Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Looking Back

So, I have written what basically amounts to a book-length treatment of the battle of Cowpens. Clearly I have enjoyed this endeavor, from reading the various participant accounts, to painting the military miniatures, to arranging them on the miniature battlefield and writing the whole thing up. But I’ve asked myself, is this good history?

My answer is… maybe.

The usual history of the battle of Cowpens seems to be one that is based on a few well-known participant accounts (Morgan’s and Tarleton’s, in particular) and that is deferential towards earlier histories. While this sounds reasonable, the result is often wanting. I’ve noticed that dubious details present in earlier histories tend to be echoed uncritically in later ones. For example, William Johnson's 1822 history of the battle included one of the first maps of the battle of Cowpens. Although his history was flawed (I criticized him in particular on his description of the retreat of the American militia; see Flight of the Militia - Part 1) and the accompanying map crude, this nevertheless became the model on which later maps were based.

The Johnson Map. Initial positions are shown on the left, the retreat of the front-line militia is shown at the lower right, and the American counterattack is shown at the upper right. This map does not reflect the actual geography of the Cowpens battlefield (see The Cowpens Battlefield).

Henry Carrington's 1881 compendium of battlefield maps of the American Revolution included a refined version of the Johnson map. This map repeated the errors present in the Johnson map, and added additional ones as well. Most notably, the Broad River is shown closely skirting the edges of the battlefield. Remarkably, most recently-published histories of the battle present a battlefield map that closely follows Carrington.

The Carrington Map.

Not every history of the battle has uncritically followed earlier histories. Henry Cabot Lodge's 1903 history, for example, wisely did not adopt Johnson's map of the battle or his description of the militia's retreat. In general, Lodge's approach seems to have been one of reporting details that seemed relatively certain and omitting ones that were not. He entirely avoided the topic of British cavalry charges during the battle, perhaps because of the varying and confusing claims made in this regard by Tarleton and Mackenzie (see British Cavalry Charges at Cowpens - Part 1). Regardless of the causes of these omissions, the result is something less than a complete description of the battle.

Lawrence Babits' recent history, which I have frequently cited, improved in important respects on earlier histories. Babits eschewed the usual practice of relying solely on a few well-known participant accounts and earlier histories, but rather built off of a huge amount of source material offer a completely new interpretation of what took place.

Delving into a battle in such great detail can lead to numerous new insights into how the American Revolution was won (or lost, depending on the point of view). Drawing upon new sources of information can also shed new light on the contradictions present in the well-known accounts. The downside is that the greater detail and wider array of sources necessitate an increase in how frequently interpretation must substitute for fact. This in turn means that errors in the account are likely, perhaps even inevitable.

Despite these hazards, I have more-or-less emulated Babits. I decided that it would be possible to describe the battle in detail based solely on participant accounts and for the most part ignore postwar histories (which I consider to be largely unreliable). I did make an exception for a few secondary accounts. The postwar histories by Henry Lee and William Moultrie were cited with some frequency, for example, because of the authors’ familiarity with the Revolutionary War, because of their acquaintanceship with key participants at Cowpens, and because their histories usually agree with participant accounts. The inclusion of David Stewart’s history was based principally on the unique perspective it provides; I noted more than once that its description of the battle is not wholly reliable.

Having decided to use these sources, I next sought to show how they could be strung together to create a fairly reasonable and coherent narrative of the battle. There are numerous ways to connect the dots among these accounts. My guiding principle was that the narrative should be true to a natural reading of the accounts, have the actors making rational decisions, and avoid unnecessary complexity.

In this regard, I believe I have had considerable success.

Consider again Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan’s official report of the battle, which is arguably one of the most important and trustworthy participant accounts. In considering this report I took it for granted that Morgan did not describe every facet of the fighting, but instead emphasized how the Americans won rather than how they almost lost (for this reason he said very little about the British cavalry charges). Likewise, I presumed that the report named all of the major officers, but not all of the minor commands. Given those caveats (which I think are reasonable), a side-by-side reading of Morgan’s report and my account shows that they are well matched, although there are some discrepancies.

Morgan wrote:

"An hour before daylight one of my scouts returned and informed me that Lieut. Col. Tarleton had advanced within five miles of our camp. On this information, I hastened to form as good a disposition as circumstances would admit, and from the alacrity of the troops, we were soon prepared to receive them. The light infantry, commanded by Lieut. Col. Howard, and the Virginia militia under the command of Major Triplett, were formed on a rising ground, and extended a line in front. The third regiment of dragoons, under Lieut. Col. Washington, were posted at such a distance in their rear, as not to be subjected to the line of fire directed at them, and to be so near as to be able to charge them should they be broken. The volunteers from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, under the command of the brave and valuable Col, Pickens, were situated to guard the flanks. Maj. McDowall, of the North Carolina volunteers, was posted on the right flank in front of the line, one hundred and fifty yards; and Maj. Cunningham, of the Georgia volunteers, on the left, at the same distance in front, Colonels Brannon and Thomas, of the South Carolinans, were posted on the right of Maj. McDowall, and Cols. Hay and McCall, of the same corps, on the left of Maj. Cunningham. Capts. Tate and Buchanan, with the Augusta riflemen, to support the right of the line [Cowpens in Miniature 8].

"The enemy drew up in single line of battle, four hundred yards in front of our advanced corps. The first battalion of the 71st regiment was opposed to our right, the 7th regiment to our left, the infantry of the legion to our centre, the light companies on our flanks. In front moved two pieces of artillery. Lieut. Col. Tarleton, with his cavalry, was posted in the rear of the line [Cowpens in Miniature 11, 12].

"The disposition of battle being thus formed, small parties of riflemen were detached to skirmish with the enemy [Cowpens in Miniature 12], upon which their whole line moved on with the greatest impetuosity, shouting as they advanced. McDowall and Cunningham gave them a heavy and galling fire, and retreated to the regiments intended for their support [13]. The whole of Col. Pickens' command then kept up a fire by regiments, retreating agreeably to their orders [14]. When the enemy advanced on our line, they received a well-directed and incessant fire [15]. But their numbers being superior to ours, they gained our flanks, which obliged us to change our position [17]. We retired in good order about fifty paces, formed, and advanced on the enemy, and gave them a fortunate volley, which threw them into disorder [19]. Lieut. Col. Howard observing this, gave orders for the line to charge bayonets [20], which was done with such address that they fled with the utmost precipitation leaving their fieldpieces in our possession [21]. We pushed our advantage so effectually, that they never had an opportunity of rallying, had their intentions been ever so good [22].

"Lieut. Col. Washington, having been informed that Tarleton was cutting down our riflemen on the left [Cowpens in Miniature 18, 19], pushed forward, and charged them with such firmness [20, 21], that instead of attempting to recover the fate of the day, which one would have expected from an officer of his splendid character, broke and fled [22].

"The enemy's whole force were now bent solely in providing for their safety in flight [Cowpens in Miniature 22] -the list of their killed, wounded, and prisoners, will inform you with what effect [23, 25]. Tarleton, with the small remains of his cavalry, and a few scattered infantry he had mounted on his wagonhorses, made their escape. He was pursued twenty-four miles, but owing to our having taken a wrong trail at first, we could never overtake him [25].

By my count, there are three notable discrepancies between Morgan’s account and mine.

First, I did not place Hayes’ regiment in the position Morgan indicated, because I deferred to Robert Long’s description of his position. Instead, I indicated that Andrew Pickens’ regiment of South Carolina militia (not mentioned by Morgan) was in this area [see Cowpens in Miniature 8, The Militia Line: Composition and Organization, The Statements of Private Robert Long].

