Lesson Plan

Cowpens Heroes: Howard, Pickens, & Washington: A Study in Contrast

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Eighth Grade
Language Arts, Revolutionary War, Social Studies
Group Size:
Up to 24


GOAL: To have students assess the importance of leadership at the Battle
of Cowpens.


The student will distinguish among the lives and roles of John Eager Howard, Andrew Pickens and William Washington in the American Revolution. The student will assess these roles in context of the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. The student will construct a time line of events in the lives of each.


Three capable leaders served under General Daniel Morgan.

John Eager Howard served as commander of Morgan’s third line of defense, totaling more than 300 Continental soldiers. Born on June 4, 1752, to a wealthy Maryland planter family, the well-educated Howard became a Captain in the 2nd Maryland Brigade of the Flying Camp in July 1776. He quickly advanced in rank, eventually becoming a Lieutenant Colonel. He was calm in battle, often involved in the fiercest part of the fighting.

At the Battle of Cowpens, Howard showed coolness and courage under fire. As Fraser’s 71st Highlanders advanced toward his Continental Line, he ordered his line to wheel backward and to the right to face the enemy. In the noise and confusion, his order was misunderstood as a retreat, and the line began moving to the rear, but in an orderly manner. Seeing this, the British broke ranks, sensing victory was at hand. Following Morgan’s order, Howard had the Continentals face about and fire in unison. Taking advantage of the disorder of the British lines, he ordered a bayonet charge. William Washington’s cavalry and Pickens’ militia came around to envelop the enemy, and gain the victory.

After Cowpens, Howard fought in the South Carolina battles of Hobkirk’s Hill (April 25, 1781), Ninety Six (May 22-June 19, 1781), and Eutaw Springs (September 8, 1781). His wounds at Eutaw Springs were so severe that they ended his career and caused him to suffer the rest of his life. Howard’s contemporaries considered him one of the finest officers of the period. Congress honored John Eager Howard for his actions at Cowpens with a silver medal, which he received in 1790.

After the Revolution, Howard returned to Maryland, where, in 1777, he married Peggy Chew, daughter of Chief Justice Chew of Maryland. He continued his public service as a delegate to the Congress in 1788, Governor of Maryland from 1788-1791, and as United States Senator from 1796-1803. He was an influential member of the Federalist Party and ran unsuccessfully as its Vice Presidential candidate in 1816.

Howard has been remembered in numerous ways by his native state. There is an equestrian statue of him in Baltimore near a monument to George Washington on land Howard donated to the city. In fact, today, much of the land occupied by the city of Baltimore, Maryland, once belonged to Howard. Marylanders honored him by creating Howard County, with Baltimore as the county seat. John Eager Howard, a great Revolutionary War veteran and politician, died at his home on October 12, 1827, and is buried at St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore.

William Washington was born February 28, 1752, in Stafford County, Virginia, to a Tidewater planter family. He was second cousin, first removed, to George Washington, 20 years his elder. Like his more famous cousin, William was an athletic, skilled horseman. Other than this, little is known of his life before the Revolution, except that he gave up study for the ministry when the Revolution began. Courageous and bold, he distinguished himself in battle almost from the start in battles at Brooklyn, Trenton and Princeton.

Military leaders sent Washington to South Carolina in 1778 when the British first laid siege to Charleston. At the age of 26, he was already a war hero. In North and South Carolina, he fought in battles at Rantowles Bridge (Governor Rutledge’s plantation), Monck’s Corner, Lenud’s Ferry, Rugeley’s Mill, Hammond’s Store, Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, Hobkirk’s Hill, and Eutaw Springs.

Washington showed not only courage but ingenuity at Rugeley’s Mill. On December 4, 1780, Loyalist Rowland Rugeley and his followers, pursued by Washington’s cavalry, stockaded themselves in Rugeley’s house and barn. Since Washington had no artillery to dislodge them, he ingeniously had his men cut a pine log to resemble a cannon which he placed facing the stockaded buildings. Washington demanded they surrender or face destruction from his cannon. Rugeley sent up a flag of truce and his whole force of 125 men surrendered.

