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Chapter Two:

Neglect of the Cowpens Battleground

After the Battle of Cowpens, the battleground was largely forgotten. The first private owner of the site was Daniel McClaren, who acquired the property from the State of South Carolina in 1803. After a period of ownership by Nathan Byars, James H. Ezell purchased the property at a sheriff's auction in 1850. The battleground was within the boundaries of Craven County as of 1685, Ninety Six District as of 1769, and Spartanburg District as of 1800. During the first half of the nineteenth century, Spartanburg District flourished as both cotton cultivation, using slave labor, and small manufacturing grew. The district had two cotton mills by the late 1810s and several iron works by the 1830s. In 1811 Willson Nesbitt founded near the battleground an iron furnace that by 1850 became the South Carolina Manufacturing Company. In addition, a post office was established near Cowpens. Prior to the Civil War Richard Scruggs and Ezell served as postmasters. The intersection of the Green River Road with the Coulter's Ford-Island Ford Road near the battleground remained an important crossroads. [1]

The Washington Light Infantry Monument

The first effort to erect a monument at Cowpens was undertaken by the Washington Light Infantry of Charleston. Founded as a militia unit in 1807, this infantry group named for George Washington was called up for service during the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. The unit possessed the Eutaw Flag used during the Battle of Cowpens by William Washington, a cousin of George Washington. This link between the infantry group and William Washington was apparently the only connection between the unit and Cowpens until 1856. [2]

At the suggestion of commanding officer Captain Lewis M. Hatch, the Washington Light Infantry decided to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Cowpens with a trip to the battleground to erect a monument. During April 1856 the citizens of Spartanburg hosted the unit and sponsored various events. Between April 21 and 22, the monument was erected at the battleground. It consisted of an octagonal base with shell and sand from Sullivan's Island and an iron shaft, all capped by a ball with an eagle on top. Relics were placed inside the base, including a bottle of water from Eutaw Springs, a brick from a house near the Eutaw Springs battleground, an account of the Battle of Cowpens, and a roster of all Washington Light Infantry members who helped erect the monument. With locals and others looking on, the monument was dedicated with speeches and a cannon salute by the Cowpens Light Artillery. [3]

The monument's erection prompted a group of Spartanburg women to raise funds for the site's purchase from Ezell. Representing the women, attorney G.W.H. Legg acquired a deed in July 1856 conveying the one-acre tract to the Washington Light Infantry. A group of local men subsequently erected an iron fence around the monument. With these last improvements, the battleground's first commemorative effort was completed. [4]

Cowpens continued to play host to various patriotic events. On January 17, 1861, the battle's eightieth anniversary, a large celebration was held in connection with South Carolina's secession from the Union the previous month. A crowd of two thousand heard speeches from various individuals, including secession convention delegate J.G. Landrum. With the onset of the Civil War and its aftermath, however, attention was subsequently turned away from the Cowpens battleground. [5]

Figure 3: The Washington Light Infantry Monument at Cowpens. By the time that this 1936 photograph was taken, the monument had suffered serious vandalism and had already undergone limited restoration

The Cowpens Centennial and the Daniel Morgan Monument

During the 1870s and 1880s, the nation observed the centennial of the American Revolution through battlefield celebrations and monument drives. Sparked by these patriotic efforts, the U.S. Congress undertook its first serious attempt at battle commemoration since appropriating funds for a Bunker Hill monument before the Civil War. Congress commissioned a study of Revolutionary War battlegrounds with a view towards appropriating funds for the erection of monuments. The study was conducted by Benson J. Lossing, a noted engraver and author best known for his 1850s Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution. Although subsequent bills to create a matching grant program for such monuments failed, Congress managed to pass bills to partially fund eight battle monuments. Two of these eight monuments commemorated southern battlesCowpens and Yorktown. [6]

