A Patriot’s Story

As Americans celebrate the birthday of the USA, it is fitting that we take time to remember the blood, sweat and tears shed by the American colonists who fought in the USA’s war for independence, a.k.a. the American Revolution.

With this in mind, I want to introduce Wizbang readers to one of the rank-and-file colonial soldiers who fought in South Carolina during the American Revolution.

His given name was James, but he acquired the nickname Horse Shoe.

He became a prisoner of war when the British military captured the city of Charleston, but he escaped two months later.  Afterwards, he continued fighting for the USA’s independence, at times acting as a spy for the Continental Army.

The battles that he fought in took place in South Carolina, with the most important one being the Battle of Cowpens, which, from a psychological perspective, was the equivalent of the Battle at Midway during World War II.

Long after the end of the war, when Horse Shoe was an old man, a Maryland novelist named John Pendleton Kennedy encountered Horse Shoe while Kennedy was visiting South Carolina. Here is Kennedy’s description of his meeting of the Revolutionary War veteran.

There was first a sound of hoofs coming through the dark–a halt at the door–a full, round, clear voice heard on the porch–and then the entrance into the apartment of a woodland hero. That fine rich voice again, in salutation, so gentle and so manly! . . . What a man I saw! With near seventy years upon his poll, time seemed to have broken its billows over his front only as the ocean breaks over a rock. There he stood–tall, broad, brawny, and erect. The sharp light gilded his massive frame and weather-beaten face with a pictorial effect that would have rejoiced an artist. His homely dress, his free stride, as he advanced to the fire; his face radiant with kindness; the natural gracefulness of his motion; all afforded a ready index to his character. Horse Shoe, it was evident, was a man to confide in.

During the encounter, Kennedy listened as Horse Shoe described his exploits during the Revolutionary War.  The old soldier’s stories became the basis of a historical novel that Kennedy wrote, in which Horse Shoe is the title character.

In a book review for the Southern Literary Messenger, Edgar Allan Poe said about Horse Shoe, “. . . who derives his nick-name of Horse Shoe from the two-fold circumstance of being a blacksmith, and of living in a little nook of land hemmed in by a semi-circular bend of water, is fully entitled to the character of ‘an original’.  He is the life and soul of the drama—the bone and sinew of the book—its very breath—its every thing which gives it strength, substance, and vitality.”

Shortly before he died in 1838, Horse Shoe was visited by local reporters working for Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s Flag of the Union newspaper. Here is what reporter Alexander Meek wrote about the visit:

The old gentleman  gave us a partial history of his Revolutionary adventures, containing many interesting facts respecting the domination of the Tory party in the south during the times of the Revolution, which Mr. Kennedy has not recorded in his Book.

But it will chiefly interest our readers, or to that portion of them at least to whom the history of the old hero’s achievements as recorded by Mr. Kennedy is familiar, to be assured that the principal incidents therein portrayed are strictly true. In the old veteran’s own language: ‘There is a heap of truth in it, though the writer has mightily furnished it up.’

Before the close of the war, he says, he commanded a troop of horse, so that his military title is that of Captain Horse Shoe, although in infirm health, bears evident marks of having been a man of great personal strength and activity.

He is now afflicted with a troublesome cough, which in the natural course of events must in a few years wear out his aged frame. Yet, not-withstanding his infirmities and general debility, his eye still sparkles with the fire of youth, as he recounts the stirring and thrilling incidents of the war, and that sly, quiet humor so well described by Kennedy may still be seen playing around his mouth as one calls to his recollection any of the pranks he was wont to play upon any of the ‘tory vagrants’, as he very properly styles them.

The old Gentleman received us with warm cordiality and hospitality; and after partaking of the Bounties of his board and spending a night under his hospitable roof we took leave of him, sincerely wishing him many years of the peaceful enjoyment of that liberty which he fought so long and so bravely to achieve.

It will not be uninteresting, we hope, to remark that the old hero still considers himself a soldier, though the nature of his warfare is changed. He is now a zealous promoter of the Redeemer’s cause as he once was in securing the independence of his country.

To get a better understanding of what Horse Shoe endured during the American Revolution, watch the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot, which is based on real events that took place in South Carolina.  The last battle in the movie, although unnamed in the movie, was the Battle of Cowpens, in which Horse Shoe fought.

Those who enjoy reading about the American Revolution can read Kennedy’s novel on-line by clicking here.

It should be noted that, although the novel is based on Horse Shoe’s real war adventures, Kennedy took the liberty of changing Horse Shoe’s name, as well as the name of another main character in the novel. It is speculated that Kennedy did so because he wanted to protect the men, who were still alive at the time, and because his novel mixes fiction with fact. Indeed, the novel is classified as “fiction” despite its inclusion of actual events.

Upon his death, Horse Shoe was buried next to his wife in a small family cemetery located a few miles west of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The U.S. War for Independence produced many war veterans who fought valiantly under difficult circumstances, and many of those soldiers are remembered only by a hand-few of people. Yet, their sacrifice was just as valuable as the sacrifice of the colonial soldiers who are named in modern American history books.

So, on this Fourth of July, take a moment to say a word of thanks to the unsung heroes of the American Revolution, the names of whom have been largely forgotten. Now, you know about one of them.


Horse Shoe Robinson

The grave of James Galbraith “Horse Shoe” Robertson, a veteran of the U.S. War for Independence and the title character of John Pendleton Kennedy’s Revolutionary War novel “Horse Shoe Robinson”


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