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Chapter 22:

The southern campaign. Morgan at the Cowpens.

1780, 1781.

after the defeat of Gates, congress subjected its
Chap. XXII.} 1780. Oct. 30.
favorite to a court of inquiry, and, conforming to the advice of Washington, appointed Major-General Greene to the command of the southern department. Gates had received his appointment and his instructions directly from congress, and his command had been co-ordinate and independent. On confirming the nomination of Greene, congress assigned to him all the regular troops, raised or to be raised, in Delaware and the states south of it; and conferred on him all the powers that had been vested in Gates, but ‘subject to the control of the commanderin-chief.’1 Thus the conduct of the war obtained, for the first time, the harmony and unity essential to success. Washington was in danger of being shortly without men; yet he detached for the service in the [457] Carolinas Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lee, his best
Chap. XXII.} 1780. Oct.
cavalry officer, with the corps called the legion, consisting of three troops of horse and three companies of infantry, in all, three hundred and fifty men. For Greene he prepared a welcome at the south, writing to George Mason: ‘I introduce this gentleman as a man of abilities, bravery, and coolness. He has a comprehensive knowledge of our affairs, and is a man of fortitude and resources. I have not the smallest doubt, therefore, of his employing all the means which may be put into his hands to the best advantage, nor of his assisting in pointing out the most likely ones to answer the purposes of his command.’

As he moved south, Greene left Steuben in Virginia. At Charlotte, where he arrived on the second

Dec. 2.
of December, he received a complaint from Cornwallis respecting the prisoners of King's Mountain, who had been put to death by the soldiery, coupled with a threat of retaliation. Avowing his own respect for the principles of humanity and the law of nations, Greene answered by sending him a list of about fifty men who had been hanged by Lord Cornwallis himself, and by others high in the British service; and he called on mankind to sit in judgment on the order of Lord Cornwallis to Balfour after the action near Camden, on Lord Rawdon's proclamation, and on the ravages of Tarleton. Throughout his career he was true to the principles which he then announced. No one, except a deserter, ever died by his order. No American officer in his department ever imitated the cruelties systematically practised [458] by the British. Sumpter spared all prisoners, though
Chap. XXII.} 1780. Dec.
the worst men were among them. Marion was famed for his mercy. Cruelty was never imputed to Williams, Pickens, or any other of the American chiefs. But the British officers continued to ridicule the idea of observing capitulations with citizens, insisting that those who claimed to be members of an independent state could derive no benefit from any solemn engagement, and were but vanquished traitors who owed their lives to British clemency.2

In the course of the winter Colonel William Cun-

ningham, under orders from Colonel Balfour at Charleston, led one hundred and fifty white men and negroes into the interior settlements. On his route he killed every person he met with, suspected of being a friend to the United States, to the number of about fifty, and burned their habitations. At length he came to a house which sheltered an American party of thirty-five men under Colonel Hayes. These refusing to surrender at discretion, a fire from both sides was kept up for about three hours, till at last the British were able to set fire to the house. In this situation, the besieged capitulated under the agreement that they should be treated as prisoners of war until they could be exchanged. The capitulation was formally signed and interchanged; and yet the Americans had no sooner marched out, than the British hanged Colonel Hayes to the limb of a tree. The second in command was treated in like manner; after which, Cunningham, with his own hands, slew some of the prisoners, and desired his men to follow his example. One of them traversed [459] the ground where his old neighbors and acquaint-
Chap. XXII.} 1781.
ances lay dead and dying, and ran his sword through those in whom he saw signs of life. These facts were afterwards established by a judicial investigation.3

On coming into a new clime, Greene ordered

1780. Dec.
observations to be made on the fords and capacity for transportation of the Dan, the Yadkin, and the Catawba. Before his departure, Gates had brought together two thousand three hundred and seven men, of whom only a little more than one-half were militia, and ‘eight hundred were properly clothed and equipped.’4 The men had been accustomed to leave the camp at their own will, and make visits to their homes. This Greene forbade as an act of desertion, and the first who was caught after the order was issued was shot in the presence of the whole army drawn up to witness the execution. Opinion among the troops approved the decision, and by degrees the discipline of the southern continental troops became equal to their courage. The campaign was sure to be one of danger and hardship; the firm and adventurous commander gained the confidence and love of his troops by sharing every peril and more than sharing every toil.

The country around Charlotte had been ravaged. Sending Kosciuszko in advance to select a site for an encampment, he marched his army to the head of boat navigation on the Pedee. There, in a fertile and unexhausted country, at the falls of the river, he established his ‘camp of repose’ to improve the [460] discipline and spirits of his men, and ‘to gain for

Chap. XXII.} 1780. Dec.
himself an opportunity of looking about.’