Second, I did not place Tate’s company on the right of the Continentals. Instead, I deferred to Howard’s description of Tate’s whereabouts and placed Tate on the Continentals’ left (see Cowpens in Miniature 8, The Main Line: Composition). (Babits sidestepped this disagreement between Morgan and Howard by claiming that there were two captains Tate present: one James and one Edward).

Third, I adopted a very different British deployment, because I deferred (with some reluctance) to Tarleton’s account (see Cowpens in Miniature 11, Note 5).

Although not without problems, I think my account provides a fairer treatment of Morgan’s report than is found in Babits’ history of the battle. Babits’ history contains 11 notable discrepancies by my count. 1) He did not show the American militia under Pickens to be situated to guard the flanks. 2) He did not have McDowell and Cunningham 150 yards in front of the Continentals, but rather 150 yards in front of Pickens and the South Carolina militia. 3) He did not have the commands of Brandon, Thomas, McDowell, Hayes, McCall (Hammond), and Cunningham positioned relative to each other in the manner Morgan indicated. 4) He deferred (as did I) to Tarleton’s description of the British deployment. 5) He had the skirmishers deployed before the British deployment, not after. 6) He had the skirmishers to be a fairly numerous, consisting of several small battalions (McDowell, Cunningham, and Hammond), not "small parties." 7) He did not have McDowell, Cunningham, and Hammond partaking in the "fire by regiments," although they were under Pickens’ control. 8) He did not show the attacking British infantry to be more numerous than the American main line; their numbers would have been roughly comparable following British losses on the militia line (possibly, the British would have been outnumbered). 9) He had the British gaining the American right flank of the main line chiefly because of a regiment-sized gap between the 7th Foot and 71st Foot. He did not have the British right extending beyond the American left. 10) He had Washington’s cavalry charge to the left occurring well before Howard’s counterattack. Also, he did not directly connect this charge with the charge that carried Washington into the rear of the British line. 11) He had Washington’s climatic charge launched from the American right.

Also noteworthy is that my method of interpreting the source material led me to some relatively unorthodox conclusions about how the battle was fought. Nevertheless, the present account holds together fairly well. The unusual manner in which I’ve shown the American main line to be deployed [see Cowpens in Miniature 8, The Main Line: Organization], for example, wasn’t based on a whimsical desire to elevate Samuel Hammond’s description of the main line deployment. Rather, Hammond's description, in combination with other participant accounts, led to a reasonable and parsimonious explanation for how Morgan intended to protect his retreating front-line militia [see Cowpens in Miniature 9], why Tarleton directed Ogilvie to charge [see Cowpens in Miniature 16], why Howard felt compelled to refuse his right flank [see Cowpens in Miniature 17], why the Continentals retreated up to 100 yards during the main line fighting [see Cowpens in Miniature 19, Note 5], and why Triplett’s Virginians held their ground [see Cowpens in Miniature 17, Note 2].

Just because things fit well together, however, does not mean that there isn’t a great deal of room for improvement. Two major concerns spring to mind:

First, I relied frequently on interpretation, and I’m sure that I have erred along the way. The fact that I have worked on this project in isolation is particularly problematic. Persons taking a fresh look at this account may discover errors in my reasoning to which I’ve been blind. In particular, there are key passages in the accounts of Alexander Chesney, James Collins, and Thomas Young describing the fighting on the extreme left and right that caused me difficulty. I'm not wholly satisfied with how I finessed those accounts, and I suspect a better interpretation is possible.

Second, I certainly have not exhausted every possible source of information. I did not examine all of the extant relevant documents, such as muster rolls, or perform a detailed examination of the terrain. If I had, I would have likely refined my estimate of the number of British and American participants and losses, and the exact positioning of units on the battlfield. I avoided estimating with any precision the duration of specific events on the battlefield and the speed with which specific units moved. I'm sure that a series of detailed time-motion studies would lead to numerous refinements.


Henry Beebee Carrington's 1881 Battle Maps and Charts of the American Revolution.

Henry Cabot Lodge's 1903 The Story of the Revolution.

Lawrence Babits' 1998 A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens is available through amazon.com.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cowpens in Miniature 25

Part 25: The Battle Ends
Previous: The Last Gambit

At the time that Tarleton and the remnants of the British cavalry fled the battlefield, it was still morning. For many of the Americans, the remainder of the day would be spent in pursuit of the British. The Continentals would not return to the battlefield until the evening.

The main body of British Legion dragoons were in the foremost of the retreat. When they reached the British baggage train, according to Lieutenant Mackenzie, the British guards soon mounted the wagon horses and retreated after them. After their departure, some Americans began arriving on the scene and began raiding the baggage train. Tarleton noted that his group, the last of the British to flee the battlefield, came up behind and attacked "a party of the Americans, who had seized upon the baggage of the British troops on the road." In the official British report, Tarleton "retook the Baggage of the Corps, & cut to pieces the detachment of the Enemy who had taken possession of it."

Lieutenant Roderick Mackenzie disputed Tarleton’s characterization of it describe this event. Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard believed that "Baron Glaubeck… with some five or six militia men… had taken the baggage," but when Tarleton’s band arrived, "he was obliged to leave." Howard did not refer to British losses; however, one of the raiders, militiaman Thomas Young, described running into Tarleton’s group while returning to camp and being severely injured by them [see Note 1].

Meanwhile, on the battlefield, according to Major Joseph McJunkin, "You might have seen some five or six hundred tall, brawny, well clad soldiers, the flower of the British Army, guarded by a set of militia clad in hunting shirts ‘blacked, smoked and greasy.’"

McJunkin also recalled that "The plain was strewn with the dead and dying." But at least "The number of the slain on the side of the Americans was inconsiderable compared with that of the Enemy." Private James Collins remembered that "After the fight was over, the sight was truly melancholy." Remembrance of the scene was also persevered in local lore. Obadiah Haggis, a mid-19th Century visitor to the battlefield, learned of "A woman who lived 2 miles away… [that] When the firin’ stopped and she knowed which side had whipt, she ventured to the place, with the rest of the neighborhood, and found the place all covered with dead people."

Those men that had pursued the British slept on the battlefield that night, and in Lieutenant Thomas Anderson’s words, "lay amongst the Dead & Wounded Very Well pleased With Our days Work."


One of the more difficult questions to address in connection with the battle of Cowpens concerns how many British and American soldiers were killed, wounded, or captured. Quite a few participants commented on losses, but their claims are not particularly trustworthy for the reason that they are typically reporting on what they heard others claim rather than on what they personally witnessed.

The numbers of Americans killed or wounded are stated in most histories to be quite few, about 72 in number, and they refer to a seemingly unimpeachable source: Morgan’s official report of the battle. Lawrence Babits, writing in A Devil of a Whipping, claimed to have a list of 128 Americans known to have been killed or wounded based on a number of different sources, including pension applications [see Note 2].

I’m inclined to believe that the number was higher, but for a different reason. Consider carefully Morgan’s language (see Morgan's Report). He said first, "Our loss is inconsiderable, which the enclosed return will evince. I have not been able to ascertain Col. Pickens loss, but know it to be very small" [see Note 3].

Then in a postscript he added, "Our loss was very inconsiderable, not having more than twelve killed and about sixty wounded." Notice, however, that he previously defined "our loss" as something different than Pickens’ loss. Therefore, the 72 casualties is arguably limited to the force he took with him from North Carolina: Howard’s battalion of Continentals, Washington’s regiment of dragoons, and Triplett’s battalion of Virginia militia.

