The Swamp Fox: Rangers Lead The Way Part I

The Swamp Fox:
Rangers Lead The Way !
Part 1
By: Marc Kelley

November 11, 2022, marks the day we acknowledge and celebrate Veterans, their service, and their sacrifices made in defense of our great nation. For our country, it is both a day of celebration of our freedom and a time to consider how and why we as Americans have the opportunity to live freely. A time to consider the price paid by those who came before us and the sacrifices they made for our country. A time to thank a Veteran for their service and a time to acknowledge just how fortunate we are to live in America. In these tumultuous times of 2022 Veterans Day provides us an opportunity to consider how America began and how individuals, as flawed as they may have been, chose to exhibit the great character and leadership which helped shape our country into the Republic it is today.

Today you may hear the term asymmetrical warfare used by military strategists. The term itself, like many words in 2022, has evolved over time. In the 5th Century BC writings of Sun Tsu, the Chinese General indicates all warfare is asymmetrical in that the goal is to exploit the enemy’s strength while at the same time attacking his weakness. Sun Tsu teaches that all wars are based upon deception; therefore, if we could only tell the truth to one another, war itself would not be necessary.
Back in the day when history was actually taught in our schools, the fortunate among us learned of the battles which formed our country. The battles which were fought in the Northern states of Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey all served as a rallying cry for our country. However, as significant to our revolution were these battles, they represented not the end; but rather, the beginning of the war. As our struggle against tyranny continued British forces began to realize their efforts in the North had been stalled and in late 1779, the British Command sent orders directing their general’s to focus the fight in the southern states, more specifically North and South Carolina. Initially the British had great successes in the South, however; it would ultimately be a series of tactical errors which would result in the defeat of the greatest fighting force of the time, and ultimately bring the American Revolutionary War to its end.

Many pieces of intelligence told the British they would have much greater success in what would come to be known as the Southern Campaign. Working from the assumptions that there were more Tories ( British Sympathizers) located in the south due the its heavy dependence on British trade, led the British to believe they would have local support for both reconnaissance, as well as logistics for their troops. The British also believed the large number of slaves present in the South, would provide an additional workforce for their cause. And finally, as result of a lobbying campaign headed up by Benjamin Franklin, France was convinced to come to the aid of the Americans and agreed to send both a naval armada as well as ground troops in support of the American cause. After losing to Britain in the Seven Years War, the French viewed supporting the American’s as a way to bleed the British without declaring an all out war with them. In turn the British viewed the decision as a means to further weaken an adversary. While the agreement from France to help our cause was fantastic news for Washington and his Continental Army, there would be strings attached to the French involvement, namely, who would have operational control over the French forces.
The first great success for the British in their Southern strategy came by way of the battle known as the Siege of Charleston. The British objective was to cut off supply lines between the Continental Army in the North and the 6,500 American Militia fighters in Charleston. Following a two week siege Charleston fell, giving the British their most decisive victory of the Revolutionary War. However, all was not lost and through fluke luck or perhaps divine intervention, the British failed to kill or capture a man who would become the unsung hero of the American Revolution.

Believing all that was left to accomplish was to track down and eliminate the leaders and instigators of the American Southern Militia, British command issued orders to unleash a particularly nasty bunch of British Special Forces, known as Tarleton’s Raiders, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banister Tarleton. It would be yet another example of how underestimating your enemy, failing to conduct proper reconnaissance, and believing superior firepower in and of itself is sufficient for victory would be shown as tantamount to ignoring the lessons written by Sun Tsu and would set the table for an American victory. Lieutenant Colonel Banister Tarleton was a nasty piece of work who embodied everything the Americans hated about the British, pompous, arrogant, rude and without concern for those he considered to be beneath his status. Tarleton began a scorched earth campaign against the American’s in the south. His troops took what they wanted from the Colonists, then burned their homes, killed their livestock, and refused to offer even the slightest dignity to women and children. It would be this attitude which would ultimately prove to be his undoing and set into motion a type of warfare which has been waged by oppressed people in every corner of the world and has seen success throughout the globe.

