|Painted by William Ranney in 1845, this depiction of the Battle of Cowpens shows an unnamed black soldier (left) firing his pistol and saving the life of Colonel William Washington (on white horse in center). See Comments below for more on negro soldier pictured.|
The Battle of Cowpens was a decisive first step by American forces in reclaiming South Carolina from the British and ultimately turning the tide of the Revolutionary War. The victory at the Battle of Cowpens convinced many doubtful Americans that the war could actually be won.
The Continental forces were led by General Daniel Morgan. Morgan's personal report of the battle claims he had just over 800 troops comprised mostly of militia. Some historian have estimated that General Morgan may have had as many as 1,900 troops at his disposal.
Colonel Banastre Tarleton commanded the British forces. Tarleton's troops, comprised in part by the 17th Light Dragoons, 7th Royal Fusiliers Regiment, 71st Regiment (Fraser's Highlanders) and a batter of Royal Artillery, were battle hardened and much better trained.
General Morgan devised an engenius strategy. He took advantage of the unique terrain of the Cowpens Battlefield by placing his sharpshooters on a hilltop. The remaining troops formed in two lines to the rear and out of sight from the British troops.
Knowing that the militia were not always reliable in battle, Morgan placed them in the middle line, with the Continental Army behind them. He asked only that they fire two shots before retreating to the rear and reforming.
The battle plan worked to perfection. Colonel Tarleton and his forces confidently attacked straight on. The front line of Contintental sharpshooters killed 15 Dragoons before retreating to the rear. Although somewhat rattled, the British quickly reorganized and advanced over the hill. There they were met by the militia, which performed exactly as ordered. They fired two volleys before retreating.
The British, knowing the reputation of the Militia to run from the battle, saw the militia retreating. Feeling confident that victory was at hand, they advanced full force to destroy the fleeing troops. Instead of finding retreating militiamen, they were met by the Continental Infantry.
While the Tarleton's forces were being decimated by the infantry, the Continental sharpshooters and militia were flanking either side of his forces, ensuring the American victory at the Battle of Cowpens.
Colonel Banastre Tarleton's forces were utterly destroyed, delivering a dramatic blow to the British in South Carolina. At the end of the battle there were over 100 British soldiers and loyalists killed and 652 captured.
The Battle of Cowpens earned General Daniel Morgan the reputation of a master strategist. Because such detailed strategies were rarely used in 18th century warfare. The Battle of Cowpens is still studied at Westpoint Military Academy for its strategic significance.
Had Daniel Morgan and his Continental forces lost the Battle of Cowpens, it is likely that General Cornwallis would have been successful in crushing the rebellion in South Carolina and beginning his move into North Carolina. The victory at Cowpens gave the militia and patriots a renewed since of optimism and belief that the war for independence could be won.
Note: The final battle scene in the 2000 movie The Patriot, with Mel Gibson, is based on a combination of the Battle at Guildord's Couthouse and the Battle of Cowpens. Gibson's character is a combination of Fancis Marion (the Swamp Fox) and Daniel Morgan.
Battle of Cowpens - Battle of Cowpens
History, Points of Interest & Battle Sites in the Palmetto State (South Carolina)