|CAC Home >CGSC Home > CARL > RESOURCES > CSI > MONCURE||
|Home||Find Books & More||Links||Find Articles||Resources||Digital Library||Community Library|
Lieutenant Colonel John Moncure
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataMoncure, John 1949-
1. Cowpens, Battle of, 1781. 2. Staff rides-South Carolina-
I. An Overview of the American Revolution
II. The Campaign in the Carolinas, 1780-1781
III. "This Unexpected Event": Annihilation at the Cowpens
IV. The Staff Ride
Appendix A. Order of Battle
B. Documents Pertaining to the Campaign Leading to the Cowpens, 1 November 1780 to 17 January 1781
C. Documents Pertaining to the Battle of the Cowpens, 17 January 1781
D. Correspondence Pertaining to the Campaign of the Cowpens, 1 December 1780 to 20 January 1781
E. Miscellaneous Writings Pertaining to the Campaign of the Cowpens
2. The southern theater of operations 1780-81
3. Situation, 20 December 1780 to 14 January 1781
4. Situation, 14 January 1781
5. Situation, 15 and 16 January 1781
6. Situation, 17 January 1781
7. Situation, 18 January 1781
1. In particular that of John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 1690, and Montesquieu, L'Esprit des lois, 1748.
2. In that action, the British commander, General Gage, sent several hundred of his troops from Boston under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith to raid a rebel arms cache at Concord, some fourteen mites away. They were stopped by seventy rebels hastily assembled and commanded by Captain Jonas Parker. After scattering the rebels, the British moved on to Concord, where they burned the military stores. A large mob of angry farmers harassed the British withdrawal, and by the time the troops returned to the safety of Boston, 79 of their number had been killed and 147 wounded.
3. William Howe (5th Viscount Howe, 1729 - 1814), brother of Admiral Richard Howe, served brilliantly as a young officer in the French and Indian War. Sent again to America in 1775, he was present at Bunker Hill, Brandywine, and Germantown. He turned over his command to General Clinton in 1778 and returned to England. See Ira D. Gruber, The Brothers Howe and the American Revolution (New York: Atheneum, 1972). Sir Henry Clinton (1738-95) joined the army in 1757 and campaigned in Europe in the Seven Years' War. He commanded British force in America from 1778 to 1781. See William B. Willcox, Portrait of a General: Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence (New York: Knopf, 1964). Sir John Burgoyne (1723-92) purchased a commission in the Horse Guards in 1737. He campaigned in Portugal as a young officer and, in 1775 as a major general with three years' seniority, was sent to Boston. When the British evacuated Boston, he became deputy to the commander in Canada. After his disastrous defeat at Saratocra, he returned to England. See James Lunt, John Burgoyne of Saratoga (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975), xiii, xiv, 3-11.
4. Other veterans included former British regulars Horatio Gates, Richard Montgomery, and Charles Lee, and colonial officers Artemas Ward, David Wooster, and Joseph Spencer. All these numbered among the first group of generals created by Congress. See Robert K. Wright, The Continental Army (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983), 8.
5 . See John W. Shy, "A New Look at Colonial Militia," The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 20 (1963):179. The quality of the militias varied from colony to colony and from year to year. The frequency of their drill and their measure of attention varied directly with the level of tension with the Indians. See Jack S. Radabaugh, "The Militia of Colonial Massachusetts," Military Affairs 18 (Spring 1954):13, and E. Milton Wheeler, "Development and Organization of the North Carolina Militia," The North Carolina Historical Review 61. (July 1964):314.
Note: Appendixes referred to in the notes refer to those mentioned in this book.
6. Wright, Continental Army, 15. By June 1775, the Massachusetts establishment, for instance, was planned to consist of twenty-three infantry regiments and one artillery regiment.
7. Von Steuben was neither a general nor a baron, but Benjamin Franklin, who discovered him, correctly identified the Prussian officer as ideally suited to Washington's need for a drillmaster. See Russell F. Weigley, History of the United States Army (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 63.
8. For a thorough description of the events leading to the establishment of the Continental Army, see Wright, Continental Army, 23-25. One of the first light infantry companies raised directly to serve in the Continental Army was a Frederick County, Virginia, unit commanded by Daniel Morgan.
9. Ira D. Gruber, "Britain's Southern Strategy," The Revolutionary War in the South: Power, Conflict, and Leadership, ed. W. Robert Higgins (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1979), 206, 207.
10. The names of a number of the towns have evolved since the Revolutionary War. Charleston, for instance, was then spelled "Charlestown," and Charlotte was often called "Charlotte Town." In all cases, I have used the modern spelling or name of the town.
11. See J. F. C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World, vol. 2 (New York: Minerva Press, 1955), 277, and Vincent Esposito, ed., The West Point Atlas of American Wars, vol. 1 (New York: Praeger, 1959), 4. Dave Richard Palmer agrees that, until mid - 1776, the British were "too weak to destroy the rebel army and thereafter Washington was too wily to catch." See Dave R. Palmer and James W. Stryker, The Way of the Fox (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975), 39. The number of British troops in North America grew from 7,000 in 1775 to over, 52,000 in 1778. See Philip R. N, Katcher, Encyclopedia of British, Provincial, and German Army Units 1775-1783 (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1973), 141.
12. See also Paul David Nelson, "British Conduct of the American Revolutionary War: A Review of Interpretations," Journal of American History 65 (December 1978): 623-53.
13. This was not, of course, their original aim. The Continental Congress was reluctant to break with the Crown. Only after the storming of Fort Ticonderoga did Congress take its first concrete decision to wage war, on 25 May 1775. For a discussion of the formation of American strategy, see Palmer, Fox, 50-76.
14. Russell Weigley, The American Way of War (New York: Macmillan, 1973), 3. John Morgan Dederer notes a similarity in the strategic approaches of Washington and Mao Tse-tung in Making Bricks Without Straw: Nathanael Greene's Southern Campaign and Mao Tse Tung's Mobile War (Manhattan, KS: Sunflower University Press, 1983). Similarities certainly exist. Weigley's conclusion that Washington's weaker position led him to evasion is less exotic than Dederer's claim that Washington's thinking was revolutionary and, in the context of eighteenth century generalship, more palatable as well.
15. Elmer Bendiner describes the diplomatic efforts of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay in the capitals of Europe in The Virgin Diplomats (New York: Knopf, 1976).
16. For a discussion of the problems of provisioning the British army in America, see Edward E. Curtis, The Organization of the British Army in the American Revolution (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1926), 81-134. The Ordnance Department owned transport vessels but contracted over 50 percent of its transatlantic shipments, 180, 181.
17. In R. Arthur Bowler, Logistics and the Failure of the British Army in America 1775-1783 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975). Bowler argues that the British failed to maintain dependable supply lines.
18. John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, 39 vols. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1931-44), viii, 470.
19. As many as 25,000 Tories served the British, Loyalists in 1779 and again in 1782 claimed that more Americans were serving under the King's colors than with rebel forces. See Lerenzo Sabine, "The Tory Contingent in the British Army in America in 1781," The Historical Magazine 8 (October, 1864): 331. One Loyalist unit was the British Legion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Sabine lists thirty Loyalist officers in this unit, 358, W. O. Raymond, Loyalists in Arms (St. John, N.B.: Sun Printing, 1904), lists 25 officers and 341 rank and file for the Legion cavalry, 220.
20. On 14 January 1776, William Pitt thundered in the House of Commons: "I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of people, so dead to all the feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest." See Robert Debs Heinl, Jr., Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations (Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute, 1966), 9. The parallels between this aspect of the American Revolution and the United States' involvement in Vietnam are striking and paradoxical.
21. Palmer, Fox, 38.
22. Wright, Continental Army, 29-40.
23. Wounded at the battle were a future president, Lieutenant James Monroe, and Captain William Washington, who would command the American cavalry at the Cowpens four years later.
24. Daniel Morgan commanded a rifle regiment in the battle. Afterward, Burgoyne was alleged to have told Morgan, "My dear sir, you command the finest regiment in the world." See J. D. Bailey, Some Heroes of the American Revolution (Spartanburg, SC: Bond & White Printers, 1924), 12. Whether Burgoyne made this gracious remark is unknown; however, Morgan did play a crucial and valiant part in the American victory, and his Virginia rifles have been judged by the eminent military historian J. F. C. Fuller to be "the finest light infantry of the day," Military History 2,293. Morgan figures prominently in Trumbulls' well-known portrayal of Burgoyne's surrender. See David Meschutt, "Portraits of Daniel Morgan, Revolutionary War General," American Art Journal 17, no. 3 (1,985): 38.
25. For an analysis of the Washington-Lee controversy, see John Richard Alden, General Charles Lee Traitor or Patriot? (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1951).
26. See William B. Willcox, "British Strategy in America, 1778," Journal of Modern History 19 (1947): 97-121.
27. Major General Augustine Prevost (1723-86) was apparently the son of a Swiss officer who raised the Royal American Regiment (60th Foot). He was wounded as a major with Wolfe at Quebec and found himself in 1776 in command of British forces in east Florida. He returned to England in 1779. See Mark Mayo Boatner III, Encyclopedia of the American Revolution (New York: David McKay Company, 1976), 889.
28. Fighting skirmishes with militia units during the siege operations was Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton.
29. See Robert B. Asprey, War in the Shadows (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1975), 105.
30. See chapter two for a more detailed analysis of this campaign.
When Clinton sailed south, he hoped, as a preliminary step to the eventual subjugation of the colonies, to secure the broad base of operations denied him and his predecessors farther north. The campaign plan was simple enough. Operating from a secure base at Savannah, Georgia, Clinton would seize the key port of Charleston and then destroy the isolated pockets of resistance in the upcountry. The French fleet had the potential to disrupt communications from Charleston to Savannah, New York, and England, but this threat had yet to be realized since the fleet's arrival in American waters. As was the case throughout the war, the Americans reacted to British initiatives. Consistent with Washington's overall strategy, militia units harassed the British until regulars could hurry south to counter the threat.
The campaign that ensued in the Carolinas was characterized, on the one hand, by rapid movement of light troops, either regular or militia, and, on the other, by brutal guerrilla warfare of rebel and Tory bands. While both armies contained regular troops, terrain and tactics dictated the predominance of light fighters.1 The Carolinas counted but two cities in the eighteenth century, Georgetown and Charleston. Beyond these ports, scattered settlements formed a loose network of frontier civilization having little in common with the coastal aristocracy.2 The river network in South Carolina flowed generally southeast from the rugged hills around modern-day Spartanburg to the inhospitable swampland along the coast. The major water arteries - the Savannah, Santee, and Great Pedee Rivers - afforded rapid movement of supplies and troops by small boats only, and the vast pine woods in between could only be traversed slowly and painstakingly (see map 2).
Main armies were intended for decisive action on the battlefield, but getting them to it was a Herculean task. The baggage customary in an eighteenth-century army encumbered it on the march. An infantry regiment such as the 7th Royal Fusiliers, with an establishment of 477 men, required four wagons and sixteen horses by regulation and probably hired more on campaign.3 A 12-pounder artillery piece weighed 3,200 pounds and required a team of twelve horses to pull it. Even Tarleton's light baggage became an issue as he raced to meet Morgan in the winter of 1780-81.4
Map 2. The Southern theater of operations, 1780-81
On both sides, partisans who enrolled in provisional or militia companies could reasonably be expected to move as quickly as light infantry-which in many ways, they were. These units were raised because both sides suffered from too few regulars, and because the militia tradition was already well-established in the colonies. Since the partisans were not part of a regular establishment, commanders could not rely on their presence at a time of crisis.5 And because the iron discipline and restraint customary in European armies of the day was foreign to these stubbornly independent frontiersmen, they were more likely to commit the sort of excesses forbidden (if still too often practiced) by regulars. The South Carolina militia, having seen action against Indians before and during the Revolution, had long been accustomed to unfettered brutality. Their traditional tactics were the ambush and the raid; their tools were rapid movement, terror as a psychological weapon, and rapid analysis of intelligence gained from scouts and spies. In accomplishing their mission to suppress Tory sentiment, they tended to use their customary methods.6 One participant remarked that, when the army left, "it was now almost Fire & Faggot between Whig & Tory, who were contending for ascendancy[.] continued so till the l5th or 20th of May ."7 Reprisal and retaliation followed as passions became enflamed, and the conflict in the south resembled more a civil war than fighting according to the rules of organized warfare.
From the summer of 1778, the war in the north became a stalemate; the armed might of Great Britain had managed to secure the city of New York, while the Hudson highlands and New Jersey remained firmly in American hands. Using the only advantage he had, the Royal Navy, Clinton took his army south, where it could range through a supposedly friendly countryside without fear of detachments being ambushed by Washington's Continentals. By the time Clinton moved south, Savannah had been taken, and Prevost's St. Augustine garrison had moved north to assist in the recapture of Georgia. Clinton saw Charleston as the logical target: Charleston was the seat of the colony, and its seaport facilities would be essential as a command and control and logistics base for the eventual subjugation of South Carolina, the taking of which would assist Prevost's efforts in Georgia. Lincoln, commanding the strong defenses that Brigadier General William Moultrie had successfully defended in 1776, unwisely concentrated his 5,000 troops in the city against the seaborne threat. Clinton arrived with 6,000 troops on 11 February 1780, delaying until 7 March to erect batteries on the Ashley River opposite the city. Finally reinforced by 4,000 additional troops, Clinton isolated the defenders by land and sea and snipped Lincoln's line of communications by sending Banastre Tarleton thirty miles up the Cooper River to crush a small band of American militia there. Over a month into the siege, Lincoln surrendered his force - including the entire Continental establishment of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. This may have been the greatest blow to the American cause in the war.8
With Charleston a secure logistics base, Clinton was able to send detachments to destroy the remaining opposition in the region. Tarleton, who had already proved himself to be an aggressive, ruthless, and decisive cavalry leader, chased down the rebels. Because the militia bands traveled light and were elusive, Tarleton's force was tailored to move faster than its opponents could run. The main component of his force was the Legion, an 800-man Loyalist force of light infantry and cavalry. In May 1780, Tarleton caught Colonel Abraham Buford's militia at Waxhaws and destroyed them, earning the frightening sobriquet "Bloody Tarleton."9 With this success, Clinton returned to New York, hoping to catch Washington, now weakened from sending reinforcements south. Clinton appointed his deputy Cornwallis to sweep away the remaining detachments of partisans, secure the loyalty of South Carolina, and plan a campaign into North Carolina.10 Cornwallis chased the remaining rebel bands, led by such heroes as Francis Marion and Thomas Sumter, into the swamps and backcountry. With the rebels on the run, long-suppressed Tories began to take their revenge. The rebellion in South Carolina, far from subsiding, became a vicious civil war.
As the British swept away the opposition, the Continental Congress reacted with alarm and sent more Continentals to the theater. Major General, Baron de Kalb, one of a group of foreign adventurers and idealists drawn to the American conflict, was the first commander to come south to apply a tourniquet to bleeding Carolina. The Congress felt, however, that it was inappropriate for a foreigner to command a theater of the war. Against the advice of Washington, de Kalb was replaced by Gates who was considered to be the victor of Saratoga.11
Gates assumed command of about 4,200 Continentals and militia on 25 July 1780. Driven by local pressure to boost sagging morale and to preempt a British invasion of North Carolina, he immediately seized the initiative. When intelligence reports indicated that Cornwallis had left a detachment at Camden, Gates hurried his Continentals and militia there. In his haste, he almost overlooked his cavalry, which - surprisingly, considering the strength and reputation of Tarleton's force - he held as inconsequential in any case. As one sympathetic historian has observed, Gates intended to occupy breastworks and force an outmaneuvered British contingent to assault them. Thus, cavalry may have seemed unnecessary to him.12 In any event, the Americans arrived bone tired and hungry only to discover that Cornwallis had returned. On 16 August, an inferior force of 2,200 British regulars scattered the North Carolina and Virginia militias and then outflanked the Delaware and Maryland regulars, killing their commander, de Kalb. Gates fled the field with the militia, discrediting himself in the process. Two days later, Tarleton defeated Sumter's South Carolina militiamen, killing 150 patriots and wounding another 300.
Having defeated both Gates and Sumter, Cornwallis had reason to believe that South Carolina was safe-but only for the time being. Clinton had left Cornwallis considerable latitude in his prosecution of the war. He had instructed only that South Carolina, and Charleston in particular, be safeguarded at all costs. Cornwallis, for his part, saw invasion of North Carolina as the only way to achieve Clinton's objectives.13 To guarantee his recent successes, Cornwallis determined to move boldly into North Carolina. Sending a small detachment to Cape Fear to establish a closer logistics base, he continued his march north toward Charlotte and the main rebel army and directed Major Patrick Ferguson on a raid against partisans in the west. At King's Mountain in October 1780, Ferguson's Loyalists met partisans who had come down from the Tennessee hills. There, Ferguson was surrounded and his men killed at long range by accurate rifle fire from marksmen hidden in the woods below. This first set back for the British caused Cornwallis to retire from Charlotte to Wynnsboro, centrally located to enable him to cover South Carolina while he waited for Major General Alexander Leslie, sent south by Clinton, to arrive. Together, he thought, his and Leslie's troops could clear the Carolinas of rebels.
