Cowpens: A Brilliant Victory | The Southern Campaign


[MUSKETS FIRING] Militia men during
the Revolutionary War were typically men from
the county or state between the ages of 16 or 60. If you were a militia
man in the backcountry during the Revolutionary
War, your first and foremost priority would
have been to protect your home and family. During the Battle of Cowpens,
militia men once again picked up their arms in support
of General Daniel Morgan to take on the infamous
“Bloody” Banastre Tarleton. Stand your ground,
shoulder to shoulder. Trust your NCO,
trust your officers. So no, we weren’t
afraid of Tarleton. We were going to grab our arms. Get as much rest as we could. And give him no quarter here
at Cowpens and push him back. NARRATOR: In the fall of
1780, George Washington appointed General
Nathanael Greene to command the Continental
Army in the South. From North Carolina, Greene
sent a portion of his men, under General Daniel Morgan,
to harass the British in Western South Carolina. Greene’s strategy when he
comes down here to the South is he has to split his command. If he takes his entire
army up against Cornwallis, he knows he won’t
stand a chance. General Greene violated all
of the rules of military tactics and strategy. He divided his force. NARRATOR: British Commander
in Chief Lord Cornwallis dispatched Banastre
Tarleton’s British legion to crush Morgan and his men. I’m accoutred and dressed as
a member of the British legion, wearing the green British coat
common with provincial troops raised in the colonies. [SOLDIERS YELLING] NARRATOR: Cavalry units,
also called dragoons, were very effective
against infantry. And one of the things that
Banastre Tarleton figured out early is that he could
charge aggressively when he met the enemy, and
strike them first and hard, both with the horse
and the sword. NARRATOR: In addition
to his legion, Tarleton brought other
light dragoons as well as infantry and cannon. [FIFE AND DRUM MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Tarleton met Morgan’s
men on January 17, 1781 at the Battle of Cowpens. General Daniel Morgan was
a brilliant and practical strategist who
understood his troops’ capabilities and the
landscape of the battlefield. Cowpens was situated on a gently
rolling hill with a slight dip in the middle. On his frontline, Morgan
placed small clusters of militia sharpshooters. The second line consisted
of militia men commanded by Colonel Andrew Pickens. They were
experienced fighters, fighting for five, six years
in the backcountry of South Carolina. But they were not
stand up soldiers. The militia here could
drop a British soldier from over 100 yards. But they could not stand up
to him in hand-to-hand combat. Morgan had learned
much from the mistakes of Waxhaws encampment. Retreat would have the
most fatal consequences. It would destroy the
spirit of the people and cause the militia to desert
and even to switch sides. Retreat was the very thing I
wished to cut off all hope of. NARRATOR: The third
line contained about 300 seasoned Continentals
from Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. And these men are highly
trained and highly experienced. Some of these men had even
served with Washington back at Trenton and Valley Forge. NARRATOR: The plan was for the
first line of sharpshooters to fire, then retreat, and be
absorbed into the second line. The second line would do the
same thing, fire and retreat. Gradually, the enemy
would be drawn forward. The whole idea is to
lead Tarleton into a trap, so we can beat his
cavalry and infantry as they come up those slopes. The first line of
Morgan’s formation, the sharpshooters, these
Georgians and Carolinians, they have orders
from Morgan to target the “epaulet men”
he called them, meaning the officers
in Tarleton’s line. NARRATOR: This tactic killed
off a significant part of the British command. When Tarleton tops
over the main rise here, he looks down and sees the
second line of militia. And in Tarleton’s
own memoirs, he says he saw 1,000
rebels in front of him. But he doesn’t think this
is the main army drawn up for a big battle. Tarleton believes that these
militia are a rear guard trying to hold him down,
slow him down, so that the main army, the
Continentals, can escape. NARRATOR: The British
pushed back the militia, then found themselves face to
face with the Continental Army. And these guys are
firing close range, filling the area
with smoke and fire. And in the confusion,
Tarleton sends around his 71st Highlanders
to attack the American right. And the right flank
starts to retreat instead of facing this new threat. When Tarleton’s line sees
the Continentals retreating, they think they’ve
won the battle. They start charging forward,
and they lose all sense of organization and discipline. NARRATOR: But
Morgan’s Continentals were able to retreat
in an orderly fashion and managed to reload
as they marched. When they reached
the spot that Morgan has picked for them,
the Continentals turn about, they fire almost
point blank into the pursuing British forces, causing
such a mass panic and confusion along the
British line that half of them just dropped, many of them
just in confused panic, and surrendered. NARRATOR: The Patriot militia
surrounded the British left. The cavalry
surrounded the right. The British army was crushed. Three cheers for
General Morgan. Hip hip– Hurrah! Hip hip– Hurrah! Hip hip– Hurrah! This is one of the few times
you have American Continentals stand on the field in
traditional tactics and defeat the British
at their own game. Morgan’s battle plan– it’s still studied today– is considered a masterpiece
of military strategy. It not only destroys this
part of the British army, but it changes the entire
plan of the Southern campaign. When Tarleton is
defeated by Morgan here at the Battle of Cowpens,
this destroys his reputation as a fearful commander. NARRATOR: Cornwallis and
the main British army had had enough adventures
in South Carolina and headed north in pursuit
of Nathaniel Greene. You have battles
like Huck’s Defeat, Musgrove’s Mill, King’s
Mountain, Cowpens. These are extremely
important victories for the American cause, and they
tended to pile up after a while and forced the British
under Lord Cornwallis to leave the Carolinas
and head toward Virginia, where he thought he
would have better luck. As it turned out,
that wasn’t the case.

7 thoughts on “Cowpens: A Brilliant Victory | The Southern Campaign

  1. You forgot to show Washington's Dragoons turning the British flanks. Both flanks. This video misses the important parts of the battle, the re-engagement of the militia, Andrew Pickens men, and particularly the American Cavalry. Why bother?

  2. Amazing, literally the greatest fighting force in the world at the time. Bested by a rag tag group of conscripts, and retired British officers turned American with the help of the French of course.

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