Battle of Briar Creek
"Back in them days there was few records of any mans service in the militias as they was formed so quick and then disbanded when the battles was done with and the men no longer needed. It was difficult times and the armys had no money to pay the men or even provide 'em with guns and ammunition. We mostly had to provide our own guns and horses which was promised to be paid backto us after the war along with our pay and pension.
"I was seventeen, just a boy, with no idea what war was all about. Course there was much talk in them days that the Tories would torch our towns and make us slaves to the King. Mostly we just wanted to fight for our country 'cause even in them days we all knew that it was our land and that the King had no rights to it, much less the right to tell us how to govern ourselves. My family was all Patriots, bein' Presbyterians and not wantin' to loose our freedoms which our folk come over from Ireland to gain. My grand-daddy testified in a trial again 3 Tories, the Baker boys and we was all patriots through and through.
I went off to serve in a company of volunteers from our area, with my daddy William Patton bein' the captain.
"On November 15, 1778 I went to Salisbury and volunteered to serve in the North Carolina Militia in a company of infantry of Captain Lopp under the command of General Griffeth Rutherford. The General was well known in these parts as an Indian fighter. In 1776 he and the North Carolina boys took the war to the Cherokee Nation which was allied with the British. They killed near two thousand of them Indians and mostly put an end to the threat of attacks on the settlers in these parts.
"Towards the beginnin' of December 1778, General Rutherford marched us south into South Carolina where we was camped near Orangeburg. There was some terrible fightin' taking place in Savannah. The city of Savannah fell in January and it was said that Charleston would be attacked next. From Orangeburg we marched close to the coast but it was too late as the city fell to the British just days before we got close.
"We rejoined General Rutherford at Purrsyburg to wait until things was reorganized and we was supplied. There was a muster call one evenin', and a Captain Sheppard stepped forward and asked for volunteers for a scoutin' duty. I stepped forward, as I was tired of the inactivity of camp life. The next day was placed under the command of Captain William Sheppard and Colonel Lytle and Major Harris. We marched to Augusta where we joined with the forces of General Ashe who was callin' up militias from all over the south to defend that city from the advance of the Redcoats from Savannah. We was marched 2 days later and made camp just across the Savannah River from Augusta until the troops could be gathered to take back the city.
"Our army was in poor shape. The lack of weapons was terrible, only the officers in our company had pistols. The rest of us soldiers carried a few old muskets that was brought along but most of us had no weapons at all save maybe a pocketknife. We was a ragged bunch, mostly wearin' clothes of hemp and leather breeches with no real uniforms or such. The general was the best dressed of us men - he nearly always wore a black tow-huntin' shirt with a white fringe on it.
"Rutherford knowed that it was going to be a hard winter and we brought a drove of cattle along with us for food, but it wasn't long before they was all gone. We waited hopin' supplies might come up from the coast but none arrived and I reckon it seemed foolish to the officers to march untrained men into battle with rusty old guns.
"General Lincoln, the commander of all Southern forces was gatherin' militias from all over the south - from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Viriginia to keep the Brits from advancing into South Carolina. They had guns for us at the camp in Augusta. Finally one day at muster I was issued an old flintlock musket, the kind of gun my brothers and I used to hunt with up in these hills.
"The most terrible thing in wartime is being just plain bored. We was camped across from Augusta with nothing to do but drill and march up and down alongside the Savannah River. We did some fishin' and huntin' to fetch up food for ourselves but target practice weren't allowed so as to save the scarce ammunition for actual battle. At night we could hear the Brits drummin' and makin' a whoop and holler tryin' to frighten us.
"In mid February the British marched out of Augusta and retreated south down along the Savannah river. The next day our army marched into the city and made camp just south of Augusta. After Savannah fell there was much commotion around Augusta. Thousands of folk fled from the coast to get away from the Redcoats, and these poor folk walked past our camp on their way up into the Carolinas with nothin' more than the clothes they wore. They told some terrible stories of how the British slaughtered their families and burned their homes. There was more negroes there than I ever seen in all my life and those poor folk was beat down terrible. After the battle I was separated from daddy who I didn't see for a year or two after that when we was released by the British under Cornwallis after being captured during the battle at Guilford Courthouse, but that's another story o' course.