If 72 is an "inconsiderable" number, then Pickens’ "very small" loss would likely be something a bit less, say around 50. This produces a total loss in the neighborhood of 120, or near Babits’ number.

Sergeant Major William Seymour recorded in his journal that "Our loss in the action were one Lieutenant wounded, and one Sergeant, and thirty-five killed and wounded, of which fourteen were of Captain Kirkwood's Company of the Delaware Regiment." In this case, "our loss" would seem to mean something different than it did in Morgan’s report. It’s possible that he is describing only the losses sustained by Howard’s Continentals (which included Kirkwood’s company). When Morgan’s and Seymour’s statements are combined, American losses would have included 37 men in Howard’s Continentals (about 13% of the battalion), of which 14 men were lost in Kirkwood’s company (23% of the company; see Note 4). This leaves about 35 men lost between Washington’s dragoons and Triplett’s Virginians (about 14% of those commands). These numbers are not unreasonable, and they are reflected in the four miniature casualties on the battlefield (again, the representation is 1:20).

I also placed on the battlefield three miniature casualties representing around 50 killed and wounded between the various detachments of Georgia and Carolina militia attached to Morgan’s army (about 12% of those forces, not including the baggage guard and other detachments). One casualty was placed on the militia line, another with the militia charged by Ogilvie, and the last with the militia charged by Nettles.

For the American army, exclusive of detachments, losses are estimated to have been in the neighborhood of 13% (~120 out of ~950 participants).

Quite a few sources provide an estimate of British casualties. All agree that British losses were considerable. The exact number given, however, differs widely from one source to another. An exact count of the British killed and wounded was not performed, and most sources report their impression of British losses or what had been related to them by others.

The Americans did not linger long on the battlefield. Morgan was concerned that the British army under Lieutenant-General Charles Cornwallis would soon advance on him in an effort to free the British prisoners. Morgan, did, however, have an officer ride over the battlefield and do a rough count of British losses. Subsequently, Morgan stated in his report of the battle that the British had 10 officers and 100 or so rank and file killed, and 200 or so wounded. A total in the low 300s is also suggested by subtracting from total British strength the number of unwounded prisoners captured by the time Morgan filed his report, a number of infantry and cavalry that were captured after the report was filed, a small contingent of infantry that escaped capture, and the British Legion dragoons and 17th Light Dragoons that escaped wounding or capture. Therefore, I have placed 16 miniature British casualties on the battlefield. A number of American sources pegged British losses higher than Morgan, but those claims are generally less trustworthy.

For the British army, exclusive of the baggage train detachment, losses are estimated to have been around 29% (~320 out of ~1,115 participants).

In addition to the killed and wounded, the British lost large numbers of prisoners to the Americans. Morgan indicated that 531 were captured soon after the battle (some others were captured after Morgan wrote his report). For reasons that I will not wholly recount, it appears that a certain portion of Tarleton’s infantry escaped capture during the battle, but some of these men were captured later. It also appears that while almost all of Tarleton’s cavalry escaped capture during the battle, some of these men were also captured afterwards (notably, the British Legion lost 277 rank and file around the time of the battle; far too many to be accounted for by infantry losses alone). Samuel Otterson recalled how some of the Legion dragoons were captured by the American militia. Others were likely taken by William Washington’s dragoons during the pursuit. Some of the Americans must have been mounted on faster horses than some of the British, especially as the latter had made an all-night march to reach the battlefield.


1. Howard’s acknowledgement that the Americans were forced to withdraw is the only acknowledgement on the American side that such an encounter took place. However, American participants were more likely to recall triumphs rather than setbacks, and it’s possible that there were some American casualties (aside from Young). That’s not to suggest, however, that Tarleton’s description is without exaggeration. Young’s vivid description of his wounding and capture is worth reading, but it is not recounted here.

2. Babits also suggested that the actual number may have been even higher, because these records did not cover all participants and because of an ambiguous document in the archives of the state of North Carolina [a transcription of which can be found here].

Conversely, counting the losses mentioned in pension applications may overstate the number of American killed or wounded as the information in the pension applications may in some cases be inaccurate. It’s possible, even likely that some of the claims about having been present at the battle and even wounded there were in error.

3. I have not seen a transcription of this return, but I suspect it is extant. Babits alluded to it in recounting American losses.

4. There are quite a few reasons for why Kirkwood’s losses exceeded those of the other companies. I show in the maps (although not in the miniature representation) one of the two three-pounders lined up with Kirkwood’s company during the British advance against the American main line. One or more salvos of grapeshot could have led to significantly higher casualties. William Seymour’s journal gives Kirkwood’s company a leading role in the American counterattack. It’s possible they sustained greater losses in the subsequent melee than did other companies. Henry Wells’ account suggests that Kirkwood’s company was also attacked during the final British cavalry charge; perhaps other companies were not.


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

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

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

Joseph Johnson's 1851 Traditions and Reminiscences Chiefly of the American Revolution in the South has Young's account of the battle.

This issue (.pdf file) of The Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine includes a review by Will Graves of McJunkin's statements.

Edwin Bearss' 1974 Historic Grounds and Resource Study (.pdf file) has a transcription of Obadiah Haggis' description of an 1857 visit to the Cowpens battlefield, in which Haggis related some local lore about the battle.

Lawrence Babits' 1998 A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens is available through amazon.com.

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

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

François-Jean de Chastellux's 1787 Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782 has a comparison of British rank and file returns before and after the battle of Cowpens.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Samuel Otterson (.pdf).

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

Related: How Many Fought at Cowpens?, Morgan and Seymour, The British Legion

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

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cowpens in Miniature 23

Part 23: Surrender
Previous: Flight

The flight of the British Legion dragoon reserve meant that the American counterattack would not be checked. François-Jean de Chastellux noted that the British Legion "fled full gallop, without ever thinking of the infantry, or taking the least precaution to cover their retreat."

The infantry struggled to fend for themselves as all order broke down. Daniel Morgan reported that "The enemy's whole force were now bent solely in providing for their safety in flight." Sergeant-Major William Seymour happily observed that the British "retreated off, leaving us entire masters of the field." From writing from a British perspective, David Stewart gloomily concurred, "the rout Was general; few of the infantry escaped; and of the cavalry, who put their horses to full speed, not a man was taken."

Not all of the British troops attempted to flee, however. The remnant of the 17th Light Dragoons stayed on the field, although they had been, in Cornet James Simons words, "deserted by Colo. Tarleton's Legeonary Cavalry." Tarleton also remained behind. When the Legion dragoons could not be rallied, he remained with the 17th Light Dragoons and a handful of others on horseback, near the Green River Road. George Hanger claimed that "He stood almost alone, between his flying troops and the enemy, with hopes either of rallying his own men, or not surviving their disgrace." This small force offered at least some protection for his retreating infantry, which had, in American Thomas Young’s words, thrown "down their guns and cartouch boxes, made for the wagon road, and did the prettiest sort of running!"

The presence of the American cavalry in the rear of the British infantry severely limited their options to escape.

Cornet James Simons stated in a letter to William Washington long after the battle that "In pursuit of their Cavalry [i.e., the 17th Light Dragoons] you overtook their Artillery, whom you immediately made prisoners." Howard convincingly claimed that the guns were taken by his own infantry [see Note 1], but it’s possible that the cavalry encountered at least the horse-drawn limbers. Simon went on to relate that "the Drivers of the Horses who were Galloping off with 2-3 pounders, you could not make Surrender until after Repeated Commands from you, you were obliged to order to be Shot; after securing these fieldpieces."