The Cowpens monument bill grew out of an effort to celebrate the battle's centennial anniversary. In January 1880 the Washington Light Infantry suggested a centennial celebration in cooperation with the citizens of Spartanburg County. Meetings for the ninety-ninth anniversary of the battle resulted in the creation of the Cowpens Centennial Committee. The committee consisted of six members from the infantry and seven members from Spartanburg County. Charleston Mayor William A. Courtenay served as chairman. The committee resolved to hold a centennial celebration the following year and to erect a monument at the battleground. [7]

The Cowpens Centennial Committee immediately began planning for the celebration and the monument. With the backing of South Carolina Senators Matthew C. Butler and Wade Hampton, a Cowpens monument bill passed the Congress and was signed by President James A. Garfield in May 1880. The legislation authorized federal funds for a statue of Daniel Morgan after design review by the secretary of war. The City and County of Spartanburg provided funds for the base of the monument, and the original thirteen states and Tennessee paid for the shaft. The committee and the Secretary of War agreed on John Quincy Adams Ward as the sculptor. [8]

While making arrangements for the Daniel Morgan Monument, the Cowpens Centennial Committee decided to change the monument's location to a square in downtown Spartanburg. This change was suggested by W.K. Blake, the committee vice chairman and a Spartanburg resident. Several reasons account for this decision. The battleground was largely inaccessible since it was located away from any towns or railroads. Spartanburg was the county seat and the nearest town. In addition, the Washington Light Infantry Monument had suffered serious vandalism to its granite base, surrounding iron fence, and eagle on top of the monument. Last, the committee was largely made up of Spartanburg residents who may have seen the monument as a civic improvement for their town. [9]

With plans finalized, the Cowpens Centennial Committee held a cornerstone laying ceremony for the Morgan Monument on October 7, 1880, the centennial of the Battle of Kings Mountain. Due to inclement weather, the committee postponed the centennial celebration and monument dedication from January 17, the battle's anniversary, to May 11, 1881. The Morgan Monument was unveiled in front of a crowd reported to number around twenty thousand, while orators gave speeches praising the victory of the Patriots at Cowpens. [10]

The effort to erect the Morgan Monument was significant for several reasons. By involving the thirteen original states and Tennessee, the monument effort brought northern and southern states together in a common endeavor. In some ways, the celebration served as a precursor of the Civil War battle reunions of the 1890s that helped reunite the nation. In addition, the monument effort had significance for the Cowpens battleground. The appropriation for the statue was the first federal attempt to commemorate the battle. However, the decision to locate the monument in Spartanburg heightened the neglect of the battleground itself. The Morgan Monument drive was the first of many failed attempts to gain increased recognition for the Cowpens site. [11]

While the battleground continued to be forgotten, its surroundings gradually changed. In 1897 the eastern end of Spartanburg County broke away to form Cherokee County with Gaffney as the county seat. Cowpens was located within the new county only a few miles from the county line. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the area's economy was in transition. Cotton remained a dominant cash crop, but peaches became increasingly important during the 1920s in the wake of the boll weevil. The growth of railroads and the textile industry in Spartanburg and Cherokee Counties led to new and larger towns. Spartanburg acquired nine mills between 1888 and 1909. Spartanburg County had over thirty mills by 1920, making it a cornerstone of South Carolina's piedmont textile belt. New towns sprang up near the battleground, including Cowpens in 1880 and Chesnee in 1911, both Spartanburg County railroad towns with textile mills. Despite these nearby developments, the immediate battleground area remained rural and agricultural. James H. Ezell built a general store with a post office in the vicinity of the battlefield during the 1870s. After the Town of Cowpens was created, the name of the post office was changed from "Cowpens" to "Ezell." [12]

Figure 4: An 1884 Spartanburg Herald Journal photo of the Daniel Morgan Monument from the Willis Collection, Spartanburg County Public Libraries. The monument's placement at Spartanburg, rather than Cowpens, increased neglect of the battleground

Creation of the Cowpens National Battlefield Site

Appropriations for monuments were the only attempts by the federal government to mark and preserve the nation's battlegrounds for commemorative purposes prior to the 1890s. However, four national military parks and one national battlefield site were created between 1890 and 1899, all at Civil War battlegrounds. Congress was responsive to a growing public interest in commemorative monuments as well as the military's desire to preserve battle sites for training purposes. It became increasingly willing to preserve portions of battle sites through federal ownership and stewardship by the War Department. [13]

