On this day in 1781, Patriot commanders Lieutenant Colonel Light Horse Henry Lee and Brigadier General Francis Swamp Fox Marion of the South Carolina militia combine forces and conduct a raid on Georgetown, South Carolina, which is defended by 200 British soldiers.
Marion won fame and the Swamp Fox moniker for his ability to strike and then quickly retreat into the South Carolina swamps without a trace. His military strategy is considered an 18th-century example of guerilla warfare and served as partial inspiration for the film The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson.
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 strategized with Major General Nathaniel Greene, who had recently arrived in the Carolinas to lead the Continental forces. On January 24, the Patriots under Marion and Lee managed to arrive at Georgetown undetected and captured at least three officers, including the British commander.
The following month, Lee’s cavalry was able to defeat a band of Loyalist cavalry at Haw River, North Carolina, by taking advantage of the extreme similarity of Patriot uniforms to those of British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s troops. British Colonel John Pyle’s men at Haw River were surprised to discover that the horsemen approaching them were not friends, as they appeared from a distance, but foes. Losing three fingers and blinding one eye in the course of combat, Colonel Pyle, a doctor by profession, survived by hiding in what is now known as Pyle’s Pond.