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Ed Bearss Tour Stop 3

Cowpens National Battlefield

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Bearss: We are now on Morgan’s first line. It consists of about 100 sharpshooters, most if not all of them armed with rifles. Extending probably from the woods over there [pointing northward], probably the vegetation here, at least from where you are standing and the photographic crew is, is probably very similar to what it was, an open wood where people gathered their herds. Here, of course, we have a rifleman. Riflemen are going to be dressed as civilians. The closer they are to the frontier, the more likely they are to be dressed in buckskin. Morgan was well aware of riflemen. Taking when Morgan first joined the Continental Army, he will report to a man who goes from hero to arch-traitor. He will join with a company of frontiersmen from and to the west of the Shenandoah Valley, along with a company from western Pennsylvania. And he had led his riflemen during the march to Quebec City, having been captured at Quebec City and exchanged. At the Battle of Saratoga, arguably the decisive battle of the Revolution, because the surrender of Burgoyne’s army results in the French alliance. So Morgan is well-apprised of the advantages and the disadvantages of the rifle. The disadvantage is a slow rate of fire. The advantage is the high accuracy. Hence, these guys will be the guys he wants to really underscore [that] he wants them to fire at the “epaulette men”. And he encourages competition between the Georgians on one side of the road and the [North] Carolinians on the other. The riflemen will probably fire either standing up or leaning. And they are going to do their job well. Forced when the British dragoons charged, and when the line regiments approached, those of the Light Infantry, and those of the 7th Fusiliers are going to very devastating to the “epaulette men” [the officers] which deprived the British of key junior officers. After the British are coming close, and you don’t want ‘em to come too close, because it’s going to take you one minute between when you fire and you can fire again. And then they will fall back. A number of them are going to fall back on Pickens’ militia who are armed with smoothbores and it will be standing in line of battle. Some of them will not stop there and hopefully will fall back around the left flank of Pickens’ men and the [American] Continentals and take position back in the rear of where William Washington’s cavalry is.

So Morgan’s plan is working. He has slowed the British advance. That it has not been good for the British morale, the large number of officers killed and wounded, and they do not head for the Broad River. They fall back, either join Pickens, or rally in rear of the Virginia Continentals, so again you can see Morgan’s scheme.

Now Greene will use this same plan at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in mid-March. And he almost wins the Battle of Guilford Courthouse with these similar tactics. But Cornwallis gets desperate. He has more artillery – or brings artillery up and tell them I don’t care who you hit. You are going to fire. You are going to kill some of our men, but you are also going to kill some of the enemy.

And probably without Morgan to inspire them with his little pep talk about giving what he wants to do, and go home and hug the women or kiss them, and their girlfriends will applaud them. It doesn’t work clear like it ought to for Greene at Guilford Courthouse.

Bearss: Any questions? Don’t be bashful.

Question: What was the range of the rifle?

Bearss: Alright. The range of the rifle. The rifle has an effective range of several hundred yards. The musket has an effective range of about 50 yards. And I’m not going to let you shoot at me. From that gentleman there [pointing 2 or 3 yards to his right] to that gentleman there [pointing 2 or 3 yards to his left], from 100 yards from you and you hit me, I’m unlucky. My time is up. That is the best way you explain the accuracy between a smoothbore and a rifle. If a group of 12 men shot at me from a hundred yards, I would be unlucky if you hit me. And you darn sure wouldn’t hit me if I were an “epaulette man”. So the difference is in accuracy. But the disadvantage is in rate of fire. Because you can only fire one shot a minute. So that means if [pointing] one, two, three, four, five, six, seven of you guys fired at me at a hundred yards, I am going to either come at you with my bayonet or sticking you through the gut before you can reload. That gives you two options: either let me stick you through the gut and most men can cover a hundred yards in a minute, and since you are unarmed, you’ll die or surrender or run. You only have that problem of use of weapons and Morgan understands it.

As you are going to find out on your next to last stop, the British, and Tarleton’s responsible for it, as they close on the Maryland/Delaware line, and the Virginia Continentals, Tarleton will order a charge. And Howard’s men do a counter-march. [Turning about] which is a face to the rear and move off. They’re certain. The British regulars are certain the Patriots are fleeing. So the British lose all cohesion and come on as a mob. We are going to the dialogue up there between Morgan and Howard and Howard will retreat maybe 25 yards, order his men to come about. The British will be coming forward as a mob, no organization. They will wheel about and fire a volley at about 20 yards into the Brits. And the British lose control. Command and control went that way. We’ll go into more detail on the spot. Showing that the Continentals are as well-disciplined as the British regulars. Tarleton doesn’t observe well, because he should have remembered at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse that the Continental Line didn’t run.

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