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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Revolutionary War: Brier Creek Massacre

During the British occupation of Savannah, many elements came into play. The city itself was shaken by masses of persons who were fired up by the propaganda of self-appointed champions. Sir James Wright wrote "The communities in the parishes were a passel of the lowest people, chiefly carpenters, shoe-makers and blacksmiths. It is really terrible that such people should be suffered to overthrow the civil government and most arbitrarily sport with other men's lives, liberties and property." And one of the well-favored ladies of Savannah, Elizabeth Lichtenstein Johnson, put it more snobbishly when she wrote in a letter to a friend that everywhere, at the approach of the revolution, "the scum rose to the top". As the occupation continued, the "scum" foamed out of the woods along the Savannah river to harry the red-coats. It was a time of guerrilla ware, from 1779 on. The British gathered armies of Tories in upper South Carolina to strike at the ragged and ill-equipped Americans headquartered in Wilkes County. One American detachment laid siege to British-seized Fort Carr on the upper river and was in the process of success when word came that a Tory army of eight hundred men under the command of Colonel Boyd was heading towards the Savannah from Ninety Six, South Carolina. The Americans retreated, sounding the alarm through the countryside. This deta chment crossed the river near Fort Charlotte on the Carolina side just below the junction of the Broad and Savannah Rivers. Then the frontier stations around Wilkes County responded to the call of General Elijah Clarke, a rugged, tough and able leader as well as to John Twiggs and John Dooly, and Colonel Andrew Pickens from across the river in South Carolina, to stand against the British. As the British under Colonel Boyd prepared to cross the river, they asked permission. The Americans refused. Colonel Boyd halted his loyal
ists at a farm on the north side of Kettle Creek where the stream enters the Savannah and turned out his horses to forage in the swamp.  They were surprised by the Americans and Colonel Boyd was mortally wounded. A horse was shot out from under General Elijah Clarke, but the Americans routed the British on February 14, 1779. Meanwhile, General Benjamin Lincoln, commander of the Southern Department, had taken up quarters at Purysburg, South Carolina along the river between Savannah and Augusta on the South Carolina side was amassing an army of 8,000 men. He planned to sweep the countryside of the British with these forces, however, malaria prevailed in the nearby villages of the Swiss and Germans caused him to get out-maneuvered. It was Colonel Mark Prevost who stopped the planned concentration of Lincoln's forces in Georgia when he surprised one of the larger units, an army of 2300 men,  as it headed towards Purysburg but encamped along Brier Creek. Seldom has so large an army been so swiftly annihilated. General William Moultrie serving under General Lincoln summed it up this way: "We never could ascertain the number that were lost in this unfortunate affair, as many of them did not stop anywhere until they got to their own homes in North Carolina," and "it was nothing less than a total rout."

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