By late August 1780, Francis Marion and the Whig militiamen of eastern South Carolina had already begun to cause alarm among the British military leaders in charge of subduing the province. Sensing the British would move against him, Col. Marion sent one of his trusted officers, Maj. John James of the Williamsburg Militia, and a few men back to Kingstree to gather intelligence.
While Patriot lore has called this incident the "Battle of Kingstree," the reality was probably much more modest. Hiding behind a thicket on the side of a road (probably near here on what would become Academy Street), Maj. James and his men watched as dozens of troops rode into town. They conducted a brief hit-and-run strike, capturing at least one prisoner and an orderly book. From these, Marion learned that two hundred soldiers of the 63rd Regiment under Maj. James Wemyss had already reached Kingstree, and that hundreds more British and Loyalist troops were on their way. Other scouts confirmed that Marion's force would soon be surrounded.
Marion knew that leading some 150 militiamen against a force as much as ten times larger would be a suicide mission, and a disastrous defeat would break the morale of the rebellion in South Carolina. Faced with a simple strategic choice, Marion retreated into the Great White Marsh of eastern North Carolina and waited for the right moment to return and fight.