When I drove to the school my heart dropped on seeing what appeared to be over a thousand folks standing in line with the same idea. But growing up largely in the piedmont region of the Carolinas, where so much had happened concerning the American Revolutionary War, and having it become such a part of my heritge as a child, I just naturally had to get in line for a try-out. Suspecting nothing would probably come of it, imagine the surprise when a few weeks later a Columbia Pictures casting dude called me at home with some very exciting news.
Seems the director was considering choosing between a few of us for the role of the French patriot hero Lafayette. The casting fellow said don't cut your hair and we'll let you know soon about his choice. Four weeks went by with no word - all the while as my hair grew and became shaggy, not to mention my practicing a French accent (just in case) and telling a few friends about my hopefully good fortune. Well, come the four or five weeks passing, I became impatient and with caller ID to hand I rang him back. The answer was matter-of-fact and rather lacking in any sympathy: " Oh, the director decided not to use that character." Click.
What a let down! They could have at least had the decency to call us sooner so we could have gotten a haircut! Not so funny an incident back then - but with the passing of years I can at least chuckle about the whole thing now a bit; besides, I quit playing soldiers as a youngster ( although I do admire and respect re-enactors) and enjoy writing articles on the Revolutionary War era in the South a lot more than those childhood imaginings anyway...well, almost as much. So with that little remembrance out of the way here's some on the movie controversy and the story of the Fox's defense of his favorite hideout that I hope the reader will enjoy..
"Well, now, this is exactly my case. I am in love; and my sweetheart is LIBERTY." ~ Francis Marion
One of the most controversial film releases of the new millennium came at its beginning with Roland Emmerich's release of The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson. The movie was produced by Mutual Film Company and Centropolis Entertainment and distributed by Columbia Sony Pictures.
The movie is partly based on the combining of several American Revolutionary War battles and the historical figures Francis "The Swamp Fox" Marion, Daniel Morgan, Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, and one or two others. Gibson's character in the film "Benjamin Martin" is an amalgamation of these warriors, leaders and patriots.
Criticism for the film came from many corners, two being op-eds and reviews in some of the British press, who bandied about Francis Marion as if he were some kind of "serial rapist who hunted Red Indians for fun".
The telling point is, there is absolutely no historical evidence for such behavior by the man at all. In fact, there is evidence from his diary that he had sympathy for the tribe and their destroyed lower towns. So, he did fight as a youngster in the tragic Anglo-Cherokee War, which was anything but "fun" for all those concerned in that grim blood-letting during the Seven Years' War, or French and Indian War as it's called in America.
Others - including director Spike Lee and his wife - were more than a bit miffed at what they considered a cover-up concerning how African Americans were, or, rather weren't, depicted in the movie's screenplay.
On the other hand, Mel Gibson has been quoted as saying that in his opinion it was a cop-out not to show Benjamin Martin, or as that infers, Francis Marion, as a slave owner. Marion in fact did have some bondsmen at the start of the war, which was almost de rigueur for a man of his time, place, and social position. However, it's also in the historical records that there were occasionally free black militiamen in the Swamp Fox's partisan bands at different periods of time, too.
There were other complaints as to the historical authenticity of the movie with the combining of the characters and battles, in addition to more than a few contrived incidents and dramatic situations- including Martin's prettied-up, rather over-large nuclear family.. Another major criticism was Colonel Tavington's burning of the church with the hapless parishioners trapped inside it. Tavington was loosely based on the British cavalry leader under Cornwallis, Banastre Tarleton.
This house of worship massacre did not happen in actuality, and has been used by some critics as proof the German director and others were trying to paint the British as Nazis in moviegoers' minds. Obviously the scene was written into the screenplay for dramatic effect, and to give Heath Ledger's character a reason for an attempted quick revenge on Tavington, as Ledger's newlywed and her family had been among the destroyed.
There can be no doubt, however, that "Bloody Ban" Tarleton could be a cruel and ruthless individual to any he perceived as traitors to King George lll and the British Empire. He proved the point over and over during the long war and, apart from some of his military achievements, is not respected or remembered affectionately by Americans, to say the least.. As an interesting side note to Tarleton's life outside America, many years later, when he was back in England, he broke the beautiful romantic poet Mary Robinson's heart asunder in the debris of that doomed but passionate relationship.
