Where the War Turned

Reenactors take aim at the British army at Cowpens.

’Tis a small place, this town called Cowpens, but it looms large in our country’s fight for independence. Just nine miles out of Spartanburg, Cowpens and its rich history is about 104 miles away. The unusual name comes from the fact that this area was an overnight stop for men driving cattle through the area. It’s a place, too, that one British military leader wished he had never visited.

A daytrip there will take you to a pasture-like setting key to the winning of the Revolutionary War. If a bit of a history buff lives in you, you’ll be right at home at the Cowpens National Battlefield near Chesnee. It was here that a classic-but-rare double envelopment military maneuver took place, one studied to this day by military strategists and historians. Officers still draw up the battle on paper and pour over the decisions and movements of both armies and their leaders. They seek to understand why the “double envelopment” maneuver worked, as well as how to defend against it.

The battle took place Jan. 17, 1781 when Brigadier Gen. Daniel Morgan of the Continental Army took on Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s British forces. Morgan’s decisive victory at Cowpens became a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Gen. Morgan fought in the French and Indian War 20 years earlier and he was a seasoned and creative leader. He had a grasp of war and knew how his men would react in battle. And he had a pretty good idea what Tarleton would do. At 26, “Bloody Ban” Tarleton was to be feared. He gave little quarter and was known for fighting until his last man fell.

Though known for his boldness on the battlefield, Tarleton turned tail and fled when Morgan outflanked, surrounded and turned the tables on him. The Redcoats weren’t coming. They were running for their lives! Morgan’s “double envelopment” strategy of dividing his troops and attacking the British army’s flanks delivered victory in less than an hour. This battle, an important link in a chain of events, led to the defeat of the British and independence for the colonies.

Head up to Cowpens National Battlefield and envision the scene where Morgan and Tarleton faced off. You can drive the 3.8-mile auto loop around the battlefield’s perimeter and get a feeling as to how the British were surrounded.

Featured at the battlefield is a walking trail and marked road tour, a picnic ground and a visitor center with exhibits, memorabilia and a multi-image presentation. You’ll see a reproduction of a 3-pounder cannon, other weapons of the Revolutionary War period and exhibits.

At 845 acres it’s a big place. Plan a good day here. Walk the interpretive trail. Take a picnic lunch or a cooler loaded with steaks, hot dogs, what have you. The park has picnic tables, grills and restrooms. Be sure to visit the circa 1828 Robert Scruggs house while at the park. History was made here and it’s waiting for you.

If You Go …

• 4001 Chesnee Highway

Gaffney, S.C. 29341

• 864-461-2828

• 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. all year (Closed Thanksgiving)

• www.nps.gov/cowp/index.htm

Learn more about Tom Poland, a Southern writer, and his work at www.tompoland.net. Email day-trip ideas to him at [email protected]