Letting the 17th go, the American then turned on the British infantry. According to Simons "your third Charge was made on the right wing of their Army… who, under the Operation of a Universal panic, (having been successfully charged on the left of their Army by our friend Col. Howard) instantly surrendered" [see Note 2]. Major Joseph McJunkin remembered also the key role played by the American cavalry, "Washington darts before them with his cavalry and they too ground their arms [see Note 3].

The British infantry was certainly not going to outrun the American cavalry; frequently they could not outrun the American infantry.

Mackenzie wrote that "the infantry were easily overtaken, as the cause which had retarded the pursuit [i.e., exhaustion], had now an equal effect in impeding the retreat: dispirited on many accounts, they surrendered at discretion." De Chastellux agreed, "Fatigued by a very long march, they were soon overtaken."

Even the militia that had survived Nettles’ attack was able to contribute to this final assault on the British right. According to Private James Collins, "We… advanced briskly, and gained the right flank of the enemy, and they being hard pressed in front, by Howard, and falling very fast, could not stand it long.

Surrender (click to enlarge). Closely pressed by American Continentals and militia, and their retreat cut off by the American cavalry, most of the British infantry throw down their arms (not shown). Meanwhile, Tarleton stands "almost alone, between his flying troops and the enemy."

American Cavalryman Thomas Young, seeing the British line collapse so utterly noted that at this time, "Major Jolly and seven or eight of us, resolved upon an excursion to capture some of the baggage" [see Note 4]. Tarleton may have seen these men, but he evidently did not interfere with them. He retained his toehold on the battlefield.

Around the same time, that the Americans were mopping up the right side of the British line, the British left was also in complete collapse. Lieutenant-Colonel Howard recalled that "In the pursuit, I was led towards the [American] right, in among the 71st, who were broken into squads. They no longer offered serious resistance. William Moultrie claimed that "So great was the consternation in which the British infantry were, at seeing their cavalry gallop off, that, either from pique or panic, numbers of them never fired a gun."

Howard recalled that "I called to them [the 71st Foot] to surrender, they laid down their arms, and the officers delivered up their swords." Major McJunkin was also immediately present and remembered that "some begin to call for quarters," when "the voice of Howard is heard amid the rush of men and clangor of steel: ‘Throw down your arms and you shall have good quarters.’ When they were finally "convinced that quarters would be given, they as it were rent the very air with thanks that their lives would be spared. These were called the Scots regiment" [see Note 5].

All-in-all, according to William Moultrie, "upwards of five hundred laid down their arms, and surrendered themselves prisoners. The first battalion of the seventy-first, and two companies of light infantry, laid down their arms." The 71st surrendered on the British left; the two companies of light infantry (perhaps Moultrie meant the light infantry of the 16th and 71st regiments) were perhaps the last organized resistance on the British right.

Several anecdotes concerning the surrender of the 71st Foot have been preserved in participant accounts. McJunkin stated that "In the conclusion of this foray you might have seen Major [James] Jackson of Georgia rush among the broken ranks of the 71st Regiment and attempting to seize their standard, while they are vainly trying to form by it; you might have seen Col. Howard interposing for the relief of his friend when entangled among his foes" [see Note 6].

Howard related that one "Captain Duncanson, of the 71st grenadiers [see Note 7], gave me his sword, and stood by me. Upon getting on my horse, I found him pulling at my saddle, and he nearly unhorsed me. I expressed my displeasure, and asked him what he was about. The explanation was, that they had orders to give no'quarter, and they did not expect any; and as my men were coming up, he was afraid they would use him ill. I admitted his excuse, and put him into the care of a sergeant. I had messages from him for some years afterwards, expressing his obligation for my having saved his life."

Major Arthur McArthur, who commanded the first battalion of the 71st attempted to escape on horseback, but he was overridden by one or more mounted Americans. Who captured him is unclear. Colonel Andrew Pickens claimed that, "Major McCarthur surrendered to me, some distance from the battlefield & delivered his sword to me," while Major Jackson wrote that McArthur was "a prisoner on that occasion taken by myself" [emphasis in original].


1. Morgan also implicitly credited Howard with capturing the guns in his official report of the battle. Howard, Morgan reported, "gave orders for the line to charge bayonets, which was done with such address that they [the British] fled with the utmost precipitation leaving their fieldpieces in our possession."

2. The excised text includes that "the right wing of their Army Composed of their Legeonary Infantry, intermixed with the Battallion of the Brave 71st (under the Command of Major McArthur,)" The 71st Foot was neither a part of the right wing of their army nor next to the British Legion infantry. Perhaps he was thinking of the light infantry companies of the 71st Foot, who were on hand.

3. The full text reads "One battalion throws down their arms and the men fall to the earth. Another commences flight, but Washington darts before them with his cavalry and they too ground their arms." McJunkin recognized that the British line had broken into two parts. The battalion that "throws down their arms" is the 71st, the other "battalion" is the British right. McJunkin was personally involved at this time in the fight against the 71st; he did not seem to realize or remember that the British right included several commands.

4. Howard mentions Morgan’s aide, Baron de Glaubeck leading "five or six militia men well mounted," on this excursion. McJunkin related that "After the surrender of the British infantry a company of fourteen dashed off to take possession of the British baggage wagons ten miles distant. Major Benjamin Jolly and a Frenchman called De Barron headed this party. It happened to pass Col. Tarleton while he was collecting his men after the retreat. Unconscious of this fact, they pressed on in comparative security."

Other individuals may have also made a mounted pursuit. Militiaman Hugh McNary claimed that he joined in the pursuit "when the Enemy first gave way." Whether the rest of his company was mounted or on foot, he "got far enough ahead of his company to stop a British officer, the officer surrendered, deponent [i.e., McNary] dismounted and took from the officer his Holsters and pistols, and after getting them, he discovered, that his company had stopped pursuit and were retreating back, he mounted his horse and returned leaving the British officer, but took the Holsters and pistols which he afterwards sold."

5. Several American sources seemed impressed by the restraint they showed on this occasion (implicitly in contrast with what happened on other battlefields). Morgan reported that "It, perhaps, would be well to remark, for the honor of the American arms, that although the progress of this [Tarleton’s] corps was marked with burning and devastation, and although they waged the most cruel warfare, not a man was killed, wounded, or even insulted, after he surrendered."

6. Major James Jackson confirmed this episode: "[I ran] the utmost risk of my life, in an attempt to seize the colors of the 71st regiment in the midst of it, on their attempt to form after they were broken, being saved by an exertion of Col. Howard’s." The 71st Foot did not carry its colors into the battle. The 7th Foot did have its colors, one of which was captured by an American militiaman (see 7th Regiment of Foot). This account may describe that capture.

7. The two battalions of the 71st Foot had, between them, two companies of light infantry, and two companies of grenadiers. The former were at the battle of Cowpens, the latter were not. The 71st's grenadiers were captured at the battle of Stony Point in 1779. That Captain Duncanson would have been at Cowpens indicates that he was 1) absent during the battle of Stony Point, 2) at that battle, but subsequently exchanged, or 3) captured at Stony Point, but released on parole. If Duncanson had violated his parole, he was liable to be hanged.


François-Jean de Chastellux's 1787 Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782.

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

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.

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.

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

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

This issue (.pdf file) of The Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine includes a review by Will Graves of McJunkin's statements. McJunkin's description of the raid on the baggage train can be found here.

William Moultrie's 1802 Memoirs of the American Revolution.

Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Hugh McNary (.pdf file).

