The Battle of Cowpens

“Here they come,” said Robert.


Stephen looked out over the mound of earth in front of him and squinted in the early morning light. A few cavalrymen in bright green jackets cantered out of the woods and into the meadow. They came forward to reconnoiter the ground, and see where the first line of sharpshooters were. A few puffs of smoke revealed that, and a few of the riders toppled to the ground. Some scattered shouts came up the hill.


About fifty riders then appeared in the meadow, and off on the left were kilts and scarlet jackets. “Highlanders!” Robert muttered. “Those men can fight. We shall do what we can to keep them from getting all the way up here.” A bright row of soldiers formed up in front of the woods, green and red, scarlet and white.


“At least we can see them, ” Stephen said.


“Aye,” Robert answered. “One less worry. But we have others.”


The first line of American sharpshooters let fly, and the smoke rose up and drifted off to the right. The British were still forming up, and about fifteen of their number were suddenly down. The sharpshooters knew how to reload quickly, and after just another moment another volley was off. Stephen could see them all running up the hill, bent halfway over, toward the second line made up of Col. Pickens’ Carolina men. Morgan was moving up and down the line, roaring, “Epaulettes and sergeants! That’s all we need. Just like a turkey shoot!”


Tarleton ordered his men forward, and the way his men held their line was magnificent. They advanced steadily, and the Americans held their fire. Stephen heard Morgan going over their instructions yet again. “Two shots. Just two shots. And then fall back around to the left. Epaulettes and sergeants!”


The British got within about a hundred paces, and the order to fire was given. The roar of guns rose up from Pickens’ line, and the British line wavered, and halted. When they stopped, they returned fire, shouting angrily. But Morgan’s men were trained to reload while moving, and the British had to stand still to reload. While they were reloading, the Carolina men hit them again. About half the British officers were down—concentrating on epaulettes was working. After the second round, the second line of Americans that day fell back. The militia moving rapidly back looked like a panic to the British cavalrymen, who did not expect much of anything else from militiamen. They spurred their horses and took out after the militiamen, who increased their speed. Some of the Americans actually broke and ran, which fortunately made the retreat look more like a rout. Gen. Morgan was right behind Robert and Stephen now, the third line made up of Maryland and Virginia regulars.


“Fine, fine!” he yelled. “Wait till our militia boys are out of the line of fire. Hold your fire!”


As the militia streamed past them, two British field pieces opened fire on the Marylanders and Virginians. Stephen felt a thump in his chest when a cannonball struck the ground about ten yards in front of him. A moment later a shower of dirt fell out of the sky, pelting him like so many little brown hailstones. He looked over at Robert with wide eyes. Robert grinned at him. “You weren’t supposed to get dirty,” he said.


Below them the British troops formed up for a charge, preparing to come up and bayonet the remaining Americans. “Hold! Hold!” they could hear Morgan yelling. A command was given below and Stephen looked over the lip of earth in front of him, and could see a stream of color pounding up the hill. He scooted up further and lowered the rifle that Robert had given him.


“Remember that time we went turkey hunting when you were twelve,” Robert said. “We were shooting downhill then too, and you sent more than one musket ball whistling over their bobbing little heads. Shooting downhill is tricky. Make the adjustment.”


“Aye,” Stephen said. “I remember.”


“Hold! Hold!” Morgan was striding just behind them.


“I can do that,” Stephen muttered. “But they are getting close.”


“Now! Fire!”


The British line reeled, and staggered to a stop. When they ceased their advance, Tarleton in the rear saw they were in trouble, and brought his Highlanders out of reserve and sent them up the hill toward the Virginia line, off to Stephen’s right. The advancing British line and the Americans gave a hot exchange for about ten minutes. Stephen had never reloaded so fast in his life before, but he could feel how slow he was compared to the men around him. Robert was getting off two shots for every shot he fired. And he was probably hitting his targets too.


In order to meet the Highlanders’ onslaught, the Virginians had to turn to face them. But when the order was given, that order was misunderstood, and they turned to march toward the rear, to some higher ground that had been marked out for them the night before. Morgan was behind the Maryland line, and the Marylanders took their cue from the Virginians and began falling back in good order.


Gen. Morgan was grinning broadly as Stephen and Robert marched past him toward the rear. “That’s not what I ordered,” he said. “But it’ll do sure enough. Stay steady! Steady! Come about when I say!”


The Americans had a cavalry unit that was hidden in a swale, that had come out once before in the battle. But now they emerged again because Tarleton’s cavalry was pursuing the Americans up the hill. Morgan later told Robert that if the Virginians had not misunderstood their order, they would have been destroyed between the Highlanders and the British cavalry. But as the British horse were galloping up the hill, the American cavalry, under a Col. Washington, burst out of their hiding place in the swale, and charged through the British unit, wheeled around below them, and charged back through them again. While this was happening, the Virginians and Marylanders continued to march up the hill, with the British advancing steadily behind them.