The victory at King's Mountain was not enough to save Gates' sullied reputation. He was relieved in December by Greene, who had always been Washington's selection for command in the south. Greene was a pudgy thirty-eight-year-old Quaker from Rhode Island. By most accounts, he was disavowed by the Society of Friends for having raised a company of militia in 1774. In fact, he and acquaintances had visited "a place in Connecticut of Publick Resort [a tavern] where they had No Proper Business." He was subsequently suspended.14 He was not selected for captain by the men because, as a consequence of a limp, he cut a poor figure of an officer. Humbly, he served in the ranks until, in 1775, he was selected by the colonial assembly to command its contingent to the Continental Army.15 He fought alongside Washington in every major action, earning his commander's highest regard. Greene confronted a mixed situation in the south: the conditions were desperate, morale in the army was low, and his predecessor had failed miserably; but, on the positive side, he had free rein and the financial authority and moral support of Congress to restore the army, and he held the unlimited confidence of the commander in chief. Nonetheless, he approached his task cautiously. To Congress, Greene wrote, "He [Greene] is conscious of his deficiencies, but if he is clothed with proper powers and receives the necessary support, he is not altogether without hopes of prescribing some bounds to the ravages of the enemy."16 Despite the reputation he earned in the Carolinas, Nathanael Greene was a cautious, conservative commander.17
The new commander of the Southern Department managed to assemble just over 1,000 Continentals and militia of Gates' command.18 The task Washington had assigned him was formidable. Five days after arriving in Charlotte, he wrote, "Nothing can be more wretched and distressing than the condition of the troops, starving with cold and hunger, without tents and camp equipage."19 He addressed his formidable energy to the spirit of his army, creating in his headquarters an impression of determination and purpose. He appointed a new slate of staff officers, inspected formations, prepared to move the army, hanged a deserter, and demanded greater exertions from his commissary.20
Although outnumbered, Greene recognized his advantages at once and sought to capitalize upon them. With large (if scattered) numbers of militia and sympathizers in the west, he could keep well informed of Cornwallis' whereabouts. This asset enabled him to deviate from accepted rules of war. Although he could not defeat Cornwallis, he could nibble away at the British army, avoid destruction of his own force, and simultaneously attend to the dire logistical imperatives that overshadowed his operational plans.21 To compensate for the lack of forage in Charlotte, he made the often-criticized decision to move his army to Cheraw Hill where Colonel Tadeusz Kosciuszko had found adequate supplies.22 This movement could have telegraphed the wrong message to patriots in the western Carolinas, as Cheraw Hill was farther from Cornwallis than Charlotte. However, Greene, by sending a detachment under Morgan into South Carolina, sought to make Cornwallis divide his forces as well.23 Logistical considerations played an important role in the planning and outcome of the campaign. Difficulties in foraging may have forced Greene to seek a plan that allowed him to disperse his force sufficiently. While he realized Morgan's precarious position, he believed that intelligence gained from local patriots would keep Morgan sufficiently informed to avoid being surprised and to allow the army to combine quickly enough to defeat whatever force Cornwallis sent after him.
In his operational directive of 16 December 1780, Greene told Morgan to conduct a prudent campaign designed to call attention to itself. The order contained four critical components. First, Morgan was to raise such militia as could be found, in particular those led by brigadier generals Thomas Sumter and William Davidson (the latter of North Carolina). Second, he was to protect patriot settlements west of the Catawba River and "spirit up the people." Third, he was "to annoy the enemy in that quarter [the west]." And, finally, should Cornwallis snap at the bait, Greene directed Morgan to move to join with the main army. Paramount in the plan was the survival of Morgan's forces. The directive was clear and precise in its provisions yet gave the experienced Virginia rifleman adequate room for interpretation as the campaign developed.
Morgan's actions indicate clearly his method of achieving Greene's intent. Marching about fifty-five miles, he moved into South Carolina on 21 December 1780, arriving on the Pacolet River at Grindal Shoals on Christmas day (see map 3). There he encamped his army.24 To shelter his men from the elements, he directed that huts be constructed. From this base, he sent raiding and foraging parties into the countryside to raise the western counties and attract Cornwallis' attention. Meanwhile, he sent word to Colonels Andrew Pickens and Sumter to join him. Lieutenant Colonel William Washington, with almost 300 horsemen, attacked Hammond's Store, killing and wounding about 150 Tones.25 Colonel Hays of the South Carolina militia took fifty men to Fort William, where he chased the Tory garrison away and burned the fort. Reports of these forays led Cornwallis to fear for the safety of Ninety Six, which he considered to be the cornerstone of his defenses in the western part of the colony. Contrary to the impression left us by numerous authors,26 Morgan was not a prey to be cornered on the Broad River by the huntsman Tarleton; Morgan was boldly teasing the British into a rash move.
Map 3. Situation, 20 December 1780 to 14 January 1781
For the first time in the southern campaign, and as a consequence of the British disaster at King's Mountain, the Americans had gained the initiative in the south. Now, Cornwallis could not direct his entire army against either wing of Greene's force without exposing Charleston to attack or the western region to intimidation. In response to Morgan's foray into western South Carolina, Cornwallis directed his forces in three prongs, moving (in theory) within a day's march of each other toward the irritating rebels. Leading was Cornwallis' favorite, Tarleton.27 Bringing up the heavy troops, artillery, and baggage, Cornwallis would march up the east bank of the Broad River with over 3,300 troops. Leslie would hurry to join the army with his 1,500 men. Tarleton's light force, leading the army, would fix the enemy, after which the regulars would destroy him. As the British forces marched only one day from each other, enemy contact with any prong could result in friendly forces coming to its support. The additional advantages of moving on separate axes were logistical. Parallel routes would reduce the length of the column and thus minimize the time required for the trail element to reach the front as it deployed for battle. Also, smaller columns would be easier to feed.
The British plans went awry almost immediately. Cornwallis' army soon became uncoupled as Tarleton moved with the swiftness his formation afforded him, and Leslie became mired in the swamps. Swollen rivers slowed the movement of all the columns. Addition ally, Cornwallis lacked the urgency required of him to catch Morgan.28 Although he urged Tarleton to ever greater exertions, his own movements portray a sense of frustration, perhaps at the slowness of his baggage-laden columns. Perhaps he assumed incorrectly that the swollen rivers that blocked him were a barrier to Tarleton as well. He also dallied, hoping that Leslie, who had landed in Charleston on 14 December, might catch up. But the dashing cavalry officer Tarleton saw no impediment; he swam his horses across the rivers and made rafts for the troops. While Cornwallis hoped Tarleton could fix and destroy Morgan, he knew the main army would be powerless to help.
In early January, both Tarleton and Cornwallis were within twenty- four-hours march of each other and placed generally between Morgan on the Pacolet River and Greene at Cheraw Hill. On 7 January, Tarleton's baggage caught up to him at Briarly's Creek, in the company of 200 recruits of the 7th Regiment, 50 dragoons, and a second 3-pounder. Hearing reports of reinforcements joining Morgan, Tarleton applied for and received permission to retain the escort.29 But the swollen rivers plagued Cornwallis' march and inhibited combination by the two commanders. Thus, Cornwallis failed to control Tarleton in a coordinated move that would have combined the three formations against Morgan. Cornwallis' otherwise reasonable calculations violated the fundamental requirement that components of an army be synchronized.
Morgan also found the going difficult. He complained that "Forage and provisions are not to be had." And yet he feared the consequence of leaving the country in search of more hospitable campaigning grounds.30 Greene authorized him to seek provisions as far south as Ninety Six, which put even greater distance between their two forces.31 Without realizing it, Greene, by this direction, may also have led Cornwallis to fear for the safety of Loyalists in the area, thus causing the British general to spur on Tarleton to find Morgan.32 Tarleton may have believed, from information he received from spies, that Morgan intended to threaten Ninety Six.33
Even more startling than the logistical concerns in Morgan's correspondence is his plainspoken fear for the survival of his force. Two days before the meeting at the Cowpens, Morgan wrote to Greene that he would be unable to fight because of the size of Tarleton's detachment, accurately estimated at between 1,100 and 1,200 men. He knew of Tarleton's whereabouts and believed himself to be the quarry. He informed his commander that he had only 340 volunteers from three states and doubted their reliability in a battle. With the Continentals and Virginians, his force numbered over 900 on that date. Then, as now, a deployed force in defensive positions held the advantage over an attacker.35 Thus, Morgan must have weighed the reputation of his opponent and the British troops very highly. Certainly, the reverses at Waxhaws and Camden had tempered the judgment of the American leaders, while the patriot victory at King's Mountain was dismissed as an aberration.
Lamenting his inability to control the militia and decrying his numbers, Morgan told his superior that he possessed inadequate strength for "attempts you have hinted at."36 Greene did not direct Morgan in writing to fight a pitched battle. His clear instructions regarding the British forces were that, should Cornwallis move on Greene, Morgan should rejoin the main army or strike the flank or rear of the British columns. The only clear implication in the letter was that Morgan should avoid battle, which is precisely what Morgan wanted to do. Perhaps Greene and Morgan had discussed in Charlotte the possibility that Morgan would be the target. Perhaps Morgan lost his nerve. From his subsequent behavior, the former seems more likely.
Tarleton had no such misgivings. Sometimes called "The Green Dragoon" or "Bloody Banny," he had assumed the identity of the English gentry-warrior class. Cecil Woodham-Smith describes that group:
War was an aristocratic trade, and military glory reserved for nobles and princes. Glittering squadrons of cavalry, long lines of infantry, wheeling obediently on the parade ground, ministered to the lust both for power and for display. Courage was esteemed the essential military quality and held to be a virtue exclusive to aristocrats. Were they not educated to courage, trained, as no common man was trained, by years of practice in dangerous sports? They glorified courage, called it valour, saw war in terms of valour as the supreme adventure.37The Tarletons were not members of this social elite, but they were a family of substance. A great grandfather outfitted and commanded one of Oliver Cromwell's warships. Tarleton's father was a successful Liverpool businessman, Jamaica plantation owner, and slave trader.38 Banastre Tarleton entered Oxford with his elder brother in 1771, and he remained there until the death of his father in 1773. With an inheritance of �5,000, he left Oxford to study law. This subject appears not to have interested him; after two years of idling in gaming salons, he purchased a, cornetship in the 1st Regiment of Dragoon Guards. The post cost his mother �800.39
The choice of regiments indicates young Tarleton's character: cavalry represented the concepts of glory, courage, and chivalry that inhabited the aristocratic world to which he aspired-that of the knight in shining armor. Not only that, but the King's Dragoon Guards was the senior line cavalry unit and one of the more prestigious regiments of the army. Tarleton, however, was no mere parade ground dandy. When an opportunity came for service in America, he arranged to be posted to the 16th Light Dragoons. Although cavalry, these were field troops scorned by the status-conscious. They were light, agile men mounted on polo ponies, organized and equipped to maintain constant contact with the enemy, hunt them down, and hold them for the regulars to kill. The 16th was raised in 1759 after a successful experiment three years earlier.40 The regiment deployed in the fall of 1775.
In America, Tarleton distinguished himself almost immediately. At Princeton, his men captured Lee41 - the young dragoon personally escorting his prisoner to Lord Cornwallis. Tarleton not only caught Cornwallis' eye, his success also led the patriotic citizenry of Liverpool to elect him captain of their volunteer company. Campaigning in New Jersey gave Tarleton greater notoriety after his horsemen cruelly subdued the rebellious population. With the passing of command from Howe to Clinton in 1778, shakeups in the staff resulted in Tarleton being named brigade major. It was Major Tarleton in command of the 17th Light Dragoons who charged at Monmouth, causing Lee's withdrawal and subsequent disgrace.42 Grateful for the part the impetuous cavalryman played was the British commander, Cornwallis. Tarleton fully embraced H. Lloyd's offensive doctrine: "No army conquers merely by resisting: you may repel an enemy; but victory is the result of action."43 Upon the creation in August 1778 of a mixed light regiment of green-clad English, Scottish, and Loyalist volunteers, the officer selected to command it was Tarleton, now promoted to lieutenant colonel at the age of twenty-six. He could attribute his meteoric rise to feats of valor alone; neither wealth nor family connections (he had none) influenced his status. The lesson was clear: courage and resolve were rewarded; indeed, they were a vehicle for social mobility.
As Tarleton hunted the ragtag Americans, his greatest problem was to get to Morgan before the latter could cross the Broad River and rejoin the main American army (see map 4). Tarleton did not consider defeat a possibility, although he expected Cornwallis would meet him, leaving the issue without doubt. He believed his commander was moving, albeit more slowly, to support him. Indeed, he suggested gently that Cornwallis hurry to King's Mountain. He also expected the third prong of the army, Leslie's, to be within supporting distance. A report of the presence of American artillery-the consequence of an American ruse in which logs were attached to wagon wheels and paraded in front of Colonel Ridgely's or Rugely's) Tory garrison on 28 November 1780--concerned him,44 but Cornwallis assured Tarleton in a letter dated 2 January 1781 that this information was incorrect.45 Tarleton's instincts told him to pursue as quickly as he could; his commander urged the same.
Tarleton finally found Morgan - or, more accurately, Morgan allowed himself to be found - at Hannah's Cowpens, a location known well to locals and therefore an appropriate rallying point for militia speeding to Morgan's assistance. Within an hour, Cornwallis had lost the most effective and mobile force available to him. Al though Morgan had won a decisive tactical victory, he still faced a far superior, if slower, force under Cornwallis. Morgan hurried his small band of veterans back across the Broad River to North Carolina, Greene, and safety (see maps 5, 6, and 7). Still possessing most of his strength and determined to see the campaign through, Cornwallis followed Morgan and Greene north, attempting in vain to destroy the rebel force. The chase sapped British strength, even as Greene gathered supporters from heartened Carolinians. By early spring, Greene's force had swollen to 4,300, while the British army had dwindled to about 2,000. Although Greene sought to avoid combat, he could not resist the opportunity Cornwallis presented him. He turned to meet his hunter46 at Guilford Court House on 15 March. Cornwallis won the battle but failed to destroy Greene's army. He also failed to rally significant support from colonists in the region.
Map 4. Situation, 14 January 1781
Cornwallis continued to follow Greene for two weeks but the campaign had failed. Leaving Lieutenant Colonel Rawdon47 in command of British troops in South Carolina, Cornwallis marched to Wilmington and then Yorktown. Continued fighting in the Carolinas failed to alter the course set at King's Mountain and the Cowpens. Battles were won and lost by each side, yet none was decisive. The outcome of the war in the south was, in large measure, a consequence of the operational plans of the contesting commanders. Clinton, and in his stead Cornwallis, saw the campaign as a series of opportunities:
Map 5. Situation, 15 and 16 January 1781
Map 6. Situation, 17 January 1781
Map 7. Situation, 18 January 1781
success at Savannah could be secured by moving on Charleston; complete control of South Carolina could be gained by threatening North Carolina. In each case, the British commander's objectives became broader as his assets dwindled in a hostile country. In contrast, Greene's objective was to boost the morale of colonists sympathetic to the American cause. This objective did not require open battle. While he assured the survival of his own army, he raised the militia to assist in the whittling down of his opponent's forces. In the eighteenth century, battles occurred only when both commanders determined to stand and fight. In the vast wildernesses of the south, Greene could rest fairly assured that Cornwallis could notcorner him. Thus, the American campaign plan, simple and mindful of the situation in the theater of war, permitted tactical commanders (including Greene) to err on the battlefield without altering substantially the course of the war in the south.
1. Weigley, Army, 69-73. For a detailed analysis, see also Jac Weller, "Irregular but Effective: Partisan Weapons Tactics in the American Revolution, Southern Theater," Militaty Affairs 21, no. 3 (1957):118-31.
2. For a discussion of South Carolina society, see Robert Stansbury Lambert, South Carolina Loyalists in the American Revolution (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987), 4-9- M. F. Treasy, Prelude to Yorktown: The Southern Campaign of Nathanael Greene, 1780-1781 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963), 3-12.
3. Five wagons were delivered to the regiment in May 1777. See Curtis, British, Army, 187, 188.
4. See Tarleton-Cornwallis Letters 7-10, Appendix D, 175-77. Citations without titles refer to primary sources reproduced in the appendix of this volume.
5. See Appendix B, for example, the loose organization described in Sexton's memoir, 100.
6. See Clyde R. Ferguson, "Functions of the Partisan-Militia in the South During the American Revolution: An Interpretation," in Higgins, Revolutionary War, 239-58.
7. Guyton memoir, 132.
8. For a detailed description of the siege, see Sir Henry Clinton, The American Rebellion, ed. William B. Willcox (New York: Archon Books, 1971), 157-72. See also John C. Cavanaugh, "American Military Leadership in the Southern Campaign: Benjamin Lincoln," in Higgins, Revolutionary War, 101-31.
9. The engagement is sometimes referredto as "Buford's Defeat." Most historians describe the action as a massacre, as Tarleton, apparently ordered or condoned the killing of Americans under a white flag, in an act thereafter described as "Tarleton's Quarter." However, Virginia pension records show that a substantial number of Americans, though wounded, survived the battle and were paroled or discharged. Given the passions aroused by this sort of war, some excesses are likely to have occurred; however, at some point, the killing must have stopped short of massacre.
10. Ira D. Gruber, "British Southern Strategy," in Higgins, Revolutionary War, 228. See also Clinton, Rebellion, 190, 191.
11. De Kalb remained to command the Continentals in the Southern Army.
12. Paul David Nelson, "Major General Horatio Gates as a Military Leader: The Southern Experience," in Higgins, Revolutionary War, 142. Nelson is more critical of Gates in "Horatio Gates in the Southern Department, 1780: Serious Errors and a Costly Defeat," North Carolina Historical Review 50 (1973): 256-72.
13. In a letter of 6 August 1780, Cornwallis wrote: "It may be doubted by some whether the invasion of North Carolina may be a prudent measure. But I am convinced that it is a necessary one and that, if we do not attack that province, we must give up both South Carolina and Georgia and retire within the walls of Charleston." See Clinton, Rebellion, 448.
14. Dederer, Straw, 62, n. 9.
15. John S. Pancake, This Destructive War: The British Campaign in the Carolinas 1780-1781 (University: University of Alabama Press, 1985), 127; Theodore Thayer, Nathanael Greene: Strategist of the American Revolution (New York: Twayne, 1960); Elswyth Thane, The Fighting Quaker: Nathanael Greene (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1972). For fulsome praise, see the description by Alexander Garden, Greene's aide, in Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in, America (Charleston, SC: A. E. Miller, 1822), 76-84.
16. Greene to the president of Congress, Philadelphia, 27 October 1780, cited in George Washington Greene, The Life of Nathanael Greene, vol. 3 (New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1871), 35-36.
