Stop 1- Visitor Center Bearss: We’re standing on a very historic piece of ground right now. This is where the battle of Cowpens took place early in the morning on the seventeenth day of January 1781. The British had come up with a new strategy during the winter of 1779 and 80: that’s to take the war to the South. To win the hearts and minds of the people of the backcountry of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. And the British cabinet had approved and the British will move south. They’d attempted to bring the war to South Carolina back in 1775 and it had failed when they attacked Charleston on the twentieth-eight day of June of 1776. And the proud South Carolinians had shown that South Carolina Palmetto is superior to British Oak.
But they’re back and forth and the next year, you’re going to have few victories for the Patriot cause. Charleston will surrender on the 12th day of May 1780 - the worse defeat the patriots had taken up in the war up to this time. Following that day, as Col. Banastre Tarleton will pursue a number of continentals, who had tried to reach Charleston before it surrendered. Then up in the Waxhaws well to the east of us, he caught up with Buford’s command, and he will charge and his orders are, “Give them Tarleton’s quarter” which is death. And it will end up into a massacre in the last days of May.
So the Whigs in the upcountry will become very concerned as the British spread out over the upcountry. They [the British] will send Major Ferguson up to Ninety Six, which they hold, and there he will begin organizing backcountry Tories for service in the King’s army. Many of the South Carolinas patriots such as the “Gamecock,” Sumter, and Andrew Pickens will take the oath of allegiance to the crown. Things looked grim, as the Continental Congress will send an army south. And on the sixteenth of August at Camden, they rout the Continental army commanded by General Gates who had not heeded the words of his friends, “Don’t let the laurel leaves of Saratoga turn to crown of thorns in South Carolina” and they had.
Ferguson will move back to the backcountry. There will be the engagement on the sixteenth excuse me on the thirteenth [nineteenth] over to the west of us in which a force of patriots coming from over the mountain country defeat the British at Musgrove Mill. The overmountain men will then go home across the headwaters of the Holston. Ferguson from up here in Rutherford County will send a message to them, “Submit to the King or I will cross the mountains, hang your leaders, and burn your fields,” but he had stirred up a hornet’s nest of backcountry Whigs. And he reached a whirlwind on the seventh day of October at Kings Mountain, in which Ferguson and 209 of his men will die. To dampen the ardor of the backcountry Tories, they will swing thirteen of them off, as they said as they hanged them up here in Rutherford County. And no other part of the thirteen colonies is war as vicious as it is in the upcountry, families divided, ambushes and murders. Cornwallis, who had advanced with his army all the way to Charlottetown, as it was known as, abandons his position at Charlottetown and falls back to Winnsboro. And the Continental Congress will direct our commander-in-chief, George Washington, to send a new army south and find a new commander.
Sitting on the sidelines since the battle of Saratoga back in October 1777, is Daniel Morgan. Born in the middle of 1730s up in New Jersey, had moved to the lower Shenandoah Valley, and when Braddock marches west along with Washington at his right side, and Braddock’s army will be routed, rushed at the battle of the Monongahela, and Edward Braddock will die. At that time, Daniel Morgan, a wagoner, will have some trouble with a British officer, and he’ll knock him down. And the British officer will have him court martialed and, in essence, have him sentenced to death, because few if any men will survive 500 lashes across the bare back. He does, and warns the British that he will remember that. That’s going to be very much on Morgan’s mind, as he goes into camp where we’re standing on a cold evening on the sixteenth day of January 1781. And Washington will send south the second next to him the colonials most able general, Nathanael Greene, who will arrive in Charlottestown as Charlotte was known there on the second day of December and relieve Granny Gates, the man who had been humiliated in the rout at the battle of Camden on August 16. When he’d gone south, he had requested that they send him Daniel Morgan, who had been like Achilles of Greek history mythology, sulking in his tent because the Continental Congress had not realized how important he is to the continental cause. Promoted to Brigadier General, Morgan will come south, suffering from rheumatism, saying goodbye to his home near Millwood in the Shenandoah Valley, which he had named Saratoga. And by the Christmas season, he has arrived in Charlottetown.
Greene now makes a decision: he is going to divide his army. He is going to send General Huger with most of the army over to eastern South Carolina near Cheraw Hill where it’s easier to forage for the countryside. He is dividing his army, something that Bonaparte will say is foolish. And he will send Daniel Morgan with a Continental line, some 300 men who had come south and had covered themselves in glory at Camden under John Eager Howard. And they will be given to General Morgan along with about 200 Virginia militia of Augusta County who had been mustered out. And Morgan is to take his men east of the Broad River, across the Pacolet and move into the area north of the Tyger River, dividing his army. And geld the Tories who, less than enthusiastic for the British cause since the battle of Kings Mountain a little pain and suffering.
Now the activities of Greene over at Cheraw Hill over on the Pee Dee River about a hundred and fifty miles east of us and Morgan as he moves south of the Pacolet, stirs the British up. They get worried about their advanced base at Ninety Six. Now Cornwallis’s pet, yes Colonel Banastre Tarleton, his father had been Lord Mayor of Liverpool. Tarleton is in his mid-twenties, a real dandy. There is that wonderful picture of him; you can see how haughty he is. You can see him lacing his boots, this most popular painting of him, as he takes the field. Now, he and Ferguson had been bitter rivals. Tarleton had been what would be a brown-noser and was much the favorite of Cornwallis. Tarleton does not have to worry about his rival anymore because his rival, alas, lies under that rocky cairn up at Kings Mountain buried with one of his two mistresses that he had with him at Kings Mountain, who loses her life. And Tarleton is like a bulldog, hated by the patriots. In fact on the nineteenth day of October 1781, which is going to be nine months after the battle of Cowpens, in which Tarleton will escape with his life. But he is so hated by the patriots that they’re going to draw black beans to see who is going to assassinate him when the British army surrenders. Fortunately for Tarleton, he is on the Gloucester side, so he will not be assassinated. Now he commands his legion, the dragoons in his legion wear green coats, most of them are Tories and he is known as the Green Dragoon. And he will be ordered to Ninety Six, as the British following the attack by Morgan, ah by William Washington, attacked by William Washington on a Tory detachment at Hammond’s store, to take care of Morgan.
