The Battle of Kettle Creek, a Critical Patriot Victory in Georgia

February 14, 1779

The Battle of Kettle Creek resulted in a key victory for American forces on the western frontier. Although outnumbered, Patriot forces led by Colonel Andrew Pickens chased after and overwhelmed a Loyalist force marching to Augusta. In the aftermath of the defeat, British officials failed to realize they did not have the backcountry support they expected. The critical error contributed to the overall failure of the Southern Campaign and the eventual surrender at Yorktown.

Colonel Andrew Pickens, South Carolina Militia

Colonel Andrew Pickens, South Carolina Militia. Image Source: Library of Congress.

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Battle of Kettle Creek Summary

The Battle of Kettle Creek was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain on February 14, 1779, at Kettle Creek, in Wilkes County, Georgia, during the American Revolutionary War. Colonel John Boyd, a Loyalist, worked his way through the backcountry of North Carolina and South Carolina. Along the way, he gathered Loyalists who were willing to fight for the British. Marching to Augusta, Georgia, he was harassed by Patriot forces that gathered along the way. After Boyd clashed with Patriot militia forces at Vann’s Creek, he crossed over into Georgia. Unknown to Boyd, Colonel Andrew Pickens was moving in to engage him, in an effort to keep him from making it to Augusta. On the morning of the 14th, Boyd and his men were on the march when they stopped near Kettle Creek long enough for Pickens and his men to move in. Boyd and his men took positions on a hill. The Patriots were divided into three columns, but two of them were bogged down trying to pass through swamps. The column led by Pickens advanced on the hill, however, the Loyalists had the advantage of the high ground, and they controlled the battlefield. After intense fighting carried on for maybe an hour and a half, Boyd was shot and fell, mortally wounded. Seeing him fall, his men scattered and moved south. The Loyalists suffered heavy casualties and the Patriots captured around 75 men. Although it was a small battle, it was an important victory for the American forces in the South. Not only were Pickens and his men outnumbered, but a good number of the Loyalists who escaped abandoned the war effort.

Battle of Kettle Creek Quick Facts

  • Date Started: The Battle of Kettle Creek started on Sunday, February 14, 1779.
  • Date Ended: It ended on February 14, 1779.
  • Location: The Battle of Kettle Creek was fought near present-day Washington, Georgia.
  • Theater: The battle took place in the Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War.
  • Campaign: The Battle of Kettle Creek was part of the Southern Campaign of 1779.
  • Who Won: The United States of America won the Battle of Kettle Creek.
  • Fun Fact: The hill where the fighting took place is known as “War Hill.”
Battle of Kettle Creek, Trexler, Painting
This painting by Jeff Trexler depicts the Battle of Kettle Creek. Image Source: Battle of Kettle Creek Georgia on Facebook.

What led to the Battle of Kettle Creek?

After the British surrendered at Saratoga, they were forced to reassess their military strategy in America. Although they had control of New York City and Philadelphia, the war was not going well in the North or in the Middle Colonies. Further, France declared war on Britain and pledged military and financial support to the United States. 

Believing there was strong Loyalist support in the South, General Henry Clinton, Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America, devised a plan that relied on the idea that Loyalists would turn out and fight with the British. The goal was to capture the Southern Colonies, control the South, and force the rest of the American Colonies into submission.

As part of the strategy, he evacuated Philadelphia and send troops to capture Savannah, Georgia. On June 18, 1778, the British occupation of Philadelphia ended as Clinton and around 15,000 men left the city and sailed to New York.

The British Open the Southern Campaign

Clinton sent Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell and 3,100 men from New York to Savannah, for the purpose of capturing the city. A second British force, led by General Augustine Provost, marched out of St. Augustine, in the British Colony of East Florida, toward Savannah.

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Lt Colonel Archibald Campbell, American Revolution
Lt Colonel Archibald Campbell. Image Source: Wikipedia.

British Forces Capture of Savannah at the First Battle of Savannah

On December 23, Campbell landed downriver from Savannah. The city was defended by a small force of 650 to 900 men, under the command of General Robert Howe. The Americans took defensive positions just south of Savannah, where they were surrounded by swamps, which Howe hoped would slow the British advance. The British found a path through the swamps on the right flank of the American line and attacked. The Americans were overwhelmed and quickly retreated. Within an hour, the British were in control of Savannah.

British Forces Capture Augusta

After the battle, Prevost arrived and reinforced Campbell. As Campbell’s superior, Prevost assumed command of the garrison at Savannah. A month later, Campbell marched toward Augusta, expecting to be joined by Loyalists and Native American Indians who were allied with the British. 

The response was nothing near what Campbell expected. During the march, he was harassed by American forces, under the command of General Andrew Williamson. However, Williamson was not able to stop Campbell and the British captured Augusta on January 29, 1779. 

Patriots and Loyalists Move Toward Kettle Creek

While Campbell occupied Augusta, a contingent of Loyalists started to march toward Augusta. Meanwhile, Patriot forces gathered, preparing to keep them from reaching Augusta and joining Campbell.

