Tuesday, January 6, 2009

British Light Infantry at Cowpens - Part 1

[Minor edits 12/25/09]

Among the British participants at the Battle of Cowpens was a contingent of light infantry made up of men from three different regiments. These included 41 rank and file of the 16th Foot, 69 rank and file of the 71st Foot (representing both battalions), and around 30 men of the Prince of Wales' American Regiment. The first two numbers come from Cornwallis’ monthly return dated January 15, 1781. This website [link no longer works] on the Prince of Wales American Regiment includes summaries of the service record for each soldier in the regiment, broken down by companies. The records are incomplete, with only one roster available for the period of time near the battle of Cowpens (April, 1781). Based on this information there appears to have been, by my count, two members of the company gravely wounded at the battle and paroled, including the sole officer of the company present at the battle, Ensign Thomas Lindsay. Two sergeants and 17 privates were captured. An additional corporal and 4 privates were attached to Cornwallis' army at the time, and they presumably escaped capture. Three privates disappeared from the roster while the company was in South Carolina; these plausibly could have been killed at the battle. This totals up to a small company of 1 ensign, 2 sergeants, 1 corporal, and 25 privates. Again, though, this is a rough estimation based on a transcription rather than original records. A sizeable number of men from the company are listed as being "on command" in April, 1781. In many cases these assignments appear to have begun long before Cowpens.

Don Troiani’s painting of the men of the 16th Foot at Cowpens shows them in a typical light infantry uniform. The men actually came from three different companies; I don’t know if one of those was the regiment’s light company. In any case, at least some of these men had previously belonged to the regiment’s “hat” companies.

Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie praised the British light infantry at Cowpens in the following terms:

"The company of the 16th regiment was well known by its services in the army commanded by Major General Prevost; those of the seventy-first regiment were distinguished under Sir James Baird at the surprise of General Wayne in Pennsylvania, of Baylor's dragoons in New Jersey, at Briar Creek in Georgia, at the capture and subsequent defence of Savannah, at the battle near Camden under Earl Cornwallis; and even Lieutenant Colonel did them justice at the [battle of Fishing Creek]. The light infantry company of the Prince of Wales's American regiment, when but newly raised and indifferently disciplined, acquired reputation under General Tryon at Danbury.”

Pictured are miniatures representing the British light infantry at Cowpens. From left to right they are from the 16th Foot, Prince of Wales's American Regiment, and the 71st Foot. The uniform of the 16th lights is based on the Troiani painting mentioned above. The uniform of the PoWAR lights is based on the uniform worn by the member of the light infantry company of the recreated Royal Welsh Fusileers. The uniform of the 71st lights is based on a Troiani painting.


Copies of Tarleton's and Mackenzie's descriptions of the battle can be found on John Moncure's online history of the battle, The Cowpens Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour, and Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website.

Michael S. Mallery's Prince of Wales American Regiment webpage contains a wealth of information about that unit. [Link no longer works]


  1. Unfortunately, the link to The Cowpens Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour is also broken.

  2. The link was changed to: