The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Cowpens
Battle of Cowpens

"Cat and Mouse"
On December 21, Brig. General Daniel Morgan left Charlotte in command of about 600 men. Maj. General Nathanael Greene had ordered Morgan to go west across the Catawba River and "to give protection to that part of the country, spirit up the people, to annoy the enemy in that quarter, collect provisions and forage." Morgan was to avoid a direct engagement with Lt. General Charles Cornwallis and string the pursuit out, so that Greene could build his force.

General Morgan's subordinate officers included Lt. Colonel John Eager Howard, Captain Robert Kirkwood and Lt. Colonel William Washington, who commanded eighty dragoons. On December 25, 1780, sixty South Carolina militia volunteers under the command of Andrew Pickens rode into Morgan's camp at Grindal's Shoals in the fork between the Pacelot and Broad Rivers. Elijah Clarke, who had often joined Pickens on his expeditions, was still recovering from wounds, but two of his best officers, Major John Cunningham and Major James Jackson, did join Morgan. A few days after Pickens' arrival, General William Davidson arrived with 120 North Carolina Militia. Davidson promptly left again with the promise of raising more militia.

In late December, General Cornwallis began receiving intelligence concerning General Morgan's movements. The intelligence indicated that Morgan was moving toward the garrison at Ninety-Six, which was untrue. What was true was that he had been joined by growing numbers of Patriot militia. Cornwallis could not verify the intelligence concerning Morgan's ultimate objective, but he now knew there was again a Continental force loose in South Carolina.

General Cornwallis could not move into North Carolina, while Morgan was loose on his flank or rear. So on January 1, 1781, he sent orders to Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton to pursue General Morgan. On January 2nd, Tarleton received the orders and set out the same day. Under Tarleton's command were 450 men of the British Legion (250 infantry and 200 cavalry). On this occasion he also commanded 249 men of the veteran 1st Battalion of Fraser's Scottish Highlanders and fifty Royal Artillerymen.

By the next day, January 3rd, Lt. Colonel Tarleton had already ascertained that General Morgan was not marching on Ninety-Six. On the 4th, he requested reinforcements and General Cornwallis sent him an additional 150 cavalry and 167 infantry, bringing Tarleton's force up to 1,076. Tarleton knew he had to either defeat and destroy Morgan's force or drive him over the Broad River back into North Carolina.

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