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Battle Of Cowpens WORK


The term "cowpens"15, endemic to such South Carolina pastureland and associated early cattle industry, would be etched in history. The field itself was some 500 yards long and just as wide, a park-like setting dotted with trees, but devoid of undergrowth, having been kept clear by cattle grazing in the spring on native grasses and peavine16.




battle of cowpens



There was forage17 at the Cowpens for horses, and evidence of free-ranging cattle for food. Since he had learned of Tarleton's pursuit, Morgan also had spread the word for militia18 units to rendezvous at the Cowpens. Many knew the geography; some were Overmountain men who had camped at the Cowpens on their journey to the Battle of Kings Mountain.19 They made camp in a swale between two small hills, and through the night Andrew Pickens' militia drifted into camp. Morgan moved among the campfires and offered encouragement; his speeches to militia and Continentals alike were command performances. He spoke emotionally of past battles, talked of the battle plan, and lashed out against the British. His words were especially effective with the militia the "Old Waggoner"20 of French and Indian War days and the hero of Saratoga21, spoke their language. He knew how to motivate them even proposing a competition of bravery between Georgia and Carolina units. By the time he was through, one soldier observed that the army was "in good spirits and very willing to fight". But, as one observed, Morgan hardly slept a wink that night.


Dawn at the Cowpens on January 17, 1781, was clear and bitterly cold. Morgan, his scouts bearing news of Tarleton's approach, moved among his men, shouting, "Boys, get up! Benny's22 coming! Tarleton, playing catch up, and having marched his army since two in the morning, ordered formation on the Green River Road for the attack. His aggressive style was made even more urgent, since there were rumors of Overmountain men on the way, reminiscent of events at Kings Mountain. Yet he was confident of victory: he reasoned he had Morgan hemmed in by the Broad, and the undulating park-like terrain was ideal for his dragoons23. He thought Morgan must be desperate, indeed, to have stopped at such a place. Perhaps Morgan saw it differently: in some past battles, Patriot militia had fled in face of fearsome bayonet charges - but now the Broad River at Morgan's back could prevent such a retreat. In reality, though, Morgan had no choice - to cross the flood-swollen Broad risked having his army cut down by the feared and fast-traveling Tarleton.


Tarleton pressed the attack head-on, his line extending across the meadow, his artillery in the middle, and fifty Dragoons on each side. It was as if Morgan knew he would make a frontal assault - it was his style of fighting. To face Tarleton, he organized his troops into three lines. First, out front and hiding behind trees were selected sharpshooters. At the onset of battle they picked off numbers of Tarleton's Dragoons, traditionally listed as fifteen24, shooting especially at officers, and warding off an attempt to gain initial supremacy. With the Dragoons in retreat, and their initial part completed, the sharpshooters retreated 150 yards or more back to join the second line, the militia commanded by Andrew Pickens. Morgan used the militia well, asking them to get off two volleys and promised their retreat to the third line made up of John Eager Howard's25 Continentals, again close to 150 yards back. Some of the militia indeed got off two volleys as the British neared, but, as they retreated and reached supposed safety behind the Continental line, Tarleton sent his feared Dragoons after them. As the militia dodged behind trees and parried saber slashes with their rifles, William Washington's26 Patriot cavalry thundered onto the field of battle, seemingly, out of nowhere. The surprised British Dragoons, already scattered and sensing a rout, were overwhelmed, and according to historian Lawrence Babits, lost eighteen men in the clash. As they fled the field, infantry on both sides fired volley after volley. The British advanced in a trot, with beating drums, the shrill sounds of fifes, and shouts of halloo. Morgan, in response, cheering his men on, said to give them the Indian halloo back. Riding to the front, he rallied the militia, crying out, "form, form, my brave fellows! Old Morgan was never beaten!"


