A History of Charlottesville Virginia
In colonial and early national Virginia, men of means constructed private residences to make political statements as well as to
house their families. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson provided the most famous Virginia exemplars of this phenomenon in their Mount Vernon
and Monticello, respectively.
Jefferson's architectural references to Republican Rome, his efforts to shield his family's slaves from view, and inclusion of
American Indian artifacts in the foyer were all self-conscious attempts to invent himself as an "American" statesman.
The political statements were not always that nuanced, however. Like William Faulkner's Col. Sutpen, many white planters built to
show their mastery--over their land, fortunes, and slaves.
Charlottesville was known in the early 19th century as The fairest Georgian city of the New World.
And when you come to visit us and see all the extraordinary homes, you'll quickly agree that Charlottesville area real estate
still retains the title of being the fairest Georgian city of the New World, a true architectural legacy.
Stonewall Jackson by Charles Keck 1921
THE FOUNDING OF CHARLOTTESVILLE
In 1761 the County was partitioned, land on the south being relinquished for the formation of Buckingham and Amherst
This left Scottsville on the extreme southern border of Albemarle, and it was decided that the location of the courthouse was no
longer suited to the needs of a majority of the population.
A thousand acres were secured in the center of the County, and in November, 1762, an Act of Assembly was passed, creating the
town of Charlottesville, and authorizing the removal of the County seat to this place.
Its name was bestowed in honor of the little Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg Strelitz, the young bride of George III.
The new courthouse, pillory, stocks and whipping post were duly erected on the present Court Square, and fifty acres of adjoining
land were laid off in lots and streets.
The prospective town consisted of four tiers of squares, each tier running east and west and containing seven squares; the four
tiers extending from Jefferson St. to South St.
The Courthouse Square was exterior to the town.
Building, however, for some years was slow and scattered, and during this time the infant village was of small importance in the
history of the County.
The country planter continued to control the social and business life of the community, and its business interests were still
centered in the thriving villages of Milton and Scottsville.
Albemarle County Courthouse 1851
As late as 1779, Capt. Anburey, a British prisoner, writes: "On our arrival at Charlottesville, this famous place we had
heard so much of consisted only of a Court-house, one tavern,1 and about a dozen houses."
After the Revolution, the number of taverns increased rapidly, the town's location on the main State road to the West making it a
halting place for stage lines, and for much private travel.
The present Courthouse building was not erected until 1803, in which year George Divers, William D. Menwether and Isaac Miller
were appointed to draw a plan for the edifice.
The cost was not to exceed five thousand dollars. In 1859 a contract was entered into with George W. Spooner to construct a front
addition designed by Wm. A. Pratt, a former Proctor of the University.
This addition was flanked with towers and crowned with gables, but some years later, upon the prevalence of a more restrained
standard, it was removed, and the present pediment, with its supporting pillars, was erected by Mr. Spooner.
We do not know when the instruments of correction, which were formerly necessary associates of a courthouse, were removed.
In 1820 they were repaired, and as late as 1857 James Lobban and Andrew Brown were appointed to select a place for the
Albemarle County Courthouse today
As the old building now stands, the wing to the north is that in which Jefferson worshipped, and about which center the
associations of more than a century.
We are told that in early days it was no unusual sight to observe here a President and two Ex-Presidents, with perhaps a U. S.
Senator or a Governor in attendance.
An old anecdote relates that upon one such occasion, as the three Presidents stood on the green, one of them remarked that if
there only were a fourth they would all cross over to the tavern and take a drink.
With characteristic good humor, the late Mr. Jesse Maury, then a youth of seventeen, stepped forward and offered to fill the gap,
he being the president of the Albemarle Possum Club.
Notes 1. The Swan, upon the site now occupied by the Red Land Club. Authorities: Woods' History of Albemarle.
Original Town Hall/ Levy Opera House
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR
In war, Albemarle, by her location, has been spared the disastrous distinction of great battles within her borders.
