Excerpt: 'The Hornet's Nest'

Colonel Clarke was eager to retake Augusta but realized that Georgia's combined militia were not adequate. He sent Aaron Hart with a request to General Lincoln for assistance. The predictable reply was that holding Charles Town was his preeminent goal, which would require all available troops when the time came for its defense. However, he recognized the tactical importance of Augusta as a staging area from which the British would surely move by land toward the South Carolina coast, and promised to send 1,200 troops from Charles Town toward the Georgia city, commanded by a general named John Ashe, from North Carolina. The general was inexperienced but politically influential in his home state, and eager to demonstrate his military effectiveness.

These plans had to be delayed when British Lieutenant Colonel John Boyd moved from Carolina into north Georgia with seven hundred men, reported his presence to Colonel Campbell, and began to terrorize Whig families in the area. The written intelligence report to General Lincoln stated: "Like plundering banditti, they appropriate every species of property to their own use, abuse the inhabitants, and wantonly butcher anyone who opposes their rapacious demands."

Lincoln sent orders to Clarke to rally all the Georgians possible, and sent South Carolina's Colonel Andrew Pickens to help the Georgians defend themselves against Boyd's predatory troops.

When Campbell ordered Boyd and his seven hundred men, many recruited from among local Tories, to concentrate on destroying the few remaining Georgia militia, the British forces camped at a farm on Kettle Creek to rest, slaughter some cattle, and graze their horses. It was a prosperous farm, with canebrakes and a swamp on two sides. Colonels Clarke, Dooly, and Pickens, with 350 men, found Boyd's campfires from the previous day and closed in to within a mile of the farm. Dooly was on the right flank and Elijah Clarke was on the left, each with 100 men, and Pickens was in the center with 150. At daybreak, the Americans launched a simultaneous attack. Boyd fell, mortally wounded, and the remaining British troops fled across the stream. Clarke forded the open creek under fire, and his horse was shot, falling on him. He narrowly escaped drowning but was able to join in mopping up the battlefield and in the subsequent celebrations.

Following the debacle in Savannah, Kettle Creek was one of the most startling victories of the war, and news of it swept through the colonies. The psychological impact was enormous, coming at a time when the general presumption had been that the British were invulnerable and the revolution in the south was doomed. Many Whigs renounced their oaths of allegiance to the crown and returned to their homes, and a greatly encouraged General Lincoln dispatched General Ashe on to Augusta and even began preparations to retake Savannah.

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