By 1778 Tory activity in Wilkes County had intensified, especially after the quick fall of Georgia's two most important cities, Savannah and Augusta, to the British. The British occupation of Georgia emboldened Tories in the northeastern section of the colony to acts of violence, one of which resulted in personal tragedy for Heard. In his absence a group of Tories invaded his home and forced his wife (Jane Germany) and their adopted daughter out of the house into the snow. They subsequently died of exposure to the cold.
Despite the death of his wife and child, and at least one attempt by a local Tory to kill him, Heard remained diligently engaged in the colonists' cause. On February 14, 1779, Heard took part in the Battle of Kettle Creek in Wilkes County. Whig forces, numbering around 350 men and commanded by colonels John Dooly and Andrew Pickens and Lieutenant Colonel Elijah Clarke, surprised and ambushed Colonel James Boyd's regiment of almost 600 Tories. The result was a complete rout of Loyalist forces; only 270 of them escaped the battlefield alive. Heard was involved in the most violent portion of the fight at Kettle Creek, where, according to one source, he distinguished himself by "encouraging his men and leading them to points of danger and vantage."
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