When A Hike Turns Into A History Lesson

Mike Rhodes | September 4, 2020

If you’ve read any of my earlier blogs, you know I am partial to the AllTrails app when it comes to finding a hike. Saturday I had to be over in Washington in Wilkes County, so I figured I’d have a look at my options. I didn’t have much time, so a shorter hike would have to do.

My GPS guided me through miles of pines, down a gravel road and finally out of range of the cell towers. When I pulled into Kettle Creek at War Hill, I was underwhelmed at the trail head, but little did I know I had a history lesson waiting on me.

A wooden sign for War Hill Loop Trail leads to a gravel path lined with railroad ties. The lightly traveled trail has weeds grown up through gravel and plenty of fallen branches. I quickly got the feeling that I might have been the first person to travel this trail in weeks, if not months. As mentioned, it’s off the beaten path.

About 5 minutes along the path there’s a junction in the trail with another set of wooden signs. Left to continue on the War Hill Loop Trail, or step off the gravel veering right toward the Liberty Church Cemetery. Easy choice for me as I headed off to the right.

The Liberty Church trail is basically a glorified game trail with calf-high brush and plenty of spider webs. Wishing I had worn my snake boots, I high-stepped through the underbrush, spotting the occasional faded orange trail tape tied to a limb or scrub pine to faintly mark the trial ahead. No blaze paint on any trees out here.

It wasn’t long before it started to open up as I approached the site where Liberty Church had once stood. Off the trail a bit in the middle of the woods I spotted a white wooden cross. Then two more. Then a sign I’d never seen while on a hiking trail: “Warning. Protected Archaeological Area.”

There are several wooden crosses along the trail marking newly discovered burial sites.

That’s when it hit me. This is part of the battlefield. Men died here years ago fighting for something. Right here, in the middle of nowhere, off the beaten path.

Standing in the clearing which was once Liberty Church there is an overgrown dirt road off to the right. This is Settlement Road. I guess a vehicle could drive it, but it didn’t look like anyone had in a long time. The walking was pretty easy along Settlement Road. Aside from deer tracks, a toppled stand and a few deer scampering away, there wasn’t much to see here. Instead I walked and thought about the battle that had been fought on this spot. Whatever the reason, it must have been important.

Settlement Road ends abruptly, and the trail turns back into a weaving maze of faded orange tape tied to limb tips to lead the way. Soon the woods open up to low land as you approach a wooden walking bridge. On the other side you’ll once again find the gravel War Hill Loop trail. Hanging a right, I came about another sign. This one wasn’t wooden with etched letters. It contained some history of the battle.

For the last 35 minutes, I was sure this was a battle from the 1860s. It’s Washington, Georgia. Plenty of Civil War history all across our state. Nope. This battle took place on Feb. 14, 1779. This is a Revolutionary War battlefield. Right there, less than 10 miles out of downtown Washington.

The rest of my half-mile trip included a few more placards with editorial snapshots of Valentine’s Day in 1779. How a group of Patriot soldiers, outgunned by more than two to one, crossed Kettle Creek, flanked the Loyalist regiment, and eventually delivered a mortal wound to their commander and caused the Loyalists to lose confidence and the battle.

At the end of the path you’ll find an iron gate hanging on rock walls. That same gravel road that carried me to the trail leads to the top of War Hill. There is a large pillar that was commissioned in the 1930s to memorialize the men who fought that day to help America gain its freedom from British rule. There are 106 names of men who have been confirmed to have fought in that battle etched into a large slab, along with 15 grave stones. The markers are for men who fought there but lived to tell about it. This ground was so important to these men and relevant to the history of America that years after securing victory in battle these men were buried atop War Hill.

When I got home I immediately Googled “Kettle Creek At War Hill.” I suggest you do the same. Heck, here’s a link to save you the time. Take a few minutes to read about what is one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War to be fought in Georgia. How it helped America become America. If you’re like me you will then probably spend time pondering what our country is going through present-day. How the freedoms we have in this amazing country are barely appreciated by so many. How fleeting this freedom might actually be to us all.

History isn’t supposed to be hidden. I’m happy that nobody has removed the monuments atop War Hill at Kettle Creek. The men beneath those markers were essential in helping America gain its freedom. It’d be a terrible shame if this battle on Valentine’s Day 1779 turns out to be all for naught.

There are 106 names etched into this marker. They have been proven to have participated in the battle at Kettle Creek on February 14, 1779.

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