Related: 71st Foot, The American Cavalry - Part 1, The American Cavalry - Part 2

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cowpens in Miniature 22

Part 22: Flight
Previous: Collapse
Next: Surrender

The Continental infantry dealt their British counterparts a deadly blow when first they delivered an unexpected volley at short range and then charged with the bayonets. David Stewart, however, maintained that while the "Highlanders… were checked and repulsed," they were not broken. They were "some distance in the rear, after they retreated, and had formed into some compact order."

The Continentals were still outnumbered by the British regulars, but the British failed to make a dignified withdrawal, much less recover the advantage. American writers claimed they retained the advantage due to the vigorous manner with which the offense was sustained. Daniel Morgan reported that "We pushed our advantage so effectually, that they never had an opportunity of rallying, had their intentions been ever so good."

The Americans "pushed" their "advantage" in several parts of the battlefield at once.

In the middle, the Continentals were close on the heels of the retreating British.

William Wood recalled seeing John Hill, a North Carolina Continental, "pursue 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."

Lieutenant Thomas Anderson of the Delaware Continentals wrote in his journal that "We Were in amongst them With the Bayonets Which Caused them to give ground and at last to take to, the flight But We followed them up so Close that they never Could get in Order again."

Sergeant-Major William Seymour, also of Delaware, wrote that "all the officers and men behaved with uncommon and undaunted bravery, but more especially the brave captain Kirkwood and his company, who did that day wonders, rushing on the enemy without either dread or fear, and being instrumental in taking a great number of prisoners."

As the Continentals pressed forward, they were joined on either flank by the American militia.

In Joseph McJunkin’s words, "Howard orders a charge, the militia comes back, and fall in right and left." William Moultrie noted that "our militia at the same time [as Howard’s charge] recovered themselves and charged, which threw them [the British] into the utmost confusion" [see Note 1].

To the British, the danger from the attacking militia was particularly acute on the flank of the 71st Foot [see Note 2]. The 71st Foot had exposed their left flank to them in attempting to turn the right flank of the Continentals [see Note 3]. The militia on the American right had been stunned by Captain Ogilvie’s charge [see Note 4], but at this critical moment, Colonel Andrew Pickens and Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan had succeeded in rallying them. As the militia returned to fight, the men of the 71st found themselves assaulted on the left and rear at the same time that the Continentals attacked to their front and right [see Note 5].

The 71st Foot began to retreat. Stewart claimed that "If they had been supported, they might have made a soldier-like retreat." Nearby was Tarleton’s Legion Dragoon reserves. However, they offered no support. Tarleton wrote that "The part of the cavalry which had not been engaged fell likewise into disorder, and an unaccountable panic extended itself along the whole line."

Tarleton was on hand and attempted to bring the dragoons forward. "In this last stage of defeat Lieutenant-colonel Tarleton made another struggle to bring his cavalry to the charge. The weight of such an attack might yet retrieve the day, the enemy being much broken by their late rapid advance." But there would be no charge: "all attempts to restore order, recollection, or courage, proved fruitless." Instead, "Above two hundred dragoons forsook their leader, and left the field of battle."

Why did the dragoons flee?

Alexander Chesney made the curious comment that "the British Legion… was filled up from the prisoners taken at the battle of Camden… the prisoners on seeing their own Regt opposed to them in the rear would not proceed against it and broke." It is believable that some former Continentals had been compelled to enlist as British Legion dragoons [see Note 6], but this explanation seems insufficient to explain why they fled.

Daniel Morgan wrote that Washington charged them "with such firmness, that [Tarleton with his dragoons] instead of attempting to recover the fate of the day, which one would have expected from an officer of his splendid character, broke and fled."

William Moultrie further developed this theme:

"There is no doubt but Colonel Tarleton was a brave man, and a good soldier, but in this affair he displayed neither generalship nor courage, but galloped off with his two hundred and fifty horse, when pursued by about seventy continental cavalry, and forty-five militia horse, and left his infantry to be made prisoners of."

Morgan implied Tarleton of cowardice for retreating with his dragoons; Moultrie directly alleged it. Both assessments are too harsh [see Note 7]. Tarleton had to bring his dragoons to order, if only to minimize British losses. It is difficult to see what possible gain would have resulted from remaining with the infantry. Roderick Mackenzie commented that "Two hundred and fifty horse which had not been engaged, fled through the woods with the utmost precipitation, bearing down such officers as opposed their flight." Tarleton was one of these officers. In Major George Hanger’s words, "Exertions were used, and most vigourous ones, to enforce obedience to the orders, of the gallant commander: some officers went so far as to cut down several of their men, in order to stop the flight."

Washington’s dragoons had rounded the right flank of the British line and were heading towards the dragoon reserve at the time that the latter broke. Did the American cavalry drive off their British counterparts? British writers did not think so.

Stewart noted that the highlanders "saw no prospect of support, while their own numbers were diminishing, and the enemy increasing. They began to retire, and at length to run." Mackenzie commented that when "the advance of the British fell back," they "communicated a panick to others, which soon became general: a total route ensued" [see Note 8]. The picture that emerges is that the retreat of the 71st triggered the flight of the British Legion dragoons. In other words, the dragoons panicked and fled just as the mass of retreating Highlanders and closely pursuing Americans was about to break upon them [see Note 9].

Flight. 1 = American Cavalry, 3 = Right Wing of the Main Line, 4 = Continental Infantry, 5 = Left Wing of the Main Line, 6 = Right Wing of the Militia Line, 7 = Left Wing of the Militia Line, 9 = British Front Line, 10 = Captain David Ogilvie's Company, 11 = Other British Legion Dragoons, 12 = 17th Light Dragoons, 13 = 71st Foot, 14 = Main British Legion Dragoon Reserve.

Flight (two views; click to enlarge). The Continentals and American militia press the retreating British on front and flank. As the British Legion dragoons flee the battlefield, the American dragoons cut off the retreat of the British infantry.


1. It is likely that the militia on the right were the first to reenter the battle as they had more time to recover from being charged by the British cavalry. The militia on the American right can be seen first reengaging the British (albeit at long range) at about the same time as the American counterattack (see Cowpens in Miniature 20).

Morgan rallied the militia on the right after Ogilvie’s charge (see Cowpens in Miniature 18). He seems to have rallied the militia on the left after Nettles was repulsed. According to James Collins: "by this time, both lines of the infantry were warmingly engaged and we being relieved from the pursuit of the enemy [i.e., the British cavalry charge] began to rally and prepare to redeem our credit, when Morgan rode up in front, and waving his sword, cried out, "Form, form, my brave fellows! give them one more fire and the day is ours. Old Morgan. was never beaten." These militia then moved against the British right, but because it was some distance in front, they could not have immediately attacked it.

For Collins to have joined in the counterattack, he would have had to pass through the ranks of Triplett’s Virginians. It seems unlikely that the Virginians would have remained stationary. Therefore, I have shown the Virginians joining (even leading) the counterattack on the map and in the accompanying images of the miniatures. However, this depiction is speculative. Aside from some participant-provided insights into the experience of Triplett’s former company (see especially Cowpens in Miniature 18), very little is known about the experience of the left wing of the main line during the battle.

2. Noting in particular this counterattack, Howard wrote that of the front-line militia that "part of them… [were in] the rear of my right flank," and that these men "renewed the action." In his history of the 71st Foot, Stewart noted that the militia "rallied, returned to the field."

