Archaeologists trying to save Brier Creek Battlefield 238 years later

Archaeologist Daniel Battle highlights battlefield elements at the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Brier Creek in Screven County.

As the years go by and dust settles over the footprints of history, the woods along Screven County’s Brier Creek are the key to remembering America’s first patriots in the Peach State say those struggling to preserve Georgia’s Revolutionary War heritage.

 

“This is one of the most well preserved sites of the Revolutionary War anywhere in the nation and this is where the Georgia Continentals met their end,” archaeologist Daniel Battle said.

On March 3, 1779, 238 years ago on tomorrow , the first major battle of the British Army’s push into the American South took place at Brier Creek at the old road between Savannah and Augusta. According to Battle and President of the Brier Creek Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution Craig Wildi, the American loss resulted in the deaths of at least 200 patriots.

Studies done by Battle in conjunction with other professional organizations have uncovered evidence that some of Georgia’s soldiers who lost their lives in the fight for independence may still lie in graves at the battle site.

“This was the 16th bloodiest of all battle sites throughout the Revolutionary War,” Battle said. “We found so many artifacts under our original permit, Georgia DNR (Department of natural Resources) shut the study down.”

The land around the battle site is public, managed by Georgia DNR as part of the Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area. The wildlife management area is about 15,000 acres. Battle and Wildi said they want 500-600 acres set aside to fully study the site, but said DNR hasn’t been willing to dedicate more than about five acres for site preservation and management.

Notable names at the battlefield include Samuel Elbert who survived the battle and became governor of Georgia six years later. Thomas Hutchins was also part of the battle at Brier Creek.

Hutchins was the only regular officer to serve in the British Army and then defect to join the Americans. After Brier Creek, he escaped from Great Britain through France and then sailed to Charleston where he was commissioned by Benjamin Franklin.

Hutchins’ was the only official Geographer of the United States and his journals are largely responsible for the continued understanding of the events at Brier Creek.

In the days following the American defeat, the British proclaimed Georgia had been reclaimed and was once again considered a colony of the British Empire. Georgia is the only colony to have been officially reclaimed by the British government, according to Battle.

Last year, the Sons of the American Revolution held a commemorative event to place flags in honor of those who died at the battlefield. Because the event was hosted by a non-profit organization, Wildi said Georgia DNR waived the requirements for certain liability insurance policies and other fees for group events. This year, he said they are requiring the group to pay for those requirements; payments the small non-profit says it can’t afford.

“They don’t want us out here. They don’t want the attention, it’s that simple,” Wildi said.

During the surveys for and original push for the Palmetto Pipeline, bulldozers and other equipment were brought onto the site to widen roads across it inside the wildlife management area. The proposed pipeline map originally had the right of way slated to cross the battlefield. While both said they were relieved the pipeline was stopped, they say other challenges remain in saving the site.

Wildi said Brier Creek not being listed in the National Register of Historic Places is tantamount to ignoring American patriots and is “like a slap in the face.”

Wildi and Battle said they don’t expect DNR to create a park out of the area right away. They said the area is already publicly owned and they hope DNR will put a management plan in place to give them a chance to save Georgia’s American Revolutionary heritage at Brier Creek.

Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706)823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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