General Morgan to
General Greene-Report on the Battle of Cowpens
Camp on Cain Creek on Pedee
January 19th, 1781.
Dear Sir-The troops I have the honor to command have gained
a complete victory over a detachment from the British Army
commanded by Lieut.-Col. Tarleton. It happened on the 17th
inst., about sunrise, at a place called the Cowpens, near
Pacolet River. On the 14th, having received intelligence
that the British Army were in motion, and that their
movements clearly indicated the intention of dislodging me,
I abandoned my encampment at Glendale Ford, and on the 16th,
in the evening, took possession of a post about seven miles
from Chroke on Broad River. My former position subjected me
at once to the operations of Lord Cornwallis and Colonel
Tarleton, and in case of a defeat my retreat might easily
have been cut off. My situation at Cowpens enabled me to
improve any advantage that I might gain and to provide
better for my security should I be unfortunate. These
reasons induced me to take this post, notwithstanding it had
the appearance of a retreat. On the evening of the 16th, the
enemy occupied the ground we had removed from in the
morning. One hour before daylight one of my scouts informed
me that they had advanced within five miles of our camp. On
this information the necessary dispositions were made. From
the activity of the troops we were soon prepared to receive
them. The light infantry commanded by Lt.-Col. Howard, and
the Virginia Militia under Major Triplett, were formed on a
rising ground. The Third Regiment of Dragoons, consisting of
about 80 men, under command of Lt. Col. Washington, were so
posted in the rear as not to be injured by the enemy's fire,
and yet to be able to charge them should an occasion offer;
the Volunteers from North Carolina, South Carolina and
Georgia under the command of Col. Pickens were posted to
guard the flanks. Major McDowal, of the North Carolina
Volunteers, were posted on the right flank in front of the
line 150 yards. Major Cunningham, of the Georgia Volunteers,
on the left, at the same distance in front, Colonels Brannon
and Thomas, of the South Carolina Volunteers, on the right
of Major McDowal, and Colonels Hays and McCall of the same
corps to the left of Major Cunningham. Capts. Tate and
Buchanan, with the Augusta Riflemen, were to support the
right of the line. The enemy drew up in one line four
hundred yards in front of our advanced corps. The first
battalion of the 71st Regiment was opposed to our right, the
7th to our left, the Legion Infantry to our centre, and two
companies of the light troops, 100 each, on our flanks. In
their front they moved two pieces of artillery, and
Lieut.-Col. Tarleton, with 280 cavalry, was posted in the
rear of the line. The disposition being thus made, small
parties of riflemen were detached to skirmish with the
enemy, on which the whole line advanced with the greatest
impetuosity, shouting as they advanced. Majors McDowal and
Cunningham gave them a heavy and galling fire, and retreated
to the regiments intended for their support; the whole of
Col. Pickens' command then kept up a fire by regiments,
retreating agreeable to orders. When the enemy advanced on
our lines they received a well directed and incessant fire,
but their numbers being superior to ours they gained our
flanks, which obliged us to change our position. We retired,
in good order, about fifty paces, formed and advanced on the
enemy and gave them a brisk fire, which threw them into
disorder. Lieut.-Col. Howard observing this gave orders for
the line to charge bayonets, which was done with such
address that the enemy fled with the utmost precipitation.
Lieut.-Col. Washington discovering that the cavalry were
cutting down our riflemen on the left, charged them with
such firmness as obliged them to retire in confusion. The
enemy were entirely routed, and the pursuit continued
upwards of twenty miles. Our loss was inconsiderable, not
having more than twelve killed and sixty wounded. The
enemy's loss was to commissioned officers and over 100 rank
and file killed and 200 wounded, 29 commissioned officers
and about 500 privates prisoners which fell into our hands
with two pieces of artillery, two standards, 800 muskets,
one travelling forge, thirty-five baggage wagons, seventy
negroes and upwards of 100 dragoon horses, with all their
musick. They destroyed most of the baggage which was
immense. Although our success was complete we fought only
800 men and were opposed by upwards of one thousand chosen
British Troops. Such was the inferiority of our numbers that
our success must be attributed, under God, to the justice of
our cause and the bravery of our Troops. My wishes would
induce me to mention the name of every private centinel in
the Corps. In justice to the brave and good conduct of the
officers, I have taken the liberty to enclose you a list of
their names from a conviction that you will be pleased to
introduce such characters to the world. Major Giles, my aid
de camp, and Captain Brooks, acting as Brigade Major,
deserves to have my thanks for their assistance and behavior
on this occasion. The Baron de Glabuck, who accompanies
Major Giles with these despatches, behaved in such manner as
to merit your attention.
I am sir, Your obedient servant,
A List of the Commissioned Officers in the Action of
17th January, 1781
Of the Light Infantry.
John E. Howard, Lt.-Col. Commd'g.
Benj. Brooks, Captain and Brig. Major.
Captains Robert Sherwood, Delaware.
Lieutenants Ewing, do.
Of the Third Battalion of Dragoons.
Lieut.-Col. Washington, Virginia.
Major Richard Call, do.
Captain Berrett, do.
Lieutenant Bell, do.
Cornet Simmons, South Carolina.
Of the Maryland State Battalion.
Edward Giles, Major and Act'g. A. D. C.
Of the Virginia Militia.
Major Triplett, Ensigns Combs,
Captains Backus, McCorkill,
The Baron de Glabuck served as volunteer in Gen. Morgan's
family, and Mr. Andrews with Col. Washington's battalion.
Col. Pickens and all the officers in his corps behaved well;
but from their having so lately joined the detachment it has
been impossible to collect all their names and rank so that
the General does not particularize any lest it should be
doing injustice to others.
By order of Brig.-Gen. Morgan.
EDWARD GILES, A. D. C.
Cowpens Papers: Being Correspondence of General Morgan
and the Prominent Actors, from the collection of
Theodorus Bailey Myers, pp. 24-28)
Document ID: Myers, p. 24