3. The ground occupied by these militia was not much lower than that on which the main fighting was taking place, but the British seemed to have poor awareness of the presence of militia there. Tarleton apparently did not know that the front-line militia were not far behind the right wing of the main line when he ordered Ogilvie to charge. Likewise, Tarleton’s unfulfilled directive for the Legion dragoons to advance to the left seems to have been made in ignorance of these militiamen.

4. Morgan is mentioned by participants as being both with the Continentals and with the militia during the main-line fighting. I argued previously that it was essential to Morgan’s plan for victory that the front-line militia be brought back into the fighting after their initial retreat (see Cowpens in Miniature 9). The Continentals were ably led by Lieutenant-Colonels John Eager Howard and William Washington; it is likely that Morgan devoted the greater part of his energies to overseeing the militia.

5. Alexander Chesney’s account indicates that the 71st was partially attacked from behind. In his words, the militia went "from the rear of their Cavalry which immediately charged and broke in the rear of the 71st (then unsupported) making many prisoners: The rout was almost total" This is an unfortunately ambiguous description. Who "immediately charged," the cavalry or the militia? In the present interpretation, a part of the American cavalry helped drive off Ogilvie’s charge on the American right (see Cowpens in Miniature 16) and thus may have had the militia behind them at one point, but the American cavalry subsequently moved off to assist Washington. Upon rallying, it was the American militia that attacked the flank and rear of the 71st. (For a different take on a possible American cavalry charge against the British left, see Cowpens in Miniature 20, Note 4).

6. It was not uncommon for prisoners of war on both sides to volunteer to serve with the other side as a means of avoiding imprisonment. Some did so in the hope of eventually deserting back to their former army; others because they placed income, health, and safety above patriotic principle. The British could (and did) send those prisoners willing to switch sides to remote posts where they would cause little trouble. But not always, as Chesney’s account reveals.

7. Lee, a cavalryman who fought Tarleton and his dragoons on more than one occasion, was notably more neutral in tone: "The British cavalry, having taken no part in the action, except the two troops attached to the line [i.e., Ogilvie and Nettles], were in force to cover the retreat. This, however, was not done."

8. Stewart elaborated on Mackenzie’s language and assigned the 71st the role of the troops in advance and claimed that the rest of the British infantry were the ones that panicked upon the 71st’s retreat. This description does not mesh well with Tarleton’s account of the battle. Tarleton and Hanger implied that the 71st and the 7th were fighting side-by-side, their flanks entangled. I showed all of the British infantry maintaining a single line while the Continentals retreated, but this is primarily interpretative; there are few indications in participant accounts about the location of specific British units during the middle or late phases of the battle.

9. Even before this the Legion dragoons were likely severely demoralized. Delaware Continental Henry Wells recalled that "During the day, at every turn we Seemed to gain new advantages." From the British perspective, the reverse would have been true – during the battle at every turn they experienced some new loss. The dragoons, on horseback and in reserve, had a panoramic view of the battle, and perhaps a bit more perspective than did Tarleton. They could see that the battle was lost, even if he could not.

To speculate further, another possibility is that one or more dragoon officers even ordered their men to fall back some ways so as to preserve a certain amount of distance between the (retreating) infantry and the cavalry reserve. Under the circumstances, such a minor repositioning of the troops could have led to an unintended retreat, not unlike what happened with Wallace’s Virginians (see Cowpens in Miniature 17).


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

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

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

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

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

This issue (.pdf file) of The Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution magazine includes an article by Will Graves that provides a complete treatment of McJunkin's statements.

William Moultrie's 1802 Memoirs of the American Revolution.

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

The Journal of Alexander Chesney.

Henry Lee's 1812 Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States.

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

Related: The British Legion, 71st Foot, Cowpens Battlefield in Miniature

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cowpens in Miniature 21

Part 21: Collapse
Next: Flight

After Howard charged, several specific things happened at this time so close together that it is difficult to sort out the exact timing of each.

On the British left, the 71st Foot was disorganized, but still dangerous. David Stewart wrote that "They were checked; but they did not fall back immediately, probably expecting that the first line and cavalry would push forward to their support" [see Note 1].

It is likely that the 71st Foot still extended beyond the right flank of the Continentals. There was, on at least one part of the line, enough separation with the Continentals to permit, in Stewart’s words, "some irregular firing between them [the 71st Foot] and Colonel Howard's reserve [the Continentals]" [see Note 2].

This portion of the 71st may also have continued to advance, even as other parts of the British line were falling back. Sergeant Major William Seymour recorded in journal that the British "thought to surround our right flank," but they were foiled in this effort because "Captain Kirkwood with his company wheeled to the right and attacked their left flank [i.e., the 71st Foot] so vigorously that they were soon repulsed, our men advancing on them so very rapidly that they soon gave way" [see Note 3].

In the British center, the Americans pitched into the ranks of the British infantry with their bayonets, making prisoners of some, striking down others, and driving back the rest. This created a clean break in the British line with the British infantry there either scattering or falling back towards the flanks and rear [see Note 4]. Just as a part of the Continentals had wheeled to the right to attack the 71st Foot, others wheeled to the left and fell upon the other end of the broken British line. According to Sergeant-Major William Seymour, "Our left flank [i.e., the left side of the Continentals] advanced… and repulsed their right flank [i.e., the right half of the British line]."

In this moment of crisis, Tarleton ordered his last reserve, the British Legion dragoons, to advance. He "sent directions to his cavalry to form about four hundred yards to the right of the enemy, in order to check them." With the British infantry beginning to retreat, Tarleton perhaps thought that by placing this massive cavalry force on the flank of the American line he could compel them to fall back and adopt a defensive posture. However, "The cavalry did not comply with the order" [see Note 5]. Meanwhile, Tarleton personally attempt to turn around the British infantry, but he was stymied: "Exertions to make them advance were useless" [see Note 6].

As the 7th Foot and British Legion infantry fell back, they left exposed the two cannon belonging to the Royal Artillery.

Howard recalled that "As the [Continental] line approached [the British], I observed their artillery a short distance in front, and called to Captain Ewing, who was near me, to take it. Captain Anderson… hearing the order, also pushed for the same object, and both being emulous for the prize, kept pace until near the first piece, when Anderson, by placing the end of his espontoon forward into the ground, made a long leap which brought him upon the gun, and gave him the honour of the prize" [see Note 7].

Tarleton was on hand and "endeavoured to rally the infantry to protect the guns… [but] the effort to collect the infantry was ineffectual: Neither promises nor threats could gain their attention; they surrendered or dispersed, and abandoned the guns to the artillery men, who defended them for some time with exemplary resolution" [see Note 8].

On the British right, Washington burst onto the scene as he pursued the fleeing 17th Light Dragoons. Howard wrote that "as soon as we got among the enemy & were making prisoners I observed the enemy's cavalry retreating the way they had advanced, by our left flank, and Washington in pursuit of them and he followed them some distance."

Howard recalled that "My attention was now drawn to an altercation of some of the men with an artillery man, who appeared to make it a point of honour not to surrender his match. The men, provoked by his obstinacy, would have bayonetted him on the spot, had I not interfered, and desired them to spare the life of so brave a man. He then surrendered his match" [see Note 9].

The British Line Collapses. 1 = American Cavalry, 3 = Right Wing of the Main Line (reforming), 4 = Continental Infantry, 5 = Left Wing of the Main Line, 6 = Right Wing of the Militia Line, 7 = Left Wing of the Militia Line, 9 = British Front Line, 10 = Captain David Ogilvie's Company, 11 = Other British Legion Dragoons, 12 = 17th Light Dragoons, 13 = 71st Foot, 14 = Main British Legion Dragoon Reserve.

