Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina

Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina


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Relying upon strategic creativity, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and a mixed Patriot force rout British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and a group of Redcoats and Loyalists at the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781.

Commander in chief of the Southern Army, Major General Nathaniel Greene had decided to divide Patriot forces in the Carolinas in order to force the larger British contingent under General Charles Cornwallis to fight them on multiple fronts—and because smaller groups of men were easier for the beleaguered Patriots to feed. Daniel Morgan took 300 Continental riflemen and 740 militiamen with the intention of attacking the British backcountry fort, Ninety-Six.

In response, Cornwallis dispatched Tarleton with 1,100 Redcoats and Loyalists to catch Morgan, whom he feared might instigate a broad-based backcountry Patriot uprising. Morgan prepared for the encounter with Tarleton by backing his men up to a river at Cowpens, north of Ninety-Six.

As Tarleton’s men attacked, Morgan instructed the militia to skirmish with them, but to leave the front line after firing two rounds. The British mistook the repositioning of the Americans as a rout and ran into an unexpected volley of concentrated rifle fire coupled with a cavalry charge and followed by the return of the militia. Tarleton escaped, but Morgan’s troops decimated his army.

American rifles, scorned by Britain’s professional soldiers, proved devastatingly effective in this engagement. The British lost 110 men and more than 200 more were wounded, while an additional 500 were captured. The American losses totaled only 12 killed and 60 wounded in the first Patriot victory to demonstrate that the American forces could outfight a similar British force without any other factors—such as surprise or geography—to assist them.


South Carolina Dugans in the American Revolution

Painting of the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, January 17, 1781
This is a story about the South Carolina branch of the Dougan family, the first cousins of our 5th great-grandfather James Dougan of North Carolina. These three male cousins also served in the American Revolution and their experience as a family demonstrates that it wasn't a gentleman's war, but a vicious hate-filled conflict that pitted neighbor against neighbor - no more so than in the Carolinas.

When Thomas and Eleanor Dougan (our 7th great-grandparents) came from Donegal, Ireland, to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the first half of the 18th century, they brought sons Robert, Joseph, and Thomas (our 6th great-grandfather), and a daughter. Before the family moved down to North Carolina Colony about 1763, the oldest son Robert, who spelled his name Dugan, had already moved to South Carolina Colony with a group of Scots-Irish from Lancaster County, his wife Mary and three sons, James, Robert and Thomas (there will continue to be duplicate first names in Dougan/Dugan descent).

This branch settled in the Fairforest Creek area, now in Union County. On 9 December 1754, Robert Dugan purchased 497 acres on the south side of Fairforest Creek, "including the little river path." The deed was filed in Anson County, North Carolina. In fact, the settlers believed they were living in North Carolina at the time. They discovered their mistake a few months later when Dugan and 62 other settlers petitioned the Governor General of North Carolina Colony to protect them from the Indians, who had attacked, robbed and killed cattle, horses and some settlers. They wanted a fort built between the Enoree River and the headwaters of Thickety Creek (which still bears this lovely quaint name). In 1756 he made a complaint that the Cherokee had broken into his cabin and stolen bedding and 9 bells worth over 4 pounds sterling. When he made his sworn statement, he signed his name Robt O Dugan (the word 'of' is written under the O - he still used Irish signage. You'll recall he was born in northeast Ireland).

Anson County, North Carolina

The Dugans helped to establish the Fairforest Presbyterian Church in Union County in 1765, the first Presbyterian church in South Carolina. They didn't have a pastor until the 1790s, but an occasional preacher was sent from Pennsylvania and New York for a visit through the south, which must have been quite an undertaking.

Present-day Union County, South Carolina

According to The Annals of Newberry County by John Belton O'Neall, by the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, some of the family, in particular Thomas Dugan (Robert's son), settled in the Enoree and Duncan Creek settlement area of what became Newberry County.

Newberry County, South Carolina
The author declared that all the families in the area were Whigs (pro-independence). According to O'Neall, Robert's son Thomas (1748-1822), who supplied forage and provisions to the American forces, became a captain in the Revolution, commanding a company of militia, who were scouts and, the author believed, fought at King's Mountain. After the organization of the Upper Regiment (of militia,) of Newberry County, he had its command as its colonel. He and his wife Mary Johnston Dugan had eight sons. They and their families are buried at King's Creek Cemetery.
Colonel Thomas and Mary Dugan's Tombstone
The colonel's brother Robert, Jr. served from the Newberry District - 1779, as a lieutenant under Capt. Levi Casey and Col. James Williams 1780-1781, as a lieutenant under Maj. Samuel Taylor and possibly as a captain. The third son, John also served.

Apparently Col. Thomas, Robert, Jr. and John Dugan were at the Battle of Cowpens, which after numerous American defeats was the battle instrumental in turning the tide against the British. By October, 1781, the war ended with Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown. Battle of Cowpens HERE

After the battle the brothers Robert and John went home for a "sly" visit to their mother. "Sly" because the Up Country of South Carolina was rife with American Tories. In the middle of the night, their mother heard knocking on the door and a dozen or more voices demanding entrance. She thrust one of the brothers into the fireplace opening. The other threw himself from the upper window, hoping to escape under cover of darkness, but "shivered" a bone in his leg, which caused his capture. The Dugans' Tory neighbors fired a small house in the yard and by its light proceeded to hang Robert and John from the limb of a nearby oak. With broadswords, they hewed off their victims' limbs, flesh and heads before their mother's eyes. After they left, she gathered the remains of her murdered boys and buried them on a hillside (probably with the help of a trusted neighbor). O'Neill in his book claims that the Turner boys were the culprits, in retribution for the death of a brother. It appears that Colonel Thomas later hanged some of the murderers at the crossroads. In September 1785, Colonel Thomas signed a receipt for pay on behalf of his dead brother Robert and perhaps for his dead brother John.

So prevalent in Scots-Irish history in Britain and Ireland, blood feuds continued in the United States. I just wanted you to think on your first cousins, 7 times removed, and the dangers of being an American patriot.

As a footnote, it appears Mariah Dugan, a granddaughter of Colonel Thomas Dugan, married a William Turner, who was born after the war, so perhaps that feud came to an end.


Contents

On October 14, 1780, Continental Army commander General George Washington chose Nathanael Greene, a Rhode Island Quaker officer, to be commander of the Southern Department of the rebel Continental forces. [7] Greene's task was not an easy one. In 1780 the Carolinas had been the scene of a long string of disasters for the Continental Army, the worst being the capture of one American army under Gen. Benjamin Lincoln in May 1780, at the siege of Charleston. The British took control of this city, the largest in the South and the capital of South Carolina, and occupied it. Later that year another Colonial army, commanded by Gen. Horatio Gates, was destroyed at the Battle of Camden. A victory of Colonial militia over their Loyalist counterparts at the Battle of Kings Mountain on the northwest frontier in October had bought time, but most of South Carolina was still occupied by the British. When Greene took command, the southern army numbered 2307 men (on paper, 1482 present), of whom only 949 were Continental regulars, mostly of the famous and highly trained "Maryland Line" regiment. [8]

On December 3, Brigadier General Daniel Morgan reported for duty to Greene's headquarters at Charlotte, North Carolina. [9] At the start of the Revolution, Morgan, whose military experience dated to the French and Indian War (1754–1763), had served at the siege of Boston in 1775. [10] Later he participated in the 1775 invasion of Canada and its climactic battle, the Battle of Quebec. That battle, on December 31, 1775, ended in defeat and Morgan's capture by the British. [11]

Morgan was exchanged in January 1777 and placed by George Washington in command of a picked force of 500 trained riflemen, known as Morgan's Riflemen. Morgan and his men played a key role in the 1777 victory at Saratoga along the Hudson River in upstate New York, which proved to be a turning point of the entire war. [12] Bitter after being passed over for promotion and plagued by severe attacks of sciatica, Morgan left the rebel army in 1779. A year later he was promoted to brigadier general and returned to service in the Southern Department. [13]

