The Battle of Cowpens - Gaffney, South Carolina
The Battle of Cowpens - Gaffney, South Carolina
General Daniel Morgan
The hero of Cowpens, Gen.
Morgan used creative tactics
to hand Banastre Tarleton a
major defeat.
The Battle of Cowpens - Gaffney, South Carolina
The Battle of Cowpens
Heavy fighting took place here on January 17, 1781.
The scene is now part of Cowpens National
Battlefield in Gaffney, South Carolina.
Cowpens National Battlefield
On January 17, 1781, General Daniel Morgan
turned the tide of the American Revolution.
The Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina
started the British down a road that would
end with their monumental surrender at
Yorktown, Virginia.

The battle took place as everything was
going wrong in America's fight for
independence. George Washington's army
was bogged down in the North. The British
had taken Charleston and then handed the
Americans a devastating defeat at Camden,
South Carolina. Banastre Tarleton and his
dragoons were riding rough-shod over South
Carolina, and had just massacred a force of
American soldiers at the Waxhaws.

Command of the American army in the South
now fell to General Nathaniel Greene. Using
an unexpected strategy, he sent Morgan into
South Carolina to try to delay the British
campaign.

Tantalizingly appearing and then falling back
before Tarleton's oncoming legion, Morgan
stretched the British officer's supply lines
while giving his own force time to receive
reinforcements. On January 17, 1781,
however, he turned to fight.

Knowing Tarleton's reputation for rashness
and the American militia's reputation for
running under fire, General Morgan came up
with an ingenious plan. He formed his men
in a series of lines, militia in the front and his
seasoned Continentals in the rear.

Moving from campfire to campfire speaking
to his men, Morgan explained his plan. The
men in the front had only to fire a couple of
times and then they could head for the rear.
This seemed reasonable to the militiamen
and they agreed to the plan.

The strategy worked. Morgan's front lines
weakened the oncoming British with a volley
fire and then headed for the rear. Tarleton,
believing Morgan's men were breaking and
running, ordered a charge. By the time the
British reached the American regulars, they
believed the Patriots were in full retreat.

Tarleton ordered his men to charge and they
surged forward, but again ran into heavy fire,
this time from Morgan's Continentals. A fierce
firefight erupted, the Continentals standing
toe to toe with the British while the militia
forces reformed to the rear.

The critical moment came when part of
Morgan's main line confused orders and
began an organized retreat. Rushing forward,
the general picked his moment then ordered
his men to wheel and fire directly into the
faces of the oncoming British.

The British assault collapsed. Sensing the
moment of victory, the American militia
rejoined the battle and suddenly the British
were in full retreat. Their retreat became a
disaster when the Americans charged them
and all order disappeared in Tarleton's ranks.

One of the most remarkable moments of the
day took place at this stage of the battle. As
the British army collapsed and the Patriot
soldiers waded into their lines, two of the
American officers focused on the small
British cannon. In a remarkable maneuver,
Captain Anderson of Maryland used his
spontoon (a lance carried by some officers)
to "pole vault" onto one of the guns.  
Washington's cavalry charged after the
retreating Tarleton and there was a brief but
deadly clash between the American and
Legion horsemen. Washington engaged
Tarleton himself and was almost killed when
the British commander was joined by two of
his officers. The American cavalryman lost
his horse and by the time he could secure
another, "Bloody Ban" had escaped.

Hannah's Cowpens had become a killing
ground by the end of the battle. When the
numbers were tallied, Tarleton's legion had
been destroyed. The British lost 110 killed,
200 wounded and another 630 captured.
American losses were around 25 killed and
125 wounded.

The Battle of Cowpens inspired the American
armies with new hope. Morgan had defeated
the most feared British force in the South and
achieved the only successful double
envelopment of the American Revolution.

Realizing the significance of his own victory,
Morgan began a rapid withdrawal into North
Carolina. He knew Cornwallis would be
desperate to recapture his 630 prisoners so
he drove his army north as fast as it could
move. So began the famed
Race to the Dan
that under General Nathaniel Greene's
leadership would become one of the most
notable achievements of the Revolution.

The battlefield at Cowpens is now a
beautifully preserved and interpreted national
park area. Located on Highway 11 in Gaffney,
the park is open daily from 9 to 5 and is free
to visit.

Walking trails lead through key areas of the
battlefield, which is also ringed by a driving
tour. The museum features artifacts, a film,
weapons and more.

Cowpens National Battlefield is also on the
Overmountain VIctory National Historic Trail
which follows the route of the American army
to the nearby
Battle of Kings Mountain.

Click here to visit the park's website for
directions and more information.
Cannon at Cowpens
Patriot forces captured two
small cannon like this one
when they overran the British
lines at the Battle of Cowpens.
Cowpens National Battlefield
The monument seen here
was erected on the battlefield
under the authorization of the
U.S. Congress.
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Copyright 2012 & 2013 by Dale Cox
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Last Updated: May 29, 2013
The Revolution in the South
Battle of Cowpens
This is the view Tarleton had
as the battle began. Morgan's
men were formed straight up
the road.
The Double Envelopment
On this ground Morgan
achieved the only double
envelopment of an enemy
army during the Revolution.