Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Main Line at Cowpens: Composition

[Minor edits 12/26/09]

In my last post, I noted that Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan provided few details about the deployment of the American main line at the battle of Cowpens; however, comments by other writers suggest the formation illustrated below. In this post I comment on the units that were deployed main line.

Here is a listing of units that were on the main line:

Left Wing (Major Francis Triplett)

  • Major Francis' Triplett's company of Virginia militia. Sergeant Martin of this company recalled that, "I was in the road all the time of the action... Lieutenant Ewen [James Ewing] was on the left of the Maryland Troops near me." This places Triplett's company on the far right of the wing. Triplett was promoted to major and commanded the entire left wing during the battle. Sources disagree as to who commanded his company in his place. Either it was Ensign Combs (promoted to Captain) or Lieutenant Dearing.
  • Captain James Tate's company of Virginia militia. Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard, writing long after the war, noted, "I am positive that Triplett and Tate were on my left."

Continentals in the Center (Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard)

  • Three companies of Maryland Continentals. According to Lawrence Babits, in A Devil of a Whipping, these companies were commanded by captains Richard Anderson, Henry Dobson, and Nicholas Mangers.
  • Captain Robert Kirkwood's company of Delaware Continentals. Lieutenant Thomas Anderson, Sergeant-Major William Seymour and Private Henry Wells of this company left accounts of the battle.
  • Captain Andrew Wallace's company of Virginia Continentals. This company featured prominently in Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard's description of the battle. Private William Jewell of this company stated in his pension application that "He enlisted as a regular... under Captain Wallace of Augusta County Virginia for three years." At "Charlotte in North Carolina... we Joined General Greene: General Morgan was here permitted to select about 20 men to reinforce his own little band of perhaps 300 men against Tarleton at the Cowpens – he was selected as one."
  • Other musket-and-bayonet-wielding infantry. Babits stated his belief that some Virginia State troops served on the main line (as a unit distinct from Triplett's or Wallace's Virginians). Some North Carolina Continentals also may have served. John Hill, a North Carolina Continental, was said to have pursued, at the end of the battle of Cowpens, "a British soldier – some 60 or 75 yards. He the said Hill stuck his Bayonet in the back of the British soldier by throwing his musket at him this wound was slight and the British soldier continued to retreat."

Right Wing

  • Captain Patrick Buchanan's company of Virginia militia. Private William Neel wrote this company "...formed in single file with the Militia on the right of the Regulars..." Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan, in his after action report, also stated that Buchanan's company was on "the right of the line.”
  • Captain Henry Connelly's company of North Carolina state troops. Connelly claimed, in his pension application that, "The company which belonged to this applicant was placed under Col Howard, on the extreme right of the division, and this applicant commanded a company in the center."
  • Colonel Joseph Hayes' regiment of South Carolina militia. (See The Statements of Private Robert Long). Comments by Neel, Connelly, and Long when taken together suggest that Buchanan's company was closest to the Continentals, followed by Connelly's company, and finally Hayes' regiment.

Other Militia Units:

There are some other units of militia whose position on the main line cannot be so easily ascertained. These include:

  • Captain James Gilmore's company of Virginia militia. This company was definitely at the battle, but it is unclear whether it served on the left wing or on the right.
  • Captain Mordecai Clark's company of North Carolina militia. There are indications in pension applications that this company served on the main line.
  • "Captain Beaty's" company of militia. This company of South Carolina militia are placed on the right wing in Captain Samuel Hammond's account of the battle. Babits discussed several different possibilities for the identity of this captain, but he did not place this company on the main line.
  • Other Virginia militiamen. Babits stated, based on pension applications, that some Virginia militiamen in Major David Campbell's battalion of Virginia militiamen were present at the battle, and presumably (although the pension applications do not provide details) served on the main line.


Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Benjamin Martin (.pdf).

Lawrence Babits' A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens is available through

John Moncure's online history of the battle, The Cowpens Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour, includes a transcription of statements by Howard, Anderson, Seymour, Wells, Neel, and Morgan.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of William Jewell (.pdf).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of John Hill (.pdf).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Henry Connelly (.pdf).

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