The Life and Times of General Andrew Pickens
Revolutionary War Hero, American Founder
University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2017, 424 pages
Book Review published on: July 21, 2017
Rod Andrew’s The Life and Times of General Andrew Pickens: Revolutionary War, American Founder may be the best biographical sketch of the Revolutionary War hero to come out in years. Andrew’s Andrew Pickens is far more larger than life than the Patriot militia commander described in previous biographies. Andrew’s exhaustive research chronicles Pickens’s prominent role spanning over fifty years, from serving in the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760–1761 to reforming the South Carolina militia system during the War of 1812.
Legendary South Carolinians such as Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion and the “Fighting Gamecock” Thomas Sumter are far better remembered for their Revolutionary War service. However, three things separate Pickens from his better known contemporaries. First, Pickens was unique in his willingness to cooperate and subordinate himself to higher ranking Continental army officers. They, in turn, came to trust his reliability and judgement. Andrew illustrates this in Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan entrusting Pickens to accomplish the critical task at the Battle of Cowpens of drawing in Tarleton’s forces by feigning a militia retreat. Secondly, Pickens had no issues with serving outside South Carolina; he participated in several key operations in Georgia, while Sumter and Marion limited their operations to local areas in South Carolina. Third, both Sumter and Marion were part of the low-country aristocracy. Pickens was a son of Scot-Irish settlers who settled in the South Carolina back country. These were roughhewn men whose culture and strict Presbyterian religious views enabled them to endure and create law and order in the back country.
Readers will note that the American Revolution might have had a different outcome if the British and loyalist forces had honored their parole agreement promise following the fall of Charleston to protect former militia and Continental regulars who laid down their arms and remained neutral. The British were successful in neutralizing South Carolina but then made the mistake of reneging on their promise to protect the former American patriots. Former patriots and their families throughout South Carolina were harassed and attacked by loyalist groups seeking retribution. Pickens stayed neutral and remained at home until it was plundered, its outbuildings were burned, and his family was harassed in the winter of 1780–1781. Pickens and his band of men left their homes to join the Continental army under Morgan. Pickens and his men would not return home until the war was won.
Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown did not bring peace to South Carolina backcountry but transitioned to a whole new level of violence as revolutionaries, loyalists, and their Cherokee allies would attack each other with extreme violence, not sparing families, other noncombatants, and settlements. Pickens realized defeating the Cherokees was important to the final defeat of the loyalists. Governors of the Carolinas and Georgia gave Pickens command of an expedition of troops against the Cherokees. On 17 October 1782, a dozen Cherokee chiefs and two hundred warriors made a treaty with Pickens to remain at peace with white settlements and not tolerate the presence of loyalists in their territory. Pickens quickly emerged as South Carolina’s foremost authority on Native American affairs. Pickens gained the respect of his former foes, the Cherokees, when he persuaded the South Carolina governor and Privy Council to provide much needed relief supplies to the Cherokees. The Cherokees paid respect to Pickens in giving him the name “Sky-a-gun-sta,” or “Wizard Owl.”
Historians and biographers alike will be impressed with Andrew’s depiction of Pickens and his efforts to ensure America’s independence. The Life and Times of General Andrew Pickens is a must read for those with an interest in South Carolina history or the Revolutionary War period.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas