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Battle Of Cowpens

JANUARY 17, 1781

Battle of Cowpens- revolutionary War

General Nathanael Greene

Cain Creek, January 19, 1781.

Dear Sir,

THE troops I have the honor to command have gained a complete victory over a detachment from the British army, commanded by Lieut. Colonel Tarleton. The action happened on the 17th instant, about sunrise, at a place called the Cowpens, near Pacolet River.

On the 14th, having received intelligence that the British army were in motion, and that their movements clearly indicated their intention of dislodging me, I abandoned my encampment at Grendales Ford, and on the 16th, in the evening, took possession of a post about seven miles from the Cherokee Ford, on Broad River. My former position subjected me at once to the operations of Lord Cornwallis and Col. Tarleton, and in case of a defeat my retreat might easily have been cut off. My situation at the Cowpens enabled me to improve any advantages that I might gain, and to provide better for my security, should I be unfortunate. These reasons induced me to take this post, notwithstanding it had the appearance of a retreat.

On the evening of the 16th the enemy occupied the ground we had removed from in the morning. An hour before daylight one of my scouts informed me that they had advanced within five miles of our camp. On this information the necessary dispositions were made, and, from the alacrity of the troops, we were soon prepared to receive them. The light infantry, commanded by Lieut. Col. Howard, and the Virginia militia under Major Triplett, were formed on a rising ground; the third regiment of dragoons, consisting of about 80 men, under the command of Lieut. Col. Washington, were so posted in their rear, as not to be injured by the enemy fire, and yet to be able to charge them, should an occasion offer; the volunteers from North Carolina , South Carolina and Georgia, under the command of Colonel Pickens, were posted to guard the flanks; Major Mc Dowal, of the North Carolina volunteers was posted on the right flank, in front of the line 150 yards; Major Cunningham, of the Georgia volunteers, on the left, at the same distance in front; Colonels Brannons and Thomas, of the South Carolina volunteers, on the right of Major Mc Dowal; and Colonels Hayes and McCall, of the same corps, on the left of Major Cunningham; Captains Tate and Buchanan, with the Augusta riflemen, were to support the right of the line.

The enemy drew up in one line, 400 yards in front of our advanced corps. The first battalion of the 71st regiment was opposed to our right, the 7th to our left, the Legion Infantry to our centre, and two companies of light troops of 100 each on our flanks. In their front they moved two pieces of artillery, and Lieut Col. Tarleton, with 280 cavalry, was posted in the rear of his line. The disposition being thus made, small parties of riflemen were detached to skirmish with the enemy, on which their whole line advanced with the greatest impetuosity, shouting as they advanced. Majors Mc Dowal and Cunningham gave them a heavy and galling fire, and retreated to the regiments intended for their support; the whole of Col. Pickens command then kept up a fire by regiments, retreating agreeable to orders. When the enemy advanced to our line, they received a well directed and incessant fire, but their numbers being superior to ours, they gained our flanks, which obliged us to change our position.   

We retired in good order about fifty paces, formed, advanced on the enemy, and gave them a brisk fire, which threw them into disorder. Lieutenant Colonel Howard observing this, gave orders for the line to charge bayonets, which was done with such address that the enemy fled with the utmost precipitation. Lieut. Colonel Washington discovering that the cavalry were cutting down our riflemen on the left, charged them with such firmness as obliged them to retire in confusion. The enemy were entirely routed, and the pursuit continued upwards of 20 miles. Our loss was inconsiderable, not having more than 12 killed and 60 wounded. The enemy loss was 10 commissioned officers, and upwards of 100 rank and file killed, 200 wounded, 29 commissioned officers, and above 500 privates, prisoners, which fell into our hands, with two pieces of artillery, two standards, eight hundred muskets, one traveling forge, thirty five baggage wagons, seventy Negroes, and upwards of one hundred dragoon horses, with all their music. They destroyed most of their baggage, which was immense.

Although our success was complete, we fought only eight hundred men, and were opposed by upwards of one thousand of chosen British troops.

Such was the inferiority of our numbers, that our success must be attributed, under God, to the justice of our cause, and the bravery of our troops. My wishes would induce me to mention the name of every private centinel in the corps. In justice to the bravery and good conduct of the officers, I have taken the liberty to enclose you a list of their names, from a conviction that you will be pleased to introduce such characters to the world.

Major Giles, my Aid de Camp, and Captain Brooks, acting as my Brigade Major, deserve and have my thanks, for their assistance and behavior on this occasion. The Baron de Glabuck, who accompanies Major Giles with these dispatches, served with me as a volunteer, and behaved in such a manner as to merit your attention.

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,

Dan Morgan


Research Links

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The American Revolution (Cowpens)
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