I was going to blog about vigilante justice (an oxymoron in most cases) in the west but then, well, the Fourth of July intruded on my thought processes.
I was traveling last week, really a necessity after the death of my mom two weeks earlier, and I returned yesterday, the Fourth of July, and became captivated by the History Channel and its hours on the founding of our nation.
This blog is not really about our west, but it is about the war that decided that future. I’ve always been unhappy that the publishing industry usually vetoed anything to do with early American history, particularly the American Revolution. No interest, they contended. Or too controversial. I sneaked several books through, mainly by starting them with a prologue in Scotland. (Yes, I can be very sneaky). But when I first started writing, I didn’t know about the “rules” and the “taboos.” Therefore, my first two books were the two “no no’s in publishing: the Civil War and the American Revolution.”
The Civil War book escaped the taboo because it took place in the western theater of the war (New Mexico). The second, titled “Swampfire,” luckily fell into the hands of an editor who also loved early American history and was willing to take a risk.
One of my all-time personal heroes is Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox in South Carolina. Some of you out there might remember the Disney series called “The Swamp Fox.” Others might recall “the Patriot,” with Mel Gibson that was modeled after Francis Marion.
Francis Marion was a central character in “Swampfire,” and so I was delighted Sunday afternoon when the History Channel basically reported that he and other guerrilla leaders like him played a vital part in winning the war.
After four years of war, the British, stalemated in the north, turned their sights to the South and had they won we would be a far different nation today.
In the south, the British won battle after battle against inept American generals, and those victories encouraged the British loyalists and grew their number. South Carolina became a caldron of divided loyalties. Father against son, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor. When we talk about divided loyalties in this country, we think about the Civil War, but none can match the ferocity of the divisions in 1780. Homes were burned by neighbors. Those thought friendly to one side or another were tarred and feathered by previous friends. When it was thought the British were winning in the south, many changed sides, and the war in the south seemed lost, But then guerilla bands cropped up throughout South Carolina. They cut communication and supply routes, harried the British in hit-and- run attacks and gradually bled the British.
It was Francis Marion who, among three guerrilla commanders, fascinated me. His plantation was burned because of his patriot loyalties and he lost everything. He was fifty, old for the time, but tireless. He’d fought with the Patriots for years but when the British came to South Carolina, he took to the swamps with a small band of men. He emerged at night to attack the British and was one of the few who didn’t succumb to illness. He drank a glass of vinegar every day and urged his men to do the same. They didn’t, and he alone was one of the few among them who didn’t suffer from malaria. Now we know that vinegar repels mosquitoes, but he just knew it worked.
The swamps were not a welcoming place and he lived there for a year, sleeping during the day and attacking at night. They moved constantly, never spending a night in the same place. He got the name Swamp Fox when a particularly brutal British officer named Tarleton was charged with catching him and finally gave up, saying it was impossible to catch the “swamp fox.” The tales and legends are many. The History Channel reported on Sunday that although he led men in battle he himself never shot a man. In all I’ve read about him, I’d notr heard that particular fact although I did know he decried vengeance and was known to be very fair. I read diaries of men who rode with him and their devotion to him was remarkable and never wavered. Francis Marion, a bachelor, finally married his cousin at fifty-four after the war.
I’ve always believed that fiction writers can never compete with the real life characters who paraded through our history and had such a great impact on it. Francis Marion was one of the people.
I’m stretching a point and justifying this blog because the American victory in the south led to opening of the country, especially those lands west of the original thirteen colonies. We owe so much to those who who founded, and fought for, this nation. I hope we as a nation we never forget them.
Do you have a real life American hero? I’ll select by random one of those who respond and send them a copy of “Swampfire.”