Unit 2 - The Pre-Agricultural Landscape

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Cowpens National Battlefield Curriculum Guide
Grades 3 - 8 South Carolina and North Carolina

militia firing weapons
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 Lifestyles
Life was hard, and children were expected to help with daily chores.
Unit 4 - The War for American Independence
The lengthy war had been costly and the British Parliament looked to taxation to pay the war debts.
Gregg Glymph drawing of running militiaman
Unit 5 - The Southern Campaign
These mountaineers had been fighting Indians and were hunters, sharpshooters and fierce combatants.
Charles McBarron painting of the Battle of Cowpens
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.”

Unit 8 Cultural and Natural Resources
Agriculture and its relationship to the economy plan an important part in Carolina history.


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 ThickettyMountain 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

GOAL: To present to students the importance of native grasses and the grasslands that were the essence of the landscape at the site of the Battle of Cowpens.

LESSON 2 - Grass: the Essence of Cowpens


When we think of prairies, we often think of the Midwest — the short-grass or tall-grass prairies, and the association of soil, grass and wildlife. The Southeast, on the other hand, has often been pictured as a great forest. One could even suppose that a squirrel could have started at the Atlantic and traveled from tree-top to tree-top all the way to the Mississippi River, taking perhaps a lifetime to do so. Certainly, there were vast stretches of forest and huge trees, towering tall and limiting sunlight reaching the forest floor. This huge over-story often crowded out under-story plants, creating a park-like atmosphere.

Just as there were great expanses of forest in the Southeast, there were areas of interspersed grassland, forming a mosaic of forest, field and water. Grasslands were created through some disturbance to the land — sometimes natural ones, such as a storm that blew down trees. Yet such grasslands were often temporary: Pioneering species of plants would start growing, one species succeeding another, until there was a forest again.

Native-Americans used fire as a tool to create such grasslands in the Southeast, often known as Eastern or Piedmont Prairies. To limit the growth of shrubs and sometimes trees, native peoples periodically burned the land. The prairies they created brought the Woods Bison, deer and other wildlife, to provide for subsistence hunting. Much of the area south of Charlotte, North Carolina, extending into South Carolina was thought to be a vast Eastern Prairie. The Woods Bison is extinct in that area today, but one will find plant life indigenous to the Midwest.

A number of botanists believe that the site of the Battle of Cowpens was prairie-related, created by Native-American cultural use of fire. Although eastern prairies to the northeast of Cowpens were primarily grasslands, the land at Cowpens is grassland dotted with trees, or a savanna. How does one explain the difference?

It has to do with the types of soil. The soil south of Charlotte, classified as Iredell soil, is often shallow and not very permeable. It developed large cracks when dry. Shrubs and certain trees have more difficulty getting a start in such soil and, traditionally, periodic burning helped keep it so.

At Cowpens, the soil was deeper and more conducive to tree growth. The landscape was described as follows: “The open woods were free from underbrush. The terrain remained similar all the way to the Broad River, six miles to the rear of the American lines; it offered no shield to a retreating force pursued by Cavalry.” (Wickwire and Wickwire, 1970). Rostlund (1957) studied fire and prairie in the Southeast and concluded that the “open, park-like appearance of the woodlands, undoubtedly the most common type of forest in the ancient Southeast, was mostly the work of man.” At Cowpens, the colonial cattle industry substituted for burning and kept the land in the successional grassland stage. Today, there are remnants of such landscapes, sometimes kept clear in an earlier era by agricultural use. Agriculture has helped keep the Cowpens site similar to its historic appearance, although it has caused erosion.

Because perennial herbaceous plant communities contained diversity, insects could not move as easily from plant to plant as in the monoculture of modern agriculture (for example, insects can move easily from cornstalk to cornstalk). A food chain developed involving insects, mammals, birds and herbaceous plants. Historically, there was a balance or homeostasis between plant and animal life, predator and prey. Some were producers of energy, others consumers, and others, producers and consumers.

Students can learn much from savanna conditions and the web of life important to their survival— relationships of soil, herbaceous plants, wildflowers, insects, trees, and mammals. The following activities address these relationships and the importance of such relationships to ecosystems today.

Have students define the following vocabulary words (as they relate to the background information) by matching each with their definition. Print the worksheet.


1. _____ annual a. the process by which one plant community is replaced by another
2. _____ consumer b. landscape made up of diverse plant elements
3. _____ herbaceous plant c. low-growing shrubs or plants in a forest
4. _____ indigenous d. an organism that feeds on plants or animals
5. _____ monoculture e. a tract of grassland
6. _____ overstory f. organisms that are killed by other organisms and used as food
7. _____ perennial stems g. plants with soft stems; not woody
8. _____ pioneer plants h. the uppermost layer of foliage in a forest
9. _____ polyculture i. a patchwork of various landscapes
10. _____ prairie j. the first plants to appear in a sequence of succession in a particular environment
11. _____ predator k. grassland region with scattered trees
12. _____ prey l. any green plant that makes its own food using chlorophyll and light energy
13. _____ producer m. plants that have only one growing season
14. _____ remnant n. the use of land for growing only one type of crop
15. _____ savanna o. an animal that feeds on other animals
16. _____ subsistence agriculture p. farming to provide basic needs with little surplus for marketing
17. _____succession q. a non-woody plant that produces new growth from roots each year
18. _____ understory r. native to a particular region

2. After reviewing the background material, have students write an imaginary nature journal in which they describe an eastern prairie or prairie park-like conditions found at Cowpens National Battlefield. Have them use each of the vocabulary words listed above in correct context in the journal. (As an alternative, have students simply write sentences using each of these words in context of the study on grasslands.)