Greene decided that his weak army was unable to meet the British in a stand-up fight. He made the unconventional decision to divide his army, sending a detachment west of the Catawba River to raise the morale of the locals and find supplies beyond the limited amounts available around Charlotte. [14] Greene gave Morgan command of this wing and instructed him to join with the militia west of the Catawba and take command of them. [15] Morgan headed west on December 21, charged with taking position between the Broad and Pacolet rivers, and protecting the civilians in that area. He had 600 men, some 400 of which were Continentals, mostly the Marylanders. The rest were Virginia militia who had experience as Continentals. [16] By Christmas Day Morgan had reached the Pacolet River. He was joined by 60 more South Carolina militia led by the experienced guerrilla partisan Andrew Pickens. [17] Other militia from Georgia and the Carolinas joined Morgan's camp. [18]

Meanwhile, Lord Cornwallis was planning to return to North Carolina and conduct the invasion that he had postponed after the defeat at Kings Mountain. [19] Morgan's force represented a threat to his left. Additionally, Cornwallis received incorrect intelligence claiming that Morgan was going to attack the important British fort of American Loyalists at Ninety Six, in western South Carolina. Seeking to save the fort and defeat Morgan's command, Cornwallis on January 2 ordered cavalry (dragoons) Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton to the west. [ citation needed ]

Tarleton was 26 years old and had enjoyed a spectacular career in his service with the British in the colonies. In December 1776, he and a small party surprised and captured Colonial Gen. Charles Lee in New Jersey. He served with distinction at the siege of Charleston and the Battle of Camden. Commanding the British Legion, a mixed infantry/cavalry force composed of American Loyalists who constituted some of the best British troops in the Carolinas, Tarleton won victories at Monck's Corner and Fishing Creek. He became infamous among Colonists after his victory at the Battle of Waxhaws, because his men had killed American soldiers after they had surrendered. In Tarleton's account published in the British Isles in 1781, he said that his horse had been shot from under him during the initial charge and his men, thinking him dead, engaged in "a vindictive asperity not easily restrained". [20]

Tarleton and the Legion marched to Ninety Six. After learning Morgan was not there, Tarleton decided to increase his forces. He asked for reinforcements of British regulars, which Cornwallis sent. Tarleton set out with his enlarged command to drive Morgan across the Broad River. [21] On January 12 he received accurate news of Morgan's location and continued with hard marching, building boats to cross rivers that were flooding with winter rains. [22] Receiving word that Tarleton was in hot pursuit, Morgan retreated north, to avoid being trapped between Tarleton and Cornwallis. [23]

By the afternoon of the 16th, Morgan was approaching the Broad River, which was high with flood waters and reported difficult to cross. He knew Tarleton was close behind. By nightfall he had reached a place called locally "Hannah's Cowpens", a well-known grazing area for local cattle. [24] Pickens, who had been patrolling, arrived that night to join Morgan with his large body of irregular militia. Morgan decided to stand and fight rather than continue to retreat and risk being caught by Tarleton while fording the Broad River. Learning of Morgan's location, Tarleton pushed his troops, marching at 3 a.m. instead of camping for the night. [25]

Continental force Edit

The size of the American force at Cowpens remains in dispute. Morgan claimed in his official report to have had about 800 men at Cowpens, which is substantially supported by historian John Buchanan, whose estimate is between 800 and 1000 men. [26] In contrast, historian Lawrence E. Babits, in his detailed study of the battle, estimates that the strength of Morgan's command on the day of the battle was closer to 1,900, composed of:

  • A battalion of Continental infantry under Lt. Col. John Eager Howard of Baltimore, with one company from Delaware ("Delaware Line"), one from Virginia, and three from the famous stalwart "Maryland Line" regiment, each with a strength of sixty men (300) [27]
  • A company of Virginia state militia troops under Captain John Lawson [28] (75) [29]
  • A company of South Carolina state troops under Captain Joseph Pickens (60) [30]
  • A small company of North Carolina state troops under Captain Henry Connelly (number not given) [28]
  • A Virginia militia battalion under Frank Triplett [31] (160) [32]
  • Three companies of Virginia militia under Major David Campbell (50) [33]
  • A battalion of North Carolina militia under Colonel Joseph McDowell (260–285) [34]
  • A brigade of four battalions of South Carolina militia under Colonel Andrew Pickens, comprising a three-company battalion of the Spartan Regiment under Lt. Col. Benjamin Roebuck, a four-company battalion of the Spartan Regiment under Col. John Thomas, five companies of the Little River Regiment under Lt. Col. Joseph Hayes, and seven companies of the Fair Forest Regiment under Col. Thomas Brandon. Babits states [35] that this battalion "ranged in size from 120 to more than 250 men". If Roebuck's three companies numbered 120 and Brandon's seven companies numbered 250, then Thomas's four companies probably numbered about 160 and Hayes's five companies about 200, for a total of 730.
  • Three small companies of Georgia militia commanded by Major Cunningham [36] who numbered 55 [37]
  • A detachment of the 1st and 3rd Continental Light Dragoons under Lt. Col. William Washington (82), who was a second cousin of Gen. George Washington. [38]
  • Detachments of state dragoons from North Carolina and Virginia (30) [39]
  • A detachment of South Carolina state dragoons, with a few mounted Georgians, commanded by Major James McCall (25) [40]
  • A company of newly raised volunteers from the local South Carolina militia commanded by Major Benjamin Jolly (45) [41]

Babits's figures can be summarized as follows: 82 Continental light dragoons, 55 state dragoons, 45 militia dragoons, 300 Continental infantry, about 150 state infantry, and 1,255–1,280 militia infantry, for a total of 1,887–1,912 officers and men. Broken down by state, there were about 855 South Carolinians, 442 Virginians, 290–315 North Carolinians, 180 Marylanders, 60 Georgians, and 60 Delawareans.

Morgan's forces were strengthened by these core elements of relatively seasoned troops and his own brilliance in leadership. His Continentals were veterans (Marylanders from the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn), and many of his militia, which included some Overmountain Men, who had fought at the Battle of Musgrove Mill and the Battle of Kings Mountain. The experienced British forces (and particularly their relatively young commander) were accustomed, especially in the Southern Theater, to easily routing often "green" militia, and could have underestimated the opposition.

British force Edit

  • The British Legion: 250 cavalry and 200 infantry, [42]
  • A troop of the 17th Light Dragoons (50),
  • A battery of the Royal Artillery (24) with two 3-pounder cannons [43] (177)
  • Light infantry company of the 16th Regiment of Foot (42) under Major Arthur MacArthur (334)
  • Light company of the Loyalist Prince of Wales's American Regiment (31)
  • A company of Loyalist guides (50)

A total of over 1,150 officers and men. [44]

Broken down by troop classification, there were 300 cavalry, 553 regulars, 24 artillerymen, and 281 militia. From these numbers, around half of Tarleton's force were Loyalist troops recruited in the colonies (531 out of 1,158). Tarleton's regular troops from the Royal Artillery, 17th Light Dragoons, and the 7th, 16th, and 71st Regiments of Foot were reliable and seasoned soldiers. [45] Tarleton's own Loyalist unit, the British Legion, had established a fierce reputation as formidable pursuers, being used to great effect at Waxhaws and Camden, [46] but had an uncertain reputation when facing determined opposition. [46]

Morgan's plan Edit

Daniel Morgan turned to his advantage the landscape of Cowpens, the varying reliability of his troops, his expectations of his opponent, and the time available before Tarleton's arrival. [47] Morgan knew that untrained militiamen, which comprised a large portion of his force, were generally unreliable in a pitched battle, and in the past had routed at the first hint of defeat and abandoned the regulars. [48] For instance, the Battle of Camden had ended in disaster when the militia, which comprised half of the American force, broke and ran as soon as the fighting started, leaving the American flank exposed. To eliminate that possibility, he defied convention by placing his army between the Broad and Pacolet rivers, thus making escape impossible if the army was routed. [ citation needed ] Selecting a low hill as the center of his position, he placed his Continental infantry on it, [49] deliberately leaving his flanks exposed to his opponent. With a ravine on their right flank and a creek on their left flank, Morgan reasoned his forces were sufficiently protected against possible British flanking maneuvers at the beginning of the battle. [50]

