British Lt. Colonel David Campbell was in the van of the Legion. The horses were barley lifting their hooves as they shuffled onwards. The sloughing through the mud had worn them out completely. The Legion infantry could hardly step in time, they were so tired. The cold night made him rub his hands together. “Sir,” he said to Colonel Tarleton, “should we stop and rest the men? We’ve been marching for five hours. The men could use some rest and some food.”
“What? Stop? Rest? No, Morgan is just in front of us. I must prevent them from getting across the ford. Here, we will defeat the rebels in detail, before they can rejoin Greene and the rest of the rebel army. We must move on.” Tarleton dismissed Campbell’s recommendation without giving it a thought.
The two continued to move on in silence. The ranks were also silent-no one had the energy to talk or sing and march. The march resumed its weary cadence. Time passed in a slow motion orgy of pain, hunger, and exhaustion.
Major Hanger joined Tarleton and Campbell. The second in command asked Tarleton to halt the men.
“No, Major! We are almost upon them. No time to waste! We must rush upon them as soon as is possible!”
“Yes, sir!” Hanger replied with as snappy a salute as he could muster.
The forest started to thin. “Where are we?” Colonel Tarleton asked.
The little group of officers stopped and the column behind them halted. An orderly ran up with a torch.
“I think we are at the Cowpens.” Campbell mechanically replied while looking at his map under the light of a torch an orderly held.
Just then, rifle shots rang out, accompanied by battle yells of the rebels. British soldiers started dropping.
“Send ahead some dragoons.” Tarleton barked.
Within a minute, twenty-five green jacketed horsemen clattered by and broke through the remaining few tress into the open. As they did, some shots rang out and one man tumbled from his horse. The dragoons continued to trot forward which trot soon became a run. Some rebels dropped back, while about 30 more leveled their rifles. More shots rang out and about ten or so of the cavalry were felled. The rest of the horsemen reared their horses, spun around, and retreated into the cover of the woods. A great huzzah rang from the rebel line.
“Deploy in battle line!” Tarleton was angry that his beloved cavalry had failed. “Campbell, place dragoons on both flanks. Grasshoppers to the middle of the line, to either side of the road. The Highlanders will be our reserve.”
The fifers and the drummers began their call to the troops to deploy.
The Legion infantry filed out of the woods, breaking column and deploying in battle line. Soon, the red coated Fusiliers and the Light Infantry were ready to go. The drummers beat the long roll on their drums. The fifes shrilled.
“Forward men!” Campbell cried, as Tarleton waved his sabre forward.
The red line surged forward. The British huzzahed. They held their bayonets before them for no rebel line would withstand the steel of the British bayonet.
General Morgan hearing the British huzzah quipped to his men, “They give us the British halloo, boys give them the Indian whoop!” He rode along the skirmish line. “Two aimed shots, men!” Then he galloped back to repeat the order for the Militia line.
The rebel skirmishers started to fire. British sergeants, lieutenants, captains started to fall. Some of the rebels fired one shot and then fled. Most hid behind trees. They reloaded and then fired again. Most of the shots felled another British soldier or officer.
Daniel and I hugged our trees. I had fired, as had he at the dragoons. We had reloaded and now, as the red line of infantry surged forward, we were struggling to get off another shot. They were about fifty yards away and were still coming at us. We fired together and then we turned and ran towards the Militia line. Our Militias were about 90 or 100 yards behind us, so we ran like the wind, because the devil was on our tails. We weren’t of a mind to go to hell today.