Discovery of Journal Origin Lends Truth to a Revolutionary War Massacre

July 01 11:21 2017

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA – 1 Jul, 2017 – The discovery of an original journal fragment finally identifies its author and gives credibility to an account of a Revolutionary War massacre. The historic manuscript came as a surprise to some historians and as a welcome find that brings desperately needed attention to a region of the country that has lagged behind in research and preservation. Daniel Battle, battlefield archaeologist and founder of the non-profit Georgia American Revolution Preservation Alliance (GARPA), has been trying to bring attention to what Campaign1776 calls the 16th bloodiest battle of the war. The Battle of Brier Creek, fought in present-day Screven County on March 3, 1779, was located on the fringes of a region many don’t associate the War for American Independence. “As strange as it may sound, the remote location is a real problem,” Battle claims. “It doesn’t matter that this was the first American offensive and major land battle that opened up the British Southern Campaign. It is one of the only battlefields of its kind still left in Georgia and is endangered even though it is state-owned.” 

The British attempt to subdue the Colonies had reached a stalemate in the north against American troops under the leadership of General George Washington. Desperate to regain momentum, the British shifted strategies and charged into Georgia. A large southern Patriot army was thrown together under the command of General Benjamin Lincoln with the intention of dislodging the British invaders from Georgia. “The American Army was in its infancy in the South and had not yet learned the hard lessons of how to fight against the British like their northern counterparts had,” Battle states. “This is an aspect of our history that so few Americans know and understand and is a failure in our education system to teach,” Battle claims. “The fate of Georgia all came down to one sizable showdown and the professional British Army struck smart and struck first.” 

Along the banks of the beautiful Savannah River, over 2,000 crack British troops made a brilliantly executed maneuver and trapped a similar number of Americans with their backs to the swamps. American Generals John Ashe and Samuel Elbert found themselves facing some of the best shock troops in the British Army, the 71st Scottish Highlanders. “What happened next we wouldn’t know if not for the conscience of one unusual British officer,” explains Battle. The Patriot army had only minutes to form lines against a surging sea of British Red Coats bursting out of the woods. Some Patriots fired volleys and then large numbers took their chances with the alligators in the swamps. A brave island of soldiers, anchored by the Georgia US Continentals under Samuel Elbert, stood firm against a charge of Highlander Scots brandishing broadswords and bayonets. “The event personifies the spirit and sacrifice made by our Patriots in this state,” Battle claims.

“This is why discovering the materials in a Pennsylvania archive become important because they give more details about the price our forefathers paid to gain independence,” Battle explains. “What we found is a rare British officer account basically admitting that a massacre took place after these valiant Americans finally laid down their arms.” Even though a portion of this account was known, historians had lost all details of who gave it. The account was so descriptive and astonishing in its accusations that some became suspicious it may have been fabricated or embellished. “Not so,” claims Battle, “because the recent discovery came from Captain Thomas Hutchins of the 60th Royal Americans who was not your average soldier.” He was already a published writer, cartographer, and considered Britain’s foremost expert on America’s western frontier. “His life was life was like an adventure novel,” Battle explains. Hutchins was a home-grown American from New Jersey with simple roots. When war erupted, he was serving as a British officer but refused to fight his own countrymen.

He was the only commissioned regular British officer known to have switched sides to the American cause during the entire war and was sworn into American service by Benjamin Franklin himself. He was later commissioned by General George Washington as the United States’ first official Geographer. Captain Hutchins clearly points the blame for a massacre on one of the most notorious figures of the American Revolution, Capt. “Bloody” James Baird of the 71st Scottish Highlanders. This account was given credibility by the actions of American General Samuel Elbert of the Georgia Militia, who also held the rank of Colonel in the Continental Army. Elbert protested to the British commander that over 40 of his officers were bayonetted after their surrender and barely escaped being bayoneted himself. Battle claims this ranks right up there with some of the worst recorded massacres of the American Revolution. Baird was relieved of service in America following this event.

“While battlefields in most northern states have benefited from hundreds of scholars studying similar events, it has unfortunately been the opposite in much of the South,” Battle claims. “This has resulted in a lack of public knowledge and sense of need to preserve Revolutionary War resources and has been overshadowed by Civil War events. “Decades of previous decisions and even current events at the Brier Creek battlefield are perfect examples of how dismissive we have become to this region where the war also occurred,” Battle claims. GARPA was founded by individuals who became acutely aware of this issue. “After an archaeological study identified Brier Creek as an excellent opportunity to save a critical publicly-owned resource, the state has been largely nonresponsive.” “There were no public announcements; no sharing of the archaeological report; no communication with groups who would like to have input.” Within a year after the study was completed, GARPA members had to fight off an oil pipeline, destructive clearing, and camping activities that have endangered the burials left on the battlefield according to Battle. “This is Georgia’s largest Revolutionary War veteran cemetery filled with our first US soldiers,” he states. 

Battle claims GARPA is the only organization even trying to save Revolutionary War sites in the state and the future remains uncertain. “We would like to become a trust but we have struggled in getting donations or attention that could reverse this trend,” Battle says. “GARPA struggles with a public that is largely unaware of its Revolutionary War history. I mean, how many people know Georgia was the only Colony that was returned to British rule after declaring independence or that forces from here invaded another country three times?” 

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Contact Person: Georgia American Revolution Preservation Alliance
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Country: United States
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