The Swamp Fox

How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution


By John Oller

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This comprehensive biography of Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, covers his famous wartime stories as well as a private side of him that has rarely been explored

In the darkest days of the American Revolution, Francis Marion and his band of militia freedom fighters kept hope alive for the patriot cause during the critical British “southern campaign.” Employing insurgent guerrilla tactics that became commonplace in later centuries, Marion and his brigade inflicted enemy losses that were individually small but cumulatively a large drain on British resources and morale.

Although many will remember the stirring adventures of the “Swamp Fox” from the Walt Disney television series of the late 1950s and the fictionalized Marion character played by Mel Gibson in the 2000 film The Patriot, the real Francis Marion bore little resemblance to either of those caricatures. But his exploits were no less heroic as he succeeded, against all odds, in repeatedly foiling the highly trained, better-equipped forces arrayed against him.

In this action-packed biography we meet many colorful characters from the Revolution: Banastre Tarleton, the British cavalry officer who relentlessly pursued Marion over twenty-six miles of swamp, only to call off the chase and declare (per legend) that “the Devil himself could not catch this damned old fox,” giving Marion his famous nickname; Thomas Sumter, the bold but rash patriot militia leader whom Marion detested; Lord Cornwallis, the imperious British commander who ordered the hanging of rebels and the destruction of their plantations; “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, the urbane young Continental cavalryman who helped Marion topple critical British outposts in South Carolina; but most of all Francis Marion himself, “the Washington of the South,” a man of ruthless determination yet humane character, motivated by what his peers called “the purest patriotism.”

In The Swamp Fox, the first major biography of Marion in more than forty years, John Oller compiles striking evidence and brings together much recent learning to provide a fresh look both at Marion, the man, and how he helped save the American Revolution.



A Most Uncivil War

The South Carolina that Francis Marion set out to liberate from British control in August 1780 was the key theater of operations in the American Revolution at that point. It was also in turmoil—a society riven by war and rooted in lawlessness, fear, violence, and oppression.

More battles, engagements, and skirmishes were fought in South Carolina during the Revolution than in any other colony. Conservative estimates place the number of combat actions in the state at more than two hundred, a third of all that took place in the entire war. No other colony had as many inches of its territory affected by battle; of the state’s forty-six present-day counties, forty-five ended up seeing Revolutionary War actions. Nearly 20 percent of all Americans who died in battle in the Revolution died in South Carolina in the last two years of the war.

Ever since the shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the South had been mostly untouched by the conflict, which was famously fought at places such as Bunker Hill, Fort Ticonderoga, Trenton, and Brandywine. But by 1779 the war in the North had reached a stalemate, with the British firmly in control of New York City under Sir Henry Clinton, and the Americans, led by George Washington, camped thirty miles away in Morristown, New Jersey, desperately hoping for help from a French navy anchored in the West Indies. The last significant engagement in the North had been in June 1778 at Monmouth Courthouse, where Washington and his most dependable officer, Nathanael Greene, battled Clinton and his lieutenant general, Charles Cornwallis, to a draw. But while the Americans remained hard-pressed, Britain had grown increasingly weary of war. Its coffers nearly bankrupt and its military stretched thin by an expanded conflict with France and Spain, Parliament agreed to finance one final effort to end the American rebellion.

It came to be known as Britain’s “southern strategy.” Jointly agreed on by Clinton, King George, and Lord Germain, the British secretary of state for America, the plan was elegant in both logic and economy. The British would begin by occupying and pacifying Georgia, where revolutionary sentiment was the weakest among the thirteen colonies. They would then subdue South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia while gathering men to confront Washington in the North.

The linchpin of the strategy was the belief, encouraged by American loyalist exiles in London, that the South, never as fervent for independence as New England to begin with, was teeming with loyalists who would rise up in arms against the rebels once the British army arrived to support them. Parliament saw a way to save money and British lives by having loyal colonial subjects do much of the fighting themselves, a plan to “Americanize” the war similar in concept to the Vietnamization policy adopted by the US government in Southeast Asia almost two hundred years later. At the very least, Britain figured, by conquering the South it would retain several valuable colonies even if it had to let the northern ones go.

