When reenacting or acting as a historical interpreter, its good to have a few historical dates and stories to share. This series will publish a few.
January 17, 1781 – BATTLE OF COWPENS: Brigadier General Daniel Morgan conducted a double envelopment of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Banastre Tarleton British forces. Morgan’s forces suffered casualties of only 20 killed and 69 wounded. Tarleton’s force was almost completely eliminated with almost 30% casualties and 55% of his force captured or missing, with Tarleton himself and only about 200 British troops escaping.
A small force of the Continental Army under the command of Brigadier General Daniel Morgan had marched to the west of the Catawba River, in order to forage for supplies and raise the morale of local Colonial sympathizers. The British had received incorrect reports that Morgan’s army was planning to attack the important strategic fort of Ninety Six, held by American Loyalists to the British Crown and located in the west of the Carolinas. The British considered Morgan’s army a threat to their left flank.
Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis dispatched cavalry/ dragoons commander Tarleton to defeat Morgan’s command. Upon learning Morgan’s army was not at Ninety Six, Tarleton, bolstered by British reinforcements, set off in hot pursuit of the American detachment.
Morgan resolved to make a stand near the Broad River. He selected a position on two low hills in open woodland, with the expectation that the aggressive Tarleton would make a headlong assault without pausing to devise a more intricate plan. He deployed his army in three main lines.
Tarleton’s army, after exhaustive marching, reached the field malnourished and heavily fatigued. Tarleton attacked immediately; however, the American defence-in-depth absorbed the impact of the British attack. The British lines lost their cohesion as they hurried after the retreating Americans. When Morgan’s army went on the offensive, it wholly overwhelmed Tarleton’s force.
The battle was a turning point in the American reconquest of South Carolina from the British. Tarleton’s brigade was wiped out as an effective fighting force, and, coupled with the British defeat at King’s Mountain in the northwest corner of South Carolina, this action compelled Cornwallis to pursue the main southern American army into North Carolina.