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Battle of Cowpens, 1781

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Daniel Morgan versus Banastre Tarleton: A ragtag American army under Morgan stands its ground against a regular British army under Tarleton. Will Tarleton’s disciplined ranks simply overrun and outfight Morgan’s ranks comprising mostly militia? Click on images below to view PowerPoint presentation. | Legend |
 
 
This is known as the “American Canne”, a nearly flawless double envelopment maneuver which led to the annihilation of the opposing force. It is widely regarded as the most impressive victory on American soil.
 
While Tarleton was clearly mistaken to launch a frontal attack based on the battle’s result, Morgan defeated him at a much lower tactical level. Morgan noticed that infantrymen naturally aimed too high and so he accommodated this by placing his infantry on a reverse slope. The reverse slope also hid his main force, a tactic used by the Duke of Wellington so often during the Napoleonic Wars.
 
 
This is another one of those battles where as soon as I read the first account, I was fixed on animating the battle at some point. The battle is also one of the first of a new wave of coverage for American battles; I feel I short-changed the American demographic in the first three seasons (only Mexico City represented American exploits) and have set about reversing this. A note on American casualties: sources are consistent in stating that Morgan claimed 72 dead and wounded of his force. By estimating the casualties as over 100 dead and wounded, I am not doubting Morgan’s honesty but taking into account that the militia were not technically under his command and he therefore had no reason to report them.
 
 - Jonathan Webb
 
Works Consulted
 
Carrington, Henry B. Battles of the American Revolution 1775-1783. New York: Arno, 1968.
 
Cummins, Joseph. Turn Around and Run Like Hell: Amazing Stories of Unconventional Military Strategies that Worked. London: Murdoch, 2007.
 
Lumpkin, Henry. From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South. Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1981.
 
United States Military Academy History Department. “The American Revolution.” United States Military Academy. http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atlases/american%20revolution/index.htm (accessed May 19, 2009).
 
Images

American cavalry: http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/cavalry.html
 
American militia: http://www.nps.gov/history/museum/exhibits/revwar/image_gal/gucoimg/gucomilitia.html
 
American regulars: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Infantry,_Continental_Army,_1779-1783.jpg
 
Banastre Tarleton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cowpens
 
British cavalry: http://www.britishbattles.com/battle-cowpens.htm
 
British guns: http://www.toysoldiers.com/products-soldiers/williambritains-americanrevolution.htm
 

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  1. 9 Comments to “Battle of Cowpens, 1781”

  2. great stuff but I would animate with the Americans being blue and English being red. It would make it a little easier to follow since that was their colors. Militia could be an off-color shade similar to their army’s colors. Also, keep “left and right” consistent throughout presentation to coincide with orientation of the animated battle, e.g., your tables of information will be a little easier to follow if they’re the same as the sides of the animated battle. Hope this helps!

    By Jason on Jul 4, 2009 at 9:47 pm

  3. Thanks for the work you put into these. Fun and very helpful.

    I agree with Jason’s recommendations above. An additional suggestion: In the set-up, you refer to Greene’s force at Charlestown. I think you mean Charlotte (or Charlottee Town).

    By Richard Place on Sep 2, 2009 at 3:10 pm

  4. Yes, Jason had some solid suggestions. I’m going to experiment with the off-shades in the future.

    Sigh, I’ll have to add this animation for an additional edit during my next wave of edits.

    By Jonathan Webb on Sep 2, 2009 at 9:01 pm

  5. When I download these I get a few paragraphs of text all compressed into the little box at the top of the battle slide, I have office 2007 and am running windows vista, any idea why this is happening? And by compressed I mean that the text is in different text boxes and is overlapping each other. Otherwise very good stuff!

    By Eric on Nov 21, 2009 at 6:09 am

  6. Hmm, yes I’ve seen that before Eric. Download Microsoft PowerPoint Viewer from the official Microsoft site and view the animations through that program. It has fixed the problem for a great many people although I’m not yet sure exactly why it does that.

    By Jonathan Webb on Nov 27, 2009 at 3:30 am

  7. I am curious why Bunker Hill, Saratoga, etc. receive so much historical comment but Cowpens the hinge of the war in the South which was the campaign that won the war, not the numerous retreats in NY,NJ and Penn is not known outside military historians and those from upstate SC. Maybe because the South (Washington, Greene, Morgan, etc.) won the war but the Ivy league writes the history.

    By Richard on Jul 13, 2010 at 3:14 am

  8. Note - Greene was from Rhode Island; Morgan was born in NJ, lived in PA and moved to Virginia as a young adult. Washington was VA born and bred.

    Battles of Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth (NJ), and Saratoga (NY) were key victories. The battle of Trenton in fact kept the French involved in supplying us, and eventually providing ships and troops, without which we would not have won.

    Facts are cool, Richard.

    By Bruce on Nov 8, 2010 at 11:49 pm

  9. According to family oral history, John McClanahan was one of the Morgan sharpshooters. He was killed in the Battle of Cowpens. He is our 6th great grandfather. He immigrated from North Ireland ca. 1773. His sons lived in the South Carolina mountains.

    By Preston McClanahan on Nov 23, 2013 at 12:29 am

  10. nononono i wiil not do that

    By sam on May 9, 2014 at 5:53 pm

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