Greene had expected new and singular difficulties; but they exceeded all that he had feared. Shoals of militia, kept on foot since the defeat of Gates, had done little but waste the country. The power of government was far less than in the north. The inhabitants knew little of control. Coming from all quarters of the globe, they were still from their early education so various in opinions and habits, that there was a want of national character and sentiment. Yet several corps of partisans were bold and daring, and there was a great spirit of enterprise among the black people who came out as volunteers. ‘General Washington's influence,’ so he wrote to Hamilton, ‘will do more than all the assemblies upon the continent. I always thought him exceedingly popular; but in many places he is little less than adored, and universally admired. From being the friend of the general I found myself exceedingly well received.’5

Confirmed in his detached command, Morgan with his small force crossed the Catawba just below the mouth of the little Catawba, and passing Broad river, on the twenty-fifth of December encamped on the

north bank of the Pacolet. Here he was joined by about sixty mounted Carolinians under Colonel Pickens, and two hundred Georgians under Major Maccall. General Davidson, of North Carolina, on the twenty-
ninth brought one hundred and twenty men into camp, but left immediately to collect more. Hearing that about two hundred and fifty Georgia [461] tories were plundering the neighborhood of Fair
Chap. XXII.} 1780. Dec.
Forest, Morgan sent Lieutenant-Colonel Washington with his own regiment, and two hundred mounted riflemen under Maccall, to attack them. Coming up with them at about twelve o'clock on the thirtieth,
Washington extended his mounted riflemen on the wings, and charged them in front with his own cavalry. The tories fled without resistance, losing one hundred and fifty killed and wounded, and about forty who were taken prisoners.

Cornwallis, who, when joined by the reenforce-ment sent from New York under Leslie, could advance with thirty-five hundred fighting men,6 was impatient of the successes of Morgan, and resolved to intercept his retreat. On the second of January, 1781, he

1781. Jan. 2.
ordered Tarleton with his detachment to pass Broad river, and to push him to the utmost. ‘No time,’ wrote he, ‘is to be lost.’7 Tarleton answered by promising either to destroy Morgan's corps, or push it before him over Broad river towards King's Mountain; and he wished the main army to advance so as to be ready to capture the fugitives. ‘I feel bold in offering my opinion,’ he wrote, ‘as it flows from well-founded inquiry concerning the enemy's designs.’8 To this Cornwallis replied: ‘You have understood my intentions perfectly.’9

The danger to Morgan was imminent; for the light troops were pursuing him on the one side, and the main army preparing to intercept his retreat on the other. On the fourteenth, Tarleton passed the

[462] Enoree and Tyger rivers above the Cherokee ford.
Chap. XXII.} 1781. Jan. 15.
On the afternoon of the fifteenth, Morgan encamped at Burr's Mills on Thickety creek; and from this place on the same day he wrote to Greene his wish to avoid an action. ‘But this,’ he added, ‘will not be always in my power.’10 His scouts, whom he kept within half a mile of the camp of his enemy, informed him that Tarleton had crossed the Tyger at Musgrove's Mills with a force of eleven or twelve hundred men. On the sixteenth, he put himself
and his party in full motion towards Broad river, while in the evening the camp which he had abandoned was occupied by Tarleton's party. On that day, Cornwallis with his army reached Turkey creek.

In the genial clime of South Carolina, where the grass is springing in every month of winter, cattle in those days grazed in the field all the year round; never housed, nor fed by the hand of man, but driven from time to time into cowpens, where each inhabitant gave salt to his herd and marked them for his own. Two miles from such an enclosure, on a wide plain covered with primeval pines and chestnut and oak, about sixteen miles from Spartanburg, seven miles from the Cherokee ford on the Broad river, and a little less than five miles from the line of North Carolina, Morgan encamped his party for the night. Greene had left Morgan to his discretion, yet with warning against risk in a battle; his best officers now urged him beyond all things to avoid an engagement.11 With a noble confidence in himself and in [463] his troops, he resolved to give battle to his pursuers.

Chap. XXII.} 1781. Jan. 16.
In the evening, he moved among his men, inspiring them with cheerfulness. During the night, Pickens, who had been for a few days absent, returned with about one hundred and fifty militia, and another party of fifty came in.

At an hour before daylight, Morgan, through his

excellent system of spies, knew that Tarleton's troops were within five miles of his camp. His men were roused, quietly breakfasted, and prepared for battle. The ground chosen was an open wood between the springs of two little rivulets, with a slight ridge extending from one of them to the other. In the wood, free from undergrowth, no thicket offered covert, no swamp a refuge from cavalry. The best troops, about four hundred in number, were placed in line on the rising ground. Two hundred and eighty of the Maryland light infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Howard, formed the centre; two companies of approved Virginia riflemen were on each wing. Lieutenant-Colonel Washington's regiment of dragoons, consisting of eighty men, was placed as a reserve out of sight and out of fire. The volunteers from the Carolinas and Georgia, four hundred in number, were posted under Pickens in advance, so as to defend the approaches. Of these, sixty sharpshooters of the North Carolina volunteers were to act as skirmishers on the right flank one hundred and fifty yards in front of the line, and as many more of the Georgians at the same distance on the left.