Her share, however, in its sacrifice and loss has always been ardently assumed. At the approach of the Revolution her populace
was deeply aroused.
Her public men took active part in the momentous events, which preceded the great rupture, and her hardy farmers were prompt to
form companies of volunteers.
One of these, a band of eighteen men, upon news of the removal of the powder by Lord Dunsmore in the spring of 1775, marched
hastily to Williamsburg.
How long they remained under arms is not known, but two months later, against the advice of the Speaker of the House,
twenty-seven men under Lieut. George Gilmer proceeded again to the Capital.
Dr. Woods tells us that soldiers from Albemarle fought in all the important battlefields of the war, and he also gives from the
county records a valuable list of officers and privates.
It is true, however, that throughout the Colonies there was widespread disaffection during the Revolution-more than we now
In the lower counties of the State, wherever the British colors appeared men flocked, often by hundreds, to swear allegiance.
Then, when the British passed on or retreated, these men or their families were exposed to the patriotic resentment of their
Many would recant for the second time.
If the British then returned to that locality, their fate was a hard one.
In some captured orders to Col. Balfour, Cornwallis says: "I have ordered, in the most positive manner, that every militia
man who has borne arms with us and afterwards joined the enemy, shall be immediately hanged." 1
Albemarle, of course, had her share of these Tories.
Though their names have not been generally preserved, we know that Thomas Meriwether of Clover Fields, who was married to
Washington's cousin, was British in his sympathies, and so was the celebrated Parson Douglas 2 of Louisa, whose descendants are still prominent
in this County.
Chiles Terrell, too, and Francis Jerdone were suspected of this feeling. It is interesting to reflect that had the Revolution
terminated in defeat for the Colonies, these and other forgotten men would now be our Colonial heroes.
In January, 1779, British and Hessian troops were sent by Congress as prisoners of war to an encampment near Charlottesville.
Their route in Virginia lay through Little London, Fauquier Court House, Carter's Plantation, Orange and Walker's Plantation.
Upon arrival the men were settled on the north bank of Ivy Creek, upon the plantation of Col. Harvie, the farm which they
occupied having ever since been known as The Barracks.
The superior officers sought quarters among the neighboring gentry for a distance of twenty miles around.
The great fire at the Rotunda 1898
From Jefferson's correspondence we learn that in a short time the presence of these four thousand aliens caused excitement
that amounted to panic among the populace.
It was believed that the community could not furnish the needed quantity of food, and rumors of famine drove the inhabitants to
petition Gov. Henry to remove the troops.
This Jefferson warmly opposed, and he was successful in his representations of the desirability of the location.
Lossing tells us that the paroled officers were kindly received and entertained in the neighborhood, and that at
This Barracks they constructed a theatre, a coffee house and a cold bath.
In the distribution of these officers, Gen. Philips, the English officer-in-charge, was quartered at Blenheim, the plantation of
Col. Carter in the Green Mountain neighborhood; and the Hessian General, Baron de Riedesel, doubtless on account of the presence of his family,
was allowed to lease a plantation and settle himself in comfort.
This plantation was Colle3, adjoining Monticello, where for some years an Italian gentleman named Mazzei had been experimenting
with vine growing and wine making.
He was just starting on a political mission to Europe, and his establishment was at once taken over by the Baron, who is said to
have grazed his horses in the vineyards and demolished them within a week.
Old University of Virginia postcard
The following interesting glimpse of their life in Albemarle is taken from the letters of Madame de Riedesel, who for three
years, with her three small daughters, had braved the severities of life in the field; having followed the army from Canada to its defeat at
Saratoga, and then on the long march which brought them to Virginia. Of their arrival she says:
"It snowed so much that we were obliged to have four men on horseback, before our carriage, to clear Their the road. The
traveling was dangerous, the roads arrival being almost impassable, and we suffered besides not only from cold but from want.
When only a day's journey from the place of our destination, we had, for our last meal, tea, and a peace of bread and butter for
This was tile end of our little stock, and we could here procure nothing except some fruits which a peasant gave us.
