Saturday, May 16, 2009

Cowpens in Miniature 24

Part 24: The Last Gambit
Previous: Surrender

Tarleton remained on the battlefield with a small group of stalwarts, even after the British had surrendered. He surely knew that the British right had fled or surrendered. Less clear is if he knew what had befallen the 71st Foot. In any case, the Americans soon assembled a force consisting of the bulk of their cavalry [see Note 1] and at least a portion of the Continentals to drive off of this last vestige of resistance and pursue those forces that had fled.

Upon the surrender of the 71st Foot, Colonel Andrew Pickens remembered that he "sent back to Genl Morgan, by Major Jackson, Major McCarthur, with the sword" [see Note 2]. He then "met Coln Washington with his cavalry in pursuit of Tarleton" [see Note 3]. He therefore "ordered Jackson who was brave & active, to return as quickly as possible with as many mounted militia as he could get."

Meanwhile, Tarleton watched as the Americans approached. With him were "Fourteen officers and forty horse-men… not unmindful of their own reputation, or the situation of their commanding officer." The American cavalry had somewhat fewer than 100 men. The prudent decision, perhaps, would have been to turn around and retreat down the Green River Road, but he felt compelled to put up a fight [see Note 4].

Final Confrontation. 1 = American Cavalry, 4 = American Infantry, 11, 14 = British Legion Dragoons, 12 = 17th Light Dragoons. The blue-ringed circles show where the British front line (9) and 71st Foot (13) surrendered.

Final Confrontation (click to enlarge). As American cavalry and infantry set off in pursuit of the fleeing British, they must first confront Tarleton.

Lieutenant Mackenzie, although by now a prisoner, was perhaps witness to this event. He recalled, with a mixture of awe and disdain, that "Even at this late stage of the defeat, Lieutenant Colonel Tarleton, with no more than fifty horse, hesitated not to charge the whole of Washington's cavalry, though supported by the continentals; it was a small body of officers, and a detachment of the seventeenth regiment of dragoons, who presented themselves on this desperate occasion" [see Note 5].

The official British report of the battle claimed that these cavalry, "having had time to recollect themselves, & being animated by the Bravery of the Officer who had so often led them to victory, charged & repulsed Colonel Washington's Horse." Tarleton’s memoir went further, claiming that "Colonel Washington's cavalry were… driven back into the continental infantry by this handful of brave men" [see Note 6].

Tarleton's Charge. 1 = American Cavalry, 4 = American Infantry, 11 = British Cavalry.

Tarleton's Charge (click to enlarge).

This description seems basically accurate. Cornet Simons recalled that "It was at this period after the Action that we sustained the greatest loss of Men." Delaware Continental Henry Wells stated that "In this fight I was struck across the left shoulder by one of Tarleton's Troopers, With his Sword with Such Violence, that the colar of my coat, my vest and my Shirt, were each cut through, and the flesh & skin Sleightly scratched and bruised so much so that there was a considerable not or welt on my Sholder for a number of days" [see Note 7].

Success, however, was fleeting. The American cavalry quickly recovered and they sent the British fleeing. Alexander Chesney wrote that we "the remainder [of the British Legion] charged but were repulsed… I was with Tarleton in the charge" [see Note 8]. Mackenzie stated that "the loss sustained was in proportion to the danger of the enterprise, and the whole body was repulsed."

Simons noted that "their Cavalry, who finding they could no longer Keep Everhart a Prisoner, Shot him with a Pistol, in the head, over one of his eyes, (I cannot remember particularly which) being then intermixed with the enemy, Everhart pointed out to me the man who shot him, and on whom a just Retaliation was exercised, and who by my order, was instantly Shot, and his horse as well as I can recollect, was given to Everhart, whom I ordered in the rear to the Surgeons" [see again Note 5].

Once again, Tarleton escaped capture [see Note 9]. Henry Wells recalled that "Col. Tarleton was hard run by a small detachment of American horse and barely escaped being taken prisoner. It was generally agreed in the Camp that Tarleton could easily have been shot by those in pursuit of him, but their object was to take him alive."

The immediate American pursuit was determined, but disorganized. This led to one more confrontation between the British and American cavalry.

Howard learned that "In the pursuit he [William Washington] had got a head of his men, perhaps 30 yards. Three of the british officers observing this wheeled about and made a charge at him. The officer on his right was raising his arm to cut at him when a sargent came up and made a stroke at this officer which disabled his arm.--The officer on the left at the same moment was preparing to make a stroke at him when a boy, a waiter, who had not the strength to wield a sword, drew his pistol and shot and wounded this officer, which disabled him. The third person, who Washington thinks was Tarleton, made a thrust at him which he parryed. This person then retreated 10 or 12 steps and wheeled about and fired a pistol which wounded Washington's horse [see Note 10].

Pursuit. 1 = American Cavalry, 4 = American Infantry, 11 = British Cavalry.

Pursuit (click to enlarge).


1. But not all. As noted previously (Cowpens in Miniature 23), a part of the mounted militia was attempting to capture the British baggage train. Cornet Simons believed that some of the Continental dragoons were still mopping up the scattered British infantry. He wrote to Washington that "Lt Bell" had "taken off with him in pursuit of the Enemy, on our left nearly a fourth part of your Regt."

At least part (and maybe most) of the mounted militia was with Washington at this time. Manual McConnell stated in his pension application that he was a member of "Capt. McCall's company… attached to the command of Col. Washington." He claimed that "he was with or not far behind Col. Washington when he chased Col. Tarlton so close after the battle."

2. Although Pickens and Jackson differed as to who captured McArthur, they agreed on this point. Jackson wrote to Morgan that I had "the honor of introducing Maj. McArthur [to you]."