The British Line Collapses (two views; click to enlarge). The British infantry began to retreat in the face of a bayonet charge by the Continental infantry in front. Meanwhile, the American cavalry and militia begin to threaten the British flanks.


1. The first line was not behind them at this point, as he alleged, but off to the right. It was in a similar situation at this moment and in no condition to offer assistance.

2. One of the distinctive features of Lawrence Babits’ account of the battle (A Devil of a Whipping) is that he maintained that Major Joseph McDowell’s battalion of North Carolinians did not retreat behind the main line when the militia line broke, but rather maintained contact with the British infantry and were driven back only by a charge of Ogilvie’s dragoons and a detachment of the 71st Foot. In support of this account, Babits cited the pension application of William Meade, who claimed that "He had a rib broken by the point of a Bayonet, had his skull badly fractured by a Sword, and had a leg badly wounded by the stroke of a Cutlass of a British Light horseman."

Meade's statement indicates that some of the American militia on the right were assailed by both infantry and cavalry. In my account, Ogilvie charged the American militia on the right, but without the participation of British infantry. However, I do show that the 71st Foot later crossed into the area through which Ogilvie had charged in attempting to turn the right flank of the Continentals. My explanation for Meade’s injuries is as follows: in the wake of Ogilvie’s charge, a number of militiamen (including, but not limited to, the men of McDowell’s battalion) were left wounded on the ground, and as the 71st Foot swept over the area, some of these hapless Americans were bayoneted by the Highlanders).

3. Captain Robert Kirkwood commanded the company of Delaware Continentals. Seymour’s description is ambiguous as to whether he was referring to the larger British effort to turn the Americans’ right flank or a specific proximal event that triggered this movement by Kirkwood’s company.

4. Several American accounts distinguish between a British left and right for this and later points in the battle. Robert Long, for example, recalled that late in the battle the British "on the right and left surrendered or retreated." Seymour’s account provides the strongest indication that the Continentals’ counterattack forced this severance.

5. This failure of the British Legion cavalry to advance has been interpreted as a primary cause of the British defeat. The cavalry, it has been argued by others, were lacking in fighting spirit. I don’t find this argument to be particularly compelling. Captain David Ogilvie’s company charged the Americans and appears to have fought bravely, and I know of no reason why this company should be viewed as exceptional within the regiment.

Worth considering is an alternative possibility: that the Legion dragoons didn’t execute the order because it didn’t make sense.

The order would have carried the dragoons into a creek bottom and wood swarming with militiamen. That’s not to say that Tarleton should have realized that the order was nonsensical. Tarleton was, after all, in the center trying to rally the British regulars, and things were so chaotic at this moment that there was no opportunity for him to converse with the officers commanding his dragoons.

But why would Tarleton have thought this order to be appropriate?

Tarleton had already ordered the Legion dragoons to occupy a position on the American right (see Cowpens in Miniature 17), but they failed to fully execute this order. I suggested one of three possible reasons for that failure (see Cowpens in Miniature 18, Note 1): that they may have misunderstood Tarleton’s intentions, that they may have found the ground in front of them to be unsuitable, or that they may have found the timing of the movement to be spoiled. Tarleton can be excused on this count unless the problem was with the terrain and he had been informed of that problem.

Also curious is that at this moment the Americans were a short distance to the front. Why then would Tarleton then order the dragoons to a position on the flank? Perhaps Tarleton saw that the dragoons could not make a direct charge (in any order at least) through the swarm of Continentals and British regulars, and he ordered the dragoons to the flank where they would have a relatively clear shot at the Americans.

6. There are some noteworthy differences between the Tarleton-inspired British official report of the battle and Tarleton’s later memoir. The report notes that "The 1st Battalion of the 71st & the cavalry were successively ordered up; but neither the exertions, entreaties, or Example of Lieut. Colonel Tarleton could prevent the panic from becoming general." In the memoir, it is clear that the 71st had already been committed and was in no condition to rescue anyone. David Stewart, in fact, claimed that the rest of the British line failed to come up in support of the 71st. Such gross differences suggest that neither half of the broken British line knew where the other half was or what it was doing.

7. Captain James Ewing commanded the left-hand company in Howard’s battalion (see pension application of Sergeant Benjamin Martin). The placement of Anderson’s company is unknown, but he may have been next to Ewing.

8. The language in Cornwallis’ report of the battle is even stronger, "the two three pounders were taken… In justice to the Detachment of the Royal Artillery, I must here observe that no terrors could induce them to abandon their Guns, & they were all either killed or wounded in defense of them."

9. Elsewhere he gave another version of this event: "When I came up to the two pieces of artillery which we took, I saw some of my men going to bayonet the man who had the match. He refused to surrender it, and I believe he would have suffered himself to have been bayoneted, if I had not rescued him rather than give up his match."


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

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

Marg Baskin's Banastre Tarleton website has a transcription of Tarleton's account of the battle.

Lawrence Babits' 1998 A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens is available through amazon.com.

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

See The Statements of Private Robert Long for a transcription of his statements.

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

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

Related: 7th Regiment of Foot, 71st Foot, The British Legion

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cowpens in Miniature 20

Part 20: Washington and Howard Charge
Next: Collapse

Lieutenant-Colonel William Washington was stationed, with his dragoons, in rear of the American main line during the battle. His cavalry was the Americans’ last line of defense, and like his counterpart, Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton, he used his cavalry sparingly [see Note 1]. Washington sent mounted militia forward at the beginning of the battle to cover the retreat of the militia, but then had them return to a position in reserve [see Note 2]. When Ogilvie charged, he sent forward a portion of his dragoons to prevent the American right from being wholly swept away, but still he did not commit his entire force. However, when the Continental infantry began to retreat, he was left with no alternative than to bring his remaining dragoons forward and use them to guard against a rout of the American center. With his last dragoons deployed, no force was left to counter the charge of the 17th light dragoons. Mounted militiaman Jeremiah Dial saw "the British broke through the leftwing of the Malitia" (i.e., Triplett’s Virginians) and charge into the American rear. There was, however, no immediate relief for those that were attacked.

William Moultrie stated in his postwar history that "Colonel Washington… [was] close to the rear of the second line [i.e., the Continentals] with his cavalry, and spoke to Colonel Howard, 'that if he would rally his men, and charge the enemy's line, he would charge the cavalry that were got among our militia in the rear' [see Note 3]."

Washington at this moment may also have ordered the recall of the detachment of dragoons that had driven off Ogilvie’s company [see Note 4].

Moments later, Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard ordered the retreating Continentals to halt, about face, and deliver a fatal volley into the astonished British.

Both Howard and Washington then ordered charges, respectively, against the British infantry and cavalry.

The volleys Howard’s Continentals delivered at close range brought down many of the British infantry and left the rest reeling. According to Howard, "While [the British were] in this confusion, I ordered a charge with the bayonet, which order was obeyed with great alacrity."

This was also the experience of Lieutenant Thomas Anderson of the Delaware Continentals. He recorded in his journal that we "Charged them home. They not expecting any Such thing put them in Such Confusion that We Were in amongst them With the Bayonets Which Caused them to give ground."

Similarly, Henry Lee stated that "Howard seized the happy moment, and followed his advantage with the bayonet. This decisive step gave us the day. The reserve [i.e., the 71st Foot] having been brought near the line, shared in the destruction of our fire, and presented no rallying point to the fugitives.

Meanwhile, according to Howard, "Washington observing... [the British cavalry] charged them. As well as I can recollect this charge was made at the same moment that I charged the infantry." Anderson made the same observation in his journal "At the Same time that We Charged, Col. Washington Charged the horse Which Soon gave Way" [see Note 5].

