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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 largely militia force?
This is known as the “American Cannae”, a nearly flawless double envelopment maneuver which led to the annihilation of the opposing force. It is widely regarded as the most impressive tactical 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 his less experienced infantrymen naturally aimed too high and so he accommodated this by placing his infantry on a reverse slope, ensuring his troops hit their target while enemy troops missed more often. The reverse slope also hid his main force, a tactic used by the Duke of Wellington so often during the Napoleonic Wars. Morgan also utilized his least-trained militia effectively in a role suited to them, namely as a screen firing and running away in the face of a British attack, thus making “a military virtue out of what could have been a calamity” (Lumpkin, 1981: 127).
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
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).
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
British regulars: http://www3.towerhobbies.com/cgi-bin/WTI0001P?I=LXYE41&P=8
Daniel Morgan: http://www.history.army.mil/books/RevWar/ss/ch2.htm
Map of North America: http://teachnet.eu/tobrien/about/revolutions/the-american-revolution/
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
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