When he gets at Ninety Six where at that time if you lived in this area you went to pay your taxes in the District of Ninety Six. He will soon be reinforced by a detachment of artillerists of the Royal Artillery with three light guns. You can see one of them in the Visitor Center, known as the grasshopper. To reinforce Tarleton and his legion, they’re going to give him a battalion of the 7th Fusiliers commanded by Colonel [Major] Newmarsh. These men are mostly recruits, but the other unit that is going with him will be a battalion of Fraser’s Highlanders commanded by Major MacArthur. And he will take with him a detachment of British Dragoons, lobster backs, commanded by Major Ogilvie and he will start north, looking for Morgan, to bring Morgan to battle and disperse Morgan’s cause. And north they go, across the 3 forks of the Tyger. They will soon be approaching the Pacolet River. Morgan will learn of their approach, over 1100 men, skilled, led by “Bloody Ban” Tarleton, or as Morgan insists on calling him, “Benny” not Ban. And Morgan will fall back across the Pacolet. Tarleton will follow like in that poem a wolf down on the fold. Morgan on the 15th falls back to Burrs Mill on Thicketty Creek in the shadow of Thicketty Mountain and camps there on the night of the 14th and 15th. His scouts had spotted the Brits, crossing the Pacolet up near the mill, the iron foundry. And Morgan on the morning, the cold morning, on the 16th will break camp at Burrs Mill, wrestling with what is he going to do, as he marches up the Green River Road.
To this area then known as Hannah’s Cowpens where the upcountry people were in a habit of collecting their livestock before driving it to the coast in Charleston. Many of the militia knew well about it because on the 6th day of October 1780, they had rendezvoused here to leave on a dark and rainy night of the 6th to go to Kings Mountain where they defeated, killed, and dispersed Ferguson’s troops. Morgan is trying to decide what he should do, as he rides up the Green River Road and approaches Hannah’s Cowpens where we are standing. Two things are going to direct him here. Andrew Pickens that old Presbyterian preacher and the Gamecock Sumter had now said, “Forget it! We are tearing up our oath to the King!” because the king’s men are now insisting that they actively support the British force. So as honorable men since the British had first violated, ended the parole, they’re taken up arms up again. And Morgan gets a message from Pickens who is north of the Broad River, “Where should I meet you?” Knowing that Pickens had been here on the 6th day of October and everybody knows where Hannah’s Cowpens is. He says, “Meet me at Hannah Cowpens.”
He also knows as if you live in Cherokee County, halfway between where we standing right now and the North Carolina is Broad River, flowing from north-west to south-east and then it takes a sharp bend, and it is now due west of us. And Morgan thinks back what did the, what was the big mistake that Gates made? His big mistake that Gates made, was there was no obstacle for the militia flight. And he lets the militia know we are camping here, and if you run, you are going to have to cross the Broad River, which is high. And every one of them know about Buford’s defeat and what that would mean if they fled and be caught south of the Broad River. The militia that is coming in from North Carolina know where this is. So Morgan, as it begins to get dark on the evening of the 16th, goes into camp here. That same evening over at Burrs Mill in the shadow of Thicketty Mountain, the Brits go into camp and we will move on to another site where the enemy, the enemies, Whigs and the Brits and the Tories will first spot each other on a very cold 17th day of January. Not a cloud in the sky, it is going to be a clear, beautiful day. And Morgan is going to stroll through the camps and visit with his men and deploy them not like Granny Gates did at the Battle of Camden, but in a way that his men will have to fight. And we will talk about that at our next stop.
Bearss: Does anybody else have a question from the last stop besides the one we cut off.
Question: I have a question. Didn’t many of Cornwallis’ men who came with Tarleton, did they weren’t they some of the ones that had surrendered at Camden? And they joined in with the forces with Tarleton? (Background: Repeat the Question).
Bearss: Yes, they’re in the 7th Fusiliers.
Bearss: The first question we have asked by this gentlemen over here, has to do with the attack on Charleston in 1776, the British having been frustrated in North Carolina. The British are going to be sending two forces: one coming from Boston, leaving General Howe’s command, which will evacuate Boston on the 17th day of March 1776 which is a big holiday even in Boston. They will be commanded by Sir Henry Clinton who will be His Majesty’s commander when they return to South Carolina in the winter of 1780. And they will sail down the area of the Cape Fear River. At the same time, a British Fleet commanded by Sir Peter Parker will leave Cork, Ireland with General Cornwallis, who we will hear a lot about today, and six regiments and the Highland Scots are going to arrive. But you cannot coordinate an operation with forces coming from Cork, Ireland and Boston Harbor with an uprising by the Highland Scots. The Highland Scots will rise in mid-Feburary 1776, and they will march towards Wilmington and Brunswick, hoping to meet with those expeditions that are not going to arrive in the area until in May. And they will fight the battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, which will be the first great Patriot victory in the south, in which the Highland Scots are routed and scattered to the wind. So when Cornwallis and Clinton arrive off the Cape Fear, along with Sir Peter Parker’s squadron, they decided to pick off Charleston, the colony’s first city. And they will sail in early June to Charleston, and they have to take Charleston and get back north because the British will make New York the primary objective in the summer of 1776.