Morgan was up ahead of his men, galloping across the line, looking downhill, and he kept shouting out, “Hold!” He came by Robert and Stephen and kept saying the same thing. “Lt. Monroe, have your men loaded and ready to wheel on my command!”


The Highlanders and the British regulars thought they had carried the day, and so they were swarming up the hill, in no good order, little more than a mob. When they were about thirty paces behind the Americans, Stephen heard Gen. Morgan’s voice rising above all the noises of battle. “Halt! Turn! Fire!”


The Virginians and Marylanders turned immediately, and the enemy was so close they did not even bother to raise their guns to the shoulder—they just let fly from the hip. The fire was devastating, and the British went over backwards as though they had been standing in the surf and an unexpected wave got them.


With that, the Americans charged with their bayonets, Stephen among them. Behind them, the militia that had retreated earlier under Col. Pickens came back into the fray. With that, the British forces fell into complete disorder. Tarleton kept his head, as did his officers, but the cavalry refused to regroup, and the infantrymen fell into a panicked retreat.


Stephen had just bayoneted a soldier who had tried to discharge his rifle in Stephen’s face—it had not gone off—and Stephen had some trouble getting his long rifle loose. He looked up and saw his brother in a desperate struggle with a British officer, arms locked together. The rest of the armies were streaming down the hill, but these two men were rocking back and forth, each trying to get their hands loose in order to strike the other. They came slightly toward Stephen, and Robert, whose back was toward him, stumbled over a corpse and fell backward on the ground. The British officer fumbled for his sword, got it out, and raised it up over his head.


Stephen suddenly found his saber in his hand, and leapt toward the officer, with his saber pulled over his left shoulder. He swung as hard as he knew how, backhanded, and the officer’s head toppled to the ground. A second later his body hit the ground beside it. Stephen stared down in stunned disbelief. That was the officer who met them outside Cornwallis’ army, the man who had been so insolent to him. A moment later he realized it was the man who was going to marry Lady Huntington. Oh, my, he thought. Then he thought, I’m glad I didn’t know when I did it.


He turned and helped Robert to his feet. They were both shaky, for different reasons, and looked down the slope together. The British were in a complete and total rout. “Praise Jehovah,” Robert said. “Praise Jehovah.”


* * *


A week before, Lady Huntington had made up her mind—she was not going to marry that man. It took her a day or two to realize all that this decision meant, but one of the first things she realized was that it meant that she was going to have to escape from the camp of Cornwallis. But where could she possibly go? Over to the Americans? What would they do with her?


There were two events that had settled it in her mind. Marriage was out of the question. Major Pembroke-Smythe was a gentleman, certainly, but he was also just like Tarleton—competent, bloodthirsty, cruel, and with no sense of humanity or remorse when it came to the war against the Americans.


The first event was one that had made her proud, and she had been surprised at why it had made her proud. Because life in the camp was extremely tedious for a lady, her father had arranged for her to spend some time with some of the local ladies, among them a Loyalist woman named Abigail Ingle, a woman with a kind and gentle face. Lady Huntington took a liking to her instantly. With just a small escort, Lady Huntington was able to call on Mrs. Ingle because her home—a very stately home—was just south of the camp, and the Americans were all to the north. There were a few other ladies there, and they all visited generally, about the weather, about the war, and some of them about their husbands. While they were talking about the war, one of the ladies, an ardent Tory, spoke about how wicked the rebels were. All of them.


Mrs. Ingle seemed provoked, but said nothing, thinking for a moment. Then she spoke, very quietly, shaking her head. “Sally, wars are terrible things, and one of the reasons they are so terrible is that they make us judge our enemy less charitably than we ought to. There are honorable men on the other side of this contest, just as there are scoundrels on ours.”


“Oh, Abby, how can you talk so?” the other woman said. “My Tom was just telling me about some hangings of some Loyalist militiamen yesternight. And what did they do?”


“This is a very ugly war, dear,” said Mrs. Ingle. “And I am not defending what was done. But I have to tell about a hanging that almost happened.”


With that, she had the attention of everyone in the room, and Lady Huntington found herself strangely curious. And Mrs. Ingle told the story that her son George had told her, about how he and two servants had sought quarter from some Whigs after a small skirmish, but how they were promptly bound, and were due to be hanged. Their heads were covered and they were about to die, when another rebel came along, and protested.


“George is all right?” one of the ladies asked.


“Yes, he is all right, no thanks to the rebels who were going to hang him.”


“What happened then?”


“The rebel who came along later told them that he would not allow them to do it, and pulled his pistol on them. They fought, and he killed two of them. The third escaped wounded. When the young man—to whom I will always be grateful—uncovered their faces, he turned out to be George’s cousin—Stephen Monroe, from up Maryland way. He fights with the rebels, and he is a noble young man. I have already written his mother to tell her so.”


