The Battle of Kettle Creek was the most significant battle of the Revolutionary War fought in the state of Georgia. The battle pitted between 300 and 400 Patriot militia under the command of Colonel Andrew Pickens of South Carolina against roughly twice as many Loyalist militia under the command of Colonel James Boyd.
Early Militia Experience
Pickens, who was of Scots-Irish descent, was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1739. His family moved to South Carolina when Andrew was still a child, eventually settling in Long Canes, just north of the Georgia border. Like most Scots-Irish in the area, the Pickens family farmed and raised cattle. Andrew Pickens first served in the state militia in 1760, in a campaign against the Cherokee, developing a lifelong respect for their tactics.
Colonel in the Militia
When the Revolutionary War broke out, Pickens joined the Patriot cause as a captain in the South Carolina militia. The militia differed from the Continental Army in that they generally only fought battles within or near the borders of their home state. While leading militia units, Pickens made good use of the Native American tactics he had observed while fighting the Cherokee. By the time the Battle of Kettle Creek took place on Valentine's Day, 1781, Pickens had risen to the rank of Colonel in the South Carolina militia.
Pursuing the Loyalists
Col. Boyd was in Georgia in February, 1779 with orders to recruit Loyalists -- colonists who remained loyal to Britain -- to form militia units to supplement the British Regulars. At the time, Southern colonies such as South Carolina and Georgia still had large pockets of Loyalists. Boyd had recruited more than 700 men in South Carolina before Col. Pickens, aided by Georgia militia under the command of Col. John Dooly and Lieut. Col. Elijah Clarke, pursued the Loyalists into northern Georgia.
Pickens became aware of the location of Col. Boyd's camp near Kettle Creek around 10 A.M. on the day of the battle because he was able to hear the Loyalists' drummers as they set up camp. He quickly gathered his forces and planned a three prong attack. He commanded the bulk of his force personally, directing them to engage the Loyalists directly. He directed Dooly and Clarke to circle around through the surrounding swampland and envelope the Loyalists.
Results of the Battle
The early part of the battle went poorly for Pickens's outnumbered Patriots, as Dooly and Clarke's forces struggled to cross the swamp. The Patriots had a stroke of luck, however, when three men who had become separated from Lt. Col. Clarke's command shot and mortally wounded Col. Boyd. Boyd's Loyalist militia panicked and took flight. Patriot forces killed 70 Loyalists and captured 70 more, along with 600 horses and much of the Loyalists' equipment. Pickens's victory had a sweeping effect in the southern colonies, making it harder for the British to recruit men into the Loyalist militia.
Pickens's Later Career
Col. Pickens would go on to play an important role in the American victory at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. He eventually rose to the rank of major general in the state militia. Pickens also began an active political career in 1781. During his first stint in the South Carolina legislature, which lasted until 1794, he helped settle disputes regarding the South Carolina-Georgia border. He was a member of South Carolina's constitutional convention in 1790 and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1793 to 1795. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1797 before serving a second stint in the South Carolina legislature from 1800 until 1812.
- History: Feb 14, 1779: Patriots Defeat Loyalists at Kettle Creek
- National Park Service: Kettle Creek Battlefield Wilkes County, Georgia
- Georgia Society Sons of the American Revolution: Battle of Kettle Creek
- National Park Service: Andrew Pickens
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: Pickens, Andrew
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