So, Howe, excuse me, Clinton and Cornwallis’ infantry land on Long Island, now the Isle of Palms. They planned to cross the bridge and seize the fort on Sullivan’s Island. The fort on Sullivan’s Island will be blasted into surrender by seven British warships: five frigates and two 70-gun ships to the line. And that’s when they say, Charlestonians proud that they are, will declare that Charleston palmetto bests British oak. To add to Sir Peter’s problems a shell explodes behind his backsides, an English admiral’s war soaked knee britches. And white stockings and silk rips easily. His britches are ripped off his backside, and he bleeds a lot through the gluteal regions. Repulsed, the expedition leaves, and that will be the first good news they will get in Philadelphia since they ratified and signed the Declaration of Independence. Two weeks the news arrives from Charleston that the British expedition is lost. And the British will not get interested in the South again until the winter of 1778. So, that is the significance of the attack and repulse of the British at Sullivan’s Island.
The other question, yes, a number of militia. It has to do with the militia at the Battle of Camden. A number of them can’t run very fast. The British regulars can run fast, trot faster forward than the militia can run in the opposite direction. And a number of them get captured. And they see with the loss of Charleston, the rout at Camden, we better join the winners. And they’ll take the Oath of Allegiance to the King, and they’ll be assigned to the 7th Fusiliers. And that means that people in 7th Fusiliers have kind of double loyalty here and probably don’t want to be recaptured by the Whigs, because you don’t treat people very nice who join the other side. So that will explain the other question brought up about troops. Also Pickens and the Gamecock figured “We’re done, we’re lost. The British are going to win it all,” and they take the Oath of Allegiance to the British crown and go home. But that’s going to change after the battle of Kings Mountain.
We’re looking a little to the south and east. The ground is level. This is the route that Cornwallis [Tarleton] approaches on. Morgan knows they’re coming. Out in front several miles, he has his scouts, commanded by Captain Inman. And soon as Tarleton’s men advanced, it was within three miles of us that they begin skirmishing with Inman’s mounted people. Inman will alert Morgan, so that Morgan will have his men formed before the British reach the area. In the distance, you may see the Scruggs Cabin. The Scruggs Cabin will appear here in the 1820s, and be a place for Lossing and other people who write of the battle will visit. For Ranney the painter who would do this painting of this clash as Tarleton seeks to flee the area and Tarleton placed, placed, Ranney [Lossing] stops with the Scruggs.
So as Cornwallis [Tarleton] approaches the area here, he is ready. The first thing he does is to deploy his dragoons, the 17th regiment under Captain [Major] Ogilvie. So he is going to screen the advance, watching the right, watching the left. Then his men will take position with the light infantry, as the drums and the Fraser highlanders’ bagpipes swirl, making that noise that sounds considerably like a pig’s squealing, he would deploy his men. On the right would be the light infantry of the dragoons of Tarleton’s command. He has his two grasshoppers, these three pounders, and he will place one of them near the road to the right or north of where I am standing. He will then deploy Captain [Major] Newmarsh’s 7th infantry made up of many men who had deserted the Whig cause, taken the King’s schilling and joined the King’s army. En echelon to his left and rear, will be the battalion of Fraser Highlanders, wearing their trous commanded by Major MacArthur. And on the far left, in reserve will be the Green Dragoons of Tarleton’s legion.
The battle is going to last all of about one hour. Few battles will have the significance, as the battle of Cowpens, and last such a short time and be such a complete and total victory. You probably have to go back to the battle of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham, back in mid-September 1759. Wolfe does the same thing, almost but a little different than Morgan does. He’ll tell his men, the line regiments, “Don’t overload your Brown Besses, and you’re not going to fire. You’re going to hear that our people are familiar with that.” As Eager Howard and Morgan are going to tell their men, the continentals, “Don’t Fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” He probably gets the idea from Wolfe at Quebec City, where two volleys win French Canada and French Louisiana to the British. Because we’re going to let the French close to 45 yards and give them two volleys and then the French break and are pursued. Both Wolfe and Montcalm will die. So you got an innovator here, or if Morgan is a really intellectual, and I don’t think he is an intellectual, he has read Caesar’s commentaries and the great Roman [Carthage] victory of antiquity is Cannea, which is a double envelopment and all great generals of history like to carry out a double envelopment. Whether Morgan read Caesar’s commentaries and knew about the battle of Cannea, he is going to use a double envelopment to crush, to beat, to smash Tarleton’s command. I will now be open to any questions about this site.
Question: I have a question sir, We talked about or you talked about Pickens and Sumter. How far from here, estimation wise were both of those two elements Sumter and Pickens to travel here?
Bearss: Sumter doesn’t get here. Pickens is north of the Broad River, and it is five miles to the broad, maybe seven or eight miles north of the Broad. And he will join Morgan on the night of the sixth and seventh. Most of the miltia belong to Pickens’ command, those are the guys in the second line.
Question: I have a question. I have lived here all my life and I heard you call it Hannah’s Cowpens, and I have never heard that term. Can you give me the background?
Bearss: That is one of the names, there are several names give to it. And one of the names given to it by a contemporary author is Hannah’s Cowpens. There are several other names that appear not at the time of the battle but writing before 1790. Alright, we will now go up and join the sharpshooter’s line, which is up there where that first rise is.