Tarleton's troops, about eleven hundred in number, having two field-pieces, and a great superiority [464] in bayonets and cavalry, after a march of twelve

Chap. XXII.} 1781. Jan. 17.
miles came in sight at eight o'clock in the morning, and drew up in one line. The legion infantry formed their centre, with the seventh regiment on the right, the seventy-first on the left, and two light companies of a hundred men each on the flanks. The artillery moved in front. Tarleton, with two hundred and eighty cavalry, was in the rear. No sooner were they formed than they rushed forward with shouts. They were received by a heavy and well-directed fire,—first from the American skirmishers, and then from the whole of Pickens's command. At the main line they were resisted with obstinate courage. During a bloody conflict, their superiority of numbers enabled them to gain the flanks of the Americans both on their right and left. At this moment Morgan ordered the Maryland line, which shared his own selfposses-sion, to retreat fifty yards and form anew. The British eagerly pressed on, thinking the day their own, and were within thirty yards of the Americans when the latter halted and turned upon them. The Virginia riflemen, who had kept their places, instinctively formed themselves on the sides of the British, so that they who two or three minutes before had threatened to turn the Americans found themselves as it were within a pair of open pincers, exposed to the converging oblique fire of two companies of sharpshooters on each flank and a direct fire from the Marylanders in front. The change was so sudden that the British were stunned with surprise. Seeing their disorder, the line of Howard charged them with bayonets, and broke their ranks so that they fled with precipitation. The cavalry of Washington, [465] hitherto unseen, sprang forward and charged success-
Chap. XXII.} 1781. Jan. 17.
fully the cavalry of the British. The enemy was completely routed and pursued for upwards of twenty miles.

Of the Americans only twelve were killed and sixty wounded. Of the enemy ten commissioned officers were killed, beside more than a hundred rank and file; two hundred were wounded; twenty-nine commissioned officers and more than five hundred privates were taken prisoners, beside seventy negroes. Two standards, upwards of a hundred dragoon horses, thirty-five wagons, eight hundred muskets, and two field-pieces that had been taken from the British at Saratoga and retaken at Camden, fell into the hands of the victors. The immense baggage of Tarleton's party, which had been left in the rear, was destroyed by the British themselves. ‘Our success,’ wrote the victor in his modest report, ‘must be attributed to the justice of our cause and the gallantry of our troops. My wishes would induce me to name every sentinel in the corps.’

Aware that the camp of Cornwallis at Turkey creek was within twenty-five miles, and as near as the battle-ground to the ford on the Catawba, Morgan destroyed the captured baggage-wagons, paroled the British officers, intrusted the wounded to the care of the few residents of the neighborhood, and, leaving his cavalry to follow him on their return from the pursuit, crossed the Broad river with his foot soldiers and his prisoners, the captured artillery, muskets, and ammunition on the day of the battle. Proceeding by easy marches of ten miles a day, on the twenty-third he crossed the Catawba [466] at Sherrald's ford. Taking for his troops a week's

Chap. XXII.} 1781. Jan 23.
rest in his camp north of the river, he sent forward his prisoners to Salisbury, under the guard of Virginia militia, whose time of service had just expired; and he recommended by letter to Greene that the militia under General Stevens, whose term of service had also expired, and who had passed a month in repose, should conduct the prisoners to a place of safety in Virginia. The fame of the great victory at the Cowpens spread in every direction. Greene announced in general orders the victory, and his army saluted the victors as ‘the finest fellows on earth, more worthy than ever of love.’ Rutledge of South Carolina repeated their praises, and rewarded Pickens with a commission as brigadier. Davidson of North Carolina wrote that the victory ‘gladdened every countenance, and paved the way for the salvation of the country.’ The state of Virginia voted to Morgan a horse and a sword in testimony of ‘the highest esteem of his country for his military character and abilities so gloriously displayed.’ The United States in congress placed among their records ‘the most lively sense of approbation of the conduct of Morgan and the men and officers under his command.’ To him they voted a gold medal, to Howard and Washington medals of silver, and swords to Pickens and Triplet.

The health of Morgan gave way soon after the battle; and in three weeks more a most severe acute attack of rheumatism, consequent on the exposures of this and his former campaigns, forced him to take a leave of absence. Wherever he had appeared, he had always heralded the way to daring [467] action, almost always to success. He first attracted

Chap. XXII.} 1781. Jan. 23.
notice in the camp round Boston, was foremost in the march through the wilderness to Canada, and foremost in the attempt to take Quebec by storm; he bore the brunt of every engagement with Burgoyne's army, and now he had won the most extraordinary victory of the war at the Cowpens. He took with him into retirement the praises of all the army, and of the chief civil representatives of the country. Again and again hopes rose that he might once more appear in arms; but the unrelenting malady obliged him to refuse the invitation of Lafayette and even of Washington.

1 Journals, III. 511.

2 Ramsay's Carolina, II. 298.

3 Judge A. Burke to the Governor of South Carolina, 14 Dec., 1784.

4 Johnson's Greene, i. 340.

5 Hamilton's Works, i. 204.

6 Tarleton's Campaigns, 242 and 210.

7 Ibid., 214.

8 Tarleton's Campaigns, 246.

9 Ibid., 246.

10 Johnson's Greene, 370.

11 Marshall's Life of Washington, i. 402.

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