It may seem an unlikely name for the site of a battle often called the turning point of the Revolutionary War in the South, but Cowpens National Battlefield also claims a second distinction: one of the few successful uses of a classic military tactic known as a double envelopment occurred here. The park will commemorate the 233rd anniversary of the battle with an impressive slate of events January 17-19.
The battle at Cowpens lasted only about a hour on a cold January morning in 1781, but it was a stunning defeat for British troops and loyalist militia under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. The British commander, known as "Bloody Tarleton," was both feared and hated by the patriot forces, so the victory by Continental troops and patriot militia led by General Daniel Morgan was especially gratifying for those soldiers.
Morgan's Battle Plan was a "Tactical Masterpiece"
Both sides used a combination of foot soldiers and cavalry, but the patriots' plan for the battle was so superior that many military historians consider it a tactical masterpiece. One such source says the battle "was probably the closest approach to tactical perfection ever seen on the American continent ' a complete double envelopment, the dream of every professional soldier." Another says Morgan's battlefield performance was "unexcelled and perhaps unequaled by any other officer of the American cause." You'll find good summaries of the battle in this earlier article on the Traveler and at this link, which also offers more detail, including an explanation of the double envelopment tactic.
For present-day Americans, the term "cowpens" may conjure up a mental picture of a corral, but in 1781 this was simply a large pasturing area at a backwoods crossroads; grazing had created a large area of open woods with virtually no underbrush. The Cowpens was a location widely-known throughout the region, making it a good rendezvous point when Morgan sent out a call via the frontier grapevine for patriot militia to assemble and oppose the British force.
A Full Weekend of Activities
The story of Cowpens combines of an interesting cast of characters, an important period from our nation's history and a rare example of classical military tactics; the result is a fine opportunity for a weekend chock-full of activities at the park from January 17-19, 2014.
The 233rd anniversary of the battle will be commemorated by a wreath-laying ceremony, 18th- century weapons firing demonstrations, Revolutionary War cavalry demonstrations, ranger-led battlefield walks, author and historian talks, programs for children, fife and drum concerts, a Saturday evening guided lantern walk, and for hardy history buffs, a 25-mile guided walk or bike ride which retraces the route that Daniel Morgan's men took to the Cow Pens in 1781.
No such event would seem complete without a wreath-laying ceremony, so the weekend will kick off with that activity at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, January 17 at the Daniel Morgan statue in Spartanburg, South Carolina. At 7 p.m. that evening, Scott Hodges will portray the battle's militia commander, Andrew Pickens, in a program at Wofford College (429 North Church Street, Spartanburg, SC). A social time with dessert and coffee will be held from 6:30 ' 7:00 p.m. and tickets for the performance and dessert and coffee are $5.00. For reservations for this event, email Juanita Pesaro at [email protected].
Activities really get into full swing on Saturday morning and continue through late afternoon on Sunday. You'll find a complete schedule at this link. With the exception of the Friday evening program mentioned above, all activities for the weekend are free of charge.
Special Activities for Children are Included
If your group includes children, special hands-on activities for the younger set will include quill pen writing, sachets, tin punch items, cartridge rolling and whirligigs. These events will be offered in the Children's Tent, located behind the Visitor Center; check here for the schedule. On the three-quarter hour (Saturday 11:45 - 3:45 and Sunday 11:45 - 2:45), children can participate in musket drilling with dummy wooden guns.
Twilight "guided lantern walks" on the battlefield will be conducted Saturday evening from 5:30 to 6:20 p.m., with a walk leaving from behind the Visitor Center every 10 minutes during those times. A reservation for this activity needs to be made by e-mail; indicate in your message how many people are in your group, and a park staff member will be back in touch with details. Participants will need to dress warmly and bring a flashlight.
"Morgan's Victory March" Offers a 25-mile Look at History for Hikers or Cyclists
If you're a hiker or bike rider and are up to a 25-mile trip spread over a couple of days, you can "experience what it was like for Morgan's 'Flying Army' to arrive at the Cowpens by registering for Morgan's Victory March. Led by author and Rutherford County teacher Robert W. Brown, who worked at Cowpens National Battlefield this past summer, the 25-mile walk/ride retraces the route that Daniel Morgan's men took to the Cow Pens. Participants will arrive at the park on Sunday afternoon at 1:30." For information about Morgan's Victory March, January 18 ' 19, email or call Jane Waters at [email protected] or 864-489-3988. You'll find some additional details here.
A living history encampment near the Visitor Center will offer the chance to talk with reenactors and see some examples of life on the 18th-century frontier. At 10 a.m. on Saturday, you can see a sampling of entertainment from that era at the Reenactor Competitions, which will include skillet throws and bayonet competitions. Given the nature of the "games," be sure you stay on the correct side of the roped-off area!
Curious about live music of the period, and how it played an important role in battles from the 18th century? Short concerts by the Guilford Courthouse Fife & Drum Corps will be held several times during the weekend at the Washington Light Infantry Monument, near the park Visitor Center. If you'd like a sample of their performance from the 2012 edition of this event at Cowpens, which included some fun audience participation on one number, check out the short video below.
If you'd like to attend the activities on Sunday, but don't want to miss church, an 18th-century-style church service will be held at 11:00 a.m. in the Program Tent. Throughout the weekend, the park movie will be shown on the hour in the Visitor Center, and several authors will present talks during the event, followed by a book signing.
Cowpens National Battlefield is located about 20 miles northeast of Spartanburg, South Carolina; from exit 83 on Interstate 85, it's only about eight miles to the park. You'll find driving directions on the park website.