Our Georgia History

Georgia Fights Back

By Randy Golden
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

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 favorite battle."

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 the battle.

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
Townshend Acts
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

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