Boyd Gathers Backcountry Loyalists

Colonel John Boyd — sometimes called James — was tasked with leading the effort to encourage Loyalists to join the war effort in the backcountry of North Carolina and South Carolina. In January, he left Savannah, went as far as Anson County, North Carolina, and then marched south toward Augusta. 

On February 5, Boyd left his camp near present-day Spartanburg, South Carolina, and started the march south to Augusta. At that time, Boyd had around 350 Loyalists. His second-in-command was Major William Spurgeon. During the march, they were joined by Lieutenant Colonel John Moore and another 250 men from North Carolina. Boyd’s Loyalist army stook at 600 men.

According to some accounts of Boyd’s efforts to “recruit” Loyalists, his men were not all recruited. Some of them were coerced or forced to join him, especially escaped convicts.

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American Militia Harass Boyd

While Boyd marched toward August and the Savannah River, Patriot militia followed him, and the size of the force increased along the way. It started with Captain Josiah Greer and 30 men from the Little River Regiment of South Carolina. They were joined by men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Robert McCrery and Colonel John Thomas. In all, they had around 250 men.

Pickens and Dooly Arrive at Savannah

The city of Augusta sits on the western bank of the Savannah River, which serves as the border between present-day Georgia and South Carolina. 

The west bank of the river — the Georgia side — was controlled by Loyalists, under the command of Colonel Daniel McGirth.

American forces controlled the east bank — the South Carolina side. At first, the position was held by Georgia Militia led by Colonel John Dooly. However, around 250 men from the South Carolina Militia, led by Colonel Andrew Pickens, joined Dooly. Pickens took command of the American forces, and more reinforcements arrived from North Carolina.

February 10 — Siege of Carr’s Fort

On February 10, Pickens and his men crossed over the Savannah River to attack a Loyalist camp downriver from Augusta. When the Patriots arrived, they found it empty — the Loyalists were out on patrol.

Pickens sent most of his men in pursuit of the patrol and the rest were sent in the direction of called Carr’s Fort, a small outpost under the command of Captain John Hamilton. The garrison at the fort was made up of Loyalists.

The Patriots caught up to the patrol, which ran in the direction of the fort. When Pickens arrived, he surrounded the fort and started a siege.

Not long after the siege started, Pickens received intelligence that indicated Boyd was moving through South Carolina’s Ninety-Six District toward Georgia and intended to cross the Savannah River at Cherokee Ford. 

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Believing it was more important to stop Boyd, Pickens ended the siege. When the Patriots left, Hamilton abandoned the fort and moved to join Boyd. However, Hamilton changed direction and decided to retreat to Augusta.

Boyd Approaches McGowan’s Blockhouse at Cherokee Ford

Boyd and his Loyalists tried to cross the Savannah River at Cherokee Ford. The crossing was protected by Lieutenant Thomas Shanklin and his small force of eight men, who were stationed at a fortified building called McGowan’s Blockhouse. Shanklin was under orders from Captain Robert Anderson to prevent any Loyalists from crossing. The blockhouse was situated on a hill that overlooked the crossing and had two swivel guns.

Approaching the blockhouse, Boyd sent a message to Shanklin and told him he would not attack if he let him pass. Shanklin refused and received reinforcements from Captain James Little from Georgia. Little had about 40 men from the Georgia Militia with him.

Even though he had a significant advantage over the Patriot forces, Boyd decided to avoid hostilities and marched about five miles north to cross the river at Vann’s Creek in present-day Elberton, Georgia. Meanwhile, Little sent a message to Captain Anderson, informing him of the situation and asking for more reinforcements. 

February 11 – Battle of Vann’s Creek

While the Loyalists marched to the crossing at Vann’s Creek, the Patriots, led by Little, moved in the same direction. Little was joined by contingents of the South Carolina Militia, led by Captain Anderson, Captain William Baskin, Captain John Miller, and Captain Joseph Pickens. Together, they had roughly 120 men, while Boyd had somewhere between 600 and 900.

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The Patriots hid at the crossing, on the Georgia side of the river. However, their line of sight was partially blocked by vegetation. Boyd and the Loyalists started to cross the river. The men crossed on rafts and their horses swam. 

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From his position, Anderson spotted some of them and thought it was the main body of Boyd’s force. As the Loyalists approached the landing, the Americans opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties. However, the Americans quickly discovered the Loyalists crossed at different locations. Moving quickly, the Loyalists flanked the Patriots and Anderson ordered his men to retreat.

Nearly 20 Patriots were captured, including Captain Baskins and Captain Miller. Although Boyd and his men won the battle, it took a toll on their ranks. They lost roughly 100 men — some were killed, and some simply decided to quit the fight and return to their homes.

The Patriots retreated to McGowan’s Blockhouse, met up with Pickens and Dooly, and continued the pursuit of Boyd.