17. This is also the conclusion of Dennis Michael Conrad, who analyzed Greene's generalship in "Nathanael Greene and the Southern Campaign," Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1979.
18. The first returns included 2,307 men, of whom 1,482 were fit for duty; only 949 were Continentals. These and ninety cavalry and sixty artillery comprised the army. In a letter Greene wrote to Lafayette, he complained that his "whole force fit for duty that (were) properly clothed and properly equipt (did) not amount to 800 men." Greene to Lafayette, 29 December 1780, cited in Greene, Life, vol. 3, 70.
19. Jared Sparks, ed., Correspondence of the American Revolution, vol. 3 (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1853), 166. Compare Lawrence E. Babits' figures in "Greene's Strategy in the Southern Campaign, 1780-1781," in Adapting to Conditions War and Society in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Maarten Ultee (University: University of Alabama Press, 1986), 136-37.
20. See Greene, Life, vol. 3, 68-82; Thayer, Greene, 293; see Seymour memoir, Appendix B, 102.
21. Babits, observes that "throughout the Southern campaign, Greene acted as if he were still the quartermaster general who had brought order to the supply of the Continental Army under Washington," in "Campaign," 148.
22. Since the maneuver produced the desired results, historians more often raise their eyebrows at Greene's boldness; however, they invariably remark on the violation of the principle. See, for example, James Boone Bartholomees, "Fight or Flee: The Combat Performance of the North Carolina Militia in the Cowpens -Guilford Court House Campaign, January to March, 1781," Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1978; George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin, Rebels and Redcoats (New York: The World Publishing Company, 1957), 425, 426. See also Greene-Morgan Letter 2,212.
23. For a discussion of Greene's operational concept, see Weigley, War, 29-36. See also Edwin C. Bearss, The Battle of the Cowpens (Washington, DC: Office of Archeology and Historical Preservation, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1967), 1. The original suggestion that Morgan conduct a raid was put forward by North Carolina militia General William Davidson in a letter dated 27 November 1780. See Chalmers Gaston Davidson, Piedmont Partisan: The Life and Times of Brigadier-General William Lee Davidson (Davidson, NC: Davidson College Press, 1951), 98.
24. For descriptions of the march, see Appendix B, Captain Kirkwood's diary, 97, 114; Captain William Beatty's diary, 99; Sergeant Major Seymour's journal 102-4.
25. See Appendix B, Hammond memoir, 96; Seymour memoir, 102; Everhart memoir, 104; Copeland memoir, 105; Dial memoir, 106, Guyton memoir, 108.
26. See Richard M. Ketchum, "Men of the American Revolution XVI: Daniel Morgan," American Heritage 27 (1976): 97; David Schenck, North Carolina 1780-1781 (Raleigh, NC: Edwards and Broughton, 1889), 203-4. R. Don Higginbotham, in a biographical sketch of Morgan, writes, "Morgan, falling back toward the border of the Carolinas, made a stand against Tarleton at the Cowpens." See "Daniel Morgan," American Military Leaders, ed. Roger J. Spiller (New York: Praeger, 1989), 219. See also Conrad, "Greene," 103. Higginbotham's more detailed explanation in Daniel Morgan, Revolutionary Rifleman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 130-31, portrays a more accurate picture of the events.
27. Cornwallis sent Tarleton the order to move on 1 January 1781. See Tarleton campaign narrative, Appendix B, 112-15.
28. By contrast, Ira D. Gruber portrays Cornwallis as "a confident, gregarious man, filled with energy, and capable of acting decisively even rashly." "Britain's Southern Strategy," in Higgins, Revolutionary War, 213.
29. See Cornwallis-Tarleton Letters 7 and 8, Appendix D, 175-76. Tarleton had requested the baggage only on 4 January; see Cornwallis-Tarleton Letter 7, 175-76.
30. See Appendix B, Seymour for a description of the conditions of the troops, 102.
31. See Greene-Morgan Letter 3, Appendix D, 163-64.
32. See Cornwallis-Tarleton Letters 1 and 4, Appendix D, 112-13, 174.
33. See Cornwallis-Tarleton Letters 1 and 4, Appendix D, 112-13, 174.
34. See Greene-Morgan Letter 4, Appendix D, 164-65.
35. Writing from his observations a scant two decades after the battle of the Cowpens, the great military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote, "We maintain unequivocally that the form of warfare we call defense not only offers greater probability of victory than attack, but that its victories can attain the same proportions and results," On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984), 392.
36. See Appendix D, Greene-Morgan Letter 8, 15 January, 169-70.
37. The Reason Why (New York. E. P. Dutton, 1960), 1.
38. For more details of Tarleton's background, see Robert D. Bass, The Green Dragoon (Columbia, SC: Sandlapper Press, 1972), 11-31.
39. Until the nineteenth century, commissions in the British Army were reserved for those who could afford them, in the belief that the monied classes were schooled for the hardships of military service and were more likely to possess the courage required for it. The cost, �800, may have been a bargain; the same position in the Horse-Guards cost �1,200. The annual pay of a cornet of dragoons was only �255. See Curtis, British Army, 158, 159.
40. R. Money Bames, A History of the Regiments & Uniforms of the British Army (London: Seeley Service & Co., 1964), 38, 66. The first known light cavalry in modern Europe were Magyar volunteers. Similar formations were in use in European armies by the end of the seventh century, the English adopting them only with reluctance because of their irregular origins. See David Chandler, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Marlborough (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1976), 37-41; John W. Fortescue, A History of the l7th Lancers (London: Macmillan, 1895), 5, 6. For comparison, see Christopher Duffy, The Army of Frederick the Great (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1974), 98-102.
41. Ironically, as an officer in the British Army, Charles Lee had actually served in the l6th Light Dragoons in Portugal. See Bass, Dragoon, 20.
42. Of his decision, Lee said, "If the British cavalry [Tarleton] had vigorously pushed on our right, they might have turned our flank, taken us in reverse, and we had been lost." Bass, Dragoon, 45.
43. From H. Lloyd, Continuation of the History of the Late War in Germany Between the King of Prussia and the Empress of Germany and Her Allies, Part 2 (London: S. Hooper, 1781), 145. George Hanger, one of Tarleton's prot�g�s, quotes this passage to refute the criticism of Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie that Tarleton was too precipitate in his attack of Morgan's force. See An Address to the Army in Reply to the Strictures by Roderick Mackenzie (London: James Ridgway, 1789),123.
44. See Kirkwood's diary, Appendix B, 97; See Anderson's diary, Appendix C, 139; Kelley's diary, 142.
45. See Cornwallis-Tarleton Letter 4, Appendix D, 139.
46. See William R. Trotter, "Advantage Found in Retreat," Military History 6 (December 1989): 38-43; George W. Kyte, "Victory in the South: An Appraisal of General Greene's Strategy in the Carolinas," North Carolina Historical Review 37 (July 1960): 321-47.
47. Lord Rawdon had been close friends with Tarleton since their days at University College, Oxford, in 1771. See Bass, Dragoon, 13.
In 216 B.C. on the Italian peninsula at Cannae, the great Carthaginian commander Hannibal, his back to the Aufidus River, met a Roman army almost twice the size of his own under consuls Aemilius and Varro. In a day-long scene of carnage, the Carthaginians hacked and speared to death 70,000 Romans at a cost of 5,700 of their own men.2 The double envelopment at Cannae has become the classic example of the elusive battle of annihilation, the solution to the dangers of protracted, expensive, and exhausting wars of attrition. The concept of the envelopment so dazzled a chief of the Prussian General Staff that he designed, on a massive scale, an operations plan to recreate it and titled his essay on military history Cannae.3 While Schlieffen's plan, as modified by his successor, failed to achieve the desired result in western Europe in 1914, Generals Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff did encircle and destroy a Russian army at Tannenburg the same year.
But for those examples, the only important double envelopment resulting in annihilation occurred in the backwoods of South Carolina at the Cowpens in 1781. The American victor certainly had military experience, but even compared with many of his contemporaries, much less Hannibal, he must be called an amateur. Should Morgan rank with Hannibal as a great captain, or did happenstance lead to an outcome the American commander did not intend? Would either reputation suffer if it were known that each commander seized a rare opportunity as it presented itself?
The Cowpens may be one of the most important battles ever fought on American soil from the standpoint of the tactical lessons one can learn from it. Far from a slugfest, the Cowpens featured both commanders as they maneuvered their troops expertly in an attempt to achieve decisive results (although, obviously, only one succeeded). Moreover, it stands as a superb laboratory for analysis of the psychological factor in war, an opportunity to study the psychological makeup of the British and American commanders and the morale of their troops. In addition, it highlights the differences in discipline and morale between regular soldiers and militia. But, like Cannae (and, for that matter, Tannenburg), the battle had little effect on the war. Never will the Cowpens be more than a fascinating footnote in military history, as its effect was merely to nudge along the thrust of the campaign that had been so decisively affected (as we know in hindsight) by the far less interesting battle at King's Mountain.
At forty-four, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Morgan was older than many other senior officers in the Continental Army. He had served as a wagoner for Major General Edward Braddock during that officer's ill-fated expedition into western Pennsylvania in 1755. After Morgan raised one of the first rifle companies authorized by Congress, his distinguished behavior in action resulted in his promotion to colonel. Later, he felt unrecognized as others were promoted ahead of him and in a pique resigned his commission.4 Upon hearing that his old commander from Saratoga had been badly beaten at Camden, however, he hurried south and was surprised to be greeted not only by Gates' replacement but by orders promoting himself to brigadier general.5
A better commander could not have been chosen, for the foray into South Carolina. Morgan was a commander of proven courage, and he had an uncanny understanding of the psychology of soldiers and a firm grasp of tactical principles. An imposing six feet in height and of great physical strength, he also bore a large scar on his cheek that spoke volumes of his bravery.6 During his weeks in South Carolina, he followed Greene's directive scrupulously, husbanding his forces and drawing Tarleton ever closer. By the middle of January, he had played out his hand. Tarleton was determined to catch Morgan before the latter could cross the Broad River and before the little American army could swell with militia reinforcements. On the night of 15 January, Tarleton crossed the Pacolet River and surprised some of Morgan's pickets in their camp. With the alarm "brother Ben is coming!" Morgan moved most of his command to Burr's Mill on Thicketty Creek.7 Greene had expected Morgan to harass the enemy, "to fall upon, the flank or into the rear of the enemy" as the situation dictated; Tarleton, however, instead moved to force a decision.
Morgan could flee, demoralizing his troops and exposing them to piecemeal destruction, or he could test his strength against the Green Dragoon in pitched battle.
Morgan chose to fight. Violating the strict letter of his original instructions, he had several advantages that amended the circumstances envisioned in their writing. First, he chose the ground, giving him the advantage of an ambusher. Second, he knew by reputation the methods - and therefore the weaknesses - of his opponent. Third, allowing Tarleton the time to close the gap between the two armies gave the Americans an opportunity to assemble on a battle site of Morgan's choosing, prepare their positions, rest, and eat before the contest of the following day. Tarleton's troops would have none of these advantages. Greene sent Morgan a letter on 13 January that implied Morgan had permission to fight the battle.
Morgan's force was ideally suited to the task. Greene had assigned Morgan remnants of the Continental Line and Virginia state troops under the able Lieutenant Colonel John Eager Howard, as well as Lieutenant Colonel William Washington's 3d Continental Light Dragoons.8
Hannah's Cowpens, Morgan's choice for his battle arena, was a typical landmark in western South Carolina, used for grazing herds by local farmers and frontiersmen bringing their cattle to market. Here the militia had rallied several months earlier before joining Ferguson at King's Mountain. Relatively flat open ground sparsely scattered with red oak and pine,9 the site was ideal for grazing cows or fighting European-style battles. From the direction the British must come (northwest along Mill Gap Road), a single trail opened into a narrow plain that sloped gently but unevenly uphill to the center of the pens. About 200 meters in width where the British would form up, the field widens to about 250 meters at its highest point (about a 990-foot elevation) and, continuing along the trail, tapers slightly as the ground falls toward the banks of the Broad River some eight kilometers beyond.10 As the British would see it, the field generally sloped downward to the right (or north) flank. In the northeast corner of the field, a ravine divided the northern side, running parallel to and just behind the Continental Line.
On 16 January, Morgan marched his small army to Hannah's Cowpens, arriving there about sundown. The move not only allowed him to select the ground of his choosing,11 it also placed him farther away from Cornwallis and the danger of encirclement and gave outlying detachments time to gather for the battle. Years later, Morgan gave yet another explanation for his choice of the site:
I would not have had a swamp in the view of my militia on any consideration; they would have made for it, and nothing could have detained them from it. As to covering my wings, I knew my adversary, and was perfectly sure I should have nothing but downright fighting. As to retreat, it was the very thing I wished to cut off all hope of. I would have thanked Tarleton had he surrounded me with his cavalry. It would have been better than placing my own men in the rear to shoot down those who broke from ranks. When men are forced to fight, they will sell their lives dearly; and I know that the dread of Tarleton's cavalry would give due weight to the protection of the bayonets, and keep my troops from breaking as Buford's regiment did. Had I crossed the river, one half of the militia would immediately have abandoned me.12Although a number of accounts accept this explanation, it seems unlikely. The Continentals had been surrounded at Camden and were destroyed. Furthermore, Morgan's instructions at the time anticipated their removal from harm's way. Furthermore, the Broad River, six miles to the northwest, was too distant to serve as either a barrier to fleeing militia or an anvil for pursuing cavalry. The ground was optimal for Tarleton's cavalry, as the British commander noted although it sloped gently upward toward the American position.13 The greatest virtue of the field for the Americans was that several detachments (including that of Washington, who was at Wofford Iron Works reshoeing his horses) could join Morgan without fear of getting lost.14 This factor may have been decisive in the choice of the site.
Morgan sent a message to Sumter to join him there as quickly as possible. Hearing the call to arms, militia came from miles around.15 The night gave Morgan time to prepare his men for combat the next day, and the skilled leader made the most of his opportunity. Allowing his troops to prepare physically - cleaning their weapons, eating, and so forth - he walked among them to prepare them emotionally for the horrors of eighteenth-century battle. Major Thomas Young of South Carolina wrote that Morgan showed a keen sense of how to command militia: "He went among the volunteers, helped them fix their swords, joked with them about their sweet-hearts, told them to keep in good spirits, and the day would be ours." Morgan realized that militiamen behaved in battle not as a reaction to years of discipline and drill but based on the enthusiasm of the moment. In his encouragement to the volunteers, Morgan linked their performance in battle to the values all young men hold, telling them, "Just hold up your heads, boys, three fires, and you are free, and when you return to your homes, how the old folks will bless you, and the girls kiss you, for your gallant conduct."16 He cajoled those whose enlistment had expired to remain for the battle.17 On the morning of the fight, he rhetorically included them in the decision to meet the dreaded horsemen of Tarleton, asking the South Carolinians, "Shall we fight or fly?"18 More than jovial banter, Morgan deliberately sought to raise the spirits of soldiers whose behavior in battle varied directly with their morale. Any army suffers emotionally and physically as it withdraws before the enemy; this small American army was ripe for their commander's message.
Before first light, Morgan laid out his plan to meet Tarleton. Some accounts suggest that he addressed the entire force.19 While "enflam[ing] the courage" of his men certainly sounds like something Morgan would do, that he should address more than 1,000 soldiers (in the dark) seems almost impossible. Indeed, Major Samuel Hammond describes the meeting in which the order was read and claimed that only Colonel Andrew Pickens, Colonel McCall, Major Jackson, and he were present. Probably this order related specifically to the actions of militia troops, as neither Howard nor Washington were in attendance. Major Joseph McJunkin, however, tells us that first Morgan and then Major Jackson (who had been present at the war council) spoke to the militia. Nonetheless, all reminiscences of Morgan's words that night and the following morning verify that they stirred the warlike spirit of the troops. Most likely, Morgan explained his detailed-plan to key lieutenants, drew up what officers and soldiers were reasonably available, and exhorted them to be courageous, leaving detailed instructions to battalion officers.
Morgan's plan was beautiful in its simplicity. Counting that Tarleton would behave impetuously as he had in other actions, the Virginian designed his force to behave like a shock absorber. He would deploy his army facing southeast. Eight hundred meters in front of them, Mill Gap Road opened onto the field. Riflemen, accurate to 300 meters, would man the skirmish line from behind the scattered trees to pick off British officers and then retire into the main Militia line.20 As the British continued their advance, the militia would fire three volleys (the "three fires" Young recalled) and retire from the field around the left flank of the Continentals.21 Morgan hoped that such of Tarleton's force as remained could be defeated by the American regulars and Virginia militia, all under the operational control of Howard.22 In any case, as withdrawal of the militia was part of the plan, the scheme of maneuver would not be disturbed, and the regulars would not be unnerved (as they had been at Camden) or even disappointed when it occurred. Morgan rightly feared the large contingent of British horse. He gathered up all available horses and called for volunteers to augment Washington's 3d Continental Light Dragoons. Most of the forty-five additional men came from McCall's South Carolina State Troops. This force he held in reserve, behind the gaily to the left rear of his line but available for rapid deployment to any endangered sector of the battle.
Exactly what troops deployed that morning, and where, remains uncertain. Fortunately, Morgan and Hammond give us detailed descriptions of the American deployment supplemented by fragmentary observations by other witnesses.23 While the accounts of the three officers do not agree in every detail - or agree exactly with other statements regarding the deployment - they can be blended into a coherent picture (see map 8). Clearly the Continental Line (consisting of the remnants of Maryland and Delaware regulars) were the centerpiece of the army. They formed in two ranks, covering about 200 yards.24 Howard differed with his commander on the location of the position of the Virginia militia supplementing the main defense: while Morgan remembered Tate on the right, Howard recalled years later that Tate's company was on the left with that of Triplett. Howard was certainly in a better position to know (as he commanded that portion of the troops), but Morgan's account was written shortly after the battle. Because the Continentals were flanked on both sides by Virginians (Howard tells us Wallace was on the right, Triplett and Tate on the left), Morgan might well have confused the two groups.