Morgan surmised that Tarleton would be highly confident and attack him head on, without pausing to devise a more subtle plan. He therefore arranged his forces to encourage this presupposed impetuosity of his opponent by establishing three lines of soldiers: one of sharpshooters, one of militia, and a main line of regulars and experienced militia. The first line was 150 select riflemen from North Carolina (Major McDowell) and Georgia (Major Cunningham). The second line consisted of 300 militiamen under the command of Colonel Andrew Pickens. The effect was the conspicuous placement of weak militia in the center-front, in order to encourage Tarleton to attack there. The skirmishers and militia screened the veteran Continental regulars, while inflicting damage as the British advanced. [ citation needed ] Morgan asked the militia to fire two volleys, something they could achieve, [49] and then withdraw to the left and re-form in the rear, behind the third line, under the cover of reserve light dragoons commanded by Colonel William Washington and James McCall. The withdrawal of the militia was, in effect, a feigned retreat which would further embolden Tarleton. [ citation needed ] The third line, on the hill, was manned by Morgan's most seasoned troops: around 550 Continental regulars comprising Brooklyn veterans: the famed Maryland Line and Delaware Line, supported by experienced militiamen from Georgia and Virginia. Colonel John Eager Howard of Baltimore commanded the Continental regulars, while Colonels Tate and Triplett commanded the experienced militia. The third line could be expected to stand and hold against the British force. Morgan expected that the British advance uphill would be disorganized, weakened both physically and psychologically by the first two lines, before engaging the third. The third line would also withdraw a short distance to add to the appearance of a rout. [ citation needed ]

In developing his tactics at Cowpens, as historian John Buchanan wrote, Morgan may have been "the only general in the American Revolution, on either side, to produce a significant original tactical thought". [51]

Tarleton's approach Edit

At 2:00 a.m. on January 17, 1781, Tarleton roused his troops and continued his march to Cowpens. Lawrence Babits states that, "in the five days before Cowpens, the British were subjected to stress that could only be alleviated by rest and proper diet". He points out that "in the forty-eight hours before the battle, the British ran out of food and had less than four hours’ sleep". [52] Over the whole period, Tarleton's brigade did a great deal of rapid marching across difficult terrain. Babits concludes that they reached the battlefield exhausted and malnourished. Tarleton sensed victory and nothing would persuade him to delay. His Tory scouts had told him of the countryside Morgan was fighting on, and he was certain of success because Morgan's soldiers, mostly militiamen, seemed to be caught between mostly experienced British troops and a flooding river. [53] As soon as he reached the spot, Tarleton formed a battle line, which consisted of dragoons on his flanks, with his two grasshopper cannons in between the British Regulars and American Loyalists. [ citation needed ]

Tarleton's plan was simple and direct. Most of his infantry (including that of the Legion) would be assembled in linear formation and move directly upon Morgan. The right and left flanks of this line would be protected by dragoon units. In reserve were the 250-man battalion of Scottish Highlanders (71st Regiment of Foot), commanded by Major Arthur MacArthur, a professional soldier of long experience who had served in the Dutch Scotch Brigade. Finally, Tarleton kept the 200-man cavalry contingent of his Legion ready to be unleashed when the Americans broke and ran. [ citation needed ]

A few minutes before sunrise, Tarleton's vanguard emerged from the woods in front of the American position. Tarleton ordered his dragoons to attack the first line of skirmishers, who opened fire and shot fifteen dragoons. When the dragoons promptly retreated, Tarleton immediately ordered an infantry charge, without pausing to study the American deployment or to allow the rest of his infantry and his cavalry reserve to make it out of the woods. Tarleton attacked the skirmish line without pausing, deploying his main body and his two grasshopper cannons. The American skirmishers kept firing as they withdrew to join the second line manned by Pickens's irregular militia. The British attacked again, this time reaching the militiamen, who (as ordered) poured two volleys into the enemy, especially targeting commanders. The British—with 40% of their casualties being officers—were astonished and confused. They reorganized and continued to advance. Tarleton ordered one of his officers, Ogilvie, to charge with some dragoons into the "defeated" Americans. His men moved forward in regular formation and were momentarily paused by the militia musket fire but continued to advance. Pickens's militia seemed to "flee" as usual, around the American left to the rear as planned after getting off their second volley. [54]

Taking the withdrawal of the first two lines as a full blown retreat, the British advanced headlong into the third and final line of disciplined Maryland and Delaware regulars which awaited them on the hill. The 71st Highlanders were ordered to flank the American right. John Eager Howard spotted the flanking movement and ordered the Virginia militiamen manning the American right to turn and face the Scots. However, in the noise of battle, Howard's order was misunderstood and the militiamen began to withdraw. It was now 7:45 am and the British had been fighting for nearly an hour. They were tired and disorganized, but they saw the Virginia militia on the rebels’ right withdrawing and believed the Americans were on the run. They charged, breaking formation and advancing in a chaotic mass. Morgan ordered a volley. Howard's "fleeing" militia suddenly stopped their withdrawal and made an about-face. The Virginians fired into the British at a range of no more than thirty yards, with massive effect, causing the confused British to lurch to a halt. John Eager Howard shouted, "Charge bayonets!" [55]

The Continentals in the center, as ordered, mounted a bayonet charge. Tarleton's force, faced with a terrible surprise, began to collapse some men surrendering on the spot, while others turned and ran. Howard's men charged forward and seized the two British grasshopper cannons. William Washington's cavalry came around from behind the opposite American left to hit the British on their right flank and rear. Pickens's militia, having now reorganized, charged out from behind the hill, completing a 360-degree circle around the American position to hit the 71st Highlanders on the British left flank and rear. Howard ordered the Virginia militia, whose withdrawal had brought on the British ill-fated charge, to turn about and attack the Scots from the other direction.

The shock of the sudden charge, coupled with the reappearance of the American militiamen on the left flank where Tarleton's exhausted men expected to see their own cavalry, proved too much for the British. Nearly half of the British and Loyalist infantrymen fell to the ground whether they were wounded or not. Their will to fight was gone. Historian Lawrence Babits diagnoses "combat shock" as the cause for this abrupt British collapse—the effects of exhaustion, hunger, and demoralization suddenly catching up with them. [56] Caught in a clever double envelopment that has been compared with the Battle of Cannae in ancient times, [57] many of the British surrendered.

When Tarleton's right flank and center line collapsed, only a minority of the 71st Highlanders were putting up a fight against part of Howard's line. Tarleton, realizing the desperate nature of what was occurring, rode back to his one unit left that was whole, the British Legion cavalry. He ordered them to charge, but they refused and fled the field. [58] The Highlanders, surrounded by militia and Continentals, surrendered. Desperate to save something, Tarleton found about forty cavalrymen and with them tried to retrieve his two cannons, but they had been captured, and he too retreated from the field. [6] It was now 8:00 a.m. and the battle had lasted approximately one hour. [6] In his retreat, Tarleton was able to escape capture by forcing a local planter named Adam Goudylock to serve as a guide. [59]

Morgan's army took 712 prisoners, which included 200 wounded. Even worse for the British, the forces lost (especially the British Legion and the dragoons) constituted the cream of Cornwallis's army. Additionally, 110 British soldiers were killed in action, and every artilleryman was either killed or incapacitated by wounds. [60] Tarleton suffered an 86 percent casualty rate, and his brigade had been wiped out as a fighting force. [6] John Eager Howard quoted Maj. McArthur of the 71st Highlanders, now a prisoner of the Americans, as saying that "he was an officer before Tarleton was born that the best troops in the service were put under 'that boy' to be sacrificed." [61] An American prisoner later told that when Tarleton reached Cornwallis and reported the disaster, Cornwallis placed his sword tip on the ground and leaned on it until the blade snapped. [62]

Historian Lawrence E. Babits has demonstrated that Morgan's official report of 73 casualties appears to have only included his Continental troops. From surviving records, he has been able to identify by name 128 Colonial soldiers who were either killed or wounded at Cowpens. He also presents an entry in the North Carolina State Records that shows 68 Continental and 80 Militia casualties. It would appear that both the number of Morgan's casualties and the total strength of his force were about double what he officially reported. [63]

Tarleton's apparent recklessness in pushing his command so hard in pursuit of Morgan that they reached the battlefield in desperate need of rest and food may be explained by the fact that, up until Cowpens, every battle that he and his British Legion had fought in the South had been a relatively easy victory. He appears to have been so concerned with pursuing Morgan that he quite forgot that it was necessary for his men to be in a fit condition to fight a battle once they caught him, though Cornwallis himself did press Tarleton to take aggressive action. [64]