With the designation of the first national military parks, South Carolina's congressional delegation began to draft bills to create such a park, or at least a national monument, at Cowpens. Introduced in the U.S. House by Congressmen Stanyarne Wilson and David E. Finley in 1898 and 1899 respectively, the first two bills called for a national military park of 180 acres. When these bills failed, later efforts sought to acquire only ten or less acres. A total of twelve bills were introduced in the House between 1902 and 1924 by Finley and later by Congressman William F. Stevenson. Support for these bills came from local chapters of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR), a national women's civic club founded to promote patriotism, education, and democratic values. Both the Daniel Morgan Chapter in Gaffney and the Battle of Cowpens Chapter in Spartanburg considered the preservation of Cowpens a top priority. NSDAR lobbying efforts were spearheaded by Edith Fort Wolfe of the Daniel Morgan Chapter. [14]

In 1925 Stevenson introduced a bill in the House that called for a ten-acre to twenty-one-acre national military park. The plan included the one-acre Washington Light Infantry Monument tract, a five-acre tract to be donated by the owner, a five-acre tract to be purchased for donation by the local community, and a ten-acre tract to be purchased by the federal government. The bill was referred to the House Military Affairs Committee, which included South Carolina Congressman John J. McSwain from Stevenson's neighboring congressional district. [15] In unanimously recommending passage of the bill, the committee argued that the purposes of national military parks are, first, "to perpetuate the patriotic sentiment, and, second, to teach military lessons. Both great objects are preeminently accomplished by the designation of the Cowpens Battle Field to be a military park." [16] Stevenson's bill passed the House and was referred to the U.S. Senate Military Affairs Committee. In connection with this legislation, Cowpens was visited in September 1926 by Major C.L. Hall of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During a meeting with McSwain and members of the Cowpens Chapter of the NSDAR in Spartanburg, Hall recommended a national military park of around twenty acres at the site with a paved road along the Patriot lines and a series of markers. Despite Hall's favorable findings, Stevenson's bill stalled in committee. [17]

The reason for the failure of the Cowpens bills was the reluctance of Congress to add to the growing list of national military parks. Inspired by the first Civil War parks, Congressional legislators introduced a total of thirty-four bills to create additional parks between 1901 and 1904. The number of proposed bills once again skyrocketed during the 1920s due to the surge in patriotism following the nation's victory in World War I, a prosperous economy, and increased automobile tourism. However, many congressmen were troubled by the number of proposals and costs associated with developing and maintaining more national military parks. By the mid-1920s Congress had passed bills to preserve several battlegrounds either as national military parks or as smaller monument sites, but many more bills were pending. In 1926 Congress recognized the need for a comprehensive approach and commissioned a War Department study of the nation's battlegrounds to rank the significance of various battlefields and recommend appropriate strategies for commemoration. [18]

To carry out the battlefield study, the secretary of war appointed Colonel C.A. Bach to head a committee of members from three sections of the War Departmentthe Army War College, the Corps of Engineers, and the Office of the Quartermaster General. The Army War College assessed the significance of each battle, while the Corps of Engineers conducted fieldwork at the battlegrounds. Once Congress appropriated funds for commemorative efforts at a particular site, the Quartermaster General's staff developed the site with improvements. Lasting from 1926 to 1932 with periodic reports to Congress, the War Department's battlefield study classified the battlegrounds worthy of commemoration into three categories. Class I battlefields were deemed worthy of national military park status; Class IIA battlefields were to be marked extensively; and Class IIB battlefields were recommended for a single tablet, marker, or monument on a tract of minimal size. [19]

In connection with pending legislation and the battlefield study, more War Department officials visited Cowpens. In February 1928 Major N.Y. DuHamel of the Corps of Engineers toured the site. Lieutenant Colonel H.L. Landers of the Army War College visited Cowpens in April 1928 to gather information and discuss the issue with locals. As a result of these visits and related research, the War Department designated Cowpens a Class IIB site and recommended a monument be erected on one acre of donated land. This assessment of the battleground proved influential in the legislative process. [20]

