Wayside on Cowpens Battlefield

Exhibit on Cowpens Battlefield showing how the land was turned from a cow pasture into a battlefield, 2022, America's Best History. Right: Metal sculpture of an outline of a Continental Soldier on one of the walking paths, 2022, America's Best History.

Replica of a Continental soldiers at Cowpens

Battle of Cowpens

There's a bit of a battle between the rangers at Cowpens National Battlefield and Kings Mountain as to which battle is more important in the year or so before the end of the American Revolution, the battle that sapped the strength of Cornwallis and his British Regulars. Was it the loss of General Ferguson and his men or those of Lt. Colonel Tarleton and his soldiers at Cowpens? It's a fun exercise, but moot to the overall point. Without victories by the Continental soldiers and their patriot militia allies, the war would likely had gone on longer, although the French pressuring Great Britain on the sea might have had something to say about that anyway. But what's good about that argument is predominantly how close these parks are to each other and a necessary part of an American Revolution journey into South Carolina.

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Flag form the Battle of Cowpens

Cowpens National Battlefield Then

It was a wooded cow pasture then with open meadows along Green River Road. General Daniel Morgan had been posing a threat to the loyalists in the backcountry of South Carolina and Cornwallis sent Lt. General Banastre Tarleton to pursue. But Morgan knew they were coming and marched his troops through the cold rain toward the road. He anticipated that Tarleton would attack from the southeast and formed three battle lines to meet him.

It was a tactical fight. Morgan sent forward sharpshooters into Tarleton's cavalry before falling back. Picken's Militia, holding the front line for the Continental Army remained, shooting down two-thirds of Tarleton's officers, then fell back under pressure from the British dragoons. They were met by Lt. Colonel William Washington's cavalry. The center line of Lt. Colonel John Howard's line began to be engulfed by Tarleton's Highlanders. Howard's men mistakenly retreated, but General Morgan rallied the troops into formation on new ground and fired point blank into the British, then wielding bayonets, moved forward.

When Washington's cavalry and Picken's militia returned, they completed the double envelopment maneuver Morgan had envisioned and sent the British back in chaos. They withdrew from the field. The battle was over in less than one half hour.

Image above: Battle flag of the 3rd Maryland flown at the Battle of Cowpens, circa 1908/1919, National Photo Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Cannon in the interior of the film theater at Cowpens Visitor Center. Courtesy America's Best History.

Theater at Cowpens National Battlefield

Cowpens National Battlefield Now

What we have today is a grand representation of what the soldiers would have seen in 1781. The Green River Road can be walked from end to end, showing the exact ground where most of the fighting took place. The trail is 1.25 miles long to walk, or you can use the 3.8 mile driving tour that stops you at highlighted locations. The park visitor center has a map of the battle, film, facilities, and orientation. During some days, park staff holds guided tours of the park as well.

Minute Walk in History

It was a victory for the Continental Army that was imperative for their eventual success at Yorktown, yet many do not know about it. Come for a walk with us to this South Carolina National Battlefield and get a sense for the fighting between the forces of British Colonel Tarleton and Continental Army General Daniel Morgan and Colonel William (not George) Washington.

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Cowpens National Battlefield T-Shirts and Souvenirs. Great victory for the Continental Army that would lead to Yorktown.

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Cowpens National Battlefield

Things You Should Not Miss

1. The Visitor Center. There's a wonderful array of exhibits, a fiber-optic map, park film that explains the battle well, and rangers to orient you to the park. Facilities and a gift shop are also available.

2. Walk the 1.25 mile interpretive trail through the center of the battlefield or drive around the perimeter to stops along the way. We used the loop road, but wish we would have taken the self-guided walk. It seems to us, that's a better way to understand how the battle unfolded. However, if you download the audio tour from the park website, that would have made the driving tour better, but we missed that opportunity. Hazard of not asking the right question.

3. Stop at the picnic grove. I don't know why that impressed us so much, but it was a well thought out area with a group shelter, individual tables, grills, concrete pads, and plenty of parking. Where other parks eschew these areas, we think they're a necessary part of the visitor experience who bring along their lunch and don't want to leave the park to eat.

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Siege of Ninety-Six