Great Savannah, South Carolina

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Great Savannah, South Carolina

GREAT SAVANNAH, SOUTH CAROLINA. 20 August 1780. When the Whigs of the Williamsburg district (thirty miles up the Peedee from Georgetown) in South Carolina asked that Colonel Francis Marion come take command of their militia, General Horatio Gates, who shared the view of most regulars that the partisans were unreliable, was happy to oblige. Though Gates needed every man for the upcoming confrontation with the British, he ordered Marion to destroy boats along the Santee and to assist in trapping and destroying whatever portion of the British army might escape the defeat Gates expected to inflict around Camden. Marion left Rugeley's Mill on 14 August 1780.

Marion quickly set about organizing his scattered partisan forces. On 17 August he sent Colonel Peter Horry with four new dragoon companies to operate against Georgetown, and with the rest of his command started a march of about sixty miles toward the Santee. On the 19th Marion learned of Gates's defeat at Camden, but he continued his advance without telling his men. That night he received information that a large group of prisoners from Camden had camped with a strong guard on Thomas Sumter's abandoned plantation at Great Savannah, six miles above Nelson's Ferry on the Santee. Although greatly outnumbered, he prepared a surprise attack at dawn. Just before daylight he sent Colonel Hugh Horry with sixteen picked men to block the main road where it crossed a wide swamp at Horse Creek Pass, and with the rest of his command, Marion circled around to strike the enemy from the rear. The surprise was complete, and elements of the British Sixty-third Regiment and the Prince of Wales Loyal American Volunteers fled before the first onslaught, which inflicted four casualties. Marion took 20 prisoners while liberating 150 soldiers of the Maryland line.

After this coup Marion returned to the protective covering of the swamps while General Charles Cornwallis sent troops to clear the guerrillas from his line of communications with Charleston. On 28 August, Cornwallis ordered Major James Wemyss to march the Sixty-third Regiment from the High Hills of the Santee to Cheraw on the Upper Peedee, and on 5 September, Wemyss started a raid that left a fifteen-mile-wide swath of destruction between these two places.

SEE ALSO Prince of Wales American Volunteers.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles