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American History
The Revolutionaries
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 infantry.

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 liberty's cause.."

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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