Ed Bearss Tour Stop 6

Cowpens National Battlefield

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Bearss: Tarleton is overjoyed; Tarleton is on cloud nine. In his mind, he is certain he is winning. It has troubled him to lose his officers when the sharpshooters inflict heavy casualties on the epaulette men. Initially troubled when his men recoil, the men of the 7th Fusiliers, the men of the Tarleton Legion, the infantry, recoil under the volleys fired by the Patriot militia. But after absorbing the casualties, and noticing that the militia is falling back, he really doesn’t pay that much attention that the militia when it falls back [pointing northward], moves off toward the left of the Virginia Continental militia line and reforming. And he communicates an order to charge, and moving forward will be Tarleton’s Legion light infantry, Newmarsh’s Fusiliers on their left, and coming up in support on left and en echelon will be 7th [Fusiliers] Infantry, the British come forward on a steady step, letting go huzzahs and cheers to the king.

Morgan is back here sitting his horse in the low spot just behind the infantry where he can watch it, and he becomes concerned when John Eager Howard gives a command “Right about”. Originally, Howard’s men are facing this way [facing SE] in double ranks, coming about this way [facing NW], they start moving this way [pointing NW]. It’s like the Brits are bloodhounds, and they smell blood as the Delaware and Maryland militia [continentals] move to the rear. On the right [pointing northward], the Augusta militia and on the left [pointing southward] going that way, going to the rear. Morgan momentarily loses his cool. And he will ride up to John Eager Howard, and he’ll call to him, “You are retreating, you are retreating, you are giving way,” and Howard will say, “Did you ever see men retreating, marching in such perfect order?” And before Morgan can reply, Howard orders them “To the left, round about” and is now facing the British. And the British are very, very close, shouting for blood, surrender and victory. And they are so shocked that they hardly notice because of the gray smoke given off by the smoothbore muskets, and before they can halt and dress their ranks, Howard’s men will fire two crashing volleys into the British force that is disorganized, intermixed, and have lost control. And then the Continentals, the Maryland and Delaware line, with the Augusta Virginia militia on their left and the other veteran militia on their right, charged the British. That means that the British, in a matter of seconds, have changed the whole scenario, believing they’ve won the battle, and there will be a wild pursuit of the frightened patriots five miles all the way to Broad River. They will now face the lowered bayonets that are coming closer and closer as they charge them. Taken aback by what has happened, a number of the Brits will throw themselves on the ground and start yelling for quarter. Coming up on the [British] left are the Highlanders who are going to be caught in the backwash of the rout of the Tarleton Legion and the men of the 7th Fusiliers. The British are pulling off their hats, grounding their arms, it becomes quite a task for John Eager Howard and his men as they start yelling, “Tarleton’s quarter!” and close on and worry about a massacre of the British troops. In an effort to cover the retreat [tapping interpretive marker] of the panic-stricken British and the Scotties who have now been gripped by fear, Tarleton orders his dragoons to charge, and they will charge in among William Washington’s dragoons, and soon Ogilvie and his men are heading that way. Lieutenant Anderson and a [undecipherable] man, charge, outdistancing the other men to reach the two three-[pound] “grasshoppers”. We are back in the area where we made our first stop. As you may remember, Lieutenant Anderson, like most lieutenants in that time, used the spontoon as a symbol of office rather than a sword. A spontoon is a modified lance. As he rushes forward, to be sure that he gets to lead everybody, just like a champion pole-vaulter, he will thrust his spontoon into the ground and use it to vault himself up so he can lay his hands on one of the two “grasshoppers”.

It is now “root hog or die” on the parts of the Brits. Those who are laying on the ground with their hands in the air, throwing their rifles [muskets] down, are being rounded up. And William Washington starts in pursuit of Tarleton. Tarleton is deserting his command showing he considers his own life more valuable than moral courage. And down there near where the Scruggs house will eventually stand, Washington has outdistanced his men, rides in among Tarleton and a number of British cavalrymen. In a skirmishing, Tarleton will be wounded and you have that famous Ranney painting which was made down at the Scruggs house, which shows a black boy who serves William Washington saving Washington’s life by shooting one of the British officers. The pursuit will continue. Tarleton will ride hard, reaches camp at Burr’s Mill where he has left his reserves behind, and they have deserted him. After nearly 24 hours [east] of the Broad River, he meets Cornwallis’ column as it moves northward to the east side of the Broad River and out from Winnsboro to Charlotte. Cornwallis is devastated. Cornwallis has taken into battle almost 1100 men and has lost over a thousand, killed, wounded and missing, as well as the two “grasshoppers”.

