The Georgia Refugees Turn the Tide against the British

The War Years (1775-1783)

September 22, 2014
by Wayne Lynch Also by this Author


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Busy with the Siege of Augusta and subsequent exodus from Georgia, Elijah Clarke and most of the Refugees missed the battle of King’s Mountain. Instead, they spent time in Watauga with the Overmountain Men helping guard against raids from the Cherokee while the local militia traveled to South Carolina and dealt Cornwallis a serious blow by defeating Ferguson. However, now healed from his latest wounds and ready to rejoin the campaign in South Carolina, Clarke “collected the remains of his regiment and returned to his former position” in the back country.[1]

Just as Clarke returned to his command, he sent General Cornwallis an interesting communication. “As plundering have daily been practiced by the soldiers of the Brittish and American troops and Individuals been robed [sic – robbed] & much destructed who have not been active in the present war…I shall indeavour to put a stop to such pernicious practices and have issued the most strenious orders imaginable to prevent the same. I make no doubt the Brittish officers commanding the different corps will take such measures to prevent the like practices as they in there wisdom shall think fit.”[2] It is difficult to determine how long Clarke held his men in check since no response from Lord Cornwallis appears in his papers. However, since Clarke’s next move was to join Sumter near Fish Dam Ford, he surely became aware of how Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton had been burning plantations in their search for Francis Marion down in the South Carolina swamp country. And the next engagement for the Georgia Refugees would be against that very young British officer, Tarleton.

Blackstock’s Plantation

The Refugees arrived a day or two late for Sumter’s victory over Wemyss at Fish Dam Ford but soon “joined Sumter, and went in search of Tarleton, who had moved across the Saluda, and joined Cornwallis. Sumter turned his course and marched to Blackstock’s on Tyger River.”[3] Once the combined militia forces were there, Sumter took positions with his South Carolina regiments along a low rise on the right side of the plantation structures. The Georgia regiment (which was actually commanded by Colonel Twiggs since he was present and senior to Clarke) aligned itself on the left side behind a fence and some trees anchoring the rebel lines to the river.

The British column soon arrived and Lt. Colonel Tarleton set his infantry into an immediate assault against the Refugees on the left side. They pressed hard with bayonets and Clarke’s men absorbed the advance and started to fall back toward the Blackstock farm houses. As they advanced, Tarleton’s men began taking fire from Sumter’s men to the flank. A charge from Legion cavalry failed to check that rifle fire and Tarleton’s infantry found itself in a terrible spot. By Tarleton’s report, he had 50 men killed and wounded along with “every officer’s horse, my own included, kill’d or wounded.” Interestingly, he explained the loss thusly, “the enemy attack’d the 63rd and forced me to action before the cannon, Legion and light infantry cou’d be brought up.”[4] Unknown to Cornwallis, it was the Georgia Refugees who tickled the British 63rd Regiment of Foot into the bayonet charge before pulling them into a trap.   Another group of 30 Refugees on horseback under Major James Jackson had pursued Tarleton from the field.

Long Canes

Illustration of Andrew Pickens. Source: Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1852).
Illustration of Andrew Pickens. Source: Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1852).

After the action at Blackstock’s Plantation, the various militia regiments went their own way. Sumter’s men returned north taking their wounded commander with them. Clarke and the Refugees marched over to the Long Canes District to hold meetings with Andrew Pickens. Pickens had taken parole the previous June but the Patriots felt those promises should no longer be held valid since the British were now trying to force all the prior Whigs into militia service for the crown. Elijah Clarke’s partner James McCall was a longstanding neighbor and friend of Pickens. It was hoped McCall could convince the respected militia officer to rise up and bring his experienced Long Cane Militia Regiment alongside. Before they arrived in Long Canes, the group was joined by Colonel Benjamin Few, also of Georgia, who assumed overall command of the column. The British got wind of the Patriot recruiting efforts and sent a column of 200 regulars and 250 militia to Long Cane under Lt. Colonel Allen. As Allen arrived “within 3 miles of Few’s camp, he [Few] was apprized of their approach. Colonel Clarke, Lt. Colonel McCall, and Major Lindsey [all three had received promotions], with 100 Georgia and Carolina militia were ordered to meet the enemy, commence the action, and sustain it until the main body could be brought up to their assistance.”[5]

Clarke engaged the Loyalists about 1.5 miles from camp. “The action was lively for a short time, and Clarke sent an express to Few to hasten the march of the main body. In about 10 minutes the Loyalists retreated, some of them fled, and the remainder formed in the rear of the regular troops. Clarke received a wound in the shoulder, which was at first supposed to be mortal, and he was carried off the field.” As the action continued, the regulars pressed with bayonets wounding James McCall and Major Lindsey. The Americans now retreated leaving 14 dead and 7 wounded, some of whom had been killed after capture while “upon the ground and unable to make resistance.” [6]

Back at camp controversy filled the air. Clarke’s men reacted harshly to Few’s failure to bring the main body forward to support them. Few claimed that the British force was “so far superior to his own, that it would have been imprudent” to cause a general action. The explanation fell flat with Clarke and the Refugees as they placed Clarke “upon a bier, supported by two horses, and with great difficulty conveyed [Clarke] to a place of safety.”[7] The rest of the refugees left Colonel Few and marched off toward North Carolina under the temporary command of Major John Cunningham.