While the battlefield study was underway, Stevenson introduced House Resolution (HR) 12106 in March 1928. Like his previous bill, this one called for a national military park of between ten and twenty-one acres. The House Military Affairs Committee once again recommended approval of the bill in May, but the committee first made significant changes. Following the recommendation of the War Department's battlefield study, the committee altered the bill to create a monument instead of a national military park and set a maximum size of ten acres. Once HR 12106 passed the House, it was referred to the Senate Military Affairs Committee, which further amended the bill. The committee limited the site to only one acre and required that the land be donated to the federal government. With these amendments, HR 12106 passed the Congress and was signed into law by President Herbert C. Hoover on March 4, 1929. Instead of the "national military park" or "national battlefield" status granted to parks having substantial acreage, Congress authorized Cowpens as a "national battlefield site," a small tract of one or two acres with a monument. [21]

As with the national military parks, the War Department was responsible for developing and maintaining the Cowpens National Battlefield Site (NBS). With Clara C. Phillips as regent, the Daniel Morgan Chapter took up the task of raising half of the money needed to acquire one acre of land for donation to the federal government; the other half was provided by Cherokee County. Community leaders in Gaffney assisted with the fund raising, including Frank W. Sossamon, N.H. Littlejohn, W.F. Smith, and Dr. W.C. Hamrick. On July 10, 1930, the chapter purchased a triangular tract of one acre at the intersection of South Carolina Highway 11 and the Cowpens-Chesnee Road. On November 18 the chapter deeded the site to the United States. Landers selected the location for the monument at the approximate spot from which Morgan directed his troops during the battle. The War Department designed the monument and received design review approval by a committee from the Daniel Morgan Chapter. Alexander S. Salley, South Carolina's state historian, wrote the inscription for the monument. Construction of the granite monument began in late 1931 under the supervision of Captain Lawrence Simpson, a construction engineer from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Major John F. Jones of Fort Bragg planned the site and erected the flagpole. The U.S. Monument was dedicated on June 14, 1932, during a ceremony sponsored by the Daniel Morgan Chapter. [22] The souvenir program pointed out that "members of the chapter feel the memorial is the realization of a long-cherished idea, which the organization fostered and supported by efforts extending over a quarter of a century." [23]

In addition to acquiring land for donation to the federal government, the NSDAR took over the Washington Light Infantry Monument. With its owner located across the state and serious damage from vandalism, the monument required more attention. After the Battle of Cowpens Chapter of the NSDAR in Spartanburg agreed to act as the custodian for the monument, the Washington Light Infantry deeded the one-acre tract to the chapter in April 1928. Within a decade, the chapter had repaired the monument, enclosed it with another iron fence, and erected an adjacent granite marker with a bronze plaque. [24]

Figure 5: Groundbreaking ceremonies for the U.S. Monument by the Daughters of the American Revolution, 1931

Figure 6: The U.S. Monument at Cowpens NBS, July 1936

The National Park Service at the Cowpens National Battlefield Site

In June 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6166, transferring national military parks and national battlefield sites from the War Department to the National Park Service in the Department of the Interior. Accordingly, the NPS managed Cowpens as a national battlefield site from 1933 until its expansion during the 1970s into a major national battlefield. [25]


With no staff based at Cowpens, the NPS assigned the site to the superintendent at nearby Kings Mountain National Military Park (NMP). Authorized by Congress in 1931, this park was developed during the Great Depression and included over four thousand acres adjacent to a state park. Additionally, the NPS placed both Cowpens and Kings Mountain in a group of southern Revolutionary War battlefields administered by a coordinating superintendent at Yorktown National Historical Park. Oswald E. Camp arrived at Kings Mountain as the park's first superintendent in December 1937. [26]

