The Chase to Ox Swamp

Lord Cornwallis dispatched Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion to chase down Francis Marion and secure his lines of communication to Charleston. Tarleton was eager to finally have his chance at Marion, who had defeated every Loyalist commander he came across. Tarleton learned that Marion had a camp on Jack’s Creek, so he headed to the Widow Richardson’s farm nearby. Mrs. Richardson was the widow of a brigadier general of South Carolina militia and the mother of a paroled militia officer. Tarleton figured he could force Marion’s location from them. When the interrogation failed, Tarleton set a trap. His men built large bon fires, which Tarleton assumed would attract Marion. He was right.

When Marion’s men reported the bonfires on the night of 7 November, 1780, Marion, close by, began infiltrating his men into position to attack what looked like another small militia encampment. Fortunately, Widow Richardson’s son snuck away from the farm and warned Marion of the size Tarleton’s ambush, and his two hidden cannon. Marion immediately withdrew to the safety of his camp at Richbourg’s Mill on Jack’s Creek. However, in the confusion, one of the loyalists Marion captured at Tearcoat Swamp escaped and made his way to Tarleton.

On the morning of 8 November 1780, the Loyalist informed Tarleton of Marion’s whereabouts, and Tarleton took off in the chase with his Green Dragoons, with the light infantry to follow as fast as possible. With no chance in a stand up fight against the British Legion, Marion’s men desperately stayed just ahead of their pursuers. Marion’s rear guard under Major John James fought a series of valiant delaying actions as Marion’s men rode hard into the swamps at the head of Jack’s Creek and then down the Pocotaligo River. For nine hours, Tarleton chased Marion through the swampy thickets of the South Carolina wilderness. Marion headed for Benbow’s Ferry on the Black River, where he planned to turn and ambush Tarleton. Tarleton never got there.

As dusk was rapidly approaching that evening, Tarleton’s British Legion came to the end of a trail, one that Marion was on just minutes before, beyond which was the watery morass of Ox Swamp. Not wishing to get lost in the darkness of the swamp, Tarleton called off the chase. He said to his exhausted and battered troops, “Come my boys! Let us go back and we will find the Gamecock [Sumter]. But as for this damned old fox, the devil himself could not catch him!”

Tarleton’s moniker stuck – Francis Marion would go down in history as the “Swamp Fox”.

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