Francis Marion wasn’t the sort of guy who looked like he’d belong on a website called Badass of the Week. He wasn’t one of those roided-out muscle-bound mangle-mutilators with a gore-caked axe standing on a pile of bodies clenching someone’s spleen in his teeth while hysterical blood-drenched peasants ran screaming about him in every direction. He was short, frail, had malformed legs, and walked with a limp because one time he’d broken his ankle jumping out a second-story window to escape a boring house party (this is true). He didn’t drink. The first time he asked a girl to marry him, she said no and married his friend instead. FFS, Leslie Nielsen played him in a Disney show once.
Yet somehow this man is credited in an official unit history as being a forerunner to one of the world’s most elite military units – the United States Army Rangers.
How does that happen?
Because Francis Fuckin’ Marion lived a life so freedom-humpin’ over-the-top red, white and blue badass that history knows him as “The Swamp Fox”, credits him with being a key figure in the violent overthrow of British Monarchy in the New World, and Mel Gibson once played a character loosely-related to him in a movie back when it wasn’t cool to hate on Mel Gibson.
The most patriotic pseudo-Scottish
Aussie on the planet.
Born on a plantation in South Carolina sometime around 1732-ish, Francis Marion was cursed at birth not only with the name Francis but also by being born so undersized that, according to his doctors, you could have put him into a pitcher of water. He wasn’t expected to survive infancy, yet somehow he did this despite having fucked-up legs and walking with a slight limp even before plummeting out a second-story window to escape some shitty pre-America EDM at a lame house party.
When he turned fifteen, Marion left home to become a sailor. He caught on with a sailing ship out of Charleston, spent a summer cruising around the shark-infested Caribbean on a big juicy merchantman during the badass closing days of the Golden Age of Piracy, then survived being adrift at sea for seven days in a rudderless lifeboat after his ship was smashed to pieces by a gigantic fucking whale.
When he got back to port, he quit his job.
Returning home intact and probably a little dehydrated/sunburned, Marion took over operations of his family plantation, where he did the patriotic early America “all men are created equal” thing most Founding Fathers did and owned a bunch of slaves who worked for him in terrible conditions for no money. Sore-loser British revisionist opinion columnists like to make all kinds of wild claims about horrible shit Marion did as a slave-owner, but I spent quite a bit of time fact-checking this before deciding to write the article and I couldn’t find any actual historical documents to corroborate these claims, so let’s just say that owning slaves is already bad enough as it is and leave it at that.
To round out those good pioneer colonial values, Marion also enlisted into the South Carolina militia in 1754 and served as a Lieutenant fighting hardcore battles against badass-as-hell Cherokee Indian warriors during the French and Indian War. Constantly under attack from expert guerilla warriors striking hard from the swamps of South Carolina, Marion and his militia were hammered repeatedly by a determined foe, but eventually managed to drive the Cherokee back after a series of increasingly-brutal campaigns that left little in the way of survivors on either side.
Lieutenant Marion became a member of the state congress in South Carolina in the 1770s, and after the Colonies decided to tell King George to shove it, Marion kicked off the American Revolution by assuming the rank of Captain in the 2nd South Carolina Militia Regiment, hopping in a red, white, and blue NASCAR stock car, and peeling out to Charleston harbor blasting Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” even though that song wasn’t invented for another 206 years.
Charleston is and will always be an important harbor to control if you want to assume tyrannical control over the Southern portion of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States of America, so Marion and the 2nd Carolina were ordered to basically build a big-ass fuckin’ fort and then defend it from an inevitable invasion force. Marion and his men constructed the most awesome treehouse ever, bolstering the fortress’ 16-foot-thick walls with sand, palmetto logs, and 30+ cannons of various sizes. When the harbor was attacked by British General Henry Clinton’s P-Funk All-Stars, Marion charged up and down the walls inspiring his men to hold the line against thousands of enemy troops and over a dozen British warships.
After throwing back the Brits and then unsuccessfully trying to relieve the besieged American defenders of Savannah, Georgia, Captain Francis Marion spent the next couple years of the war living in Charleston doing a bunch of boring bullshit that didn’t involve trying to line up redcoats with the iron sights of a flintlock musket. It was around this time that Marion got so fucking bored he jumped out a window, breaking his ankle in March 1780 in semi-hilarious fashion. It actually worked out pretty well, though, because while he was at home recovering the British showed back up and captured Charleston (probably because he wasn’t there to defend it).
By the time Francis Marion was back on his already-gimpy feet, the shit in South Carolina had gone from “soul-suckingly boring” to “soul-suckingly shitty”. Charleston had fallen, as had most of the towns in South Carolina. The American army in the south had been smashed to fucking pieces by the stampeding bayonets of the Brits at the Battle of Camden and withdrew up to Virginia to regroup. The U.S. had absolutely no military presence in S.C., no base of operations, and British forces swarmed up and down the region with impunity.
This did not stop Francis Effin’ Marion from getting together 50 pissed off men and launching a one-man war against British military operations across the entire South Carolina region.
Using tactics he’d undoubtedly learned from the badass guerilla warriors of the Cherokee a few decades earlier, “Marion’s Partisans” were a badass fuck-the-police resistance movement dedicated to pissing off the British worse than every single Wayne Rooney World Cup performance combined. Hiding out in the shittiest, most overgrown wetlands and swamps in South Carolina, Marion and his woefully-underequipped cavalrymen had no reliable food supplies, no uniforms, and were so badly (and badassly) armed that their sabers were made from table saws and their bullets were just melted-down pewter beer steins they’d looted from abandoned homes in the area. For two and a half years they braved cold, rain, disease, and constant threat of attack from the British, constantly moving and attacking where the Brits least expected it.
“The Torreys are so affrighted with my little Excursions that many
[are] moving off to Georgia with their Effects; others are runned into swamps.”
Charging out of the swamp with hopefully-awesome-looking Warhammer 40k-style saw swords and busting locks from their Kentucky Rifles in every direction, Marion’s Partisans burned communications stations, blew up ship depots, looted supply convoys and ambushed troop convoys. Brutal in their methods, they would take no prisoners, looted the homes of loyalists with impunity, and on more than one occasion Marion himself hung or executed his own men for desertion or cowardice. He didn’t lead any major charges or daring attacks, but his harassing actions not only inspired American patriots to fight back, but also forced the British to garrison troops all throughout the state – which was a major fucking deal back in a war where a “large-scale battle” involved something like 2,000 guys on each side.
Marion continued his attacks, raising so much hell that the guy in charge of British forces in the south – Lord Cornwallis – ordered his men to pull back from the inland parts of the South and take up positions along the coast. It was this decree that would lead to him bringing 8,000 men to Yorktown, Virginia only to have them surrounded and forced to surrender to French and American troops.
When the Continental Army moved back into South Carolina, Francis Marion and his Wolverines were brought in to serve as scouts and recon troops. Marion hated military life and bullshit regulations and constantly got in trouble for disobeying superior officers when they ordered him to do stupid shit that would put his men’s lives at risk, but he also fought in the Battle of Eutaw Springs alongside Robert E. Lee’s dad and helped recapture his former home of Charleston from the British in 1782. So that’s a thing.
After the war, Marion headed home to find that his plantation had been torched by the British. He rebuilt it, went back to farming, was re-elected to the South Carolina state congress, and advocated strongly for a full Amnesty to every American citizen who had supported the British in the war. At 53 he also married his cousin, so feel free to make whatever trite overdone South Carolina jokes you want to make there, because you won’t hear me talk shit on a guy who helped fight for U.S. independence and serves as a Founding Father of the U.S. Army Rangers.
Outfoxing the British