Life of a Long Cane militia soldier: Winter, 1781

By Terri Burgin


By January, 1781 and the battle of Cowpens just prior to the Battle of Guiliford Courthouse, the SC Militia, (including the Long Cane militia) under General Andrew Pickens, had already been fighting for months. When they left Long Cane in the fall it was to serve a term of three months, then return home to continue working on their farms and businesses. However, the three month period of time required by the government was ended. The men could not be forced to continue on and yet, many did. Their conditions were incredible. According to most reports, they were near starving, without basic clothing suited for winter, marching entire nights without sleep, and sharing one blanket between three men. Their habit was to depart the camp by 10 am and halt once or twice a day to rest, forage and otherwise gain food. Rarely was food provided for them. Usually it was taken, willingly or unwillingly from those whose paths they crossed. They normally marched 8 – 10 miles per day.

During this time they constantly fought against a much better equipped enemy and were actively pursued by one of the most notorious of Tory soldiers, Lt. Col. Banastre Tarelton (the character of the evil British soldier in “The Patriot” was based on this man). Their combat was of a guerilla style. It was hand to hand and bloody. Their firearms, if they had any, were cumbersome and could only be shot once before tediously reloading. They fought with knives, swords and farm implements. At the end of this campaign General Nathanael Greene, commander of the Southern Army was heard saying that he “didn’t change clothes once". Looking back, many who lived and fought through this time remembered that few were ever sick or disposed. They clearly saw the Hand of Providence. This period of time in South Carolina/North Carolina had seen more battles and skirmishes than any other period in the war. Most school textbooks will tell you that the Revolutionary War was mostly fought in the North. Rarely do you hear the truth: that the Revolutionary War was won and lost in the Backcountry of North and South Carolina by tired guerilla fighters, some using only farm tools.

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