Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

Song of Marion's Men

T HE British had succeeded in defeating most of the American troops in South Carolina by 1780, and had laid waste much of that state, confiscating plantations, burning houses, and hanging such as they termed traitors without giving them any form of trial. The city of Charleston surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton, the American General Gates was defeated at the battle of Camden, August 16, 1780, and General Sumter at Fishing Creek August 18, 1780. After that there was only one organized American force in South Carolina, "Marion's Brigade," as it was called. This was a band of troopers led by General Francis Marion, a native of South Carolina, whose ancestors were Huguenot refugees. At first his troop contained only twenty men, but more joined his band, and for three years they carried on irregular warfare, harassing the British forces more than regular soldiers could have done.

Marion's men defeated a large body of Tories at Briton's Neck without losing a single man, and soon after beat the enemy twice by sudden attacks when the Tories were unaware of armed men being near. Marion managed to escape General Tarleton by disappearing into a swamp after a chase of twenty-five miles. This won the daring leader the name of "Swamp Fox," by which he was known all through the countryside.

After the battle of King's Mountain more recruits joined the band. In December, 1780, Marion tried to capture Georgetown, but failed. His nephew, Gabriel Marion, was taken prisoner, and as soon as his name was learned he was executed. The "Swamp Fox" led his band back to a well-hidden island known as Swan Island, and made many sorties through the everglades and forests. Again and again he attacked the British along the Santee and Pedee Rivers. He was never cruel to prisoners, and won a high name for his leadership as well as for his own bravery.

Marion's men succeeded in capturing Georgetown on their third attempt, and fought in the battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, 1781, which practically ended the British occupation of that part of the new United States of America.

Marion has always been one of the most popular heroes of the Revolution, and the "Swamp Fox" well deserved his fame. He was a gallant leader, and the British and Tories admitted that, although he fought them by stealth, he was never a treacherous foe.

Song of Marion's Men

by William Cullen Bryant

Our band is few, but true and tried,

Our leader frank and bold;

The British soldier trembles

When Marion's name is told.

Our fortress is the good greenwood,

Our tent the cypress-tree;

We know the forest round us,

As seamen know the sea;

We know its walks of thorny vines,

Its glades of reedy grass,

Its safe and silent islands

Within the dark morass.

Woe to the English soldiery

That little dread us near!

On them shall light at midnight

A strange and sudden fear;

When, waking to their tents on fire,

They grasp their arms in vain,

And they who stand to face us

Are beat to earth again;

And they who fly in terror deem

A mighty host behind,

And hear the tramp of thousands

Upon the hollow wind.

Then sweet the hour that brings release

From danger and from toil;

We talk the battle over,

And share the battle's spoil.

The woodland rings with laugh and shout,

As if a hunt were up,

And woodland flowers are gathered

To crown the soldier's cup.

With merry songs we mock the wind

That in the pine-top grieves,

And slumber long and sweetly

On beds of oaken leaves.

Well knows the fair and friendly moon

The band that Marion leads—

The glitter of their rifles,

The scampering of their steeds.

'Tis life to guide the fiery barb

Across the moonlight plain;

'Tis life to feel the night-wind

That lifts his tossing mane.

A moment in the British camp—

A moment—and away,

Back to the pathless forest,

Before the peep of day.

Grave men there are by broad Santee,

Grave men with hoary hairs;

Their hearts are all with Marion,

For Marion are their prayers.

And lovely ladies greet our band,

With kindliest welcoming,

With smiles like those of summer,

And tears like those of spring.

For them we wear these trusty arms,

And lay them down no more

Till we have driven the Briton,

Forever, from our shore.

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