Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Cowpens Battlefield

Below is a topographic map of the Cowpens battlefield and surrounding area. North is at the top of the map. The contour lines represent approximately 20-foot increments (6 meters to be exact). Lighter shaded areas indicate higher elevations.

Elevations on the Cowpens Battlefield.

The map shows the location of three "eminences" associated with the battle. Elevation #1 is where the majority of the fighting took place. Elevation #2 and Elevation #3 are places that have been identified by some authors as the site of the American encampment on the night before the battle and where the American cavalry were stationed during the battle.

The light blue lines represent creeks in the vicinity of the battlefield. The creek in the upper left portion of the map is a part of Buck (or Cudds) Creek. The creek exiting the northern portion of the map is a branch of Suck Creek. The creek exiting the southern portion of the map is a branch of Zekial Creek. The creek in the southwestern corner of the map is Island Creek.

The brown line represents the Green River Road along which the British advanced (marching from the right side of the map).

A comprehensive review of the battlefield, including terrain features, vegetation, roads, and land ownership can be found in The Cowpens Historic Grounds and Resource Study by National Park Service historian Edwin Bearss.

The Coulter's Ferry Road is also included in a number of maps of the battle, but is not shown on this map. Bearss' study suggests that at the time of the battle, it intersected the Green River Road at a point slightly north of this map.

A portion of Bearss' map of the battlefield is visible below. The boxed area roughly corresponds with the area I've modeled.

Excerpt of the Historic Grounds and Resource Study map of the Cowpens Battlefield (click to enlarge).

There is agreement among British and American recollections of the battle that at the time of the battle the area was covered by an "open wood," meaning chiefly that there was little or no underbrush. This would seem to have been the result of human activity. Bearss' review, however, did not uncover evidence of habitation in the immediate vicinity of the battlefield before the beginning of the 19th century.

Bearss offered this explanation for the name of the battle:

"Although at the time the battle was fought, on January 17, 1781, cattle grazed in the area of the battlefield, the pens where the cattle were kept, the habitations where the keeper and cattle hunters lived, the cornfields, the garden, and other improvements were about 'two miles distant.' But as Benjamin F. Perry, a visitor to the site in 1835, wrote, "inasmuch as there was no other or nearer known place in the neighborhood; it is called 'the battle of the Cowpens.'" "

South Carolina militiaman John Whelchel made the same observation in his postwar pension application. According to him, the battle was fought "2 miles above the Cowpens."


Edwin Bearss' Cowpens 1974 Historic Grounds and Resource Study (.pdf file).

The pension application of John Whelchel (.pdf file) transcribed by Will Graves.


  1. I live about 16 miles NW of the Cowpens Battlefield and I have long been interested in Revolutionary War history...your work is amazing!! Thanks for sharing it!!

  2. Thank you, that's very kind. Also, I'm rather envious of how close you are to such a great historic site!