The American Revolution in South Carolina

Cowpens

January 17, 1781


Patriot Cdr:

Brigadier General
Daniel Morgan
British Cdr:

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton
Killed:

24
Killed:

110
Wounded:

104
Wounded:

229
Captured:

0
Captured:

600
Old District: 

Ninety-Six District
Present County:

Cherokee County

After Major General Horatio Gates was defeated at Camden in August of 1780, the Continental Congress authorized General George Washington to appoint a new commander of the Southern armies. General Washington selected Major General Nathanael Greene, who had recently resigned as Quartermaster General for the Northern Theater. Major General Greene headed south. Upon his arrival, he split his small army, sending the recently-promoted Brigadier General Daniel Morgan to western South Carolina to menace the Provincial and Loyalist troops and attempt to threaten the British post at Ninety-Six.

Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwalls realized his predicament. If he pursued Brigadier General Daniel Morgan in the west then Charlestown would be wide open to an attack from Major General Nathanael Greene. If he went after Major General Greene, the Brigadier General Morgan would take Ninety-Six.

Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwalis responded by sending Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, with about 1,000 soldiers, to Ninety-Six. He ordered Major General Alexander Leslie to hold Camden against any attack by Sumter and Marion or from Major General Greene. Then, Lord Cornwallis aimed the remaining one-third of his army for North Carolina, hoping to catch Brigadier General Morgan's army after Lt. Col. Tarleton defeated him in a battle.

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan had 600 Continental soldiers and seasoned Virginia militia men, together with another 500 untrained militia men. He decided to remain and fight Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton. Brigadier General Morgan placed his soldiers on a gentle but commanding hill, deploying them in three lines at Hiram Sanders' Cowpens (another source called this Hannah's Cow Pens). The most reliable soldiers among the Continental troops and Virginia militia were placed just forward of the crest. Below were two lines of Militia, the furthest forward being the best sharpshooters. Brigadier General Morgan did not expect that they would be able to stand against a line of British regulars, so he gave them explicit orders that they were to fire three rounds and then run to the place were the horses were being held. Brigadier General Morgan placed 130 mounted men in reserve under Lt. Col. William Washington.

Many of the militiamen had actually fought at Kings Mountain and were no longer afraid of the British bayonets. The Continenals with Brigadier General Morgan had been survivors of Charlestown, the Waxhaws, and Camden, and they had their own score to settle with Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton.

At 4:00 a.m., Lt. Col. Tarleton's forces broke camp, and Brigadier General Morgan was duly notified. At 8:00 a.m., Lt. Col. Tarleton reached the Patriot lines. The morning was cold, possibly below freezing, with high humidity. Brigadier General Morgan went up and down the line repeating the famous words: "Don't fire until you see the whites of their eyes!" A fierce cry went out from the British forces: Brigadier General Morgan responded loudly, "They give us the British Hallo, boys. Give them the Indian Hallo, by God!" A wild cry went out from the Patriots. The sharpshooters took aim and fired. They did their job, firing two or three times, then running back to the second line as previously directed.

The British continued to advance and, as the second line began to fire, the enemy began to run up the hill with bayonets ready. The second line fled. British dragoons then tried to cut down the fleeing Patriots. Just then, Lt. Col. Washington's cavalry appeared and chased away the British cavalry. Brigadier General Morgan was awaiting with the militiamen where the horses were, and he managed to turn them back around toward the battle. Meanwhile, the final line of Continentals was holding off the British. The tactical situation forced them to retreat slightly.

Lt. Col. Tarleton thought the battle had been won, and he ordered a general charge. As they charged, Brigadier General Morgan ordered the retiring force of Continentals to turn and fire. At the same time, the militiamen were coming up on the left. Once the British were halted in their tracks, the Patriots began charging with bayonets. Just then, the Militia attacked from the left, and Lt. Col. Washington's cavalry attacked from the right. In what would become a classic military victory, one of the most famous of the war, almost the entire British force was captured.

One source asserts that the British had lost 910 men, 110 killed and 800 taken prisoner, as well as all of their supplies. The Patriots lost 73 soldiers, 12 killed and 61 wounded.


Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton rode to the British Legion dragoons that had remained in reserve but it was hopeless. For the first time he could not get them to obey his orders. About 200 dragoons disobeyed him and left the field. When they saw Lt. Col. William Washington's dragoons riding fast towards them, yelling "Buford's Play! Tarleton's Quarter!" they fled into the woods.

Lt. Col. Tarleton had his horse shot out from under him, but Robert Jackson, the Assistant Surgeon of the 71st Highlanders, rode up and gave Tarleton his horse. As Lt. Col. Washington came into view, the British officers wheeled around and stopped. The two opposing forces stopped and "dared each other to advance." Cornet Thomas Patterson of the 17th Dragoons ended the stalemate and charged at Lt. Col. Washington. When Cornet Patterson swung his sword at Lt. Col. Washington he was "cut down by the Colonel's orderly serjeant."

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan knew that Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis would be coming after him to retrieve all of the prisoners, so he withdrew to North Carolina. Col. Andrew Pickens was left behind to bury the dead and to take care of the wounded. Col. Pickens gathered up what equipment might be useful, collected the dead, and after taking the paroles of the British, placed the wounded in tents under a white flag with medical personnel to await the expected return of Lt. Col. Tarleton. Col. Andrew Pickens would be commissioned a Brigadier General later that month due to his heroic efforts on that cold day at the Cowpens.

Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis had been instructed by General Sir Henry Clinton not to invade North Carolina until both Georgia and South Carolina were securely in British hands. Major General Nathanael Greene decided to let Brigadier General Daniel Morgan lead Lord Cornwallis out of South Carolina then to recombine the two forces and to attack the British far from their supply lines. Lord Cornwallis took the bait and followed Morgan into North Carolina.

The "Race to the Dan" was now on.

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan - Commanding Officer

MD-DE Light Infantry Battalion led by Lt. Col. John Eager Howard with the following units:
- Delaware Company - Capt. Robert H. Kirkwood with 63 men
- 1st Maryland Company - Capt. Richard Anderson with 60 men
- 2nd Maryland Company - Capt. Henry Dobson with 60 men
- 3rd Maryland Company - Lt. Nicholas Mangers with 60 men

State Troops led by Capt. Edmund Tate with the following known units:
- Virginia Company - Capt. Andrew Wallace with Capt. Conway Oldham
- Virginia State Troops - Capt. John Lawson with 50 men
- Hammond's SC State Troops - Major Samuel Hammonds with Capt. Joseph Pickens and 60 men
- North Carolina State Troops - Capt. Henry Connelly with 40 men
- Augusta County (VA) Riflemen - Capt. Patrick Buchanan

3rd Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons (VA) led by Lt. Col. William Washington with 82 men and the following known officers:
- Major Richard Call
- Capt. William Barrett
- Capt. Robert Cook (Dobbs County, NC)
- Capt. George Farragut (Dobbs County, NC)
- Capt. Churchill Jones's Troop - Lt. Henry Bell
- Capt. William Parsons
- Capt. John Thompson (Wake County, NC)

1st Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons (VA) detachment with 10 men led by Capt. John Watts

Nelson's Regiment of Virginia State Cavalry led by Major John Nelson with 15 men, including Capt. Clement Read

Georgia Cavalry led by Major Benjamin Jolly with 20 men

State Militias led by Col. Andrew Pickens (SC) with the following units:

Campbell's Virginia Militia Regiment led by Major David Campbell with Capt. Robinson and Capt. Hanley and 50 men

Triplett's Virginia Battalion of Militia led by Major Francis Triplett with the following known companies:
- Augusta Riflemen - Capt. James Taite with 50 men
- Fauquier County Militia - Capt. John Combs and Capt. James Winn
- Rockbridge Rifles - Capt. James Gilmore and Capt. John McCampbell, with 42 men
- NC Light Dragoons Regiment detachment led by Capt. Mordecai Clark - with ~25 men

SC Militia led by Col. Andrew Pickens with the following units:

Little River District Regiment of Militia led by Col. Joseph Hayes, Major James Duggin, Major Garret Smith, and Major Samuel Taylor, with fourteen (14) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Anderson
- Capt. James Dillard
- Capt. Thomas Duggin
- Capt. Samuel Ewing
- Capt. Robert Gillam, Jr.
- Capt. William Harris
- Capt. James Irby
- Capt. Pendleton Isbell
- Capt. James Miller (killed)
- Capt. John Ridgeway, Sr.
- Capt. Lewis Saxon
- Capt. Samuel Sexton
- Capt. James Starke
- Capt. Isaac White

2nd Spartan Regiment of Militia led by Col. Thomas Brandon, Lt. Col. William Farr, Lt. Col. James Steen, Major Benjamin Jolly, Major Joseph McJunkin, and Major Thomas Young, with the following twelve (12) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Samuel Caldwell
- Capt. Lewis Duvall
- Capt. Robert Faris
- Capt. William Grant
- Capt. Aquilla Hollingsworth (killed)
- Capt. Joseph Hughes
- Capt. John Lindsay
- Capt. Robert Montgomery
- Capt. Samuel Otterson
- Capt. Thomas Price
- Capt. John Putman
- Capt. William Young

Roebuck's Battalion of Spartan Regiment of Militia led by Col. Benjamin Roebuck and Major John Moore, with twelve (12) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Andrew Barry
- Capt. Jeremiah Dickson
- Capt. John Lawson
- Capt. David McDowell
- Capt. James McDowell, Sr.
- Capt. Samuel Nisbett
- Capt. Major Parson
- Capt. Thomas Parsons
- Capt. George Roebuck
- Capt. James Smith
- Capt. George Taylor
- Capt. Dennis Tramell

Upper Ninety-Six District Regiment of Militia led by Col. Andrew Pickens, Lt. Col. Glenn Anderson, Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, Lt. Col. James McCall, and Major Samuel Taylor, with the following nine (9) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James Caldwell
- Capt. Francis Carlisle
- Capt. John Cowan
- Capt. Shadrack Inman
- Capt. John Irwin
- Capt. Robert Maxwell
- Capt. Andrew Miller (killed)
- Capt. James Pettigrew
- Capt. Joseph Pickens

1st Spartan Regiment of Militia led by Col. John Thomas, Jr., with eight (8) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Alexander
- Capt. John Collins
- Capt. Thomas Farrow
- Capt. John Files, Sr. (wounded)
- Capt. Charles James
- Capt. John Rainey
- Capt. John Roebuck
- Capt. William Smith

Fairfield Regiment of Militia detachment of three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James Adair
- Capt. James Davis
- Capt. James Reid

Turkey Creek Regiment of Militia detachment of three (3) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Henry Lisle
- Capt. John Moffett
- Capt. John Thompson

Lower Ninety-Six District Regiment of Militia detachment led by Major Samuel Hammond, with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Abner Hammond, Sr.
- Capt. Moses Liddell

Lower District Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. David Glynn, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. William Taylor

New Acquisition District Regiment of Militia detachment led by Col. Samuel Watson, Lt. Col. William Bratton, and Major John Wallace, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. John Henderson

Hill's Regiment of Light Dragoons detachment led by Col. William Hill, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Thomas Shannon

Unknown Regiment detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Jamison (POW)

NC Militia Brigade led by Col. Charles McDowell with the following known units:

Burke County Regiment of Militia (NC) led by Col. Charles McDowell and Major Joseph McDowell, with the following twenty (20) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James Alexander
- Capt. John Beverly (Wilkes County)
- Capt. George Cathey
- Capt. Gilmore
- Capt. Samuel Hampton (Surry County)
- Capt. John Harden
- Capt. Michael Harrison (Washington County)
- Capt. John Holmes
- Capt. Alexander Irvin
- Capt. John McDowell
- Capt. Joseph McDowell
- Capt. Samuel Miller
- Capt. John Morgan
- Capt. William Murry
- Capt. William Neill
- Capt. David Vance
- Capt. George Walker
- Capt. Joseph White
- Capt. William Wilson (Rowan County)
- Capt. Samuel Woods