"Two weeks later General Ashe gave orders to march after the British in retreat to run 'em all the way back to the sea. The Tories make a quick retreat down river with us Patriots followin', crossin' back over the river. We marched through thick woods to Briar Creek at the point where it empties into the Savannah River. Them Tories had burned down a bridge upon their retreat, and the land all 'round was swampy and difficult to cross but there were several fords in the river.
"We waited to be reinforced by some other militia troops from Georgia and General Rutherford's brigade which was camped 5 miles upstream at Matthew's Bluff. We was 200 hundred light infantry under Captain Falls from North Carolina, and along with us was about nine hundred under General Bryan and about 70 Georgia boys with several large guns.
"One bright sunny afternoon as we was camped out by the Briar Creek a horseman rode through camp shoutin' that the British army was advancin' on our rear. Word spread through the rank that they was marchin' towards us and they was beat to arms and formed into two lines. Most of us had only a few cartridges as most had been spoilt due to not having cartouch boxes to keep 'em in.
"It weren't long before we spotted the enemy approachin'. At a hundred and fifty yards they made columns to the left and right to form their line. Out in front of us was the Georgia Continentals and the main regiment which began firin' upon the Tories. They was particularly bright and easy targets as I recall. Just as the battle had begun one whole regiment of men turned and ran as we came up to reinforce having been posted at the burned down bridge half a mile away. Colonel Lytle, who had just rode up, yelled for us to regroup and and moved us back behind the retreatin' line as he saw it was little use for us to advance bein' such a small force. I weren't able to fetch my horse from the camp, so it was left behind there for the British to take.
"After the battle, my friend John Merrell asked Captain Lytle why he had not let us fire, to which Lytle replied that the British were musket and bayonet men while we was excellent riflemen he said he kept us out of the battle because 'They would have rushed on you with their bayonets!'
"The officers tried to rally the troops but it was too late. Several of them men was hit and fell to the ground. It was the first time I had seen men killed before. Them boys was just too green and too scaired to stay and fight and 'fore we knew it most of 'em had scrambled into the woods and was runnin' for their lives. We all then turned and headed towards the swamp. All throughout our retreat the British was a' chasin' us and shootin'. There was men callin' out as it was near nighttime and they was lost. Many never came out of them woods and drowned there in the swamp or was shot by the Redcoats.
"A few of us that was lucky made our escape back up to Matthew's Bluff across the Savannah where we met up with General Rutherford's brigade From there we marched up through South Carolina to Purysburg, a small village just north of Augusta. We was lucky the Redcoats was slow to chase as we all knew that firin' squads and hangin's were in store for any man captured by the Tories. And that's how it happened your honor."
"Well Mr. Patton, that is quite a fascinating story" the lead magistrate said as Samuel paused.
"May I ask if you recall any other battles that took place at this time?" the magistrate questioned.
"Well sir, near as I recall there was a battle at Kettle's Creek where the Georgia militia beat the Brits & Tories. That was the main cause for the Tories to retreat back to Savannah and why we gave chase I reckon, so as to hurry them along."
"Mr. Patton, may I ask why you did not reenlist after the battle until nearly a year later?"
"Well sir, the sight of my dead friends there at Briar Creek was a terrible thing. After the battle I served a brief spell under a General Williamson as a waggoner carrying supplies to his fort in South Carolina. Later that year I returned to my home in Rowan for the winter and helped the family with the spring plantin'. I think what was most discouragin' of all to me was the court martial of General John Ashe after the battle at Briar Creek."
"What about the court martial?" asked the magistrate.
"Well sir, that's another story" Samuel answered.
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The Court Martial of General John Ashe