They retreated off, leaving us entire masters of the field

Posted by | January 17, 2017

On January 17, 1781, American General Daniel Morgan scored a stunning victory over British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre “Barbarous Ban” Tarleton’s regulars at the Battle of Cowpens, in what is now Cherokee County, SC. This win came at a crucial time for Revolutionary War patriots in the South, who had been repeatedly forced to retreat.

William Seymour, a Sergeant-Major of the Delaware Regiment, recorded the event in his diary:

“We lay on this ground from the twenty-fifth December, 1780, till the fourteenth January, 1781, and then proceeded on our march further up the river towards the iron works in order to frustrate the designs of the enemy who were coming round us, Colonel Tarleton on one side and Lord Cornwallis on the other.

“We encamped on the Cowpen Plains on the evening of the sixteenth January, forty-two miles, being joined by some Georgia volunteers and South [Carolina] Militia, to the number of between two and three hundred.

“Next day being the seventeenth January, we received intelligence a while before day, that Colonel Tarleton was advancing in our rear in order to give us battle, upon which we were drawn up in order of battle, the men seeming to be all in good spirits and very willing to fight. The militia dismounted and were drawn up in front of the standing troops on the right and left flanks, being advanced about two hundred yards.

Colonel William Washington at the Battle of CowpensColonel William Washington at the Battle of Cowpens. Drawn and engraved for Graham’s Magazine by S.H. Gimber.

“By this time the enemy advanced and attacked the militia in front, which they stood very well for some time till being overpowered by the superior number of the enemy they retreated, but in very good order, not seeming to be in the least confused. By this time the enemy advanced and attacked our light infantry with both cannon and small arms, where meeting with a very warm reception they then thought to surround our right flank, to prevent which Captain Kirkwood with his company wheeled to the right and attacked their left flank so vigorously that they were soon repulsed, our men advancing on them so very rapidly that they soon gave way.

“Our left flank advanced at the same time and repulsed their right flank, upon which they retreated off, leaving us entire masters of the field, our men pursuing them for the distance of twelve miles, insomuch that all their infantry was killed, wounded and taken prisoners. This action commenced about seven o’ clock in the morning and continued till late in the afternoon.

“In the action were killed of the enemy one hundred and ninety men, wounded one hundred and eighty, and taken prisoners one Major, thirteen Captains, fourteen Lieutenants, and nine Ensigns, and five hundred and fifty private men, with two field pieces and four standards of colours.

“Their heavy baggage would have shared the same fate, if Tarleton, who retreated with his cavalry, had not set fire to it, burning up twenty-six wagons. This victory on our side cannot be attributed to nothing else but Divine Providence, they having thirteen hundred in the field of their best troops, and we not eight hundred of standing troops and militia.

“The troops engaged against us were the 7th or Royal English Fuzileers, the First Battalion of the 71st, and the British Legion, horse and foot.

“The courage and conduct of the brave General Morgan in this action is highly commendable, as likewise Colonel Howard, who all the time of the action rode from right to left of the line encouraging the men; and indeed all the officers and men behaved with uncommon and undaunted bravery, but more especially the brave Captain Kirkwood and his company, who that day did wonders, rushing on the enemy without either dread or fear, and being instrumental in taking a great number of prisoners.

“Our loss in the action were one Lieutenant wounded, and one Sergeant and thirty-five killed and wounded, of which fourteen were of Captain Kirkwood’s Company of the Delaware Regiment.”

source: “Journal of the Southern Expedition, 1780-1783,
by William Seymour, Sergeant-Major of the Delaware Regiment.”
Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 7 (1883): 286-98, 377-94.
Online at

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