Francis Marion and Guerilla Warfare in the South
Haydn Call—Larry H. Miller Revolutionary War History Seminar
Many have heard of old Benjamin Martin—the loving father, the unfortunate widower, the caring and
kind overseer of free blacks, the noble veteran of the French and Indian War, and the heroic leader during the
American Revolution. Benjamin Martin is a character that Americans love. Unfortunately, Benjamin Martin
is in fact fictional, a person created by the makers of “The Patriot,” a Hollywood film that came out in 2000.
The film stars Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger. It was directed by Roland Emmerich and written by Robert
Mel Gibson does an excellent job in “The Patriot”. The clothing and accoutrements used to make the
popular film are historically accurate. The war portrayed in the film actually occurred. Also, many of the
scenes in the film were based on actual events. Hollywood nonetheless, makes films in order to make a profit
and therefore must create a picture that is attractive to the consumer; even if it takes away from the accuracy
of the historical events depicted. Benjamin Martin was a character inspired by the true hero—Francis “The
Swamp Fox” Marion.
“The Revolutionary War battles in the northern colonies tend to receive the most attention in the
history books, but the fighting in the south was even more bitter and divisive.”1 Francis Marion played a
major role in the skirmishes that took place in the south, mainly in South Carolina, the place of his birth in
1732. “Ultimately, more battles and skirmishes were fought in South Carolina than in any other state during
the war,“2 making Marion’s role in guerilla warfare pivotal. He and his men, those of whom were mainly
local farmers, would attack British posts and soldiers, using techniques Marion learned while fighting
Indians with the British. After a quick attack, Marion and his men would retreat into the southern swamps,
regroup, recover, and plan the next confrontation. After Major James Wemyss’ failures, Lieutenant Colonel
Banastre Tarleton was put in charge by Lord Cornwallis to capture or kill Marion and his illusive swamp
dwelling soldiers. Tarleton or “Bloody Ban,” as the rebels called him, was known for his destructive and
brutal war tactics, as well as coining the nickname of Marion—“The Swamp Fox.” Author William Gilmore
Simms wrote, “Marion is proverbially the great master of strategy—never to be caught, never to be followed-
-yet always at hand, with unconjectured promptness, at the moment when he is least feared and is least to be
expected. His pre-eminence in this peculiar and most difficult of all kinds of warfare, is not to be disputed.”3
Tarleton once said to his men, “…but for this damned old fox, the devil himself could not catch him.”4
Marion was truly a talented fighter and leader.
Marion and his men continued to wreak havoc on the British. His war tactics and illusive style paid
off in the end, for Francis Marion lived through the war. After an unsuccessful attempt at finding the
“Swamp Fox,” Lord Cornwallis took his troops north to the Virginia Peninsula—a regretful mistake. The
only great suffering Marion experienced during the war was the personal loss of his nephew Gabriel. Though
not married at the time of the Revolution, Marion “married a wealthy cousin, Mary Esther Videau, in 1786,
and died on February 27, 1795, well on his way to becoming a legend.”5
Thomsen, Paul A. “The Devil Himself Could Not Catch Him,” American History 35 (August 2000): 48.
“British Maneuvers in the South Led to America’s First Civil War,” American History 44 (April 2009): 52.
Simms, William Gilmore. The Life of Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox. (Digital Antiquaria, 2004); 8.
5 Thomsen, Paul A. “The Devil Himself Could Not Catch Him,” American History 35 (August 2000): 52