And the British plan was working. Savannah fell easily in December 1778, allowing the British to quickly establish control over Georgia. Savannah, in turn, provided Clinton with a base for moving north by land on Charleston, which he had failed to capture in a brief, bungled land-and-sea operation in 1776. In the nearly four years since, Charleston had grown complacent, a place of balls, concerts, theater, taverns, and a general libertine spirit. But after the city’s capitulation on May 12 the mood turned somber and defeatist. Much of the citizenry nearly tripped over themselves trying to prove their allegiance to Mother England. Two hundred Charlestonians signed a congratulatory address to Clinton and a British vice admiral, thanking them for restoring South Carolina’s political connection to Great Britain. Merchants who had been ardent patriots abruptly shifted their loyalties to the Crown to position themselves for profitable wartime trade. The ringleaders of the rebellion were arrested and shipped off to St. Augustine, Florida. With Governor John Rutledge’s flight in exile to North Carolina and later to Philadelphia, civil government in South Carolina ceased to exist. As one loyalist military officer observed, “The conquest of the Province was complete.”

Believing the war in South Carolina to be at an end, thousands of its citizens swore oaths of allegiance to King George so as to secure protection as loyal subjects. Some voluntarily trekked to Charleston from fifty miles away to sign their pledges. Able-bodied men rushed to join the British forces, the better to ingratiate themselves with their conquerors. Patriot militia who did not wish to take up arms for the Crown nonetheless returned to their farms and plantations under a pledge of neutrality, agreeing to sit out the war quietly at home per the terms of their parole. Even prominent revolutionary statesmen, such as Henry Middleton, former president of the Continental Congress; Charles Pinckney, the first president of the South Carolina Senate; and Daniel Huger, a top member of Governor Rutledge’s council, took British protection. The state seemed resigned to submission.

By June 4, a few weeks after Charleston’s surrender, Clinton was able to report to Lord Germain that “there are few men in South Carolina who are not either our prisoners, or in arms with us.” Confident that South Carolina had been pacified and that North Carolina was the next domino to fall, Clinton sailed back to New York to keep check on Washington, leaving the forty-two-year-old Cornwallis in charge of operations in the South.

Just before leaving Charleston, though, Clinton had issued a proclamation that exacerbated the division between South Carolina loyalists and patriots. Clinton had previously stipulated that so long as any civilian Whigs agreed to a parole, the British would grant them a full pardon and leave them in peace in their homes and property for the duration of the war. But almost immediately Clinton developed second thoughts, in part because vengeful Tories protested that the terms were too generous to their longtime antagonists. In part, too, Clinton concluded that the British needed more of a stick than a carrot approach to securing the citizenry’s fidelity.

Accordingly, on June 3, 1780, Clinton announced that the prior paroles were null and void and that those previously on parole would be restored to their rights and duties as citizens of the Crown and were expected to actively assist the British government. Parolees had to sign an oath of allegiance by June 20 or be deemed still in rebellion and treated as enemies of the king. This edict, Clinton reasoned, would smoke out rebel agitators and prevent them from causing trouble while under the protection of parole.

But the proclamation ended up backfiring. Did the requirement to “actively assist” the British mean patriots actually had to take up arms with the British against their neighbors and fellow countrymen? That was the question the people of Williamsburg asked themselves. They sent a popular local representative and militia officer, Major John James, to Georgetown on the coast to seek clarification from the Royal Navy captain there. After opining that the rebels previously paroled were lucky they were not all hanged, the British captain told Major James that Clinton’s new decree did indeed require those signing the oath to fight for the loyalist cause if called upon to do so.

In short, to the British, neutrality was no longer possible—the colonials were either for or against them. Many South Carolinians’ hearts were already with the patriots, and reports of British raiders burning houses, plundering property, and committing other atrocities were driving them further into the rebel camp. One British officer told Cornwallis that after Clinton’s revised proclamation, nine out of every ten backcountry inhabitants not previously in arms against the British had taken up the revolutionary cause. The countryside was suddenly awakened; the British had unwittingly let loose a hornet’s nest of rebel sentiment. Forced to fight one way or the other, those with patriot sympathies chose to join the resistance.

As a result, South Carolina became the setting for a bona fide civil war—a conflict within the state far less “civil” than the one between the states eighty years later. It involved not merely a clash of professional armies, as was typical of European conflicts at the time, but also an insurgency and counterinsurgency that engaged much of the civilian population, more characteristic of the conflagrations of centuries to come.

