It became known as the turning point of the war in the South, part of a chain of events leading to Patriot victory at Yorktown2 The Cowpens victory was won over a crack British regular army3 and brought together strong armies and leaders who made their mark on history. Such victories boosted Patriot morale and blunted British efforts, but, by , with stalemate in the North, British strategists again looked south. They came south for a number of reasons, primarily to assist Southern Loyalists5 and help them regain control of colonial governments, and then push north, to crush the rebellion6. They estimated that many of the population would rally to the Crown. In , British redcoats indeed came South en masse, capturing first, Savannah7 and then Charleston8 and Camden 8A in South Carolina, in the process, defeating and capturing much of the Southern Continental Army9.
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It became known as the turning point of the war in the South, part of a chain of events leading to Patriot victory at Yorktown2 The Cowpens victory was won over a crack British regular army3 and brought together strong armies and leaders who made their mark on history.
Such victories boosted Patriot morale and blunted British efforts, but, by , with stalemate in the North, British strategists again looked south. They came south for a number of reasons, primarily to assist Southern Loyalists5 and help them regain control of colonial governments, and then push north, to crush the rebellion6. They estimated that many of the population would rally to the Crown. In , British redcoats indeed came South en masse, capturing first, Savannah7 and then Charleston8 and Camden 8A in South Carolina, in the process, defeating and capturing much of the Southern Continental Army9.
Such victories gave the British confidence they would soon control the entire South, that Loyalists would flock to their cause. The Southern Campaign, especially in the backcountry, was essentially a civil war as the colonial population split between Patriot and Loyalist. Conflict came, often pitting neighbor against neighbor and re-igniting old feuds and animosities.
Those of both sides organized militia, often engaging each other. The countryside was devastated, and raids and reprisals were the order of the day. Into this conflict, General George Washington sent the very capable Nathanael Greene to take command of the Southern army. Against military custom, Greene, just two weeks into his command, split his army, sending General Daniel Morgan southwest of the Catawba River to cut supply lines and hamper British operations in the backcountry, and, in doing so "spirit up the people".
Tarleton was only twenty-six, but he was an able commander, both feared and hated - hated especially for his victory at the Waxhaws. These events set the stage for the Battle of Cowpens. Tarleton, fretting about heavy rains and flooded rivers, gained ground as his army proceeded toward the flood-swollen Pacolet. Soon, he intersected with and traveled west on the Green River Road. Here, with the flood-swollen Broad River14 six miles to his back, Morgan decided to make a stand at the Cowpens, a well-known crossroads and frontier pasturing ground.
The term "cowpens"15, endemic to such South Carolina pastureland and associated early cattle industry, would be etched in history.
The field itself was some yards long and just as wide, a park-like setting dotted with trees, but devoid of undergrowth, having been kept clear by cattle grazing in the spring on native grasses and peavine There was forage17 at the Cowpens for horses, and evidence of free-ranging cattle for food. Many knew the geography some were Overmountain men who had camped at the Cowpens on their journey to the Battle of Kings Mountain. Morgan moved among the campfires and offered encouragement; his speeches to militia and Continentals alike were command performances.
He spoke emotionally of past battles, talked of the battle plan, and lashed out against the British. His words were especially effective with the militia the "Old Waggoner"20 of French and Indian War days and the hero of Saratoga21, spoke their language.
He knew how to motivate them even proposing a competition of bravery between Georgia and Carolina units. By the time he was through, one soldier observed that the army was "in good spirits and very willing to fight". But, as one observed, Morgan hardly slept a wink that night. Dawn at the Cowpens on January 17, , was clear and bitterly cold. Tarleton, playing catch up, and having marched his army since two in the morning, ordered formation on the Green River Road for the attack.
His aggressive style was made even now more urgent, since there were rumors of Overmountain men on the way, reminiscent of events at Kings Mountain. Yet he was confident of victory: he reasoned he had Morgan hemmed in by the Broad, and the undulating park-like terrain was ideal for his dragoons He thought Morgan must be desperate, indeed, to have stopped at such a place.
In reality, though, Morgan had no choice - to cross the flood-swollen Broad risked having his army cut down by the feared and fast-traveling Tarleton. Tarleton pressed the attack head on, his line extending across the meadow, his artillery in the middle, and fifty Dragoons on each side. It was as if Morgan knew he would make a frontal assault - it was his style of fighting. To face Tarleton, he organized his troops into three lines. First, out front and hiding behind trees were selected sharpshooters.
With the Dragoons in retreat, and their initial part completed, the sharpshooters retreated yards or more back to join the second line, the militia commanded by Andrew Pickens. Some of the militia indeed got off two volleys as the British neared, but, as they retreated and reached supposed safety behind the Continental line, Tarleton sent his feared Dragoons after them.
The surprised British Dragoons, already scattered and sensing a rout, were overwhelmed, and according to historian Babits, lost eighteen men in the clash. As they fled the field, infantry on both sides fired volley after volley. The British advanced in a trot, with beating drums, the shrill sounds of fifes, and shouts of halloo.
Morgan, in response, cheering his men on, said to give them the Indian halloo back. Riding to the front, he rallied the militia, crying out, "form, form, my brave fellows! Old Morgan was never beaten! A John Eager Howard order for the right flank to face slightly right to counter a charge from that direction, was, in the noise of battle, misunderstood as a call to retreat. As other companies along the line followed suite, Morgan rode up to ask Howard if he were beaten.
