Farmers and Shopkeepers Raise Hell in a Cow Pen

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On the morning of January 16, 1781, an independent minded New Jersey fellow named Daniel Morgan led a force of continental soldiers and militia in an orderly retreat up a muddy South Carolina wagon road, escaping the forces of British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. It had been a long war for Morgan.

 

Daniel Morgan portrait by Charles Willson Peale

General Daniel Morgan, portrait by Charles Willson Peale

As a captain in the young Continental Army, he was captured by the British in the foolish American attack on Quebec. He spent nearly two years as their prisoner before being exchanged. The British were sure that, because of his poor health, he would be no further threat to them. They miscalculated.

After his release in 1777, Morgan rejoined General Washington in New Jersey. He had been promoted to Colonel for his heroic conduct during the assault on Quebec. Washington asked him to recruit, train, and command a fast-moving force to conduct hit and run raids against the British.

Morgan was given 600 of Washington’s best men and recruited several hundred more sharpshooters for his regiment. The new group was the 11th Virginia Regiment.

Morgan and the 11th Virginia excelled in their hit and run role. They developed the tactic of finding British forces far from base and concentrating their fire against British officers. Then they repeatedly attacked the retreating and largely leaderless British force for days. Morgan and his regiment remained in frequent combat until Morgan was forced to retire in late 1779 because of severe pain.

In October of 1780, Morgan returned to service at the rank of brigadier general. He was assigned to help General Nathaniel Greene salvage the waning fortunes of the rebellion in the Southern states.

In January of 1781, Tarleton (rhymes with charlatan) was dispatched by the confident and impatient British General Cornwallis to hunt down and kill Morgan’s force before they could unite with the rebel forces under Greene.

Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Cornwallis’ intelligence obtained from royalist sympathizers was that Morgan had 800 men with him, and that a third of them were untrained militia. It failed to include recent additions of North Carolina militia to Morgan’s forces, as well as the fact that some of the militia were experienced woodsmen, equipped with accurate, long range rifles.

Cornwallis ordered Tarleton to take his cavalry forces, reinforced by light infantry, in hopes that they could out-speed Morgan’s force and attack them on the march before they could retreat back to North Carolina and resupply.

Tarleton had earned the hatred of the people of the Carolinas with his practice of murdering prisoners and civilians. Murder and plunder by British forces was not the norm. Tarleton was the exception.

Morgan kept riders out to cover his retreat. He knew Tarleton’s scouts were close. Morgan was searching for a favorable position from which to conduct a defensive action against the very well-trained and well-equipped British. He came to some abandoned cow pens near the Broad River.  The muddy road was flanked by thick woods on two sides and backed by some low hills. Morgan made his stand.

Morgan organized his troops into a defensive battle formation and had them sleep in their battle positions. Morgan had listened to what the locals said about Tarleton and guessed the general would order a frontal attack as soon as he arrived in the morning.

Cornwallis and Tarleton considered the woodsmen from the Carolinas and the Virginia wilderness to be worthless. The British, like all armies of the time when on the attack, relied on close up “volley fire” to do what damage they could at close range, followed by a disciplined bayonet charge. Typically, the British cavalry attempted to exploit the weak flanks of the opposing force in order to induce a panic and rout the enemy.

Morgan ordered the best marksmen to inhabit the first row of the defensive position. Behind them, he placed two rows occupied by the bulk of the militia. These men were mostly typical militia made up of farmers, craftsmen, and merchants. Morgan placed his Continental forces on the top of the slope with one unit of Virginia militia on his left flank. He hid his cavalry on the north slope of the hill.

Tarleton camped about five miles away, and at about 3:00 a.m. on January 17, his forces cut their sleep short and proceeded north up the muddy road.

After marching five miles in the mud while the well-rested Americans enjoyed a warm breakfast and told dirty jokes about British and royalist women, the British formed up to attack Morgan. Tarleton charged with his cavalry. To his horror, he discovered that those poorly dressed civilians in the front row had rifles rather than smooth bore muskets. Worse yet, they seemed to be unusually good shots for untrained shopkeepers.

Tarleton lost several officers in the first charge. They retreated a few yards to regroup. To his relief, the first row of militia seemed to be retreating in a panic, just as militia are supposed to do. Tarleton resumed the charge and reached the second line of militia in time to discover that they had stopped their retreat and were cutting down his cavalry with deadly accurate fire.

Again, Tarleton retreated, and again he delighted to see the militia running off to Morgan’s left flank. He threw his infantry forward to attack Morgan’s center while his cavalry rode unhindered to attack Morgan’s right flank.

About that time, the unhindered flank attack became very hindered by Morgan’s cavalry as they appeared from behind the hill. Tarleton’s plans had not gone to hell in a hand-basket, but to a muddy cow pen in South Carolina.

The British and the rebels fought at close range. Tarleton ordered a retreat to regroup in a defensive disposition where he would be able to use his two light artillery pieces that sat in reserve behind his attacking force. Before the British could retreat though, something of a miracle occurred.

In what remains the finest hour in the history of what we now call the US National Guard, the militiamen who ran to the rear as instructed ignored instructions to save themselves and kept running all the way around the hill to throw themselves into Tarleton’s flank. They created the first double envelopment ever conducted by American forces. Tarleton escaped. Over 100 British were killed, and about 830 were captured. Morgan lost 12 men.

