Posted by: Democratic Thinker | October 17, 2009

Weekly Story: Swamp Fox for Dinner

Weekly Story

Brigadier General Peter Horry reminisces about General Francis Marion.

General Marion Dines With British Officer.

General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share His Dinner, J.B. White.

About this time we received a flag from the enemy in Georgetown; the object of which was, to make some arrangements about the exchange of prisoners. The flag, after the usual ceremony of blindfolding, was conducted into Marion’s encampment. Having heard great talk about general Marion, his fancy had, naturally enough, sketched out for him some stout figure of a warrior, such as O’Hara or Cornwallis himself, of martial aspect and flaming regimentals. But what was his surprise, when, led into Marion’s presence, and the bandage taken from his eyes, he beheld in our hero, a swarthy, smoke-dried little man, with scarce enough of threadbare homespun to cover his nakedness! and in place of tall ranks, of gaily dressed soldiers, a handful of sunburnt yellowlegged militia-men; some roasting potatoes and some asleep, with their black firelocks and powder-horns lying by them on the logs! Having recovered a little from his surprise, he presented his letter to general Marion; who perused it, and soon settled every thing to his satisfaction.

The officer took up his hat to retire.

“Oh no!” said Marion; “it is now about our time of dining; and I hope, sir, you will give us the pleasure of your company to dinner.”

At mention of the word dinner, the British officer looked around him; but to his great mortification, could see no sign of a pot, pan, Dutch-oven, or any other cooking utensil that could raise the spirits of a hungry man.

“Well, Tom,” said the general to one of his men, “come, give us our dinner.”

The dinner to which he alluded was no other than a heap of sweet potatoes, that were very snugly roasting under the embers, and which Tom, with his pine stick poker, soon liberated from their ashy confinement; pinching them, every now and then, with his fingers, especially the big ones, to see whether they were well done or not. Then having cleansed them of the ashes, partly by blowing them with his breath, and partly by brushing them with the sleeve of his old cotton shirt, he piled some of the best on a large piece of bark, and placed them between the British officer and Marion, on the trunk of the fallen pine on which they sat.

“I fear, sir,” said the general, “our dinner will not prove so palatable to you as I could wish; but it is the best we have.”

The officer, who was a well bred man, took up one of the potatoes and affected to feed, as if he had found a great dainty; but it was very plain, that he ate more from good manners than good appetite.

Presently he broke out into a hearty laugh. Marion looked surprised. “I beg pardon, general,” said he: “but one cannot, you know, always command his conceits. I was thinking how drolly some of my brother officers would look, if our government were to give them such a bill of fare as this.”

“I suppose,” replied Marion, “it is not equal to their style of dining.”

“No, indeed,” quoth the officer; “and this, I imagine, is one of your accidental lent dinners; a sort of a ban yan. In general, no doubt, you live a great deal better.”

“Rather worse,” answered the general: “for often we don’t get enough of this.”

” Heavens!” rejoined the officer. “But probably, what you lose in meal you make up in malt; though stinted in provisions, you draw noble pay?”

“Not a cent, sir,” said Marion, “not a cent.”

“Heavens and earth! then you must be in a bad box. I don’t see, general, how you can stand it.”

” Why, sir,” replied Marion, with a smile of self-approbation, “these things depend on feeling.”

The Englishman said, he “did not believe that it would be an easy matter to reconcile his feelings to a soldier’s life on general Marion’s terms; all fighting and no pay! and no provisions but potatoes!”

“Why, sir,” answered the general, “the heart is all; and, when that is much interested, a man can do any thing. Many a youth would think it hard to indent himself a slave for fourteen years. But let him be over head and ears in love, and with such a beauteous sweetheart as Rachael, and he will think no more of fourteen years’ servitude than young Jacob did. Well, now, this is exactly my case. I am in love; and my sweetheart is Liberty. Be that heavenly nymph my companion, and these wilds and woods shall have charms beyond London and Paris in slavery. To have no proud monarch driving over me with his gilt coaches; nor his host of excise-men and tax-gatherers insulting and robbing me; but to be my own master, my own prince and sovereign, gloriously preserving my national dignity, and pursuing my true happiness; planting my vineyards, and eating their lucious fruits; and sowing my fields, and reaping the golden grain: and seeing millions of brothers all around me, equally free and happy as myself. This, sir, is what I long for.”

The officer replied, that both as a man and a Briton, he must certainly subscribe to this as a happy state of things.

“Happy!” quoth Marion; “yes, happy indeed! and I had rather fight for such blessings for my country, and feed on roots, than keep aloof, though wallowing in all the luxuries of Solomon. For now, sir, I walk the soil that gave me birth, and exult in the thought that I am not unworthy of it. I look upon these venerable trees around me, and feel that I do not dishonor them. I think of my own sacred rights, and rejoice that I have not basely deserted them. And when I look forward to the long ages of posterity, I glory in the thought that I am fighting their battles. The children of distant generations may never hear my name; but still it gladdens my heart to think that I am now contending far their freedom, and all its countless blessings.”

I looked at Marion as he uttered these sentiments, and fancied I felt as when I heard the last words of the brave De Kalb. The Englishman hung his honest head, and looked, I thought, as if he had seen the upbraiding ghosts of his illustrious countrymen, Sidney and Hampden.

On his return to Georgetown, he was asked by colonel Watson, why he looked so serious?

“I have cause, sir,” said he, “to look serious.” “What! has general Marion refused to treat?” ” No, sir.”

“Well, then, has old Washington defeated sir Henery Clinton, and broke up our army?” “No, sir, not that neither; but worse.” “Ah! what can be worse?” “Why, sir, I have seen an American general and his officers, without pay, and almost without clothes, living on roots and drinking water; and all for Liberty! What chance have we against such men!”

The Life of Gen. Francis Marion: A Celebrated Partisan Officer in the Revolutionary War, Peter Horry (1852.)