At noon we reached a house, where we begged for some dinner, but all assistance was denied us. Our hostess said that she needed
the maize for her black people. 'They work for us,' she added, 'and you come to kill us.'
Old Monticello Hotel "The place of our destination was Colle, in Virginia.
We had traveled, in about three months, six hundred and twenty-eight miles.
The troops were at Charlottesville, three hours ride from us, and the road thither ran through a fine wood.
At first they suffered many privations; they were billeted in block houses, without windows or doors, and but poorly protected
from the cold.4
But they went diligently to work to construct better dwellings, and in a short time tile place assumed the appearance of a neat
little town. In the rear of each house they had trim gardens and enclosed places for poultry.
They wanted nothing but money."5
Of her life at Colle she writes: "We had turkeys weighing fifty pounds, and perfectly tame, but on the approach of spring they
flew off to hatch their eggs, which they had laid in the woods.
We had given them up for lost, when suddenly they returned with a numerous brood.
We had a large house built for us, which cost us a hundred guineas and was quite elegant.
The negroes sold us their little stock of poultry and vegetables.
Every week we sent an ox and two swine to the slaughterhouse.
Thus with respect to provisions we had nothing to wish for, but we suffered much by the heat during the summer; we lived in
continual apprehension of rattlesnakes, and our fruit trees were destroyed by three kinds of insects.
"Sometimes also we had tremendous thunderstorms.
The woods were, besides, often wasted by the fires of negroes and herdsmen; indeed, nobody here seems to care much for trees.
Whole forests are sometimes burnt down to redeem land for the purposes of agriculture.
The heat was so great, even during the night, that we were obliged to sleep with open windows."
According to tradition, at the time of her life in Albemarle Madame de Riedesel had much embonpoint, and a handsome face.
She rendered herself an object of wonder to the long-skirted and beplumed equestriennes of the neighborhood by riding in boots
and astride, in what then was delicately called "the European fashion."
A sun-stroke which Baron de Riedesel suffered, in consequence of working in his garden without a hat while the thermometer was at
103 degrees, resulted in their being sent to a health resort in Maryland.
From there they were ordered north, spending several years as prisoners in America and Canada. Two daughters, born during this
period, were named America and Canada, in honor of their places of birth.
A diary kept by Capt. Anburey, of the British forces, gives in spirited fashion his opinion of the region.
"Never was a district so destitute of every comfort, provisions were not to be purchased for ten days; the officers subsisted
upon salt pork, and Indian corn made into cakes; not a drop of any kind of spirit: many officers, to com fort themselves put red pepper into
water, to drink by way of cordial.
"The fences and enclosures in this province are different from those to the northward; here they are composed of what is termed
From a mode of constructing these enclosures in a zig-zag form, the New-Englanders have a saying, when a man is in liquor, he is
making Virginia fences.
"The country is so much covered with woods, that you travel a long time without seeing an habitation.
You can hardly conceive the difficulty in finding the proper roads; when one is bad, they make another in a different direction;
added to which the planters, sans cerenzonie, turn a road to suit their own convenience, and render it more commodious to their plantation.
If perchance you meet an inhabitant and enquire your way, his directions are if possible, more perplexing than the roads
"Having given a pretty good sketch of these back settlers, I am going to Richmond to purchase some liquor and necessaries to
render our situation a little comfortable in this dreary region of woods and wretchedness."
However, the private troops (and in especial the Hessians, who as mercenaries had no consoling prospect of peace,) liked the
district so well that desertions were a constant anxiety to their officers.
At one time nearly four hundred eluded the vigilance of the guards, and escaped.
Many of these are said to have reached the wilderness of the Ragged Mountains, where by intermarriage they became an integral
part of our mountain population.
In the fall of 1780, when the British occupied Portsmouth, great uneasiness was observed among the British prisoners, and it was
feared that they might rise upon the guards and attempt to join their countrymen.