At Cowpens, Washington and his cavalry charged the British cavalry to save retreating militiamen. In a dramatic conclusion to the battle, Washington, racing ahead of his men, engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the retreating British commander, Banastre Tarleton, and some of his officers. Washington’s life was spared when his 14-year-old bugler fired his pistol to disable a British officer with raised sword. William Ranney’s painting, circa 1845, dramatizes this encounter. Congress awarded Washington a silver medal for his valor at Cowpens.

Washington’s most dramatic encounter with Tarleton was at the Battle of Cowpens, but, in all, he was to face him three times in battle. At Rutledge’s Plantation, Washington and his cavalry first met Tarleton in March 1779 and drove his dragoons from the field. After Cowpens, Washington, as part of Greene’s forces, heroically faced Tarleton’s dragoons again at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

Colonel Washington’s actions at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina, in September, 1781, was his last of the Revolution. In an attempted charge, his horse fell, and Washington was bayoneted and taken prisoner. He was paroled to Charleston where he recovered from his wounds, and was forced to remain until the end of the war.

At Rantowle’s Ferry, Washington met and married Miss Jane Elliott, who had earlier presented him a battle flag. They settled near Charleston, where Washington was elected to the state legislature, but refused the nomination for governor because “he couldn’t make a speech.”

William Washington died on March 6, 1810, and was buried with his wife in the Elliott family cemetery near Rantowle’s Ferry, along the Stono River near Charleston. His wife is most remembered for presenting him what became known as the Eutaw Flag. In an earlier visit with the Elliott family, he told his hosts he had no flag for his cavalry. In response, Miss Elliott cut a crimson cloth from a curtain (some accounts say the back of a chair), bound it to a hickory pole, and presented it to Washington, saying, “Here is your flag, Colonel.” This flag became the battle flag at the Battles of Cowpens and Eutaw Springs. It is a reminder of the heroics of Colonial Washington.

Andrew Pickens was born in Pennsylvania on September 19, 1739. Like other Scots-Irish his family moved south, traveling the Great Wagon Road, in search of new land.

In the Long Canes settlement of present-day Abbeville County, young Andrew Pickens married and raised a family. There, too, he became a military leader against the Cherokee and Loyalists. He and his militia won a battle over 700-800 British Loyalists at the Battle of Kettle Creek, Georgia, in 1779.

The Patriot situation worsened in 1780, when the British took Charleston and swept inland, eliminating much of the Southern Continental Army in the process. Pickens and other leaders lost hope and surrendered to the British, taking an oath not to take up arms.

Pickens’ neutrality was to change, however, when Tory raiders destroyed much of his property and frightened his family. He gathered his militia once again and resumed guerilla activities against the British.

Pickens’ real test of courage came at the Battle of Cowpens. Daniel Morgan, pursued by Banastre Tarleton, decided to make a stand at an upcountry pasturing ground called the Cow Pens and put out the call for Pickens and his men to rendezvous there. Morgan placed great trust in Pickens, giving him command over sharpshooters and a larger body of militia in the first two lines. Pickens’ soldiers got off volleys as instructed, and retreated behind the Continental line, to enter the battle again to help envelop the enemy. For his valor at Cowpens, the Continental Congress presented him with a sword and the State of South Carolina promoted him to Brigadier General in the state militia.

Pickens was ever moving west. Retiring to newly acquired frontier land on the banks of the Seneca River, he served as a treaty-maker with the Cherokee. He later moved even further west in what is now Oconee County, South Carolina. Respected for his wisdom and known as the Wizard Owl by the Cherokee, he sympathized with Native-American causes in his later years. Today, Pickens County, South Carolina, and its county seat, Pickens, are named after him.


Last updated: November 25, 2016