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American Revolutionary War - Battle of Cowpens (January 17, 1781)

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  • James Carlisle, II (1763 - 1842)
    A Patriot of the American Revolution for SOUTH CAROLINA with the rank of PRIVATE. DAR Ancestor # A019226 James Carlile, son of the immigrant, was only six years old when his family came to America....
  • Pushmataha, Chief of the Choctaw Nation (c.1764 - 1824)
    Biography The legend is that Pushmataha came seemingly into the Choctaw world, like lightning. His father is biologically determined to be from the Royal Gov house of Moore that tied La to SC; and, h...
  • William R Baskerville (1756 - 1814)
    Ancestor #: A007170 William was the second son of George Baskerville and Martha Minge and was a Revolutionary Officer, having been the Second Lieutenant of the first military company to go out from...
  • Colonel Alexander Erwin (aft.1749 - bef.1830)
    A Patriot of the American Revolution for NORTH CAROLINA with the rank of COLONEL. DAR Ancestor #: A060440 Alexander fought at Kings Mountain and Cowpens during the Rev. War. * Reference: MyHeritage Fam...
  • William R. Herndon (c.1774 - 1847)
    William Herndon fought in the battles of Cowpens SC (1/17/1781) and of Guilford Court House NC (3/15/1781) in the Revolutionary War. After the war he left VA for NC and married Hannah Hutchins This s...

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

On October 14, 1780, George Washington chose Nathanael Greene to be commander of the Southern Department of the Continental forces.[6] Greene's task was not an easy one. The Carolinas had seen a long string of disasters in 1780, the worst being the capture of one American army at the Siege of Charleston and the destruction of another at the Battle of Camden. A victory of Patriot militia over their Loyalist counterparts at the Battle of Kings Mountain in October had bought time, but most of South Carolina was still under British occupation. When Greene took command the southern army numbered only 2307 men (on paper, 1482 present), of whom just 949 were Continental regulars. [7]

On December 3, Daniel Morgan reported for duty to Greene's headquarters at Charlotte, North Carolina.[8] At the start of the Revolution, Morgan, whose military experience dated back to the French and Indian War, had served at the Siege of Boston.[9] Later he participated in the 1775 invasion of Canada and its climactic battle, the Battle of Quebec. That battle, on December 31, 1775, ended in defeat and Morgan's capture by the British.[10] Morgan was exchanged in January 1777 and placed by George Washington in command of a picked force of 500 trained riflemen, known as Morgan's Riflemen. Morgan and his men played a key role in the victory at Saratoga that proved to be a turning point of the entire war.[11] Bitter after being passed over for promotion and plagued by severe attacks of sciatica, Morgan left the army in 1779, but a year later he was promoted to Brigadier General and returned to service in the Southern Department.[12]

Greene decided that his weak army was unable to meet the British in a standup fight. He then made the unconventional decision to divide his army, sending a detachment west of the Catawba River to raise the morale of the locals and find supplies beyond the limited amounts available around Charlotte.[13] Greene gave Morgan command of this wing and instructed him to join with the militia west of the big Catawba and take command of them.[14] Morgan headed west on December 21, charged with taking position between the Broad River and Pacolet River and protecting the civilians in that area. He had 600 men, some 400 of which were Continentals, the rest being Virginia militia with experience as Continentals.[15] By Christmas Day Morgan had reached the Pacolet River. There he was joined by 60 South Carolina militia led by the experienced partisan Andrew Pickens.[16] Other militia from Georgia and the Carolinas joined Morgan's camp.[17]

Meanwhile, Lord Cornwallis was planning to return to North Carolina and conduct the invasion that he had postponed after the defeat at Kings Mountain.[18] Morgan's force represented a threat to his left. Additionally, Cornwallis received incorrect intelligence claiming that Morgan was going to attack the important British fort at Ninety Six, South Carolina. Seeking to save the fort and defeat Morgan's command, Cornwallis on January 2 ordered Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton west.[citation needed]

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

Tarleton and the Legion marched to Ninety Six and found that Morgan was not there, but Tarleton decided to pursue Morgan anyway. Tarleton asked for reinforcements of British regulars, which Cornwallis sent. Tarleton then set out with his enlarged command to drive Morgan across the Broad River.[19] On January 12 he received accurate news of Morgan's location and continued with hard marching, building boats to cross rivers that were flooding with winter rains.[20] Morgan, receiving word that Tarleton was in hot pursuit, retreated north, attempting to avoid being trapped between Tarleton and Cornwallis.[21] By the afternoon of the 16th Morgan was approaching the Broad River, which was high with flood waters and reported difficult to cross. He knew Tarleton was close behind. By nightfall he had reached a place called the Cowpens, a well-known grazing area for local cattle. Pickens, who had been patrolling, arrived that night with a large body of militia. Morgan then decided to stand and fight rather than continue to retreat and risk being caught by Tarleton while fording the Broad River. Tarleton, for his part, received word of Morgan's location and made haste, marching at 3 a.m. instead of camping for the night.