Voices from Cowpens
OverviewGOAL: To have students work with primary sources related to the Battle of Cowpens.
- Have students identify the author or source of the historical document or narrative.
- Have students formulate historical questions from a variety of sources.
- Have students obtain historical data from a variety of sources.
- Have students identify ways in which sources of historical data can be preserved.
- Have students construct sound historical interpretations with evidence.
Thomas Young, from the Laurens District (SC), was one of the Patriots at Cowpens on the morning of January 17, 1781. According to records, that day was also his 17 th birthday. He told in his own words what he experienced that day. Young received sword wounds in the right arm, both shoulders, and the head.
“The morning of the 17 th (January 1781)…was bitterly cold. We were formed in order of battle, and the men were slapping their hands together to keep warm—an exertion not long necessary…
About sunrise, the British line advanced at a sort of trot with a loud halloo. It was the most beautiful line I ever saw. When they shouted, I heard Morgan say, ‘They gave us the British halloo, boys. Give them the Indian halloo,…!’ and he galloped along the lines, cheering the men and telling them not to fire until we could see the whites of their eyes. Every officer was crying, ‘Don’t fire!’ for it was a hard matter to keep us from it.
I should have said the British line advanced under cover of their artillery, for it opened so fiercely upon the center that Colonel (William) Washington moved his cavalry from the center towards the right wing.
The militia fired first. It was for a long time a, pop-pop- pop, and then a whole volley; but when the regulars fired, it seemed like one sheet of flame from right to left. Oh! It was beautiful!”
- Define for the students what a primary source is. Have students brainstorm and list examples of primary sources and why they are important to the study of history.
- After students have read the quote of Thomas Young above, have them describe in their own words, in a paragraph, what Thomas Young saw and experienced on the morning of January 17, 1781.
- Have students draw a picture or illustration based on the quote of Thomas Young.
- Have students discuss what Thomas Young was feeling on the morning of January 17, 1781, at Cowpens. Have the students discuss how they would have felt.
Have students stand on the battlefield in the area where Thomas Young and the other members of the militia would have been positioned. Have students write a description of the landscape, the weather conditions, and the sounds they hear at that moment. These can be shared after the visit.
- Have students write an imaginary newspaper report based on the account of Thomas Young. Include Who? What? When? Where?
- Have the students discuss what could be learned about the Battle of Cowpens if someone only read Thomas Young’s account.
Scheer, George F. and Hugh F. Franklin, Rebels and Redcoats. New York. DaCapo Press, 1957.