In making this charge, according to Howard, Washington "moved to the left from our rear, to attack Tarleton's horse" [see Note 6].

Within moments they passed by elements of the shattered right wing of the main line [see Note 7] and into the ranks of the 17th Light Dragoons.

Washington and Howard Charge. 1 & 2 = American Cavalry, 3 = Right Wing of the Main Line (broken), 4 = Continental Infantry, 5 = Left Wing of the Main Line, 6 = Right Wing of the Militia Line (reforming), 7 = Left Wing of the Militia Line (reforming), 9 = British Front Line, 10 = Captain David Ogilvie's Company (reforming), 11 = Other British Legion Dragoons, 12 = 17th Light Dragoons, 13 = 71st Foot, 14 = Main British Legion Dragoon Reserve.

Cornet James Simons, one of Washington’s cavalrymen, wrote in a letter to William Washington that "your first charge was made on the enemy's Cavalry, (who were cutting down our Militia) and when, after a smart Action, you instantly defeated, leaving in the course of ten minutes 18 of their brave 17th Dragoons dead on the spot."

Ten minutes was probably too long of a duration for this action. Private James Collins remembered that "in a few moments, Col. Washington's cavalry was among them, like a whirlwind, and the poor fellows began to kneel from their horses, without being able to remount. The shock was so sudden and violent, they could not stand it, and immediately betook themselves to flight." Howard wrote that Colonel Washington charged the enemy's cavalry, who were cutting down our militia, and soon drove them off."

The American Counterattack. (two views; click to enlarge). The Continental infantry (under Howard) charge into the heart of the British line. Meanwhile, the American cavalry (under Washington) relieve the militia from the assault of the 17th Light Dragoons.

As the British dragoons retreated, the American cavalry stormed after them in close pursuit. For the British dragoons, according to Collins, "there was no time to rally, and they appeared to be as hard to stop as a drove of wild Choctaw steers, going to a Pennsylvania market. In a few moments the clashing of swords was out of hearing and quickly out of sight." Less colorfully, Howard commented that Washington "never lost sight of them until they abandoned the ground" [see Note 8].


1. In eighteenth century Western-style warfare, the commander that committed his reserves last was often the one that emerged victorious. Tarleton used a part of his mounted force in a limited capacity during the middle phase of the battle, while holding back a large reserve. Washington deployed a large portion of his force on both occassions, but this seems chiefly to reflect the extremity of the circumstances. That the Americans had to fully commit their cavalry before the British might have been disastrous to them. Major George Hanger commented years later that the defeat of Ogilvie (and by extension, Nettles too) was inconsequential compared to Tarleton’s inability to make good use of his reserve late in the battle.

2. Private Thomas Young described the mounted militiamen being used in this capacity. See The American Cavalry - Part 2 for details on the initial deployment of the American cavalry. Whether Washington took the initiative in ordering the mounted militia forward or whether the order originated with Morgan is unknown.

3. It is difficult to discern exactly who did what at this critical point in the battle. Moultrie’s statement indicates Washington was the key actor in rallying the Continentals, while the accounts by Morgan and Howard each chiefly credit themselves.

4. Thomas Young recalled that "At this moment the bugle sounded. We about half formed and making a sort of circuit at full speed, came up in the rear of the British line, shouting and charging like madmen. At this moment Col. Howard gave the word "charge bayonets!" and the day was ours."

One reading of this statement is that the group of American dragoons that had driven off Ogilvie charged around the vulnerable left flank of the British line and passed into the ground behind the 71st Foot. I regard Young as a trustworthy source and have put a great deal of reliance on his account elsewhere, but this part of his statement is difficult to reconcile. Young’s account suggests that his small group of dragoons were the first to counterattack when other sources give that honor to Lieutenant-Colonel John Eager Howard’s Continentals. He also seemingly places his small group of dragoons in an unlikely position between the British infantry and the British cavalry reserve before either had been beaten. The experience of the 71st Foot was described in detail by David Stewart and Roderick Mackenzie, but neither mention such a charge; nor too did other American cavalrymen.

An alternative interpretation is that Washington recalled the dragoons on his right ("the bugle sounded"), these cavalry then followed in the wake of Washington’s own charge, moving behind the Continentals from the right side of the battlefield to the left ("making a sort of circuit at full speed") and then joined with Washington in the charge that helped shatter the British left and broke into the British rear (we "came up in the rear of the British line, shouting and charging like madmen"). This reading is not problematic so long as "this moment" when "Col. Howard gave the word "charge bayonets!"" preceded the moment when the dragoons "came up in the rear of the British line."

5. Respected histories of the battle, such as those by Edwin Bearss and Lawrence Babits, place Washington’s charge against the British cavalry soon after the militia retreated and well before the Continentals counterattacked. That the charges occurred at the same time is strongly indicated by Howard and Anderson. Another participant, Robert Long, recalled that "Col. Washington charged them with his cavalry; at the same time our infantry charged the British with the bayonet." Henry Lee’s history of the battle stated that "part of the enemy's cavalry, having gained our rear, fell on that portion of the militia who had retired to their horses. Washington struck at them with his dragoons, and drove them before him. Thus, by simultaneous efforts, the infantry and cavalry of the enemy routed."

6. That Washington was charging a British cavalry force to his left (and not Ogilvie’s dragoons, which had been to his right) is indicated in several accounts. Daniel Morgan’s report of the battle stated that "Lieut. Col. Washington, having been informed that the Tarleton was cutting down our riflemen on the left, pushed forward, and charged them." Private Jeremiah Dial stated in his pension application that "Washington's Cavalry with whom this applicant fought during the engagement were stationed in the rear of Morgan's forces and when the British broke through the leftwing of the Malitia Washington’s cavalry made an attack upon them and defeated them with considerable loss."

Howard also emphasized that the charge was made toward the American rear, rather than towards the British infantry: "Washington's charge had no connexion with mine as his movement was to the rear in a quite different direction."

7. These men, according to the present account of the battle, first broke when Ogilvie charged, and, in retreating for their horses, fell in the path of Nettles’ charge. William Neel of Captain Patrick Buchanan’s company recalled seeing that, "the South Carolina mounted militia," who he had earlier denigrated (see Cowpens in Miniature 14) had "rallied and assisted to complete the victory." Captain Henry Connelly remarked that "we was fortunately relieved by Washingtons legion that hastened to our assistance."

8. François-Jean de Chastellux asked Morgan "how Tarleton's cavalry were employed during the engagement." He learned that "whilst the infantry were engaged, they endeavoured to turn the flanks of General Morgan's army, but were kept in awe by some riflemen, and by the American horse detached by Colonel Washington, to support them, in two little squadrons." The manner in which I have depicted the charges by Ogilvie and Nettles as well as their defeat by the American militia and cavalry is consistent with this description.


Will Graves transcribed the pension application of Jeremiah Dial (.pdf file).

William Moultrie's 1802 Memoirs of the American Revolution.

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

Henry Lee's 1812 Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States.

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.

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

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

Edwin Bearss' 1967 Battle of Cowpens: A Documented Narrative and Troop Movement Maps.

Lawrence Babits' 1998 A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens is available through amazon.com.

See The Statements of Private Robert Long for a transcription of his statements.

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

C. Leon Harris transcribed the pension application of William Neel (.pdf file).

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

François-Jean de Chastellux's 1787 Travels in North-America, in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782.

Related: The Fatal Moment, The American Cavalry - Part 1, British Cavalry Charges at Cowpens - Part 2