Kettle Creek Battlefield to Receive More than 1 Million in Grant Funding, Opinions Differ on How it Should be Spent

Published on 6 February 2024 at 14:17

Nearly 245 years ago Andrew Pickens led 400 fellow Patriots through the Wilkes County back country, stealthily approaching a Tory encampment on Kettle Creek the morning of February 14, 1779.  The Tories had stopped to recover after their long trek from South Carolina.

             Pickens’ force of Patriot partisans launched a three-pronged attack, soon outflanking the unsuspecting Tory loyalists. At the end of the four-hour battle, the Tories — commanded by British Colonel John Boyd and holding a nearly two-to-one advantage — gave way, retreating across the creek, many of them fleeing. It was the only Patriot victory in Georgia during the Revolution, and halted the British advance into the largely unsettled backwoods of the state.

            Now each February Washington, Georgia commemorates this significant event with a weekend of ceremonies and reenactments. However, many of the local events take place in town, not at the actual site of the battle.

            The Kettle Creek Battlefield, located about 12 miles southwest of Washington, has struggled over the decades to live up to its history. But significant changes are in store for Kettle Creek over the next couple of years.

            A recent grant from the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust fund provides for land purchases that will further expand the battlefield park; continued archeological surveys; improvements to the War Hill area; construction/restoration of hiking and mountain bike trails, along with road and walking trail refurbishment; a pavilion/education center and restrooms; RV and primitive camping sites in the Livsey tract; additional and improved signage throughout the park.

            The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program (GOSP) is providing $1.423 million to Wilkes County, which will administer the funds. Wilkes County - which owns the battlefield property and is responsible for its upkeep - is expected to add approximately $500 K in matching dollars or in-kind services, according to Chairman Sam Moore. The GOSP agreement — signed November 16, 2023 — stipulates completion within 24 months. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources oversees and administers the GOSP.

            The latest effort to improve the battlefield follows decades of fits and starts. The park property was privately-held until 1900, when a 12.5 acre plot was deeded to the local chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). By 1930, the group was able to erect the granite monument which stands today on War Hill. In 1960, ownership was transferred to Wilkes County.

            In the ‘60s and early ‘70s,  Athens Congressman Robert G. Stephens urged the National Park Service (NPS) to create a National Park at Kettle Creek, but the Park Service was unresponsive.

            Starting in 2008, research by archeological specialists at the Lamar Institute provided precise locations where the fighting occurred. Around that time, there was a movement to have the State of Georgia commit funds to promote the idea of an historical park; while plans were drawn up, the State lacked resources for the purchase of additional property and the state park movement lost momentum. However, an additional 60 acres were added in 2013,

            In 2018, a Federal Battlefield Land Acquisition Grant expanded Kettle Creek to from 77 to more than 250 acres. The recent GOSP grant will allow needed repairs and improvements to the site. On January 24, 2021, Secretary of the Interior David Burkhardt approved the site for designation as an Affiliated Area of the NPS. This allows the site to be included in the 250th Independence celebration and as part of the Southern Campaign trail that is being developed, putting it in line for transition to Heritage Area status in the future. 

            The State of Georgia currently maintains very few parks with colonial or Revolutionary War themes  —  Fort King George, Fort Morris and Wormsloe, all located in coastal Georgia. Kettle Creek is the lone Revolutionary site with NPS affiliation.

            In light of recent scholarship on the Revolutionary War in Georgia, the state now identifies several potential destinations for heritage tourism, including Kettle Creek. The Coastal Heritage Society and the City of Savannah are currently developing Battlefield Park in Savannah, which interprets the October, 1779 Siege of Savannah.

            The Kettle Creek Battlefield Association (KCBA) met January 25th in a planning session to begin implementing the GOSP plan. Negotiations should begin shortly for the purchase of the Weyerhauser and Livsey properties, which will add nearly 180 acres to the north side of the Park. Unfortunately, other areas of historical significance to the south and east remain privately-held and unavailable.

            KCBA Chairman Walker Chewning also announced April 6th as “Park Day” at Kettle Creek, in conjunction with the American Battlefield Trust. Park Day, according to the website, “is an annual hands-on volunteer event to help Civil War, Revolutionary War, and War of 1812 battlefields and historic sites shine their brightest.” Popular activities include routine grounds keeping, fence and trail maintenance, painting, and more.

            Check out these websites — and  — for additional details.


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            On a chilly, bright Saturday morning this February, spectators will gather on Washington’s downtown Square, to watch a formation of smartly-dressed Colonials parade past to a drummer’s beat. Circling the Square, some marchers will break off and form a line on the Courthouse lawn. Shortly, the group will raise their flintlock muskets; on the order, fire with a flash and and a loud report. It’s all done with orderly military precision.

            By mid-morning, the reenactors, in two groups, will square off along the creek in Fort Washington Park, below the Courthouse. They’ll raise their weapons and take aim, attempting to recreate the deadly “Hornet’s Nest” clash of 1779. As musket fire echoes down the ravine, “Colonel Boyd” falls, mortally wounded — as he does every year — and the Tories retreat.

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            Two-and-a-half centuries later, the hornets are stirring again; not on the battlefield, but about the battlefield. Two local groups dedicated to historic preservation are conflicted over whose version of the Kettle Creek story should be told.

            The Washington-Wilkes Historical Foundation (WWHF) and the Kettle Creek Battlefield Association (KCBA) support different interpretations of the Battle, and which group should determine how the story of the Revolutionary clash is presented to the public. They also differ on future development of the battlefield park.

