Lesson Plan

Leaders at the Battle of Cowpens: Morgan and Tarleton

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Eighth 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, 8.2.5, 8.2.6 ELA 3rd I-A, B, C; II-A, B, C; III-A, B, C; 4th I-A, B, C; II-A, B; III-A, B, C; 5th I-A, B, C, F; II-A, B; III-A; 6th I-A, B, E; II-A, B; III-B, C; 7th I-B, C, D, G, I, J; II-A, C, D; III-A, B; 8th I-B, C, I; II-B


GOAL: To have students contrast and compare the leadership styles of Daniel Morgan and Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens in context of the Revolutionary War.


The student will explain the leadership styles of Daniel Morgan and Banastre Tarleton in the context of Revolutionary War battles, and, in particular, the Battle of Cowpens.
The student will analyze each leader’s background and their position in the military as contributing to their leadership styles.


Daniel Morgan, the Patriot General at the Battle of Cowpens, and Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, the British leader, came from different backgrounds and chose to lead in their own way.

Daniel Morgan grew up on the Virginia frontier and lived his life as a frontiersman. As a young man, he was a wagon-driver in the French and Indian War. Courageous and mature, he fought against the British at Quebec and at Saratoga, New York. The attempt to take Quebec failed, but the Battle of Saratoga made him a hero.

Although he was promoted to brigadier general in the Continental Army, he preferred the homespun clothes of the militia, rather than an officer’s uniform. He commanded respect from his soldiers and understood how they fought and how to motivate them.

At the Battle of Cowpens, he showed skill in tactics when he arrayed his soldiers in three lines, giving the militia an honorable way to retreat against a British bayonet charge. (Militia could not fit bayonets on their Pennsylvania long-rifles.) Morgan’s tactics are studied today at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Tactics are just one way he led; he moved among his troops the night before the battle, speaking with them and motivating them. He talked of his own conflict with the British and of Tarleton’s brutality at the Battle of the Waxhaws. He had questioned those familiar with Tarleton’s tactics and expected a frontal assault.

Banastre Tarleton, on the other hand, was raised in relative affluence in Liverpool, England, where his father was mayor. He attended Oxford University where he was known for his athletic ability. He wasted his inheritance, however; with what money he had left, he purchased a commission in the British army. Proud of his bearing, he asked to be sent to America.

In the American colonies, he, like Morgan, was known for his courage and daring and rose in rank to Lieutenant Colonel. Tarleton, however, generally commanded less respect from his soldiers than Morgan did. At the Waxhaws, a Scots-Irish settlement in South Carolina in present-day Lancaster County, he gained a reputation as a butcher when he was said to have killed Continental soldiers as they were trying to surrender. From then on, Patriot forces talked of revenge against Tarleton.

When he learned Morgan was operating in the backcountry, he began a rapid pursuit. He pushed his army, allowing them little time for food and rest. On the morning of January 17, 1781, he marched them from two in the morning to catch up with Morgan.

At daybreak, Tarleton rushed his troops into battle without rest and without waiting for possible reinforcements. He moved so fast, he established little communication with those officers under him. His army even out-raced their own cannon (two three-pounders.) He was courageous to the end, trying to rally his troops. When it appeared all was lost, he and some 50 of his soldiers escaped down the Green River Road, back to Cornwallis’ camp on the north side of the Broad River. General Cornwallis, angered by his recklessness and defeat, still kept him as part of the British army. Tarleton at the time was 26 years old.

Tarleton survived the war, surrendering at Yorktown with Cornwallis. He was paroled to England, where he later was promoted to general and became a member of Parliament. Many older British officers at the time thought him immature, wondering how Cornwallis could let “that boy” lose at Cowpens. Today, he is probably remembered more in the United States than in Great Britain.

Though he was only 45 years old, Morgan suffered from crippling rheumatism, enduring great pain during the battle. Afterwards, he reported to General Greene, and retired to his home in Winchester, Virginia.


Additional Resources

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

Bass, Robert D. The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton and Mary Robinson, Columbia, South Carolina: Sandlapper Press, Inc., 1973.

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.

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

Tarleton, Banastre, A History of hte Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Provinces of North America.

Last updated: April 14, 2015