Bearss: Now as we’re looking up the Green River road, you can see much better since you’re standing that there is a gentle grade as we leave this site. We’re going into an open-wood, Hannah’s Cowpens. Morgan has been here about 12 hours, being a frontiersman and a surveyor he has looked at the scene, and he realizes what Granny Gates had done wrong. He can see the predominately open area, to the north and west of us on either side of the Green River Road. He notices the Green River Road is along the watershed. With streams on that side [pointing to his right] of the Green River Road drains into swamps. On the other side of the watershed, 30 yards to my left they drain into another swamp. So that’s going to dictate where he can put his men. That means when the British attack, and knowing that the bayonet is the British weapon of choice, knowing that Tarleton is like a pit bull dog, that when they see his men that they’re not going to reconnoiter very well, and charge and use the bayonet.
He notices there are two gentle rises. We’ll stand on both of them later, and they are separated by a swale. He notices the location of the Broad River. That means if you are a militia you are probably not going to run into the swamps to the right or to the left. And the Broad River is five miles off and it is high. And if you run and the Brits overtake you, as sure in heaven they will, you will have another massacre or a crushing defeat like you suffered at Camden. So, the Old Wagoner is going to use the terrain, the open-wood, the location of Hannah’s Cowpens, known to all the backcountry people, as here is where they assembled their cattle to drive to the coast. So, that means when he tell Pickens, and Pickens says, “I am coming south of the Broad” Pickens knows where he is going to find him, and he is going to find at Hannah’s Cowpens, as is McDowell who had been here on the night of the 6th day of October 1780.
So, Morgan is a born leader, as Private Young will say. He wanders through the camps that night, and he will josh and kid with the men. And he will call himself the Old Wagoner. And he will remind them of his experience with the British officers on the Braddock expedition, and his vow to get revenge for every one of those lashes on back. And he will tell them, when Benny, (he refers to Ban Tarleton as Benny), using a belittle name, a demeaning for him, when he comes the “Old Wagoner” is going to crack his whip over Benny. He’ll then tell them, the militia, “Do as I say. Give me two volleys and then file off to the left. Don’t bolt for the rear because if you bolt for the rear you’re going to have the enemy coming up on your back.” Bolt for the rear, and hopefully rally behind the continentals. He is going to advance about 100 men armed with rifles as sharpshooters, half of them from Georgia, half of them from South Carolina, dividing them by the Green River Road. He is going to urge them to show who is better, South Carolina or Georgia. And in the formalized warfare of Europe, it was considered bad sport to shoot officers. They were gentlemen, privilege individuals, and he will tell the men, those hundred men, armed with rifles. He is going to sell them shoot the epaulette men. That is why in World War II and since if in the grunts, the officers don’t wear those nice oak leaves, or those nice bars, or those nice eagles. And the first Sergeants and sergeants don’t wear all those chevrons because they’re high priority targets. But that was different in those days. And even on your commissions in the United States armed services, whether it was Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard until 1957, it described you as an officer and a gentleman. In ‘57, you are described on your commission as an officer not a gentleman any more.
So, the British, this has happened before at Breeds Hill/Bunker Hill. Now the advantage of the rifle, and there is a big myth about it that it wins the war. There will only be a limited number of rifles. Yes, they’re accurate, but if you look at a rifle, there’s a very narrow grip on the stock. And when you fired a rifle ball, you carried in your mouth and you wrapped it in either silk or flannel. Loaded and fired, so it took you one minute to fire a round, if you’re firing a rifle. If you’re firing a musket, it is not going to be very accurate, but you can fire three rounds a minute. So, that is another reason he put his riflemen up on the skirmish line. About a hundred yards in back of them are going to be the militia armed with smoothbores. And he is going to tell them, “Boys I’ll crack the whip over Benny, but I want you to give me 3 2 volleys or in some of the stories 3 volleys and then you can get out of here. But for God’s sakes file to the left and reform behind. Don’t keep on running, and remember when you get home if you do this, the girls and the wives will kiss you and tell you how good you are.” Flattery, along with good idea. Then you’re going to have the small swale and the next swale is a little higher. And there he is going to form his elite unit, the Delaware and Maryland continentals, commanded by John Eager Howard. On their flanks, these men are trained to fight the way the British do, stand shoulder-to-shoulder, fire a volley, reload, fire a volley., just as spit and polished as the 71st highlanders. On their flank, on either side are going to be militia. Many of these militia have served in enlistment in continental service. And behind the next rise behind them will be William Washington’s Dragoons and forty militia equipped as Dragoons with sabers. So, it is going to be these three lines and that is how he forms his men and waits. We’re now going to look at this way.
Question: Just one question. This whole battle is based on doing what is not predictable or the established rules of engagement. He’s got both the sharpshooter lines divided by a main avenue of approach here and you are saying that…fire two or three volleys of fire then exit stage door left so to speak – their left – which would be that way [pointing northward]. That means [pointing southward] that this crowd has gotta cross the main highway. OK. Is there any reason in your estimation why he would have…?
Bearss: I have no idea, but I think he must have decided that it is better to let them move in one direction than to go helter-skelter both ways. Probably, there was more open ground in that direction [pointing northward]. That’s simply a possibility, but he wants them to know what he wants them to do. Otherwise they will be going that way [pointing southward]. Anything else? Alright, we’ll go up to Pickens’ line.