Jefferson wrote from Richmond: "Some deserters were taken yesterday, said to he of the British Convention Troops, who had
found means to get to the enemy at Portsmouth, and were seventy or eighty miles on their way back to the Barracks, when they were taken."
For these reasons, the camp was broken up in November of that year.
The British officers had purchased "some of the finest horses within the State," which they took with them.
The men were marched, by way of Woods' Gap and the Valley, to Winchester and Maryland.
Death, desertion and exchange had reduced their numbers to about twenty-one hundred. Afterwards they were taken north for
shipment, but the ranks gradually melted away, until there were none left to embark.
Among the paroled officers quartered in the neighborhood of the prisoners was a young Englishman who was billeted at
Lewis's The Farm.
He was in declining health, and had become a great favorite with the townspeople.
It was his habit to take a daily walk on the hills above the Rivanna, and upon returning from one of these he remarked that he
had seen a magnificent tree and a view of surpassing beauty.
"I have stuck in the ground a stick there, and if I should die while here that is the place where I should like to be
A few weeks later he died, and was buried in his chosen spot.
Around this grave the Lewis burial ground, now on the western edge of Riverview Cemetery, was made, and more than a century later
the City selected the site as a cemetery, doubtless for the same reasons that had attracted the young stranger.
Though the soldier's tree has now fallen, and no stone marks the spot, our older citizens can remember when a walk to the
"British Soldier's grave" was popular with the young people of the village.
Some six months after the removal of the Convention troops, the people of Albemarle were again brought into contact with the
enemy, though in a painfully different fashion.
Owing to the invasion of Virginia by the British under Cornwallis, it was considered unsafe to continue the government at
Richmond, and on May 24, 1781, the Legislature was adjourned to meet again in Charlottesville.
General Sir Banastre Tarleton by Joshua Reynolds
It was in pursuit of this distinguished prey that Cornwallis dispatched his "hunting leopard," Tarleton, with a troop of
180 cavalry, and 70 mounted infantry under Captain Champagne.
This dreaded legion bore a name for treachery in the field, bloody inhumanity in action, and wild excesses in the hour of
victory, it being Tarleton's policy to reward valor in the field by a shocking license toward the populace.
British historians, statesmen and officers protested with generous horror against this conduct, which, however, continued to he
tolerated by his superior officer.
Leaving the British encampment on the North Anna, near Hanover Courthouse, on June 3rd, 1781, Tarleton advanced swiftly towards
Charlottesville, reaching Louisa Courthouse at eleven pm of the same day.
Here he halted for only three hours, and pushed on again through the night.
His route lay near Castle Hill and Belvoir; the residences of Dr. Thomas Walker and of Mr. John Walker, his son.
These gentlemen were entertaining members of the Legislature; the houses were surprised and surrounded in the early morning of
the 4th, and host and guests were alike taken prisoner.
We are told that the commander of the troops at Belvoir was a Captain Francis Kinloch, and among his prisoners was his American
cousin of the same name.
A halt of a few hours was made at Castle Hill for breakfast, and to this slight detention the Legislature is said to have owed
As it chanced, John Jouett, captain in the militia and a citizen of Charlottesville, was in the Cuckoo tavern in Louisa when the
legion swept by on the main road.
Suspecting their destination, he quickly mounted his fine horse, and riding furiously by a seldom used and shorter route, he
covered the forty miles in time to give warning several hours before the arrival of the enemy.
This was the famous "Jack Jouett's ride," which in dash, courage, and political importance surpassed that of New England's Paul
"Hearken good people: awhile abide And hear of stout Jack Jouett's ride;
How he rushed his steed, nor stopped nor stayed
Till he warned the people of Tarleton's raid.
The moment his warning note was rehearsed
The State Assembly was quickly dispersed.
In their haste to escape, they did not stop
Until they had crossed the mountaintop.
And upon the other side come down.
To resume their sessions in Staunton Town.
