Battle of Cowpens

January 17, 1781

The Battle of Cowpens took place on January 17, 1781. It was part of the fighting in the Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War and ended in an American victory.

Battle of Cowpens, 1781, Wilson

This painting by Robert Wilson depicts the Battle of Cowpens. Image Source: From Savannah to Yorktown: the American Revolution in the South by Henry Lumpkin, 1981.

Battle of Cowpens Summary

The Battle of Cowpens took place on January 17, 1781, at Cowpens, South Carolina. It was part of the fighting in the Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War.

The British forces were led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, who had been sent by General Charles Cornwallis to attack the Americans. Cornwallis had received information that indicated the Americans were going to attack the fort at Ninety-Six, South Carolina, which was garrisoned by American Loyalists.

When Tarleton found out the Americans were not at Ninety-Six he went looking for them. Daniel Morgan expected the attack and took defensive positions near the Broad River. When Tarleton arrived, his men were exhausted from the long march but he proceeded to attack.

Morgan had his men pull back as if they were retreating from the field. The movements confused the British and allowed the Americans to mount a bayonet charge. The attack took the British by surprise and their forces collapsed. Many of the British turned and ran, but some surrendered right away.

As the British retreated from the field in disarray, Colonel William Washington confronted Tarleton, and the two fought in single combat. They were both wounded and Washington pursued Tarleton on horseback for about 16 miles, until Tarleton managed to escape.

The Americans won the day and were able to capture a significant number of the best troops under the command of Cornwallis.

Battle of Cowpens, Kemmelmeyer
This painting by Frederick Kemmelmeyer depicts action at the Battle of Cowpens. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Battle of Cowpans Facts

  • Date Started: The battle started on January 17, 1781.
  • Date Ended: The fighting ended on January 17, 1781.
  • Location: The battle took place at Cowpens in Cherokee County, South Carolina.
  • Who Won: The Americans won the Battle of Cowpens.
General Daniel Morgan, Portrait
Daniel Morgan. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Battle of Cowpens Interesting Facts

George Washington sent Nathanael Greene to take command of the Southern Army.

Greene split his forces in two and sent Morgan and his men to cut off British supply lines.

Cornwallis sent Tarleton to confront Morgan.

Tarleton had earned a reputation for his brutal tactics, known as “Tarleton’s Quarter,” which meant he ordered his men to take no prisoners.

After the Battle of Waxhaws, Tarleton was accused of ignoring American troops who were trying to surrender and allowing his men to massacre them.

The Battle of Cowpens served as the inspiration for the climactic battle scene in the movie “The Patriot.”

Battle of Cowpens, Tarleton and Washington Combat, Illustration
This illustration from “The Story of the Revolution” by Henry Cabot Lodge depicts the fight between Tarleton (left) and Washington. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Important Leaders and Casualties

Prominent American Military Leaders

  • Daniel Morgan
  • William Washington
  • Andrew Pickens
  • John McDowell
  • John Cunningham
  • John Howard

Prominent British Military Leaders

  • Banastre Tarleton
  • Arthur MacArthur

Estimated Casualties

  • The total estimated casualties were around 1,000 killed, wounded, or missing.
  • The Americans suffered around 150 casualties.
  • The British suffered around 850 casualties.


The Battle of Cowpens was important because it forced Cornwallis to abandon South Carolina. Instead, he pursued Greene’s forces into North Carolina. In North Carolina, Cornwallis and Greene fought at the Battle of Guilford Court House, which the British won. After Guildford Court House, Cornwallis went to Yorktown to allow his army to rest and resupply. The move was a mistake and allowed the Americans and French to trap the British on the coast. With French ships blockading the harbor, Washington surrounded Yorktown and laid siege to the city, which eventually led to the surrender of Cornwallis. The Battle of Yorktown was the last significant action of the American Revolutionary War.

Banastrae Tarleton, Portrait, Reynolds
This painting of Banastre Tarleton was done by Joshua Reynolds. The character of William Tavington from the movie “The Patriot” is based on Tarleton. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Timeline of the Battle of Cowpens

This timeline shows how the Battle of Cowpens fits into the chronology of the Southern Campaign.

  • April 1, 1780 Siege of Charleston Begins
  • April 14, 1780Battle of Monck’s Corner
  • May 6, 1780Battle of Lenud’s Ferry
  • May 12, 1780 —  Siege of Charleston Ends
  • May 29, 1780Battle of Waxhaws
  • July 12, 1780Battle of Williamson’s Plantation
  • July 21, 1780 — Battle of Colson’s Mill
  • July 30, 1780 — First Battle of Hanging Rock
  • July 30, 1780Battle of Rocky Mount
  • August 6, 1780Second Battle of Hanging Rock
  • August 8, 1780 — Battle of Wofford’s Iron Works
  • August 15, 1780Battle of Carey’s Fort
  • August 16, 1780First Battle of Camden
  • August 18, 1780Battle of Fishing Creek
  • August 18, 1780Battle of Musgrove Mill
  • August 20, 1780 — First Battle of Great Savannah
  • September 4, 1780 — Battle of Blue Savannah
  • September 12, 1780 — First Battle of Cane Creek
  • September 26, 1780 — Battle of Charlotte
  • September 29, 1780 — Battle of Black Mingo Creek
  • October 3, 1780 — Battle of the Bees
  • October 7, 1780 — Battle of King’s Mountain
  • October 14, 1780 — Battle of Shallow Ford
  • November 9, 1780 — Battle of Fishdam Ford
  • November 20, 1780 — Battle of Blackstock’s Plantation
  • November 21, 1780 — Battle of Wahab’s Plantation
  • January 17, 1781 — Battle of Cowpens
  • February 1, 1781 — Battle of Cowan’s Ford
  • February 3, 1781 — Battle of Trading Ford
  • February 25, 1781 — Battle of Haw River
  • March 2, 1781 — Battle of Clapp’s Mill
  • March 6, 1781 — Battle of Wetzell’s Mill
  • March 15, 1781 — Battle of New Garden Meetinghouse
  • March 15, 1781 — Battle of Guilford Court House
  • April 25, 1781 — Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill (Second Battle of Camden)
  • April 25, 1781 — Battle of Petersburg
  • May 10, 1781 — Third Battle of Camden
  • May 13, 1781 — Battle of Myhand’s Bridge
  • May 22, 1781  — Siege of Ninety-Six Begins

Battle of Cowpens: In Four Minutes

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Battle of Cowpens
  • Date January 17, 1781
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of Cowpens, American Revolutionary War, War for Independence, Daniel Morgan, Banastre Tarleton
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 28, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 26, 2024