This Day in History: A much-needed victory at Kettle Creek
On this day in 1779, an outnumbered band of Patriots defeats a group of Loyalists near Kettle Creek in Georgia. The battle would prove to be an important victory for the American cause.
At this point in the American Revolution, the British were working on their “southern strategy.” They’d become frustrated with the status of the war in the North. Surely a few significant victories in the South would allow them to establish a base from which they could crush the remaining rebellion in the North?
The British soon captured Savannah and Augusta, leaving many Georgians to flee to the Carolinas or hide in forts scattered around the state.
Loyalist Lt. Colonel John Hamilton was dispatched to harass and disarm these colonists, but perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear that Patriot militia leaders were soon on his tail.
Georgian Colonel John Dooly and Lt. Colonel Elijah Clarke joined forces with South Carolina Colonel Andrew Pickens. The two sides played cat and mouse for days, but Patriot forces ultimately chased Hamilton to Carr’s Fort. The Loyalists were able to get into the fort, but just barely: The arrival of the Patriots forced them to abandon their baggage and horses outside of it.
The Patriot militia settled in for a siege. The small fort wasn’t very well defended and couldn’t last too long, especially with so many supplies abandoned outside its gates. Pickens added to this advantage: He sent 40 men to take control of the fort’s only water source.
It was no small task. These men were exposed to Loyalist fire as they crossed an open space, but they succeeded in their mission. Patriots had the upper hand. It was just a matter of time.
Just then, Pickens received a message. British Colonel James Boyd was crossing into Georgia with a much larger force of men. He’d managed to recruit up to 800 men, and his force was a greater threat than Hamilton’s. He was “destroying by fire and sword whatever lay in his path,” as one historian describes. What should be done?
Pickens and Dooly did what they had to do. They abandoned Hamilton and went after Boyd, who was marching towards the rest of the British army in Augusta.
Okay, well, he tried to march to Augusta. He kept running into trouble along the way.
By the time Boyd reached Kettle Creek, in Georgia, he was down to about 650-700 men. The Loyalists had found some cattle there, so he planned a stop. They would butcher the animals and keep the meat for provisions.
Little did Boyd know that Pickens, with his 300 to 400 men, had discovered their location. Pickens divided his men into three groups. These groups would attack from three directions in a coordinated surprise attack.
As with so many other battles in the Revolution, the attack didn’t go quite as planned. Two of the three groups were slowed down by swamps. The other group fired too soon. Boyd was alerted.
Boyd’s men initially responded well and moved quickly into an elevated position. However, Boyd was mortally wounded in the early rounds, and his men panicked. The Patriots regrouped from their earlier problems. Once unified, the Patriots were able to force the panicking Loyalists into retreat. Most of the retreating Loyalists never joined up with the British army, as intended.
As it turns out, the British chose to abandon recently acquired Augusta on this same day because American Major General John Ashe was leading more than 1000 militia toward the city.
These events did not stop the British from succeeding in other parts of the South, at least for a little while. However, it did show that the state was not completely under British control, and it undermined British efforts to recruit Loyalists in the area.
Pickens would later say that Kettle Creek was “the severest check & chastisment the tories ever received in South Carolina or Georgia.”
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Charles C. Jones, Jr. LL.D., Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia: from its settlement in 1735 to the close of the eighteenth century (1890)
David Lee Russell, Oglethorpe and Colonial Georgia: A History, 1733-1783 (2006)
Georgia: Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons Arranged in Cyclopedic Form (Allen Daniel Candler & Clement Anselm Evans eds. 1906)
Letter from Andrew Pickens to Henry Lee (August 28, 1811) (copy available HERE)
Terry M. Mays, Historical Dictionary of the American Revolution (2d ed. 2009)
William R. Reynolds, Jr., Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War (2012)
William T. Graves, Backcountry Revolutionary (2012)