While Elijah spent time convalescing, Cunningham and the rest of the Refugees joined with Andrew Pickens who had been named Brigadier General of Militia. Even though from South Carolina, all the backcountry men respected Pickens and were happy to welcome him back to the action.   The Refugees and the newly raised Long Cane regiment joined Daniel Morgan at the Cowpens. Just like the battle at Blackstock’s Plantation, they were up against Banastre Tarleton and the British Legion.

Battle of Cowpens by Don Troiani. Source: U.S. National Guard
Battle of Cowpens by Don Troiani. Source: U.S. National Guard

Also just like the battle at Blackstock’s Plantation, the Georgia Refugees positioned themselves in the front line and teased Tarleton into a premature assault. They “opened their fire and supported it with animation, under a brisk fire from the British, until the bayonet was presented, when they retired and took their posts in the intervals left for them.”[8]   Now part of the second line with Pickens, they held just long enough to keep the bayonet charge strung out before retreating back to the third line where John Eager Howard’s continentals lay in wait to stop the advance and turn the British into a rapid retreat. Also just like at Blackstock’s Plantation, some of the Refugees rode with Major McCall and William Washington as they twice defeated cavalry charges on Morgan’s flanks.

Murder of Dunlap

Cunningham and the Refugees remained with Pickens in North Carolina for a time but wanted to return to Georgia. Colonel Clarke was on the mend and sent word that the British over in Augusta had been taking hostages again and he wanted Cunningham to come “with all the men you can with all speed.” There was a British foraging party out from Ninety-Six led by James Dunlap who had recently led missions into Long Canes to burn out the plantations of Andrew Pickens and James McCall. Clarke hoped to capture Dunlap and hold him for exchange. “Several of our friends is under Sentence of Death and it is probable that we may stay the execution.”[9]

They caught up with Dunlap at a place known as Beattie’s Mill on the Little River. Clarke was familiar with the area and sent a party “to take possession of a bridge, over which Dunlop must pass in retreat.” Clarke then attacked Dunlop who was forced into the mill and some “out-houses, but which were too open for defense against riflemen.” Dunlap held out for several hours until 34 of his 75 men were wounded, himself included.[10]

One of Clarke’s men told the tale, “we caught him at Long Cane River in Laurence County South Carolina at Hogskin Mill and captured him & his forces without the loss of a man. We returned with them to Rutherford Courthouse and there Dunlap got killed – on the way Clarke had 2 of his men hung, Hacket & Reed.”[11] As to how Dunlap lost his life, Andrew Pickens reported that he was killed by “a set of men chiefly known” who “forced the guard and shot him.” A $10,000 reward was offered but no one was apprehended.[12] Pensioner Joshua Burnett offered an extra detail or two. “We took him and the prisoners back to a little town in North Carolina called Gilbert, where Dunlap was confined for some time, in an upper room, where one of our men (as was said) privately shot him dead with a pistol.”[13]

It is difficult to determine just how hard Andrew Pickens tried to catch the men responsible for Dunlap’s murder. While he gave lip service to disapproval of the murder, at least one pensioner remembered that Pickens’ instructions to Clarke and McCall prior to marching against Dunlap were to “take no Tory prisoners but if they found any that needed killing not to spare them.”[14] In any event, the murder was widely reported and the killer named (an Over Mountain man called “Cobb”) but no one was punished or reprimanded.[15]


The late fall and winter of 1780 saw a reversal of fortune for Elijah Clarke and the Georgia Refugees. Their role at Blackstock’s Plantation was key in stopping Banastre Tarleton and ending the myth of his invincibility in the backcountry. With victory at their backs, the Georgians then went to Long Canes where they suffered defeat but were, nevertheless, instrumental in bringing Andrew Pickens and the men of his regiment back from their paroles and into the war. By the time spring came to the backcountry, a completely different picture had emerged. Instead of retreating into the mountains with little more than their lives, the Refugees had the British on their heels and were headed back to Georgia for a final confrontation at Augusta.


[1] Hugh McCall, History of Georgia (Savannah, GA: Williams, 1816), 2:344.

[2] Elijah Clarke to Charles, Earl Cornwallis, 4 November 1780, in Ian Saberton, The Cornwallis Papers (East Sussex, England: The Naval and Military Press Ltd, 2010), 3:400.

[3] James Clinton, Pension Application S2437, transcribed by Will Graves,

[4] Banastre Tarleton to Cornwallis, 21 November 1780, in Saberton, The Cornwallis Papers, 3:340.

[5] McCall, History of Georgia, 2:348.

[6] McCall, History of Georgia, 2:351.

[7] McCall, History of Georgia, 2:352.

[8] McCall, History of Georgia, 2:357.

[9] Clarke to John Cunningham, 22 March 1781, in John Cunningham, Pension Application W6752, transcribed by Will Graves,

[10] McCall, History of Georgia, 2:361.

[11] George Hillen, Pension Application S7006, transcribed by Will Graves,

[12] Andrew Pickens to Nathanael Greene, 8 April 1781, in Richard K. Showman, The Papers of General Nathanael Greene vol VIII, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 8:70.

[13] Joshua Burnett, Pension Application S32154, transcribed by Will Graves,

[14] Thomas Leslie, Pension Application W381, transcribed by Will Graves,

[15] Robert Bass, Ninety-Six, (Orangeburg, SC: Sandlapper Publishing, 1978), 349.

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