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The University of North Carolina Press
A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens / Edition 1

A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens / Edition 1

by Lawrence E. Babits
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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807849262
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 02/26/2001
Edition description: 1
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 187,591
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.63(d)

About the Author

Lawrence E. Babits is professor of maritime history and nautical archaeology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.

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I was desirous to have a stroke at Tarlton . . . & I have Given him a devil of a whiping [sic]. — Daniel Morgan to William Snickers, 26 January 1781

American drummers beating a staccato long roll called infantry into formation in the raw predawn hours of 17 January 1781.[1] The drummers signaled a climax to events that began nine months earlier when the British captured Charleston, South Carolina. Less than an hour away from the wet fields in front of the American camp, Banastre Tarleton's feared British Legion and other battalions were closing in on Daniel Morgan's Americans. An uncertain situation would be resolved within two hours on the gentle slopes of a South Carolina crossroads called the Cowpens. The battle marked a turning point in American fortunes. The road through the American position led symbolically, if not quite literally, to Yorktown and British surrender on 19 October 1781.

Three years earlier, in 1778, the Revolutionary War in the North was at a stalemate. The British were unable to destroy General George Washington's army, isolate New England, or convince the rebels to quit fighting. They lost one army at Saratoga and evacuated Philadelphia. Content to hold their base at New York, the British shifted their emphasis southward.

The British effort was directed at the southern colonies for a number of reasons. Repeated calls for help came from southern Loyalists and British policy was to aid their subjects. The 1778 Carlisle Commission, which attempted, unsuccessfully, to reach a negotiated settlement with the Americans, reported Loyalist support in America. However militant they seemed, northern Loyalists usually turned out only when the British army could support them and then in small numbers.

The southern colonies appeared to be different. For one thing, the British had a base in Florida from which Loyalists raided Georgia. Earlier Loyalist uprisings in the South failed because they lacked British military support. Southern Loyalists in England made their feelings known to Lord George Germain, the secretary of state for the American Department. Reports written by former colonial governors of Georgia and South Carolina asked for a military expedition to retake those colonies.

Despite lukewarm northern Loyalists, Germain opted to support the southerners. Germain's internal political problems threatened the government, and France entered the war. He could point to the Howes's failure. They were mild Whigs relieved of command for inadequately prosecuting the war in the North.[2]

In New York, the commander in chief of the American theater, Sir Henry Clinton, was in a defensive position due to the French entry into the war and his declining military strength. Clinton's forces were depleted by reinforcements sent to Florida, the West Indies, and Canada. Concerned about Washington's army in front of New York, French sea power, and British strategic plans, Clinton issued vague orders to Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell about reinforcing the garrison in Saint Augustine, Florida.

Instead of sailing directly for Florida, Campbell landed in Georgia where his "reinforcements" easily captured Savannah in December 1778. They expanded their hold on Georgia by taking Augusta and Sunbury. After an aborted attack on Charleston, South Carolina, the British bloodily repulsed a French-American attempt to recapture Savannah in October 1779.[3]

The next spring, Clinton directed a major effort against Charleston, which capitulated in May 1780. The British moved quickly to solidify control over South Carolina. While two columns moved into South Carolina's interior, Major General Charles, the Earl Cornwallis, commanded a third force moving toward North Carolina. He sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, a ruthless cavalry leader, after the last Continentals who were already retreating. Tarleton's rapid movements enabled him to catch the Americans at Waxhaws, just below the North Carolina border. After a brief call for surrender, Tarleton's dragoons attacked, broke American resistance, and then engaged in what infuriated Americans termed a massacre. Waxhaws set the stage for many similar bloody encounters over the next eighteen months. Tarleton's reputation for brutality was established, and his name became a byword for terror and no quarter throughout the South.[4]

While the British successfully waged conventional war against the Continentals and embodied militia, American partisans proved impossible to suppress. After Charleston fell, the British tried to govern South Carolina as a royal colony and reinstituted a Loyalist militia to protect the frontier and maintain order.[5] Even with garrisons across the backcountry, the British colonial government and military could not halt the internecine warfare. British pacification efforts were thwarted by shifting policies, ferocity against rebellious Americans, and Loyalist desires to retaliate against their Whig oppressors. The military's inability to protect paroled Americans and their property alienated inactive Whigs and drove them back into rebellion.[6]

The backcountry erupted after Tory raids, the most notorious led by a New York Loyalist ironically named Christian Huck. Outraged at the murders of neighbors, Whigs wiped out Huck's party in July 1780. In short order, attacks came against British outposts at Hanging Rock, Musgrove's Mill, Rocky Mount, and small foraging parties. The raids served to create further animosity.[7]

In August 1780, an American army under Major General Horatio Gates moved into South Carolina. On 16 August, the Americans were defeated outside Camden. Even though shattered American forces began regrouping in Hillsborough, North Carolina, the British had no regular opposition for the next two months. They also achieved some success against Whig partisans such as General Thomas Sumter.