Bearss: We are now on Morgan’s first line. It consists of about 100 sharpshooters, most if not all of them armed with rifles. Extending probably from the woods over there [pointing northward], probably the vegetation here, at least from where you are standing and the photographic crew is, is probably very similar to what it was, an open wood where people gathered their herds. Here, of course, we have a rifleman. Riflemen are going to be dressed as civilians. The closer they are to the frontier, the more likely they are to be dressed in buckskin. Morgan was well aware of riflemen. Taking when Morgan first joined the Continental Army, he will report to a man who goes from hero to arch-traitor. He will join with a company of frontiersmen from and to the west of the Shenandoah Valley, along with a company from western Pennsylvania. And he had led his riflemen during the march to Quebec City, having been captured at Quebec City and exchanged. At the Battle of Saratoga, arguably the decisive battle of the Revolution, because the surrender of Burgoyne’s army results in the French alliance. So Morgan is well-apprised of the advantages and the disadvantages of the rifle. The disadvantage is a slow rate of fire. The advantage is the high accuracy. Hence, these guys will be the guys he wants to really underscore [that] he wants them to fire at the “epaulette men”. And he encourages competition between the Georgians on one side of the road and the [North] Carolinians on the other. The riflemen will probably fire either standing up or leaning. And they are going to do their job well. Forced when the British dragoons charged, and when the line regiments approached, those of the Light Infantry, and those of the 7th Fusiliers are going to very devastating to the “epaulette men” [the officers] which deprived the British of key junior officers. After the British are coming close, and you don’t want ‘em to come too close, because it’s going to take you one minute between when you fire and you can fire again. And then they will fall back. A number of them are going to fall back on Pickens’ militia who are armed with smoothbores and it will be standing in line of battle. Some of them will not stop there and hopefully will fall back around the left flank of Pickens’ men and the [American] Continentals and take position back in the rear of where William Washington’s cavalry is.
So Morgan’s plan is working. He has slowed the British advance. That it has not been good for the British morale, the large number of officers killed and wounded, and they do not head for the Broad River. They fall back, either join Pickens, or rally in rear of the Virginia Continentals, so again you can see Morgan’s scheme.
Now Greene will use this same plan at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in mid-March. And he almost wins the Battle of Guilford Courthouse with these similar tactics. But Cornwallis gets desperate. He has more artillery – or brings artillery up and tell them I don’t care who you hit. You are going to fire. You are going to kill some of our men, but you are also going to kill some of the enemy.
And probably without Morgan to inspire them with his little pep talk about giving what he wants to do, and go home and hug the women or kiss them, and their girlfriends will applaud them. It doesn’t work clear like it ought to for Greene at Guilford Courthouse.
Bearss: Any questions? Don’t be bashful.
Question: What was the range of the rifle?
Bearss: Alright. The range of the rifle. The rifle has an effective range of several hundred yards. The musket has an effective range of about 50 yards. And I’m not going to let you shoot at me. From that gentleman there [pointing 2 or 3 yards to his right] to that gentleman there [pointing 2 or 3 yards to his left], from 100 yards from you and you hit me, I’m unlucky. My time is up. That is the best way you explain the accuracy between a smoothbore and a rifle. If a group of 12 men shot at me from a hundred yards, I would be unlucky if you hit me. And you darn sure wouldn’t hit me if I were an “epaulette man”. So the difference is in accuracy. But the disadvantage is in rate of fire. Because you can only fire one shot a minute. So that means if [pointing] one, two, three, four, five, six, seven of you guys fired at me at a hundred yards, I am going to either come at you with my bayonet or sticking you through the gut before you can reload. That gives you two options: either let me stick you through the gut and most men can cover a hundred yards in a minute, and since you are unarmed, you’ll die or surrender or run. You only have that problem of use of weapons and Morgan understands it.
As you are going to find out on your next to last stop, the British, and Tarleton’s responsible for it, as they close on the Maryland/Delaware line, and the Virginia Continentals, Tarleton will order a charge. And Howard’s men do a counter-march. [Turning about] which is a face to the rear and move off. They’re certain. The British regulars are certain the Patriots are fleeing. So the British lose all cohesion and come on as a mob. We are going to the dialogue up there between Morgan and Howard and Howard will retreat maybe 25 yards, order his men to come about. The British will be coming forward as a mob, no organization. They will wheel about and fire a volley at about 20 yards into the Brits. And the British lose control. Command and control went that way. We’ll go into more detail on the spot. Showing that the Continentals are as well-disciplined as the British regulars. Tarleton doesn’t observe well, because he should have remembered at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse that the Continental Line didn’t run.
Bearss: We’ve now come about 100 yards from the sharpshooter line. We are now on the militia line held by probably about 300 men. Sharpshooter line, about 100, the militia line, around 300. Now, they are going to be in the same formation as the British regulars, the same formation as the Continental line. They will be in double rank, elbow seemingly to touch elbow, in two ranks. The second rank being in a position so that when he aims his rifle, it will be aiming [touching his right ear] just about where the lock is opposite the man in front of his right ear. They are taught to fire by volley. In theory, they can probably get off, if they’re trained, three volleys in one minute. They are also going to be joined by some of the riflemen. We’re here at their position.
Also, I think that if I were going to criticize the manipulation of the woods, my feeling is that the woods over here [pointing southward] are too thick. These woods over here [pointing northward] until you get to the thick woods over there that screen the highway are about the way they are because it would be rather difficult to form men in line of battle. They, however, are lacking one thing: the Continentals. They do not have bayonets. If they have any small arms, it will be a tomahawk tucked into their belt. Again, these are the men that Morgan was very stressful to: that he wants two volleys. Some people may recall it: three volleys. And then they can withdraw from the field and he wants them to withdraw to the north, pass around the flank and form in support of the Continental line and the Virginia militia. I imagine if I was Pickens, I’d be very worried since Pickens has renounced his Oath of Allegiance to the crown. Which means that if he is captured, and any men like him, will be subject to the death penalty. Of course, he probably has - doesn’t worry that much since he is an old-style Presbyterian like Thomas Jonathan Jackson and believes in predestination, the end which the Lord has already decided, whether he is going to live or die. I would say that this may be the real secret of Morgan winning the battle. He needed two or three volleys out of his militia and having them move off in relatively good order around the left flank of the Virginia Continentals and taking another position. But regardless, Morgan shows leadership, and he shows that he’s, a much smarter than General Gates. General Gates has been an officer in the British establishment, and he violates every rule that Morgan is going to enforce in this battle. There also has considerable dislike between Gates and Morgan dating back to the Battle of Saratoga in which in Morgan’s mind, did not receive the recognition he believed that he was entitled to. And Gates will become the hero of Saratoga, and a man who has been striving to replace George Washington as commander-in-chief.