Map 8. Initial dispositions, 0700, 17 January 1781
Less easy to identify is the position held by the militia commanded by Colonel Pickens. Sergeant Major William Seymour tells us the militia were 200 yards in front of the Continental Line, while McJunkin says 150 yards. However, Morgan reported only that Pickens' volunteers from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia "were situated to guard the flanks."25 Major Hammond, who reconstructed the order Morgan gave the night before the battle, claims that Pickens deployed to Howard's left flank, while Major Triplett deployed to his right. Young of South Carolina confirms that Pickens' flank was anchored on the left of a ravine. Probably Pickens' men were not directly in front of Howard but centered on his left flank. Wallace's Virginia militia, who could easily have been confused with Triplett's men of the same state, may have seemed (to Hammond who was farther forward with the skirmish line) to have been even with Pickens.
Scattered behind trees about 150 yards in front of Pickens' men were the line of skirmishers. While accounts differ as to who commanded them, Hammond may be accepted as the authority, as his account is so detailed, and he was actually among them. He tells us that the skirmishers were led, from right flank to left, by Majors Cunningham, McDowell, Hammond himself, and Donnolly. It was these men who would fire the first shots of the battle. In front of the skirmish line, perhaps several miles ahead in the wood line, were posted Captain Inman's pickets on horseback to warn the army of the arrival of the British force.26
Behind the Continental Line, Morgan posted his reserves. Commanding the 3d Continental Light Dragoons and some of McCall's men, Washington poised for contingencies about 100 yards behind the left flank of the army.27 Hammond mentions a Main Guard positioned behind Pickens and commanded "as at present by Colonel Washington's cavalry," without identifying it further. No other diarist mentions such a force, and even Hammond's sentence concerning it is vague. Perhaps Hammond was describing the rallying point for the militia after they concluded their portion of the battle. If so, he may be telling us that as the militia streamed to the rear, they would fall under the command of Washington, at least until Pickens could regain control of them.
It was a bitter cold morning, and the soldiers slapped their hands to keep warm as they waited in the dark for the British troops to arrive. No evidence remains of the time the engagement began; not even the sun would signal the onslaught on this overcast day.28 Only the adrenaline that must have coursed through them could have kept the raw recruits and seasoned veterans of "Tarleton's Quarter" at their psychological peak for the last hour of darkness before the coming challenge.29
Tarleton's men had been marching hard through the thick underbrush of Thicketty Creek since 0300. Their commander could sense the presence of his opponent, having taken his camp on the Pacolet River only the previous evening at 2200. His intuition was confirmed by the capture of several of Captain Inman's pickets shortly before dawn. Tarleton, who believed the Americans had marched that night and turned at bay with the swollen river to their backs, was eager to press his attack.30 As the British broke out of the underbrush, the light company of the Prince of Wales' American Regiment, Legion infantry, and 7th Fusiliers in turn deployed two deep, each rapidly falling in to the left of the unit that preceded it on the march, while the advanced guard of dragoons pushed back the remaining pickets.31 According to Tarleton, he then directed his line to remove their packs and to file to the right until the flank force (Prince of Wales' Americans) faced its counterpart directly. Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie portrays a far more hurried onrush without the careful preparation Tarleton describes.32 While the truth cannot be known, such leisurely alignments in a battle with so much activity, but which lasted only an hour, is difficult to imagine.33 From an interview with eyewitnesses, Major George Hanger claims Tarleton halted the troops for "near half an hour, and made them throw their knapsacks and blankets to render them lighter for action."34 However quickly they formed, the British found themselves facing an enemy 300 to 400 yards to their front, deployed and holding their fire.
Accounts of the sequence in the action at the Cowpens differ little and then mostly because of the perspective of the narrator. From the Continental Line, the battle appears to have begun with artillery fire from the two small guns Tarleton had placed in front of his formation.35 This scenario is reasonable, as the guns had the greatest range of any weapon present, and the British could draw first blood outside the range of the Americans. However, several militiamen claimed first honors for their unit, naming John Savage, who was killed later that morning, as the marksman who brought down "a gayly dressed officer."36 In his report to Greene, Morgan confirms this general scenario, crediting the first shot to Major Charles McDowall's and Major John Cunningham's skirmishers. Tarleton does not discuss the first shot but states that, after the suppression of fire from raw recruits in the 7th Infantry, his line advanced (see map 9). The skirmishers performed as expected: they aimed carefully at the deployed British, causing at first some return fire from green fusiliers and a reply by the 3-pounders. After sniping from behind cover at officers, they withdrew back into the main militia line commanded by Pickens (see map 10).
Tarleton believed in momentum and, seeing the sharpshooters withdraw, ordered a general advance to smash the Americans. The entire British line moved forward shouting as they went, and the militia braced to meet the shock (see map 11). Recognizing in advance that the performance of the militia was important to the outcome of the day, Morgan had positioned himself among them. To bolster their courage, he shouted over the gunfire, "They gave us the British halloo, boys, give them the Indian halloo, by G_," and cheered the men as they fired individually38 at the oncoming red - and green coated enemy.39 The more disciplined return fire from the British appears, from the casualty figures, not to have caused great impact among the militia. Perhaps, as Mackenzie argues, the exertions made by the British troops to meet Morgan took their toll that day. Additionally, among the line opposing Pickens were recruits of the 7th Fusiliers, the Legion infantry (many of whom had been impressed from among troops captured at Camden),40 and a small number of the Prince of Wales' Americans. Thus, the British line, which could be expected to behave like regular troops, might not have produced the same results as a seasoned, well-drilled European unit. In any case, the rebels fired between two and five rounds each and withdrew around the main defenses to their rear.
Map 9. British advance, 0710, 17 January 1781
Map 10. Skirmish line withdraws, 0720, 17 January 1781
Map 11. British attack and militia withdrawal, 0730, 17 January 1781
According to Morgan's scheme, the militia were to withdraw around Howard's left formation and regroup. In fact, they streamed around both flanks but mostly around the left.41 Tarleton saw an opportunity in this apparently precipitate flight and sent the fifty cavalrymen, placed earlier on the right flank, against the retreating militia in front of them.42 Apparently, this chase led the British cavalry behind Howard's left flank, to be repulsed only when Washington, waiting 100 yards behind that flank, parried their thrust on his own initiative.
Having vanquished the militia, Tarleton pressed his advantage. Along with the general advance of his line, he ordered up the 71st Highlanders and the reserve cavalry on his left flank and the Legion cavalry on his right (see map 12). He chose the left instinctively but with good reason: the 71st was waiting in reserve behind his left (opposite Howard's right flank), and the Continental Light Cavalry had already demonstrated its ability to protect Howard's other flank. By threatening the American left with cavalry again, Tarleton obviously sought to fix the attention of Washington there, thus making him unavailable where the British commander sought a decision, on Howard's left. Why did the Legion cavalry accompany the 71st? Tarleton ordered them to "incline to the left, and to form a line, which would embrace the whole of the enemy's right flank." He then tells us, however, that the infantry moved on but the cavalry balked.43 Nonetheless, Tarleton at that moment demonstrated several qualities for which he became well known. His tactical prowess was generally impressive: he manifested that sharp eye for opportunity essential for the successful tactical leader. But if Lieutenant Mackenzie is correct and the reserves were not yet disentangled from the Thicketty Creek underbrush, the Green Dragoon also showed a blind eye to the limits of his troops' abilities, the same weakness that had resulted in his men's exhaustion on the field that morning.
Map 12.Continental Line withdrawal and British attack, 0740, 17 January 1781
From his position in the Continental Line, Howard could see the general advance of the British line and the highlanders moving up rapidly on his flank. To prevent this fresh unit from overwhelming him, he sent word to the Virginians on his right to refuse the flank. Had Wallace correctly understood and executed his superior's intent, he would have held his left fast to the Continental Line, acting as a hinge, and swung the remainder of his company rearward 45 degrees like a huge door. Whatever the cause of the misunderstanding Wallace's men did not execute the maneuver as Howard intended. Rather, they faced about and began marching directly to the rear. Company commanders in the Continental Line misinterpreted Wallace's actions and, believing that they had failed to hear the order for a general withdrawal, followed suit. Only this action prevented a fatal gap from developing in the line between Wallace and the regulars. Morgan observed this development with alarm and rode immediately to Howard, demanding an explanation. Howard, obviously, had none. When Howard pointed out, however, that the regulars were withdrawing in good order, Morgan regained his composure and picked a spot 80 to 100 yards to the rear where he wished the line, to re-form.44
The unplanned withdrawal of the Continental Line had two consequences immediately important to the outcome of the battle. First, it caused the British to believe the Americans were on the run. Second, and as a consequence of the first, the British lost their balance, as if the resistance were suddenly removed from someone pushing a load. Believing the American regulars to be in full retreat, they lunged forward for the kill, in the process losing the force derived of disciplined drill (see map 13). Suddenly the American line faced about again, their weapons loaded, and delivered a withering volley - Morgan calls it "a fortunate volley"45 -into the face of the startled British barely thirty meters away.46 The combination of sudden discovery that the battle was now in jeopardy and the agony of being surrounded by large numbers of horribly wounded comrades was devastating to the relatively inexperienced British troops. Regulars, raw recruits, and Tory volunteers reeled back in panic and disarray. Howard recognized the opportunity before him and ordered his men to press home with their bayonets.
Map 13. Continentals' counterattack, 0745, 17 January 1781
At this moment, separate decisions led to the envelopment for which the battle has become famous (see map 14). Washington now parried the fixing attack on the American left flank and moved forward, past Triplett's flank and behind the right flank of the now crumbling British line. Almost simultaneously, Pickens' Militia, which had regrouped behind the Continental Line, appeared on the American right, sweeping around behind the other British flank. Was their reappearance part of a contingency plan preconceived by Morgan? If so, he deceived the militia when he promised them freedom after the "three fires." McJunkin says only that Howard ordered a charge, and the militia returned "left and right"; Major Young is no more specific.47 Hammond, so precise in his details, makes no mention of any such plan. Only Private James Collins tells us that Morgan himself appeared among the militiamen, still recovering from their recent deliverance from a cavalry charge, to exhort them to rejoin the battle.48 We must conclude that the return of the militia was the consequence of the initiative of a commander-which one, we may never know.49 Both Pickens and Morgan were close enough to have ordered the maneuver. Either Howard or Washington, already in the operation, could have sent a runner to Pickens with a plea for his support. In any case, surely Pickens would have led the counterattack personally.
Pressed by bayonet-wielding Continentals to their front, Washington's cavalry on their right and rear, and Pickens' militia on their left and rear, the British crumbled quickly. As Tarleton describes the scene "an unaccountable panic extended itself along the whole line."50 Unable to flee, pockets of men surrendered. Gunners manning the two 3-pounder cannon resisted longest. Determined to fight to the death, the artillerymen were convinced by Howard to surrender their guns; he then prevented the men from being slaughtered.51 Veterans disputed who received whose sword that hectic morning. Colonel Pickens vaguely recalls that "every officer of that Regiment [the 71st] delivered his sword into my hand."52 Howard also remembers being given one of those same swords. In any case, the entire infantry of Tarleton's command had become prisoners or were dead.
Map 14. Envelopment and destruction, 0750, 17 January 1781
In a vain effort to retrieve the day, Tarleton attempted to rally his horsemen. Washington had beaten them twice that day; most left the field precipitately. Nonetheless, the Green Dragoon, ever audacious, took fifty loyal troopers-most of them regulars from the l7th Light Dragoons-again into the fray where, once again, they were repulsed. This engagement effectively ended the Battle of the Cowpens.
The battle ended, but its most famous moment remained for the Postscript. As Washington and his men chased down Tarleton and his fifty gallant paladins, Tarleton turned at bay several hundred yards away from the scene of triumph and surrender, and Washington and Tarleton crossed swords during the sort of heroic melee expected of cavalrymen. The Virginian may well have been killed were it not for the sure aim of a black soldier who shot one of Washington's assailants.53 Although Washington's cavalry pursued Tarleton vigorously for twenty-two miles,54 they were unable to capture him or his little band, but the whole of his baggage was either destroyed or captured.
As the gun smoke cleared, the scene must have seemed horrible. In that small field, ten British officers and more than 100 other ranks lay dead and more than 200 wounded.55 By comparison, the American toll was mercifully light: 10 to 12 killed and 50 to 60 wounded.56 There were also more than 500 tired, hungry, and frightened British prisoners, now being disarmed instead of killed (as they had been led to believe). The totat loss to the British numbered about 850. Even the victors must have looked unsightly. Not yet nine o'clock, the Americans had overcome the collective effects of fatigue, cold, and the fear that accompanies uncertainty in the face of combat. But it was over; all that remained was collecting the prisoners for transport to safety in Virginia and movement of the army to rejoin Greene.
The small battle on that cold gray morning in January 1781 did not alter the outcome of the war or even the course of the campaign in the south. It did continue the momentum created by the victory over Ferguson's Loyalists at King's Mountain, and it showed the population in the western regions that Tarleton (and, even better, British regulars) could be beaten. The value of the Cowpens as an object of study lies in the tactical arena and the human drama of the participants.
From available evidence, it seems clear that Morgan understood the temperament of his opponent. He lured Tarleton across the Broad River away from Cornwallis. Morgan's army was too small to grapple with the British unaided, so he kept enough distance from Tarleton until he could rally the militia. To maximize the potential of his militia, Morgan deployed his little force to entice Tarleton to attack, while compensating for the potential of Tarleton's cavalry to disrupt his own army. The several counterattacks Washington conducted to parry British attempts to flank him demonstrate his understanding of the proper use of reserves and cavalry. No evidence leads us to conclude that Morgan anticipated or planned the double envelopment. On the other hand, someone had recognized the advantage of reemploying the militia, who must have believed they had done their part already. The only person who could have directed Pickens to counterattack was his commander, Morgan. Even if he did not direct the attack that sealed the fate of the British, Morgan's plan for the battle permitted sufficient flexibility in his men to react to the uncharacteristic collapse of spirit among the redcoated regulars. Daniel Morgan justly deserves the honors accorded him, not for a brilliant Hannibalesque maneuver but for his keen insight into the mind of his opponent and his men and for the construction of a plan that allowed for the unexpected.
1. Extract from Lord Cornwallis' letter to Sir Henry Clinton, 18 January 1781, as cited in Clinton, Rebellion, 485.
2. These are Polybius' figures. Polybius, Histories, iii, 107. Livy says 45,000 Romans and 2,700 Carthaginians, Livy, The War with Hannibal, trans. Aubrey de S�lincourt, ed. Betty Radice (Baltimore, MD, 1968), 149. Historians dispute the actual numbers, but their ratios are about the same in all accounts.
3. Generalfeldmarschall Graf von Schlieffen, Cannae (Berlin: E. S. Mittler, 1913). The great German historian Hans Delbr�ck calls it "a brilliant, unusual victory," History of the Art of War Within the Framework of Political History, trans. Walter J. Renfroe, Jr., vol. 1 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1975), 331. For a thorough discussion of this connection, see Jehuda L. Wallach, The Dogma of the Battle of Annihilation (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986). Wallach argues that Schlieffen's "obsession with the enemy's annihilation by means of encirclement" and his failure to understand Clausewitz led to the Germans' defeat in World War I.
4. Alexander Garden, Greene's aide de camp, suggests that Morgan's failure to be promoted may have been a consequence of Gates' jealousy at the accolades paid to Morgan's rifle regiment by Burgoyne, Anecdotes, 58.
5. William Waller Edwards, "Morgan and his Riflemen," William and Mary Quarterly, 1st ser., 23 (October 1914):73-105. After the war, Morgan served in the U. S. Congress. See Bailey, Heroes, 9-23. For a fine biography of the American commander, see Higginbotham, Morgan.
6. Bartholomees says he was 5 feet 10 inches tall, "Fight or Flee," 102. A most colorful description can be found in Appendix C, in the Neel memoir, 144.
7. See Martin memoir, Appendix B, 104.
8. Washington, of no significant relation to the commander in chief, fought throughout the war with distinction. Transferred to the cavalry after being wounded at Trenton, he fought under Lincoln in South Carolina and skirmished with Tarleton at Ashley Ford and Rantowle's Bridge, Garden, Anecdotes, 68.
9. Hammond says red oak and hickory, while Thomas says mostly pine. See memoirs, Appendix C, 131, 145.
10. See also Major Hammond's description of the battle site, Appendix C, 131. Numerous accounts of the battle imply that the Americans deployed with their backs to the Broad River. Nothing could be further from the truth. See Burke Davis, The Cowpens-Guilford Courthouse Campaign (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott, 1962), xii; Scheer and Rankin, Rebels, 429; Michael D. Mahler, "The 190th Anniversary - The Battle at Cowpens," Military Review 51, no. 1 (January 1971):57-58.
11. A local patriot, Dennis Tramel, walked the ground with Morgan. See Appendix B, Tramel memoir, 101.
12. William Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene, vol. 1 (Charleston, SC: A. E. Miller, 1822), 376.
13. See Tarleton memoir, Appendix E, 188.
14. For example, see Christopher Hibbert, Redcoats and Rebels (New York: W. W Norton, 1990), 302. See discussion in Bartholomees, "Fight or Flee," 115.
15. See Appendix B, Gresham memoir, 99; and Seymour memoir, 102. Because of Morgan's attention to security, not all of the militia were able to participate, Harden memoir, 105.
16. See Young memoir, Appendix B, 96.
17. See Moore memoir, Appendix B, 110.
18. See McJunkin, Apppendix C, 133.
19. See Howard, Appendix C, 126; and McJunkin, 133.
20. This tactic was customary for light troops and considered very effective in disrupting the continuity of massed formations. In 1757, the celebrated French commander and theorist Marshal Saxe wrote, "a single fire from one of these irregulars perfected in his business, will in general do as much execution, as ten from any other....," Field-Marshal Count Saxe, Reveries or Memoirs upon the Art of War (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1971), 38. By comparison, muskets were accurate only from 80 to 100 meters; however, they could be fired twice as rapidly as rifles. For a discussion of Revolutionary War weaponry, see Davis, Cowpens, 13-15; Harold L. Peterson, The Book of the Continental Soldier (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1968), 23-57.
