The Cowpens


On October 6, 1780, the mounted backcountry patriot militia rode hard from the ford at Green River for 22 miles, arriving at The Cowpens, a place for fattening cattle before taking them to market. It was owned by one Saunders, a loyalist. There, the backcountry patriot militia met up with the South Carolina militia under colonels Lacey, Hill, and Williams. The foot soldiers arrived later as well. They had climbed out of the Broad River basin near today's Sandy Plains and followed a ridge line road (Green River Road), crossing into South Carolina northwest of today's Chesnee, South Carolina.

The Cowpens was the site of a later battle on January 16, 1781, so the site is commemorated today for that event primarily but is also a certified site along the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

At The Cowpens, the patriot militia leaders learned from two scouts about Ferguson's heading toward Charlotte. The officers knew they would have to overtake Ferguson the next day or he would be too close to the protection of Cornwallis' larger army. They chose the 900 best marksmen and put them on the 900 sturdiest horses. At 9:00 p.m. they rode out into a dark, cold October night. It began to rain. The men took off their hunting frocks and wrapped them around their rifles to keep their powder dry. Some the men got lost on the trail and had to ride that much harder to catch up with the others by dawn. Deciding to avoid a possible ambush at the ford near Tate's Plantation, they rode downstream to cross the Broad River at the Cherokee Ford.

Images Show

Historic Green River Road

Photo by Randell Jones

A remnant of the Green River Road is preserved at Cowpens National Battlefield. This is the route along which the patriot militiamen rode and marched into The Cowpens on October 6, 1780. This road is a certified site on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. [View Additional File Details]

U. S. Monument for the Battle of Cowpens

Photo by Randell Jones

Patriot forces under General Daniel Morgan defeated Cornwallis' loyalist troops including Col. Banastre Tarleton's Green Dragoons on January 17, 1781. [View Additional File Details]

OVTA marchers at The Cowpens

Photo by Randell Jones

On October 6, during OVTA's annual reenactment, members of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association conduct "The Night Before" commemorations at Cowpens National Battlefield. [View Additional File Details]

Excerpts from "Before They Were Heroes at King's Mountain" by Randell Jones

pp 437-8 The same evening, another spy returned with more immediately useful information. Joseph Kerr, as part of the South Carolina command and a month shy of his 20th birthday, had left Flint Hill a day or two before, seeking the whereabouts of Patrick Ferguson and his army of British Legion and Tory militiamen. ... Kerr found Ferguson's camp at midday on the 6th on the plantation of Peter Quinn, some six or seven miles from Little King's Mountain. Pretending to be a loyalist looking to take protection under the major, he made his way into the camp. He easily succeeded in this ruse because this area was full of Loyalists, and because Ferguson was eager to gather more militiamen to his ranks. Moveover, Kerr was a generally amiable person, but suffering some disability since birth, his physical condition disarmed the Tories of their caution He circulated freely among the men at camp, cajoling with them, feigning praise for the Crown, and asking seemingly innocuous . He played the part perfectly, showing great interest and delight in hearing about recent British successes and, most important, Ferguson's immediate plans. Timing his departure carefully, the shrewd spy shrank back form the encampment and faded from their attention. He then made his way back toward the Patriot militiamen, whom he knew were on the move. Copyright 2011, Randell Jones Available at [View Additional File Details]

Cite this Page

Randell Jones, A Guide to the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, “The Cowpens,” Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, accessed February 28, 2021, http:/​/​bythewaywebf.​webfactional.​com/​omvt/​items/​show/​11.​
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