Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sumter Rides (in the Nick of Time)

from The Road to Guilford Courthouse, by John Buchanan, ©1997, John Wiley & Sons, pp. 120-121:

    In September 1778, with South Carolina no longer in immediate danger from either the British or the Cherokee, Thomas Sumter resigned his commission and turned to his private affairs. He remained at Great Savannah with his family during the fighting between Benjamin Lincoln and Prevost around Charleston and the surrender of the city to the British. Then Sumter removed with his family to their summer home farther up country in the High Hills of Santee. But the war caught up with him there, too, and along with thousands of other men in the Carolinas he was faced with a critical decision.
    On 28 May 1780 his son Tom was out riding when a neighbor galloped up with news that Banastre Tarleton and the British Legion were heading their way. It was Tarleton's famous dash to the Waxhaws in pursuit of Buford. Young Tom Sumter rode home to warn his father. From his immediate reaction, it appears that Thomas Sumter had known for some time precisely what he would do at such a time. While Soldier Tom, his African body servant, saddled their horses, Sumter donned his old regimentals. He kissed his wife and son goodbye, and then he and Soldier Tom rode off to war. He had no rank, no men, no prospects. Thomas Sumter, Jr., wrote to his own son many years later: "He left us on the 28th of May, 1780, only a few hours before Tarleton's legion passed us in pursuit of Buford."
    It was well that he left quickly. The British knew of him, and Tarleton sent Captain Charles Campbell to bring him in. Mary Sumter was sitting in a chair inside her home. The dragoons of the Legion picked up the chair and carried her in it outside and set it on the lawn. Then they looted the house and the smokehouse. Then they set the house on fire. Gathered in a small group on the lawn, Mary Sumter, and her son Tom, and the house servants watched the house burn. The story is told that a Legion dragoon with a guilty conscience slipped a smoked ham under her chair.