Profiles In American Guerilla Warfare: Francis Marion & John Mosby

The caption on the photo below reads "General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share His Meal", John Blake White on Wikipedia.  I can assume that the painter, perhaps John White, was not an effective student of history in every facet.  I suppose we all dabble a little, but there are so many things wrong with this painting I would be remiss if I didn’t point three of the worst offenses out.  First is the business of rank, but I actually address that a little later and you may pick it up.  Second is the business of Francis Marion wearing the blue uniform of the Continental Army.  And third is a the business of Francis Marion’s slave, Oscar Marion, kneeling down fixing supper for a British officer.

I’m afraid that I was a tad overreaching when I wrote in an earlier post that “George Washington’s Continental Army could not, in fact, cover that much ground,” when referring to the British recapture of South Carolina. The truth of the matter is that South Carolina did have a hero in the form of Francis Marion. He was known as The Swamp Fox, and while his affiliation with the Continental Army could only be described as loose, at best, he provided the early foundations for guerilla warfare. Francis Marion is considered as being the father and patron of the modern day Army Rangers. “Marion’s Men,” as they were known, eluded British forces for many years in South Carolina’s backwater swamps only to strike out at them with deadly precision time, and time again. The Swamp Fox was a South Carolina real life, Revolutionary War legend.  The annals of history show that he was an officer of some stature, although not a general, when the port of Charleston fell on May 12, 1780 but through a stroke of destiny he was absent.

I don’t know how I could have forgotten that history. There is a university in Florence, South Carolina that bares his name. He had a television show, too, for crying out loud. (Well at least some actor played him on some Disney educational show back in the day.) And while we’re on that subject, who out there remembers the Gray Ghost comic book? Was I the only nerd kid out there that read Civil War comic books? How come I didn’t catch on that I was becoming somewhat adept at history at an early age? What is crazy to me now is that a lot of the more competent Civil War writers are trying to capture the excitement of the battles in much the same way that the comic books did. Both focused on the temperaments and personalities of the great Civil War characters and fused them with the historical records and then merely filled in all of the sensationalism. The Gray Ghost was one of those comic books that could have a black kid actually rooting for a Confederate cavalry raider.

Colonel John “The Gray Ghost” Mosby was a Virginian, though. He was one of the Confederates that did not wish to fight on the side of supporting slavery, but yet still felt compelled to rebellion with the cause of his native Virginia. John Mosby grew into his legend after joining the Confederate Army of Virginia as a private and rising all the way through the ranks to Colonel. As I recall, Francis Marion technically deserted his commission of Lieutenant Colonel in the Continental Army when Charleston fell and was a bit more of an aristocrat than the University of Virginia drop-out that also managed to elude Union forces for the duration of the war. (Lieutenant Colonel Marion’s desertion would have precluded any subsequent promotions, while he is still generally revered as a Patriot of the highest order –again with the dichotomy of those South Carolinians!) Anyway, two very different men and two very different wars but they both shared the ability to lead armies that faded into obscurity, literally blending into their very surroundings. Both men were completely surrounded and virtually abandoned by larger, parent, armies and by all practical accounts, prevailed.  Both men never surrendered and survived well after their respective wars while maintaining significant forces, that were always a major concern to the enemy.  (That includes the time in which they were still alive in the ensuing peace.)  Think about that.  That’s deep.

Stay with me.


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