"Come to the Cowpens!
at the Cowpens!"
Why should we bother to
gather here in the cold and celebrate what happened here and to understand the
significance of this exclamation?
The Patriots had been
defeated often and when they weren’t, their successes were usually small.
Events turned to the best when in October 1780, British forces under Patrick
Ferguson were soundly beaten in South
Carolina at Kings Mountain-only a few miles from here. The British were not
happy. Lord Cornwallis wanted revenge and sought it here.
Greene, in an unusual move, divided his army and sent 600 men under Daniel
Morgan west while he went east.
Cornwallis split his force as
well and sent Banistre Tarleton with 1100 men to crush Morgan and then rejoin
him to crush Greene. Armed with his own legion, British infantrymen, 50 British
cavalrymen and some Tory militia, Tarleton caught up with Morgan who retreated
to the Cowpens.
Morgan’s cry, “Come to the
Cowpens”, awoke the countryside and enough local militia joined him so that his
numbers nearly matched Tarleton’s.
Morgan knew Tarleton’s
disdain for the militia and that Tarleton would attack frontally with bayonets
to force the militia to retreat. Morgan gave his full permission to the militia
to retreat, but only after firing two volleys low and at officers if possible.
He even held their horses in the rear for their retreat if they chose. He
placed Maryland and Delaware Continentals along with some militia
accustomed to battle in a line along a low hill and behind them he put Col.
William Washington with two small bodies of cavalry.
Tarleton did what was
expected, but the riflemen beat back the British once and then retreated. Col.
Washington protected the retreat and the British took heart and attacked again,this
time against the right flank. The retreating riflemen did not leave, but
circled the rear and struck at the British left as Morgan’s veterans repulsed
the center. The Royal troops broke and ran. Tarleton escaped with only 140
horsemen! Only about 25 Patriots died! Morgan rejoiced having “whupped” Tarleton.
This very unexpected and severe blow gave heart to the Patriots and caused
Cornwallis to destroy his own heavy baggage so he could pursue Morgan and
Greene quickly. The beginning of the end of the war was set in motion, by
playing upon the knowledge that the British held such low regard for the
Patriot militia! The nine-year Revolution was started in the north with the cry
“The British are coming!” It was won in the south. The end may have been put in
motion by the shout “Come to the Cowpens!”, “Meet me at the Cowpens”!
For these reasons, we come together here today to celebrate. Our current way
of life is in no small way owed to these brave men. Col. Morgan and all
who fought and died here, we salute you! "