What most distinguished the war in South Carolina was its vicious and personal nature. It pitted not only neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother but father against son. Unspeakable atrocities were committed, as men in their homes, sick with smallpox, were roused from their beds and executed; soldiers waving the white flag were mercilessly cut down with the sword; and captured enemies were summarily hanged for past crimes, real and imagined. And most of the brutality was visited not by British upon Americans or Americans upon British but Americans upon Americans. Rhode Island’s General Nathanael Greene, a battle-hardened officer who came south to replace Horatio Gates as the commander of the southern Continental Army, had never seen anything like it. “The whole country is in danger of being laid waste by the Whigs and Tories, who pursue each other with as much relentless fury as beasts of prey,” he was to observe.

Unlike many civil wars, this one was not based on geographic boundaries or even mainly on differences of political philosophy. South Carolina Whigs were not necessarily motivated by the lofty ideals expressed by Thomas Jefferson, nor were Tories inevitably inspired by devotion to King George. Instead, the decision whether to take up arms, and for which side, was frequently driven by private grievances and desires for revenge. A man’s horse was once stolen by a Whig; he became a Tory. Another man, feeling slighted because the Tories passed him over for military promotion, might join forces with the Whigs. So indifferent were some to ideological issues that they switched sides during the war as many as three times or even more, depending on who was winning.

Old grudges resurfaced from the decade preceding the Revolution, when lawlessness reigned in the Carolina backcountry. In the 1760s vigilante groups, known as Regulators, had been organized to hunt down bandit gangs; the Regulators, in turn, were met by counter-vigilantes known as Moderators. The blood feuds generated among neighbors in the prerevolutionary period often determined whose side one was on during the Revolution.

Religious and ethnic resentments played a part as well. Presbyterian and Baptist dissenters resented discrimination by the established, tax-supported Anglican Church; the Presbyterians and Baptists detested each other; and the Scotch-Irish hated the English for having forcibly relocated their ancestors from Scotland to Ireland in the 1600s. Yet religious affiliations did not inexorably determine loyalties. Scottish Highlanders, for example, though Presbyterian, were mostly devoted to the Crown because, unlike their Scotch-Irish brethren, they were recent immigrants to America who owed their land grants to King George. The same was true of German Lutherans, whose Hessian brethren fought as British mercenaries. Poor backcountry farmers generally preferred the rule of the king to that of the elitist Charleston and Lowcountry merchants and plantation owners, who regarded backcountry folk as vulgar rubes and denied them fair representation in the state assembly.

Adding fuel to the flame were animosities left over from the early days of the war. In April 1775, when the first shots rang out at Lexington and Concord, South Carolina’s population was sharply divided in its attitude toward independence. Tensions were high as both Tories and Whigs raised rival militia forces and vied for control of critical gunpowder stores. But the Whigs quickly won the propaganda war, seized control of the militia and other machinery of government, and quashed a Tory uprising in the backcountry. After gaining the upper hand, the Whigs proceeded to suppress their Tory neighbors with forced loyalty oaths, imprisonment or banishment of leaders, and physical intimidation, including tarring and feathering, burning, and scalping. This set the stage for a cycle of retribution that accelerated when the British captured Charleston. With the British at their backs, Tories took the opportunity to settle old scores, all in the name of politics. Whigs responded in kind. Meanwhile highway robbers, passing themselves off as soldiers for Whigs or Tories as the situation suited them, plundered from both sides.

Finally, overlaying all was the white population’s ever-present fear, shared by Whigs and Tories alike, of Indian uprisings in the backcountry and slave insurrections in the Lowcountry (where blacks outnumbered whites by more than three to one). Fearful of antagonizing their Tory allies and in part because Cornwallis was reluctant to employ them, the British never effectively mobilized their many Indian allies to fight the Carolina rebels. For similar reasons, while thousands of slaves fled to the British lines in search of their freedom or were forcibly taken from Whig plantations, the British, with rare exception, chose not to arm them as soldiers (they were mostly used as laborers or informers/messengers). Had the British brought Tories, Native Americans, and slaves together in military operations against the patriots, they might have made quick work of the rebellion; as it was, the war in South Carolina remained a free-for-all.