For a further breakdown on all the pros and cons concerning almost every aspect of the production, one only need search for "The Patriot Movie Controversy" on the net as some readers may have done to find this article. There are others that are more thorough concerning the matter, certainly. Of all the many events depicted in the picture, perhaps some of the most accurate historically, are the scenes where Mel Gibson's partisans are in their deep swamp hideouts with all the action and drama that takes place in or near them.
Despite the liberal use of artistic license and post-release controversy, The Patriot is a decent movie that at least gives the viewer a feel for the Revolutionary War era in the South. Mel Gibson, the late Heath Ledger, Lisa Brenner, Jason Issacs, and many others give good acting performances in it, and the costuming, props and sets were meticulously researched and presented as well.
But, to sum it all up in a somewhat different light, the serious soldier reenactors hired were told first thing, "this is a movie, not a documentary." Uh-oh, was their initial thought on hearing this, and was only further confirmed when busloads of newly hired men - basically off the streets according to the serious reenactor and military state park guide who told me this - were bussed down from Charlotte to help fill-out the final big battle scene. He also mentioned a lot of foam was used, but I'm not sure what he meant as to the way foam was applied in the props. To end this part of the article we'll go out on a good note. The fellow did say the gig paid very well indeed.
The following story will cover the March 1781 attempt by the British allied American loyalist forces to destroy the patriot fighters and their most frequented wilderness base and place of refuge, Snow's Island, South Carolina.
And to that action-packed adventure we now turn.
Snow's Island served as the Swamp Fox's favorite wilderness hideout during the mild winter of 1780-1781. The large island is located at the junction of the Pee Dee and Lynches Rivers in Florence Co. South Carolina. The camp itself was later discovered to have been in an ancient meteor crater.
Marion stayed active in this swampy fastness while the American regulars and militia gave full employment to the British army and its allied forces elsewhere in the Carolinas. Marion's own little brigade had tangled with the Loyalists, or Tories, with an ardor and love of liberty similar to that which Greene and his soldiers so often displayed.
The Loyalists' pitiless murders, savage excesses, and wanton cruelties - their forced entries into homes, their arson's, their raging curses and rapes, had put them completely beyond the pale of what was expected behavior between the military and non-combats of their day and time.
"No quarter to the Tories!" soon became the yell of Marion's men when going into action. And with this furious spirit, guided by the intelligence and craftiness of their leader, the deadly work of these partisans was as sure and speedy as their mood was now unmerciful and vindictive.
To simply defeat their foes was not the only reason for which they fought. To totally annihilate these homegrown enemies had now become their main objective. Indeed, so resolute and lively had they proved themselves capable, that to root out and destroy these hyper-vigilant rebel warriors had become as difficult as it could possibly be.
Indeed, the first to take on Marion in this nasty civil war unwrapped inside a revolution, had been Banastre Tarlton and his cavalry, who failed in this Lord Cornwallis directed effort miserably. Now came another turn for the relentless Tories, who hated the Fox's men almost as much as they did them...And it should be kept in mind, that this article is only a partial part of the very many actions the Fox and his men engaged in during the war against the Brits and their allies.
A joint attempt to liquidate Marion and his men was arranged between two loyalist colonels named Watson and Doyle. The former was to move down from Camden along the Santee River, while the latter was to move across Lynch's Creek and follow its course on the eastern bank. They were then to unite their forces near Snow's Island, known as the favorite hiding place of the wily rebellion men.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, however, Doyle was to fall behind in the Tory officers' hopes for a timely and successful rendezvous. This mischance of war was to prove decisive in Marion's favor as we shall now see.
When Marion first learned of the approach of Watson he led his whole force out to meet him. At the head of the marsh, nearly opposite of what's left off the old Santee canal, he laid an ambush, placing it under command of a Captain Conyers. At this time he was not heavy on rounds of ammunition for each fighter in his outnumbered band. But what he did have was put to an accurate and devastating use.
Marion's order to an officer named Horry was to give two musket-fires, and then quickly retreat. A second ambuscade was placed in an adjacent situation that appeared to hold distinct advantages. This was manned by a party of cavalry under Captain Conyers.
Horry's men gave their fire to good effect, and then as ordered, retired. Watson, having made good his trek through the swamp, sent a detachment of cavalry under a Major Harrison in hot pursuit of Horry. This detachment was encountered by Conyers, who killed Harrison, mano a mano, face-to-face, with his bare hands according to legend.
