Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution

Article excerpt

The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution. By John Oller. (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2016. Pp. xvi, 368. Paper, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-306-90319-9; cloth. $26.99, ISBN 978-0-306-82457-9.)

John Oller begins his biography of Francis Marion in 1780, when Great Britain was at war with the American colonies, France, and Spain. With the war in New England stagnating and the British public losing patience with the fighting, British leadership sought a quick end. Seeking to salvage something, the generals shifted the war effort to the southern colonies. The southern strategy was a bold move. Success depended almost completely on the support of Loyalist southerners, whose numbers were vastly overestimated. At first, things looked good for the British. Georgia was subdued shortly after the Patriot defeat at Savannah, and thousands of South Carolinians swore allegiance to the Crown with the capture of Charleston. The British believed that if Charles Cornwallis could maintain control in Georgia and the Carolinas, they could draw George Washington and the Continental army south and into a trap.

But maintaining control of Georgia and the Carolinas proved much more difficult than Cornwallis and the British expected. Oller argues, as the book's subtitle implies, that this difficulty was largely due to Francis Marion and his ragtag band of guerrilla fighters. Since Marion was a small and rather plain-looking forty-eight-year-old whose physique came closer to that of a young boy than an adult, it is hard to believe he was dangerous enough to stop the British. Yet those who looked past that first glance quickly noticed his striking intelligence and fierce devotion to the cause. He was the perfect foil to the British strategy, raising havoc in the British rear and keeping the superior-sized forces continually off-balance. Since Marion actually only engaged the British in two dozen skirmishes and missed most of the major battles that occurred in the southern campaign, Oller correctly focuses much of the book on Nathanael Greene's activities in the southern theater, which makes sense because scholars commonly credit Greene with confounding British strategy and salvaging the American cause in the South. …

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