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The Battle of Cowpens was a battle fought by Continental Army forces under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan against the British army in South Carolina. It was a turning point of the American Revolutionary War in the southern colonies.
The Leaders of the Battle
- The leader of the Continental Army was Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. He was one of the most gifted battle tacticians in the American Revolution One of the most gifted battlefield tacticians of the American Revolutionary War. Morgan originally served as a wagoner for the British Army during the French and Indian War, which is how he got the nickname Old Waggoner. Morgan later defected and joined the American army when the Revolutionary War began.
- The British were led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton. He was a young and brash officer known for his aggressive tactics and brutal treatment of enemy soldiers and the Americans claimed that his soldiers has massacred Continental Army troops that had surrendered at the Battle of Waxhaws. These killings became known in American history as the Waxhaws Massacre.
Before the Battle of Cowpens
- The British army had claimed victories under General Charles Cornwallis. They were feeling confident after victory at Charleston in May 1780 and Camden in August 1780.
- The morale and confidence of American troops, on the other hand, were very low. Neither the American troops or the colonists believed that they would win the war.
- Commander of the Continental army’s Southern campaign, Major General Nathanael Greene, know his weak army could not defeat the British in a standup fight. He decided to divide Patriot troops in the Carolinas and forced the British to fight them on multiple fronts. Another benefit to this was that smaller groups of men were easier to feed.
- General Cornwallis sent Banastre Tarleton to track down Morgan and destroy his army. He had over 1,000 Redcoats and Loyalists to catch Morgan – who he feared might be able to instigate a Patriot uprising.
The Battle of Cowpens: January 17, 1781
- As the British army approach, Daniel Morgan had a plan. He instructed his troops to position themselves in three lines as they set up their defences. The front line contained around 150 rifleman and they were instructed to fire at the British and then retreat behind the third line. The second line, 300 militiamen with muskets, who fired two volleys and then also retreated. The third line was made up of 550 of Morgan’s best and most experienced troops.
- Morgan’s strategy worked perfectly and the Battle of Cowpens lasted less than an hour. The British made the mistake of thinking that the retreat and repositioning of the Americans was a rout. They ran into an unexpected volley of rifle fire and, by the time they reached the third line, they were tired, wounded, and easily defeated.
- The Battle of Cowpens was a big victory for the Americans. The American troops took minimal casualties, while the British suffered 110 deaths, 200 wounded, and over 700 captured soldiers. Banastre Tarleton suffered an 86% casualty rate and his brigade was almost completely wiped out.
- The victory at Cowpens gave the Americans more confidence. The battle win completely turned around the American morale and gave them a renewed sense of confidence that they could actually go on to win the American Revolutionary War.
What Happened After the Battle of Cowpens
- 10 months after the Battle of Cowpens, the Americans won the Revolutionary War. Cowpens was a major turning point in the war and lead to the British surrendering at Yorktown.
- Morgan retired from the army at the age of 46 but was recalled in 1794. His brief recall to national service was to help suppress the Whiskey Rebellion, and he was promoted to Major General.
- Historian John Buchanan wrote that in developing in tactics at Cowpen, Morgan may have been “the only general in the American Revolution, on either side, to produce a significant original tactical thought”.
The Battle of Cowpens Worksheets
This bundle includes 10 ready-to-use Battle Of Cowpen worksheets that are perfect for students to learn about the battle which was fought by Continental Army forces under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan against the British army in South Carolina. It was a turning point of the American Revolutionary War in the southern colonies.
This download includes the following worksheets:
- The Battle of Cowpens Facts
- The Cowpens Battle Cards
- Modified TRUE or FALSE
- Who’s Who?
- Train to Cowpen
- The Strategic Plan
- The Battle of Cowpens Statistics
- The Waxhaws Massacre
- The Tactician
- I am a Soldier
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