Monday, February 8, 2010

Artillery at Cowpens

At the Battle of Cowpens, two artillery pieces were used with little effect by the British forces in their attempt to push Morgan from the field. The two pieces of artillery that were deployed in this battle were light three pounders. These were chosen for their ability to be moved quickly over rough terrain and so that they would not be a hindrance to Tarleton as he swiftly chased Morgan and his Flying army in the back country of South Carolina. Tarleton and his forces mission was to first prevent Morgan from contesting Ninety Six and then once it was out of harm’s way, to hunt down Morgan and defeat this isolated division of Greens Southern Army. To accomplish this Lord Cornwallis had given Tarleton some of the finest units that he had at his disposal. This consisted of the 7th Foot the Royal Fusiliers, a battalion of the 71st Fraser’s Highlanders, Tarleton legion consisting of the infantry and calvary detachments, 17th Light Dragoons, and local Tory militia. These units were use to fighting and winning in almost all of the engagements that they had participated in. They were highly trained and well decorated for their accomplishment on the field of battle. To add to these groups’ fire power two pieces of artillery were added from the Royal Artillery. However, these two pieces of artillery were not assigned to an independent artillery formation. Instead, they were assigned to two different British detachments the 7th Fusiliers and Tarleton’s Legion. The reason for this was that Tarleton’s force had come together once Ninety Six was made secure. Before then, the Seventh and Tarleton’s units were not working in conjunction and there for were put together on the pursuit of Morgan by Cornwallis. During this time of pursuit no mention is made of any artillery officer taking command of the guns which normally would of occurred with this many artillery men in one formation. Instead they are still mentioned as part of their respective units to which they are assigned.

Once Tarleton finds Morgan and his Flying Army he decides to attack at once, which as we all know, was Tarleton’s normal plan of action. Now when you look at Tarleton’s battles before Cowpens almost no mention can be found of artillery playing a role. You will find infantry and calvary charges used to great effect, where they shock the enemy into submission. So then you look into his military training and again almost no mention is made of artillery. To this point, I am not sure Tarleton knew how to deploy his artillery to effect or even cared to try since he was undefeated in most major engagements where the sword of his calvary and the bayonet of his infantry always took the day. This is where a well placed artillery officer could have played an important role, if they would have been a separate contingent of Tarleton’s formation. This officer would have allowed a voice of experience to advise Tarleton on how to best deploy his artillery. Instead the artillery was lead by infantry commanders who showed no interest in deploying the artillery in mass against the American rabble who had always yielded to cold steel.

After walking the battle field with several fellow historians, it is easy to see how the artillery would have had a difficult and incessantly time consuming job to be placed and replaced as the British formations moved forward to give them time to be effective against the American lines. This is why I think Tarleton had no love for the guns especially in this battle where he felt the enemy was corned and he smelled victory again in the air. Once the battle started with the artillery firing at the American lines they are almost never talked about again except for their capture. After walking the battle field and seeing where they first fired at the Americans and where they were captured at is quiet some distance. Given the fact, which they were trying to stay in unit cohesion with their assigned infantry units who were advancing towards the American lines, fired as they went at the Americans, and were going up and down rises in the country side it was not an easy day to be an artilleryman.

Once the British smelled victory at Cowpens, when they thought they saw the American lines break and charged towards the Americans, the artilleries usefulness almost ended because they could not fire into the American lines without possibly hitting their own troops. At this point they became bystanders to the events unfolding before them as the Americans turned on the British and counter charged them and pushed them back. This happened so fast that the artillery did not have a chance to try to even remove their guns from the battle field. Instead they did their duty which was to stand with the guns and to try to protect them which cost many their lives or horrible injury.

I feel it is safe to say that the artillery had little time to be effect against the Americans because, of the short time of the battle which lasted around 45 to sixty minutes in its entirety, their lack of unit cohesion, and because of the tactics used by Tarleton.

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