The Partisan War
Gates did not stop riding until he reached Hillsborough, North Carolina, three days later. There, 200 miles from Camden, he collected what was left of his army. Eventually, 700 men straggled into camp. His army had ceased to be an effective military force. At Camden, 650 Continentals had been killed or captured. Of the North Carolina militia, 100 had been killed or wounded and 300 captured. The nimble Virginians lost only three wounded. British casualties were sixty-eight dead and 245 wounded. For the time being, the only resistance to the British in the south would come from the partisans.The Partisan Leaders
The partisan forces held the countryside. They took advantage of their knowledge of the terrain and used guerilla tactics to overwhelm much larger British forces.
On August 20, a column of British and loyalist soldiers was marching 160 American prisoners of war to captivity in Charleston. At daybreak, a band of mounted men suddenly attacked the guards. Taken by surprise and confused by the rapid movements of their assailants, the British surrendered. The American prisoners were liberated. Now captives themselves, the British were mortified to learn that they had been overwhelmed by a mere seventeen men, led by Colonel Francis Marion. A former Continental officer, Francis Marion based his band of partisans in the rugged marshlands between the Pee Dee and Santee rivers. He became a master of guerilla warfare, harrying British outposts and patrols and then disappearing back into the wild.
Francis Marion became a living legend. Tarleton dubbed him the Swamp Fox for his ability to sneak away in the swamps. Marion's impressive achievements would later be magnified by the biographical attentions of Mason Locke Weems, the man who gave the world the story of the young Washington and the cherry tree.
Thomas Sumter was another former Continental officer who turned to partisan warfare. Like many partisans, he was driven to take up arms by the actions of the British after a party from Tarleton's Legion burned down his home. “All sweat and fury” after this outrage, Sumter raised a force in upper South Carolina. Fiercely independent and resistant to cooperation with other American commanders, Sumter earned the nickname “the Gamecock.”
Already a veteran Indian fighter, Andrew Pickens had successfully fought loyalists in 1779. He swore a loyalty oath to the British after the fall of Charleston, but the destruction of his plantation by a marauding band of loyalists brought him out of retirement. A more conventional commander than Marion and Sumter, Pickens played an important role in Nathanael Greene's campaigns.The Countryside in Arms
The Carolinas saw vicious irregular warfare between the partisan bands and the mostly loyalist forces sent against them. Both sides harbored sociopaths who committed atrocities. Here the American War of Independence came closest to being a full-fledged civil war.
The partisans could give — and sometimes received — heavy blows, as in Sumter's duels with Tarleton and his legion. On August 15, he captured an entire British supply train. On August 18, Tarleton caught Sumter with his guard down at Fishing Creek and scattered his command with heavy losses. In November, Sumter gained a small measure of revenge, bloodily repulsing another attack by Tarleton. Collectively, the actions of the partisans limited effective British control of South Carolina to their fortified outposts.