“Just hold up your heads, boys, three fires and you are free…when you return to your homes, how the old folks will bless you, and the girls will kiss you, for your gallant conduct.”
The Cowpens National Battlefield park near Greenville-Spartanburg area is home to one of the most critical battles of the American Revolution. On this field, on January 17, 1781 General Daniel Morgan led his army to a brilliant victory over Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s British forces, which helped turn the tide in our favor.
Admission is free and the park is open daily from dawn to dusk. There is plenty for kids to enjoy. Below are some of the stories, quotes and artifacts I found most interesting (historical data, quotes and illustrations are from the museum exhibits).
General Daniel Morgan, a tough man and a military genius
The Old Wagoner, General Daniel Morgan, a military genious and self-made man
Morgan’s military genius was revealed when he deployed the double envelopment, a military strategy unique during Revolution and one of the few in world’s history.
Morgan chose Cowpens for its tactical advantages: a river to the rear to discourage the ranks from breaking, a rising ground on which to post his regulars, an open forest and marsh on one side to thwart flanking maneuvers.
The battle lasted less than an hour and the British losses were staggering: 110 killed, 229 wounded and 600 captured or missing.
Morgan later told a friend that he had given “Bloody” Tarleton and the British a “devil of a whipping”…
“…Our success was complete…Our loss was inconsiderable, not having more than twelve killed and sixty wounded… General Morgan to General Greene, January 19, 1781.
Great generals are scarce – there are few Morgans to be found” General Nathaniel Greene 1781.
The British were dumbfounded…the unthinkable happened!
Monument at the entrance to Cowpens National Battlefield museum
“The fire on both sides produced much slaughter…”
Lt. Col Banastre Tarleton
The Edinburgh Advertiser reports on April 3, 1781 the unfathomed defeat of the British at the Battle of Cowpens:
“Of the action between Lieutenant-Colonel Tarleton and their General Morgan, on the 17th…they have gone so far as to assert, that the former was totally defeated.”
“The disaster of the 17th of January cannot be imputed to any defect in my conduct, as the detachment was certainly superior to the force against which it was sent…”
Battle of Cowpens artifacts
Inside the museum you can admire the 1760 British Dragoons officer’s sword with an iron semi-basket kilt, and a bluish blade engraved and gilded with Scottish emblems. Dragoons were the “eyes of the army”, their mission was to prevent surprise attacks. Also on display is a Scottish 71st Fraser’s Highlanders officer’s broad sword.
Tools of the trade...exquisite Dragoon sabers
The Mighty Moo and The Herd
In theater you can see models of the USS Cowpens CVL-25 and CG-63 ships, both nicknamed “Mighty Moo”. The USS Cowpens, CG-63, is a a state-of-the-art guided missile cruiser commissioned by the U.S. Navy in 1991 in Charleston. On March 20, 2003, she fired the first Tomahawk missile into Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Mighty Moo cruiser was commissioned in 1991 in Charleston
The museum also displays a replica of the two cannons used by the British at the Battle of Cowpens. The guns were light enough to be carried on horseback. When mounted on long shafts they could be moved by soldiers. The cannons were nicknamed “grasshoppers” because they hoped when fired!
Replica of the British grasshopper captured at Cowpens
The capture of the “Grasshoppers”
Near the end of the battle, as the Americans swept forward, two Continental officers sought to capture the enemy’s “grasshopper” canons. Captain Anderson of Maryland won the race when he used his spontoon to vault forward onto one of the grasshoppers. Captain Kirkwood of Delaware captured the other.
Capt. Anderson of Maryland jumps to capture the Grasshopper cannon
The clash of swords and ultimate loyalty…
American horsemen led by Lt. Col. William Washington (George Washington’s second cousin) clashed with retreating British officers of the 17th Light Dragoons.
Young servant risks his life to save that of his master
Washington quickly outpaced his troops, and then broke his weapon at the hilt when he got into a sword fight with a British officer.
According to legend, Washington’s young servant rode up just in time saving his life by shooting the attacking British officer.
This account inspired artist William Ranney to paint this vivid battle scene in 1845.
The Washington Light Infantry of Charleston, South Carolina erected this monument in 1856 to commemorate this important American victory.
Monument erected in 1856 to honor the victory at Cowpens
For more inspiring stories from the Battle of Cowpens visit the park’s official website
You can read details about the battle, what happened soon thereafter, how the families coped during the war and the important role played by women and African American slaves.
Speaking of women, here is a brief summary of famous South Carolina daughters and their heroic acts of patriotism during Independence War.
Mark your calendar!
January 15 and 16, 2011 is the Anniversary Celebration of the Battle of Cowpens. There will be an encampment, lantern tours, live firing demonstrations, and author lectures. For more details call (864) 461-2828.
Be proud at Cowpens National Battlefield in beautiful South Carolina!
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