American Revolution: Battle of Kettle Creek

Brigadier General Andrew Pickens. Photograph Source: Public Domain

The Battle of Kettle Creek was fought February 14, 1779, during the American Revolution (1775-1783). In 1778, the new British commander in North America, General Sir Henry Clinton, elected to abandon Philadelphia and concentrate his forces in New York City. This reflected a desire to protect this key base following the Treaty of Alliance between the Continental Congress and France. Emerging from Valley Forge, General George Washington pursued Clinton into New Jersey.

Clashing at Monmouth on June 28, the British elected to break off the fighting and continue their retreat north. As British forces established themselves in New York City, the war in the north settled into a stalemate. Believing support for the British cause to be stronger in the south, Clinton began making preparations to campaign in strength in this region.

Armies & Commanders


  • Colonel Andrew Pickens
  • Colonel John Dooly
  • Lieutenant Colonel Elijah Clarke
  • 300-350 militia


  • Colonel John Boyd
  • Major William Spurgen
  • 600 to 800 militia


Since the British repulse at Sullivan's Island near Charleston, SC in 1776, little significant fighting had occurred in the South. In the fall of 1778, Clinton directed forces to move against Savannah, GA. Attacking on December 29, Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell succeeded in overwhelming the city's defenders. Brigadier General Augustine Prevost arrived the following month with reinforcements and assumed command in Savannah.

Seeking to expand British control into the interior of Georgia, he directed Campbell to take around 1,000 men to secure Augusta. Departing on January 24, they were opposed by Patriot militia led by Brigadier General Andrew Williamson. Unwilling to directly engage the British, Williamson limited his actions to skirmishing before Campbell reached his objective a week later.

Lincoln Responds

In an effort to bolster his numbers, Campbell commenced recruiting Loyalists to the British cause. To enhance these efforts, Colonel John Boyd, an Irishman who had lived in Raeburn Creek, SC, was ordered to raise Loyalists in the backcountry of the Carolinas. Gathering around 600 men in central South Carolina, Boyd turned south to return to Augusta. In Charleston, the American commander in the South, Major General Benjamin Lincoln, lacked the forces to contest Prevost and Campbell's actions. This changed on January 30, when 1,100 North Carolina militia, led by Brigadier General John Ashe, arrived. This force quickly received orders to join Williamson for operations against Campbell's troops at Augusta.

Pickens Arrives

Along the Savannah River near Augusta, a stalemate ensued as Colonel John Dooly's Georgia militia held the north bank while Colonel Daniel McGirth's Loyalist forces occupied the south. Joined by around 250 South Carolina militia under Colonel Andrew Pickens, Dooly agreed to begin offensive operations in Georgia with the former in overall command. Crossing the river on February 10, Pickens and Dooly attempted to strike a British camp southeast of Augusta.

Arriving, they found that the occupants had departed. Mounting a pursuit, they cornered the enemy at Carr's Fort a short time later. As his men commenced a siege, Pickens received information that Boyd's column was moving towards Augusta with 700 to 800 men.

Anticipating that Boyd would attempt to cross the river near the mouth of the Broad River, Pickens assumed a strong position in this area. The Loyalist commander instead slipped north and, after being repulsed by Patriot forces at Cherokee Ford, moved another five miles upstream before finding a suitable crossing. Initially unaware of this, Pickens crossed back into to South Carolina before receiving word of Boyd's movements. Returning to Georgia, he resumed his pursuit and overtook the Loyalists as they paused to camp near Kettle Creek.

Approaching Boyd's camp, Pickens deployed his men with Dooly leading the right, Dooly's executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Elijah Clarke, commanding the left, and himself overseeing the center.

Boyd Beaten

In devising a plan for the battle, Pickens intended to strike with his men in the center while Dooly and Clarke swung wide to envelop the Loyalist camp. Pushing forward, Pickens' advance guard violated orders and fired on the Loyalist sentries alerting Boyd to the impending attack. Rallying around 100 men, Boyd moved forward to a line of fencing and fallen trees. Frontally attacking this position, Pickens' troops engaged in heavy fighting as Dooly and Clarke's commands were slowed by the swampy terrain on the Loyalist flanks. As the battle raged, Boyd fell mortally wounded and command devolved to Major William Spurgen. Though he tried to continue the fight, Dooly and Clarke's men began to appear from swamps. Under intense pressure, the Loyalist position began to collapse with Spurgen's men retreating through the camp and across Kettle Creek.


In the fighting at the Battle of Kettle Creek, Pickens' sustained 9 killed and 23 wounded while Loyalist losses numbered 40-70 killed and around 75 captured. Of Boyd's recruits, 270 reached the British lines where they were formed into the North and South Carolina Royal Volunteers. Neither formation lasted long due to transfers and desertions. With the impending arrival of Ashe's men, Campbell decided to abandon Augusta on February 12 and commenced his withdrawal two days later.

The town would remain in Patriot hands until June 1780 when the British returned following their victory at the Siege of Charleston.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Battle of Kettle Creek." ThoughtCo, Nov. 1, 2017, Hickman, Kennedy. (2017, November 1). American Revolution: Battle of Kettle Creek. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Revolution: Battle of Kettle Creek." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).