21. According to Howard, "they fell into our rear, and part of them fell into the rear of my right flank... " memoir, Appendix C, 126. By implication, then, the flank around which Howard expected them to withdraw was his left. John Baldwin, of McDowell's command, claimed later that they were to withdraw around both flanks. John Thomas remembered the militia plan to move around the right flank. See pension applications, 145.
22. Howard was born in Baltimore County in 1752 and served with the Maryland Line throughout the war. He fought at White Plains, Germantown, and Monmouth before moving south in 1780. After Camden, he was the ranking Continental officer in the south, Bailey, Heroes, 38-43.
23. The discussion that follows relies on evidence from Morgan, Howard, Hammond, McJunkin, Young, Anderson, Sergeant Major Seymour, and Private Thomas, all from Appendix C.
24. A Prussian infantry battalion, elbow to elbow, three ranks deep (with the front rank kneeling), occupied a front of 150 yards, Steven Ross From Flintlock to Rifle Infantry Tactics, 1740-1866 (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickenson University Press, 1979), 25. The Continental Line, however, preferred two lines of men standing about three yards apart, Ernest W. Peterkin, The Exercise of Arms in the Continental Infantry (Alexandria Bay, NY: Museum Restoration Service, 1989), 10-11.
25. See Morgan report, Appendix C, 122.
26. See Mackenzie calls these men vedettes, Appendix C, 151. See Young memoir, 148.
27. See Appendix C, Hammond memoir, 135.
28. Numerous chroniclers report that the battle began at sunrise, but none mention the sun. On the other hand, Captain Connally of North Carolina remembered the day being "cold but inclined to be rainey," 176. Even with cloud cover, ambient light would permit visibility at musket range by 0700. Sunrise occurred at 0707 (+/- 2 minutes), per a phone conversation with the U.S. Naval Observatory, 6 March 1992. Thus, morning twilight would have begun about an hour earlier. Clouds benefited the Americans, who would otherwise have had the early morning sun in their eyes. Lieutenant Anderson describes the British forming before sunrise, Appendix C, 139.
29. General Morgan reported that scouts told him about an hour before daylight that the British were within five miles of his position and heading in his direction and that he deployed accordingly. Lieutenant Anderson, Appendix C, memoir 139, confirms the report. The British could not have marched five miles through the Thicketty Creek underbrush in one hour, but both time and distance are estimates here.
30. Here I follow Bartholomees' interpretation of the description, "Fight or Flee," 123. Tarleton received a report that the Broad River ran parallel to Morgan's rear. See Tarleton, Appendix C, 148.
31. The British trimmed their line from three to two ranks in depth, at least in part because their experience in America led them to accept the risk in exchange for increased firepower. The practice was the subject of hot debate in British military circles, E. M. E. Lloyd, A Review of the History of Infantry (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976), 187.
32. Compare Tarleton memoir, Appendix C, 148, with Mackenzie memoir, Appendix E, 191.
33. All other evidence being equal, I prefer to follow Mackenzie, who had less to gain by condemning Tarleton than the cavalryman had to lose by being condemned.
34. Sir George Hanger, who served with the cavalry of the British Legion, published a stirring defense of Tarleton in 1789. While Hanger's arguments bring caution to our acceptance of Lieutenant Mackenzie's account, we must keep in mind that Hanger was not present at the Cowpens and, as a legionnaire, would be inclined to loyalty to the man who made his organization famous, Hanger, Address, 92-93. Hanger also served with Hessian troops in the war and retired a major general in the Hessian service, Johann Ewald, Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal, trans. and ed. Joseph P. Tusten (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 412.
35. See Anderson memoir, Appendix C, 139; and Dial memoir, Appendix B, 106. These guns were accurate to 800 meters, Davis, Cowpens, 16.
36. See McJunkin, Appendix C, 133. Young quotes Lieutenant Colonel Farr of the South Carolina militia as claiming he directed Savage to fire the shot, Appendix C, memoir, 135. See also Bailey, Heroes, who may be quoting Young, 191; and Bobby Gilmer Moss, The Patriots of the Cowpens (Greenville, SC: Scotia Press, 1985), 96, 256-57.
37. Howard remembered the British line made a great deal of noise to intimidate the Americans, Appendix C, 126. Anderson noted in his diary that "three Huzzas" came from the British line, Appendix C, 139.
38. Morgan's report to Greene states that the militia fired "by regiments." The actual term for volley firing is "by platoons"' organized deliberately to keep an incessant fire on the enemy. Probably Pickens' men executed the first volley on command. Given the state of training and organization and the conflicting reports of the number of rounds expended, it is more likely that the militia fired most of their rounds without command. For a discussion of eighteenth-century firing methods, see Ross, Flintlock, 25, 26. See also Thomas memoir, Appendix C, 145.
39. See Young memoir, Appendix C, 135.
40. See Chesney memoir, Appendix C, 163; and E. Alfred Jones, ed., The Journal of Alexander Chesney (Ohio State University), 90-91.
41. See Baldwin memoir, Appendix C, 154; and Thomas memoir, 145.
42. See McJunkin memoir, Appendix C, 133, on the incident at this moment concerning rifleman Joseph Hughes and the already noted John Savage.
43. See Tarleton memoir, Appendix C, 149.
44. See Morgan, Howard, and Thomas memoirs, Appendix C, 122, 126, 145.
45. See Morgan, Appendix C, 122. Howard remembered it as a "destructive fire," 126-31.
46. See Howard memoir, Appendix C, 126; and Thomas memoir, 145. Lieutenant Anderson claims the range of the British was only ten to fifteen meters, 151.
47. See McJunkin and Young memoirs, Appendix C, 133, 135.
48. See Collins memoir, Appendix C, 145.
49. A 1928 study of the battle suggests that Morgan was in the rear rallying the militia when he saw the Continentals, beginning to withdraw. This study cites no authority for the claim, Historical Statements Concerning the Battle of King's Mountain and the Battle of the Cowpens, South Carolina (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1928), 68. Lynn Montross echoes this scenario in "America's Most Imitated Battle," American Heritage 7, no. 3 (1956):37. Bailey and Alice Noble Waring claim Pickens acted on his own initiative, Heroes, 29; and The Fighting Elder: Andrew Pickens, 1739-1817 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1962), 48. Kenneth Roberts describes North Carolina militia lieutenant, Joseph Hughes, as corralling the men as they attempted to scamper away, in The Battle of the Cowpens: The Great Morale Builder (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1958), 89-90.
50. See Tarleton memoir, Appendix C, 148.
51. Cannon, like regimental colors, were considered to be trophies of war, to be guarded and sought with great zeal. To lose either was a disgrace. See Howard memoir, 126.
52. See Pickens memoir, Appendix C, 125.
53. See Kelley, Appendix C, 142, The soldier's name was Ball. See Garden, Anecdotes, 69.
54. See Simmons memoir, Appendix C, 143.
55. Morgan reported these numbers to General Greene shortly after the battle, memoir, Appendix. C, 122.
56. See Morgan memoir, Appendix C, 122; and Fortescue, 17th Lancers, 58. Seymour reports thirty-five killed and wounded; he may have been referring to the Continentals only, memoir, 153. Compare Tarleton's estimates of the casualties, memoir, 160.
Unlike many of the popular battlefields that sprawl across the countryside littered with memorials, the site where the battle of the Cowpens was fought can be viewed, almost entirely, from one spot. But for a single memorial to a Charleston militia unit and a marked trail for visitors, the field is free of obstructions. Moreover, the park rangers of the Cowpens National Battlefield have carefully maintained the foliage to match extant accounts of its former appearance. Although the boundaries of the original ground cannot be precisely determined, the estimated widths of the contesting forces suggest that the approximate shape and size of the battlefield correspond to the area maintained today by the rangers.
Today, a gravel walking trail wanders in a lazy oval around the battlefield, extending from the Visitor's Center through what was once the American camp, down the right flank of the American positions, past the spot where the British deployed, and to the farthest point of the clearing where Tarleton's forces debouched from the woods the morning of the battle. As the path continues back to the Visitor's Center, it passes inside the British right flank and on to the left flank of the Continental Line and the reserve position of the 3d Continental Light Dragoons. Periodically spaced along the trail are sketches of the soldiers who fought there, with captions describing the action. In many cases, taped narratives supplement the captions. One can negotiate the trail, stopping at each vantage point, (see vantages at map 15, page 73) in about an hour. This chapter will suggest a more detailed and extensive analysis of the battle that will use the same trail but consume an additional hour.
The path suggested for this staff ride follows the trail but, because of the different focus of this exercise, does not generally use the vantages provided by the park service. To facilitate this staff ride, I have numbered the vantage points where significant action happened on maps and have generally provided anecdotes and points for discussion in a chronological fashion. Beginning at Vantage 2 and proceeding till the study group reaches Vantage 6, I orient the reader to troop dispositions and the planning behind them. From Vantage 6 on, I analyze the battle beginning with the British advance. The trail is marked on the maps attached to this work to indicate the vantages suggested by the text.
Note to the Staff Ride Leader: One method of preparation for staff rides that personally involves the participants is to assign them roles prior to their visit to the battlefield. The appendixes, by providing sketches of the actors in the battle, facilitate such an approach. If sufficient numbers participate, the role of Howard, for example, could be assigned to one person, while someone else could be responsible for the perspective of, say, Sergeant Major Seymour. If the group is smaller, one person might be assigned to master the perspective of the entire Continental Line. Then, at each vantage, participants could act out or discuss their roles in the battle.
Situation: From this vantage looking north about three hundred meters is the actual spot of Morgan's camp the night before the battle. On the night of 15 January 1781, Tarleton surprised some of Morgan's pickets on the banks of the Pacolet River. Morgan then moved his little army quickly to Burr's Mill on Thicketty Creek and thence to the well-known gathering place at the Cowpens, closing with his enemy on the evening of 16 January. He immediately sent word to militia leaders in the district to join him there. Before he finalized his plan, Morgan walked over the ground he had chosen to defend, selecting the positions for each component of his army.1 That night, as he prepared his forces for battle, he concentrated on three key factors: synchronization, logistics, and morale. Major Hammond explains:
Orders had been issued to the militia, to have twenty-four rounds of balls prepared and ready for use, before they retired to rest. A general order, forming the disposition of the troops, in case of coming to action, had also been prepared, and was read to Colonels Pickens and McCall, Major Jackson and [me], in the course of the evening.2Map 15. Staff ride vantage points 1-12
Ensuring that his soldiers were well-fed and that their arms were prepared for the following day, Morgan went around the campfires speaking with the troops. He appealed to the patriotic sentiments of North Carolina militiamen whose enlistments had expired, begging them to stay.3One of his militia officers remembered:
...long after I laid down, he was going about among the soldiers encouraging them, and telling them that the old wagoner would crack his whip over Ben. (Tarleton) in the morning, as sure as they lived.Teaching points: Leadership, logistics, planning ahead, commander's intent, and morale.
(Main line of defense)
Situation: The right flank of the Continental Line rested upon the "head of the ravine on the right" at approximately this spot. From here, in two lines, the Continentals lay across and roughly perpendicular to Mill Gap Road stretching to the northeast. General Morgan placed his best troops in the main line of defense on the reverse slope of a hill with an elevation of 990 feet. Thus, although the British knew where the Americans were, they could not determine the precise deployment of Morgan's main defenses. Additionally, when the British troops advanced upon the Continental Line, as Morgan expected them to do, they would be more likely to fire over the heads of the Continentals, who stood at a slightly lower elevation (about 970 feet).
Teaching Points: Tactics, formations of 1781, surprise, and operational security.
Situation: Morgan placed the militia about 150 meters in front of the Continental Line. From their right flank, at approximately this spot, patriots from the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia stood in loose order, parallel to the Continental Line. As they had been told the night before, the militia were to fire three volleys and pass around the regulars. Because of their numbers and their loose order, the militia were anchored on the edge of the woods, where the thicker underbrush would prevent the escape of grazing cattle in peacetime or, in this context, a formation being outflanked by British cavalry.
Teaching Points: Operational security, the role of militia, and planning ahead.
Situation: On the trail about 150 meters beyond the marker for the colonial militia (4), stop to discuss the skirmish line, which runs parallel to the militia line and perpendicular to Mill Gap Road (Green River Road). Morgan directed that militia commanders select crack marksmen armed with rifles from among their troops and place them in a skirmish line.5 These skirmishers, hiding behind trees, were to place aimed fire out to 300, meters, selecting officers as targets. Eighteenth-century officers could be identified at that range by their epaulets and gorgets (small brass chest plates reminiscent of body armor). The tactic of skirmishing common in America among Native Americans and European units trained to fight them was a relatively new concept for Continental forces. Marshal Saxe advocated the use of such skirmishers in the 1750s, and by the time of the American Revolution, infantry units usually had light infantry companies designed to deploy in loose order to disrupt the continuity of the massed formations of the day. These formations, however, rarely carried rifles, which could fire accurately 200 meters beyond the range of muskets.
Teaching Points: Technology and light infantry in the eighteenth century.
(British line of battle)
Situation: The British forces straddled Mill Gap Road, stretching from the left flank at Vantage 5 to the right flank about 300 yards to the northeast. Tarleton deployed his forces in typical European fashion, companies on line. On the extreme left flank stood two troops of British Legion cavalry under Captain Ogilvie. This unit, raised in 1778 from Loyalists in the middle-Atlantic colonies, was commanded by Tarleton himself and brought, south in 1779 (the other units under his direction at the Cowpens had only been attached). Of the 250 troopers present at the battle, Tarleton assigned 50 to the left flank, "to protect their own [flank], and threaten the flanks of the enemy."6 These men had served as the advanced guard for the army.
Forming the infantry line were the 7th Fusiliers, the infantry of the Legion, and several companies of light infantry from the l6th Foot, the 71st Highlanders, and the Prince of Wales American Regiment. Although most of the infantry were British regulars, they could hardly be considered crack troops. The 7th Regiment consisted of recruits, and the largest number in the line, the Legion infantry, were not regulars in any case. Interspersed among the infantry were the only two cannon present at the battle, manned by about twenty gunners of the Royal Artillery. Altogether, these troops numbered about 500 men. To their right were stationed the fifty troopers of the l7th Light Dragoons.
Not present in the British main line were the 1st Battalion, 71st Highlanders, and the bulk of the Legion cavalry, which fell last in the order of march. These British troops were tired and hungry and had been hurrying to meet Morgan for several days. After taking Morgan's recently evacuated camp at Grindal Shoals in the late night, they rested briefly and renewed the hunt just five hours later at 0300 on 17 January.7 With little rest and no hot meals, the British and Loyalist troops cut their way through marshes and broken ground to reach the Cowpens at daybreak.8
Teaching Points: Formations of 1781, linear battlefield, psychological effects of fatigue, task organization, and security.
Situation: This vantage stands on Mill Gap Road at approximately the spot where Tarleton's troops emerged from the thick underbrush into the clearing of the Cowpens. After passing Thicketty Creek, Tarleton had ordered up two troops of Legion cavalry under Ogilvie. Shortly thereafter, the troopers captured several scouts under Captain Inman, who was posted to give early warning of the approach of the British. The report of this incident confirmed Tarleton's intelligence that the Americans were ahead and spurred him forward. Ogilvie soon reported gaining contact with an American force formed for battle. Guides described the terrain to Tarleton accurately: open woods with the Broad River six miles off the left flank of the rebel position and curving around their rear. Tarleton (referring to himself in the third person) wrote:
Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton having attained a position, which he certainly might deem advantageous, on account of the vulnerable situation of the enemy, and the supposed vicinity of the two British corps [Lord Cornwallis' and General Leslie's] on the east and west of the Broad River, did not hesitate to undertake those measures which the instructions of his commanding officer [Lord Cornwallis] imposed, and his own judgment, under the present appearances, equally recommended.Tarleton ordered Ogilvie to scatter the skirmishers, who obscured his view, and then surveyed the American dispositions personally. Tarleton continued:
He discovered that the American commander had formed a front line of about one thousand militia, and had composed his second line and reserve of five hundred continental light infantry, one hundred and twenty of Washington's cavalry, and three hundred back woodsmen.9 This accurate knowledge being obtained, Tarleton desired the British infantry to disencumber themselves of every thing, except their anns and ammunition: The light infantry were then ordered to file to the right till they became equal to the flank of the American front line: The legion infantry were added to their left; and, under the fire of a 3-pounder, this part of the British troops was instructed to advance within three hundred yards of the enemy. This situation being acquired, the 7th regiment was commanded to form upon the left of the legion infantry, and the other 3-pounder was given to the right division of the 7th: A captain, with fifty dragoons, was placed on each flank of the corps, who formed the British front line, to protect their own, and threaten the flanks of the enemy: the 1st battalion of the 71st was desired to extend a little to the left of the 7th regiment, and to remain one hundred and fifty yards in the rear. This body of infantry, and near two hundred cavalry, composed the reserve, During the execution of these arrangements, the animation of the officers and the alacrity of the soldiers afforded the most promising assurances of success.10Teaching Points: Decisiveness, audacity, flexibility, intelligence estimate, meeting engagement, reconnaissance and reporting, and reserves.