February 12 — Pickens Crosses Into Georgia

On February 12, Pickens and the Patriot force crossed the river at Cedar Shoal. From there, they moved downriver on the Georgia side and closed the gap on Boyd.

February 12 — Campbell Abandons Augusta

Due to the lack of help from Loyalists and reports of Patriot forces gathering in the area, Campbell decided to abandon Augusta and return to Savannah.

February 13 — Boyd at Kettle Creek

Boyd crossed the Broad River on February 13 where it meets the Savannah River. He camped on the north side of Kettle Creek — about a mile from Carr’s Fort.

What happened at the Battle of Kettle Creek?

Soon after crossing into Wilkes County, Georgia, Boyd rested his force, which had been reduced to about 700 men, along the north side of Kettle Creek. They made their camp along a trail to Augusta. Boyd was completely unaware that Pickens and his men — approximately 350 — were heading in his direction. With Pickens and Boyd both in Georgia, the stage was set for the Battle of Kettle Creek.

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On the morning of February 14, Boyd broke camp and prepared to march to Little River to join Captain John Hamilton. Boyd was not aware that Hamilton had retreated from his position and moved on to Augusta. Further, he had no idea that Campbell decided to abandon the city, because he sent his prisoners, under guard, in that direction. This further reduced Boyd’s numbers — to around 650 men — still nearly double what the Pickens had.

At 10:00, Boyd started the march to Augusta. His men raised their flags in front of the column and beat their drums. Pickens and the other Patriot commanders heard them and ordered their men to prepare for battle.

Pickens sent an advance party, led by Captain James McCall, moved to scout Boyd’s movements. Boyd and his men marched two miles and stopped near a hill on the north side of Kettle Creek where some cattle were grazing. Needing food, Boyd and his men stopped and preceded to slaughter and butcher some of them. McCall sent a message back to Pickens to let him know Boyd stopped.

Pickens organized his men into three columns. Pickens led the center column, Dooly led the right, and Lieutenant Colonel Elijah Clarke from Georgia led the left. They intended to completely surround the Loyalist camp, which would cut off all escape routes, and allow them to capture all the Loyalists.

Pickens led his column directly at the hill in the center of the Loyalist camp. Dooly and Clark crossed the creek on the right and left of the camp.

The Patriot advance force approached the Loyalist guards that were on watch outside of the camp. Defying orders from Pickens, the Patriots fired on the guards, alerting the main camp to their approach. While the Loyalists scrambled to take defensive positions, the column led by Dooly and Clark struggled to move through the swamps around the camp.

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Boyd took 100 men and moved up a hill that was directly in the path of Pickens’s column. They took positions behind a rough breastwork — temporary fortification — out of fallen trees and an old fence. The Patriots came into view and the Loyalists opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties. At that point, the Loyalists were in control of the battle.

In the confusion, three Patriots from Clark’s column were separated from the others and lost. They happened to stumble onto the flank of Boyd’s men. From their position, they fired on Boyd, who fell, mortally wounded.

Seeing their commander fall, the Loyalists scattered. Major William Augustus Spurgeon Jr. took command of the Loyalists and they retreated across Kettle Creek. Once they were across, Spurgeon reorganized them.

The Patriots crossed Kettle Creek and the two sides continued to fire on each other.

After roughly half an hour, the Loyalists finally retreated toward Wrightsboro and Augusta. The Patriots did not pursue them

Overall, the battle is estimated to have lasted for less than two hours.

Aftermath of the Battle of Kettle Creek

The Patriot forces captured a significant amount of horses and supplies at Kettle Creek and Carr’s Fort, all of which were desperately needed.

In the aftermath of the battle, the fate of the Loyalists was mixed. 

  • Somewhere between 40 to 70 were killed in the battle.
  • Many of the ones that escaped went home and did not participate further in the war.
  • Around 270 of those who escaped made their way to Savannah, where they were organized into the Royal North Carolina Regiment. 
  • The Americans took approximately 75 prisoners, who were eventually taken to Ninety-Six.

Boyd’s wound was mortal. While he was still conscious, but suffering from his wounds, Pickens. According to some accounts, Boyd gave Pickens a letter and some personal belongings and asked him to make sure they were sent to his wife. Pickens agreed and Boyd passed later that evening.

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Significance of the Battle of Kettle Creek

The Battle of Kettle Creek is important to United States history because it demonstrated the willingness of backcountry Patriots to support the American Cause — and the critical mistake the British made in overestimating the Loyalist response. It can be argued that overestimating Loyalist support played a key role in the American victories at the Battle of Kings Mountain, the Battle of Hammond’s Store, and the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill — all of which led directly to the Surrender of Cornwallis, which ended the Battle of Yorktown.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Battle of Kettle Creek, a Critical Patriot Victory in Georgia
  • Coverage February 14, 1779
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Kettle Creek, Andrew Pickens, Backcountry, Loyalists
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date January 29, 2023
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 11, 2023

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