory against Loyalist forces at the Battle of Blue Savannah. Marion later came to be known as the “Swamp Fox.” Perhaps you will see why!
Americans in South Carolina needed some good news. The British had been holding the state in the wake of their victory at the Battle of Camden. The remaining Patriot resistance was in the back country and came from men such as Francis Marion, the wily commander who has been called one of the fathers of guerrilla warfare.
Marion was once described by a contemporary as a “gentleman of South Carolina . . . attended by a very few followers, distinguished by small leather caps, and the wretchedness of their attire; their number did not exceed twenty men and boys, some white, some black, and all mounted, but most of them miserably equipped.”
That small, “miserably equipped” band would soon capture the attention of the British!
When Loyalists heard that Marion was in the swamps of eastern South Carolina, a force led by Major Micajah Ganey set out to get him. At the time, Marion had roughly 50 men, compared to Ganey’s 250. But unfortunately for Ganey, Marion got a leg up when he received early word that Ganey was coming.
Marion dispatched Major John James with a small force to investigate. James soon surprised Ganey’s advance guard of roughly 50 cavalry. Ganey’s men fled for a bit, but then paused to regroup. In the meantime, James had ordered a charge, but he soon found that he had gotten ahead of his own men. He was alone, pursuing the fleeing enemy. He decided to keep going, but he pretended that his whole force was behind him. As he charged, he yelled: “Come on, my boys! Come on! Here they are! Here they are!”
The trick worked! The Loyalist cavalry panicked and fled. James regrouped his men and kept up the pursuit. Only 15 Loyalists managed to escape. Many prisoners were taken and returned to Marion.
The Swamp Fox hatched a plan, using intelligence that he obtained from the prisoners.
Marion took his forces to the Loyalist location. He feigned surprise, then retreat. The Loyalists were heady at the thought of victory and took off after Marion in a mad, disorderly rush. In the meantime, Marion’s men were taking their places for the real encounter: They were setting up an ambush in a swampy area called the Blue Savannah, by the Pee Dee River.
This trick worked, too. Marion routed the force of Loyalists, despite the fact that he was badly outnumbered.
Cornwallis would soon take notice of Marion’s efforts and send Bloody Banastre Tarleton after Marion. Naturally, that is a story for another day.
Benson John Lossing, The Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution (1852) (Vol. II)
Daniel W. Barefoot, Touring SC Revolutionary War Sites (1999)
John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas (1999)
Henry Lumpkin, From Savannah to Yorktown (1981)
Horatio Newton Moore, The Life and Times of Gen. Francis Marion (1845)
Patrick O’Kelley, Unwaried Patience and Fortitude: Francis Marion’s Orderly Book (2006)