Coming in the wake of the American debacle at Camden, Cowpens was a surprising victory and a turning point that changed the psychology of the entire war—"spiriting up the people", not only those of the backcountry Carolinas, but those in all the Southern states. As it was, the Americans were encouraged to fight further, and the Loyalists and British were demoralized. Furthermore, its strategic result—the destruction of an important part of the British army in the South—was crucial toward ending the war. Along with the British defeat at the Battle of Kings Mountain, Cowpens was a serious blow to Cornwallis, who might have defeated much of the remaining resistance in South Carolina had Tarleton won at Cowpens. Instead, the battle set in motion a series of events leading to the end of the war. Cornwallis abandoned his pacification efforts in South Carolina, stripped his army of its excess baggage, and pursued Greene's force into North Carolina. Skirmishes occurred at the Catawba River (February 1, 1781) and other fords. Yet, after a long chase Cornwallis met Greene at the Battle of Guilford Court House, winning a pyrrhic victory that so damaged his army that he withdrew to Yorktown, Virginia, to rest and refit. Washington seized this opportunity to trap and defeat Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, which caused the British to give up their efforts to defeat the Americans. [ citation needed ]

In the opinion of John Marshall, "Seldom has a battle, in which greater numbers were not engaged, been so important in its consequences as that of Cowpens." [65] It gave General Nathanael Greene his chance to conduct a campaign of "dazzling shiftiness" that led Cornwallis by "an unbroken chain of consequences to the catastrophe at Yorktown which finally separated America from the British crown". [66]


The Battle of Cowpens (1781)

During the Southern Theater of the Revolutionary War, Major-General Lord Charles Cornwallis had ordered his subordinate Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarlerton to destroy the forces of Major-General Daniel Morgan to protect Cornwallis’ left flank as he pursued Major-General Nathaniel Greene. Morgan made his stand at Cowpen’s near the Broad River in Cherokee county, South Carolina. Morgan deploying a defense-in-depth strategy won a resounding victory against the British forces under Tarlerton and a turning point of the war in the South.

Major operations in the South during 1780

After the British defeat in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, the British turned their attention to the southern colonies with a Southern Strategy. Savannah, Georgia quickly fell in late 1778 and by May 1780, Charleston, South Carolina had also fell to the British, delivering to the Americans a crushing blow, with over 3,000 Continental Army troops captured (Mitchell, 162). The Carolina’s was now open to the British and key locations in the countryside were taken. Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton appointed Major-General Lord Cornwallis commander in the south to subdue the rest of the Carolinas while he returned to British occupied New York. Patriot resistance in South Carolina were sparse with only militia units remaining. George Washington then sent several Continental Army regiments under Major-General Johann de Kalb to reinforce the militias and by late July, Major-General Horatio Gates, “Hero of Saratoga” had arrived to assume command of the American forces there. Shortly after his arrival, Gates suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Camden where over 900 American troops were killed or wounded (Ward, 732). Gates, with what was left of his army retreated towards Hillsborough, North Carolina. Cornwallis pursued him into North Carolina, but in the mountains to the west, Major Patrick Ferguson commanding Loyalist Tory militias, suffered a defeat and was killed at the Battle of King’s Mountain in October. Cornwallis, with his left flank exposed, halted his advance into North Carolina and fell back into the safety of South Carolina (Mitchell, 171).

Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan

In December Washington replaced Gates with Major-General Nathaniel Greene in command of the American forces in the South. Greene then made the unorthodox decision to divide his army into two, with Major-General Daniel Morgan taking command of forces to the West, and himself with the rest of the army to the East (Wood, 209). Cornwallis thus was forced to split up his army as well, which he did into three separate forces. Cornwallis assigned his subordinate Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarlerton with one of the forces to pursue and destroy Morgan’s forces. Cornwallis was so sure that Morgan’s forces would be destroyed he wrote, “The quality of the corps under Lieutenant-Colonel Tarlerton’s command, and his great superiority in cavalry, left him no room to doubt of the most brilliant success” (Morill, 125).

Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton

Order of Battle

The site of the battle was a lightly wooded meadow and sloping hills in Cherokee county, five miles from the Broad river called Cowpens, named so because it was a well-known grazing area for cattle (Mitchell, 175). The terrain offered no thick woods, swamps or underbrush to protect Morgan’s flanks, however Morgan choose this site to face Tarlerton because in his own words, “I would not have a swamp in view of my militia … I knew my adversary, and was perfectly sure I should have nothing but downright fighting” (Wood, 217). Morgan purposely choose a site in front of a river instead of behind one, to prevent his militia from retreating, “Had I crossed the river one half of my militia would have abandoned me” (Wood, 217).

There were about 1,900 American forces under Morgan’s overall command (Mitchell, 175). He formed his men into three battle lines. The first line was 150 militia sharpshooters of the North Carolina Militia Brigade led by Col. Charles McDowell and the Georgia Militia Brigade led by Maj. John Cunningham (J. Lewis). These sharpshooters would pick off the redcoats as they came within 50 yards, firing at least two shots each before they fell back to the second line with the rest of the militia (Wood, 217).

The second line was the South Carolina Militia Brigade led by Col. Andrew Pickens consisting of 300 men (J. Lewis). They were posted 150 yards behind the first line. Morgan’s plan was for this line to get off two volleys before the entire militia, including the first line of sharpshooters to make an orderly retreat to the left, passing around the left flank of the third line and reassemble in the rear as part of the reserve (Wood, 217).

The 3 rd line consisted of the Maryland-Delaware Battalion of Continental Infantry led by Lt. Col. John Eager Howard (J. Lewis). The best troops Morgan deployed, highly trained and disciplined veterans of previous campaigns. Supporting them was a Virginia Militia company led by Capt. Edmund Tate and Virginia Militia Battalion led by Maj. Francis Triplett (Ward, 757). These three units together formed Morgan’s main line, positioned on an elevated slope under Howard’s command totaling 450 men (Wood, 157).

And finally, the reserve consisted of 3rd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons led by Lt. Col. William Washington, supported by North Carolina and Georgia Militia Dragoons under Lt. Col. James McCall, totaling 125 men (J. Lewis). They were posted about a half mile behind Morgan’s line, behind a second ridge (Wood, 218).

Battle of Cowpens, Janurary 17 1781

Tarlerton’s men had been marching for four hours the night before pursuing Morgan. He wanted to catch up with him before he had a chance to cross The Broad river. When Tarlerton’s scouts spotted Morgan’s line in formation shortly after day break at 6:45am he hastily ordered his column to advance without letting them rest (Wood, 220). Under Tarlerton’s overall command was a little over 1000 men (Wood, 220). Once Tarlerton’s column got into the open field at Cowpens he deployed his battle formation.

The 1 st Battalion of the 7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusiliers) led by Maj. Timothy Newmarsh with 160 men was placed on the left (J. Lewis). In the center was the British Legion of Infantry, composed of Loyalist colonials serving the crown composed of 200 men (J. Lewis). To the right was the 16th Regiment of Foot, Light Infantry combined with the Prince of Wales American Regiment with 100 men total (J. Lewis). On each flank of this entire line of infantry were two detachments of the 17 th Light Dragoons with 50 men each and within the ranks of the infantry were two batteries of light artillery, 6 pounders nicknamed “grasshoppers”. Finally, in reserve to the rear were 200 men of the British Legion Cavalry and the 1 st Battalion of 71st Regiment of Foot (Fraser’s Highlanders) led by Maj. Archibald McArthur consisting of 300 (J. Lewis).

It was 7:00 am on January 17 th , 1781. Tarlerton started the battle by having his two grasshoppers to open fire and had his entire line of infantry march forward. The first line of American sharpshooters fired their first shots and withdrew, firing another shot as they withdrew to Pickens’s second line as planned. Pickens’s men stood ready to deliver their first volley. When the British ranks were within 100 paces they fired and quickly delivered a second volley. Pickens’s militia proceeded to carry out Morgan’s plans to “file off to the left”, but not without a hitch. The flow of men was to be an orderly retreat but they didn’t slow down to rally or regroup and many were headed to their horses tethered to the, but with the encouragement of their officers, they reformed their ranks and began their orderly withdraw to the rear (Wood, 223).

Tarlerton, upon seeing the American militia “retreating” couldn’t resist the opportunity for a Calvary charge and sent the detachment of fifty dragoons on the left to cut into them. However, Lt. Col. Washington’s Dragoons along with McCall’s came to their rescue and engaged the British dragoons, allowing Pickens’s militia to continue its withdraw to the rear (Wood, 223).

