Unit 2 The Pre-Agricultural Landscape

Unit 2 activities follow the menu headings for the other units.
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Cowpens National Battlefield Curriculum Guide
Grades 3 - 8 South Carolina and North Carolina

Militia firing rifles and muskets
Unit 1 - The National Park Service
The National Park Service manages and preserves over 375 parks. Sixteen are in the Carolinas.
1828 Robert Scruggs House

Unit 3 - Backcountry LifestylesLife was hard, and children were expected to help with daily chores.

Militia at shoulder arms position

Unit 4 - The War for American IndependenceThe lengthy war had been costly and the British Parliament looked to taxation to pay the war debts.

drawing of a running militiaman, by Gregg Glymph

Unit 5 - The Southern CampaignThese mountaineers had been fighting Indians and were hunters, sharpshooters and fierce combatants.

Battle of Cowpens by Charles McBarron
Unit 6 - The Battle of Cowpens“It is impossible to foresee all the consequences that this...event may produce.” - Lord Cornwallis
Battle of Cowpens by William Ranney

Unit 7 - The Battle - The Human Element
“...the life of the common soldier — the ones who did the fighting — and those connected to the battle as non-combatants are equally important.”




In 1781, the backcountry of the Carolinas was a frontier landscape, a mosaic of towering forests, clear flowing streams, grassy prairies and savannas. Recently vacated by the Cherokees as a result of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the French and Indian War, the land had been used as a hunting ground by the native peoples.

The Cow Pens was one such savanna area. The native Americans had periodically burned similar areas, using fire as a cultural tool. They hunted the buffalo and deer that came to feed on native grasses. Such a situation was likely at Cow Pens, but there is no documentation of burning and native prairie status.

Early settlers, in turn, used these areas for agricultural activities. One was the pasturing of cattle. The name, Cow Pens, is indigenous to this area where there were numerous “cow pens”: lowcountry cow pens where cattle fed on native cane, and upland cow pens where cattle fed off native grasses and rich legumes. Cattle-raising and herding was quite a large industry in colonial Carolina.

The site of the Battle of Cowpens was perhaps one of the better known and largest of such sites in the upstate. It was here that forces combined to provide a grassy landscape, dotted with trees, with at least eight natural springs emanating from its rolling plain — a perfect site for grazing cattle. Cattle were pastured here and then driven to population centers to the east.

This grassy landscape became a well-known landmark. It was a crossroads and a meeting place, easily identifiable in the winter with its leafless trees and the landmark Thicketty Mountain on the horizon.

Daniel Morgan chose the Cow Pens for his stand against the British. He sent word along the frontier for the militia to meet him here. He had moved his troops from the war-ravaged area around Charlotte to the Carolina backcountry to provide food for his men and forage for his horses. “Meet Morgan at the Cow Pens” must have echoed through the backcountry militia, and they did.

The Battle of Cowpens unfolded on this historic landscape. The following activities address the ecology of pre-agricultural Cowpens and similar landscapes.

To have students define what kind of habitat an animal would have needed to survive in the upper Piedmont of the Carolinas prior to the Battle of Cowpens. Students will describe elements that contributed to the animal’s extinction from the area.


Habitat includes food, shelter, water and landscape that an animal would need to survive and reproduce. It could also be described as the environment where an organism lives.

Every species of wildlife has very specific habitat requirements and is limited by the quality and quantity of available habitat. Plants and surface water which compose habitats are influenced by temperature, rainfall, sunlight and human activity. Habitats often change as a result of human disturbances or natural occurrences. These changes can be as subtle as a dying tree or as harsh as human interruption of natural activity such as a mining or iron ore operation. These changes force animals to adapt and compete with others in the habitat, or die.

As the environment recovers, whether using natural plant succession or human assistance, new plants and animals appear. This newly created habitat often favors species not present before the environment was disturbed. Some of the larger animals that lived in the area prior to 1781 were American Bison, Bears, Panthers, Wolves and Elk. Smaller animals or fowl were the Carolina Parakeets and great numbers and species of ducks. Not all of these animals were extinct from the area prior to the date of the battle, January 17, 1781.

1. Have students research what animals would have been in the area prior to the battle using the Internet and books from the library.
2. Have the students focus on that animal’s habitat needs and the way the animal has adapted to its environment. Did the animal migrate out of the area? What are its food, shelter, reproductive and survival needs and techniques?

1. Have students walk the interpretive trail or the nature trail in the park and look for ways that the landscape and environment would meet the needs of the animal.
2. Have students describe the habitat. What are some of the problems that some of these animals would encounter today if they were reintroduced into this existing habitat?
3. Make a list of necessities for the habitat and a list of things that would be nice to have. Describe how these needs would be fulfilled — place, people, money etc

1. Have students write a paper on their findings. Have them design an ideal habitat for their animal and tell why the reintroduction of that animal would or would not be successful in the battlefield today.
2. Have the students write a report from the animal’s point of view describing its way of life.

Have students identify the wildlife native to the upper Piedmont prior to the Battle of Cowpens.
Have students assess the habitat that each animal would have needed for survival.
Have students determine the cause(s) of species extinction.

STRANDS: Science, Social Studies, Language Arts

North Carolina:
Social Studies: Grade 4, Goals 3, 4; Grade 8, Goal 1 Science: Grade 3, Goals 1.01, 1.02; Grade 4, Goals 1; Grade 5, Goal 1; Grade 6, Goal 2; Grade 8, Goals 2, 3 Language Arts: Grade 3, Goals 4, 5; Grade 4, Goals 4,5; Grade 5, Goals 4, 5; Grade 6, Goal 6; Grade 7, Goals 6; Grade 8, Goal 6
South Carolina:
Social Studies: 3.10.6, 4.10.2, 8.8.4 Science: Grade 4-II-B; Grade 5-II-B; Grade 6-II-C; Grade 7-II-D; Grade 8-II-A Language Arts: Grade 3-IV-B; Grade 4 - IV-A, C, H; V-A, B; Grade 5 - IV-C, G; IV-A; Grade 6-IV-B, E; V-A; Grade 7 - IV-B, G, J; V-B; Grade 8 - IV-B, F; V-B

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Cowpens National Battlefield
338 New Pleasant Road

Gaffney, SC 29341


(864) 461-2828

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