contributed by Lu Hickey
The Revolutionaries - 1780 - Pacolet Creek
Cornwallis decided to divide his own force into
three parts. One would be left to guard Camden under Lieutenant Colonel Lord Francis
Rawdon. Tarleton and his 1,100 cavalry and foot soldiers would become a fast-moving
hammer that would pursue Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and finally crush him against an
anvil. Cornwallis's third force, which would hover in North Carolina and intercept
the rebels as they fled from Tarelton's onslaught.
A British victory of that magnitude like
the win at Camden, would attract the region's Tories to fight for the British Crown, an
essential clement in the strategic calculations of Sir Henry Clinton, Cornwallis and the
ministers watching from London. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, they all
still believed in the myth that a vast population of southern Tories would leap at the
chance to fight alongside British troops.
Before either hammer or anvil could be
emplaced, however, Morgan made his presence known. A week later his small, footsore
band had headed west, the Virginia commander heard that some 250 Georgia Loyalists had
crossed the Savannah river and were torching American homesteads along Fair Forest Creek,
north of Ninety Six and Winnsboro, Morgan wasted no time. William Washington and his
dragoons, supported by units of South Carolina and Georgia mounted militia, thundered
after the raiders and caught up with them at a small cluster of dwellings called Hammond's
Store. In the screaming, smoke-misted melee, 150 Tories were sabered out of their
saddles and another 40 captured.
Fearing that his entire garrison at
Ninety-Six might be in jeopardy, Cornwallis let slip the Green Dragoons. On January
1, 1781, the 550 men legion and 200 kilted Scotch Highlanders of the 71st Infantry
Regiment moved briskly toward the broad river along with a Royal Artillery squad dragging
a pair of three pounders, call grasshoppers because they hopped when fired. Another
250 men soon joined them. Their Aim:: to cross the Broad, then push Morgan back to
the north toward Kings Mountain, where the combined forces of Cornwallis and Leslie (the
anvil) would be waiting.
Tarelton's were not the only Dragoons
riding across the Carolinas. Five days after the Loyalist troop set out on its
search and destroy mission,Light-Horse Harry Lee and his troop cantered into Nathanael
Green's camp on the PeeDee, spurs jingling and plumed helmets glinting in the sun.
The grimy army could only stand and gape at this dashing new weapon. The young
Virginian--Lee was only 24, stayed for a week while Greene instructed him on the tactics
he wanted the horsemen to use, and contacted the man with whom Lee would join
forces: Francis Marion. In mid-January, Lee and his men vanished into
the swamps to join the fox.
General Morgan had sent word up and down
the river:: fall back fast. His soaking huddle of Continental regulars, militia and
riflemen, encumbered with heavy, wooden-wheel wagons, had quickly formed ranks before dawn
on January 16 and began moving toward Cherokee Ford, the best place for them to cross the
Broad. Aware of these implacable British hounds on his fresh trail, Morgan pushed
his men another dozen miles. Finally, he stopped for the night in a swath of
sparsely treed meadow called "Hannah's Cowpens" after a local Tory farmer had
owned extensive castle enclosures there.
Morgan waited for his force to regroup.
Some of his men were still quick-marching in from their up-stream positions and Pickens
was due to arrive with 150 new troops. "Many a hearty curse had been vented
against Gen. Morgan," recalled one soldier, "for retreating, as we
thought, to avoid a fight." Hunted by a mobile force they had reason to fear,
they had been marched out of a strong defensive position moated by a swollen creek, in
favor of this open place--it looked like a "killing field."
When dusk fell on that first day of
retreat, Morgan was still seven miles from the Cherokee Ford on the Broad river. In
classical military terms, his position was disastrously bad, opening toward a voracious
enemy but with a wide, rain swollen river barring his line of retreat to the north and
east. There was no swamp or thicket one either of Morgan's flanks to protect him
from a charge by the Dragoons. The only advantage of Cowpens offered the Americans
was the vantage point of two small hills toward the northern edge of the clearing, with a
dip about 80 yards long between the smaller and the larger. Behind the second hill
was open meadow all the way to the river. British Commander Banastre Tarleton
himself would write:. "Certainly as good a place for action as Lt. Col. Tarleton
could desire. America does not produce any more suitable for the nature of the
troops under his command."
