Cowpens National Battlefield

The American Revolution

Cowpens Battlefield is located in what was then the frontier of South Carolina.  The current location is north of I-85 between the towns of Chesnee and Gaffney.  Directions:  If traveling I-85 North, choose exit 78. Turn left on Hwy 221.  Follow the Cowpens signs to to Highway 11.  Turn right and proceed about 3 miles to the park entrance.   After your visit, if traveling further north, continue on Highway 11.  You will reach I-85 at exit 92 in Gaffney.  (Battlefield photographed April 21, 2006)


January 17, 1781 was a glorious date for the Patriots.  General Daniel Morgan had encamped his army the previous afternoon surrounding Green River Road which wound through the lush South Carolina backcountry.  He was awaiting the arrival of British Troops under the command of bloody Banastre Tarleton. The battle began before dawn.  Tarleton's dragoons were joined by 200 Cavalry and a Brigade of Highlanders.  Morgan commanded Col. Andrew Pickens' Georgia & South Carolina Militia, Lt. Col. John Eager Howard's Maryland & Delaware Continental Line and Lt. Col. William Washington's Cavalry.  Let's proceed into the park where the two armies met.



As we enter the Cowpens Battlefield Park we immediately approach the well maintained Visitor's Center.  Standing watch over the entrance is a monument dedicated to the valor of the patriots who fought on these fields:  The Congress of the United States has caused this monument to be erected on the site of the Battle of Cowpens as a testimonial to the valor and in appreciation of the services of the American troops on this field in behalf of the independence of their country.  The opposite side of the monument continues the story:  On this field American troops under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan won a signal victory over a British force commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton Janurary 17, 1781.





After one's tour of the Visitor Center the choice is between a Walking or a Driving Tour.  On a rainy day we chose the 3 mile Loop Road.



Tarleton marched his troops up the Green River Road in search of the Continentals.  Morgan had already chosen the Cowpens, a local grazing pasture surrounding the Green River Road, as the perfect spot to battle the enemy.  On January 16, 1781 he awaited Tarleton's arrival and their moment in history.   That historic road, as it exists in 2006, is pictured below left.    The Battlefield map, pictured below right, is courtesy of the National Park Service.



Morgan's battle plan was a brilliant one which didn't fit the norm of period English warfare.  He planned to have his sharpshooters fire a few volleys and then retreat into the safety of the more seasoned troops who brought up their rear.  William Washington's Cavalry would stand in wait for the moment that they were needed to bring their expertise to the fight. 



Acting on faulty intelligence indicating the Continentals were planning to retreat across the Broad River, Banastre Tarleton aroused his troops in the wee morning hours of January 17th for a nighttime march up the Green River Road.  His plans were to annihilate the Continental Army during the weakness of retreat.

Daniel Morgan's troops spent the evening of January 16, 1781 resting in his chosen spot of battle, the backcountry cow pasture that locals referred to as Cowpens.  Morgan was rallying the troops, moving from campfire to campfire to personally brief each and every group of soldiers on his battle plan.  A more vocal cheerleader for the Patriot cause could not have been found that chilly South Carolina evening.

As dawn prepared its rise, Tarleton's advancing army was spotted by Continentals who informed Morgan of their approach.  Patriots troops were quickly awakened and readied to meet the enemy.



Tarleton was surprised to see Morgan's army prepared for battle, rather than in retreat.  Morgan began the execution of his perfect plan.



Although the battle appeared to be clearly favoring the Patriots, Tarleton continued to anticipate an ultimate victory.  An impressive personal battlefield confrontation with William Washington proved to be Tarleton's final Cowpens defeat.



Convinced by associates that his safety was of strategic importance to the British cause, Banastre Tarleton abandoned the fight.  He began a withdrawal down the Green River Road in search of the safety of Cornwallis' camp.

It was one of those special moments in time when destiny is forever changed.  The march to Yorktown had begun.



We exit Cowpens National Battlefield with a sense of awe at the accomplishments of Daniel Morgan, Andrew Pickens, William Washington, John Eager Howard and the brave men they led into battle.  In the bustle and hurry of the 21st century we tend to forget the sacrifices of those who empowered our country to form, grow, and flourish.  The quiet of the Cowpens on a cool, rainy April day stood in stark contrast to the bedlam of January 17, 1781.  But the feeling still remained of a proud army that bested England's finest.  We leave Cowpens a little bit changed from our experience. 

04/26/2007 09:40:43 PM