The American Revolutionary War was the key event which defined the early spirit of the United States. In secured the independence of the Americans from the imperial forces of the Britishers, the United States defined themselves for the first time as a independent nation.
While talking about the American Revolution, it is impossible not to mention the Battle of Cowpens since it was a major turning point that strengthened the position of the Americans. The engagement between the American troops and the British forces solidified the position of the Americans in their struggle for independence.
The battle took place in 1781, and even today it is considered to be an ideal example of skilled leadership and amazing military prowess. To understand the importance of the Battle of Cowpens and how the events unfolded during the battle, it is necessary to take a plunge into the past.
What Happened at the Battle of Cowpens?
The Battle of Cowpens took place on January 17, 1781. A small American force under the leadership of Brigadier General Daniel Morgan was marching near the Catawba river, a major waterway which flows through the Carolinas, to obtain food and raise the morale of his troops.
They did not have war in their mind, and conflict could easily have been avoided. However, the nearby British had been provided with inaccurate information, and they believed the small army would act as a major threat. A British force was therefore deployed to defeat the Americans. This marked the beginning of the historic Battle of Cowpens.
The battle took place on a small grazing pasture on an extremely cold morning. Morgan’s troops decided to position themselves near the Broad River, and he saw a strategic advantage there. When the British troop reached them, they were too fatigued and weak.
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Nevertheless, they did not hesitate and immediately pressed the attack against the Americans. But the small American troop had strategically prepared for the event, and it was able to withstand the impact of the British attack. While the Americans were well-organized and took positions in three main lines, the cohesion of the British troop failed. Then the Americans went on the offensive.
The British force under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton was taken aback by the counterattack of the small American force. The British group that had come with the intention to strike Morgan’s army, exhausted by the march and their own attack, was encircled and wiped out.
It brought an end to the Crown’s brief set of victories in the southern colonies. The battle hardly lasted an hour, but it was a total victory for the Americans. In the battle, 110 British soldiers lost their lives and over 700 were taken prisoner, while Morgan only lost 12 of his men.
Small Battle; Big Win?
But don’t be fooled by the relatively small number of soldiers involved. During the Battle of Cowpens, the entire of South Carolina state was at stake. The disastrous defeat of the British, coupled with their defeat at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina three months’ earlier, the British lost their strong footing in the south. The series of events that took place down south ensured that the British no longer enjoyed a superior position over the Americans.
Prior to the Battle of Cowpens, Tarleton had been wrongly informed that Morgan was coming with his small army to attack the British Fort Ninety Six, a key stronghold in South Carolina, he decided to attack them and had prepared to defend his own strategic location. When the British became aware of the true destination of the American troop, they decided to pursue the army in the new location and lost their cohesion.
However, little did they know that the price of the decision would be immense and they would be crushed by the small American troop. The hasty decision was a major blow for the British since its defeat strengthened the American position in South Carolina. Ultimately, it slowed the efforts of the British forces to invade the North Carolina region.
In the American Revolution, the Battle of Cowpens played an instrumental role. It was a rare win for the Americans as they had been facing defeats at the hands of the Britishers. The victory boosted the morale of the American forces. It further showed that a small force that has a clear strategy in mind could defeat large troops that lack proper planning and preparedness.
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The battle is regarded to be a key turning point in the American revolution, especially in the southern colonies. Americans had faced defeat in several battles in the south. The Battle of Cowpens was a much-needed morale booster for the Americans.
As a result of the unexpected defeat for the British, their forces retreated. It gave the confidence to the Americans that they stood a chance against the Britishers in their struggle for independence.
The Seed of Cornwallis’s Doom
The events that unfolded in the Battle of Cowpens had important consequences for the American forces as well as the British troops in the American Revolution. The impact of the battle can be felt in American history. It gives a glimpse into the character and strength that the small but mighty American troops displayed to outplay their British counterparts.
The overconfidence and the lack of strategic planning on the part of the Britishers cost them dearly. The victory of the Americans was a major blow for the British forces. The loss that the British faced in the south showed the British did not have a superior position over the Americans.
General Charles Cornwallis, in overall command of the British forces in the area, now had a new problem to contend with. Previously Tarleton’s actions in South Carolina had been seen as a mopping-up exercise, a removing of resistance after which the area would be considered pacified. But with Tarleton himself defeated, Cornwallis had to abandon this plan.
Cornwallis was forced to run his own army ragged as they struggled to meet the Americans, eventually forcing a battle at Guildford Court House. Cornwallis won, but his army was in a strung out state and desperately needed resupply.
Cornwallis’s retreat to Yorktown allowed George Washington to trap him there, and the defeat inflicted on the British that day was the effective birth of the United States of America as an independent nation. And all because of a moment’s brilliant at the Battle of Cowpens.
Top Image: The Battle of Cowpens, painted in 1845. Source: William Ranney / Public Domain.
By Bipin Dimri