25 August 1780, Nelson's Ferry
Col. Francis Marion's rescue of American Prisoners (August 25, 1780) Nelson's Ferry
From The Life of Francis Marion, by W. Gilmore Simms Etext.
While Horry proceeded towards Georgetown, Marion marched to the upper Santee. On this march he was advised of the defeat of Gates; but, fearing its effect upon his men, without communicating it, he proceeded immediately toward Nelson's Ferry. This was a well known pass on the great route, the "war-path", from Charleston to Camden. Here his scouts advised him of the approach of a strong British guard, with a large body of prisoners taken from Gates. The guards had stopped at a house on the east side of the river. Informed of all necessary particulars, Marion, a little before daylight, detached Col. Hugh Horry, with sixteen men, to gain possession of the road, at the pass of Horse Creek, in the swamp, while the main body under himself was to attack the enemy's rear. The attempt was made at dawn, and was perfectly successful. A letter from Marion himself, to Col. P(eter) Horry, thus details the event: -- "On the 20th inst. I attacked a guard of the 63d and Prince of Wales' Regiment, with a number of Tories, at the Great Savannah, near Nelson's Ferry; killed and took twenty-two regulars, and two Tories prisoners, and retook one hundred and fifty Continentals of the Maryland line, one wagon and a drum; one captain and a subaltern were also captured. Our loss is one killed, and Captain Benson is slightly wounded on the head."
It will scarcely be believed that, of this hundred and fifty Continentals, but three men consented to join the ranks of their liberator. It may be that they were somewhat loth to be led, even though it were to victory, by the man whose ludicrous equipments and followers, but a few weeks before, had only provoked their merriment.
The reason given for their refusal, however, was not deficient in force. "They considered the cause of the country to be hopeless.
They were risking life without an adequate object." The defeat of Gates, and his bad generalship, which they had so recently witnessed,
were, perhaps, quite sufficient reasons to justify their misgivings.
This disastrous event did not produce like despondency in our partisan
or his followers, though it furnished reasons for the greatest circumspection. At this moment Marion's was the only body of American troops in the State, openly opposed to the triumphant progress of the British. The Continentals were dispersed or captured; the Virginia and North Carolina militia scattered to the four winds; Sumter's legion cut up by Tarleton, and he himself a fugitive, fearless and active still, but as yet seeking, rather than commanding, a force. Though small and seemingly insignificant, the force of Marion had shown what might be done, with the spirit and the personnel of the country, under competent leaders. The cruelties of the British, who subjected the vanquished
to the worst treatment of war, helped his endeavors. Shortly after the victory over Gates, Lord Cornwallis addressed an order to the British commandants at the several posts throughout the country, of which the following are extracts:
"I have given orders that all of the inhabitants of this province
who have subscribed, and have taken part in this revolt, should be punished with the greatest rigor; and also those who will not turn out, that they may be imprisoned and their whole property taken from them or destroyed. . . . I have ordered in the most positive manner that every militia man, who has borne arms with us, and afterwards joined the enemy, shall be immediately hanged!"
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