Lesson Plan

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

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Seventh Grade
Language Arts, Revolutionary War, Social Studies
Group Size:
Up to 24
in the park
National/State Standards:
SC: Soc Stud: 3.2.7, 4.1.7, 8.2.6. ELA:3rd - I-A, B, C; II-C; IV-A, B, D, 4th I-A, B; II-A, B; IV-A, B, C, D, E, H; V-A, B; 5th  I-A, B, F; II-A, B; IV-A, B, C, D, G; 6th I-A, B, F, J: II-A, B; IV-A, B, C, D, G; V-A; 7th - I-B, C, D, G; II-C; IV-A, B, G


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.


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 Pennsylvania. 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 13, 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.


Additional Resources

Babits, Lawrence E. A Devil of A whipping: The Battle of Cowpens. Chapel Hill: the University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Bailey, J.D., Some Heroes of the American Revolution. Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1976. Reprint of 1924 edition, Band and White Printers, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Baker, Thomas E. Another Such Victory: The Story of the American Defeat at Guilford Courthouse that Helped Win the War for Independence, Eastern National, 1999.

Boatner, Mark M. III. Landmarks of the American Revolution: People and Places Vital to the Quest for Independence. Revised Edition, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1992.

Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1997.

Fleming, Thomas J. Downright Fighting: The Story of Cowpens - The Official National Park Handbook. Washington, D.C.: Division of Publications: National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, 1988.

Lipscomb, Terry. Battles, Skirmishes, and Actions of the American Revolution in the South, Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History, 1991. 

Lumpkin, Henry, From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1981.

Majtenyi, Joan E. Andrew Pickens. Oconee County Historical Society, 1992.

Morrill, Dan L. Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution, Baltimore, Maryland; The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, N.D.

Ripley, Warren. Battleground: South Carolina in the Revolution. Charleston, South Carolina: Evening Post Publishing Company, 1983.

Symonds, Craig. L. A Battlefield Atlas of hte American Revolution. Baltimore, Maryland. The Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company, Inc. 1986.


