What Was the Importance of the Battle of Cowpens?

The Battle of Cowpens in 1781 was of crucial importance in the Revolutionary War because it helped turn the tide of the war in the South. Though relatively small in terms of the total number of troops, it inflicted key losses on General Charles Cornwallis' southern contingent of the British Army and hastened the end of the Revolutionary War.

The commander of the southern campaign of the Continental Army, Major General Nathanael Green, kept his men separated in small groups so they could better harass the British on multiple fronts. One group of about 1,000 men under Brigadier General Daniel Morgan set out to attack a British fort called Ninety-Six. Cornwallis ordered Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton with 1,100 men to defeat Morgan. In a remote pastureland called Cowpens in the hill country of South Carolina, Morgan and his men made their stand.

Morgan positioned his men so they could not flee but had to stand and fight. The bulk of his forces he set in ambush. About 150 skirmishers first engaged the British, fired two rounds each and then fled. The British pursued them, running straight into a volley of rifle fire, a cavalry charge and the militia's return. Tarleton himself escaped, but the Americans overwhelmingly won the battle. Estimates of the casualties vary, but approximately 800 British were killed or captured, while the Americans lost only about 100 men. Later the same year, in November 1781, the last major battle of the war was fought in Yorktown, Va., with the Continental Army decisively defeating the British.