Oddly, Cornwallis did not court-martial and hang Tarleton for abandoning his men. We can only assume that Tarleton was well-connected in parliament. Cornwallis knew that he could replace his losses, but he needed to go into a defensive encampment until reinforcements and supplies arrived. Cornwallis retreated to the Virginia coast and found a perfect defensive position. Yorktown. But that’s another story for another day.

National Guard Logo

When you see the unusual National Guard symbol that looks like a farmer with a rifle rather than a well polished soldier, think of those poorly trained volunteers at the Battle of Cowpens.

Years later when recounting the battle to friends, Morgan said that he had never felt so proud of his countrymen as when he saw those farmers who should have been long gone from the battle throwing themselves into Tarleton’s flank.

The US Navy honored the Battle of Cowpens by naming a Ticonderoga class cruiser the USS Cowpens CG 63. She participated in combat in the Gulf, and had a prolonged deployment with the 7th Fleet in the Far East.

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

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Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

Bayard, Holmes, Movie, No Popcorn — SKYFALL

SKYFALL Review

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

SKYFALL marks the Golden Anniversary of the Bond series, and it’s raking in the serious gold—for good reason. In this 23rd Bond film, M and MI-6 are under attack, and it’s up to 007 to track down and destroy the threat. He does it in style, proving once more that Bond truly is the master of resurrection.

Sam Mendes makes a brilliant directing debut with the series, showing he actually earned all of his Oscars and Tonys for other films over the years. Daniel Craig returns for the third time as Bond, along with Judi Dench playing M, and introducing Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris as Q and Moneypenny, respectively.

Bayard:

From a thriller standpoint, SKYFALL has it all. Fast pace, nail-biting tension, creative chases, and explosions that will warm the heart of twenty-something pyrotechnics lovers. There’s even a tiny snafu that might have you wondering, “Which side was that?” But I suspect that will only end up making the movie more loved for being a bit flawed like the rest of us.

While cutting edge with a modern feel and new, young characters, SKYFALL still honors the classic qualities of Bond. It not only takes us for one more spin in 007’s iconic Aston Martin DB5, it treats us to colorful locales, mysterious people, and even exotic animals. Though I feel compelled to note those komodo dragons must be on a diet of digitally enhanced Twinkies and MLB steroids to get that big.

This 50th Anniversary installment continues to develop the three-dimensional character brought to the fore with the Craig incarnation of the series, and we find out more details of Bond’s early life and home. Only one Bond behavior strikes me as being particularly out of character. He allows his MI-6 co-worker to shave him with an old-fashioned straight razor. A certain spook I know *glances down the page* can barely sit still for his wife of decades to cut his hair. He would rather suck broken glass through a straw up his nose than allow anyone near his throat with a sharp object.

Holmes:

It’s not easy to take an old, worn out basic story line like the “stolen master list” and make a watchable movie out of it after so many have tried and failed, but SKYFALL does it. The entire production is excellent, and this is a great addition to the Bond series.

As to the normal “spy flick” questions, here we go . . .

No, it’s not terribly realistic, but that’s fortunate. Who really wants to watch a bunch of guys in filthy, third world hovels passing long hours trying to get something done? SKYFALL is definitely unrealistic, and that’s why it’s superbly entertaining.

Can you use light sockets to make nail bombs? Yes. But not with the method employed in the movie. So all you middle school boys reading this can leave those light fixtures alone. You’ll only succeed in infuriating your parents without getting any real explosions.

The palm ID feature of Bond’s new Walther will thrill gun control nuts the world over. And yes. Tracking radios that size and smaller do work in the real world. The smallest model would be useless in an action flick because they would need a macro lens shot to show it.

There is a theme throughout SKYFALL of a rift between the old HUMINT (human intelligence) hands and the rest of the intelligence community. In the real world, there are plenty of old spooks. The problem with operatives getting good at the job is that organizations generally don’t want them to leave, and they don’t know how to leave, anyway. The idea that younger spooks see the older spooks and their methods as irrelevant is 99% false. Only politicians and whiny media types do that. I suspect this is just as true in MI-6 as it is in American intelligence organizations.

Now for the negatives. The script is a bit weak in a couple of places, but that’s about the only complaint I have.

The positives are many. The acting ranges from fair to excellent. The camera work and editing are great. I hope the editing crew and directors from BOURNE LEGACY see this movie so they can get an idea of how one might make a movie if one combines intention with talent.

The opening chase scene includes a “drive through the market chase” and a novel “top of the train” scene. I won’t ruin them for you. I’ll just say they are very well done, evidencing a good deal of time and effort.

The fighting and shooting scenes are articulate and reasonable. There were no magic weapons with infinite shots, and there were a couple of original touches I think viewers will enjoy.

In a return to earlier Bond style, SKYFALL delivers craftily woven levity. However, the sex was a notch lower than more traditional Bonds. Sorry guys. The producers skimped on their usual “legions of young woman in small bikinis” device, but there is still plenty of movie here.

The four years we waited for a new Bond film were well used by the entire production cast to create a movie that entertains without the viewer having to try too hard. They ALL got it right.

We highly recommend SKYFALL to anyone who enjoys action films. Few movies will ever achieve this level of production quality. Bravo to the Bond team!

We give SKYFALL a .357 magnum +P rating. This is our second highest rating, and it means we would actually pay prime time theater prices if we could stand the crowd. It only fails to achieve our highest rating, the .44 magnum, because we reserve that for films that might enlighten or inspire some of the viewers. You may not be enlightened or inspired by SKYFALL, but you will almost certainly be entertained.