The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Cowpens
Battle of Cowpens

The Chase
During this first month of 1781 the weather in the Carolinas was wet. Roads had turned to mud while rivers and creeks flooded their banks. These conditions made communications difficult between Continentals Brig. General Daniel Morgan and Maj. General Nathanael Greene as well as between British Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton and Lt. General Charles Cornwallis. The weather was more of an aid to Morgan because it slowed Tarleton's pursuit, although it also inflamed Morgan's sciatica.

When Lt. Colonel Tarleton began his pursuit, General Morgan was still at his camp at Grindall's Shoals. Tarleton crossed the Broad River and worked his way north, while General Cornwallis moved north from Winnsboro, South Carolina, remaining on the eastern side of the Broad River. They had planned to parallel each other, but Cornwallis was forced to slow his march to allow General Alexander Leslie and reinforcements to catch up.

On January 12, Lt. Colonel Tarleton finally learned of General Morgan's camp at Grindall's Shoals. It took two days for Tarleton to cross the swollen Enoree and Tyger Rivers. Thanks to militia patrols directed by Andrew Pickens, Morgan learned of Tarleton's movements on that same day. On January 15, he moved to Burr's Mills and reported to General Greene that the large numbers of militia promised by General Davidson had not turned out. His force still only numbered 940 men with only 340 North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia militia having joined his force.

On the evening of January 15, Lt. Colonel Tarleton showed his own resourcefulness by pretending to make camp along the eastern bank of the Pacelot River. He knew that militia patrols were observing his movements from across the river. His decoy allowed him to slip back south six miles to Easterwood Shoals and cross the Pacelot where it was unguarded. On the next morning General Morgan received word that the Tarleton had crossed the Pacelot.

General Morgan quickly broke camp during breakfast and moved out using Lt. Colonel Washington's cavalry as a rear guard. Lt. Colonel Tarleton was now so close that he marched his men into what had been Morgan's camp and enjoyed the Americans' breakfast on still hot fires. Morgan was only twenty miles ahead. Tarleton sent off a note to General Cornwallis that Morgan was heading for Cherokee Ford. What Tarleton did not know was that Cornwallis was still to the south, held up while waiting for General Leslie to catch up.

Lt. Colonel Tarleton assumed that General Morgan was heading for Cherokee Ford on the Broad River, which had been the same route used by the Overmountain Men when pursuing Major Patrick Ferguson to King's Mountain. But Morgan was actually heading further upriver for Island Ford. By late afternoon Morgan was still six miles from the Broad River. He decided to make camp at Cowpens, South Carolina. Later that evening, Andrew Pickens arrived in the camp with main militia force. After securing intelligence from a captured patriot militia colonel on the evening of January 16, Lt. Colonel Tarleton called reveille at 2:00 A.M. on the morning of January 17. By 3:00 A.M. the British were underway. Sometime after making camp, General Morgan decided to make his stand at Cowpens. He called together his officers and explained how his force would be deployed.

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