His parting steed he spurred,
In haste to carry the warning
To that greatest statesman of any age,
The Immortal Monticello Sage.
Here goes to thee, Jack Jouett!
Lord keep thy memory green;
You made the greatest ride, sir,
That ever yet was seen.
Randall says that Jouett stopped at Monticello "a little after sunrise," and gave information to the Governor of Tarleton's
The speakers of the two Houses and several other members were guests there.
They "breakfasted at leisure," and the members then went in to Charlottesville, where the House hastily adjourned to re-convene
In the mean time, Tarleton and his legion pushed on with their accustomed speed.7
Before reaching the Rivanna, they met and destroyed twelve wagon-loads of clothing. destined for the American army in North
On reaching the river, a company was dispatched, under a Capt. McLeod,8 to surprise Monticello by way of the Secretary's Ford,
while the remainder dashed through the river and up the hill by the road which then led from near the present Woolen Mills, along the general
course of the C. & 0. tracks.
They expected to find the Legislature in morning session. The retiring members had barely left town, they were pursued and seven
of them were captured.9
Among those who fled was Gen. Stevens, who had been compelled to retire from the army by a wound, and who had then become a
member of the House of Delegates.
"Attired as usual in the plain dress of a Virginia farmer, and mounted by chance on a shabby horse, he was soon overtaken by the
But a little way ahead was a more attractive game, a horseman in a scarlet coat and military hat and plume, and probably
therefore an officer of rank.
The soldiers spurred on without noticing Stevens, who soon turned aside and escaped.
The showy gentleman was no officer, but the same Mr. Jouett, who had an eccentric habit of wearing such habiliments.
After he had coquetted with his pursuers long enough, he gave his fleet horse the spur, and was speedily out of sight."10
At Monticello, all had been hastily arranged for flight. The family had collected their possessions, and Jefferson had secured
his most important papers.
After nearly two hours of this activity, a Mr. Hudson rode up and stated that the British were ascending the Mountain.
At once Jefferson sent off his wife and children by carriage, under the care of a young gentleman, and escorted by servants.
Their destination was Enniscorthy, fourteen miles distant, the seat of Col. Coles in the Green Mountain neighborhood. Jefferson
then took his telescope and proceeded by a cross path to a point between Mnticello and Carter's Mountain.
Hearing no tramp of approaching cavalry, he walked a short distance up Carter's Mountain to a rock from which he could obtain a
good view of Charlottesville.
Observing nothing unusual in the town, he supposed the alarm premature, and concluded to return to his house to complete the care
of his papers. After walking a few rods, he discovered that his light-walking sword had slipped from its sheath.
Returning for this, another glance showed him the streets of the village swarming with dragoons.
(The uniform of the legion being white, faced with green, and the infantry's being red, they would have been easily
distinguishable at that distance.)
His horse had been brought to the gap between the mountains; he mounted and rode swiftly off to overtake his family, learning
later that Captain McLeod was already at that time in possession of Monticello.
It is said that two trusted slaves were engaged in hiding Jefferson's dinner plates and other valuables under the wooden floor of
the portico, at the instant of McLeod's arrival.
A glimpse of white through the trees gave uninjured warning, and the one on the outside hastily closed the opening, leaving his
comrade imprisoned below, where with rare fidelity he remained without food or light for eighteen hours.
The reason for Tarleton's leniency at Monticello has never been known, but it is a fact that he gave "strict orders that nothing
should be injured," and that these orders were scrupulously observed by the troops.
"He behaved very genteelly with me," was Jefferson's comment, he having expected that as Governor of the State his home would be
the target for especial malice.
In Charlottesville, also, Tarleton's record was one of surprising restraint. Returning from their futile pursuit of the
lawmakers, his men destroyed stores in the town amounting to 1000 new muskets, 400 barrels of powder, several hogsheads of tobacco and a quantity
of soldier's clothing.
A more serious loss was the destruction of the County records, which were preserved in the Courthouse and covered an interesting
period of local history.
