The Battle of Cowpens was fought on January 17, 1781 between Americans under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan and British forces under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Tarleton was feared and hated for his cruelty and savagery, especially after executing American soldiers trying to surrender at Waxhaws, SC in May of 1780. The incident led to the derogatory term “Tarleton’s Quarter”, which essentially meant no quarter, and it became a rallying cry at Cowpens.
The Americans routed the British in a battle that took only an hour, inflicting heavy casualties (100 killed, 200 injured and 500 taken prisoner) while the Americans lost only 12 killed and 60 wounded. The victory was due to General Morgan’s strategy and ability to read his men. First, he chose a large rolling pasture to make his stand, knowing that ‘Bloody Tarleton’ was reckless and overconfident and likely to make a headlong charge over the easy terrain. He set up three staggered lines of He also knew his own men, some were inexperienced and might break ranks and run during the fight so he positioned his troops between two rivers making retreat difficult, forcing them to fight.
The rolling pasture where the battle took place.
The victory was a turning point in the war, and along with the British defeat at the Battle of King’s Mountain two months earlier, served to so thoroughly demoralize British troops that Cornwallis withdrew from the Carolinas to Virginia, where he would surrender nine months later at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.
Tarleton and his dragoons retreated down the Green River Road.