The Ring Fight and the Emergence of Andrew Pickens

Around mid-afternoon, Pickens’s lead elements spotted a lone Cherokee and quickly set off in pursuit. As the militia reached the middle of an open field, a large number of Cherokee warriors suddenly materialized from the tall grass. Pickens had led his men into an ambush. It was a moment of danger that Pickens had grown accustomed to.

Andrew Pickens was born in Bucks County Pennsylvania September 13, 1739. His parents, Andrew and Ann gave him the name of his father. Like many other families from eastern Pennsylvania, the Pickens eventually migrated on the Great Wagon Raod to Augusta County in the Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and then on to the Waxhaws Region of the Carolinas in 1752. Pickens served in the Cherokee War of 1759-1761 before settling in the Long Canes region of South Carolina. In the years prior to the Revolution, Pickens farmed and traded with his former enemies.

When conflict erupted between Great Britain and her colonies, Pickens allied himself with the Whig or Patriot cause. In November 1775, Pickens along with Andrew Williamson engaged a Tory force under Patrick Cunningham at the settlement of Ninety Six. Utilizing a stockade fort, Pickens and Williamson defended their position against Cunningham. Both sides exchanged rifle in the first major action of the Revolutionary War outside New England. After three days of inconclusive fighting, Williamson and Cunningham agreed to a truce. When the Cherokees struck again in the backcountry, Pickens mustered his company and joined Williamson for an expedition.

Facing nearly 200 Cherokees, Pickens calmly issued orders to his men. The militia were to form in a circle, lay down and not to open fire to wait until the warriors came within thirty yards. Pickens joined in the fight and surprisingly, the militia repulsed several assaults. Much of the fighting was hand to hand, with some warriors dispatched with knives and tomahawks. Numbers, however, began to take a toll on the militia and a number of South Carolinians fell wounded. Fortunately, help was on the way. Williamson heard the gunfire and moved quickly to reinforce Pickens. The arriving militia managed to chase off the Cherokees.

The engagement, later known as the “Ring Fight” solidified Pickens’s reputation as an officer. Despite walking into an ambush, Pickens kept his composure and managed to hold on until help arrived. Williamson was impressed and recommended Pickens’s promotion to major.

Pickens was given command of the Ninety Six regiment with the rank of Colonel following a failed expedition in 1778 against the British in southern Georgia and Florida. He led a contingent of militia in the Patriot victory at Kettle Creek, Georgia on Valentine’s Day, 1779. When Charleston fell to a British force in May 1780, Pickens elected to accept Sir Henry Clinton’s offer of parole and returned home. But when a Loyalist force burned his plantation, Pickens returned to the field. He played a major role in Daniel Morgan’s victory at Cowpens in January, 1781. For his conduct at Cowpens, Pickens was elevated to Brigadier General. Pickens participated in the capture of Augusta, Georgia and the Siege of Ninety Six later in the year. Pickens was wounded at the Battle of Eutaw of Springs, in September 1781, the last major battle of the Revolution in the Southern Colonies.

Pickens served in U.S. House of Representatives and South Carolina senate after the war. He was later appointed a commissioner to negotiate treaties with the American Indian tribes in the Carolinas and Georgia. Pickens passed away on August 11, 1817 and rests in the cemetery of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Pendleton, South Carolina.

One thought on “The Ring Fight and the Emergence of Andrew Pickens

  1. John Sinclair

    Thank you. A fascinating but sadly often-overlooked figure. For those interested, there is a wonderful biography on Pickens by Rod Andrews.


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