It was now 7:20 am, the battle had only been going on for 20 minutes, Tarlerton believing that the militia had been routed pressed his infantry on, believing he would triumphally finish off the last line of Continental infantry on the hill. The British soldiers marched up the slopes and were abruptly stopped by the first volley from Howard’s men. The disciplined British soldiers shrugged it off and replied with a volley of their own. After nearly 10 minutes of constant back and forth volleys, Tarlerton decided to deploy his infantry reserve, the 71 st Highlanders on the right flank to finish off the Americans (Wood, 223).

Highlanders of the 71st Foot fall back from advancing Continental troops

Howard seeing the British reserve infantry marching to his right, instructed the company on his extreme left to make a right angle and repeal the attackers. However, in the confusion of battle, his orders were misunderstood and they made an about face and retreated orderly to the rear. Morgan, seeing this was shocked as it could threaten his entire line, he hurriedly raced to the right and ordered Howard to have his men stop retreating, face the enemy and fire. Tarlerton, seeing this withdrawal was sure of his victory. The British soldiers too were sure of their victory and broke rank, running forward and charging the Americans, thinking they would soon route. Lt. Col. Washington who was pursuing the light dragoons that tried to cut down Pickens’s militia, was in front of the hill and had a good view of the British lines, not visible to the others behind the hill. He sent word to Morgan, “They’re coming on like a mob. Give them one fire and I’ll charge them” (Wood, 224).

It was now 7:50 am, just as Morgan received Lt. Col. Washington’s message, Andrew Pickens’s militia had made a complete circle of the field behind the hill and had come up on the right to join Howard’s Continentals. “Give them one fire and the day is ours!” Morgan yelled (Ward, 761). The soldiers obeyed their commander’s orders and fired a volley into the charging British at a mere 50 yards. The British soldiers were stunned at the turn of events. Howard ordered his infantry to finish off the British with a bayonet charge. Just then Lt. Col. Washington’s dragoons rode into the flanks and the rear of the broken British infantry.

The first of the British infantry surrendered, the 7 th Regiment Fusiliers in the center, however on the American’s right the 71 st Regiment Highlanders held out for a bit more along with the detachment of Dragoons fighting Pickens’s men. It wasn’t until the whole of the American forces descended upon them did they surrender, their commander Maj. McArthur gave up his sword to Col. Pickens. Tarlerton urged his final reserves of 200 British Legion Cavalry to attack but they refused and in Tarlerton’s own words, “had forsaken their leader and left the field of battle” (Wood, 225).

Tarlerton and his dragoons were now in full retreat, Washington and his dragoons gave chase, but after a close quarters fight with pistols and sabers, Tarlerton managed to escape. It was 8:00 am and the battle was over after about an hour. Tarlerton had in effect lost his entire force, 110 killed, 200 wounded, 600 captured, the two grasshopper artillery pieces, 800 muskets, stores of ammunition, 35 wagons, 100 horses (Wood, 226). Morgan’s causalities were only 12 killed and 61 wounded (Wood, 226). In one hour Morgan had cost Cornwallis a quarter of his forces and halted his left advance.

The Battle of Cowpens, painted by William Ranney in 1845. The scene depicts an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse in center).

Historians argue that Tarlerton’s was reckless in his plan to pursuit Morgan so hard that when they reached the battlefield he did not allow them to rest. Maj. McArthur commander of the of the 71st Highlanders, as a prisoner of the Americans, was quoted saying the best troops in the service were put under ‘that boy’ to be sacrificed” (Wood, 227). The American’s stunning victory at Cowpens gave a much-needed boost to the Patriot’s morale, the battle between a combined force of Continentals and militia had stood up over veteran British regulars in an open fight (Wood, 227).

The battle had also improved the strategic situation in the south. Morgan’s victory, along with the earlier one at King’s Mountain, set in motion a series of events that would lead to the end of the war. Cornwallis abandoned his pacification efforts in South Carolina, stripped his army of its excess baggage, and pursued Greene’s force into North Carolina. Where Cornwallis met Greene at the Battle of Guilford Court House in March. Though Cornwallis won that battle it so damaged his army that he withdrew to Yorktown, Virginia, to rest and refit. George Washington seized this opportunity to trap and defeat Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in October, which caused the British to give up their efforts to defeat the Americans and granted them their independence.

Works Cited

Mitchell, Joseph B. Decisive Battles of the American Revolution. Westholme Pub., 2004.

Morrill, Dan L. Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution. Nautical & Aviation Pub. Co. of America, 1993.

Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution. Vol. 2, Macmillan, 1952.

Wood, W. J. Major Battles and Campaigns: Battles of the Revolutionary War, 1775-1781. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1990.


Cowpens, South Carolina

During the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Cowpens was fought on January 17, 1781, resulting in a decisive victory for American Patriot forces over British troops commanded by Banastre Tarleton. [7] The battle site is preserved at Cowpens National Battlefield, located 9 miles (14 km) north of town in Cherokee County, near the town of Chesnee. Two ships of the U.S. Navy have been named USS Cowpens in honor of the battle.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 2.3 square miles (6.0 km 2 ), all land.

Historical population
Census Pop.
1880112
1890349 211.6%
1900692 98.3%
19101,101 59.1%
19201,284 16.6%
19301,115 −13.2%
19401,343 20.4%
19501,879 39.9%
19602,038 8.5%
19702,109 3.5%
19802,023 −4.1%
19902,176 7.6%
20002,279 4.7%
20102,162 −5.1%
2019 (est.)2,419 [2] 11.9%
U.S. Decennial Census [10]

As of the census [3] of 2000, there were 2,279 people, 922 households, and 639 families residing in the town. The population density was 979.3 people per square mile (377.7/km 2 ). There were 991 housing units at an average density of 425.8 per square mile (164.2/km 2 ). The racial makeup of the town was 75.65% White, 21.37% African American, 0.13% Native American, 2.06% from other races, and 0.79% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.25% of the population.

There were 922 households, of which 32.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.9% were married couples living together, 17.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.6% were non-families. 28.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 3.00.

Age distribution of the population: 26.7% under the age of 18, 8.4% from 18 to 24, 25.9% from 25 to 44, 23.7% from 45 to 64, and 15.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females, there were 88.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 81.6 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $30,815, and the median income for a family was $39,387. Males had a median income of $35,978 versus $22,778 for females. The per capita income for the town was $14,847. About 15.6% of families and 17.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.4% of those under age 18 and 16.4% of those age 65 or over.

Cowpens has a lending library, a branch of the Spartanburg County Public Library. [11]


01/17/1781 – Battles – Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina

The Battle of Cowpens (January 17, 1781) was a decisive victory by the Continental Army forces under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, in the Southern campaign of the American Revolutionary War over the British Army led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton. It was a turning point in the reconquest of South Carolina from the British. It took place in northwestern Cherokee County, South Carolina, north of the city of Cowpens.

On October 14, 1780, George Washington chose Nathanael Greene to be commander of the Southern Department of the Continental forces. Greene’s task was not an easy one. The Carolinas had seen a long string of disasters in 1780, the worst being the capture of one American army at the Siege of Charleston and the destruction of another at the Battle of Camden. A victory of Patriot militia over their Loyalist counterparts at the Battle of Kings Mountain in October had bought time, but most of South Carolina was still under British occupation. When Greene took command the southern army numbered only 2307 men (on paper, 1482 present), of whom just 949 were Continental regulars.

On December 3, Daniel Morgan reported for duty to Greene’s headquarters at Charlotte, North Carolina. At the start of the Revolution, Morgan, whose military experience dated back to the French and Indian War, had served at the Siege of Boston. Later he participated in the 1775 invasion of Canada and its climactic battle, the Battle of Quebec. That battle, on December 31, 1775, ended in defeat and Morgan’s capture by the British. Morgan was exchanged in January 1777 and placed by George Washington in command of a picked force of 500 trained riflemen, known as Morgan’s Riflemen. Morgan and his men played a key role in the victory at Saratoga that proved to be a turning point of the entire war. Bitter after being passed over for promotion and plagued by severe attacks of sciatica, Morgan left the army in 1779, but a year later he was promoted to Brigadier General and returned to service in the Southern Department.

