The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Cowpens
Battle of Cowpens

Background: Greene's Arrival and Strategy
Maj. General Nathanael Greene arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 2, 1780. He took command of the Southern Department from Maj. General Horatio Gates on the following day. Since the army's defeat at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina on August 16, 1780, it had been inactive and become depleated. The only victory for the Patriot cause in recent months had been a militia victory at the Battle of King's Mountain, South Carolina on October 7, 1780.

On the same day, December 3, that General Greene took command, Brig. General Daniel Morgan rode back into camp to report to his new commander. Morgan had retired from the war in 1779 in protest over being passed over for promotion by Congress. When General Gates had taken command in the South in May 1780, he had asked Morgan to join him. Morgan however was bothered by painful sciatica at the time. In September, Morgan heard of the loss at Camden. Even though Congress had yet to take action on his promotion, he put aside his personal issues and came to the aid of General Gates under whom he had served at Saratoga. After he returned to duty, Congress finally promoted him to brigadier general on October 13, 1780. He had been campaigning between Camden, South Carolina and Charlotte, North Carolina.

General Greene and his officers found the army in disarray. Of what was reported to be about 2,400 men, only about 1,500 men were present. Of these only 1,000 were Continental-trained soldiers and about 800 were outfitted with enough clothing and equipment to be fit for duty. Greene first set out to rehabiliting and rebuilding the Continental forces in the region. He instituted severe punishment for theft and destruction of property and curtailed desertion.

General Greene spent several days orienting himself to the situation, including correspondence with militia commander Francis Marion. He also corresponed with and met with Thomas Sumter, who proved to be stubborn and uncooperative. Sumter also recommended a direct attack on Lt. General Charles Cornwallis, for which Greene was unready. He finally decided to buy time to build up supplies and men by dividing his forces. He chose the newly promoted General Daniel Morgan to command a smaller, more mobile force.

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