Cowpens

Believe me, it killed me to drive across South Carolina and not have time to stop and make a study of the battlefield at Cowpens.

Cowpens is an American story about local amateurs beating foreign professionals, with an A+ villain in Banastre Tarleton.

Tarleton painted by (who else?) Joshua Reynolds

How satisfying must it been to have kicked this guy’s ass?!  Tarleton, a rich boy dandy, was in command at age 25.  Very cocky.  At Cowpens he charged right into a trap.

The Americans:

 conducted a double envelopment of Tarleton’s force, and suffered casualties of only 12 killed and 61 wounded…  Morgan’s army took 712 prisoners, which included 200 wounded. Even worse for the British, the forces lost (especially the British Legion and the dragoons) constituted the cream of Cornwallis’ army. Additionally, 110 British soldiers were killed in action, and every artilleryman was either killed or incapacitated by wounds. Tarleton suffered an 86 percent casualty rate, and his brigade had been all but wiped out as a fighting force.

But don’t worry!

Tarleton was one of around 160 British troops to escape.

Tarleton went on, of course, to a career in politics.

He is especially noted for supporting the slave trade, which was highly important to the port of Liverpool. Its ships were deeply involved in slave trading. Tarleton was working to preserve the slavery business with his brothers Clayton and Thomas, and he became well known for his taunting and mockery of the abolitionists.

His romantic life?

For 15 years, he had a relationship with the actress and writer Mary Robinson (Perdita), whom he initially seduced on a bet.

LOL this guy.  What?  Mary Robinson was at the time a notorious babe and former mistress of the King:

Prior to [Tarleton], Robinson had been having an affair with a man named Lord Malden. According to one account, Malden and Tarleton were betting men, and Malden was so confident in Robinson’s loyalty to him, and believed that no man could ever take her from him. As such, he made a bet of a thousand guineas that none of the men in his circle could seduce her. Unfortunately for Malden, Tarleton accepted the bet and swooped in to not only seduce Robinson, but establish a relationship that would last the next 15 years.

Tarleton was famous for killing prisoners trying to surrender — “Tarleton’s Quarter” – after the Battle of Waxhaws.  In Tarleton’s version of the story this was because his guys were so upset that he was hurt:

Colonel Tarleton’s account, published in 1787, said that his horse had been shot from under him, and that his soldiers, thinking him dead, engaged in “a vindictive asperity not easily restrained”.

Then came Cowpens.

via Wikipedia via the US Military Academy history department

The charts and diagrams that are used to explain battles have always interested me but they have some real problems.  In a word they are bloodless.

What we’re talking about here didn’t look like a bunch of tidy arrows and lines.  It was violent chaos, a bunch of guys murdering each other in fire and smoke.

But a little more reading suggests Daniel Morgan, the Continental commander, with the benefit of some time to plan, made some good moves.

Daniel Morgan turned to his advantage the landscape of Cowpens, the varying reliability of his troops, his opponent’s expectations, and the time available before Tarleton’s arrival. He knew untrained militiamen, which composed a large portion of his force, were generally unreliable in battle, and in the past had routed at the first hint of defeat and abandoned the regulars. (The Battle of Camden had ended in disaster when the militia, which was half of the American force, broke and ran as soon as the shooting started.) To eliminate that possibility, he defied convention by placing his army between the Broad and Pacolet rivers, thus making escape impossible if the army was routed.

More:

Morgan asked the militia to fire two volleys, something they could achieve, and then withdraw to the left, to re-form in the rear

Tarleton meanwhile drove his foodless, sleepless men all night in a damn hurry to get another victory.

 

John Eager Howard quoted Maj. McArthur of the 71st Highlanders, now a prisoner of the Americans, as saying that “he was an officer before Tarleton was born; that the best troops in the service were put under ‘that boy’ to be sacrificed.”

This detail:

An American prisoner later told that when Tarleton reached Cornwallis and reported the disaster, Cornwallis placed his sword tip on the ground and leaned on it until the blade snapped.

 



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