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Frontier fort found: Revolutionary War battle in Georgia

Frontier fort found on a farm in Georgia was the scene of a 1779 shootout with British troops. The frontier fort was found by archeologists midway between Athens and Augusta.

By Russ BynumAssociated Press / May 6, 2013

Archaeologists from the nonprofit LAMAR Institute use metal detectors to search for artifacts from a small Revolutionary War fort in Wilkes County in northeast Georgia.

(AP Photo/LAMAR Institute, Rita Elliott)

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Savannah, Ga.

Less than two months after British forces captured Savannah in December 1778, patriot militiamen scored a rare Revolutionary War victory in Georgia after a short but violent gun battle forced British loyalists to abandon a small fort built on a frontiersman's cattle farm.

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More than 234 years later, archaeologists say they've pinpointed the location of Carr's Fort in northeastern Georgia after a search with metal detectors covering more than 4 square miles turned up musket balls and rifle parts as well as horse shoes and old frying pans.

The February 1779 shootout at Carr's Fort turned back men sent to Wilkes County to recruit colonists loyal to the British army. It was also a prelude to the more prominent battle of Kettle Creek, where the same patriot fighters who attacked the fort went on to ambush and decimate an advancing British force of roughly 800 men.

The battles were a blow to British plans to make gains in Georgia, the last of the original 13 colonies, and other Southern settlements by bolstering their ranks with colonists sympathetic to the crown.

"The war was going badly up north for the British, so they decided to have a southern campaign and shipped a huge amount of troops down here and started recruiting loyal followers," said Dan Elliott, the Georgia-based archaeologist who found the fort with a team from the nonprofit research group, the LAMAR Institute. "Kettle Creek was probably the best victory that the Georgians ever had in the Revolutionary War. Most battles were failures like the capture of Savannah."

Carr's Fort, midway between Athens and Augusta, was one of numerous small outposts on the colonial frontier built for American settlers to defend themselves against enemy soldiers and hostile Indians.

Robert Carr was a cattle farmer who settled with his wife, children and a single middle-aged female slave in Wilkes County after colonists started arriving there in 1773. Carr also served as captain of a militia company of roughly 100 men. Responsible for leading his militiamen and looking out for their families, Carr built a stockade wall to protect his farmhouse and surrounding property, which included shacks and crude shelters.

Though probably no larger in area than a tennis court, Carr's Fort would have needed to hold 300 or more people, said Robert Scott Davis, a history professor at Wallace State Community College in Alabama who has studied and written about Wilkes County's role in the American Revolution since the 1970s.

"Most of the forts on the frontier were small community affairs," Davis said. "Everybody in the militia company took refuge inside the fort when the community was in danger because either the British were coming or the Indians were coming."

In February 1779, about 80 British loyalists marched into Carr's Fort and took control, presumably while Carr and other patriot militiamen were away. Patriots responded quickly by sending 200 men from Georgia and South Carolina to retake the fort. Davis said the Feb. 10 gunbattle was short, with most of the shooting likely over within 20 minutes, but it left more than a dozen fighters dead or wounded on each side. Patriots gained the upper floor of a nearby building and fired down into the fort. Innocent bystanders — women, children and old men inside the stockade walls — had to huddle under cover during the firefight.

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