Geography of the Battle of Cowpens

Planning Your Visit

Background Information

Procedure, Materials, and Preparation

Pre-Site Activities

On Site Activities

Post Site Activities


Grade: 8

Length: on site visit: - 2 hours

Pre-Site Presented by: teacher
On Site Presented by:
Post-Site Presented by: teacher

Park Primary Theme: The Battle of Cowpens

(2008) SC Social Studies Standards 8.2, concentrating on 8.2-3: “Summarize the course and key conflicts of the American Revolution in South Carolina and its effects on the state, including the attacks on Charleston; the Battle of Camden; the partisan warfare of Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, and Francis Marion; the Battle of Cowpens; and the Battle of Kings Mountain. (H, G)”

(2005) SC Science Standards:8.3.9 Identify and illustrate geologic features of South Carolina and other regions of the world through the use of imagery (including aerial photography and satellite imagery) and topographic maps.

Goal: To learn about the Battle of Cowpens, its participants, and how the battle affected the state of South Carolina, particularly in the backcountry (upcountry) and the outcome of the American Revolution.


Planning Your Visit


  • Call (864) 461-2828 to make a reservation. Please have alternate dates in mind, in case another group is also expected at the same date and time.


  • One chaperone per 10 students is required.
  • Teachers and chaperones are responsible for the conduct of the group and are expected to stay with the group at all times.


  • If for some reason you need to cancel your field trip please call (864) 461-2828 to let us know.


  • No food, drink, gum or candy is allowed in the building.
  • Cowpens National Battlefield is a part of the National Park Service. Please do not allow the students to take plants, rocks, or animals. Remember: Take only photographs; leave only footprints.

Background Information

Why were the Americans and the British fighting this far inland? By 1780, the American Revolution in the North had become a stalemate, and the British decided to focus on winning the war in the South.

The American Revolution in the backcountry of South Carolina was a really a civil war. Brothers were fighting brothers; neighbors were fighting neighbors. European immigrants who followed the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania settled mainly in the backcountry, the frontier part of the state. It was far inland of the coastal cities like Charleston, which were settled primarily by wealthy English planters. The people from the two regions did not get along. Moreover, the taxes and other problems that the coastal people had with the king of England did not affect the people in the backcountry. As a result, the backcountry inhabitants tended to be loyal to the king, while the coastal residents tended to be against the king.

Knowing that most of the people of the backcountry remained loyal to the king, the British decided tobolster loyalist support in Georgia and the Carolinas. To accomplish this, they set up strongholds in Ninety-Six, Georgetown, and other posts to protect inland supply lines and to reinforce the newly formed loyalist militia. The British won major battles at Savannah, Georgia and at Charleston and Camden, South Carolina, and their plan to win the war in the South seemed to be working. However, these British victories were followed by losses in the South Carolina backcountry at Musgrove Mill, KingsMountain, and Blackstocks Plantation, beginning to turn the tide of war in favor of the patriots.

Following the British victory at Camden, General Gates, the overall American commander in the South, was relieved of his duty and replaced by Nathanael Greene. Greene, who took command in December 1780 at Charlotte, NC, had served as Quartermaster of the Army and knew the difficulty of feeding and clothing his men and of feeding their horses. To ameliorate conditions, he decided to split his army and send part of it West with Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, while he went East toward Charleston. This forced the overall British commander in the South, General Lord Cornwallis, to split his army as well.

On January 17, 1781, the Americans, commanded by Morgan, and the British, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, met at the Cow Pens, a well-known pasturing area, where the Americans defeated the British in less than an hour. The Battle of Cowpens was one of several turning points in the Southern Campaign. Upon hearing about the British loss at Cowpens, Cornwallis wrote to Francis, Lord Rawdon lamenting, “The late affair had almost broke my heart.”


Procedure: Teachers will lead the students in an in-depth pre-site study by having them research the Battle of Cowpens. They will follow this by an onsite visit, and end with an integration of the two in a post site study.

Materials and Preparation:

Audio-Visual Programs:

  • Fiber-optic map – By showing troop movements through a series of lights, this 13-minute program places the Battle of Cowpens in the context of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. Room capacity: 30
  • Orientation film. The 18-minute orientation film about the Battle of Cowpens is shown in the museum/auditorium. Room capacity: 70. So that it can be used as a pre-site activity, the DVD is available for a two week loan, or teachers can purchase it in the bookstore ($17.95). It is also available by phone at 877-628-7275 (item # 3-32311) and online at


  • Both the lobby and the museum contain interpretive exhibits about the Battle of Cowpens and its participants. Designers placed the American exhibits on the left side of the VisitorCenter and the British exhibits on the right side to simulate their positions on the battlefield. Panels in the lobby give reasons to be a patriot or a loyalist, and students can choose which position to support.


  • The battlefield trail is 1.2 miles long and has wayside exhibits that tell what happened in the general area. It takes approximately 1 hour to walk and to have students explain aspects of the battle and participants.


  • The bookstore has books and period toys and gifts with prices ranging from 50¢ to $90, plus 7% tax. Of particular interest to 8th grade are Come to the Cow Pens! by Christine Swager, The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the Declaration of Independence, cartridge candy, and rock candy.

Information sheets

· Vocabulary

· Excerpt from Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene by William Johnson

· Online Resource list

Chaperone Agreement

  • Chaperone checklist



On Site – Teacher-led

Be prepared for bad weather. All members of the group should dress appropriately for the weather, and the teachers/chaperones should have inclement weather contingency plans in place prior to their arrival. All teachers/chaperones must accompany the class on the walk.

  • View the 13-minute fiber-optic map program.
  • Walk the battlefield trail and read the wayside exhibits. Students will make a video tape while visiting the battlefield and, following the visit, present a newscast to the school, answering the following questions: What was the impact of the geographic factors (creeks, hills, etc.) and the weather on troop movements? Weapons employment? How did the commanders get information to their troops during the battle?


  • Students will take photographs of the battlefield during their visit and write articles for the school newspaper, illustrated by the photos, answering the same questions as above.


  • Students will take photographs while at the battlefield and give a PowerPoint presentation as a virtual tour for the rest of the school.
  • Optional activity: Visit the bookstore/gift shop to buy items that reinforce what was learned during the visit.


    • Students will present their newscast, write their articles for the school newspaper, or present a virtual tour of the battlefield.
    • Have students write their own newspaper stories about the Battle of Cowpens and create their own newspaper to share with the rest of the school.
    • Have students draw a map from the school to Cowpens National Battlefield. What landforms did they have to cross to get to the park?
    • Have students write a short essay about their visit to Cowpens National Battlefield and share them with the class. The essays should include a description of the landscape, the weather conditions, the sounds that they heard, who was there, and what they did. As primary documents regarding their visit, discuss how each student’s personal perspective reflected the way s/he perceived what happened. How are the primary documents the same? Different?
    • Thought question: What would historians 200 years from now learn about you from reading your court records, diaries, letters, etc.?
    • DISCUSSION TOPIC: How did the choices that each commander made affect the outcome of the battle? How did the outcome of the battle affect South Carolina?



· Students will be able to explain how the terrain impacted the decisions that Morgan and Tarleton made and how it affected the outcome of the battle.

· Students will understand the roles of the militia and the continentals and how they worked together to win the Battle of Cowpens.

· Students will know how the Battle of Cowpens impacted the remainder of the American Revolution.

Last updated: April 14, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Cowpens National Battlefield
338 New Pleasant Road

Gaffney, SC 29341


(864) 461-2828

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