On this day in 1780, Patriot Francis Marion’s Carolina militia routs Loyalists at Blue Savannah, South Carolina, and in the process Marion wins new recruits to the Patriot cause.
Following their surprising success at Nelson’s Ferry on the Santee River in South Carolina on August 20, Lieutenant Colonel Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion and 52 of his militiamen rode east in order to evade pursuing British Loyalists. They were successful, but during their escape, another, much larger, force of Loyalists led by Major Micajah Ganey, attacked the militia from the northeast. Marion’s advance guard, led by Major John James, routed Ganey’s advance guard and Marion ambushed the rest, causing Ganey’s main body of 200 Loyalists to panic and flee. The success of Marion’s militia broke the Loyalist stronghold on South Carolina east of the PeeDee River and attracted another 60 volunteers to the Patriot cause.
Marion, a mere five feet tall, won fame and the “Swamp Fox” moniker for his ability to strike and then quickly retreat into the South Carolina swamps without a trace. He also earned fame as the only senior Continental officer in the area to escape the British following the fall of Charleston on May 12, 1780. His military strategy is considered an 18th-century example of guerilla warfare and served as partial inspiration for Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, in the film The Patriot (2000).
Marion took over the South Carolina militia force first assembled by Thomas Sumter in 1780. Sumter, the other inspiration for Mel Gibson’s character in the film, returned Carolina Loyalists’ terror tactics in kind after Loyalists burned his plantation. When Sumter withdrew from active fighting to care for a wound, Marion replaced him and teamed up with Major General Nathaniel Greene, who arrived in the Carolinas to lead the Continental forces in October 1780. Together, they are credited with grasping a Patriot victory from the jaws of defeat in the southern states.