Militia aside, some of the troops under
Morgan's command were among the best of the Continental Army. 300 blooded veterans
of Maryland and Delaware. 140 veterans of Virginia riflemen and a company of
Georgians. Many of them were Continental veterans eager to take action. They
were all under the command of Lt. Col. John Eager Howard. These men would be the
back-bone of Morgan's forces.
300 North and South Carolinians under
Colonel Pickens, many of them armed with long rifles..
Morgan strategically place the troops 150
yards down the slope--where they would fire only two volleys at nearly point-blank range
before turning and marching left across the field of battle where they could swing behind
the main battle lines and re-form. 150 yards below, he placed 150 Georgia and North
Carolina sharp-shooters under the command of Major Joseph McDowell and Major John
Cunningham. Both squads had been ordered to take aim in particular at the stripes
and epaulettes, the British officers and non-comes.
Finally, Morgan prepared another
surprise. Half a mile behind the hill where he had placed his main line, he
stationed Lt. Col. Washington and his seasoned cavalry along with 45 mounted Georgian
At around 6:00 a.m., American scouts told
Morgan that Tarleton was five miles ahead and riding in fast. "Boys, get up, Benny is
coming!!" The men ate a hurried breakfast and formed their lines. Morgan told his
troops: "My friends in arms, my dear boys, I request you to remember Saratoga,
Monmouth, Paoli, Brandywine and this day you must play your part for your honor and
Around 7 a.m., green coats showed through
the woods, 50 dragoons and their supporting infantry moved into the open field,. Behind
them 250 members of the legion infantry. Then the shine of the "grasshopper"
cannon moved up. Red coats flickered through the trees farther back. 200 men
of the Seventh Regiment of Foot and 200 Scots of the 71st Highlanders, followed by 50
members of the 17th Light Dragoons, then the bulk of Tarleton's troops emerged.
Tarleton's strategy was than Cornwallis and
Leslie were moving their anvil into position east of the trapped Americans. The
young dragoon was wrong. He would find a potent foe at Cowpens, but he would not
find an anvil.Nettled by this unexpected reversal, Tarelton ordered his cannon to fire
before his lines were fully formed, to drive back the marksmen. The soldiers started
slowly then accelerated into a trot, giving a loud shout.
"They gave us the British Halloo,
boys!! Give them the Indian Halloo, by God!!" shouted Morgan.The British
trotted closer and at 125 yards the order was given::"FIRE"...The terrified
militia regained something like good order as they marched behind the second of the two
Cowpens hills and formed a full circle around to support the American line on the
right. Tarleton had called his reserve Highlanders on his left and the attacking
British lines extended to the right.
Colonel Howard hastily ordered the
Virginians on the right to face about and meet the enemy. The command was
misunderstood. The company turned 180 degrees as command but started to march off
the battlefield..The other officers follow but the opportunist, Morgan, kicked his horse
hard and got in front of the retreating line. Over his shoulder, he could hear the
British cheers as they saw an apparent retreat. Tarleton, whose ardor was always
inflamed by the sight of his enemies backs, threw his remaining cavalry into the battle
and the attackers broke ranks, advancing on the run.
Pickens wheeled his militia back into line
and fired on the Highlanders. Washingron sprang into action, crashing into the British
cavalry smashing the Green Legion. the cavalry quailed and about 200 of them ran from the
battlefield, Washington was now behind the British regulars of the Seventh Regiment,
who had no stomach for bayonets, most of them threw down their weapons and fell facedown
on the ground.
The only fighting remained on the American
right, where the stubborn Highlanders who gave ground sparingly. The Continentals
pivoted to face them and Pickens militia rushed in to engage them hand to hand. The
Highlander commander, Major Archibald McArthur, was taken prisoner and the Scotsmen
finally grounded their arms.
So goes the Highlanders in the
Carolina's. Those who stayed on American soil and did not go back to their homelands
spread far and wide. The Cumberland County Soldiers of the War of 1812 Muster Rolls
reflect the highlanders that stayed behind when the British returned to their homeland and
the Scots became American-Scots for generations to come. The ingenuity and
intelligence the Scots brought to American cannot be surpassed.
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