It is very important what is happening in this backcountry. To the British, prior to the Battle of Kings Mountain, the British plan is working. Patriot leaders taking the Oath of Allegiance, they’re winning the hearts and the minds of the people in the backcountry, but it’s all going to change after Kings Mountain and the chance of the British winning the hearts and the minds of the backcountry people after the Battle of Cowpens will be slim and none. As the old cliché is “Slim has left town.” So, how bad? Kings Mountain! Cowpens! Guilford Courthouse! And you are on a high-speed route of the Colonials to Yorktown. This is a major step on your road to Yorktown. It does not get as much attention as it should. Up until 1966-67, the park was ½ acre in extent, in a triangle along the Mill Springs [Mills Gap] Road. So we will go up here and make a brief stop at the first monument. And then we’ll go and join where the battlefield turned up here at the second hillock. I want to talk a little bit about the monument that’s over here about 100 yards. This will be the first monument here, and there is some rather interesting genealogy to it.
Bearss: Long before the park service was established, about 25 to 30 years before the centennial of the Revolution, as the nation is on fast track to secession and the Civil War, patriotic groups began to remember the old soldiers. The last soldier of the Revolution died in 1859. The government then makes a big mistake. They make widows eligible. Since young women had a habit of marrying old veterans for their pensions, the government made a big mistake. The last widow of the Revolution doesn’t die until we reach the 20th century. So William Washington becomes a big name in South Carolina, an important player, and they are beginning to form militia regiments. And by 1855, you have a railroad running from Charleston up to Spartanburg [Laurens]. So the entire regiment, 500 men or so, get a couple of stone masons and ride the train from Charleston up to Spartanburg [Laurens]. and then march out here. They did not rent buggies. And they march out here and the stone masons assemble this monument. While this is not the oldest Revolutionary monument, it is one of the oldest, and drew the country’s attention to the soldiers of the Revolution. During the centennial of the Revolution, you get a number of Revolutionary War monuments. Because these Revolutionary War battlefields are small,l and the main thing is getting a monument to identify where they happened. So this becomes one of the earliest monuments of the Revolution, and when I first saw it, it stood near the back of a farm lot. The house, I believe [pointing NE from the monument], is about over there where those two ladies are. And you had to ask his permission to come out and stand by the monument, because the old Mill Gap Road [pointing NW] followed the same alignment as the Green [River] Road. This is an important place in the battle, an important place to South Carolina and particularly to Charleston.
At the time of the Sesquicentennial, you get your second monument here, the one that is in [front] of the visitor center, which at time stood in a more prominent location and they had one and one-half acre. And with the approach of the 200th (Bicentennial), they realize how important this battle is, and they expand the one and a half acre to approximately a 750-acre park, whose role is to protect the site of the battle and restore and manipulate the landscape and the tree cover so it looked like it did at the time of the battle. And I was involved in 1967 in the planning for it, so I always get a thrill to come back here to Cowpens. And I particularly am an enthusiastic to be here today, because it’s you teachers of Cherokee County and nearby that the young people that you have in your classes will be familiar with the Battle of Cowpens and this important event on the road to our nation. So I commend you for coming to the program, commend the organization that sponsors it, and commend the superintendent and his staff.
Now we will be able to go up, after I take any questions that you might have, and talk about the turn of the battle, where it is going to be decided who is going to win and who is going to lose.
Question: The approximate cost of this original monument, did they set it up?
Bearss: The original one would probably be probably a couple hundred bucks. Because you could ride the train up here for a very low price any you both marched out from Spartanburg [Laurens] and marched back and whatever you had to pay the stone masons for building it. I would judge considerably less than the 1932 monument. Monuments always escalate in price.
Question: What is the significance of the actual design?
Bearss: Alright, you have the column and you have the cannonball atop of it, and according to legend, the real cannonball (and our good superintendent is going to try some detective work!) is in the historical society down in Spartanburg.
Bearss: Tarleton is overjoyed; Tarleton is on cloud nine. In his mind, he is certain he is winning. It has troubled him to lose his officers when the sharpshooters inflict heavy casualties on the epaulette men. Initially troubled when his men recoil, the men of the 7th Fusiliers, the men of the Tarleton Legion, the infantry, recoil under the volleys fired by the Patriot militia. But after absorbing the casualties, and noticing that the militia is falling back, he really doesn’t pay that much attention that the militia when it falls back [pointing northward], moves off toward the left of the Virginia Continental militia line and reforming. And he communicates an order to charge, and moving forward will be Tarleton’s Legion light infantry, Newmarsh’s Fusiliers on their left, and coming up in support on left and en echelon will be 7th [Fusiliers] Infantry, the British come forward on a steady step, letting go huzzahs and cheers to the king.