In short, when he ventured out on his one good leg to join the fight in South Carolina, Marion was wading into a maelstrom of violence and anarchy. Given that setting, one might expect that Marion, as the leader of a guerrilla brigade, would descend to the level of barbarism practiced by so many of his contemporaries. Yet he did not. When almost all around him were committing or at least condoning atrocities scarcely imaginable between fellow Americans, Marion refused to give in to passion or prejudice or vengeance. “Of all the men who ever drew the sword, Marion was one of the most humane,” avowed his friend Peter Horry. “He not only prevented all cruelty, in his own presence, but strictly forbade it in his absence.” He excoriated those serving under him who pursued what he termed the “abominable” enemy practice of burning private homes. He personally interceded a number of times to prevent vengeful patriot soldiers from brutalizing or hanging surrendering Tories. As the Revolution neared its end he adopted an almost Lincolnesque, “malice toward none” attitude, urging his fellow patriots to reconcile with their old Tory neighbors as quickly as possible and forsake overly punitive measures to confiscate the property of their former foes.

The question is how Marion came to be that way. As with any cipher, one must begin by searching for clues from his past. It reveals a man of moderation, equally covetous of liberty and order, in between the extremes of violence and passivity, neither a Charleston aristocrat nor a backcountry bumpkin, and ruthless in battle but averse to the shedding of needless blood, whether that of friend or foe. It begins with his ancestors, who weathered persecution in the Old World and sought freedom in a new one.


“A Spirit of Toleration”

Benjamin Marion, the grandfather of Francis Marion the revolutionary, was one of countless French Huguenots seeking to escape the tyranny of the French monarch in the late seventeenth century. Adherents of the Reformation teachings of John Calvin, these French Protestants had come to question the divine right of kings in favor of the sovereignty of the people and repeatedly had been oppressed for their beliefs.

Slaughtered by the thousands in the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, the Huguenots had gained a measure of protection under the Edict of Nantes, issued in 1598. But in 1685 the “Sun King,” Louis XIV, revoked the edict so as to make his rule absolute. All Protestant churches were demolished, meetings were banned, and Protestant schools were closed. Calvinists were given deadlines for renouncing their faith—in some cases as little as two hours—failing which the king’s men would enter their homes to take them prisoner, confiscate their property, and cart their children off to Catholic institutions.

Many Huguenots found asylum in England, where they learned of an offer from a group known as the Lords Proprietor concerning a place across the ocean called Carolina. The lords, who owned the province, were granting land and religious freedom to anyone who promised to settle there, Huguenots included. One of these Huguenots, Benjamin Marion, originally from the town of La Chaume in Poitou on the French Atlantic coast, emigrated in 1690 with his wife and five servants. He received 350 acres about fifteen miles north of Charleston, on Goose Creek in St. James Parish.

Benjamin Marion (or M’Arion, as he signed his name) made good in his new country. Between his first wife, Judith Baluet, and, after her death, a second named Mary, he had eleven children. He became a naturalized citizen and taxpayer, started a plantation on Goose Creek, and acquired enough new land so that during his lifetime he was able to settle each of his marrying sons with a hundred or more acres with which to start their own estates. When he died in 1735 his inventory included thirty-two slaves, forty-six cattle, sixty-four sheep, horses, hogs, pewter and chinaware, guns, and “a parcel of French and English books.”

Among Benjamin Marion’s Goose Creek neighbors and a larger body of Huguenots who settled farther north on the banks of the Santee were native French families bearing names that would become well known in colonial South Carolina: Horry, Huger, Laurens, Lenud, Manigault, and Postell. Less identifiable are the names of two other groups who played important roles in the growth of the Huguenot population in South Carolina: Native Americans and African Americans. The former, whose identities are largely lost to history, befriended the newcomers and taught them frontier survival skills, including how to raise corn in place of wheat, barley, and other European crops (rice and indigo would come later).

Even more critical to the settlers’ success were slaves from Africa and the West Indies, known only by their owners’ last names or by first names or nicknames such as those identified in Benjamin Marion’s inventory and will, written in French: Cabto, Gold, Monday, Primus, Sippeo, and Pappy Jenny. In 1720 approximately fifteen hundred slaves lived in Goose Creek as compared with eighty white families. Of the estate worth 6,800 British pounds sterling left by Benjamin Marion at his death, 5,400 pounds, or nearly 80 percent of the total, was attributable to the value of his slaves.