Greene decided that his weak army was unable to meet the British in a standup fight. He then made the unconventional decision to divide his army, sending a detachment west of the Catawba River to raise the morale of the locals and find supplies beyond the limited amounts available around Charlotte. Greene gave Morgan command of this wing and instructed him to join with the militia west of the big Catawba and take command of them. Morgan headed west on December 21, charged with taking position between the Broad River and Pacolet River and protecting the civilians in that area. He had 600 men, some 400 of which were Continentals, the rest being Virginia militia with experience as Continentals. By Christmas Day Morgan had reached the Pacolet River. There he was joined by 60 South Carolina militia led by the experienced partisan Andrew Pickens. Other militia from Georgia and the Carolinas joined Morgan’s camp.

Meanwhile, Lord Cornwallis was planning to return to North Carolina and conduct the invasion that he had postponed after the defeat at Kings Mountain. Morgan’s force represented a threat to his left. Additionally, Cornwallis received incorrect intelligence claiming that Morgan was going to attack the important British fort at Ninety Six, South Carolina. Seeking to save the fort and defeat Morgan’s command, Cornwallis on January 2 ordered Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton west.

Tarleton was only 26 years old but had enjoyed a spectacular career that began when he and a small party surprised and captured Patriot Gen. Charles Lee in New Jersey in December 1776. He served with distinction at the Siege of Charleston and the Battle of Camden. Commanding the British Legion, a mixed infantry/cavalry force that constituted some of the best British troops in the Carolinas, Tarleton won decisive victories at Monck’s Corner and Fishing Creek. He became infamous amongst Patriots after his victory at the Battle of Waxhaws, when his men killed American soldiers after they had surrendered.

Tarleton and the Legion marched to Ninety Six and found that Morgan was not there, but Tarleton decided to pursue Morgan anyway. Tarleton asked for reinforcements of British regulars, which Cornwallis sent. Tarleton then set out with his enlarged command to drive Morgan across the Broad River. On January 12 he received accurate news of Morgan’s location and continued with hard marching, building boats to cross rivers that were flooding with winter rains. Morgan, receiving word that Tarleton was in hot pursuit, retreated north, attempting to avoid being trapped between Tarleton and Cornwallis. By the afternoon of the 16th Morgan was approaching the Broad River, which was high with flood waters and reported difficult to cross. He knew Tarleton was close behind. By nightfall he had reached a place called the Cowpens, a well-known grazing area for local cattle. Pickens, who had been patrolling, arrived that night with a large body of militia. Morgan then decided to stand and fight rather than continue to retreat and risk being caught by Tarleton while fording the Broad River. Tarleton, for his part, received word of Morgan’s location and made haste, marching at 3 a.m. instead of camping for the night.

The size of the American force at Cowpens remains in dispute. Morgan claimed in his official report to have had only a few over 800 men at Cowpens, which is substantially supported by historian John Buchanan, whose estimate is between 800 and 1000 men. In contrast historian Lawrence E. Babits, in his detailed study of the battle, estimates the true strength of Morgan’s command on the day of the battle was closer to 1,900, composed of:

* A battalion of Continental infantry under Lt-Col John Eager Howard, with one company from Delaware, one from Virginia and three from Maryland each with a strength of sixty men (300)
* A company of Virginia State troops under Captain John Lawson (75)
* A company of South Carolina State troops under Captain Joseph Pickens(60)
* A small company of North Carolina State troops under Captain Henry Connelly (number not given)
* A Virginia Militia battalion under Frank Triplett (160)
* Three companies of Virginia Militia under Major David Campbell (50)
* A battalion of North Carolina Militia under Colonel Joseph McDowell (260–285)
* A brigade of four battalions of South Carolina Militia under Colonel Andrew Pickens, comprising a three-company battalion of the Spartan Regiment under Lt-Col Benjamin Roebuck a four-company battalion of the Spartan Regiment under Col John Thomas five companies of the Little River Regiment under Lt-Col Joseph Hayes and seven companies of the Fair Forest Regiment under Col Thomas Brandon. Babits states that this battalion “ranged in size from 120 to more than 250 men”. If Roebuck’s three companies numbered 120 and Brandon’s seven companies numbered 250, then Thomas’s four companies probably numbered about 160 and Hayes’s five companies about 200, for a total of (730)
* Three small companies of Georgia Militia commanded by Major Cunningham who numbered (55)
* A detachment of the 1st and 3rd Continental Light Dragoons under Lt-Col William Washington (82). Washington was second cousin to Gen. George Washington.
* Detachments of state dragoons from North Carolina and Virginia (30)
* A detachment of South Carolina State Dragoons, with a few mounted Georgians, commanded by Major James McCall (25)
* A company of newly raised volunteers from the local South Carolina Militia commanded by Major Benjamin Jolly (45)

Babits’ figures can be summarized as: 82 Continental light dragoons 55 state dragoons 45 militia dragoons 300 Continental infantry about 150 state infantry and 1,255-1,280 militia infantry, for a total of 1,887–1,912 officers and men. Broken down by state, there were about 855 South Carolinians 442 Virginians 290–315 North Carolinians 180 Marylanders 60 Georgians and 60 Delawareans.

Key features of Morgan’s force aside from bare numbers, were their leader’s genius and the fact that it included core elements of relatively seasoned troops. His Continentals were veterans, and many of his militia, which included some Overmountain Men, had seen service at the Battle of Musgrove Mill and the Battle of Kings Mountain. The experienced British forces (and particularly their relatively young commander) were accustomed, especially in the Southern Theater, to easily routing indifferently-led, often ‘green’ militia, and thus could have underestimated the opposition.

* The British Legion: 250 cavalry and 200 infantry,
* A troop of the 17th Light Dragoons (50),
* A battery of the Royal Artillery (24) with two 3-pounder cannons
* The 7th Royal Fusiliers Regiment (177)
* The light infantry company of the 16th Regiment (42)
* The 71st (Fraser’s Highlanders) Regiment under Major Arthur MacArthur (334)
* The light company of the Loyalist Prince of Wales’ American Regiment (31)
* A company of Loyalist guides (50)

A total of over 1,150 officers and men.

Broken down by troop classification, there were 300 cavalry, 553 regulars, 24 artillerymen and 281 militia. Tarleton’s men from the Royal Artillery, 17th Light Dragoons, 7th Regiment (Royal Fusliers), 16th Regiment and 71st Regiment were reliable and good soldiers: . Tarleton’s own unit, the British Legion were formidable “in a pursuit situation” but had an uncertain reputation “when faced with determined opposition”.

Daniel Morgan knew that he should use the unique landscape of Cowpens and the time available before Tarleton’s arrival to his advantage. Furthermore, he knew his men and his opponent, knew how they would react in certain situations, and used this knowledge to his advantage. He defied convention by placing his army between the Broad and Pacolet River, thus making escape impossible if the army was routed. His reason for doing so was to ensure that the untrained militiamen would not, as they had been accustomed to do, turn in flight at the first hint of battle and abandon the regulars. (The Battle of Camden had ended in disaster when the militia, which was half of the American force, broke and ran as soon as the shooting started.) Selecting a low hill as the center of his position, he placed his Continental infantry on it, deliberately leaving his flanks exposed to his opponent. Morgan reasoned that Tarleton would attack him head on, and he made his tactical preparations accordingly. He set up three lines of soldiers: one of skirmishers (sharpshooters) one of militia and a main one. The 150 select skirmishers were from North Carolina (Major McDowell) and Georgia (Major Cunningham). The second line, behind the skirmishers but in front of the third line of Continentals, consisted of 300 militiamen under the command of Andrew Pickens.

Realizing that poorly trained militia were unreliable in battle, especially when they were under attack from cavalry, Morgan did not tell them to stand and fight. Instead, he asked the militia to fire two volleys and then withdraw around the left, so he could have them re-form in the rear, behind the third line, under cover of the reserve (light dragoons commanded by William Washington and James McCall). The movement of the militia in the second line would mask the third line to the British. The third line, on the hill, was manned by his best troops: about 550 men consisting of Continentals from Delaware and Maryland, and experienced militiamen from Georgia and Virginia. Colonel John Eager Howard commanded the Continentals and Colonels Tate and Triplett the militia. The goal of this tactic was to weaken and disorganize Tarleton’s forces (which would be attacking the third line uphill) before attacking and defeating them. Howard’s men would not be unnerved by the militia’s expected move, and unlike the militia they would be able to stand and hold, especially since the first and second lines, Morgan felt, would have inflicted both physical and psychological damage on the advancing British before the third line came into action.

