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Ed Bearss Tour Stop 2B

Cowpens National Battlefield

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Bearss: Now as we’re looking up the Green River road, you can see much better since you’re standing that there is a gentle grade as we leave this site. We’re going into an open-wood, Hannah’s Cowpens. Morgan has been here about 12 hours, being a frontiersman and a surveyor he has looked at the scene, and he realizes what Granny Gates had done wrong. He can see the predominately open area, to the north and west of us on either side of the Green River Road. He notices the Green River Road is along the watershed. With streams on that side [pointing to his right] of the Green River Road drains into swamps. On the other side of the watershed, 30 yards to my left they drain into another swamp. So that’s going to dictate where he can put his men. That means when the British attack, and knowing that the bayonet is the British weapon of choice, knowing that Tarleton is like a pit bull dog, that when they see his men that they’re not going to reconnoiter very well, and charge and use the bayonet.

He notices there are two gentle rises. We’ll stand on both of them later, and they are separated by a swale. He notices the location of the Broad River. That means if you are a militia you are probably not going to run into the swamps to the right or to the left. And the Broad River is five miles off and it is high. And if you run and the Brits overtake you, as sure in heaven they will, you will have another massacre or a crushing defeat like you suffered at Camden. So, the Old Wagoner is going to use the terrain, the open-wood, the location of Hannah’s Cowpens, known to all the backcountry people, as here is where they assembled their cattle to drive to the coast. So, that means when he tell Pickens, and Pickens says, “I am coming south of the Broad” Pickens knows where he is going to find him, and he is going to find at Hannah’s Cowpens, as is McDowell who had been here on the night of the 6th day of October 1780.

So, Morgan is a born leader, as Private Young will say. He wanders through the camps that night, and he will josh and kid with the men. And he will call himself the Old Wagoner. And he will remind them of his experience with the British officers on the Braddock expedition, and his vow to get revenge for every one of those lashes on back. And he will tell them, when Benny, (he refers to Ban Tarleton as Benny), using a belittle name, a demeaning for him, when he comes the “Old Wagoner” is going to crack his whip over Benny. He’ll then tell them, the militia, “Do as I say. Give me two volleys and then file off to the left. Don’t bolt for the rear because if you bolt for the rear you’re going to have the enemy coming up on your back.” Bolt for the rear, and hopefully rally behind the continentals. He is going to advance about 100 men armed with rifles as sharpshooters, half of them from Georgia, half of them from South Carolina, dividing them by the Green River Road. He is going to urge them to show who is better, South Carolina or Georgia. And in the formalized warfare of Europe, it was considered bad sport to shoot officers. They were gentlemen, privilege individuals, and he will tell the men, those hundred men, armed with rifles. He is going to sell them shoot the epaulette men. That is why in World War II and since if in the grunts, the officers don’t wear those nice oak leaves, or those nice bars, or those nice eagles. And the first Sergeants and sergeants don’t wear all those chevrons because they’re high priority targets. But that was different in those days. And even on your commissions in the United States armed services, whether it was Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard until 1957, it described you as an officer and a gentleman. In ‘57, you are described on your commission as an officer not a gentleman any more.

So, the British, this has happened before at Breeds Hill/Bunker Hill. Now the advantage of the rifle, and there is a big myth about it that it wins the war. There will only be a limited number of rifles. Yes, they’re accurate, but if you look at a rifle, there’s a very narrow grip on the stock. And when you fired a rifle ball, you carried in your mouth and you wrapped it in either silk or flannel. Loaded and fired, so it took you one minute to fire a round, if you’re firing a rifle. If you’re firing a musket, it is not going to be very accurate, but you can fire three rounds a minute. So, that is another reason he put his riflemen up on the skirmish line. About a hundred yards in back of them are going to be the militia armed with smoothbores. And he is going to tell them, “Boys I’ll crack the whip over Benny, but I want you to give me 3 2 volleys or in some of the stories 3 volleys and then you can get out of here. But for God’s sakes file to the left and reform behind. Don’t keep on running, and remember when you get home if you do this, the girls and the wives will kiss you and tell you how good you are.” Flattery, along with good idea. Then you’re going to have the small swale and the next swale is a little higher. And there he is going to form his elite unit, the Delaware and Maryland continentals, commanded by John Eager Howard. On their flanks, these men are trained to fight the way the British do, stand shoulder-to-shoulder, fire a volley, reload, fire a volley., just as spit and polished as the 71st highlanders. On their flank, on either side are going to be militia. Many of these militia have served in enlistment in continental service. And behind the next rise behind them will be William Washington’s Dragoons and forty militia equipped as Dragoons with sabers. So, it is going to be these three lines and that is how he forms his men and waits. We’re now going to look at this way.

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