One other group had a seminal impact on the experience of Francis Marion’s ancestors in the New World: the English. Although the first English settlement, at Charleston in 1670, preceded the arrival of the first Huguenots by less than ten years, the English Protestants had the advantage of taxpayer support for their Anglican Church. Resented at first by their English fellow colonists, the Huguenots maintained their distinct identity, speaking French and keeping their peculiar customs, manners, and forms of worship. But over time they assimilated into English society. They learned the English language, intermarried with English settlers, and anglicized their names. They even joined the Anglican Church, established as the official state church in 1706, after it agreed to translate its services into French.

The Huguenots were considered a “gentle race,” given to humility, conciliation, and self-denial. Despite everything they had been through, these French immigrants did not become haters. Two centuries later a US senator and member of the Du Pont family would publicly boast of the “spirit of toleration which was a special characteristic of our Huguenot ancestors.”

Benjamin Marion’s eldest son, Gabriel, was born in South Carolina in about 1693. Around 1714 he married Esther Cordes, the Carolina-born daughter of a well-to-do Huguenot immigrant, Dr. Antoine Cordes of St. John’s Parish. Gabriel and Esther had six children—one daughter (the oldest) and five sons, the youngest of whom was Francis.

Francis Marion came into the world in 1732, the same year as did George Washington. He was born at Goatfield Plantation, on the western branch of the Cooper River, about fourteen miles northeast of Goose Creek in present-day Berkeley County. Goatfield, where Gabriel and Esther had moved sometime after their marriage, was on lands called Chachan, belonging to Esther’s politically connected Cordes family. As a result Francis was named for his uncle, Francis Cordes, thus becoming the only one of his siblings not given a biblical name. Upon Francis’s birth his uncle Francis gifted him three African American slaves: a man named June, his wife, Chloe, and their son, Buddy, who would become Marion’s childhood companion and later manservant.

Marion was tiny at birth, which may have been preterm. “I have it from good authority,” wrote Parson Weems, his first biographer, that Marion “was not larger than a New England lobster, and might easily enough have been put into a quart pot.” By the time of his birth the Marions were worshipping nearby at the new Anglican Church, known as Biggin, where he was likely baptized and where his mother was eventually buried. The church would come to play a fateful role in one of Francis Marion’s bloodiest Revolutionary War battles.

When Marion was just a child his father moved the family to Georgetown, a recently founded port town on the coast. The move seems to have been financially motivated. After changing occupations from planter to merchant, Gabriel became “embarrassed in his affairs”—a euphemism for bankruptcy—and by the time Francis was ten, Esther Marion was in “necessitous circumstances.” Up until then Gabriel had been assigning portions of his estate to his three oldest sons—Isaac, Gabriel, and Benjamin—as they reached maturity. But by the time he got to his two youngest sons, Job and Francis, the money had run out, and they had to fend for themselves.

Gabriel Marion died when Francis was in his teens. Around that time Francis became a sailor aboard a Georgetown vessel bound for the West Indies. Perhaps he was driven by a restless desire for a seafaring life, but just as likely he saw it as a way of developing a career and making people take notice of him. His brothers Isaac and Benjamin as well as his sister, Esther, had each married into a wealthy English family of rice planters in Georgetown, the Allstons, and were settling into comfortable lives. But Francis had no money of his own, and lacking either good looks or an outgoing personality to compensate, he was without marital prospects. (Even Continental commander Henry Lee, an admirer of Marion, conceded that “his visage was not pleasing, and his manners not captivating.”) A nautical voyage thus held some attraction for the young man. But the venture did not profit him: the ship foundered at sea, swept under by either wind or whale, and Francis, cast adrift for several days in an open boat, was one of four survivors among the crew of six. He returned to the welcoming arms of his mother in Georgetown.

Francis spent the next several years in Georgetown living with family, immersing himself in the town’s English culture, and casting off the vestiges of Huguenot customs and habits. He hunted and fished the inland woods and swamps beyond the coast, gaining a knowledge of the local vegetation and terrain that one day would serve him well in battle. Sometime in his youth he obtained a rudimentary education, possibly at home or from tutors hired by the Allstons. Although his later military letters and orders will never be confused with literature, they were logical and coherent. They betrayed no French language influence, and if they lacked uniformity of spelling and grammar, so did the English language while Francis was growing up. (Samuel Johnson’s landmark dictionary, which set the standards, was not published until 1755, after Marion had already obtained his common learning.)

In about 1755 Marion moved from Georgetown with his mother and older brother Gabriel back to St. John’s Parish, near the town of Monck’s Corner. Why they returned there is not known except that Esther Marion, then a sixty-year-old widow in declining health, may have wanted to live out her final days in the parish of her birth. She would die less than two years later, leaving the majority of her small estate to her two youngest children, Job and Francis.