Now Tarleton's 71st Highlanders27, held in reserve, entered the charge toward the Continental line, the wild wail of bagpipes adding to the noise and confusion. John Eager Howard's order for the right flank to face slightly right to counter a charge from that direction, was, in the noise of battle, misunderstood as a call to retreat. As other companies along the line followed suit, Morgan rode up to ask Howard if he were beaten. As Howard pointed to the unbroken ranks and the orderly retreat and assured him they were not, Morgan spurred his horse on and ordered the retreating units to face about, and then, on order, fire in unison. The firing took a heavy toll on the British, who, by that time had sensed victory and had broken ranks in a wild charge. This event and a fierce Patriot bayonet charge in return broke the British charge and turned the tide of battle. The re-formed militia and cavalry re-entered the battle, leading to double envelopment28 of the British, perfectly timed. British infantry began surrendering en masse.


Tarleton and some of his army fought valiantly on; others refused his orders and fled the field. Finally, Tarleton, himself, saw the futility of continued battle, and with a handful of his men, fled from whence he came, down the Green River Road. In one of the most dramatic moments of the battle, William Washington, racing ahead of his cavalry, dueled hand-to-hand with Tarleton and two of his officers. Washington's life was saved only when his young bugler29 fired his pistol at an Englishman with raised saber. Tarleton and his remaining forces galloped away to Cornwallis' camp. Stragglers from the battle were overtaken, but Tarleton escaped to tell the awful news to Cornwallis.


The battle was over in less than an hour. It was a complete victory for the Patriot force. British losses were staggering: 110 dead, over 200 wounded and 500 captured. Morgan lost only 12 killed and 60 wounded, a count he received from those reporting directly to him.


Now it was Greene and his army on the move north. Cornwallis, distressed by the news from Cowpens, and wondering aloud how such an inferior force could defeat Tarleton's crack troops, indeed came after him. Now it was a race for the Dan River33 on the Virginia line, Cornwallis having burned his baggage34 and swiftly pursuing Greene. Cornwallis was subsequently delayed by Patriot units stationed at Catawba River35 crossings. Greene won the race, and, in doing so, believed he had Cornwallis where he wanted -- far from urban supply centers and short of food. Returning to Guilford Courthouse36, he fought Cornwallis' army employing with some success, Morgan's tactics at Cowpens. At battle's end, the British were technically the winners as Greene's forces retreated. If it could be called a victory, it was a costly one: Five hundred British lay dead or wounded. When the news of the battle reached London, a member of the House of Commons said, "Another such victory would ruin the British army". Perhaps the army was already ruined, and Greene's strategy of attrition was working.


1 Battle of Cowpens - At the Cowpens, a frontier pastureland, on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals and backwoods militia to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton's battle-hardened force of British regulars. Located in present-day South Carolina north of Spartanburg.


4 Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge - On February 27, 1776, patriot militia defeated a larger force of Loyalists. The battle was crucial because it ended royal authority in North Carolina and delayed a full-scale British invasion of the South.


8A Camden - Fought on August 16, 1780, near Camden, South Carolina, the Battle of Camden was a disastrous defeat for the Patriots. Gates, the American general, gained a reputation as a "fool and coward" for his actions and fleeing the battle site. Reports of the results made Banastre Tarleton a national hero in Britain.


15 "cowpens" - A term, endemic to South Carolina, referring to open-range stock grazing operations of the colonial period. These were usually cleared areas, 100 to 400 acres in extent. Many, in eastern South Carolina, were known for their native cane- brakes. Piedmont pastures, though less numerous, often contained peavine.


18 militia - Part-time soldiers, subject to colonial (state) authority, they sometimes fought with the Continental or standing army in battles such as Camden, Cowpens, and Guilford Courthouse. Thought unreliable by some Continental officers, they proved themselves at the Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens. 19


21 Saratoga - In fierce battles on September 19 and October 7, 1777, American forces under General Horatio Gates defeated the British under General John Burgoyne. This victory encouraged France to enter the war to assist the Americans. Saratoga is in upstate New York.


23 dragoon - A mounted infantryman, who often rode his horse into battle and dismounted to fight. Used synonymously with cavalrymen, both of whom could fight on horseback or dismounted.


27 71st Highlanders - Two battalions of highland Scottish troops raised by England and sent to America in 1775. 71st Highlanders fought at Charleston, Camden, and Cowpens, among other battles. At Cowpens, Tarleton initially kept his Highlanders in reserve, but, as the advance faltered, he ordered them into action against the American right. The Highlanders bore the brunt of the last dramatic events of the Battle. 041b061a72


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