The Patriot Resource - American Revolution

Battle of Cowpens
Battle of Cowpens

The Battle: Fighting Commences
Lt. Colonel Banastre Tarleton knew that much of Brig. General Daniel Morgan's force was militia and expected them to run like they had at the Battle of Camden when faced with veteran British regulars. As soon as his dragoons retreated behind his lines, Tarleton ordered his infantry to drop their packs and form up. He did not complete his survey of the American deployment, or wait for all of his men to march clear onto the field or consult with the veteran infantry commanders of Fraser's Highlanders and the Royal Fuseliers.

The Americans watched as Lt. Colonel Tarleton's infantry formed up. 110 light infantry of the 16th Foot and Fraser's Highlanders were placed on the right in the traditional position of veteran troops. To their left, Tarleton placed 250 Loyalist regulars of the British Legion and on their left, 167 inexperienced Royal Fuseliers took their position. Tarleton placed fifty dragoons on each flank for protection. He left the 249 men of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Fuseliers and 200 British Legion cavalry in reserve.

The American sharpshooters again harassed the British, but withdrew behind Andrew Pickens' militia as the British marched forward unfazed. The militia held their fire until the British were close enough then fired irregularly. Their fire took a heavy toll on the British line. The British then returned fire in one solid volley, but did little damage because many shots went high. The British then began their bayonet charge. Having fired one or two shots, the militia began withdrawing to behind the Continental left as planned.

Lt. Colonel Tarleton interpreted the retreat as the beginnings of another rout like at the Battle of Camden. He ordered the dragoons on his right flank to charge. General Morgan had not forgotten his promise to protect the militia if they stood their ground. He ordered Lt. Colonel William Washington's cavalry to counterattack. They halted and then drove off the undisciplined dragoon attack when they swept into their rear. It was now 7:15 A.M. and the battle was fifteen minutes old.

Lt. Colonel Tarleton ordered his infantry to reform and they now attacked Lt. Colonel John Eager Howard's Continentals on the right. The disciplined Continentals exchanged heavy fire with the British for several minutes. Meanwhile General Morgan rode to the rear to help Andrew Pickens rally the militia. Many of whom were willing to continue their withdrawal and leave the field of battle entirely. Morgan and Pickens succeeded in gathering most of the militia and they headed for Howard's right flank in reaction to the latest British movement.

At 7:30 A.M., Lt. Colonel Tarleton ordered Major Archibald McArthur and his 249 Royal Fuselier Highlanders up from their reserve position. They were to march left in an effort to outflank the right side of General Morgan's main line. Lt. Colonel John Eager Howard saw the movement and attempted to bow his line to prevent being flanked. However, in the noise of battle the order was mininterpreted and his line began withdrawing to the rear. General Morgan rode up alarmed by the movement, but Howard pointed out that they were now prevented from being flanked so Morgan allowed them to withdraw. When the British infantry saw the Continental regulars retreating, they thought victory was at hand. They ran forward, shouting and breaking ranks.

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