As a boy riding in the family car down an oak-lined dirt road leading to my uncle’s summer house on South Carolina’s Santee River, I remember standing in the back-seat floorboard as Dad – who was driving – waved his free hand toward shadows in the dark woods. “Francis Marion used to gallop down this same highway,” Dad would say, giving me a wink. “Yep, it was just a trail then. Those ol’ redcoats would be hot after him, but they never could ketch ‘im.”
Most Carolina boys may recall similar stories told by fathers and grandfathers of the man we came to believe was something more akin to a Robin Hood figure than a horse-soldier. But Francis Marion was a soldier albeit an irregular soldier or guerrilla. Indeed, he was and is one of the most celebrated guerrilla fighters, not only in American military history, but in American military tradition. And amateur historian John Franklin McCabe is on a quest for some Washington, D.C. recognition of him.
Recently, McCabe, a Columbia, S.C.-based financial advisor, was visiting the nation’s capitol when he began to look for South Carolina Avenue on a city map. “I asked myself, if there’s Pennsylvania Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and others, where is South Carolina Avenue?” That question and a short stroll down a two-lane road led him to “Marion Park,” a small public common in the inner-city with no monument to its eponym who McCabe argues made the District of Columbia possible.
Not that there aren’t many historic figures in American history without – and who deserve – national monuments. But as McCabe says, none are more significant than Marion.
Anyone with a real grasp of the American Revolution understands that despite the enormously justifiable classroom recognition given to operations in New England, the Southern campaigns of that war often get short shrift: Yet it was in the South that the tide actually began to turn against the British army in North America. Moreover, no Southern commander was more instrumental in shifting that tide than Marion.
WHO WAS MARION?
A physically slight man of Huguenot ancestry who would ultimately become a state senator, Marion cut his command teeth during the French and Indian War, including service as a Colonial Militia lieutenant in an independent campaign against the Cherokee in 1761. By the time the American Revolution broke out in 1775, he was a 43-year-old veteran officer.