The battle of Cowpens was a crucial turning point in the Revolutionary War in the South and stands as perhaps the finest American tactical demonstration of the entire war. On 17 January 1781, Daniel Morgan’s force of Continental troops and militia routed British regulars and Loyalists under the command of Banastre Tarleton. The victory at Cowpens helped put the British army on the road to the Yorktown surrender and, ultimately, cleared the way for American independence.
Here, Lawrence Babits provides a brand-new interpretation of this pivotal South Carolina battle. Whereas previous accounts relied on often inaccurate histories and a small sampling of participant narratives, Babits uses veterans’ sworn pension statements, long-forgotten published accounts, and a thorough knowledge of weaponry, tactics, and the art of moving men across the landscape. He identifies where individuals were on the battlefield, when they were there, and what they saw–creating an absorbing common soldier’s version of the conflict. His minute-by-minute account of the fighting explains what happened and why and, in the process, refutes much of the mythology that has clouded our picture of the battle.
Babits put the events at Cowpens into a sequence that makes sense given the landscape, the drill manual, the time frame, and participants’ accounts. He presents an accurate accounting of the numbers involved and the battle’s length. Using veterans’ statements and an analysis of wounds, he shows how actions by North Carolina militia and American cavalry affected the battle at critical times. And, by fitting together clues from a number of incomplete and disparate narratives, he answers questions the participants themselves could not, such as why South Carolina militiamen ran toward dragoons they feared and what caused the “mistaken order” on the Continental right flank.
Chris Parker writes
Starting with the preface, which I must admit I almost never read in a book I was gripped with interest. The author – Lawrence Babits had found a new way to determine in more detail both the number of men at Cowpens and what they did. It was simple really, he relied on after battle reports mostly from pensioners of the American Revolution. These were soldiers who 40 years after the war gave sworn statements that they had participated in the battle and gave as many details as they could A second call for pensioners was issued 10 years late. These results were then computerized and placed into a timeline as best as possible. As Babits writes the view and comments of the common soldier is quite different from that of a mounted office for many reasons. The first being the the soldier is on foot and in the ranks with a very limited field of vision and rarely has a grasp on what is going on other that what he can see and hear. The office on the other is mounted and has a much better field of vision, and often knows the bigger picture. Not to forget that if he is mounted he probably moves across larger areas of the battlefield than the soldier.
Lets talk about these. There are 19 maps in all. The first one gives a nice view of the overall are and shows features like fort 96, the location of Kings Mountain and Cowpens. it also shows where the posts of both sides are and where the main armies lie. It is a very goo map to start out the book with a grasp of the big picture.
For me Map 3 was the most interesting as it was the Topographical map of the battle. I had never seen a map with this much detail and I for one feel it is a big help in understand the dispositions and movements of the forces.
Other maps show the dispositions of the troops and where there are conflicting maps such as the Hammond Map, The Clove Map and the Pigree map he shows them all. This alone is a great insight as to how people can see the same thing differently.
The book has 6 or 7 very nice pictures of some of the leaders including Morgan and Tarleton.
Next there are some interesting table. One lists the different companies pensioners claimed the were in. These are listed out in a very helpful way. Table 3 is a breakdown of the types of wounds suffered by the main line regiments. There is a good breakdown and then synopsis of why different units suffered as they did, or didn’t. Another fascinating table is the Distance Covered Table which addresses the different rates of march the units made at the time.
The Show Begins
The book finally gets into the heart of the battle and starts off describing the dispositions of the troops of both sides based on the new information. Then comes the following Chapters, each dealing with their own subject. Again keep in mind the author is trying to establish and active time line here.
Chapter – Title
4 – The Stage is Ste
5 – The Skirmish Line
6 – The Militia Line
7 – The Main Line
8 – Cavalry Actions
9 – The Aftermath
The amount of depth and detail in this book is immediately evident in Chapter 5 – The Skirmish Line. In many books all you rd is how the Green Dragoons advanced against the Skirmish line and returned with 20 empty saddles. Not here. At times it seems like a minute to minute account of the advance. I particularly liked how the skirmishers did their two jobs very well. The first was to for Tarleton to commit to a deployment early before he could make out a great deal of information. The second to take the British soldiers minds off victory and place them on survival.
Every chapter in this book has the same amount of detail. I will not go into a great deal more in this review other than to say IMHO this is the most refreshing book on the American Revolution that I have read in decades. Up until reading this book my favorite book was Johann Ewald’s book that I reviewed here earlier.
In closing this book is a must have for every one interested in the American Revolution. The great this is that it is still in print readily available.
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