During the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, a Patriot force of Continentals and militia under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan defeated a British army under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. The battle was the most decisive of several key engagements that led to the surrender of British General Lord Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown in October 1781. While the battle itself lasted for less than an hour, efforts to preserve and commemorate the battlefield have continued for nearly a century and a half. The first commemorative effort took place in 1856 when the Washington Light Infantry, a military unit from Charleston, South Carolina, erected a monument at the battle site. The first action by the federal government to commemorate Cowpens came in 1880 when Congress authorized the use of federal funds for a monument to Morgan in nearby Spartanburg. In 1929, after numerous efforts by South Carolina NSDAR chapters and the state's political leadership, Congress authorized the establishment of Cowpens NBS under the War Department. The site consisted of one acre with the U.S. Monument; the NPS began managing the site in 1933. Dissatisfied with such a small site, battlefield supporters lobbied the federal government for a full-scale national park for many years. Success finally came in 1972 when Congress passed legislation authorizing an 847-acre Cowpens NB that was fully developed by 1981.
During seven decades of management at Cowpens, the National Park Service has dramatically transformed the site from a one-acre roadside park with nothing more than a commemorative monument to an 841.56-acre battlefield park with full visitor facilities. In doing so, the Service has confronted a number of complex challenges. Management issues of the pastbattlefield planning and development, natural and cultural resources protection (including collections and archival management), landscape restoration, limited budget and staff, and competition for diminishing agency resources as a relatively small parkwill undoubtedly resurface in the future. New challenges will arise as well, such as the use of new interpretive technologies and the management of air quality issues. One challenge likely to become more imposing in the future is the pressure resulting from the growth of nearby communities. Increasingly, visitors are brought to the park in search of "green space" that is diminishing elsewhere. If visitor expectations change greatly with regard to the guiding principles that have governed Cowpens' management as a historical park, there will be repercussions on the disposition of budgets, law enforcement requirements, and on interpretive or resource management activities.
A major park goal for the future is to emphasize educational programs. One effort with much potential is the park's use of modern internet-based technologies for educational outreach. Another effort, however, is designed to improve school programs by developing a learning facility for resource study programs at the picnic area, as was originally envisioned for the park years ago. Managers at Cowpens may look to such past decisions to help them formulate creative solutions for current and future challenges. The research and perspective provided by this administrative history are intended to help make that possible.
Last Updated: 10-Dec-2002