A high-stakes hunt for history has been quietly under way this winter at Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area in Screven County, Ga., and the preliminary findings are raising eyebrows all the way to Atlanta.
As regular hunters chased deer and feral hogs, archaeologists armed with new imaging technology focused their attention on the banks of Brier Creek, where a pivotal Revolutionary War battle was waged nearly 235 years ago.
The Battle of Brier Creek unfolded the afternoon of March 3, 1779, when British forces led by Col. Mark Prevost decided to circle back on an encamped Patriot army and launch a surprise attack from behind.
The strategy yielded a decisive victory for the British and left about 150 American soldiers dead and hundreds of others captured.
The defeat was so resounding that some historians believe it extended the war an additional year.
Although battle details were carefully recorded by the British, complete with maps and diagrams, little has been done over the past 234 years to explore the battlefield itself – until last year.
That’s when Cypress Cultural Consultants of Beaufort, S.C., launched a new effort to locate the actual site of the event and determine whether the area was sufficiently intact to offer new insights into an important chapter in our nation’s past.
After months of research and planning, the group examined the area with aerial technology known as LiDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging. The result was a series of precise, three-dimensional maps that offer views of even minor changes in the earth’s surface.
The maps identified a series of linear “features” where sampling was later conducted to determine whether the area was part of the defensive line hastily arranged by the Patriot forces.
As it turned out, they were correct.
The company’s principal investigator, Daniel Battle – who is also the grandson of legendary Augusta Chronicle reporter John F. Battle – said he could not discuss the project or its findings so far because the assessment remains incomplete.
However, according to a status report in the Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution journal, “early assessments indicate that a linear field of strewn battlefield evidence stretches several hundred meters along a naturally low topographical feature.”
Those areas, the article added, “appear to retain excellent information gathering potential.”
What happens next is unclear, according to state officials.
David Crass, director of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Historic Preservation Division, said the initial studies are certainly sufficient to prove that the battlefield site has indeed been identified.
“The archaeological signature of the battlefield is very clear, despite farming and timber disturbances,” he said.
The general location of the Battle of Brier Creek is no secret, and is even shown in a detailed map engraved on a historical marker on Brannen’s Bridge Road, which bisects the Tuckahoe WMA before crossing Brier Creek.
However, the Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division is keeping a close eye on the area to prevent looting or tampering with the site, which – fortunately – lies within the WMA on state-owned land.
Some of the artifacts recovered so far are being sent to Georgia Southern University for curation by archaeologists and anthropologists who have also been involved with Camp Lawton, a Confederate prison camp that housed Union prisoners in the closing months of the Civil War.
Tuckahoe WMA is already one of the state’s best public hunting venues, and perhaps it could someday be a destination for history buffs and others among the non-hunting public who also have access to public lands.
Tuckahoe includes 15,100 acres acquired by the state in 1989. Most of the property – 11,275 acres – was paid for with license fees. The remaining property was acquired in 1992 by the U.S. government as mitigation land for the Lake Russell project.