The room was awkwardly quiet for a moment. Mrs. Ingle said nothing about her only disappointment in the whole affair, which was George’s refusal to thank Stephen. She had also written to George’s father, a major in the Loyalist militia, asking him to write to his son.


Lady Huntington sat quietly also. She had no idea why she felt proud in the way she did. She was grateful that Stephen had not fallen under Lt. Morris’s spell, and was only sorry that he had to decide as quickly and abruptly as he had to. But why was she proud? She felt like Stephen was her little brother, and was entirely pleased with him. This left her somewhat unsettled, and she stayed up late that evening, trying to sort out how she felt.


The following night, back at headquarters of the Cornwallis camp, was dedicated to cards in the drawing room after supper. Three officers were there, including her fiancé, and five ladies. One of the ladies was reading next to the fire, and Lady Huntington was playing a game of calico betty with the other three. The three men were standing over by the window, talking in low voices. They were not keeping secrets, but were merely trying to not disturb the game. Lady Huntington did not have any twinge of conscience for overhearing bits and pieces. If they wanted secrets they could go out in the hall.


Major Pembroke-Smythe was talking with Lt. Col. Tarleton, and a Major Bowton was largely silent. Tarleton had just told a story that Lady Huntington could not quite make out—he had a low voice—and the men all laughed, a cold kind of laughter. Then her fiancé told a story, and his voice was not so low. As he progressed through the story, Lady Huntington felt herself grow increasingly anxious, and was doing very poorly at her play. All she could do was listen to the story, with increasingly horror.


She didn’t get it all because the men were laughing, but she did hear, “the farmwife came out and begged us not to hurt her poor boy, who was just trying to protect the horses. But I told her that her poor boy was going to hang from the walnut tree, and if she said another word about it, his little brother would be right there next to him . . . we burned the house to the ground of course . . . what this war needs is fewer rebels, and fewer boys growing up into rebels. Well, we did our part for the king.”


Lady Huntington put her cards down on the table, and folded her hands in her lap. She did not to think about it any further. She could not marry this man, and if she remained in the camp here with her father, she would have to marry him. She could not return to England. The only thing to do was to flee to the Americans. But how could she do that? What would she do then?


She did not know, and after the party had broken up she spent a great deal of time in her chambers thinking about what she could do. She had no idea, but one thing comforted her. She was doing the same thing that Stephen had done. He had seen a great wickedness on his own side, and he did what was most necessary to do. She had seen that these men surrounding Cornwallis were just as wicked, and she had to do what was necessary.


Over the next few days, she took a greater interest in the talk about the war that was constant, both at dinner and after. Earlier she had just paid attention to who was winning and who losing, but now she began paying attention to names of places, and where armies were, and where they were thought to be going. That was how she learned that the American army under General Greene had departed from Charlottle, and was marching southeast. Morgan had been sent to the southwest, and Tarleton and Smythe were to be sent out after him. If they could take out Morgan, then Cornwallis would have a clear march all the way up into Virginia. That is not what Gen. Clinton had told him to do, but that was the way that Lord Cornwallis thought to bring glory to himself.


“There is going to be fighting north of here then,” thought Lady Huntington. “I will have to make my way to the northeast, and if I can find him, ask Gen. Greene if he knows what to do with me.”


She knew that there were almost no guards on the south side of the encampment, down toward the Ingle home, and so the same morning that Tarleton’s forces were about to depart to the north, she arose at two in the morning, and walked steadily south. She thought she could make it to the Ingle house by dawn, and she thought also that if she begged Abby Ingle, that the kind lady would give her a carriage.


And that is what she did—a carriage, provisions, a servant driver, and indeed, she showed the greatest kindness of all. She asked no questions. “I will write you when I may,” Lady Huntington said. “But I am forever in your debt.”


The carriage disappeared south down the road, and as Mrs. Ingle turned back into the house, she smiled to herself. I wouldn’t marry him either.


For those who don’t know, I have written a couple of children’s stories for Veritas Press, Blackthorn Winter and Susan Creek respectively. It appears that it is time to write another one, which is entitled Two Williams, and which I have decided to serialize here. That is one of the reasons I had a continue reading feature added — so that the diversity cops who comb through my blog posts looking for yet one more example of my perfidy (a word that should be used more often) need not tie up their valuable time scrolling down through my fiction for kids, however edifying it might be to them. They are already sacrificing a lot of good day-time television to go through my stuff, and I don’t want to be rude or thoughtless.


Because this book (when complete) will be published by Veritas, I need to reserve the right to pull all the posts once it is in print, or not post the last chapter if it is a cliff-hanger. Anyhow, here it is, such as it is, and I hope your kids enjoy it. The intended audience is twelve-year-old boys, and the sisters who admire them, give or take twenty years. This little explanation will be tagged on to the end of each chapter as it is written and posted.

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