Of Tarleton's stay at The Farm (East end of Jefferson St. built before the Revolution on the Nicholas Meriwether estate.
The older house was the home of Meriwether's heir and grandson, Colonel Nicholas Lewis. Tarleton, dashing up from the ford where
the woolen mill now stands, greeted Mrs. Lewis with,'Madam, you dwell in a little paradise.'
He established headquarters here for the single night he spent in Charlottesville sleeping wrapped in his cloak on the parlor
floor.), one characteristic anecdote has been preserved.
It was his custom, when on an expedition, to share the hardships of his men, sleeping always on the floor and wrapped in his
horseman's cloak, while a saddled horse stood at the door.
On the morning of the 5th, he rose early, and clad only in shirt, pantaloons and boots, had begun to shave, when the report of a
shot was heard.
It came from the direction of Monticello, and was so re-echoed as to sound like an irregular fire from several muskets.
Before the sound had half died away, Tarleton, bareheaded, his face well lathered, and with drawn saber, was spurring fiercely in
the direction of the reports, and shouting to his dragoons to mount and follow.
"A more soldierly man in action," concludes Randall, "never drew a blade in battle."
Upon the 5th, Tarleton, with his prisoners, withdrew from the County, his movements being hastened by heavy rains, which
threatened to flood the Rivanna, and by information of the gathering of the local militia.11
He joined Cornwallis at Elk Hill, a plantation that was the property of Jefferson at Point of Fork, now known as
Here the ravage was unchecked-barns and fences were all burned, the growing crops were destroyed in the fields, horses and cattle
were carried off, and those too young for use were slaughtered, even the young blooded colts having their throats cut.
The place was left a wilderness, but the injury, which Jefferson most deeply felt, was the fate of thirty slaves who were carried
off by the troops.
These poor victims were herded with others dying of smallpox and putrid fever.
Being later deserted, four weeks afterwards they were creeping home to perish in the comfortable quarters, which Jefferson had
set aside for them.
Five of the negroes who had not been carried off, also contracted the disease and died.
Capt. John Jouett, Jr., the hero of the Raid, was a son of the proprietor of the old Swan tavern.
The site of this building is now occupied by the RedLands Club of Charlottesville, and bears a commemorative
tablet placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The old landlord is believed to be buried somewhere on these premises, but the son immigrated early to Kentucky, where he became
a successful politician and the intimate friend of President Andrew Jackson. (His son, Matthew Harris Jouett, the celebrated painter, was a
Captain in the War of 1812, and the father of Admiral James Jouett.
"Jack Jouett's" twelfth child was named Thomas Jefferson, perhaps in memory of the father's dramatic ride.) Jouett's service to
the State of Virginia was suitably recognized by the General Assembly, which in 1786 presented him with an elegant sword.12
It is an odd fact, however, that popular fancy, at the time, did not seem taken by his exploit. We do not find little Jouetts
among the next generation.
Tarleton was already an Albemarle name, so that its use as a Christian name has no significance.
For safety, a large quantity of valuable stores had been collected by the State government at Albemarle Old Courthouse, near
Scott's Ferry (the present Scottsville).
In order to destroy these, Cornwallis again despatched Tarleton to invade Albemarle.
To Lafayette belongs the honor of its protection, and it is interesting to picture these youthful officers engaged in a struggle
in which some personal rivalry may have added to their professional zeal.
There was but four years' difference in their ages, Lafayette having been only nineteen when in 1777 he landed on our shores and
was made a Major-general.
His idealistic and enthusiastic type of mind suited well with his years, and perhaps helped to fasten upon him the nickname of
"The Boy," by which he was generally known in the British army.
Tarleton, on the other hand, with his boundless ambition, callous temper and cynical heart. was the complete man of the world,
and it is only through the calendar that we perceive his youth.
(We are told that in appearance Banastre Tarleton was below middle size, strong, stout and heavily built, and that at will he
could assume the elegance of manner to which he was born.)
