Battle of Cowpens

What was going on in 1781

The Revolutionary War broke out between the American colonies and Britain in 1775. The colonies didn’t like Britain imposing taxes on them while Britain wanted to maintain greater control over the colonies. The war began in 1775 and was still going on in 1781.

During this time, American Continental Army won some battles while Britain also won a few. So it still wasn’t clear who was going to win. But in 1781, the final phase of the war began. And before the year ended, the war was over. The year began with the Battle of Cowpens which took place on January 17, 1781.

Background of the Battle of Cowpens

The American Army had suffered many defeats in the southern states. So the morale of American soldiers and people was quite low when the year 1781 began. Some wondered if they could win the war at all. At this time, a large British Army under General Charles Cornwallis arrived in the Carolinas.

General George Washington sent an American army under General Nathaniel Greene to stop Cornwallis. Since Americans were less in number and not so well-armed, General Nathaniel didn’t directly attack Cornwallis’ army. Rather, Americans started harassing the rear end of the British army which slowed down the whole army. Finally, British were forced to send a part of the army in order to fight the Americans.

The Battle Takes Place

A British force under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton was sent to deal with the American army under General Nathaniel Greene. The two sides met near the town of Cowpens in South Carolina on January 17, 1781. General Nathaniel used brilliant tactics during the battle. He divided his men into three groups. One group of 150 men formed the front-line and had rifles.

They were ordered to shoot one volley into the enemies and retreat back to the main body of soldiers because rifles were too slow to load. Behind them a group of 300 soldiers with muskets were ordered to stand. These soldiers shot 3 volleys into the enemy lines before retreating to the main line of the army. At the third line, the main force of the American army stood.

The Fighting

The overconfident British attacked the Americans who were positioned according to General Nathaniel’s brilliant plan. The first two lines of American army were able to kill many British officers and a large number of soldiers. Then the third line of American army fought back and quickly defeated the British force. In all, 110 British died while many hundred were taken captive. On the American side, there were very few casualties.


Thanks to this victory, the morale of the American army and people in the South was lifted. They realized that although Britain had a strong army, they could still win the war against Britain by gaining victories such as the Battle of Cowpens. Thanks to this victory, the Revolutionary War continued in the South, eventually resulting in the defeat of Britain and the independence of the USA.

Learn More about the Battle of Cowpens at Wikipedia

The Battle of Cowpens: The Great Morale Builder Hardcover – 1958