With a ravine on their right flank and a creek on their left flank, Morgan’s forces were protected against British flanking maneuvers at the beginning of the battle. Morgan insisted,

“the whole idea is to lead Benny [Tarleton] into a trap so we can beat his cavalry and infantry as they come up those slopes. When they’ve been cut down to size by our fire, we’ll attack them.”

In developing his tactics at Cowpens, as historian John Buchanan wrote, Morgan may have been “the only general in the American Revolution, on either side, to produce a significant original tactical thought.”

At 2:00 a.m. on January 17, 1781, Tarleton roused his troops and continued his march to Cowpens. Lawrence Babits states that, “in the five days before Cowpens, the British were subjected to stress that could only be alleviated by rest and proper diet”. He points out that “in the forty-eight hours before the battle, the British ran out of food and had less than four hours’ sleep”. Over the whole period, Tarleton’s brigade did a great deal of rapid marching across difficult terrain. Babits concludes that they reached the battlefield exhausted and malnourished. Tarleton sensed victory and nothing would persuade him to delay. His Tory scouts had told him of the countryside Morgan was fighting on, and he was certain of success because Morgan’s soldiers, mostly militiamen, seemed to be caught between mostly experienced British troops and a flooding river. As soon as he reached the spot, he formed a battle line, which consisted of dragoons on his flanks, with his two grasshopper cannon in between the British Regulars and American Loyalists.

Tarleton’s plan was simple and direct. Most of his infantry (including that of the Legion) would be assembled in linear formation and move directly upon Morgan. The right and left flanks of this line would be protected by dragoon units. In reserve were the 250-man battalion of Scottish Highlanders (71st Regiment of Foot), commanded by Major Arthur MacArthur, a professional soldier of long experience who had served in the Dutch Scotch Brigade. Finally, Tarleton kept the 200-man cavalry contingent of his Legion ready to be unleashed when the Americans broke and ran.

Morgan’s stratagem worked perfectly. The British drove in successive lines, anticipating victory only to encounter another, stronger line after exerting themselves and suffering casualties. The depth of the American lines gradually soaked up the shock of the British advance.

A few minutes before sunrise, Tarleton’s van emerged from the woods in front of the American position. Tarleton ordered his dragoons to attack the first line of skirmishers, who opened fire and shot fifteen dragoons. The dragoons promptly retreated, whereupon Tarleton immediately ordered an infantry charge, without pausing to study the American deployment or to allow the rest of his infantry and his cavalry reserve to make it out of the woods. Tarleton attacked the skirmish line without pausing, deploying his main body and his two grasshopper cannon. The American skirmishers kept firing as they withdrew to join the second line manned by Pickens’ militia. The British attacked again, this time reaching the militiamen, who (as ordered) poured two volleys into the enemy. The British—with 40% of their casualties being officers—were astonished and confused. They reformed and continued to advance. Tarleton ordered one of his officers, Ogilvie, to charge with some dragoons into the “defeated” Americans. His men moved forward in regular formation and were momentarily checked by the militia musket fire but continued to advance. Pickens’ militia filed around the American left to the rear as planned after getting off their second volley.

Taking the withdrawal of the first two lines as a full blown retreat, the British advanced headlong into the third and final line of disciplined regulars which awaited them on the hill. The 71st Highlanders were ordered to flank the American right. John Eager Howard spotted the flanking movement and ordered the Virginia militiamen manning the American right to turn and face the Scots. However, in the noise of battle Howard’s order was misunderstood and the militiamen began to withdraw. It was now 7:45 am and the British had been fighting for nearly an hour. They were tired and disorganized, but they saw the militia withdrawing and believed the Americans were on the run. They charged, breaking formation and advancing in a chaotic mass. Morgan ordered a volley. Howard’s militia stopped their withdrawal and made an about-face. The Virginians fired into the British at a range of no more than thirty yards, with deadly effect, causing the confused British to lurch to a halt. John Eager Howard then shouted “Charge bayonets!”

The Continentals, as ordered, then mounted a bayonet charge. Tarleton’s force, faced with a terrible surprise, began to collapse some surrendering on the spot, while others turned and ran. Howard’s men charged forward and seized the British cannons. Washington’s cavalry came around from behind the American left to hit the British on their right flank and rear. Pickens’ militia, having re-formed, charged out from behind the hill—completing a 360-degree circle around the American position—to hit the 71st Highlander Scots on the British left flank and rear. Howard ordered the Virginia militia, whose withdrawal had brought on the British charge, to turn about and attack the Scots from the other direction.

The shock of the sudden charge, coupled with the reappearance of the American militiamen on the left flank where Tarleton’s exhausted men expected to see their own cavalry, proved too much for the British. Nearly half of the British and Loyalist infantrymen fell to the ground whether they were wounded or not. Their will to fight was gone. Historian Lawrence Babits diagnoses “combat shock” as the cause for this abrupt British collapse—the effects of exhaustion, hunger and demoralization suddenly catching up with them. Caught in a clever double envelopment that has been compared with the Battle of Cannae, many of the British surrendered. With Tarleton’s right flank and center line collapsed, there remained only a minority of the 71st Highlanders who were still putting up a fight against part of Howard’s line. Tarleton, realizing the desperate seriousness of what was occurring, rode back to his one remaining unit that was in one piece, the Legion Cavalry. He ordered them to charge, but they refused and fled the field. The Highlanders, surrounded by militia and Continentals, surrendered. Desperate to save something, Tarleton managed to find about forty cavalrymen and with them tried to save the two cannons he had brought with him, but they had been taken. Tarleton with a few remaining horsemen rode back into the fight, but after clashing with Washington’s men, he too retreated from the field. He was stopped by Colonel Washington, who attacked him with his saber, calling out, “Where is now the boasting Tarleton?”. A Cornet of the 17th, Thomas Patterson, rode up to strike Washington but was shot by Washington’s orderly trumpeter. Tarleton then shot Washington’s horse from under him and fled, ending the battle. It was 8 a.m. and the Battle of Cowpens had lasted approximately one hour.

Morgan’s army took 712 prisoners, which included 200 wounded. Even worse for the British, the forces lost (especially the British Legion and the dragoons) constituted the cream of Cornwallis’ army. Additionally, 110 British soldiers were killed in action. Tarleton suffered an 86 percent casualty rate, and his brigade had been all but wiped out as a fighting force. John Eager Howard quoted Maj. McArthur of the 71st Highlanders, now a prisoner of the Americans, as saying that “he was an officer before Tarleton was born that the best troops in the service were put under ‘that boy’ to be sacrificed.” An American prisoner later told that when Tarleton reached Cornwallis and reported the disaster, Cornwallis placed his sword tip on the ground and leaned on it until the blade snapped.

Historian Lawrence E. Babits has demonstrated that Morgan’s official report of 73 casualties appears to have only included his Continental troops. From surviving records, he has been able to identify by name 128 Patriot soldiers who were either killed or wounded at Cowpens. He also presents an entry in the North Carolina State Records that shows 68 Continental and 80 Militia casualties. It would appear that both the number of Morgan’s casualties and the total strength of his force were about double what he officially reported.

Tarleton’s apparent recklessness in pushing his command so hard in pursuit of Morgan that they reached the battlefield in desperate need of rest and food may be explained by the fact that, up until Cowpens, every battle that he and his British Legion had fought in the South had been a relatively easy victory. He appears to have been so concerned with pursuing Morgan that he quite forgot that it was necessary for his men to be in a fit condition to fight a battle once they caught him, though Cornwallis himself did press Tarleton to take aggressive action.

Nevertheless, Daniel Morgan, known affectionately as “The Old Waggoner” to his men, had fought a masterly battle. His tactical decisions and personal leadership had allowed a force consisting mainly of militia to fight according to their strengths to win one of the most complete victories of the war.