3. Pickens’ statement is important in establishing the timing of this last encounter of the British and American cavalry. That Washington was still on the battlefield strongly suggests that this fight occurred after the 71st had surrendered. Indications that the Delaware Continentals were also a part of Washington’s pursuit force, places the surrender of the 71st (in which the Delawareans participated), before this fight with Tarleton. In Simons account, Washington began "pursuit of their Cavalry," "immediately after Securing the Prisoners."

4. Benson Lossing, a mid-19th Century visitor of the battlefield, wrote that the British infantry "retreated along the Mill gap road [i.e., the Green River Road] to the place near Scruggs's... then covered with an open wood like the ground where the conflict commenced. There the battle ended and the pursuit was relinquished. It was near the northern border of that present open field that Washington and Tarleton had a personal conflict." He also wrote that "The battle ended within a quarter of a mile of Scruggs's." Scrugg's farm was not present at the time of the battle. It's future location was near the road, close to the right edge of the battlefield map. I show Tarleton's charge occurring close to 1/2 mile from Scrugg's farm. Although not shown (because of the small numbers involve), I envision the final brush between Washington and (allegedly) Tarleton to have occurred at a location about midway between the site of Tarleton's charge and the eastern edge of the battlefield.

5. Tarleton said there were 14 officers. Mackenzie indicated that the 17th Light Dragoons had two officers; my system for estimating British strength at the battle (see Cowpens in Miniature 2) yielded 12 officers for the British Legion dragoons. Therefore, it’s possible that all of the British Legion dragoon and 17th Light Dragoon officers were present. Although seemingly excluded, it’s possible that some mounted infantry officers were also present.

Tarleton generally gave round numbers for his strength, so it’s unlikely that exactly 40 troopers were with him, as he claimed. Mackenzie said that the number was something less than 50 and identified them as the 17th Light Dragoons. In view of their heavy losses earlier in the battle (see Cowpens in Miniature 20), they could not have mustered close to 40 or 50 men. Some rank and file of the British Legion must have been present. Their identity is unknown, although Simons’ account implicates that the men holding Sergeant Everhart a prisoner were present (see Cowpens in Miniature 7 regarding his capture). This suggests either the British vanguard or a provost guard had been left in the rear when the British Legion reserve was ordered up. This group is repeatedly depicted on the battlefield maps I’ve prepared.

6. Howard’s account was written in order to correct mischaracterizations of the battle present in William Johnson’s account (see Flight of the Militia - Part 1). Howard seems to have regarded Tarleton’s description as basically accurate (as do I), although Howard wrote that on this point, Tarleton was in error. "Tarleton says that 14 officers & 40 men charged Washington's horse and drove them back to the [Continentals] ... This is not correct. This affair checked Washington's pursuit, but he did not fall back." If Howard meant only that Washington did not fall back to where Howard, the militia, and the remainder of the Continentals were guarding the prisoners, then this statement is not problematic. Tarleton’s version seems to be confirmed by Delaware Continental Henry Wells.

7. He’s referring to the battle in general and not specifically this exchange, but this is the most likely timing. Other Delaware Continentals indicated they joined with Washington in the pursuit. Lieutenant Thomas Anderson wrote "We followed them ten miles but not being able to Come up With them Returned back to the field of Battle that night and lay amongst the Dead & Wounded Very Well pleased With Our days Work." Sergeant-Major William Seymour wrote "our men pursuing them for the distance of twelve miles." Neither of these statements, however, mentions the cavalry action at the beginning of the pursuit.

8. This is the most logical event that Chesney is referring to. However, when the passage is read in context, Chesney seems to be referring to some charge that occurred at the beginning of the American counterattack (See Alexander Chesney's Rivulet for the full text of his statement). While Chesney should be regarded as an excellent source, I did not make the most direct interpretation of his account because such a claim would be in contrast with a number of other participant accounts.

It should be noted Tarleton, and the band with him, might not have witnessed the surrender of the 71st Foot because of the intervening ridge. Chesney may have learned about their surrender later and wrongly concluded that the 71st surrendered after the unsuccessful final cavalry fight. The official British report of the battle claimed that "The Loss of our Cavalry is inconsiderable, but I fear, about 400 of the Infantry are either killed or wounded, or taken." This claim was disingenuous. The "400 of the Infantry" just about covers the killed, wounded, and captured that Tarleton could likely see from his final position of the battlefield. The loss sustained by the 71st (which was total) could at least have been surmised.

9. This is in reference to his escaping being captured with Major McArthur and the 71st Foot (see Cowpens in Miniature 22).

10. David Stewart related a muddled version of this same episode. In his telling, Cornet Patterson of the 17th Light Dragoons was the officer wounded by Washington’s "waiter." Continental dragoon James Kelly described a second-hand version of this episode in his pension application.


John Moncure's online history of the battle, The Cowpens Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour, has a transcription of the statements by Pickens, Howard, and Anderson, among others.

Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website has a transcription of Tarleton's, and Mackenzie's accounts of the battle.

A transcription of the British after action report, written by Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis, can be found here.

Thomas Balch's 1857 Papers Relating Chiefly to the Maryland Line During the Revolution has Simons' letter to William Washington. His book can be downloaded from this site.

Will Graves trancribed the pension application of Henry Wells (.pdf file).

The Journal of Alexander Chesney.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Manual McConnell (.pdf file).

James Graham's 1856 The Life of General Daniel Morgan has a copy of Jackson's letters.

Benson John Lossing's 1860 Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (Vol. 2).

William Johnson's 1822 Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene.

A transcription of William Seymour's journal can be found on this Battle of Camden website.

David Stewart's 1825 Sketches... of the Highlanders of Scotland.

C. Leon Harris transcribed the pension application of James Kelly (.pdf file).

Related: The British Legion, The American Cavalry - Part 1, 17th Light Dragoons

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