Artillery - Heavy, mounted arms such as cannon.
Bayonet – A daggerlike steel weapon attached to the end of a musket and used in hand-to-hand combat.
Bayoneted – To be stuck with a bayonet.
Brigade – A large body of troops, often consisting of two or more regiments.
Brigadier General – A rank between Colonel and Major General.
Continental soldiers – Regular, trained soldiers of the American Continental Army, as distinguished from local or state militia in each colony.
Cowpens – On January 17, 1781, Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton attacked forces under General Daniel Morgan at the Cow Pens (a frontier pasturing ground) and was soundly defeated. The battle was a turning point in the war in the South. Cowpens National Battlefield, located in Cherokee County, South Carolina, near the town of Chesnee, preserves and protects the site of the battle.
Dragoons – Elite, highly trained soldiers on foot or horseback.
Envelop – To surround completely.
Eutaw Springs — The last clash between regular British and American soldiers in the South (September 8, 1781) in which both General Greene and the British suffered heavy losses. The British army withdrew to Charleston and Savannah, but conflict between Loyalists and Whigs continued until 1782. The present-day village of Eutaw Springs is located in Orangeburg County, South Carolina, but the battlefield site itself is covered by Lake Marion.
Flying Camp – A quick moving army.
Fraser’s 71st Highlanders — Two battalions of Scottish troops raised by England and sent to America in 1775. Seventy-first Highlanders fought at Charleston, Camden and Cowpens, among other battles. At Cowpens, Tarleton initially kept his Highlanders in Reserve, but, as the advance faltered, he ordered them into action against the American right. The Highlanders bore the brunt of the last dramatic events of the battle.
Great Wagon Road – A wagon road stretching from Philadelphia, south to the Carolinas, used by countless pioneer families traveling south from the early 1700s to the Civil War.
Guerrilla – Tactics of warfare consisting of surprise raids and retreats, attacking supply lines and other techniques.
Guilford Courthouse – On March 15, 1781, a British army under Cornwallis attacked General Nathanael Greene’s Patriot forces at Guilford Courthouse (now Greensboro), North Carolina. Although Greene’s forces were forced to retire from the field, the British were badly battered with many men killed or wounded. Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Greensboro, North Carolina, preserves the site of the battle.
Hammond’s Store – Victory of William Washington over Loyalists on December 30, 1780, The Hammond Store community was in Laurens County, South Carolina. Bold movements such as this made Cornwallis send Tarleton into backcountry South Carolina to protect the fort at Ninety Six. Hammond’s Store, a lost site, was located most likely near the present-day town of Clinton in Laurens County, South Carolina.
Hobkirk’s Hill – An indecisive battle between forces of Nathanael Greene and Lord Rawdon fought near Camden on April 25, 1781. The battle marked the beginning of British withdrawal from the interior of South Carolina.
Kettle Creek, Georgia – Victory of Andrew Pickens over Loyalists under Colonel Boyd at Kettle Creek in North Georgia just south of the Long Canes (February 14, 1779).
Lenud’s Ferry - Battle on May 6, 1780, in which Banastre Tarleton’s forces defeated forces of Colonel William Washington. Located at the time at the Santee River south of Georgetown, South Carolina.
Lieutenant Colonel – An officer ranking below a colonel and above a major.
Long Canes – The Long Canes were named for the native canes that grew and formed dense canebrakes in the bottomlands. These canes were sustained through Native-American use of fire as a cultural tool. The Scots-Irish settlement there inherited a region full of deer and other game, including the Buffalo. Because of its proximity to the trading path to the Indian village of Keowee, the Long Canes, more than any other settlement, was an intercultural settlement. The Long Cane settlement was in present-day Abbeville County, South Carolina.
Loyalist – Those of the colonial population remaining loyal to the Crown. Also referred to as Tories.
Militia – Part-time soldiers, subject to colonial (state) authority, they sometimes fought with the Continental or standing army in battles such as Camden, Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse.
Monck’s Corner – A British victory on April 14, 1780, over an American force under General Isaac Huger guarding a communications route to Charleston. Present-day Monck’s Corner is located in Berkeley County, South Carolina.
Ninety Six – British outpost in the South Carolina upcountry. Greene’s army besieged Star Fort there in May and June, 1781. The town of Ninety Six was so-named because traders on the Cherokee Path believed it was 96 miles from the Cherokee village of Keowee in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ninety Six National Historic Site, located about two miles south of the present-day town of Ninety Six in Greenwood County, preserves the site.
Oconee County – The southwestern-most county in South Carolina. Andrew Pickens’ final home was located in frontier Oconee County at a place known by the Cherokee as Tamassee.
Paroled – The promise of a soldier that he will not again take up arms.
Ranks — A line of soldiers standing abreast in formation.
Rantowles Bridge – Battle on March 23, 1779, in coastal South Carolina in which Colonel Washington met Banastre Tarleton for the first time and drove his cavalry off the field of battle. The present-day Rantoles community is located in Charleston County, South Carolina, near the Stono River.
Rantowles Ferry – A Revolutionary-era ferry across the Stono River southwest of Charleston, South Carolina.
Rugeley’s Mill – A William Washington victory over Loyalist Rowland Rugeley at Rugeley’s Mill near Camden (December 4, 1780). Rugeley’s Mill (part of the Clermont estate) was located in present-day Kershaw County about 10 miles north of Camden, South Carolina.
Scots-Irish – Scottish Calvinists (Presbyterian) of Lowland (southern) Scotland who removed to Ireland and later migrated to America in the early eighteenth century. In many instances, they were seen as frontier people and served as a buffer between the colonies and Indians. Many were Whigs and played an important role in the Revolutionary War.
Seneca River – A river originating in the southwestern mountains of South Carolina. Hopewell, one of the homes of the Andrew Pickens, overlooked the Seneca.
Stockaded – Fortified
Stono River – Low-country river near Charleston, South Carolina.
Tidewater – Coastal area along the Chesapeake Bay, especially in Virginia.

Last updated: September 14, 2016