In early February, 1779, the Southern
Armies of the United States and Great Britain were facing across
the Savannah River on a battle line reaching from Savannah to
the Broad River above Augusta. The British controlled Georgia
and the Americans South Carolina. A victory for the American
forces meant an early end to the war. Each side, realizing the
importance of the impending struggle, was carefully maneuvering
troops for an opening blow.
Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, Commander
of the American forces of six or seven thousand men, decided
to flank the British above Augusta in an attempt to drive the
Red Coats, under Gen. Augustine Prevost, into the malarial swamps
of the Georgia coast. The first objective was accomplished when
Col. Elijah Clarke and Col. Andrew Pickens overtook and defeated
the forces of the Tory Gen. Boyd at Kettle Creek. Meantime, Gen.
Lincoln, from his headquarters at Purysburg, ordered Gen. John
Ashe to join Gen. Andrew Williamson opposite Augusta.
Col. Archibald Campbell, commanding
British forces in Augusta, saw his position become precarious,
evacuated the city, and marched down the river on the Georgia
side to join Gen. Prevost, whose headquarters were at Hudson's
Gen. Lincoln then ordered Gen.
Ashe, with 1,800 men, to cross the Savannah River, follow Col.
Campbell as far as Freeman-Miller Bridge on Brier Creek, and
secure his position there. Gen. Ashe arrived there on February
27 and found that Col. Campbell had burned the bridge. Col. Campbell
crossed Brier Creek just before the arrival of Gen. Ashe, losing
a cannon that became buried in the mud of "Cannon Lake."
On February 28, Gen. Ashe left
for a Council of War with Generals Lincoln, Moultrie, and Rutherford
at Black Swamp, S.C. Gen. Bryant, left in charge of the American
forces, moved the camp up the creek, for security, to near this
spot (A). He established a picket line up the creek and a company
of infantry at the burned bridge. He ordered Col. Leonard Marbury
to take a position at Paris' Mill, 14 miles up the creek. On
March 1, Gen. Bryant was joined by Maj. Ross with 300 horsemen
who were too fatigued for immediate duty.
After reconnoitering Gen. Ashe's
position, Gen. Prevost determined to strike him from the rear
in a surprise move before he cold consolidate his position. Col.
Mark Prevost commanded the British in one of the most skillful
military maneuvers of the Revolution. Maj. McPherson was placed
with the First Battalion of the 71st Regiment at Buck Creek,
three miles south of the burned bridge, as a decoy (B).
Col. Prevost led the main force
of the British army, about 1,500 men, up the west side of Brier
Creek. Traveling all night, he arrived on the west bank of the
creek at Paris' Mill mid-morning of March 2. He found the bridge
destroyed. Dispatching his Infantry and Light Horse across the
creek, he soon encountered Col. Marbury's Dragoons (C), cutting
them off from Ashe's forces. He captured some, while others succeeded
in getting safely across Burton's Ferry. Col. Prevost built a
bridge and crossed the creek on the morning of the 3rd.
Gen. Ashe returned midday of the
2nd. It was agreed, at the Council of War, that Ashe was to make
secure his position and wait until joined by Generals Williamson,
Rutherford and Lincoln. Then a general offensive would be launched
to drive the British seaward. On the morning of March 3rd, Ashe,
unaware of the British movements, sent Maj. Ross, with his Light
Horse of 300 men, to reconnoiter the position of Prevost at Hudson's
Ferry. He soon encountered McPherson's men at Buck Creek (D).
His failure to advise Gen. Ashe came near being the decisive
blunder of the Revolution.
About 2:30 P.M. on March 3, Gen.
Ashe received a message from Col. Smith, who was guarding the
wagons and baggage left at Burton's Ferry, warning him of the
approach of the British. Within a few minutes the British appeared,
coming down the main road six abreast. They deployed, right and
left, forming a battle line from the position of this marker
to the Savannah River swamp. Hastily, Generals Ashe, Samuel Elbert
and Bryant reversed their front, prepared to meet the enemy by
taking positions in battle line across the British front. Confusion
and hysteria reigned among the American soldiers as their officers
vainly tried to keep them in line while ammunition was being
distributed. Gen. Elbert's and Col. McIntosh's command formed
on the American left next to the creek, Gen. Bryant's command
formed the center and Col. Young's the right.
The British opened on the American
center with cannon. Gen. Bryant, still trying to get ammunition
to his men, was unprepared. With dead and wounded falling on
every side, the center broke and retreated in riot. The British
poured through the hole in the American center and within a few
minutes, the right under Col. Young broke and ran into the swamps
of the Savannah. Gen. Elbert and Col. McIntosh, with 60 Continentals
and 150 Georgia Militia, made one of the valiant stands of military
history. So fiercely did these Georgians fight that the British
had to bring up reserves. Asking no quarter, they fought until
nearly every man was dead or wounded. Gen. Elbert saved himself
by giving a Masonic sign from the ground as he was about to be
bayonetted. Gen. Elbert, Col. McIntosh and the rest of his command
Thus ended, in disaster, the well
laid plans to win control of the South and bring the war to an
end. Only the matchless bravery of the Georgians in the last
stand gave solace and inspiration in an almost hopeless situation.
124-20 GEORGIA HISTORICAL
- BATTLE OF BRIER CREEK
-- MAR. 3, 1779
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for enlargement of map shown on marker]
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