Situation: From Vantage 6, walk northwest along Mill Gap Road (toward the Vistor's Center) about 200 meters. You are now standing in the center of the skirmish line sent forward from Pickens' militia. Two hundred meters to your front is the main militia line. After the British troops dropped their packs and aligned themselves on the enemy to their front, Tarleton gave the order to advance. The attack began with fire from the two light artillery pieces and "three huzzas" from the soldiers.11 Moving forward at a steady walk, the British received fire from sharpshooters behind the trees. The sharpshooters picked off several officers, then withdrew back into the main militia line. One memoir writer recalled:
A column marches up in front of Brandon's men led by a gayly dressed officer on horseback. The word passes along the line, "Who can bring him down? John Savage looked Col. Farr full in the face and read yes in his eye. He darted a few paces in front, laid his rifle against a sapling, a blue gas streamed above his head, the sharp crack of a rifle broke the solemn stillness of the occasion and a horse without rider wheeled from in front of the advancing column. In a few minutes the fire is general.12Unswerving, the British troops continued their advance. Morgan admiringly reported that the militia "gave them a heavy and galling fire." Nonetheless, given the rate of fire, the rate of advance, and the maximum effective range of the eighteenth-century musket, steady British troops armed with sixteen-inch bayonets were an intimidating force to backwoodsmen armed with slow-firing rifles or a mixed assortment of personal firearms. After firing three volleys, the militia withdrew around the flanks of the Continental Line in accordance with Morgan's directive. Far from a panicked retreat, their orderly movement evoked the admiration of the sergeant major of the Delaware Regiment, who noted, "They retreated but in very good order, not seeming to be the least bit confused."13 Throughout the action, the British advanced at a steady pace. The British believed they had occasioned the withdrawal. Lieutenant Mackenzie reported haughtily: "The military valour of British troops ... was not to be resisted by an American militia. They ave way on all quarters, and were pursued to their continentals."14
Teaching Points: Withdrawal under pressure, skirmishers, discipline, close combat, and assessment of battlefield information.
(Dragoons'pursuit of the militia)
Situation: Walk another 300 meters toward the Visitor's Center. This spot is the center of the line of the initial position of the Continental Line, the left flank of which extended about 100 meters to the northeast. Having fired the three volleys Morgan asked it to, the militia promptly withdrew, "retreating agreeably to their orders."15 Seeing the withdrawal of the militia, the fifty troopers of the 17th Light Dragoons fell upon them in pursuit, cutting and slashing at the back of the Americans. One frightened militiaman recounted his fear at that moment: "'Now," I thought, 'my hide is in the loft.'"16 Available to meet this situation was Washington, charged by Morgan to wait "at such a distance in [the rear of the Continental Line] as not to be subjected to the line of fire directed at them, and to be so near as to be able to charge [the British] should. [the line] be broken."17 Not specifically targeted at the British dragoons, Washington was nonetheless ideally positioned, according to the McJunkin memoir:
Two dragoons assault a large rifleman, Joseph Hughes by name. His gun was empty, but with it he parries their blows and dodges round a tree, but they still persist. At the moment the assault on Hughes began John Savage was priming his rifle. Just as they pass the tree to strike Hughes he levels his gun and one of the dragoons tumbles from his horse pierced with a bullet. The next moment the rifle carried by Hughes, now literally backed over, slips out of his hands and inflicts such a blow upon the other dragoon that he quits the contest and retires hanging by the mane of his horse.Soon, however, the militia are relieved from the British dragoons by a charge of the American light horse. The British cavalry are bome from the field.18
The same militiaman whose "hide" was "in the loft" was delivered from the saber of a British dragoon and later described admiringly the effect of Washington's counterattack:
Col. Washington's cavalry was among them, like a whirlwind, and the poor fellows began to kneel from their horses, without being able to remount. The shock was so sudden and violent, they could not stand it, and immediately betook themselves to flight. 19According to Comet James Simmons of the 3d Continental Dragoons, the American horsemen "after a smart Action ... instantly defeated [the dragoons] leaving in the course of ten minutes 18 of their brave 17th Dragoons dead on the spot... "20
Teaching Points: Initiative, mission-type orders, commander's intent, shock action, and counterattack.
(Colonel Howard's misunderstood order)
As the contest between British infantry in the front line and the continentals seemed equally balanced, neither retreating, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton thought the advance of the 71st into line, and a movement of cavalry in reserve to threaten the enemy's right flank, would put a victorious period into the action. The 71st were desired to pass the 7th before they gave their fire, and were directed not to entangle their right flank with the left of the other battalion. The cavalry was ordered to incline to the left, and to forrn a line, which would embrace the whole of the enemy's right flank. Upon the advance of the 71st, all the infantry moved on: the continentals and back woodsmen [Virginians] gave ground: The British rushed forwards. 23While Tarleton saw the reaction. of the Continentals to the threat from the 71st as another sign of the rebel force giving way, the reality behind the American lines was far different. Howard, seeing the. British attempt to move around his right, ordered Wallace's company of Virginians to "refuse the flank," that is, to swing back about 45 degrees thus making the flank more distant from the British column and therefore harder to gain. What method he chose to convey the order, he does not tell us, but Wallace misunderstood it. Rather than refusing the flank, the Virginians withdrew straight to their rear. As Howard recalled:
The officers along the line, seeing this, and supposing that orders had been given for a retreat, faced their men about, and moved off. Morgan, who had mostly been with the militia, quickly rode up to me and expressed apprehensions of the event; but I soon removed his fears by pointing to the line, and observing that the men were not beaten who retreated in that order. He then ordered me to keep with the men, until we came to the rising ground near Washington's horse; and he rode forward to fix on the most proper place for us to halt and face about. In a minute we had perfect line.24Meanwhile, the Legion cavalry attack Tarleton had ordered never developed. 25
Teaching Points: Confusion, effects of morale, maneuver, location of the commander, fratricide, withdrawal under pressure, synchronization, improvisation, and battlefield communications.
(The Continental Line fires)
When Howard's Continentals reached the spot Morgan had marked, he ordered the men to face about and fire into the ranks of the attacking British, now less than fifty meters to their front. The surprise, was complete; the British, who believed the Continentals had lost their nerve at the sight of the bayonets, had broken ranks with the intent to deliver the killing blow. Howard recorded the British surprise: "Our men commenced destructive fire, which they [the enerny] little expected, and a few rounds occasioned great disorder in their ranks."26 Anderson recorded the action:
The Enemy thinking We Were broke set up a great Shout Charged us With their bayonets but in no Order. We let them Come Within ten Or fifteen yards of us then give them a full Volley and at the Same time Charged home. They not expecting any Such thing put them in Such Confusion that We Were in amongst them With the Bayonets Which Caused them to give ground and at last to take to the flight.27Tarleton admitted that his troops were thrown into confusion by the sudden and unexpected fire from the Continentals: "An unexpected fire at this instant from the Americans, who came about as they were retreating, stopped the British, and threw them into confusion. Exertions to make them advance were useless."28
Teaching Points: Psychological impact, effect of firepower, and surprise.
Situation: Looking back down Mill Gap Road at this point in the battle, you would see the American line advancing immediately to your front, with Militia returning to the action around Howard's right flank and Washington around Howard's left to embrace the British in a double envelopment. Out of harm's way to your right front would be 250 Legion cavalry. Morgan, now confronted with this sudden and unanticipated reversal of fortune, rapidly assessed the situation and directed movement of the troops in reserve to envelop the demoralized British. The Continental Line pushed the British with bayonets from the front, as the reserves sealed off their withdrawal, Accounts differ, however, as to the precise mechanism by which the militia and dragoons were set in motion around the flanks. Howard claims that Washington charged of his own volition. Young recalled Colonel Brandon riding up to Washington to initiate the charge-implying that an order had come from Morgan or a request from Pickens. Collins remembered that Morgan rode in front of the militia and cried, "Form, form, my brave fellows! give them one more fire and the day is ours. Old Morgan was never beaten."29 Morgan, in his report to General Greene, sheds no light on the issue. The envelopment could have been the brain child of Pickens or Washington; however, Morgan, free with mention of the valor and virtue of his subordinates in his dispatch recording the battle, makes no mention of either of them in this context. Such coordinated movement of militia and Continental dragoons is difficult between peers in the best of circumstances and nearly impossible in the heat of battle between officers unaccustuomed to working together. Thus, Morgan is the most likely source for the order.
Finally, the combination of lack of sleep and food, the toll among the officers (Mackenzie believed two-thirds of the British officers were casualties), the surprise of the American counterattack, and the isolation of the British from a route of withdrawal caused the British infantry to begin surrendering. Said McJunkin: "One battalion throws down their arms and the men fall to the earth. Another commences flight, but Washington darts before them with his cavalry and they too ground their arms."30 As the 71st Highlanders, 7th Fusiliers, and Legion infantry laid down their arms, the gunners of the Royal Artillery fought on. During the final British assault, the two guns must have been left slightly to the rear. As the British infantry withdrew before the American bayonets, they left the guns behind. These the artillerymen defended with great valor, according to Hammond:
My attention was now drawn to an altercation of some of the men with an artillery man, who appeared to make it a point of honour not to surrender his match. The men provoked by his obstinacy, would have bayonetted him on the spot, had I not interfered, and desired them to spare the life of so brave a man. He then surrendered his match.Teaching Points: Bravery, improvisation, maneuver, psychological impact, stress of combat, initiative, and coordinated attack.
Situation: Without moving from Vantage 11, look back to Vantage 5 where the British deployed. Those British troops not caught in the encirclement to your immediate front escaped along Mill Gap Road and disappeared from the battlefield at that point. Tarleton, seeing the desperate circumstances of his infantry, made two attempts to reverse the tide of battle. First, he directed the uncommitted Legion cavalry "to form about four hundred yards to the right of the enemy, in order to check them, whilst he endeavoured to rally the infantry to protect the guns." When these attempts failed, he rode to the Legion cavalry and exhorted them to charge, hoping, as Tarleton recalled, that
the weight of such an attack might yet retrieve the day, the enemy being much broken by their late rapid advance; but all attempts to restore order, recollection, or courage, proved fruitless. About two hundred dragoons forsook their leader, and left the field of battle.Undaunted, Tarleton took the remaining fifty horsemen and charged the American cavalry without effect.31 Seeing the day was lost, Tarleton withdrew with his small band. Lieutenant Colonel Washington followed in pursuit, according to Kelley:
COL. Washington & two or three men pursued Tarleton 18 or 15 miles & he [Kelleyl understood that during this chase Washington would have been killed by one of the British but that one of Washington's men shot the fellow['sl arm off and Washington made a hack at Tarleton & disabled Tarleton[']s fingers & glanced his head with. his sword and took a good many prisoners.32A Lieutenant Frazier of the 71st had been left in charge of the baggage. Upon hearing of the outcome of the battle (probably from panicked Legionary cavalry), he destroyed what could not be evacuated and took the wagons to Winnsboro. Young, serving with McCall's horsemen, made for the British trains, about twelve miles to the east, and captured two British soldiers, two servants, and some stores. Some members of his party continued the pursuit resulting in the capture of at least one of the enemy.33
Teaching Points: Bravery, initiative, pursuit, and exploitation of success.
1. See Tramel deposition, Appendix B, 101.
2. See Major Hammond's account for the reconstruction of the operations order issued on 16 January 1781, Appendix C, memoir, 96.
3. See Moore memoir, Appendix B, 110.
4. See Young memoir, Appendix B, 96.
5. These men were led (from right flank to left) by Major John Cunningham (Georgia volunteers), Major Charles McDowell (North Carolina militia), Major Samuel Hammond (South Carolina militia), and Captain Donnolly (Georgia volunteers).
6. See Tarleton memoir, Appendix C, 148.
7. According to Mackenzie, the march began at 0200, letter, Appendix C, 151.
8. Mackenzie describes the march as being "rapid," Appendix C, 151-54. Tarleton agrees substantially, but claims the march was "exceedingly slow" because of darkness, terrain, and advanced and flank-guard activities, Tarleton memoir, Appendix C, 148. Each participant obviously wishes to support his assessment of blame. Given the distance involved and the terrain and light conditions, the march was clearly forced.
9. Compare Morgan, and Mackenzie for American strength, memoirs, Appendix C, 122, 151.
10. See Tarleton memoir, Appendix C, 148-51.
11. See Anderson memoir, Appendix C, 139.
12. See McJunkin memoir, Appendix C, 141; see also Young memoir, 135.
13. See Seymour memoir, Appendix C, 141.
14. See Mackenzie memoir, Appendix C, 161.
15. See Morgan's report of the battle, Appendix C, 122-25. Not all accounts agree to the same number of rounds being fired. With rifle and musket rates of fire differing and the militia firing without command, the number of rounds expended by the men would have varied from one to five.
16. See Collins memoir, Appendix C, 145.
17. See Morgan's report, Appendix C, 122-25. Washington initially positioned his force behind the left wing of the Continental Line. When the British artillery opened fire, Washington displaced farther to the left (not, as Young says, to the right) in obedience to the spirit of Morgan's instructions, Young memoir, 135.
18. See McJunkin memoir, Appendix C, 133.
19. See Collins memoir, Appendix C, 145.
20. See Comet James Simmons memoir, Appendix C, 143.
21. See chapter 3 for a discussion of conflicting evidence of the positions of Howard's units.
22. See Anderson memoir, Appendix C,139. Seymour reported on the state of morale among the Continentals, memoir, 141.
23. See Tarleton memoir, Appendix C, 148.
24. See Howard memoir, Appendix C, 126.
25. Tarleton gives no explanation for the Legion cavalry's failure to comply with orders. Mackenzie says the Legion cavalry "stood aloof," Appendix C, 151-54. But a vague remark by Alexander Chesney, a local Loyalist, suggests one answer: "the prisoners on seeing their own Regt opposed to them in the rear would not proceed against it and broke..." See Chesney, Appendix C, memoir, 154-55. If by prisoners Chesney means British Legion troopers who had been captured at Camden, "then their own Regt" refers to Pickens' Militia.
26. See Howard memoir, Appendix C, 126. Morgan reported that the Continentals, "formed, and advanced on the enemy, and gave them. a fortunate volley..." This sequence is unlikely as eighteenth-century soldiers fired their muskets from the halt. See Morgan memoir, Appendix C, 122.
27. See Anderson memoir, Appendix C, 139, 41.
28. See Tarleton account, Appendix C, 148-51.
29. See Howard memoir, Appendix C, 126-31; Young memoir, 135; and Collins memoir, 145.
30. See McJunkin memoir, Appendix C, 133.
31. See Tarleton account, Appendix C, 148-51; and Mackenzie letter, 151-54.
32. See Kelley deposition, Appendix C, 142. Tarleton makes no mention of the incident.
33. See Young memoir, Appendix C, 135.
Order of Battle
1. Mackenzie estimated the total British cavalry force at 350 troopers. Cornwallis' troop returns of 15 January 1791 show 451 in the Legion (Walter Clark, State Records of North Carolina, vol. 17 (Goldsboro, NC: Nash Brothers, 1896),1009.
2. Adrien Carauna lists the crew for the guns at twelve but theycould be operated by as few as three gunners, Grasshoppers and Butterflies: The Light 3-Pounders of Patterson and Townshend (Bloomfield, Ontario, 1979), 11. The number is an estimate; Lawrence Babits states the number is thirty-six, Cowpens Battlefield a Walking Tour (Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1993), 15.
3. Cornwallis' troop returns for 15 January 1781 show 249 men in the 1st battalion and 69 in the light company, as cited in Clark, State Record, vol. 17, 1009. Tarleton says 200, Appendix B, memoir, 112-15.
4. The regimental rolls listed 167 rank and file enlisted and 9 officers, W. Wheaton, Historical Record of the Seventh Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (Leeds, 1875), 76; Clark, State Records, vol. 17, 1009).
Continental Line (American Forces)
5. Mackenzie says the Continental Line was 250, letter, Appendix C, 148-51. Tarleton says 500, memoir, 148-5 1. Howard recalls "about 350 men" but does not specify whether that number included the militia in his line. I am assuming his number included all those who fell under his operational control for the battle, as depicted here, Babits shows almost 600 in his order of battle, Cowpens, 55.
6. Beatty is not listed in Moss, Patriots, but his extensive and convincing diary argues otherwise, Beatty memoir' Appendix B, 99.
Militia (American Forces)
7. Colonel Pickens did not actually command all militia forces. They did, however, serve in his line at the battle.
8. Brandon was born in Pennsylvania in 1741 and moved to South Carolina in 1755. He joined Colonel Thomas' Spartan Regiment in 1776, rising to the rank of major, Bailey, Heroes, 141-53.