It was in St. John’s Parish, soon after the move from Georgetown, where Francis Marion had his first brush with military service. He and his brother Gabriel were listed on the muster roll of the St. John’s militia company on January 31, 1756. No action was to be had at the time, but by law every able-bodied man was expected to serve in the militia to help defend the colony, primarily against Indian or slave uprisings. Responsible for supplying their own weapons and ammunition, typically they would bring their muskets to church so they could drill after the service.

The first real break in Francis Marion’s life came indirectly, through his brother Gabriel. Shortly after their mother died, Gabriel married Catherine Taylor, a beautiful heiress whose wealthy landowner father set the young couple up with his plantation, Belle Isle, in St. Stephens Parish (present-day Pineville). Located just south of the Santee River, St. Stephens was known as the English Santee, as distinguished from the French Santee of St. James Parish, farther to the south, where Benjamin Marion, the Huguenot emigrant, had first settled. By midcentury St. Stephens had become the “garden spot” of South Carolina, fertile and conducive not only to rice planting and livestock and poultry grazing but also to growing the new and profitable crop of indigo. Francis Marion went to live with Gabriel and Catherine at Belle Isle shortly after their marriage and around 1759 was given an adjoining portion of the land, known as Hampton Hill, to cultivate himself. He became a farmer.


  • Advance praise for The Swamp Fox

    "Not only a new Francis Marion, but a new American Revolution emerges from these riveting pages. Best of all, John Oller has performed this feat with solid, totally convincing research. His is a book that every American will learn from-and enjoy."-Thomas Fleming, bestselling author of The Great Divide

    "John Oller's thrilling narrative drops us into the steamy swamps of South Carolina as Francis Marion and his small militia repeatedly bloody larger, veteran redcoat armies, often serving as the only surviving patriot force between the British and the fall of the colony. The Swamp Fox paints a vivid portrait of the unassuming man who created a new, potent brand of guerrilla warfare, one that balanced audacity with tactical genius and resolute ethics. Oller's engaging work rightfully places Marion in the first ranks of great American heroes."-John F. Ross, author of War on the Run

    "John Oller's The Swamp Fox is a much-anticipated, fresh look at the life of Francis Marion, focusing on Marion's distinguished military career during the American Revolution. Incorporating historical material either previously inaccessible or overlooked, Oller offers new perspectives on our lowcountry South Carolina partisan told within an engaging narrative that situates Marion's campaigns within the greater British and American strategies."-Steven D. Smith, Research Associate Professor, University of South Carolina, and author of Archaeological Perspectives on Partisan Communities: Francis Marion at Snow's Island in History, Landscape, and Memory

    "A tour de force-a scholarly presentation which has been long needed. Brilliantly written and documented."-Christine Swager, author of The Valiant Dead: The Battle of Eutaw Springs and Come to the Cowpens: The Story of the Battle of Cowpens

    "Well-written, well-researched, fast-paced, it deserves a large reading audience."-John Buchanan, author of The Road to Guilford Courthouse
  • "A captivating and long overlooked study of a little known chapter in the American Revolution. Oller's work should be read by all students of early American history and in particular by those interested in better understanding how the American Revolution was won."--New York Journal of Books
  • "An admiring biography of Francis Marion (1732-1795), a military hero of the American Revolution...A thoroughly researched biography."--Kirkus Reviews
  • "Oller's exemplary knowledge about South Carolina's forgotten tussle during the revolution will engage readers...Highly recommended for military aficionados and students of Southern U.S. history or the American Revolution."--Library Journal
  • "Oller's deeply researched book is rich with details on how intelligence contributed to America's independence, and describes techniques used by American special forces today. A splendid military read."--Washington Times
  • "A well-researched biography...Packed with fascinating tidbits for those who cannot get enough of military histories and/or accounts of the American Revolution."--InfoDad blog

  • "The Palmetto state is dotted with buildings, monuments, schools and historical sites in [Francis Marion's] honor. And now he also has the biography he deserves."--Houston Press

  • "Oller compiles striking evidence and brings together much recent learning to provide a fresh look both at Marion, the man, and how he helped save the American Revolution."--Idaho Statesman

  • "Oller has done an impressive job documenting the life and times of Francis Marion...Oller paints a picture of a humble man who believed in the sanctity of human life, who sought to minimize bloodshed when he could."--What Would the Founders Think?

