Excerpt: 'The Hornet's Nest'

Most of Boyd's men went back home to North Carolina, but two hundred reached Augusta, where Campbell's regular troops treated them with contempt. One hundred British had been killed and seventy-five taken prisoner, five of whom were former Whigs whose names were known by Colonel Pickens. They were hanged as traitors. The Americans suffered nine killed and twenty-three wounded and captured, including a small man named Stephen Heard, who had been a large landowner and a prominent Whig politician in Savannah. When Colonel Campbell heard about the hangings at Kettle Creek, he decided to execute Heard as a public demonstration of British justice. Heard had a giant house slave called Mammy Kate, who learned that he was in Augusta and sentenced to be hanged. She filled a large basket with clothing and some pies and cakes as gifts for the British guards, entered the compound, and got permission to visit her master so that he could dress appropriately during his last hours of life. Wanting as much of a pageant as possible for the public execution, the British agreed. Mammy Kate went into the guardhouse, put Heard in the basket, arranged the pile of clothes under a blanket on his cot to resemble a sleeping man, placed the basket on her head, and carried him out of Augusta. Back home again, he set her free and gave her a home and a surrounding tract of land on his small plantation.

After a few days, General Ashe arrived across the river from Augusta with his large North Carolina army, and Colonel Campbell abandoned the town and moved down the river to Hudson's Ferry to join troops of the main British force. He was surprised to learn that they faced a dangerous situation. The British still held Savannah securely, but General Prevost had sent most of his men back to St. Augustine, and their upriver forces were now almost surrounded by General Lincoln's troops across the river in South Carolina and Ashe's army to the north.

Although welcomed to the region by the Georgia militiamen when they met briefly after his forces crossed the Savannah into Augusta, General Ashe quickly made it obvious that he resented any suggestions from Elijah Clarke and John Twiggs about how his troops should be deployed and used. Looking at rudimentary maps, Ashe's staff decided that an open meadow on high ground north of Briar Creek would offer them every advantage. Enemy troops would have to cross the creek to reach them from the south, the Savannah River provided protection from the east, and there were relatively flat fields and woods to the north and west that would provide access for supplies and give the Americans plenty of room for maneuvering.

When Colonel Clarke sent an offer of assistance, General Ashe replied flatly, "Tell Clarke that I'll take my position upriver from the British, which will prevent them moving back toward Augusta. I've studied the maps and am familiar with the area we'll be occupying, so I can handle any developments. The militia forces can come in to join me if they wish. I'll let them know when I decide to move south to take Campbell's army."

It was obvious that Ashe and his staff were supremely confident of their ability and wanted to have a direct confrontation with the despised British. His ambition was to equal or exceed what the militiamen had done at Kettle Creek.

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