Morgan is back here sitting his horse in the low spot just behind the infantry where he can watch it, and he becomes concerned when John Eager Howard gives a command “Right about”. Originally, Howard’s men are facing this way [facing SE] in double ranks, coming about this way [facing NW], they start moving this way [pointing NW]. It’s like the Brits are bloodhounds, and they smell blood as the Delaware and Maryland militia [continentals] move to the rear. On the right [pointing northward], the Augusta militia and on the left [pointing southward] going that way, going to the rear. Morgan momentarily loses his cool. And he will ride up to John Eager Howard, and he’ll call to him, “You are retreating, you are retreating, you are giving way,” and Howard will say, “Did you ever see men retreating, marching in such perfect order?” And before Morgan can reply, Howard orders them “To the left, round about” and is now facing the British. And the British are very, very close, shouting for blood, surrender and victory. And they are so shocked that they hardly notice because of the gray smoke given off by the smoothbore muskets, and before they can halt and dress their ranks, Howard’s men will fire two crashing volleys into the British force that is disorganized, intermixed, and have lost control. And then the Continentals, the Maryland and Delaware line, with the Augusta Virginia militia on their left and the other veteran militia on their right, charged the British. That means that the British, in a matter of seconds, have changed the whole scenario, believing they’ve won the battle, and there will be a wild pursuit of the frightened patriots five miles all the way to Broad River. They will now face the lowered bayonets that are coming closer and closer as they charge them. Taken aback by what has happened, a number of the Brits will throw themselves on the ground and start yelling for quarter. Coming up on the [British] left are the Highlanders who are going to be caught in the backwash of the rout of the Tarleton Legion and the men of the 7th Fusiliers. The British are pulling off their hats, grounding their arms, it becomes quite a task for John Eager Howard and his men as they start yelling, “Tarleton’s quarter!” and close on and worry about a massacre of the British troops. In an effort to cover the retreat [tapping interpretive marker] of the panic-stricken British and the Scotties who have now been gripped by fear, Tarleton orders his dragoons to charge, and they will charge in among William Washington’s dragoons, and soon Ogilvie and his men are heading that way. Lieutenant Anderson and a [undecipherable] man, charge, outdistancing the other men to reach the two three-[pound] “grasshoppers”. We are back in the area where we made our first stop. As you may remember, Lieutenant Anderson, like most lieutenants in that time, used the spontoon as a symbol of office rather than a sword. A spontoon is a modified lance. As he rushes forward, to be sure that he gets to lead everybody, just like a champion pole-vaulter, he will thrust his spontoon into the ground and use it to vault himself up so he can lay his hands on one of the two “grasshoppers”.
It is now “root hog or die” on the parts of the Brits. Those who are laying on the ground with their hands in the air, throwing their rifles [muskets] down, are being rounded up. And William Washington starts in pursuit of Tarleton. Tarleton is deserting his command showing he considers his own life more valuable than moral courage. And down there near where the Scruggs house will eventually stand, Washington has outdistanced his men, rides in among Tarleton and a number of British cavalrymen. In a skirmishing, Tarleton will be wounded and you have that famous Ranney painting which was made down at the Scruggs house, which shows a black boy who serves William Washington saving Washington’s life by shooting one of the British officers. The pursuit will continue. Tarleton will ride hard, reaches camp at Burr’s Mill where he has left his reserves behind, and they have deserted him. After nearly 24 hours [east] of the Broad River, he meets Cornwallis’ column as it moves northward to the east side of the Broad River and out from Winnsboro to Charlotte. Cornwallis is devastated. Cornwallis has taken into battle almost 1100 men and has lost over a thousand, killed, wounded and missing, as well as the two “grasshoppers”.
Morgan does not stay here. Within 24 hours, with over 700 prisoners, he crosses the Broad River and heads for Salisbury with his prisoners who he wants to turn over. Cornwallis will now make a terrible error. He is so obsessed with what has happened to his protegé with the loss of over 700 prisoners, a thousand men altogether, he orders his wagons burned, forgets about repercussions, and prepares to follow Morgan to the death. Morgan will be joined by Greene as they reach the Catawba River where the British will cross the Catawba killing a militiaman, [General] Davidson in the process. And it becomes a Race for the Dan. reene will win the Race for the Dan. organ will report himself suffering from rheumatism and he will return to his home, Saratoga, up in the shadow of Millwood and Winchester. Greene will win the Race to the Dan; remove all the ferries. Cornwallis will follow him to the Dan; then move his men east to Hillsboro. And then, we finish. We’ll start moving back west, where on the 15th and 16th [of March 1781] at Guilford Courthouse, Greene will battle Cornwallis. Cornwallis will lose one-fourth of his men. Hold the field! No new reinforcements. The Patriots have lots of allies. France. Spain. Holland. Britain is horribly alone in the world. Cornwallis will leave and march to Wilmington to resupply. Greene will follow him to the area near present-day Fayetteville, and then Greene will go back into South Carolina, be defeated at Hobkirks Hill near Camden on the 5th day of April  but Lord Rawdon, 6 days later, will evacuate Camden. Greene [Washington] will then send Light Horse Harry Lee against Augusta and by mid-June, the British evacuate Augusta. The only thing they now hold in Georgia is Savannah. Greene will be pressing the Siege of Ninety Six and aided by Kosciuszko: “You will not capture Ninety Six”. As Lord Rawdon pushes inland from Charleston forces Greene to raise the Siege of Ninety Six. And in September, has fought the Battle of Eutaw Springs, where Stewart wins a slight victory, and the British end the Christmas season of 1781, having learned that Cornwallis has surrendered at Yorktown on the 19th [of October], the British will evacuate Savannah so there is not a British soldier except on parole or a prisoner in the state [of South Carolina outside of Charleston]. The following Christmas season, of 1782, the British evacuate Charleston, their last toehold in South Carolina. And on September 3rd, 1783, the United States and Great Britain sign a treaty of peace. And the United States are in fact and in name, independent. And I would like you to notice where the milestones on the road to Yorktown, and the milestones on the road to the Treaty of Paris: Kings Mountain on the 7th day of October 1780; Cowpens on the 17th day of January 1781; Guilford Courthouse, 15th and 16th day of March 1781; Hobkirks Hill 5th day of April 1781; Eutaw Springs, 7th day of September 1781. And by Christmas season of 1782, the only Brits in South Carolina are prisoners, dead, or people who have taken the Oath of Allegiance to the Continental Congress. So you folks up here in the Piedmont teaching school in Cherokee or nearabouts have a wonderful opportunity to bring to your students the great events that took place here, particularly on that cold morning, lasting less than one hour in which Cornwallis’ army is routed, and the route opens to independence. Now, if you have any questions, I will be happy to try and answer them for you. You have been a wonderful audience.