            The KCBA (, founded in 2011, has worked over the years to promote the concept of a battlefield park. The Association played a role in the research and publication of the 110-page Kettle Creek Battlefield Park Master Plan (2013), prepared by the Central Savannah Area Regional Commission for the Wilkes County Commission.

            The report, in part, concludes “most of the battlefield is not preserved, and additional interpretive resources and visitor amenities could greatly improve the experience of visiting the site.” In the 2010s, there were successful efforts to locate and identify graves of fallen fighters, using ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs. Many of the gravesites are now marked by simple white crosses.

            So the KCBA is giving its full support the the steps outlined in the $1.423 M grant from the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund, which provides for additional land purchases, signage and trail improvements, along with recreational amenities, such as mountain-bike trails, primitive and RV campsites, and a pavilion.

            A significant portion of the grant is set aside for land purchases, particularly two parcels northeast and east of the Battlefield: 46 acres currently owned by Joan Livsey, and a much larger tract owned by the Weyerhauser Corporation. This expansion is intended to include most of the recreational sites cited in the grant, but has little historical significance.

            In contrast, privately-owned land south of the creek  — where much of the fighting took place —  is not part of the planned acquisition. “We have not been able to negotiate with the private land owners on the south side of the creek; they do not want to sell, have not wanted to sell,” KCBA Chairman Walker Chewning told board members at a January 25 meeting.

            But prior to being purchased by Randall Durden in 2020, the previous owners offered to sell the property; Chewning considered the asking price too high, so the land was sold to Durden, who has expressed no interest in selling.

            The Historical Foundation, however, places a higher priority on acquiring land where the battle took place rather than adding to the battlefield park for recreation.

            This exchange took place during the meeting between WWHF President Stephanie Macchia and Chewning:

            Macchia: “What are we doing to preserve and tell the story of the actual Battle of Kettle Creek? Why are we here on recreation instead of worrying about the actual battlefield now. I doesn’t look like the battlefields I go visit?”

            Chewning: “This grant is a recreational grant…”

            Macchia: “So KCBA is in the…business of recreation, not just preservation and education…so now y’all are just doing recreation?”

            Chewning: “So this grant is for recreation and conservation and it adds 180 more acres to the park along with opportunities for additional tourism…to visit the park.”

            Macchia: “It has nothing to do with the Battle of Kettle Creek?”

            Chewning: “Well, it does have something to do with the Battle Park, because part of this recreation area is historical. It is where Pickens came from - probably- Carr’s Fort…it’s where that secondary road would have been that they would have traveled down, OK. So there is portions there that are historical.”

            More contentious is a fundamental disagreement over how the story of the battle will be displayed at Kettle Creek. Much of the proposed signage will contain descriptions of the battle, and the WWHF has an issue with using information from the 2013 Battlefield Master Plan and previous studies.

            In prepared remarks delivered this week at a WWHF dinner, Foundation President Macchia wrote, “In short, the board eventually realized that the KCBA held the power to interpret the battle, even if their interpretation went directly against the primary sources.

            “The KCBA's interpretation will be based on research done in 2007/2008 and will be applied at the site as well as on the NPS (web) site. Unfortunately, the newest research, which was concluded in 2023 and recently published in an international magazine after peer review, will be completely ignored by the KCBA.”

            The research to which she refers is a 2023 scientific paper published by Daniel Bigman, David Noble, Tracy Sargent, and Jamie Pringle. The paper offers an updated view of the battle sequence, summarized from archival research, and contemporary letters written by Col. Andrew Pickens in 1811 about his life and the war, and by Col.  John Dooly in 1779.

            In the paper, the authors write that much of the initial phase of the battle involved mounted Patriot troops attacking the Loyalists, a fact disputed by some on the KCBA board.

            The study also describes “the forensic investigation into locating potential burial sites of fallen soldiers from (the) battle…a careful multi-resourced, multi-phased investigation conducted over three years to identify prospective high areas of interest.”

            Ultimately, it appears the decision on whose version of the battle will be in the hands of the KCBA Board. “Who reviews it when that’s done? You? Who OKs it and says this is right,” Chewning was asked at the recent Board meeting.

            “Well, we’ll bring it to the Board meeting and everyone can read it and vote on it,” Chewning response. “It’ll be in compliance with whatever, with what the 2008 Lamar Institute did, with (Dr. Christine) Swager’s (2008) book…and uh, the archeological work we paid to do out there.”


Written by Richard Crabbe


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Author’s note: Conditions at the Battlefield Park are unsightly. People have been driving vehicles and cutting doughnuts in the parking area adjacent to the War Hill gate; large piles of brush and downed trees are the first thing a visitor sees at the entrance to the Summit trail; the white crosses marking graves of fallen combatants are broken or covered by piles of brush; the crude wooden signs marking trails are deteriorating and sometimes unreadable, and portions of the trails are nearly impassible. At the KCBA Board meeting, Chairman Walker Chewning stated many of these deficiencies can be corrected with volunteer from the community, starting with the April 6 American Battlefield Trust “Park Day”.

Photos descriptions in order: 1) Rifleman reenacting the Battle in Fort Washington Park, near the Courthouse. 2) One of the highlights is the parade around the Square by Colonial-era reenactors. 3) Deteriorating trail signage. 4) Broken burial site marker. 5)

One of the many piles of brush and debris along the Summit Trail at the Battlefield. 6) Trenching by large vehicles in the parking area at the base of War Hill. 7) Battle map (larger view below)

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