Year
1781

Patriots ambush Loyalists as French set sail

On this day in 1781, Patriot forces led by Colonel William Harden and Brigadier General Francis Marion, known as the “Swamp Fox,” lure British commander Major Thomas Fraser and his 450 soldiers into an ambush at Parker’s Ferry, 30 miles northwest of Charleston, South Carolina. Meanwhile, 3,000 soldiers set sail with the French fleet on their way to aid the Patriot cause.

Fraser’s command consisted of 450 Loyalists who had begun an uprising in the region. Marion, who earned his nickname for his ability to “outfox” his opponents in the swamps of the South Carolina backcountry, sent his fastest riders ahead to tempt Fraser into a waiting Patriot trap. The maneuver succeeded. Fraser ordered his men to charge, and three successive volleys of musket fire by the Patriots mowed down the ranks of the Loyalist cavalry. Only a shortage of ammunition among the Patriots saved the Loyalists, who lost half their force in the skirmish. Fraser himself was hit three times in the course of the engagement, but managed to continue in command of his men.

While Marion and Fraser tested their mettle in South Carolina, General George Washington celebrated the Patriots’ good fortune that just as the French fleet commanded by Francois DeGrasse departed St. Domingue for the Chesapeake Bay, British General Charles Cornwallis had chosen Yorktown, Virginia, at the mouth of the Chesapeake as his base. Washington realized that it was time to act. After DeGrasse beat the British at sea on September 5, Washington trapped Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 17, 1781, effectively ending the War for Independence.

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