1. Certain grasses, wildflowers and wildlife are associated with grassland/prairies. Walk the battlefield trail and identify the following (Note: certain plants can be identified only by season or identified more easily by season. Early autumn is usually a good season to identify grasses. Use a guidebook to grasses, trees, shrubs, or wildflowers for help in identification.)

Rabbit Tobacco (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium L.)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta L.)
Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana L.)
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana L.)
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Aster (Aster sp.)
Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus L.)
Butterfly-weed (Aselepias tuberosa ssp. Tuberosa L.)
Prairie Three-awn Grass (Aristida oligantha)
Bigtop Love Grass (Eragrostis hirsuta)
Yellow Star-grass (Hypoxis hirsuta var. hirsuta)
Post Oak (Quercus stellata)
Black Oak (Quercus velutina)
Black Cherry (Prunus serotia var. serotina)
Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)
Venus looking-glass (Triodanis perfoliata)
Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
Common-smooth sumac (Rhus glabra L.)
Little bluestem (Andropogon sericatus)
Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Purple Top (Tridens Flavus)

2. Birds associated with Piedmont Prairie landscapes include (1) the eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna), (2) the field sparrow (Spizella pusilla), and (3) the grasshopper sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum). Bring binoculars to observe and record the kinds of birds observed. Other birds common to Cowpens National Battlefield include crows, hawks (certain times of the year), summer tanagers, wild turkeys, Carolina Wrens, pileated woodpeckers, the eastern bluebird, etc. (Copies of the Cowpens National Battlefield Bird Checklist are available at the Visitor Center desk – one per group, please. Copies are permissible.)

3. Insects and arachnids associated with Piedmont Prairie landscapes include (1) spiders (Arachnids) including orb-weavers, sheet-web spiders and wolf spiders; (2) grass-hoppers; (3) crickets; (4) moths, skippers and butterflies; (5) beetles; (6) bees and wasps; (7) and lightning bugs (fireflies). Using a guidebook on insects and spiders, observe and record a count of populations. Record what herbaceous plant each is associated with, if possible. Observe and record habits, distinguishing physical features, movement, predator-prey relationships, etc

4. Mammals associated with Piedmont Prairie landscapes include, historically, wolves, bison, elk, mice, voles and shrews. The Woods Bison (Buffalo), as distinguished from the Plains Bison and others, inhabited the Eastern part of the North American continent. Wolves, both gray and red, also inhabited the region. Elk, now associated with the western United States, were also present. Using a guidebook on mammals, observe and record a count of populations of such mammals as squirrels, rabbits, etc. Present, but rarely seen, are deer, groundhogs, foxes and mice. Possibly, coyotes frequent the park. Observe and record habits, distinguishing physical features, movement, feeding and predator-prey relationships. Top

Complete a mural showing herbaceous plants, spiders, insects and mammals in an historical prairie landscape setting. Discuss and chart the food chain in a Piedmont Prairie setting. What would be the result if one of the links were missing? Chart the following plants and animals;: earthworms; grasshoppers and other insects; spiders; rabbits; soil; sun (light energy); deer; elk; buffalo (bison); mice, voles, and shrews; foxes, squirrels, wolves; herbaceous plants (grasses, shrubs, fruit and seeds). Complete a journal of your visit to Cowpens. Use the vocabulary list above for those plants and animals you observe.

The student will explain the biology and importance of native grasses.
The student will explain how native grasses were perpetuated and how soils influenced such landscapes. The student will identify native grasses historically common to Cowpens in contrast to introduced species. The student will describe the ecology of grasslands and examine their associated web of life, including mammals, insects, wildflowers, and soils.
The student will use a primary source to form conclusions about native grasses in the Cowpens site and area. STRANDS: Science, Language Arts

North Carolina: Science: Grade 3, Goals 1.02; Grade 4, Goals 1.02, 1.03; Grade 5, Goals 1.01, 1.02, 1.03, 1.04, 1.06; Grade 8, Goals 2.02, 2.03 Language Arts: Grade 3, Goals 4.02, 4.09, 5.01- 5.08; Grade 4, Goals 1,01, 1,02, 1,03, 1.05, 4.02, 4.07, 4.08, 5.01-5.09; Grade 5, 1.01, 1.02, 1.04, 4.06, 4.07, 4.10, 5.01-5.08; Grade 6, Goals 1.01- 1.04, 6.01, 6.02; Grade 7, Goals 1.02-1.04, 6.01, 6.02; Grade 8, Goals 1.01-1.04; 6.01, 6.02
South Carolina: Social Studies:3.10.1, 8.8.3, 8.8.4; Language Arts: Grade 3 - IV-A, B, E, H; Grade 4 -A, B, D, E, F, H; Grade 5 - IV-A, C, D, E; Grade 6 -IV- A, B, C, E, G; Grade 7 - IV-A, B, C, D, F; Grade 8 - IV-A, B,C, E Science: Grade 3 - I-A, B; II-A, B, C; Grade 4 - I-A; II-A, B; Grade 5 - I-A; II-A, B; Grade 6 - I-A; II-A, B, C; Grade 7 - I-A; II-A, B, C, D; III-A; Grade 8 - I-A; II-A Visual Arts - Component 2, Component 3

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Last updated: April 14, 2015

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Cowpens National Battlefield
338 New Pleasant Road

Gaffney, SC 29341


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