The true measure of a leader is not how he handles success; but rather, how he reacts to his failure’s. History is replete with accounts of military leaders sacrificing far too much so they can soothe their bruised egos. Yet time and time again, the experiences learned from fighting against people defending their homes has largely been ignored by military leaders who choose to believe superior numbers and unspeakable cruelty are enough to overcome any defending force. History has warned of consequences of committing this tactical error and the fate of those doing so has been illustrated in many battles throughout history. One need only look at the 480 BC, Battle of Thermopylae, where three hundred Spartans led by their King, Leonidas, held off thousands of Persians in a narrow mountain pass. Those who, when given a choice to live, if only they would bow to the Persian King Xerxes and lay down their weapons, responded… “come take them.”

Such an American Patriot, who had escaped the siege of Charleston and lived to fight another day was found in Francis Marion. As effective a leader as Washington himself, Marion has truly been slighted by historical accounts of his exploits and role in ending the Revolutionary War. Marion’s leadership, skills and tactics were learned and honed by his service in the French and Indian War. As a student of war, the tactics of hit and run fighting used by the Cherokee warriors, made a huge impression on Marion, and it would be these lessons which would serve our country well in the very near future. The first order of business for Marion was choosing the ground upon which he would fight. Local knowledge would prove to be decisive and Marion chose the “lowlands” of South Carolina from which to operate. The lowlands are a swampy area, filled with salt marshes, bogs, and inland waterways, which ebb and flow with the tidal patterns. It was these area’s which Marion and his men were most familiar and it would be here Marion would earn the nickname, “ The Swamp Fox ”. Often fighting alongside untrained farmers who were not only unpaid, but were not supplied military weapons, Marion’s men were forced instead to rely upon their own homemade weapons and the long rifles they had used for years while hunting to feed their family’s. Because the makeup of Marion’s fighting force changed from a clearly defined army, to a ragtag bunch of miscreants willing to sacrifice everything for their children’s freedom, Marion was able to employ unconventional tactics. Abandoning the concept of waging major conflicts with the British, Marion and his men chose to employ guerrilla warfare tactics, what today’s tacticians call “asymmetrical warfare.” Utilizing small bands of highly mobile forces Marion and his men would seemingly appear from the mist, wreak havoc upon the British by targeting officers and utilizing snipers armed with their long rifles. Elimination of the field officers disrupted the chain of command and before control could be reestablished, Marion and his men would disappear into the countryside as quickly as they had appeared. Yet another favorite tactic employed by Marion was what he called the “fighting retreat.” After pressing an initial encounter, the Americans would turn to run, giving the impression they were beaten. Seeing the Americans fleeing the battlefield inevitably led the British to give chase, only to find they had run into positions which were indefensible and resulted in their troops coming under fire from multiple directions. As the main fighting force rained shot and ball upon the British troops, the initial sniping force would swing wide in a flanking movement denying the British a safe route from which to withdraw from the fight. So extraordinary was Marion’s leadership and so devastating were the tactics he employed, they would serve as a force multiplier, magnifying the efforts and sacrifices made by everyday Americans as they fought against a tyrannical government. It would be these tactics and leadership which would ultimately turn the tide of the war and deliver a stinging defeat to the British.

Even though Francis Marion never commanded a large army or led a major battle, his superior tactics would earn him the utmost respect in the eyes of General Washington and in the men who fought by his side. Marion’s tactics and use of asymmetrical warfare earned him the moniker of, “The Father of Guerrilla Warfare.” The legend’s and exploits of Francis Marion would be etched into the annals of time and American history. In a different time in America, even The Walt Disney Company saw the value of teaching our children about American heroes. In October 1959, Disney released an eight part mini series designed to teach our children the history of the American Revolution. The pilot episode entitled “The Birth of the Swamp Fox ” appeared in the 6:30 pm time slot as a Special Feature of the iconic, Sunday night family program, Walt Disney Presents. Francis Marion’s contributions to our country are not limited to his military service or to history lessons for our children. Marion’s tactics and leadership style are still taught in U.S. military academy’s today. He has been called the Father of an elite modern day fighting force known as the U.S. Army Rangers. Just as lethal, agile, and flexible as the “Swamp Fox” himself, today,… Rangers Lead The Way!
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