Question: Yes, sir. How significant was the loss of the men, not the supplies or the cannon, but just the trained men to Cornwallis in his Southern Campaign?
Bearss: It is a war of attrition, and the British cannot replace their men. So Cornwallis wins the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but he cannot stay in the Piedmont. And the British cannot afford to send any more troops to put down the revolution, because Britain is fighting a world war at this time. They are at war with the French in the Caribbean, and the Spanish - the war on the continent of Europe. Britain has no friends anywhere. So they have gotten themselves in a bind where they are spread all over the world and [unintelligible]. Washington reigns, and Morgan realized an important thing – and that is as long as you keep an army or a feeling, a feeling for independence [unintelligible] the United States has to win. Britain has too many enemies in the world waiting to jump in and make life hard for the Brits. So as long as they win the partisan warfare for the hearts and minds. Think! If the British had won at Kings Mountain… Think! If the British had won here… Would Pickens, would Sumter have switched sides back to our side again? No one knows. I will point out, lots of people like to be on the winning side and no one wants to be on the losing side. The war here in the upcountry of South Carolina is as grim and bloody as any part of the war in North America. Here they hang you; they don’t destroy your property. So it is a civil war of neighbor against neighbor, and at Kings Mountain and Cowpens, it is pretty obvious who is going to win. So it’s really a challenge because you are talking about a different type war down here in the Carolinas and in Georgia than you are talking about up in New England, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, etc. They fought a gentleman’s war away up there. ut it is anything but a gentleman’s war down here.
Question: What is the significance of Daniel Morgan – had Nathaniel Green not had Daniel Morgan at his side down here, do you that he still would have…?
Bearss: He would have had a difficult time, because Morgan understands the backcountry people. He is one of them. He grew up in ‘em. He understands that you have to flatter them. He understands how to poke fun at Tarleton, and he particularly likes to use as referring to himself as the “Old Waggoner” cracking a whip over “Benny”. “Give me those two musket rounds, and you can go home and your ladies will pat you on the back and kiss you.” That’s pretty good, instead of giving them a lecture and telling you to “stand there”. So being a backwoods countryman, he understood them. And of course with that, 499 lashes had made him a real hater of the British. He is a very interesting fellow.
And of course, it shows an increasing appreciation of Cowpens in the political arm of our government. The first monument erected by those members of the Washington Light Infantry from Charleston. For the sesquicentennial, the monument and an acre and half, and then for the centennial [bicentennial], the 750-acre park with a large visitor center. So it shows the people of South Carolina and the people of the United States an increasing belief of the importance of this site that you are so lucky to live here in.
Question: Another question, do South Carolinians at that time come to realize the importance of it?
Bearss: What was that one?
Question: Do South Carolinians at that time recognize it as a far greater accomplishment than perhaps the rest of the states?
Bearss: Yes, because the Washington Light Monument is coming out of Charleston, and Congressman Geary [Thomas Gettys] who is your congressman here in ‘67,’68, he realized it was important enough to introduce legislation in creating it and to get it through Congress. And he had good local support. I remember coming down here in the early days and meeting with people of the local group that wanted something to happen here. If the local group hadn’t convinced Congressman Geary [Gettys] it was important, he might not have thought it was that important.
Question: May I ask a generic question? When we look at the sprawl that America is in now and the potential of eating way at the National Battlefield parks of the Civil War and the Revolutionary War and whatever, is there any halting of that? Or is it slowly going to erode into their all gone?
Bearss: I think no, because it is might experience with the Civil Preservation Trust that no. I think people living in the Washington area, they want to preserve the open space, preserve the history of America. People in the Washington area have good allies from the developers who want to develop everything. So if you don’t preserve these areas, they will become the hole in the donut. And the hole of the donut will get smaller and smaller if the groups that don’t appreciate open space, that don’t appreciate planning, that don’t appreciate the history of our country. The hole in the donut will keep getting smaller, but it has been reversed significantly in the areas where have the big growth in suburbia just in the last 30 years that have been bidding for preservation.
I think talking to your new superintendent, I think you’re very beneficial. The park staff has always loved the park, but you always have to have a bossman that is the park superintendent that works with the other local interest that like to preserve history and open space, because the people that preserve history and open space are doing it because of the love of the land, the love of the story, and realize if you don’t defend open space, it’s all going to disappear. And I have noticed since 1990 there has been a great groundswell in preservation. But the grassroots, you’re the important person in the grassroots, because if your students don’t care who is going to care in the next generation? [audience clapping]
Did You Know?
The Battle of Cowpens, fought by the Americans and British on January 17, 1781, lasted less than an hour.