9. Of McCall's command,
Cavalry (American Forces)
10. From Josiah Martin, who counted them on 16 January, memoir, Appendix B, 109.
11. From McJunkin memoir, Appendix C, 133.
Documents Pertaining to the Campaign
Leading to the Cowpens,
1 November 1780 to 17 January 1781
1. Major Samuel Hammond, South Carolina Militia
2. Major Thomas Young, South Carolina Militia
3. Captain Robert Kirkwood, Delaware Regiment, Continental Army
4. Captain William Beatty, Maryland Regiment, Continental Army
5. Captain George Gresham, Georgia Militia
6. Captain Samuel Sexton, South Carolina Militia
7. Captain Dennis Tramel, South Carolina Militia
8. Lieutenant Nathaniel Dickison, North Carolina Militia
9. Sergeant Major William Seymour, Delaware Regiment
10. First Sergeant Benjamin Martin, Virginia Militia
11. Sergeant Lawrence Everhart, 3d Light Dragoons, Continental Army
12. Sergeant James Harden, South Carolina Militia
13. Private Benjamin Copeland, South Carolina Militia
14. Private Jeremiah Dial, South Carolina Militia
15. Private Andrew Ferguson, South Carolina Militia
16. Private Jeremiah Files, South Carolina Militia
17. Private Aaron Guyton, South Carolina Militia
18. Private Josiah Martin, North Carolina Militia
19. Private Samuel Moore, North Carolina Militia
20. Private William Neel, Virginia Militia
21. Private Samuel Park, South Carolina Militia
22. Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Commander, British Forces
23. Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie, 71st Highland Infantry Regiment
1. Major Samuel Hammond of Virginia was elected a lieutenant in 1775 and served in a number of actions with a militia company until 1778. After moving to South Carolina in 1779, he was commissioned a captain and fought numerous actions against Tories, including King's Mountain. At the Cowpens, he commanded McCall's unit in the militia line. After the war, he represented Georgia in the U. S. Congress and served as secretary of state for South Carolina. The following excerpt from a Revolutionary War pension application describes Hammond's war experiences.1
[Hammond] ... continued until Clarks affair on Long Cane near 96 was not in that engagement being out of command at the time was left behind on their retreat, followed with & joined Col William Washington & Col McCall to whose command he was attached & joined Gen Morgan next day was in several light skirmishes with the Enemy previous to the battle of the Cowpens & was with the General there. Commanded on the left of the front line as Major of McCalls Regiment it is here necessary to observe that Col McCall had been promoted to the command of a Regiment of Cavalry authorized to be enrolled for six months & applicant appointed to the Majority Neither had yet been Commissioned, & very [?] few arrived with swords & pistols--the Refugee Militia attached to their respective commands enrolled in the Regiment and were promised by the Governor to be provided with clothing & arms as soon as they could be procured--not a day was lost in recruiting nor was the full number made up before the Battte--the few 25--to 30 that were equipped as Horsemen were placed under Col MCall and attached to Col Washington Command. Those who were not so equipped were armed with rifles & placed under the applicant--After the action the service was so pressing & the movements of the Army so rapid that no accounting could be attended to & after Cowpens the applicant was kept constantly on detachment upon the Enemy's lines, so that he could not recruit in the Army as he had previously done. The evening of the day of the Battle of the 17 he was detached by order of Genl. Morgan to look into Cornwallis' Camp on the Broad River, to report his movement & communicate with Genl. Pickins or himself daily until further orders. This service was performed regularly until the british took up camp at Ramsour's Mills.2. Major Thomas Young was an officer of the South Carolina militia who had fought at King's Mountain. He describes Morgan's preparations for the battle of the Cowpens, and especially his rallying speech to the militia in this account:2
We ... returned to Morgan's encampment at Grindall Shoals, on the Packolette, and there we remained, eating beef and scouting through the neighborhood until we heard of Tarlton's approach. Having received intelligence that Col. Tarlton designed to cross the Packolette at Easternood Shoals above us, Gen. Morgan broke up his encampment early on the morning of the 16th, and retreated up the mountain road by Hancock's Ville, taking the left hand road not far above, in a direction toward the head of Thickety Creek. We arrived at the field of the Cowpens about sun-down, and were then told that there we would meet the enemy. The news was received with great joy by the army. We were very anxious for battle, and many a hearty curse had been vented against Gen, Morgan during that day's march, for retreating, as we thought to avoid a fight. Night came upon us, yet much remained to be done. It was all important to strengthen the cavalry. Gen. Morgan knew well the power of Tarlton's legion, and he was too wily an officer not to prepare himself as well as circumstances would admit. Two companies of volunteers were called for. One was raised by Major Jolly of Union District, and the other, I think, by Major McCall. I attached myself to Major Jolly's company. We drew swords that night, and were informed we had authority to press any horse not belonging to a dragoon or an officer, into our service for the day.3. Captain Robert Kirkwood was commissioned in 1776 and served throughout the war with the Delaware Continentals. This journal reflects the movement of his regiment during the months before and after the Cowpens battle. Kirkwood remained in the army after the American Revolution and was killed in action near Fort Recovery in 1791.3
Nov. 4. This day Genl Morgan's Infantry with Col. Washington's Horse, marched Down to Ridgely's Mill, within 13 miles of Cambden; reconnoitre the Enemy.4. Captain William Beatty, in this journal extract, describes the march of Morgan's forces from Charlotte to the Cowpens. The author joined the Continental Army in 1776 and served almost continuously until his death at Hobkirk's Hill, 25 April 1781. At the Cowpens, he commanded a company of the Maryland Line. 4
Genl Greene had Superseded Genl Gates in his command of the Southern Army a Day or two before. When I join'd the troops were Hutting which they Compleated a few days after. Decr 16th two Companies of Lt Infantry being ordered out I got Comd of the Compy form'd by the late 7th Regt.5. Captain George Gresham enlisted in 1777 and served in mounted Georgia militia units. In 1781 he commanded a troop of mounted militia that fought at the Cowpens.6
...some reinforcement was then collected, with which in January 1781, a party of Tores [sic] was surprised in the fork of saluda and Broad Rivers. Information came to us that General Morgan was within a few miles, pursued by the enemy. We started immediately to join him and in our way, having fallen in with part of the British advance we had a skirmish and made some prisoners. We reached the General the evening preceding the battle of the Cowpens and were placed under the command of Colonel Washington. Early the next morning the enemy attacked our lines but they were soon broken and retreated in every direction leaving their dead, wounded, artillery, baggage and many prisoners. We continued with the army two days and were then ordered away to disperse some tories who were assembling near Inoree River.6. Captain Samuel Sexton was born in 1762. A volunteer elected captain of his company and veteran of several battles, he describes here the circumstances that led to his joining the patriot cause:7
I was seized, while just a boy, by a party of tories, and so severely beaten that my life was despaired of, when Major Jonathan Davis, who lived in the neighborhood found me, and took me to his house, provided a surgeon, and rendered me every assistance at his own expense. After remaining at his house about nine weeks, and after I had partially recovered a band of tories come to the house, and again seized me, strapped me, and again beat me: At the suggestion of Major Davis I made my escape, and joined the American army at the Cowpens, the day before the battle of the 17th of January, 1780 or 1781 was fought at that place. On my route to the Cowpens I succeeded in inducing twenty-five men to join me, and was chosen their captain. We heard of a contemplated attack from the tores [sic], and lay in ambush until they came up and defeated them. We proceded [?] and offered our services to the army at the Cowpens, were received and I and my Company were put under the command of Colonel Hays, who was under General Pickens under General or Colonel Morgan of the Regular or Continental Army. I was in the battle of Cowpens, at the head of and in command of my company, under Col. Hays. I remember Colonel Washington, who commanded a body of horse, and a Captain Lee, of his command these are all the officers, except Colonel Morgan belonging to the Regular army whom I now recollect nor do I recollect any of the militia, except Col Hayes regiment. After the battle I was ordered, together with three or four other companies, of Colonel Hays command, to Hillsborough.... I never received any commission as a captain,8 but was chosen by my company, was so referred to [?] in the service, and was engaged in the battle of the Cowpens, and the Hanging Rock, at the head of my company, and was by all officers recognized, as Captain.7. Captain Dennis Tramel was a North Carolina volunteer who saw service at Augusta. After moving to South Carolina, he joined Colonel John Thomas and fought at King's Mountain. He also commanded a company in a number of battles. In this narrative, Tramel describes Morgan's selection of the ground for the battle.9
Applicant there joined the Regiment to which he had formerly belonged, which was at that time under the command of Col Roebuck. In the mean time Genl. Pickens had raised his troops, and Genl Morgan from the East was sent on to the South and genl Pickens joined him. Applicant was also attached to the Army under the command of Genl. Morgan and Genl. Pickens, Genl. Morgan had the principal command. The British army composed of British and Tories under the command of Col. Tarlton was there encamped upon the South side of the Pacolet River near Grindols shoals. The Army under the command of Genl. Morgan retreated to a place called the Cowpens between the branch of horse creek and Suck creek where the engagement took place between the two armies. That place being in two and a half miles of the residence of said applicant and he being well acquainted with the local Situation of the ground Genl Morgan called upon said applicant to assist in selecting the Battle Ground; said applicant with the company under his command together with Genl. Morgan and his life-guard and Aide d camp went out and selected the ground upon which the Battle was fought. After the battle ground was chosen this applicant well remembers the expression of Genl. Morgan which was as follows; to wit. addressing himself to applicant said he Captain here is Morgan's grave or victory. Early in the morning of the day following the engagement commenced, it being the 17th day ofJanuary 1781. Soon after the battle was over Genl. Morgan moved off with the prisoners leaving this applicant with his company to bury the dead of both parties, and to keep off the scouting parties of Tories; to wit. Will Cunningham and Col Young who commanded scouting parties of tories, who would commit depredations and flee to the Indian Nation and other remote places - with the tories under their command. Our wounded was taken to the house of Doctr Robert Nelson who waited and attended upon them, he being within five miles of the battle ground. Applicant continued in the Neighborhood with his company for the protection of the wounded...8. Lieutenant Nathaniel Dickison was elected first lieutenant of his company of North Carolina militia. He served in that capacity in the militia line at the Cowpens.10
The declarant entered the service of the U.S. as a substitute in the name and stead of one Frederick Hall in the year 1780 under Capt Jos. Cloud in Stokes County North Carolina, his Col name was Tipton who commanded the 3rd Regiment of Militia. He thinks he recollects Col Morgan & that they joined him not very far from the Cow Pens ... Joined Co. Morgan in a bout eight miles of the Cowpens a bout the 15th of Jan. 1781. we lay theretill the 16th and marched to the Cowpens & on the 17th we fought what is called the battle of the Cowpens where declarant was wounded in his left groin by a musket ball. He being so badly wound that to this day he is cripple from the same. He was out this tour three months & owing to his severe wound he was sent home & never after entered the service.9. Sergeant Major William Seymour served in the Delaware Regiment in the southern campaign and at the battle of the Cowpens. The following is excerpted from his journal.11
On the 6th December, 1780, General Greene arrived at Charlotte and took command of all the Southern Army in the room of General Gates.10. First Sergeant Benjamin Martin served four enlistments with Virginia troops in the Revoluntionary War. In August 1780, he became first sergeant of Captain Triplett's company, which was commanded by Captain Combs at the Cowpens.12
Colonel Daniel Morgan was promoted to Brigadier General the augusta and lockbridg [sic]Militia was formed into a Battallion [sic] Captain Triplett was promoted Major and John Combs was made Captain in his place--General Greene detached general Morgan, with the Maryland troops under Colonel Howard the Virginia militia under Major Francis Triplett and colonel William Washingtons light horse General Morgan marched down on Pecklet [Pacolet] River and took camp on a hill near the River and continued to send out detachments and defeat the Torys and about the middle of January we were informed that Collonel [sic] Tarlton was coming on us with a Superior force we Retreated to a place we called the Cowpens and took up camp all in order for Battle. The Brittish [sic] attacked us only in the morning. I was in the lead all the time of the actions. I [covered?] Captain combs he was killed. Captain Dobson and Lieutenant [James] Ewing was on the left of the Maryland troops near me - the British were completely defeated we marched on with the prisoners to Salsberry [sic]....11. Sergeant Lawrence Everhart served in Fauntleroy's Company of the 3d Dragoons. This decription is extracted from his application for veterans benefits, apparently dicated by Everhart, dated 7 April 1834.13
From Rugeley's we marched to Ninety Six & joined Morgan - Here we met with [?] and had several many [?] sustaining many losses, the enemy considerable damage - from this place we retired to Pacelet river near the mountain. Here Washington set out for Hammons Store where there was a nest of Tories, leaving me in charge of the baggage, & he took almost fifty or sixty prisoners, killing some--He returned in two days. From Pacolet we moved to Cowpens about Christmas or New Years day of 1781. Here we were day & night reconnoitering, until the memorable day of January 1781. Here we were day & nigth reconnoitering, until the memorable day of January 1781. For the details of that engagement, the petitioner refers to the documents hereto annexed to wit [sic] the letter of Co Wm Washington in his own hand writing dated Sandy Hill Mar 11 1803 and the affidavit of James Simons bearing date Nov 8 1803 who was a lietenant in the action of Cowpens. Petitioners horse being shot he was captured early in the morning by Quarter Master Wade of the British Army with whom he had some previous acquaintance & by him taken to Col Tarlton: our army at this point of time being perhaps three miles in the rear--Dismounting from his horse, that officer asked the petitioner after some previous conversation if he expected Mr. Washington & Mr. Morgan would fight him that day. Yes if they can keep together only two hundred men was the reply. Then he said it would be another Gates' defeat. I hope to God it will be another Tarlton's defeat said this petitioner. I am Col. Tarlton, Sir. And I am Sergeant Everhart. My wounds were bleeding at this time but soon afterwards were dressed by the surgeon. I received from the enemy great kindness. After the battle, Col. Washington sent two dragoons with me about three miles from the ground to take care of me: Dr. Pindell = formerly of Hagerstown Maryland surgeon of our corps dressed my wounds, remained here until the latter part of February & went thence to Catawba river where I remained a few days.12. Sergeant James Harden served in the militia beginning in 1777; after April 1780, he belonged to the company of Captain Jeremiah Dixon. This excerpt offers an example of the use Morgan made of the militia. In particular, this account indicates that not all available troops rallied to the fight on the morning of 17 January.14
When Colonel Washington and General Morgan in the latter part of December 1780 or early in January 1781 were detached by General Green against the British stations in and around Ninety Six Capt. Dixon with his volunteers, long thoroughly acquainted with the surrounding Country, were called on to bring in Supplies for the American Army which service we continued to dicscharge until about the battle of the Cowpens, immediately after which General Morgan & Colnl. Washington retreated into North Carolina with the trophies of their victory. At the time of the battle we were out on the duty aforesaid, searching for British and Tory Scouts, within hearing of the Gunns.13. Private Benjamin Copeland served under Lincoln at the siege of Charleston and volunteered his services with Washington during the raids against Tories in the fall of 1780. "Our Regiment" refers to the 3d Light Dragoons.15
...about the last of December 1780 our Regiment of about 70 men with Col Washington at our head & about were detached and marched forty miles the first day & on the next day surprised a body of Tories at Ninety Six [Hammond's Store?] & about 150 we took prisoners and & killed & wounded about forty without any loss on our side. About middle January 1781 we fought the Battle of Cowpens near Pacolet River under the command of Genl Morgan--in this battle we had about 10 or 12 men killed & 50 or 60 wounded we took prisoners & killed & wounded altogether about 700 men besides two pieces of artillery & several baggage waggons & dragoon horses besides several small arms--Our Regiment pursued Tarletons, Regiment for several miles when a majorety [sic] of them finally escaped we then marched directly for Dan River.14. Private Jeremiah Dial was born in Ireland and emigrated to Newberry District, South Carolina, in 1771. During the Revolution, he took the place of his father--who had been drafted in 1779--and fought in a number of actions against the Tories. At the Cowpens, Dial served as a mounted volunteer with Washington.16
...when Col Washington came into South Carolina with a number of light horse troops this applicant was with several others under the command of Maj Hampton and attached to Washington company to pilot him through some parts of South Carolina in the pursuit of the tories, as this applicant and the others taken with him, were well acquainted with the Country - This was in the beginning of the winter of 1780. This applicant went with Washington to Hammond's Store where theyovertook and put to flight a large number of tories, some of whom the killed and wounded--This store was in Newberry County Washington then sent one of his Lieutenants or captains with a small party of men to take Williamson's fort on Little river in Newberry County not more than eight or ten miles from Hammond's Store. This applicant was one of the party sent [...] and rejoined Washington who then went back towards the border of Carolina to join Genl Morgan--This applicant states that as well as he recollects Washington found Morgan a few days before the battle of the Cowpens and as well as he remembers when Washington's company in which he was joined Morgan he was retreating before Cot Tarlton and his forces--at all events Tarlton was in pursuit of him--When Morgan and Col or Gineral [sic] Pickens who commandedthe Malitia [?] at the place called the Cow Pens they stoped [sic] to fight the British under Tarlton--This battle was fought on the 17th day of January 1781. This applicant particularly recollects this battle because it was the greatest he ever was in--This applicant states that Tarleton commenced this battle early in the morning by firing his field peeces [sic] at Morgans army but he does not remember how long the battle lasted-- Washington's Cavalry with whom this applicant fought during the engagement were stationed in the rear of Morgan's forces and when the British broke through the leftwing of the Malitia [sic] Washington's cavalry made an attack upon them and defeated them with considerable loss...15. Private Andrew Ferguson was one of a number of free blacks who fought in the Revolutionary War. Born in Virginia of free black parents, Ferguson was drafted at age fifteen in 1780 and fought in a number of important engagements, including Brandywine, King's Mountain, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse (where he was severely wounded), Ninety Six, and Eutaw Springs. 17
I am a colored man.... Two weeks previous to my being drafted I was in company with my father (Andrew Pegleg as he was called) was taken prisoner by the British under John and James Buzbie. We ran away from them becaues the [sic] whiped [sic] us with the cat o. nine Tails and fell in with the American soldiers under Green. Gen. Green told us that if the British ever [sic] got us again They would kill us and he had better draft us and go up around out of a little now (?) black tickets (?) and he told us we should go with him and must fight the British. I was just then under the immediate command of Captain William Harris and Colonel William McCormick and stayed under the command of this company during most of the time I was out... after the Battle he marched us down into South Carolina to the River Pacolet not far from the Cow Pens as he said to join Green, but I did not see Green there. While we were at the river Pacolet--the British under Col Tarlton came upon us and Col Morgan marched us up towards the Cow Pens but before we got there we made a Stand and whiped [sic] the British completely this took place I think some time in the month of January 1781.16. Private Jeremiah Files enlisted with Colonel Pickens on Christmas Eve 1780 and served in his father's company at the Cowpens.18
