Battle of Cowpens

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HistoryCentral.com > America's Wars > Revolutionary War > Major Events and Battles > Battle of Cowpens --- January 17, 1781
Battle of Cowpens

January 17, 1781

After Gates had been defeated at Camden, the Continental Congress authorized General Washington to appoint a new commander of the Southern armies. Washington selected General Greene, who had recently resigned as Quartermaster General. Greene headed south. Upon his arrival, Greene split his small army, sending General Morgan to western South Carolina to menace the British troops and attempt to threaten British Post 96. Cornwalis responded by sending Colonel Tarleton, with about 1,000 soldiers, to Post 96. There, he received further orders from Cornwalis to seek out and destroy Morgan's forces. Morgan had 600 Continental soldiers and seasoned Virginia militia men, together with another 500 untrained militia men. He decided to remain and fight Tarleton. Morgan placed his soldiers on a gentle but commanding hill, deploying them in three lines. 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. 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. Morgan placed 130 mounted men in reserve under Colonel Washington. At 4:00 AM, Tarleton's forces broke camp, and Morgan was duly notified. At 8:00 AM, Tarleton reached American lines. Morgan went up and down the line repeating the famous words: "Don't fire until you see the white of their eyes!" A fierce cry went out from the British forces: Morgan responded loudly, They give us the British Hallo, boys. Give them the Indian Hallo, by G-d. A wild cry went out from the Americans. The sharpshooters took aim and fired. They did their job, firing two or three times and running back to the second line. The British continued to advance and, as the second line began to fire, the British began to run up the hill with bayonets ready. The second line fled. British dragoons then tried to cut down the fleeing Americans. Just then, Washington's cavalry appeared and chased away the British cavalry. Morgan was awaiting the militia men 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. Tarleton thought the battle had been won, and he ordered a general charge. As they charged, Morgan ordered the retiring force of Continentals to turn and fire. At the same time, the militia men were coming up on the left. Once the British were halted in their tracks, the Americans began charging with bayonets. Just then, the militia attacked from the left, and Washington's cavalry attacked from the right. In what would become a classic military victory, one of the most famous of the war, the entire British force was captured. The British had lost 910 men, 110 killed and 800 taken prisoner, as well as all of their supplies. The American lost only 73 people, 12 killed and 61 wounded.

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