The park is located in Cherokee County, South Carolina, near the town of Chesnee. The battle was a significant link in a chain of disasters in the South that ultimately led to the final British defeat at Yorktown, Virginia.
Project Archeologist Michael Seibert has been keeping us updated as they conduct shovel testing and metal detecting surveys in what they believe may be the location of Morgan’s Camp based on historic documents.
The survey is part of the Regionwide Archeological Survey Plan for the Southeast Region and will assist the park in their Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requirements. The survey will also provide Section 106 of the NHPA for any possible future park additions or alterations to the survey area. The location of the camp will enhance the parks ability to interpret the battle, providing a more complete narrative to the visitors.
The Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War, especially in the backcountry, was essentially a civil war as the colonial population split between Patriot and Loyalist, often pitting neighbor against neighbor and re-igniting old feuds and animosities. Both Patriots and Loyalist organized militias, and engaged each other often. The countryside was devastated, and raids and reprisals were commonplace.
From 1779 through 1780, British redcoats came south en masse. They captured Savannah, Georgia, then Charleston and Camden in South Carolina. In the process, they defeated and captured much of the Southern Continental Army.
Into this conflict, General George Washington sent the capable Nathanael Greene to take command of the Southern army. Against military custom, Greene, just two weeks into his command split his army; he sent General Daniel Morgan southwest of the Catawba River to cut supply lines and hamper British operations in the backcountry and “spirit up the people.”
General Cornwallis, British commander in the South, countered Greene’s move by sending Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to block Morgan’s actions. Tarleton was only twenty-six, but he was an able commander. He was both feared and hated, particularly for his actions at the Battle of Waxhaws, during which he continued the fight despite Continental Army’s attempts to surrender. According to lore, his refusal of surrender and pleas for quarter led to the derisive term “Tarleton’s Quarter”.
These events set the stage for the Battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781. The battle took place in the latter part of the Southern Campaign and towards the end of the American Revolution and has become known as the turning point of the war in the South, part of a chain of events leading to the Patriot victory at Yorktown.
Prior to the battle, Morgan and his men were camped near Thicketty Creek to the south of the Broad River. On the afternoon of January 16, 1781, Morgan learned that Tarleton was only six miles away. Morgan broke camp and departed for Hannah’s Cowpens where he prepared for battle, commanding a force of a little over 900 hundred men. The location of Morgan’s Camp remains unknown.
The large number of static troops preparing for the upcoming fight with British forces would have left a significant archeological signature. The soldiers, biding their time before the next day’s battle, would have either intentionally or unintentionally left a range of artifacts from buttons, insignia, carved bullets, munitions, and cooking utensils among other items. Similar artifacts have been recovered from Revolutionary and Civil War camps by archeologists and amateur metal detectors (Harris 1987:210).
According Michael’s facebook page:
“Cowpens Survey 2015: After 2 days and 14 acres of metal detecting later: 2 tablespoons, 4 chains, 6 wrenches, 2 angle iron fragments, 1 5 gallon tin lid, 12 pipes/tubes, 2 tent stakes, 9 bull ets/cartridges, 1 padlock, 1 cap gun, 20 shotgun shells, 1 Sergeants Insignia, 2 hand grenade fuses, 1 pencil, 2 lighters, 5 bed springs, 66 assorted wire, 1 shovel spade, 13 iron sewage pipe fragments, 1 coffee pot, 31 car parts, 1 plastic flower, 7 modern buttons, 1 lawnmower handle, 1 spoon, 52 nuts/bolts, 83 tin cans, 74 pull tabs, 75 wire nails, 43 bottle caps, 21 strap iron/aluminum, 17 glass fragments, 150 beer cans, 50 aluminum foil, 51 modern coins, 1 zipper pull, 1 walkman, 46 unidentified, 13 household fixtures, 60 tractor parts.
Oh and 24 musketballs (among other historic artifacts yet to be counted)”
This isn’t SEAC’s first visit to Cowpens National Battlefield. Learn a bit about the 2012 project here !
Harris, Charles S. 1987 Civil War Relics of the Western Campaigns 186-1865. Rapidan Press, Box 74, Mechanicsville, Virginia.