  • "The story of a patriot and a military genius...A balanced portrait of a man whose contributions went beyond his military prowess...Oller's narrative style conveys the excitement of Marion's life as the 'Swamp Fox' and the excitement and horror of war. It also provides a clearly understandable description of troop movements and geography that enables the reader to understand the physical aspects of the story. Modern readers will recognize place names they see on summer trips to the beach."--Roanoke Times

  • "These days about all this generation knows about Francis Marion stems from the character played by Mel Gibson in The Patriot. John Oller sets the record straight...Whoever said that history had to be boring? The way Oller writes it, you won't be able to put it down."--Seattle Book Review
  • "In this action-packed biography we meet many colorful characters from the Revolution...Oller compiles striking evidence and brings together much recent learning to provide a fresh look both at Marion, the man, and how he helped save the American Revolution."--Readara
  • "The author takes a balanced approach to his subject, acknowledging Marion's military abilities and humanity in the often barbarous South Carolina civil war of 1780-1782, yet avoids lapsing into the hagiography that undermines many biographies...Oller does a fine job presenting Marion's activities within the larger context of the campaigns in the South, allowing readers to understand the overall military picture and Marion's place within it...[This] detailed and nuanced portrait of Francis Marion is capably done and will be welcomed by historians."--Journal of the American Revolution
  • "A detailed and well documented biography...[Oller] brings Francis Marion to life...This is a very detailed and informative book about this man, his life, and his importance in the success of the Revolutionary War...An enjoyable and readable history...It was an absolute pleasure to read and learn about so important an individual to this nations' freedom."--Portland Book Review
  • "An excellent book that describes the exploits of one of the saviors of the American Revolution in the South."--Collected Miscellany
  • "A genuinely new and insightful book about Marion...Tell[s] a good story in a well-written narrative...Goes right to core of what we most want to know about Marion...Oller puts real history behind the legend of Marion, giving us a detailed and engaging account of The Swamp Fox's military career. Beside the clear prose, the great strength of Oller's book is the solid research behind it...Oller is able to tell us more about Marion than any previous biographer. The picture we have is of a real man who was every bit as extraordinary as the legend, a master of partisan warfare and a true patriot who deserves a place alongside Washington in the pantheon of heroes of America's Revolutionary era."--Abbeville Institute
  • "A readable, well-documented biography...Anyone who loves American history or military history would love this book."--Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "May be the best Marion biography to come out in recent years. Oller's extensive research strips away the myths and legends of previous biographies in depicting a man of unquestionable character that became one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare."--Military Review

  • "[Oller's] account of Marion and the South Carolina battleground gives readers a fresh view of a lesser-known Revolutionary War campaign."--Publishers Weekly
  • "A carefully researched account of the life of South Carolina militia general and guerilla leader Francis Marion, one of the American Revolution's most divisive and elusive figures. With an engaging narrative and a level of detail sure to delight many military historians and enthusiasts alike, Oller reconstructs Marion's participation in the Revolutionary War...A reconceptualization of Marion not as a mythological, virtuous American hero but as an astute student of war, one who understood the intricacies of waging a guerilla campaign against a superior force in a civilian community."
  • "Oller brings precise research (and no little courage) to the challenge of writing a realistic, accurate life of a partisan leader whose exploits have made him a centerpiece of American national mythology...A virtue of John Oller's new biography is his extensive use of Francis Marion's orderly book and other papers to glean interesting details about his day-to-day activities and operations. Swamp Fox will certainly attract a wide readership, especially among students and history buffs."--Michigan War Studies Review
  • "Oller uses newly completed document collections...which were not available to previous biographers...Oller uncovers some interesting new information concerning Marion's years before the war...A good read."—Journal of Southern History
  • "Oller offers a thorough reassessment of Marion, placing his irregular tactics in the larger story of the Southern Campaign of 1780-1781...A welcome addition to the growing literature on the War of Independence in the South."
    The Historian

On Sale
Mar 20, 2018
Page Count
400 pages
Da Capo Press

John Oller

About the Author

John Oller, a lawyer and journalist, is the author of the critically acclaimed biographies of actress Jean Arthur and Kate Chase Sprague, Mary Todd Lincoln’s great rival. He lives in New York City.

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