Prior to Camp's arrival, Kings Mountain Historian Rogers Young visited Cowpens and recommended the appointment of a part-time custodian to maintain the site and protect it from vandalism. As a result of Young's report, a local farmer, General V. Price, was appointed custodian in August 1936. Price served in that capacity until October 1967 when his son Henry Lee Price took over the position. During this time, the duties of the custodian included briefing the superintendent on the site's condition, maintaining the lawn and plantings, raising and lowering the flag every day, estimating visitation, tracking weather conditions, and restocking interpretive folders. The superintendent or other Kings Mountain staff usually inspected Cowpens every month. [27]

These administrative arrangements remained in effect until the enlargement of Cowpens during the 1970s. With the arrival of the first full-time NPS staff in January 1978, the Service eliminated the custodian position. In March 1981, the fully developed national battlefield acquired its own superintendent independent of Kings Mountain. [28]

Figure 7: Cowpens NBS, roughly as it existed from 1936 until 1962, prior to improvements under Moomaw and Mission 66. The road to the left of the monument is Highway 11. The road to the right is Highway 110

Planning and Development

During the first two decades of NPS management at Cowpens, planning and development efforts were minimal due to the lack of on-site staff and limited resources. The state improved access to the site with the relocation and paving of Highway 11 during the early 1930s and the paving of the Cowpens-Chesnee Road in 1937, but the site itself remained essentially a field with a monument and name sign. The NPS prepared its first master plan for Cowpens in 1937. Revised several times, this plan called for a parking area, a walk to the U.S. Monument, site grading, and landscaping with trees and shrubs, but funding was not available for such work. The first significant NPS project was the cleaning and repointing of the monument by the Fiske-Carter Construction Company in March 1951. When Benjamin F. Moomaw became superintendent of Kings Mountain in July 1951, he made improvement of the grounds at Cowpens a priority. Between May and September 1952, the Sossamon Construction Company of Gaffney graded the site, reducing a five-foot bank to a more level rise to the monument. The tract was subsequently fertilized with lime and seeded with rye and Bermuda grasses. Moomaw sought to improve the site further, but funding was unavailable for other projects, except for the occasional planting of trees. In addition to such projects, Kings Mountain staff had to periodically repair the U.S. Monument and the site name sign after minor acts of vandalism. In January 1954 the local Cowpens Chapter of the NSDAR cleaned and repaired the Washington Light Infantry Monument and its one-acre tract, which continued to suffer from occasional vandalism. [29]

Figure 8: Cowpens NBS following Mission 66 improvements. Note the new place name sign, the two new exhibit cases on either side of the U.S. Monument, and the missing fence around the monument

Mission 66

The NPS provided funding for significant improvements at Cowpens during the late 1950s as part of Mission 66. At national parks across the nation, outdated facilities were ill-suited to meet the needs of increasing numbers of visitors following World War II. Consequently, NPS Director Conrad L. Wirth convinced the Eisenhower Administration and Congress to support a ten-year building program, which was coined Mission 66. Initiated in the mid-1950s at a cost in excess of one billion dollars, Mission 66 sought to substantially upgrade park facilities nationwide in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the NPS in 1966. [30]

The development program for Cowpens included a fifteen-automobile parking lot, a paved walk to the U.S. Monument, a flagpole, signage, removal of the iron fence around the monument, and landscaping with native trees and shrubbery. Plantings included cedar, hackberry, inkberry, and red maple trees. With two sides of the triangular NPS tract bounded by highways, Cherokee County agreed to grade a road on the third side for a visible site boundary and access to the parking lot. Kings Mountain staff prepared the Mission 66 prospectus for Cowpens in 1955 and finalized plans in 1957. Development activities took place between 1958 and 1959. During the early 1960s, the NPS prepared a master plan for the site as part of the overall Mission 66 effort. [31] Reporting on Mission 66 improvements at Cowpens, Moomaw stated that "for the first time it looks like one of our areas" [32] and that Kings Mountain staff "have heard nothing but glowing reports to date." [33] Despite the Mission 66 improvements at Cowpens, the site remained a minor unit of the national park system due to its small size and limited resources.

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Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002