The Tory soldiers were now somewhat dispersed after suffering many losses from the charge of Conyers. Marion, not quite strong enough to assail his opponents openly, continued in this way to frustrate their progress and enfeeble their force; until at length the redcoats reached the lower bridge on the Black River, eight miles or so from the hideout. Here Colonel Watson made a feint of taking the road to Georgetown and the Sampit River. The Swamp Fox then took an advantageous position on the same road.
Suddenly wheeling about, Watson changed his course and gained possession of the bridge on its western side. This gave him an opening to a very important path, which led into the center of Snow's Island. The river on the west side ran under a high bluff, the ground on the east was low, and the stream, though usually fordable, was at the time so swollen by rain it overflowed the river's banks and appeared as if it might do so to the bridge.
This flooding brought the Loyalist colonel up short. While he hesitated in deciding what to do, the less wary partisan fighters plunged right in and safely reached the opposite side of the river. With this done, they hurried forward to occupy the eastern end of the bridge. Marion then detached a Major James with seventy shooters - thirty of whom were under the command of an officer named McCottry - to torch the bridge. This leader's men are sometimes referred to as McCottry's Rifles.
NOTE: [above are photos of the Lumber River near the North and South Carolina line. Although not the site of the battle, it gives a good look at what the areas Marion operated along were sometimes like. Indeed, on occasion this very site may have been a place he and his men traveled along or crossed over to secure prisoners of war or for other reasons. Because of the ecology of the region, rivers and streams are often a blackish color.]
The riflemen were posted to good advantage under cover of the trees and thickets on the river bank. The attempt by the Patriots to burn the bridge, drew upon them the intense and deadly fire of Watson's horse artillery.
Marion had provided against this likelihood however, with the result being that the artillery crew of the Tories were just about picked off one by one by McCottry's marksmen, as fast as they approached to put their matches to the cannon in fact.
The bridge was burned and quickly consumed in the face of the loyalists, who damaged and confused, turned from their pursuit of the Americans, and proceeded by forced marches to the town of Georgetown and seeming safety on the coast. But Watson was not so fortunate as to leave behind him the foe who his hunt for had now fully awakened into a persevering action against himself.
The Swamp Fox hung upon his retreat - now firing on his flanks - now up in his front, again roughing up the Colonel's rear, while his snipers exacted a heavy toll from the enemy at every mile in their hurried journey. Watson at last reached the British stronghold of Georgetown, as the implacable partisans followed his fleeing footsteps up until the very last moment before reaching the town's environs and its garrison.
Never had a man been more harried and harassed. The chief compliant of Watson, that Marion wouldn't fight like a Christian gentleman, has passed down to Americans over the centuries as somewat ludicrous and hypocritical; especially considering the terrors wrought by the Tories on innocent families whose homes and crops they burned and destroyed. In all fairness though, it should be said that the same destruction was often inflicted on them by their independence-minded foes as well.
Colonel Doyle, the companion officer of Watson, was encountered in a similar manner and with the same results. A single strife drove him back upon Camden, with a not inconsiderable loss in men, and a greater deprivation in cartridge boxes, horses, gunpowder and ball.
This engagement was followed up on the part of Marion's stalwart force by a sharp contest with another group of loyalists, who were routed after a hard brawl that saw stiff casualties on both sides, which included the redcoats leader being slain. A nephew of Marion's also fell mortally wounded during this severe action.
In his second attack of the war on Georgetown, which the Swamp Fox and Light-horse Harry Lee (Robert E. Lee's father) made around this time, his brigade was more successful, than an earlier, first attempt had been. It finally fell into his hands; but was afterwards set afire at night by an armed party from a British vessel afloat the Sampit River, and forty or fifty buildings and homes were reduced to ashes.
After the return of General Greene, which followed the battle at Guildford Courthouse in North Carolina, and Lord Cornwallis's subsequent flight to Yorktown, Virginia, Marion ceased to act alone and independently. His brigade of partisan fighters - of what today we would call a "band of brothers"- became integrated with those of the liberating American Continentals and militia in the Carolinas.
General Francis Marion would go on to lead his compatriots and others to glory in such battles as Eutaw Springs, and other notable actions in what remained of their war for freedom and self-rule. And in conclusion to this story, it's certainly no exaggeration to say, that the Swamp Fox went above and beyond the call of duty for that which he believed in and loved, and of that fact, there can be no controversy whatsoever.