The Junior Patriot: The Swamp Fox at Fort Watson

By 1781 the Revolutionary War was going badly for Rebels in the South.  General Benjamin Lincoln had lost Charleston.  Gates was destroyed at Camden.  Colonel Thomas Sumter was defeated.  The British plan for the South seemed to be working.  Lord Charles Cornwallis proudly reported that “everything was wearing a face of tranquility and submission.”  But he spoke too soon!

A 48-year-old farmer, named Francis Marion, had enlisted.  He served five relatively inactive years as an officer.  After spraining his ankle at a party, he was given leave by General Lincoln just barely missing out on the battle for Charleston.  Instead of joining with General Nathaniel Greene (who was in charge of the South) after his recovery, Marion gathered his neighbors and friends into Rebel irregulars.  He used their knowledge of the terrain to surprise the Redcoats.  It wasn’t long before Francis Marion began to make a name for himself.  One time when Colonel Banastre Tarleton was chasing him, he earned the nickname Swamp Fox, because he would not be caught.

Soon he was given a recommendation by General Greene to start attacking the line of communication forts which linked Charleston to the large British installation at Ninety-Six.  Fort Watson, located on top of an old Indian burial mound, would be his first target. He agreed and received help from Colonel Henry Lee, also known “Light Horse Harry.” And also known for being the father of the future Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Overall, he had 380 men to go against Lieutenant James McKay, the commander of Fort Watson, who had 120 troops.  They first approached the fort on April 15th.  They planned to cut off the fort’s water supply which was a nearby lake.  However, this plan failed when McKay’s men dug a well.  In response, Major Hezikiah Maham came up with the idea to build a log tower to fire at the fort from above.

It took them several days to build the tower out of green pines.  It was finished on the night of April 22nd.  The next morning the Americans attacked with sharp-shooters firing down into the fort.  Then they sent two parties of men to climb up the fort’s walls.  The British could not face both attacks. So, in the face of this cleverly devised plan, the British were unable to defend themselves and were forced to raise the white flag.  The Americans suffered two deaths and six wounded.  The British lost no lives, but they were all captured.

This success allowed Marion and Lee to move on to their next goal: Fort Motte.  After capturing Motte, they went on to destroy the other British outposts in the British line of communications.  But they where not finished!  Gen. Greene requested that Marion command his right wing, which he readily accepted, and fought at Eutaw Springs.  Before retreating under enemy pressure, they fired 17 rounds at the British.  In the end, both sides retreated, but Greene had injured the Redcoats so badly that they retreated all the way to Charleston.  After the battle, Greene said that their firmness ”would have graced the veterans of the great king of Prussia.”

The point of the story is that instead of giving up, Marion’s men creatively thought up another idea and used it.  Just because this isn’t 1781, it doesn’t mean we cannot apply that same creativity now.  We may not be in a battle, but sometimes we are over loaded and can’t decide what to do next.  We should always be willing to listen to others and to consider different approaches.  Just remember, Marion and Maham are not the only people in history who had to use creativity to be successful.



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