Coming in the wake of the American debacle at Camden, Cowpens was a surprising victory and a turning point that changed the psychology of the entire war—”spiriting up the people”, not only those of the backcountry Carolinas, but those in all the Southern states. As it was, the Americans were encouraged to fight further, and the Loyalists and British were demoralized. Furthermore, its strategic result—the destruction of an important part of the British army in the South—was incalculable toward ending the war. Along with the British defeat at the Battle of Kings Mountain, Cowpens was a decisive blow to Cornwallis, who might have defeated much of the remaining resistance in South Carolina had Tarleton won at Cowpens. Instead, the battle set in motion a series of events leading to the end of the war. Cornwallis abandoned his pacification efforts in South Carolina, stripped his army of its excess baggage, and pursued Greene’s force into North Carolina. Skirmishes occurred at the Catawba River (February 1, 1781) and other fords. Yet, after a long chase Cornwallis met Greene at Guilford Court House, winning a pyrrhic victory that so damaged his army that he withdrew to Yorktown, Virginia, to rest and refit. Washington seized this opportunity to trap and defeat Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown, which caused the British to give up their efforts to defeat the Americans.

In the opinion of John Marshall, “Seldom has a battle, in which greater numbers were not engaged, been so important in its consequences as that of Cowpens.” It gave General Nathanael Greene his chance to conduct a campaign of “dazzling shiftiness” that led Cornwallis by “an unbroken chain of consequences to the catastrophe at Yorktown which finally separated America from the British crown.”

* The battle site is preserved at Cowpens National Battlefield.
* Two ships of the U.S. Navy have been named USS Cowpens in honor of the battle.
* Three current Army National Guard units (116th Inf, 175th Inf and 198th Sig Bn) are derived from American units that participated in the Battle of Cowpens. There are only thirty Army National Guard and active Regular Army units with lineages that go back to the colonial era.

* The final battle at the end of the 2000 film The Patriot drew its inspiration from two specific battles from the American Revolution: Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse. The Americans used the same basic tactics in both battles. The name of the battle, as well as the winning side, were taken from the Cowpens battle. The size of the armies, as well as the presence of Generals Nathanael Greene and Lord Cornwallis, come from the Guilford Courthouse battle.
* The Alan Alda directed movie, Sweet Liberty, parodies how a film company takes great liberty with the depiction of the Battle of Cowpens.


Surprise

When Tarleton caught up to Morgan, he expected an easy victory. He underestimated the way the men of Morgan’s army knew their geography, and how hard they were willing to fight for their land.

Portrait of Sir Banastre Tarleton (1754-1833) by Joshua Reynolds, 1792. (Public domain)

Knowing Tarleton had little respect for the American militia, Morgan organized his troops into three lines on the rich pastureland meadow. He placed his artillery in the middle and his dragoons on either side. Lt. Col. William Washington’s cavalry surprised Tarleton and sent the British dragoons scattering. When Tarleton sent his 71st Highlanders toward the line, Morgan’s troops reformed, devastating the British soldiers in a double envelopment.

In less than an hour, on a scenic, unassuming meadow, a decisive victory was won for the Patriots. The British army suffered nearly 900 casualties (110 dead, more than 200 wounded, and 500 captured), while the American army suffered less than 100.


Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina - HISTORY

The Battle of Cowpens was the turning point of the Revolutionary War in the southern colonies. After losing several battles in the South, the Continental Army defeated the British in a decisive victory at Cowpens. The victory forced the British army to retreat and gave the Americans confidence that they could win the war.

When and where did it take place?

The Battle of Cowpens took place on January 17, 1781 in the hills just north of the town of Cowpens, South Carolina.


Daniel Morgan
by Charles Willson Peale

Who were the commanders?

The Americans were led by Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. Morgan had already made a name for himself in other major Revolutionary War battles such as the Battle of Quebec and the Battle of Saratoga.

The British force was led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton was a young and brash officer known for his aggressive tactics and brutal treatment of enemy soldiers.

The British Army under General Charles Cornwallis had claimed a number of recent victories in the Carolinas. The morale and confidence of both the American troops and the local colonists was very low. Few Americans felt they could win the war.

George Washington assigned General Nathaniel Greene command of the Continental Army in the Carolinas in hopes that he could stop Cornwallis. Greene decided to split up his forces. He put Daniel Morgan in charge of part of the army and ordered him to harass the rear lines of the British Army. He hoped to slow them down and keep them from getting supplies.

The British decided to attack Morgan's army while it was separated. They sent Colonel Tarleton to track Morgan down and destroy his army.

As the British Army approached, Daniel Morgan set up his defense. He positioned his men into three lines. The front line consisted of around 150 riflemen. Rifles were slow to load, but accurate. He told these men to shoot at the British officers and then retreat. The second line was made up of 300 militiamen with muskets. These men were to fire three times each into the approaching British and then retreat. The third line held the main force.


William Washington at Battle of Cowpens by S. H. Gimber

Morgan's plan worked brilliantly. The riflemen took out several of the British officers and were still able to retreat to the main force. The militiamen also took a toll on the British before they retreated. The British thought that they had the Americans on the run and continued to attack. By the time they reached the main force they were tired, wounded, and easily defeated.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Americans. They took minimal casualties while the British suffered 110 dead, over 200 wounded, and hundreds more taken prisoner.

More importantly than just winning the battle, the victory gave the Americans in the South a renewed sense of confidence that they could win the war.


It is our goal to keep you informed and up to date with the activities in the Town and all that we have to offer. We have antiques, restaurants, and history all in one place.

Cowpens strives to be the “Community of Choice” for families and business — embracing the future while respecting our proud heritage and natural environment and promoting our strong sense of community identity.

44th Annual Mighty Moo Festival

For the 44th Annual Mighty Moo Festival June 18 – 19, 2021
https://cowpensmightymoo.com/

WSPA Channel 7 - Hometown Spotlight

The Town of Cowpens was recently featured on WSPA Channel 7 as part of their Hometown Spotlight segment. Check out the article and video

Cowpens, SC History

During the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Cowpens was fought on January 17, 1781. The battle site is preserved at Cowpens National Battlefield, located 9 miles north of town in Cherokee County near the town of Chesnee. Two ships of the U.S. Navy have been named USS Cowpens in honor of the battle.

The town was incorporated in 1900. It is currently governed by a Council-Manager form of government.


Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina 17 January 1781

On 17 January 1781, the outlook for the British Army in America changed forever. A British Legion (combined infantry and cavalry) led by one of the British star, young officers, Banastre Tarleton, met its match on this day with a mixed force of one-third Continentals and two-thirds militiamen, led by what can only be called a “Good Old Boy,” Daniel Morgan.

American General Nathaniel Greene commanded the southern army and knew he couldn’t withstand a full encounter with the British, so he instructed his forces to split up and conduct operations against isolated British outposts. General Daniel Morgan commanded one of these smaller units. Tarleton was well known to the American forces for “Tarleton’s quarter.” Tarleton had a reputation, at least partly earned, for total war. He did not mind burning provisions and communities who supported the patriot cause. He also was reputed to have refused quarter to Americans at Waxhaws (Buford’s Massacre) by refusing surrender and continuing to assault.

Morgan had decided to attack Fort 96. Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton had set off to catch Morgan and prevent Morgan from disrupting the British / Loyalist forts and communities, like Fort 96. Tarleton had Morgan on the run and Morgan was attempting a ragged retreat when he decided to turn and face up to Tarleton in an area known a Cowpens (an open area of upland pasture) in northwestern South Carolina, near Gaffney. Tarleton had pushed his Legion hard through the night and they arrived at Cowpens ready to fight but tired.

Morgan had a plan to feign retreat after the intial exchange of rifle fire, knowing that Tarleton liked to take the initiative as fast as possible. When Morgan’s skirmishers fired and pulled back, Tarleton ordered his Legion forward to press the attack in hopes of a rout. Morgan had his skirmishers join his infantry line in fall back positions. What was planned and what just happened next is open to debate, but what is clear is that Morgan managed to envelope Tarleton’s Legion with infantry and cavalry and deliver withering fire into the British ranks whilst they were totally committed to a headlong rush. This may seem unusual, but much of the killing by the British Legions was by bayonet, so when they pressed the attack, they would have been mentally and physically committed to a bayonet charge. Taking heavy fire from an infantry line that was thought to have fled, whilst simultaneously having your flank rolled by cavalry might just make you want to drop your bayonet and run. That’s what Tarleton did with a handful of his command. Most of his force did not do so well with the majority being killed, wounded or captured.

Tarleton, 26 years old at the time, was rebuked and many older British officers felt it had been just a matter of time before the young rake’s risk taking had cost the British Army dear.

Motorcycle Ride

This is truly one of those perfect marriages of a great battlefield and a great ride. Here’s a beauty of a ride along the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. It starts very near The Cowpens National Battlefield and makes it way through several state parks, lakes and geological sites.


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