Morgan does not stay here. Within 24 hours, with over 700 prisoners, he crosses the Broad River and heads for Salisbury with his prisoners who he wants to turn over. Cornwallis will now make a terrible error. He is so obsessed with what has happened to his protegé with the loss of over 700 prisoners, a thousand men altogether, he orders his wagons burned, forgets about repercussions, and prepares to follow Morgan to the death. Morgan will be joined by Greene as they reach the Catawba River where the British will cross the Catawba killing a militiaman, [General] Davidson in the process. And it becomes a Race for the Dan. reene will win the Race for the Dan. organ will report himself suffering from rheumatism and he will return to his home, Saratoga, up in the shadow of Millwood and Winchester. Greene will win the Race to the Dan; remove all the ferries. Cornwallis will follow him to the Dan; then move his men east to Hillsboro. And then, we finish. We’ll start moving back west, where on the 15th and 16th [of March 1781] at Guilford Courthouse, Greene will battle Cornwallis. Cornwallis will lose one-fourth of his men. Hold the field! No new reinforcements. The Patriots have lots of allies. France. Spain. Holland. Britain is horribly alone in the world. Cornwallis will leave and march to Wilmington to resupply. Greene will follow him to the area near present-day Fayetteville, and then Greene will go back into South Carolina, be defeated at Hobkirks Hill near Camden on the 5th day of April [1781] but Lord Rawdon, 6 days later, will evacuate Camden. Greene [Washington] will then send Light Horse Harry Lee against Augusta and by mid-June, the British evacuate Augusta. The only thing they now hold in Georgia is Savannah. Greene will be pressing the Siege of Ninety Six and aided by Kosciuszko: “You will not capture Ninety Six”. As Lord Rawdon pushes inland from Charleston forces Greene to raise the Siege of Ninety Six. And in September, has fought the Battle of Eutaw Springs, where Stewart wins a slight victory, and the British end the Christmas season of 1781, having learned that Cornwallis has surrendered at Yorktown on the 19th [of October], the British will evacuate Savannah so there is not a British soldier except on parole or a prisoner in the state [of South Carolina outside of Charleston]. The following Christmas season, of 1782, the British evacuate Charleston, their last toehold in South Carolina. And on September 3rd, 1783, the United States and Great Britain sign a treaty of peace. And the United States are in fact and in name, independent. And I would like you to notice where the milestones on the road to Yorktown, and the milestones on the road to the Treaty of Paris: Kings Mountain on the 7th day of October 1780; Cowpens on the 17th day of January 1781; Guilford Courthouse, 15th and 16th day of March 1781; Hobkirks Hill 5th day of April 1781; Eutaw Springs, 7th day of September 1781. And by Christmas season of 1782, the only Brits in South Carolina are prisoners, dead, or people who have taken the Oath of Allegiance to the Continental Congress. So you folks up here in the Piedmont teaching school in Cherokee or nearabouts have a wonderful opportunity to bring to your students the great events that took place here, particularly on that cold morning, lasting less than one hour in which Cornwallis’ army is routed, and the route opens to independence. Now, if you have any questions, I will be happy to try and answer them for you. You have been a wonderful audience.

Question: Yes, sir. How significant was the loss of the men, not the supplies or the cannon, but just the trained men to Cornwallis in his Southern Campaign?

