It is difficult to understand General Morgan's reasons for accepting battle at the Cowpens, unless his personal characteristics for bravery and daring and his superior qualities as a leader of militia explain the matter. The instructions which he received before leaving Charlotte Town were that he was to act offensively or defensively, as his prudence and discretion might direct, but that he was to conduct operations with caution and avoid surprises. When he effected his withdrawal from the Pacolet in the face of Tarleton's approach he halted for the night of the 15th at Burrs Mills, on Thicketty Creek, and sent to Greene the last letter written prior to the battle. At this time he had no thought of an early encounter. He reported that Tarleton had crossed the Tiger at Musgroves Mill with a force of 1,100 or 1,200, and that his command was probably Tarleton's objective. He suggested to General Greene that his detachment be recalled and that General David, son and Colonel Pickens be left with the militia to check the disaffected in that region. He realized that, due to his distance from the main Army, Cornwallis might detach a force against him so superior as to render it essential to his safety to avoid an engagement. He wrote:
quarter, for which duty the militia alone would not answer. He realized that the movements of Cornwallis and Tarleton had the appearance of being directed against Morgan, and told him:
Not much praise can be given for the position selected, except that the slope in front of Pickens impeded, to some extent the advance of Tarleton's weary ranks, and the hill in rear offered cover for the cavalry reserve. In all directions the terrain was open to attack from both infantry and cavalry, and Morgan doubtless knew that the cavalry of Tarleton's legion far outnumbered Washington's dragoons.
What superiority he believed to be possessed by the troops under Howard over the infantry of Tarleton can not be explained other than on the grounds that he hoped his own courage great enough
to cause his men to do the seemingly impossible. In planning for the militia under Pickens to hold their line for but a brief time, and then retire, it would be with the assumption that the British would not have loft heavily by the time they reached the main fine. On this line the fate of the day would be determined, and Howard's strength was less than 450 men. Tarleton's strength at this stage of the action would probably be 750 infantry, outnumbering Howard about 2 to 1.
It appeared to the British, when Howard's line fell back, that victory was at hand, and so it would have been, had the line been composed of men less inured to battle than were the Continentals of Maryland and Delaware. There was no delay or hesitation when the order to halt, face the enemy, and fire, was given, and there then occurred in a moment a scene of dumbfounded surprise, confusion, and panic seldom witnessed in battle. The outcome resulted in one of the most gloriously unexpected victories of the Revolutionary War. The heroes of the Cowpens, could worthily stand shoulder to shoulder with those of Kings Mountain.
Under a resolution of Congress passed March 9, 1781, the thanks of the United States were given to Brigadier General Morgan, and the officers and men under his command, "for their fortitude and good conduct, displayed in the action at the Cowpens." The resolution further provided that a gold medal be presented to General Morgan, silver medals to Lieutenant Colonels Washington and Howard, and a sword to Colonel Pickens.
In writing to the President of Congress on the 17th of February, General Washington said:
Cornwallis therefore assembled his army on the 25th of January at Ramseur's mill, on the South Fork of the Catawba, and as the loss of his light troops could only be remedied by the activity of the whole corps, he employed two days in collecting flour, and in destroying superfluous baggage and wagons, and then resumed the pursuit.
In writing to Lord Germain on the 17th of March, Cornwallis said tható
of the Cowpens. The effect at the time was to hearten greatly the patriotic cause and to distress the British Army and their Tory sympathizers beyond measure. It was the second link in the chain of events, soon to be followed by others, which finally led to the surrender of Cornwallis's army at Yorktown.