Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Statements of Private Robert Long

[Minor edits 12/27/09]

Private Robert Long of South Carolina left two statements that described the deployment of American forces and important events during the battle of Cowpens. His accounts strike me as important evidence about the battle, although it has been largely overlooked by historians. Of the histories that I've read, only Lawrence Babits used them to shape his understanding of how Cowpens was fought.

One of his statements was written in support of Captain Samuel Hammond's pension application. In it, he said, "[Hammond] was in the Battle of Cowpens (that is Tarleton's defeat)... he was then promoted to Major, believes he commanded on the front line left wing and this deponent [i.e., Long] was in the center line on the right wing in Captain Ewing's company commanded by Colonel Joseph Hayes, next to Colonel Howard's Infantry."

(He did not provide any details about his service at Cowpens in his own pension application).

Long's second statement appeared in John Logan's 1859 A History of the Upper Country of South Carolina (not available online). The relevant text is as follows:

"...The infantry marched out in sections, and divided two and two as they got ten paces of Hayes' regiment already formed across the road. Hayes regiment then moved to the right of the infantry, 70 or 80 yards in advance; Major McDowell, of North Carolina, in advance of us 70 or 80 yards, and Major Triplett, of Virginia, in our rear; Cols. Thomas and Roebuck in the extreme right. The left wing was similarly formed of militia. The cavalry in rear of infantry... Hayes' regiment having advanced too far were to retreat and form on our old ground; when the North Carolinians were retreating in order to be ready to cover their retreat; failing of this the Virginians broke before we got to them. We were not rallied until Gen. Morgan did it in person. At that time Tarleton brought 200 or 300 cavalry round in the rear of our left wing of militia. Col. Washington charged them with his cavalry; at the same time our infantry charged the British with the bayonet and took their field pieces, while those on the right and left surrendered or retreated."

The text in Long's statements is somewhat difficult to follow. Below I offer a detailed interpretation of what Long said:

On the morning of the 17th, the Americans deploy on the battlefield. Hayes' regiment was deployed across the Green River Road close to the spot where Morgan planned to place Howard's continentals. The companies comprising Howard's light infantry (referred to as "the infantry" in Long's statement) marched down the road in column formation. They marched to within 10 paces of Hayes' regiment, then deployed in a line of two ranks to the right (south) of the road.

The Americans Deploy, Part 1. (Click to enlarge). Hayes' regiment is drawn up across the Green River Road. Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard's infantry march down the road behind them, followed by Major Francis' Triplett's Virginians.

The Americans Deploy, Part 2. (Click to enlarge). Hayes' regiment is drawn up across the Green River Road. Howard's Continentals have completed their deployment. Major Francis' Triplett's Virginians are beginning to deploy as well. Other units can be seen preparing to deploy.

After the continentals deployed, Hayes' regiment moved to the right of the infantry until they reached a point at which they were midway (i.e., about 75 yards) between the Continentals and McDowell's North Carolinians. Describing the rest of the American deployment, Long noted that Triplett's Virginians were in their rear, the South Carolina militia under Thomas and Roebuck were on "the extreme right" of the right wing of the militia, and that there was also a "left wing" "similarly formed of militia." The cavalry were positioned behind the Continentals.

The Americans Deploy, Part 3. (Click to enlarge). Hayes' regiment is on the right of the Continentals, midway between the Continentals' right and Major Joseph McDowell's North Carolinians. At this stage, the American deployment is largely complete.

When Hayes' regiment took up this position they had "advanced too far," and were ordered to fall back to their "old ground." This does not mean 10 paces in front of the continentals, but rather further back from the militia line. Completing this move, they were "in the center line on the right wing... next to Colonel Howard's Infantry." Long called this the center line to distinguish it from the militia line in front and "The cavalry in rear." From this position they would "be ready to cover" the retreat of McDowell's North Carolinians.

The Americans Deploy, Part 4. (Click to enlarge). The positions of the American units at the start of the battle. Hayes' regiment has now joined the right wing of the main line.

When the militia line broke early in the battle, Hayes' regiment did not stand their ground (his words were "failing of this"). Falling back, they might have rallied behind the Virginians (Buchanan's company). Instead, "the Virginians broke before we got to them. We were not rallied until Gen. Morgan did it in person."


John Logan. (1859). A History of the Upper Country of South Carolina.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Samuel Hammond, which includes a statement by Robert Long (.pdf file).

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Robert Long (.pdf file).

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