Lt. General Charles Cornwallis soon recalled Lt. Colonel Tarleton and ordered him to pursue after Thomas Sumter. Sumter had reorganized his militia in October 1780, and on November 9, he defeated Major James Wymess at Fishdam Ford, South Carolina. On November 14, Tarleton went after Sumter. On November 18, Tarleton closed in. On November 19, Sumter learned of Tarleton's pursuit and began to retreat. On November 20, Tarleton again broke his force apart and hurried forward with his dragoons and a number of infantry. By 5 P.M., he caught up with Sumter's rear guard. Sumter learned that most of Tarleton's force was still far behind and so he decided to fight Tarleton at Blackstocks Plantation. Tarleton still attempted a charge, but his infantry was exposed. While extricating his infantry, Thomas Sumter was hit by a musket ball. Tarleton was forced to retreat with darkness upon the field and never knew that Sumter was seriously wounded.
General Cornwallis now had a new threat. In early December Maj. General Nathanael Greene had replaced Maj. General Horatio Gates as Southern Continental Commander. In late December, he had sent Brig. General Daniel Morgan across the Catawba River into South Carolina to harass British interests. On January 1, 1781, Cornwallis ordered Lt. Colonel Tarleton to pursue Morgan. He reinforced Tarleton's British Legion with two regiments of infantry. Tarleton was supposed to chase General Morgan toward General Cornwallis, but General Cornwallis was slowed down by heavy rain and the resulting mud. Meanwhile, General Morgan's 600 regulars were augmented by militia who were trickling into his camp each day. On January 15, Tarleton had decoyed Morgan and arrived at Morgan's camp to finish the Americans' breakfasts which were still on the cooking fires. Morgan was only twenty miles ahead now.
Though General Morgan had wanted to press on further, he did not want Lt. Colonel Tarleton to overrun him and on the evening of January 16, he chose to make his stand at Cowpens, South Carolina. At 2 A.M. on the morning of January 17, Tarleton woke his men and began an agressive march toward Cowpens. When he arrived around dawn, he did not allow his men to rest, or speak with his veteran officers or even wait for all his men to march out onto the open battleground. The Battle of Cowpens began when Tarleton ordered his British Legion to charge and test the mettle of the militia who formed the rebel's first battle line. The charge was short-lived, when sharpshooters emptied several saddles. Tarleton then ordered his veteran infantry forward for a bayonet charge. The rebel militia under the command of Andrew Pickens fired two volleys and then fell back in a retreat planned by General Morgan.
Lt. Colonel Tarleton mistook this movement by the Patriots as the militia fleeing like it had at Camden. He ordered his men forward against the Continental main line and called in some of his reserves to help flank the Continentals. General Morgan then issued an order for the right side of the Continental line to bow back to prevent being flanked, but the order was misinterpreted and they began to fall back. The normally disciplined British soldiers thought that there was a rout on and they broke from their lines and ran right into a double-flanking movement by the Continentals. Tarleton attempted to lead his British Legion to rescue as many of his men as he could, but the Legion refused to follow him and instead left the field. Tarleton still tried to gather as many cavarly as he could and tried to break through to his men.
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