Georgia Fights Back
With the fall of Augusta, Britain controlled all
of coastal Georgia and inland up the Savannah River to the Tugaloo.
West of Gauphinton (south of present-day Louisville) the Creek,
who for the most part had aligned themselves with the British, controlled
the land and to the north the Cherokee Nation kept the Patriots
confined to a small area of east central Georgia. From Heard's Fort
they formed a government, mostly as a show of continuity and to
communicate with the other American governments.
In early 1779 things looked
bleak for United States. Not only had Georgia fallen into the hands
of the British, both Philadelphia, the young nation's capitol, and
New York had also fallen. The largest cities remaining under the
control of the rebellious Americans were Baltimore and Boston. The
British Indian agents had done a remarkable job of uniting widely
varied tribes such as the Mohawk and the Creek against the Americans.
Against this backdrop of near total domination, the backbone of
the Patriots did not break.
France had agreed to join the Americans in 1778.
As the War entered its fourth year the British became increasingly
alarmed at the cost, and the fact that it might fuel a larger conflict.
American leader and General George Washington knew we did not really
have to win battles, just the war, and time was on our side. Still,
the Georgia Patriots realized a few wins could go a long way to
helping the American people resolve to defeat British tyranny, stanch
the flow of American farmers into the Loyalist militia and to prove
that the state of Georgia was not completely under British control
as the oppressors had been claiming. Outnumbered and deeply concerned
about Loyalist spies, Georgia turned and fought.
Coming to the aid of Georgia, a group of South Carolinians
under the command of Andrew Pickens, who joined
two seasoned Georgia heroes, Col. Elijah Clarke
and Col. John Dooly west of Augusta.
As the British began to probe the backcountry from their position
in Augusta the Americans began to offer resistance where possible.
On February 11, 1779, 100 Americans
launched an attack against Loyalist militia numbering 750 men under
the command of Colonel James Boyd as he crossed
Vann's Creek. It was a bold statement, warning Boyd to expect the
unexpected and slowed the British backcountry advance significantly.
On February 13 this
force made camp in a ravine along Kettle Creek,
about 13 miles south of Washington (Wilkes
County). Boyd posted guards at the top of the ravine, with a
line of skirmishers behind the guards. Scavengers were scouring
the countryside for food as 340 Americans launched a three-prong
offensive against the Loyalist militia of superior numbers (Dooly
on the right, Clark on the left and Pickens in the center). Pickens'
advanced line stumbled on Boyd's pickets and opened fire. Boyd rallies
his Loyalists, who climb from the ravine and take a position in
rocks near the skirmishers.
Both Dooly and Clarke were having problems getting
into position. Hampered by cane breaks and swampy ground, their
advance was very slow. Meanwhile, Pickens' troops began slowly falling
to the Loyalist fire at the top of the hill. The Patriots were losing
the battle. Then an American shot mortally wounded the British commander,
causing panic among the Loyalist militia, who pulled back in a disorderly
manner to the camp in the ravine. As Pickens men gained the high
ground above the camp and began to fire from above, the Loyalists
realize their mistake and try to escape by crossing Kettle Creek.
Just as the forward Loyalist line made it to the
far side of Kettle Creek Dooly's men break into the open and started
firing. The Loyalists began a second retreat, more disorderly than
the first. Suddenly, Clarke's men join the fray and disorder turns
into rout. Of the 750 Loyalist troops, probably 70 die at Kettle
Creek and another 70 are taken prisoner. Only 9 Patriots are killed.
"Kettle Creek was the severest chastisement" of the British
troops in either Georgia or South Carolina, according to General
Pickens. Historian Richard Irby calls Kettle Creek "Georgia's
Boyd's defeat at Kettle Creek was not the only victory
for the rebellious Americans that day. General John Ashe had a 1,200
strong North Carolina Whig militia forming on the high ground north
and east of Colonel Archibald Campbell's position in Augusta. The
appearance of a significant force forced Col. Campbell to re-evaluate
the wisdom of his advance to Augusta and realizing his error, withdrew
to the southeast. Patriots re-occupied the city without British
opposition and limited Loyalist resistance.
The British loss of Augusta was a demonstration
of the British arrogance that would cost them the war. Campbell
had been sent south to liberate the British subjects who were strong
in the Georgia and South Carolina backcountry. Add in the Creek
Indians and a remarkable force could be formed. Combined British
Regulars, Tory Militia and Native Americans could control all of
Georgia with, according to Governor Wright, 5,000 men. While it
would take a significant amount of time, the British were going
to find out it wasn't going to be that easy.
Campbell's orderly withdrawal and retreat left the
backcountry free from British rule. To block the advance of any
troops, General Ashe established a camp along Briar
Creek, north of the northernmost British position. Here Ashe's men
waited for any sizable opposing force. The force showed up on March
3, 1779, ready to fight. Unfortunately,
Ashe's men were not prepared and the element of surprise cost them
As Lt. Colonel (James) Mark Prevost advanced toward
the Colonial camp, Ashe's North Carolina militia, which did not
have time to draw munitions, retreated in a disorderly manner. Then,
Colonel Samuel Elbert and his Georgians formed a line, in part in
an attempt to halt the British advance, in part to protect the rear
of the North Carolina militia rapidly fleeing the battle. The British
opened fire and in less than 15 minutes nearly all the Georgians
were dead. One of the few survivors -- Col. Elbert himself. Col.
Prevost would be named to the position of acting governor of Georgia
the following day. One of Prevost's first missions was to ensure
peace with the Creeks to the west;British Indian Agent John Stuart
was very sick.
On March 14 Stuart
died after a long illness. He had been key in uniting the Creek
against the Americans. With Stuart gone, the English were no longer
assured of the support of the Creek, although Emistago, the highest
chief, did support the English. In July royal governor James Wright
returned to Georgia. He relieved Lt. Col. Prevost, who had been
military governor of the state. The Americans were already planing
the siege of Savannah.
Next: The Siege and
Battle of Savannah
Acts Of War
Georgia in 1763
Sugar Act; Stamp Act
The House dissolved
Radicals Gain Power
Georgia joins the Continental Congress
A Colony at War
A State and Union Formed
The First Florida Expedition
A Leader Dies
The Second Florida Expedition
The Third Florida Expedition
Britain Attacks Georgia
Georgia Fight Backs
The Siege and Battle of Savannah
There Comes a Reaper
The Liberation of Georgia