Lincoln County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Major John Barber, Major Joseph Dickson, and Major Francis McCorkle, with the following seven (7) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Philip Dellinger
- Capt. Thomas Lofton
- Capt. Samuel Martin
- Capt. John Murray
- Capt. Isaac White
- Capt. Thomas White
- Capt. Henry Whitener

Guilford County Regiment of Militia detachment of five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Thomas Archer
- Capt. Daniel Gillespie
- Capt. Johnson
- Capt. John McRea
- Capt. William Wilson

Surry County Regiment of Militia detachment of five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Robert Cleveland
- Capt. Joseph Cloud
- Capt. William Terrell Lewis
- Capt. William Meredith
- Capt. Henry Smith

Rowan County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Lt. Col. David Caldwell, Major John Lopp, and Major Daniel McKisick, with the following five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Alexander
- Capt. Abel Armstrong
- Capt. Daniel Bryson
- Capt. Thomas Cowan
- Capt. Joseph Cunningham

Rutherford County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Major William Rutherford and Major Reese Porter, with the following five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Benjamin Harden
- Capt. Jesse Knighton
- Capt. Jesse Lytle
- Capt. Moses Shelby
- Capt. William Whiteside

Wilkes County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Daniel Bailey
- Capt. George Baker

Sullivan County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Major Evan Shelby, Jr. with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Roger Topp

Warren County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Major Charles Davis, with one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Sterling Clarke

Caswell County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Benjamin Douglas
- Capt. John Oldham

Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia detachment of two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Irby
- Capt. James Nathaniel Martin

Randolph County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. William Gray

Orange County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. William Ray

Granville County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. William Bennett

Montgomery County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Pilcher

Wayne County Regiment of Militia detachment of one (1) known company, led by:
- Capt. Willoughby Williams

NC Light Dragoons Regiment detachment led by Major Samuel Henderson, with two (2) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Galbreath
- Capt. Solomon Wood

GA Militia led by Major John Cunningham with 490 men in the following units:

Major James Jackson's Regiment led by Capt. George Walton

GA Refugees led by Capt. Joshua Inman

Wilkes County Regiment of Militia (GA) company led by Capt. Richard Heard


Total Patriot Forces - 2,400

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton - Commanding Officer

7th Regiment of Foot (Royal Fusiliers), 1st Battalion led by Major Timothy Newmarsh with Capt. Charles Helyar and 167 men

71st Regiment of Foot (Fraser's Highlanders), 1st Battalion led by Major Archibald McArthur with 263 men, including Lt. Roderick MacKenzie and Capt. Robert Duncanson with his Grenadier Company

Royal Regiment of Artillery, 4th Battalion, 6th Company led by "Unknown," with 18 men - 9 from the 7th Regiment of Foot, and 9 from the British Legion, and 2 guns

71st Infantry Regiment (Highland Scots) led by "Unknown" with two battalions:
- 1st Battalion, Light Infantry Company - 35 men
- 2nd Battaltion, Light Infantry Company - 34 men

Prince of Wales American Regiment led by Lt. Thomas Lindsay, with Capt. Daniel Lyman's Light Infantry and 25-50 men

16th Regiment of Foot, Light Infantry Company led by Lt. John Skinner with 41 men

British Legion Dragoons with 250 men and the following known officers:
- Capt. David Ogilvie
- Capt. David Kinlock
- Capt. Richard Hovenden
- Capt. Thomas Sanford
- Capt. Francis Gildart
- Lt. Nathaniel Vernon - Capt. Jacob James's Troop

British Legion Cavalry with 201 men and the following known officers:
- Capt. Patrick Stewart
- Capt. Thomas Miller
- Capt. Charles McDonald
- Lt. Donald McLeod - Capt. Rousselet's Company
- Lt. "Unknown" - Capt. James Edward's Company
- Lt. "Unknown" - Capt. Donald McPherson's Company

SC Loyalist Volunteers led by Capt. Alexander Chesney with 50 men


Total British/Loyalist Forces - 1,050

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© 2012 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved