THE SWAMP FOX by John Oller


How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution
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An admiring biography of Francis Marion (1732-1795), a military hero of the American Revolution.

As Oller (American Queen: The Rise and Fall of Kate Chase Sprague—Civil War "Belle of the North" and Gilded Age Woman of Scandal, 2013, etc.) notes, readers of a certain age will remember Marion, the “Swamp Fox,” as the subject of a Disney TV series that ran from 1959 to 1961, and he also reminds us that the 2000 Mel Gibson film, The Patriot, was based loosely on Marion’s exploits. The author’s strategy is conventional and chronological. He acknowledges the difficulty of separating fact from legend in Marion’s case, but the author is resolute. He teaches us about Marion’s family (he did not marry until after the war) and the determination of the British to employ a Southern strategy as the war progressed. A slaveholder in South Carolina, he became a militia leader and quickly established himself as a slippery foe, one who, the author declares, borrowed from the guerrilla tactics of the Cherokee, whom he’d fought earlier. Oller takes us through each of the two dozen or so of Marion’s engagements, virtually all of which were successful; sometimes the detail is daunting, but the maps help clarify matters. Oller shows us a man who was a stickler for discipline but who also refused to allow his men to plunder and commit other overly punitive acts. We meet, as well, his military supporters and antagonists—Nathanael Greene among the former, Thomas Sumter among the latter. Oller is generous in his praise for Marion—his efforts did thwart the Southern strategy—but he seems a bit uncomfortable discussing the Swamp Fox as a slave owner. Although the author periodically alludes to slavery, he does not discuss it in much detail until the final pages, where he states it’s “safe to assume [Marion] was not a cruel master.”

A thoroughly researched biography, if a tad tendentious.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-306-82457-9
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2016


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