Sunday, November 2, 2014

People: Wizard Owl

As I studied  the American War for Independence in preparing the Yankee Doodle Spies novels, the name of Andrew Pickens seemed to appear at pivotal moments in the Southern Campaign. Who was this person? When one thinks of the American revolution in South Carolina the names Francis Marion, William Moultrie, and Thomas Sumter readily come to mind.  I thought it time to give Pickens his due.

General Andrew Pickens
 Frontiersman:  This little known First Patriot was one of the foremost of South Carolinians and Americans. He was a prominent frontiersman, successful farmer and accomplished soldier, who later went on to serve as a South Carolina representative in Congress. Andrew Pickens was born in Pennsylvania in 1739. The son of Scots-Irish immigrants,at thirteen, Pickens moved with his family to seek lands further south. They traveled the route of many other Scots-Irish of the time: down the Shenandoah Valley where they settled for a while in Augusta County, Virginia. But eventually they moved on to South Carolina settling first near Waxhaws on the North-South Carolina border and finally Abbeville County, near the Georgia line. The family settled in an area called the Long Canes. Here Andrew  Pickens married. He farmed and raised cattle like many of the other settlers. The young Pickens became acquainted with his Indian neighbors traded with them.

 Patriot:  As the American Revolution approached, political feelings were strong in the South - both ways. From the start, its inhabitants split between Patriots and Loyalists (or Whigs and Tories). Pickens, was an ardent Patriot and soon emerged as a military leader, first in expeditions as a militia captain against the Cherokee, who had allied with the Loyalists in hopes of retaining their lands. In 1779, the British sent  soldiers to South Carolina and North Georgia to encourage Loyalist support. The now Colonel Pickens led his three-hundred man militia in efforts to aid the Patriot cause. He overtook and defeated a much larger force of over 700 men under Loyalist Colonel Boyd at Kettle Creek in North Georgia just south of the Long Canes.

Pickens defeated a much larger force at Kettle Creek, Georgia

 Warrior:  The victory at Kettle Creek slowed the recruitment of Loyalists on the frontier. But by 1780  the British had  taken Charleston, captured the southern Continental Army, and marched inland from the Carolina coast. The situation was dire.  When Charleston fell in May of 1780, Pickens and other militia leaders surrendered to the British, and, on oath, agreed to sit out the war under British protection. But the Loyalists destroyed his farm and frightened his family, providing Pickens the grounds to declare his parole broken and take the field once more. He called together his band of militia and began to wage guerrilla war in reprisal.  The war in the south was brutal. Pickens borrowed heavily from the Cherokee style of war and used those skills in partisan warfare.  He was  courageous and brilliant in leading partisans.

Battle of the Cowpens

In January 1781, British Colonel Bastre Tarlton tried to destroy an American force under famed rifleman Daniel Morgan. Pickens was a  leader of militias in the engagement and played a key role in defeating British Colonel Tarleton. American commander Daniel Morgan had decided to use the reputation of the militia as rabble who wouldn't stand against a disciplined British attack to bait the British.  As they waited for the enemy, Morgan asked them for "just two volleys and then retreat." Easier said then done in most cases.  But with Pickens commanding the militia they did just as Morgan asked. When the British saw the militia retreat they thought they had the victory won and advanced straight into Morgan's trap. Pickens men rallied behind the Continentals and took part in the victory, which came at a crucial time for Patriots in the south. Until then they had been repeatedly forced to retreat before British forces. For his "spirited conduct" at Cowpens, the Continental Congress presented Pickens with a sword and the State of South Carolina promoted him to Brigadier-General in the state militia. Pickens seemed to be at all the key engagements in the south. Besides Cowpens, Charleston and Savannah, he was at Augusta (Georgia) when it fell. Pickens was at Ninety-Six for more than one of its many engagements. And in numerous skirmishes he leveraged his knowledge of the Cherokee way of war to flush out the many Tories in their midst.

Action at Ninety-Six

Pickens later served in Congress
 Citizen:  After the Revolution, Pickens acquired land in frontier South Carolina on the banks of the Keowee River, across from the old Cherokee town of Seneca. There he built a house he named "Hopewell" and became a  back country gentleman. He served as a political middleman between the Cherokees and the new American nation. Although  Pickens had begun his military career by fighting the Cherokee in the Anglo-Cherokee War, he was well-respected by tribal leaders. They called him "Skyagunsta" – or Wizard Owl. In his later years he sympathized with Indian causes.  Among the whites he was sometimes known as "The Fighting Elder" because of his Presbyterian beliefs. Like many frontier settlers, Pickens was a family man. He married Rebecca Floride Calhoun in 1765. They had 12 children. Pickens served as A US Congressman. His son, Andrew Pickens Jr. was governor of South Carolina from 1817-1819 and Ezekiel Pickens became a lieutenant governor of South Carolina from 1802-1804. A grandson, Francis Wilkinson Pickens, was also a governor of South Carolina from 1860-1862.  Andrew Pickens died near Tamassee, South Carolina, in Oconee County, on Aug. 11, 1817. He is buried at Old Stone Church Cemetery in Clemson, South Carolina. In a final note, It is said that Pickens war experiences  helped provide the basis for the Mel Gibson film, The Patriot. And there are certainly some overlaps indicating they drew somewhat from it. Clearly, if the writers had stayed truer to Pickens remarkable life, the film would have been all the better for it. Certainly our nation is all the better for it.

General Andrew Pickens' Grave at Clemson

1 comment:

  1. I personally would like to see a Post Script of the battle of Ninety-Six. Tory forces, Pickens forces and route. Fine as this is, mine is just a personal preference.