General Cornwallis was one of the best British field commanders in North America when he succeeded Henry Clinton in command of the southern British forces. He served in America from 1776 until 1778, when he returned to England because his wife was ill. After her death, he returned to America and served until his surrender at Yorktown in 1781. His long experience in America with key roles during the 1776 New York campaign, Brandywine, Monmouth, and Camden demonstrated his abilities. Short and stout, Cornwallis was not a commanding figure, but subordinates respected him. He was fearless in battle, and at a time when other British generals were inclined to be somewhat indecisive and conservative, Cornwallis was a forceful leader.[8]

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Tactics
Chapter 2. The Opponents
Chapter 3. Prebattle Activities
Chapter 4. The Stage Is Set
Chapter 5. The Skirmish Line
Chapter 6. The Militia Line
Chapter 7. The Main Line
Chapter 8. Cavalry Actions
Chapter 9. The Aftermath

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

One of the best analyses that we have of an individual Revolutionary War engagement.--Journal of American History

Babit's book, which includes use of personal memoirs and available pension records, is a model of historical interpretation.--On Point

An engaging narrative. . . . An important contribution to Revolutionary War military history, sure to be of interest to Revolutionary War students and historians of the South.--Southern Historian

An exceptionally well-researched and richly detailed treatment of one of the most important battles of the American Revolution.--Military History of the West

A superb example of the 'new military history'. . . . Babits comes closer than any previous historian to reconstructing the eighteenth-century soldier's experience of combat and has given us as close to a definitive account of the battle of Cowpens as we are ever likely to have.--Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

[A] superb new study. . . . Babits's account moves with the sharpness and decisiveness of the action he describes. . . . No other Revolutionary battle has been subjected to this level of meticulous, intensive, multifaceted analysis. This book will stand as the model for any such future effort. One of Babits's purposes was the hope that the Cowpens veterans would not be forgotten. The masterful work that he has produced goes far towards achieving that purpose.--Journal of Southern History

An important work that draws upon untapped evidence and employs new methods for interpreting traditional sources. . . . Babits gives us the definitive history of this significant battle.--Journal of Military History

Simply one of the best--perhaps the very best--studies we have of a Revolutionary War battle. . . . Babits has mastered the literature of the battle as no other scholar has, and he has made far greater use of contemporary maps and pension statements than any other student of the contest. . . . This study is one of the best examples I have seen of the 'new military history,' which--like 'the new social history' of which it is a part--focuses on the use of the microscope rather than the telescope.--Don Higginbotham, author of War and Society in Early America

The battle of Cowpens was so decisive an American tactical victory--the most complete of the Revolution--that its contrast with numerous American defeats still causes us to marvel. Babits offers the best explanation of the outcome that we have, based on both a thorough knowledge of the tactics and weapons of the period and modern insight into the psychology of combat, particularly the probable impact of combat fatigue upon the British.--Russell F. Weigley, Temple Universitythat grow in coastal habitats from northern Mass. to central Florida

No previous author has applied the power of social history to this battle; Babits's work should serve as the model for future historians trying to relate the chronology of events to the position of units and individual soldiers on the terrain of the battlefield. His methodology gives the common soldier a voice in unraveling the complex details of the fight from the smoke and bad information obscuring key facts. . . . With the tools of social history, Lawrence Babits has demonstrated what military historians have long argued: war is above all else a human endeavor worthy of study to complete the record of mankind's struggle to survive and to achieve.--William & Mary Quarterly

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A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This incredible book brings together almost all of the events happening in south carolina in 1781. The author makes this book easy to understand and gives in great detail acounts of the battle, the individual outfits, and the soldier himself. He explains why tarelton fell into the trap, how morgan rallied his men and how the men of the colonies(regulars, volunteers, and malitia men)rallied behind the american flag to stop a british juggernaut and turn the tide of the southern campaighn
rgrizzr1 on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is a bible for the Battle of Cowpens -- an excellent treatment. Only minor errors, nothing significant, i.e., Joseph Pickens is identified as Andrew pickens' younger brother. Joseph was 2-1/2 years older than Andrew. But, as I said, insignificant. Extaordinary detail of the battle and events leading up to it.
ksmyth on LibraryThing 9 months ago
Babits book on Cowpens clears up a lot of questions about unit strength, the composition of the American force at Cowpens, as well as troop movements during the battle. It is very readable and quite interesting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is without doubt the most clear and concise account of this pivotal battle. Easy to read and understand, the author argues his points logically and demonstrates both his understanding of the tactics and the problems affecting individual soldiers in moving to and on the battlefield. In contrast to other writers, he does not confuse the various weapons and properly describes their effectiveness in the battle. His order of battle information is particularly important for the historian and the reenactor. This book is a fine addition to our regimental library.