As Howard pointed to the unbroken ranks and the orderly retreat and assured him they were not, Morgan spurred his horse on and ordered the retreating units to face about, and then, on order, fire in unison.
The firing took a heavy toll on the British, who, by that time had sensed victory and had broken ranks in a wild charge. This event and a fierce Patriot bayonet charge in return broke the British charge and turned the tide of battle. The re-formed militia and cavalry re-entered the battle, leading to double envelopment28 of the British, perfectly timed.
British infantry began surrendering en masse. Tarleton and some of his army fought valiantly on; others refused his orders and fled the field. Finally, Tarleton, himself, saw the futility of continued battle, and with a handful of his men, fled from whence he came, down the Green River Road. In one of the most dramatic moments of the battle, William Washington, racing ahead of his cavalry, dueled hand-to-hand with Tarleton and two of his officers.
Stragglers from the battle were overtaken, but Tarleton escaped to tell the awful news to Cornwallis. The battle was over in less than an hour. It was a complete victory for the Patriot force. British losses were staggering: dead, over wounded and captured. Morgan lost only 12 killed and 60 wounded, a count he received from those reporting directly to him.
Knowing Cornwallis would come after him, Morgan saw to it that the dead were buried - the legend says in wolf pits -- and headed north with his army. Crossing the Broad at Island Ford30, he proceeded to Gilbert Town31, and, yet burdened as he was by the prisoners, pressed swiftly northeastward toward the Catawba River, and some amount of safety.
The prisoners were taken via Salisbury32 on to Winchester, Virginia. Soon Morgan and Greene reunited and conferred, Morgan wanting to seek protection in the mountains and Greene wanting to march north to Virginia for supplies. Greene won the point, gently reminding Morgan that he was in command. Soon after Morgan retired from his duty because of ill health- rheumatism, and recurring bouts of malarial fever.
Now it was Greene and his army on the move north. Now it was a race for the Dan River33 on the Virginia line, Cornwallis having burned his baggage34 and swiftly pursuing Greene. Cornwallis was subsequently delayed by Patriot units stationed at Catawba River35 crossings.
Greene won the race, and, in doing so, believed he had Cornwallis where he wanted -- far from urban supply centers and short of food. If it could be called a victory, it was a costly one: Five hundred British lay dead or wounded. When the news of the battle reached London, a member of the House of Commons said, "Another such victory would ruin the British army".
On October 18, , the British army surrendered at Yorktown. Cowpens, in its part in the Revolution, was a surprising victory and a turning point that changed the psychology of the entire war. In the process, he gave Tarleton and the British a "devil of a whipping". Located in present-day South Carolina north of Spartanburg.
The battle was crucial because it ended royal authority in North Carolina and delayed a full-scale British invasion of the South. Also referred to as Tories.
Those involved were termed "rebels" by the British. The victory was a major setback for American forces in the South.
Gates, the American general, gained a reputation as a "fool and coward" for his actions and fleeing the battle site. Reports of the results made Banastre Tarleton a national hero in Britain. Today, referred to as the Upcountry or Upstate. It was the name of Native Americans of the region, derived, some historians, believe, from native language. Others believe it is an English corruption of the original and described not only the Native Americans of the region but also the waxy-looking haw and "hawfields", shrubs, either Black Haw vibernum prunifolium or hawthorns crataegus linnaeus prominent in the region.
The Waxhaw settlement, just off the Great Wagon Road, today covers parts of both Carolinas in an area southeast of Charlotte. The armies of Daniel Morgan and Banastre Tarleton crossed the flood-swollen Pacolet as they journeyed toward the Cowpens.
Most likely named for the thick plant growth along its banks. Daniel Morgan and his army camped along Thicketty before their hurried departure for the Cowpens. Morgan, his army, and British prisoners crossed the Broad after the Battle of Cowpens. British General Cornwallis crossed the Broad in pursuit. These were usually cleared areas, to acres in extent. Many, in eastern South Carolina, were known for their native cane- brakes.
Piedmont pastures, though less numerous, often contained peavine. Also, the search for food for animals or humans. Thought unreliable by some Continental officers, they proved themselves at the Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens. This victory encouraged France to enter the war to assist the Americans. Saratoga is in upstate New York. Used synonymously with cavalrymen, both of whom could fight on horseback or dismounted.
A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens
Nirisar The best account of the Battle of Cowpens I have seen. Please do not take my nitpicking too seriously. The main text is only pages, and some of that includes a detailed analysis of the two armies — organization, weapons, and officers. That the British army was led by the hated Lt. Much of this is done by cross-checking the records for similarities and differences and matching the accounts with the features of the terrain as marked on contemporary maps and on the battlefield in the present. His minute-by-minute account of the fighting explains what happened and why and, in the process, refutes much of the mythology that has clouded our picture of the battle. University of North Carolina Press- History — pages.
The Battle of Cowpens
Depending heavily upon pension records and first-hand accounts, Babits uncovered aspects of the battle long forgotten or misunderstood. Unfortunately, the incredible detail of the account makes for poor narrative flow. The battle narrative is obscured by the fog of details. Many aspects of the engagement are simply overly-analyzed, such as the long discourse on the number of steps troops took in a certain number of seconds. The book is written in short choppy paragraphs which are awkwardly-paced. It is worthy of Three Stars due to the depth and diligence of the research.