...that on Christmas Eve in the year 1780 he enrolled himself as a volunteer under Col Andrew Pickens and at the time of his enrollment resided in Abbyville District in the State of South Carolina and marched from thence as a volunteer with Cot Pickins to Grenville [sic] Shoals on Packlet [sic] River and there joined Gen Morgan about the first of January in the year 1781 and then placed under the command of Capt. McKall [sic] in the Battallion of Major White in the Regiment of Col Andrew Pickens of the South Carolina Militia. My father John Files, Lieut & Hugh Baskin ensign in said Company--and from Grenville Shoals we marched under Gen Morgan to the Cowpens and was in the Battle fought there against Tarlton's Legion on the Wednesday morning of the l7th of January 1781--& recollects a continental officer--called Col Howard & Col Wm Washington of the Light Horse. This Deponent was wounded by Tarleton's Dragoons on the head--on the left Arm and on the right Hand each wound was made with a sword & the wounds are now visible the wounds Greatly Disabled this Deponent--& stuned [sic] him for some time. & one Capt Alexander of Rowan Co North Carolina was the first man came to his relief & informed him of our victory-& from thence he was carried in a Horse Bier three days with Gen Morgans Army and arrived at the Town of Gilbert in North Carolina and there Left the Army and was taken to Gen Charles McDowells at the Quaker Meadows on the Catawba River and there with one Michael Cane an American and Sixteen wounded British soldiers were placed under a surgeon by the name of Rudolph (a Dutchman) & there remained sixteen days & from thence Left the British soldiers and removed six miles to Martin Deadwiler's on Tyger River and remained there 18 Days--& aplicant [sic] returned home & remained unable to do duty until the first of June in said year....17. Private Aaron Guyton was a recruit from the Ninety Six District. Just seventeen when he enlisted with Captain Nathaniel Jeffries in 1779, he saw action in several skirmishes with Tories before arriving at the Cowpens. This remarkable passage addresses Colonel Washington's raid campaign, describes vividly the organization of the militia, and comments on the internecine warfare in South Carolina following the departure of Morgan's army.19
I was under Col Brandon who had a few Brave Men who stood true for the cause of Liberty in the back part of the State who composed our little Army I was out the most of this time Some times we had 75 Some Times 150 men, and some times we had 4 or 5 Cols with from 50 to 150 men. Each of them had Command of a Regt at home & some times not more than 5 of his men with him. The Cols were Brandon, Hayes, Roebuck, White,--in December 1780 Genl Morgan & Col. Washington of the Cavalry came out and took Camp near Pacolet River was soon joined with what few Malitia, [sic] was in our part I think the 1st or 2nd day he came I joined him. And hearing of 2 or 300 Torys in a body on Bush River Morgan detached Washingtons Horse [meaning his cavalry] & the Militia to dislodge them the distance was about 40 miles. We came on their camp & killed & wounded numbers of them took many prisoners, and returned to Morgans camp. In a few days Morgan hearing of a detachment under Col Tarleton coming on him and dreading to engage him so near Lord Cornwallis' Army, retreated two days up the Country to a place called the Cow Pens. at this time we had no Officer in our Company & only two or three or four men. And the morning before the Battle 17 Jany 1781 we joined Capt John Thompsons Compy. We defeated, killed & took all except Tarleton & his light Horse prisoners --Tarleton let Cornwallis know how things was who instantly pursued Morgan. A part of us and some Georgia refugees followd in the rear of Wallis' Army almost to the Catawba River and we picked up a good many of the straglers [sic] in the rear of Cornwallis-...18. Private Josiah Martin volunteered in 1780 to serve in the company of Captain John Barber. This narrative describes the movements and actions of his unit prior to the battle of the Cowpens.20
He belonged to a company of volunteers, about 15 or 20 in number generally & commanded by Capt Barber.... Its movements was directed against the Tories of Lincoln & the adjoining county of Rutherford. One of its first expeditions was, in early corn planting time 1780, to the house of one Ambrose Mills in Rutherford County on White oak creek of Broad river, who was supposed to be raising a regiment of tories, Barber's company Stayed at Mills' a week or more, lived upon his meat & corn, & ranged in the neighborhood. Mills promised to be neutral, & the company returned home. They learned that Mills, not regarding his promise raised a regiment of tories, received the commission of Colonel from the British, & was taken by the Whiggs in battle at Kings Mountain & hung....Afterwards Barber being advanced to the rank of Major raised a company which applicant joined & marched with it to Morgans camps on the Pacolet river near Grendal's Shoals where we elected Thos. White our captain. We remained in Camps [sic] with Morgan until the rains raised the waters when the Militia were allowed to cross the Packalet for the purpose of procuring provisions, Two days afterwards Col Howard came along by our fires & asked where Major Barber was. We asked what was the matter. He said nothing much, but brother Ben was coming. We immediately recrossed the Packalet to Morgan's camp. Early in the morning the regulars commenced march, the militia being on horseback started about 12 O'clock & overtook the regulars the evening before the battle of the Cowpens. Col. Washington was there with his company of Cavalry which amounted to 72 as counted by the applicant the day before the battle. The other officers who commanded in the battle besides those already names, he recollects Col Pickens Militia & Maj McDowell. The battle was fought early in the morning in the open woods. At the termination of the battle our Capt. Thos. White was missing, but was there the, next day when we returned from the pursuit. We then followed after Morgan who had gone on with the prisoners. After overtaking them Morgan & regulars left us, & we with Col Washington conducted the prisoners to Burk town....19. Private Samuel Moore served in the North Carolina militia under Major Josenh McDowell and Captain Whiteside during several campaigns of the Revolution, including the Cowpens. This account includes a description of the impassioned plea General Morgan made to the men in Moore's unit to persuade them to remain with the army after the expiration of their enlistment.21
...his [Moore's] twelve months had expir'd a short time, say two months 22before the battle at the Cowpens--Morgan was expecting a reinforcement of fresh troops, who had not yet arrived, and insisted that Capt. Whiteside and others, whose time had expired, should not leave him, in his exposed condition, to contend with a handfull of men against a powerful and Victorious enemy. This appeal, which could not be heard with indifference, was not without its effect, and captain Whiteside and his men remained until after the Battle--and the expected Supply of troops not yet having arrived, this Declarant was not discharged but sent with the prisoners to Salisbury as above stated [earlier in his deposition]. Amongst these prisoners there was one John Hailey an Englishman who now lives a near neighbor to this Declarant in White County Tennessee, but to whom he was not then personally known; and for that reasons, although the said Hailey's son has married the stepdaughter of this Declarant, he cannot avail himself of his testimony.20. Private William Neel was a Virginian who served several years in militia units until he volunteered to go south with Captain Patrick Buchanan.23
In the year 1780 (as he thinks) he went as a volunteer from Staunton in Augusta County Virginia with a company under the command of Capt. Patrick Buchanan with two other companies commanded by Tate & Gilmore to [?] the state of North Carolina and Joined Genl Morgan at Six Mile Creek (after passing by Hillsborough, Salisbury &) this place was called head quarters where Genls Smallwood & Morgan were encamped with their troops. At this place to wit six mile creek the army remained encamped for some time Colo. Washington commanded the horse Colo Howard the regular infantry and captains Wallace, Brooks &; Driggers [?] belonged to the regular forces. Under Genl Morgan he went to the Packolett's River South Carolina and was at the battle of the Cowpens or Tarlton's defeat when ... there were near 500 prisoners taken. At this battle the South Carolina mounted militia under Colo Brannon [sic] proved very defective in the commencement of the action but were subsequently rallied and assisted to complete the victory. After the battle the troops suffered greatly in their return to Salisbury N. Carolina with the prisoners from the high waters cold rains [?] and want of provisions at Broad River; Catawba there were several lives lost from high waters.21. Private Samuel Park served in 1780 and 1781 in the South Carolina militia. This excerpt describes the actions of militia forces prior to the battle of the Cowpens.24
...he entered the service of the United States as a Volunteer under Captain James Dugan in the autumn of 1780 month of October and served in the Militia under the following named officers Ginl. Andrew Pickens (The Militia Genl) Col. Joseph Hays. Major Garret Smith. Capt James Dugan & Thomas Stark 1st Lieut. He entered the Service in District ninety Six South Carolina (since Newberry County) he commenced his march from this place to Youngs where a body of torys had rendezvoused. Genl Pickens Col Hays and Col Washington with his horse troops met near Pacolet Shoals Joined each other and proceeded to Youngs to disperse the Torys, aforesaid. From Youngs we who were under the command of Genl. Pickens continued to scour the country in quest of the Tories for the space of two or three months when we joined Genl Morgan on toward Shoals on Pacolet river and marched directly on toward the Cowpens which was distant about sixty miles arrived at the cowpens about dusk in the evening and the next morning about sunrise was attacked by the troops under the command of Col. Tarleton and after a bloody battle in which our troops proved victorious. Col. Tarleton marched from the Cowpens in the direction of Winnsborough where he Joined Lord Cornwallis. Genl Morgan and Genl. Pickens marched in the directgion [sic] of Guilford Court House. He recollects Genl Morgan. Col Washington with his corps of Draggoons the general circumstances of the service are previously [in a deposition of 14 April 1834] stated. There was a continental regiment under the command of Col Howard at the Cowpens and also John Thomas a militia Col. and Capt Farris (or Harris).22. In his third-person account of the campaign, Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, commander of British forces at the Cowpens, describes the planning and movement of his forces prior to the battle. 25
General Leslie, with one thousand five hundred and thirty men, was greatly advanced on his march toward the army, when the operations of the Americans to the westward of the Broad river laid immediate claim to the attention of the British. General Morgan, with the continental light infantry, Colonel Washington's cavalry, and large detachments of militia, was reported to be advancing to Ninty Six. Although the fortifications were in tolerable condition at that place, and sufficiently strong to resist an assault, yet the preservation of the country in its neighborhood was considered as great an object for the garrison and the loyalists of the district, that Earl Cornwallis dispatched an aid-de-camp on the 1st of January  to order Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton over Broad river, with his corps of cavalry and infantry, of five hundred and fifty men, the first battalion of the 71s, consisting of two hundred, and two three-pounders, to counteract the designs of General Morgan, by protecting the country, and compelling him to repass the Broad river. Tarleton received a letter the next day from his lordship, communicating an earnest wish, that the American commander, if within his reach, should be "pushed to the utmost["]; and requiring, likewise, his opinion, whether any move of the main army would be advantageous to the service.26 On the receipt of this letter, he directed course to the westward, and employed every engine to obtain intelligence of the enemy. He had not proceeded above twenty miles from Brierley's ferry, before he had undoubted proofs, that the report which occasioned the order for the light ... troops to march was erroneous. The secure state of Ninty Six, and the distance of General Morgan, immediately prompted Tarleton to halt the troops under his command, as well as to allow time for the junction of the baggage of the different corps, which had been left on the ground when they first decamped, as to give information to Earl Cornwallis of the situation and force of Morgan, and to propose operations which required his sanction and concurrence.On the 15th circumstantial intelligence was procured by Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton of the different guards stationed on the Pacolet. A march was commenced in the evening toward the iron works, which are situated high upon the river; but in the morning the course was altered, and the light troops secured a passage within six miles of the enemy's camp. As soon as the corps were assembled beyond the Pacolet, Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton thought it advisable to advance towards some log houses, formerly constructed by Major Ferguson, which lay midway between the British and Americans, and were reported, to be unoccupied by General Morgan. The necessity and utility of such a proceeding appeared so strong, that some dragoons and mounted infantry were sent with all possible expedition to secure them, lest a similar opinion should strike the American commander, which might be productive of great inconvenience. Tarleton intended to take post, with his whole corps, behind the log houses, and wait for the motions of the enemy; but a patrole discovering that the Americans were decamped, the British light troops were directed to occupy their position, because it yielded a good post, and afforded plenty of provisions, which they had left behind them, half crooked [sic], in every part of their encampment.
Patroles and spies were immediately dispatched to observe the Americans: The dragoons were directed to follow the enemy fill dark, and the other emissaries to continue their inquiries till morning, if some material incident did not occur: Early in the night the patroles reported that General Morgan had struck into byways, tending towards Thickelle [Thicketty] creek: A party of determined loyalists made an American colonel prisoner, who had casually left the line ofmarch, and conducted him to the British camp: The examination of the militia colonel, and other accounts soon afterwards received, evinced the propriety of hanging upon General Morgan's rear, to impede the junction of reinforcements, said to be approaching, and likewise to prevent his passing Broad river without the knowledge of the light troops, who could perplex his design, and call in the assistance of the main army if necessity required. Other reports at midnight of a corps of mountaineers being upon the march from Greene river, proved the exigency of moving to watch the enemy closely, in order to take advantage of any favorable opportunity that might offer.23. Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie, an officer of the 71st Highlanders and witness to the battle, published these letters. Obviously hostile to Tarleton his letters react directly to Tarleton's account of the campaign.30
1. Revolutionary War Pension Applications, 31 October 1832 - S2187-M804/1176, hereafter referred to as RWPA. A number of soldiers from the battle applied for pensions years later and described the event to prove they had participated. Typed copies of all pension applications in this study can be found at the Cowpens National Battlefield, courtesy of Professor Lawemce E. Babits of East Carolina University (Moss, Patriots, 128; Bailey, Heroes, 116-31).
2. Major Thomas Young, "Memoir of Major Thomas Young, A Patriot of South Carolina," The Orion 3 (October-November 1843), n. p. The Cowpens was fought on Young's seventeenth birthday (Bailey, Heroes, 250-66).
3. Robert Kirkwood, The Journal and Order Book of Captain Robert Kirkwood of the Delaware Regiment of the Continental Line, ed. Rev. Joseph Brown Turner (Wilmington: Historical Society of Delaware, 1910), 5-6. The journal entries reproduced here can be found on pages 12-13.
4. William Beatty, "Journal of Captain William Beatty 1776-1781, of the Maryland Line," Maryland Historical Magazine, no.3 (1908):118-19. The original manuscript of this journal is held in the files of the Maryland Historical Society and is published in The Historical Magazine andNotes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History and Biography of America, vol. 1 (Morrisania, NY: Henry B. Dawson, 1867).
5. Beatty means a Feu de joi, in which celebrants discharge their weapons in the air to express elation.
6. RWPA, 20 October 1837, W2933, M804/1129, Moss, Patriots, 118.
7. RWPA, 17 September 1833, R9400, M804/2154, Moss, Patriots, 259.
8. In an earlier deposition of 15 May 1828, Sexton claimed he held a commission in the "State line" from about a year after he formed his company.
9. RWPA, 10 December 1780, R 10672, M804/2408, Moss, Patriots, 290-91. 10. RWPA, 23 June 1835, S3289, M804/814, Moss, Patriots, 80.
11. Seymour, William. A Journal of the Southern Campaign (Wilmington: Historical Society of Delaware, 1896), 10-15.
12. RWPA, R6965, Moss, Patriots, 181.
13. RWPA, 7 April 1834, S25068, M804/944. See also "Sketch of the Life of Lawrence Everheart," in Thomas Batch, Papers Relating Chiefly to the Maryland Line During the Revolution (Philadelphia: T. K. and P. G. Printers, 1857), 42-52.
14. RWPA, 21 August 1832, R4592, M804/1186, Moss, Patriots, 131.
15. RWPA, 2 September 1834, S21122, File M804/650, Moss, Patriots, 63-64.
16. RWPA, 15 August 1832, W914, M804/808, Moss, Patriots, 79-80.
17. RWPA, 16 August 1838, S32243, M804/966, Moss, Patriots, 98.
18. RWPA, 3 February 1834, S 13026, M804/973, Moss, Patriots, 100.
19. RWPA, W21237, M804/1149, Moss, Patriots, 122-23.
20. RWPA, 1 October 1832, W1047, M804/1641, Moss, Patriots, 182-83.
21. RWPA, 11 October 1832, W2656, M804/1759, Moss, Patriots, 209.
22. Two months is too long; Morgan was only in South Carolina thirty-two days when the battle occurred.
23. RWPA, 29 October 1832, S15945, M804/1804, Moss, Patriots, 217-18.
24. RWPA, 26 August 1834, S32428, M804/1869, Moss, Patriots, 228-29.
25. Banastre Tarleton, A History of the Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America (Dublin: T. Cadell, 1787),216-20. I have replaced Tarleton's method of documentation with a modem format.
26. All letters referred to in this passage are reproduced in Appendix D, Tarleton-Cornwallis correspondence. See Letter 4, 174.
27. See Letter 7, Appendix D, 175-76.
28. See Letter 9, Appendix D, 177.
29. See Appendix D, Letters 13 and 14, 178.
30. Roderick Mackenzie, Strictures on Lt. Col Tarleton's History of the Campaign of 1780 and 1781, in the Southern Provinces ofNorth America (London, 1787), 79-90. I have summarized Mackenzie's lengthy quotations from Tarleton's work.
31. Major Patrick Ferguson, sent by Cornwallis on a raiding expedition, was defeated at King's Mountain on 7 October 1780, just three months before the engagement at the Cowpens.
Documents Pertaining to the Battle of The Cowpens,
17 January 1781
1. Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, Commander of Continental Forces at the Cowpens
2. Colonel Andrew Pickens, Commander of the South Carolina Militia at the Cowpens
3. Lieutenant Colonel John Eager Howard, Commander of the Continental Line of Morgan's Force
4. Major Samuel Hammond, South Carolina Militia
5. Major Joseph Mcjunkin, South Carolina Militia
6. Major Thomas Young, South Carolina Militia
7. Captain Henry Connally, North Carolina Militia
8. Lieutenant Thomas Anderson, Delaware Regiment, Continental Army
9. Sergeant Major William Seymour, Delaware Regiment, Continental Army
10. James Kelley, 3d Light Dragoons, Continental Army
11. Comet James Simmons, 3d Light Dragoons, Continental Army
12. Private John Baldwin, North Carolina Militia
13. Private William Neel, Virginia Militia
14. Private John Thomas, Virginia Militia
15. Private James Collins, South Carolina Militia
16. Private Henry Wells, Delaware Regiment, Continental Army
17. Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, Commander of British Forces at the Cowpens
18. Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie, 71st Highland Infantry Regiment
19. Alexander Chesney, Loyalist Guide
1. Brigadier General Daniel Morgan sent this letter to his superior, General Nathanael Greene, as his after-action report of the battle. Note that Morgan only sent his report two days after the battle.1
2. Colonel Andrew Pickens was born in 1739 in Pennsylvania and emigrated with his family to South Carolina as a boy. When war erupted in 1775, Pickens declared for the rebel cause and was present at the fighting in 1776 at Ninety Six fort. He commanded the South Carolina militia at the Cowpens. He was an extremely popular officer with local troops, having recently won a skirmish against British, Tories, and Indians at Kettle Creek. He sat at the Constitutional Convention and was elected to Congress in 1794. This brief description of the Cowpens is extracted from a letter Pickens wrote in 1811 to Henry Lee, who was compiling a history of the campaign in the south. 2