Hastening to the rescue, Lafayette moved cautiously from Culpeper through Orange and the upper part of Louisa, to Boswell's
Tavern, near the Albemarle line.
Tarleton, however, swiftly obtained a position of such strength that it seemed for Lafayette a choice between a hopeless
battle and the abandonment of the stores.
But Layfayette was up for the crisis.
"There was a rough road, long disused, leading from a few miles below Boswell's to a point on Mechunk Creek; forthwith Lafayette
set to work his pioneers and ax men; the road was opened, the army passed along it, and the next morning, to the astonishment of Tarleton, his
adversary was encamped in an impregnable position on the Creek, and just between the British army and the stores at Albemarle Courthouse!
The enemy was once more baffled, changed his front, and marched slowly towards the eastern coast.
"An incident during the opening of 'The Marquis's Road,' happily illustrated the commingled gentleman and soldier of Lafayette's
Full of zeal, he was dashing at a swift gallop along the line, when his horse struck a private at work, and felled him to the
The Marquis instantly dismounted. 'Soldier, are you hurt?' he said. The man, who had risen uninjured, replied that he was not. 'I
ask your pardon,' said Lafayette, and waving his hand with a smile, he was soon out of sight.''13
HOW DECEPTION HELPED DEFEAT TARLETON AT COWPENS
During the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) one of the most feared and hated British officers was Sir Banaster Tarleton.
Tarleton came to America during the first year of the war and participated in numerous campaigns ranging from the capture of New
York in 1776, to the capture of Charleston in 1780.
As a commander of a British cavalry and light infantry legion (approximately 1100 men), he had the reputation as a hard charging
and aggressive officer who appeared to be invincible on the field of battle.
His unit had defeated opposing American forces on four separate occasions during the summer of 1780.
In addition to his fighting prowess, Tarleton was also known for his merciless treatment of rebel soldiers and had earned the
nickname, the Butcher after his unit slaughtered the surrendering survivors of a Virginia regiment he had defeated on May 27, 1780, at Waxham
Creek, South Carolina.
In January, 1781, upon learning that the American Southern Army had split its forces in two, the British commander, General
Cornwallis, sent Tarleton and his men to track down and destroy the detachment led by American General Daniel Morgan.
Rather than running from the approaching and seemingly unbeatable Tarleton, Morgan, whose force equaled the Brits in numbers,
decided to fight the Butcher by laying a trap for him at Cowpens, South Carolina.
Morgan believed he could take advantage of his adversary's aggressiveness and use it against him by employing the element of
deception to feign a retreat and lure Tarleton into a situation where his advancing forces could be enveloped and attacked from both sides and
In an effort to carry out his plan, on January 17, Morgan aligned his army in defensive positions across an open field that
appeared ideal for the type of horse-mounted charge that Tarleton liked to launch.
The American general instructed the soldiers deployed in the middle of his front-line formations to retreat to the rear after
briefly engaging the enemy in order to draw the attacking Brits in.
The plan worked to perfection. Tarleton ordered his troops to advance into the area vacated by the retreating Americans and
before long found himself in a situation where he was completely surrounded.
The line in front of him had become a circle around him.
When the battle ended not long after it had began, Morgan had scored a smashing victory over one of the best legions in the army
of King George III.
While suffering only 73 casualties (12 killed and 61 wounded), the Americans decimated Tarleton's unit by inflicting 930
casualties (110 killed, 830 wounded and/or captured) on the British force.
The once invincible Butcher, who along with a handful of his men managed to flee the fight to avoid death or capture, had lost
90% of the soldiers under his command.
Postscript: Tarleton retreated to Yorktown with Cornwallis, where he was taken prisoner.
He returned to England in 1781 where he went on to become a member of Parliament and, in 1812, a general. Morgan, whose victory
at Cowpens is considered one of the most brilliant tactical feats of the war, went on to become a member of Congress.
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