Lesson Plan

The Battle of Cowpens: The Spacial Landscape

map of Cowpens National Battlefield


GOAL: To gain skills in math and learn of the Battle of Cowpens by completing mathematical exercises.


  • The student will use mathematical skills of addition, conversion, sequence, etc., to determine spatial and numerical data related to the Battle of Cowpens.
  • The student will analyze spatial and numerical data to gain historical insight into the Battle of Cowpens.


Actions and troop movements across the Cowpens landscape have been studied, foremost, in the disciplines of history and geography. Yet, the Battle and the events before and after it lend themselves to spatial and numerical studies as well. Movement, velocity, trajectory, pace, troop numbers and other terms associated with the battle offer an excellent opportunity for the study of math. Opportunities for the study of math relate to the following:

  1. Troop movement – speed, distance covered by army units
  2. Numbers of troops
  3. Battle tactics and long-term strategy
  4. Battle statistics


Troop Movement —

General Nathanael Greene of the Continental Army of the South sent Daniel Morgan and his Flying Army across the Catawba River, and, beyond, across the Broad to hamper British operations in the back-country. General Cornwallis, in turn, divided his army, and sent Banastre Tarleton and troops in pursuit. Captain Robert Kirkwood served throughout the war with the Delaware Continentals. His journal shows the movement of his regiment before and after the Battle of Cowpens. Have students read the following selection from his journal and answer relevant questions:

Decmbr. 6 th : This Day Maj. Genl. Greene took command of the Southern Army in room of Maj. Genl. Gates.

Decmbr. 17 th: March’d to Charotte (13 miles)

Decmbr. 21 st.: March’d to Biggon Ferry on Catawba River. (13 miles)

Decmbr. 22 nd: Crossed the Ferry and March’d. (5 miles)

Decmbr. 23 rd: March’d (16 miles)

Decmbr. 24 th: March’d (13 miles)

Decmbr. 25 th: March’d to Pacolet. (8 miles)

Jan. 11 th: March’d. (10 miles)

Jan. 16 th: March’d to the Cowpens (12 miles)

Jan. 17 th: Defeated Tarleton

Jan. 18 th: March’d for the Catawba River and arrived the 23 rd . (100 miles)

Feb. 1 st: March’d to Col. Locke. (30 miles)

Feb. 2 nd: Marched and crossed the Yadkin River. (12 miles)

Feb. 4 th: March’d the night. (13 miles)

  1. How many miles did Morgan’s army march from December 17 th , 1780, to its arrival at the Cowpens, January 16, 1781?
  2. How many miles did Morgan’s army march from Tarleton’s defeat to its crossing of the Yadkin River?
  3. How many times did Morgan’s army cross the Catawba River?
  4. How many miles total did Morgan’s army march from December 17 through February 4?

Pace –

With news of Tarleton’s proximity, Morgan and his army retreated from their camp on January 16 and struck out toward Thicketty Creek. Tarleton traveled fast, and on the 17 th , awakened his men at two in the morning for a night march to catch Morgan. Morgan, encamped at the Cowpens, got news of Tarleton’s march. He had not expected an attack at dawn. With the flooded Broad River six miles to his rear, he was forced to fight.

Morgan went among his troops that night, motivating them to fight. At dawn, he was ready, his troops arranged in three lines to meet the oncoming British. Even though they were tired, the British made a quick attack, a frontal assault.

The sharpshooters, out front, faced the British first. They retreated to their militia line, its troops instructed to fire two volleys. The militia, in turn, were to retreat and reform behind the Continentals. The retreat was a race against time. The militia quickened their pace faced with a charge from British infantry and slashing from Tarleton’s feared dragoons. Mathematical study of this event involves pace, time and distance. Troops often traveled at a certain pace, gaining so many feet per second. It is estimated that the militia retreated in quick step, reloading as they were retreating. Have students complete the following chart to examine the relationship between speed of movement and distance gained:

General Daniel Morgan positioned his army in three lines. He placed the skirmishers, the best of the militia, at the top of a slight slope, with a good view of the enemy. They were to drive back Tarleton’s cavalry and withdraw to Picken’s line of militia 100 yards to their rear. The soldiers of the militia were to get off two shots and retreat behind the Continental Line 150 yards to their rear.

  1. Locate the point on the battlefield where the British formed their lines.
  2. Locate the point on the battlefield where the Patriot militia formed their lines.
  3. From the militia line location, estimate the skirmisher line location 100 yards to its front.
  4. From the militia line location, estimate the Continental line 150 yards to its rear.
  5. Use the tape measure to verify your estimates.
Common Step
Quick Step
  Feet Yards Feet Yards Feet Yards
1 sec. 3.30 1.10 5 1.66 5.45 ----
2 sec. 6.60 2.20 10 ---- ---- 3.62
3 sec. ---- ---- ---- 5.00 16.35 5.43
4 sec. 13.20 4.40 20 6.66 21.80 7.24
5 sec. ---- ---- ---- ---- ---- ----

Battle Statistics –

  1. At the Battle of Cowpens, 110 British soldiers were killed out of a total of 1,100. What percentage of Tarleton’s army was killed in battle? Illustrate this amount on a pie graph.
  2. Twenty-four Patriot soldiers were killed out of a total of 1,500. What percentage of Morgan’s army was killed in battle? Illustrate this amount in a pie graph.
  3. Five hundred British soldiers were captured. What percentage of Tarleton’s army was captured? Illustrate this amount in a pie graph.

Additional Resources

Babits, Lawrence E. A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Babits, Lawrence E. Cowpens Battlefield: A Walking Guide. Johnson City, Tennessee: The Overmountain Press, 1993.

Bearss, Edwin C. Battle of Cowpens: A Documented Narrative and Troop Movement Maps. Johnson City, Tennessee: The Overmountain Press, 1996.

Fleming, Thomas J. Downright Fighting: The Story of Cowpens. (Official National Park Handbook). Washington, D.C.: Division of Publications, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1988.

Moncure, John (Lieutenant Colonel). The Cowpens Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1996.