Bearss: It is a war of attrition, and the British cannot replace their men. So Cornwallis wins the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, but he cannot stay in the Piedmont. And the British cannot afford to send any more troops to put down the revolution, because Britain is fighting a world war at this time. They are at war with the French in the Caribbean, and the Spanish - the war on the continent of Europe. Britain has no friends anywhere. So they have gotten themselves in a bind where they are spread all over the world and [unintelligible]. Washington reigns, and Morgan realized an important thing – and that is as long as you keep an army or a feeling, a feeling for independence [unintelligible] the United States has to win. Britain has too many enemies in the world waiting to jump in and make life hard for the Brits. So as long as they win the partisan warfare for the hearts and minds. Think! If the British had won at Kings Mountain… Think! If the British had won here… Would Pickens, would Sumter have switched sides back to our side again? No one knows. I will point out, lots of people like to be on the winning side and no one wants to be on the losing side. The war here in the upcountry of South Carolina is as grim and bloody as any part of the war in North America. Here they hang you; they don’t destroy your property. So it is a civil war of neighbor against neighbor, and at Kings Mountain and Cowpens, it is pretty obvious who is going to win. So it’s really a challenge because you are talking about a different type war down here in the Carolinas and in Georgia than you are talking about up in New England, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, etc. They fought a gentleman’s war away up there. ut it is anything but a gentleman’s war down here.

Question: What is the significance of Daniel Morgan – had Nathaniel Green not had Daniel Morgan at his side down here, do you that he still would have…?

Bearss: He would have had a difficult time, because Morgan understands the backcountry people. He is one of them. He grew up in ‘em. He understands that you have to flatter them. He understands how to poke fun at Tarleton, and he particularly likes to use as referring to himself as the “Old Waggoner” cracking a whip over “Benny”. “Give me those two musket rounds, and you can go home and your ladies will pat you on the back and kiss you.” That’s pretty good, instead of giving them a lecture and telling you to “stand there”. So being a backwoods countryman, he understood them. And of course with that, 499 lashes had made him a real hater of the British. He is a very interesting fellow.

And of course, it shows an increasing appreciation of Cowpens in the political arm of our government. The first monument erected by those members of the Washington Light Infantry from Charleston. For the sesquicentennial, the monument and an acre and half, and then for the centennial [bicentennial], the 750-acre park with a large visitor center. So it shows the people of South Carolina and the people of the United States an increasing belief of the importance of this site that you are so lucky to live here in.

Question: Another question, do South Carolinians at that time come to realize the importance of it?

Bearss: What was that one?

Question: Do South Carolinians at that time recognize it as a far greater accomplishment than perhaps the rest of the states?

Bearss: Yes, because the Washington Light Monument is coming out of Charleston, and Congressman Geary [Thomas Gettys] who is your congressman here in ‘67,’68, he realized it was important enough to introduce legislation in creating it and to get it through Congress. And he had good local support. I remember coming down here in the early days and meeting with people of the local group that wanted something to happen here. If the local group hadn’t convinced Congressman Geary [Gettys] it was important, he might not have thought it was that important.

Question: May I ask a generic question? When we look at the sprawl that America is in now and the potential of eating way at the National Battlefield parks of the Civil War and the Revolutionary War and whatever, is there any halting of that? Or is it slowly going to erode into their all gone?

Bearss: I think no, because it is might experience with the Civil Preservation Trust that no. I think people living in the Washington area, they want to preserve the open space, preserve the history of America. People in the Washington area have good allies from the developers who want to develop everything. So if you don’t preserve these areas, they will become the hole in the donut. And the hole of the donut will get smaller and smaller if the groups that don’t appreciate open space, that don’t appreciate planning, that don’t appreciate the history of our country. The hole in the donut will keep getting smaller, but it has been reversed significantly in the areas where have the big growth in suburbia just in the last 30 years that have been bidding for preservation.

I think talking to your new superintendent, I think you’re very beneficial. The park staff has always loved the park, but you always have to have a bossman that is the park superintendent that works with the other local interest that like to preserve history and open space, because the people that preserve history and open space are doing it because of the love of the land, the love of the story, and realize if you don’t defend open space, it’s all going to disappear. And I have noticed since 1990 there has been a great groundswell in preservation. But the grassroots, you’re the important person in the grassroots, because if your students don’t care who is going to care in the next generation? [audience clapping]


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