Francis Marion was known as an exceptional military strategist, and the Battle at Tearcoat Swamp couldn’t be a better example of this. On October 24, 1780, a militia of Tories, including Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Tynes, had just stocked up on supplies, such as new muskets, gunpowder, saddles, and horses. They were smugly and carelessly camping on a field bordering Tearcoat Swamp when news of the camp reached Francis Marion, who immediately began a plan of attack. This was Marion’s opportunity for “a diversion against the enemy’s posts below” (qtd. in Bass 76). He recruited over one hundred and fifty men, crossed the Pee Dee, and continued to Kingstree. Marion remained silent about his plan of attack, preventing word from getting back to Tynes and foiling Marion’s plan; he instead spread a rumor that his troops were marching to McCallum’s Ferry.

They arrived at Kingstree on the morning of October 25, quickly traveling up a road towards Salem, with alert scouts darting in and out of the main formation, eyes open to ambush. The troops barely stopped as they moved rapidly towards their goal. As evening fell upon them, Marion led his troops unexpectedly off of the main road and marched toward Black River. As they neared the campsite, Marion sent two stealthy youths to scout out the Tory camp. They learned that Tynes and his militia had camped out off of the road, “his rear against Tearcoat Swamp and his defense in great insecurity” (Bass 76). A couple of the Tories were napping on blankets thrown over the grass. Many of them were having a great time, their “voices ringing with song and laughter” (Bass 76). There were several card games were taking place around the various campfires. The captain of this group, Amos Gaskens, was well on his way to a victory in his card game. His voice rang out, “Hurrah! At him again, damme! Aye, that’s a dandy! My trick, by God” (qtd. in Bass 76). Marion held his troops back until midnight, waiting for the perfect moment.

Finally, they attacked with vengeance. Marion recycled tactics that proved worthy at Black Mingo, dividing his troops into three groups. One group came onto the field from the left while another charged from the right. The main force, headed by Marion himself, charged toward the center of the camp. “At the flash of his pistol the three divisions charged, showing and screaming and firing as they galloped” (Bass 77).

Just as Marion had hoped, the Tories were caught completely off guard. Many of them jumped up and sprinted towards the black, dank woods to escape. The attack was gory, to say the least. Marion’s men succeeded in killing three, badly wounding fourteen, and taking twenty-three men and boys prisoner. Unfortunately, Colonel Tynes disappeared. Lying among the dead was Captain Amos Gaskens. His lifeless hand was still tightly holding his cards—an ace, a deuce, and a jack of clubs. He held high, low, and jack and was about to win his game. Unfortunately, “Death played the joker” (Bass 76).

In addition to their battle victory, Marion’s troops took eighty fine horses with bridles, blankets, and saddles. They also took around eighty muskets, good ammunition, and baggage. The Tories were astonished and impressed by Marion’s troops as they had never been before. Many of Tynes’ men even ended up fighting under Marion soon after this battle.

Even with his staggering victory, Marion was dissatisfied. Previously, John Fleming Ball had escaped him at Black Mingo and now he lost Colonel Tyne at Tearcoat Swamp. Marion’s main goal was to seize as many officers as he could and dismantle the leadership so that the Tories would disband and scurry away. However, Marion would soldier on, continuing to use this tactic in future battles. Although Marion may not have satisfied his true goal, there is no debating that the Battle at Tearcoat Swamp is one of the many victories that made Francis Marion a military legend.

Work Cited

Bass, Robert D. Swamp Fox: The Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion. 1959. Columbia: Sandlapper Press, 1972.

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