The preservation of historical sites often goes through many challenges on its way to succeeding. It does not often involve the use of dogs who are trained especially to detect cadavers using their incredible sense of smell. In the areas surrounding Washington, Ga., however, this is exactly what has happened recently as the local battlefield association managed to secure further resources and support for their campaign to chart the area as an important landmark in the Revolutionary War.
The battle happened nearly 240 years ago, shortly after victories for the British troops at Savannah and Augusta, Ga. The British were riding high after these two crucial victories but it was this confidence that was to be their downfall in this particular skirmish. A group of Patriots were led by the Colonel Andrew Pickens and were able to defeat a sizeable force of British Loyalists – in fact the British were almost twice the number of the American Patriots in this particular battle. Catching the British off guard was key to the success of the Patriots and Pickens’ men in this battle.
This pivotal battle is often not represented in the literature surrounding the Revolutionary War but in fact, it remains very important. Equally important in the discovery of graves – and the resulting success of the preservation effort here – was the use of dogs with senses of smell sensitive enough to detect the remains of slain soldiers lying in makeshift graves in the forested area. As a result, and according to Walker Chewning, president of the Kettle Creek Battlefield Association, the committee was able to locate almost two dozen graves in the area! This was after the cadaver dogs had surveyed only a quarter of the battlegrounds that were suspected to have been used in the skirmish near Washington, Ga.
Chewning spoke with media after the incredible news, and was able to share exciting information about the ability of the cadaver dogs, “the use of cadaver dogs is something new in archaeological research” and certainly something the association will continue to utilize.” Five of the spots the dogs highlighted as especially important were further explored by archaeologists.
These specialists employed the use of ground-penetrating radar and even excavation to continue their research. Archaeologist Tom Gresham was part of the team but said the progress is slow and the practice is extremely complex because “very few of these kinds of graves – battle-buried dead – have been excavated.”
This research has helped the Kettle Creek Battlefield Association earn extra federal money for an expansion in their historic preservation and tourism efforts. In the month that marked the anniversary of the battle, the committee was thrilled to announce the further acquisition of 180 acres that more than triples the current area occupied by the park that honors the American Revolutionary War.
With multiple contributions from places like the Civil War Trust, Watson-Brown Foundation, and the American Battlefield Protection Program, the preserved area has been able to fund an expansion from 77 to 257 acres, for nearly $430,000. Chewning said the expansion is incredibly important to showing today’s population what the experience might have been like to be a soldier nearly 250 years ago. “It’s in the same condition it was when the battle occurred 240 years ago, so when you walk this site you are able to actually experience what the soldiers experienced that day, February 14, 1779,” Chewning said.