The Loyalist defeat at King’s Mountain two month earlier had revived the Patriot effort for the war in the South.
The Army had a new Southern Department commander in the Quaker Nathaniel Greene.
Greene was determined to fight, but not at the expense of loosing more men. He made the decision that he would wear the British down, then engage them.
Greene soon put a trust ally to work in the new Southern Army. He appointed Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan (the Old Wagoner) in charge of the Army in South Carolina. Morgan was a steady veteran, serving with the British Army in the 7 years war (in which he had received lashes), fought in the campaign of Quebec, and he was one of the victors of Saratoga. It was he and his Virginia riflemen which started the formalities of Saratoga.
Now Morgan was in control of a Continental force of about 830 men. Most were Contentious, but there were some militia, some riflemen, some French volunteers, and Cavalry commanded by Lt. Col. William Washington, 2nd cousin to George Washington.
Coming to meet this assortment of American troops was the most hated man in the colonies. He was referred to as “Benny”, or “the Butcher”, but to most he was known as Bloody Tarlton.
Banaster Tarlton, was one of the fastest promoted officers in the American Campaign. Though daring and reckless behavior, he attacked American position after position quickly, inflicting much damage. Now was leading his famed legion (a lightening force of cavalry and infantry, also known as the green coats because of their uniforms) in pursuit of Morgans’ force.
There was no doubt the Tarlton was coming. Nathaniel Green set forth the following dispatch to Morgan, “Col. Tarlton is said to be on his way to pay you a visit. I doubt not but he will have a decent reception and a proper dismission.”
Morgan with his inexperienced troops set forth on a daring plan. His troops would run at the first sense of battle, and his rifleman could not withstand a bayonet attack. Morgan mulled over the situation, and came up with the following solution. He would have the swollen Broad River behind them, making any sort of retreat impossible. He was determined to make his men stand and fights. He further arranged his battle lines, placing the militia out in front, followed by the battle tested Continental, with William Washington’s Cavalry in the flanks.
He tells the militia that all he requires of them is to fire two shots and they can fall back to the rear.
Tarltons dragoons advance and are met by skirmishers. The skirmishers, were Virginia riflemen, who used the trees to steady their weapons, and leveled the dragoons with deadly precision. They then reloaded while racing through the forest, getting off another shot, until they reached the safety of the militia. The dragoons then report to Tarlton who forms his battle line. Tarlton has overestimated his enemies strength by double, yet he believes he can sweep them from the field as he had done at Waxhaws.
Tarlton troops advance when they run into the line of militia reenforced by the riflemen. The militia with the encouragement of the officers hold off until the last possible moment, and then fire hitting the forward officers. The British reform ranks, and continue to advance, this time with bayonets levels. Fearing the British jugernaut the militia surries to the rear in an organized fashion, and Talton sends his dragoons in after the retreating militia.
The dragoons are almost upon the fleeing militia, when Col. William Washingtons’s dragoons meet the opposing mounted British force and a meele evolves. The feared mounted troops then occupy each others interests.
Some militia are still in fear and continue to retreat. Meanwhile the main British force has engaged the steady Contenentials from Maryland and Delaware.
Tarlton has assumed that the Americans have been beaten, and thusorders in his reserves to swoop down upon the retreating Americans. The Americans turn and fire, resulting on a devestating blow to the British main line. Then the Americans follow up with a bayonet charge, and then advanced upon and captured the British cannon. In an effort to follow up William Washington’s caverly pursued the fleeing redcoats down the main road, killing them along the way.
The victory at Cowpen was a morale booster, total loose for the British included 110 dead (including 10 officers) 200 wounded and 530 prisioners. American casulties were only 12 dead.