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SEE THE FIELD: Golfing technique helped understand Cowpens

Quest finds surprise: "I did find another connection. Another participant has strong connections to the Smileys, Baileys, Blairs, Griders, Morgans, and Burtons of Adair County. John Grider's mother-in-law (Sarah Morgan) was a first cousin to both legendary pioneer Daniel Boone and to Brigadier General Daniel Morgan . . . "

By Greg Burton

In the touching golf film, The Legend of Bagger Vance, a clever golf caddy told his recovering alcoholic champion to emulate his opponent, the legendary Bobby Jones. He challengeed him to "see the field," meaning to visualize where you want to go with the ball. The results of that lesson were astounding as the nerve-rattled golfer found his game and won the match. Arriving at Cowpens National Battlefield near Chesnee, South Carolina, I accepted the challenge to "see the field".


Southern Revolutionary battles seemed to receive less attention

The southern battles of the American Revolution tend to receive much less attention in history textbooks than the legendary battles of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. Yet, the epic encounter at Cowpens would continue the momentum of the Continental forces. It would carry over to the final battle of the American Revolution and subsequent surrender of British troops at Yorktown. The surprising victory of Colonial troops and militia at King's Mountain caught the British by surprise. These defeats weakened the military strength of Lt. Colonel Banistre Tarelton and General Charles Cornwallis as they hoped to crush the Continental troops under General George Washington's direct command.

Would be passing with 20 miles of American Revolution watershed

The Burton family was planning a trip from our home in northeastern Tennessee to the coast of South Carolina. We would be passing within twenty miles of an American Revolution watershed. I had received information from the Daughters of the American Revolution that my four-great-grandfather, John Grider, had served in the North Carolina militia during the battle for America's freedom.

Discovers another Adair County connection

Thus, I suspected he may have been in this conflict and I wanted to experience walking the park. While I have still been unable to determine Grider's participation in this particular skirmish, I did find another connection. Another participant has strong connections to the Smileys, Baileys, Blairs, Griders, Morgans, and Burtons of Adair County. John Grider's mother-in-law (Sarah Morgan) was a first cousin to both legendary pioneer Daniel Boone and to Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, the commanding officer for Colonial forces in the Battle of Cowpens! Both of these heroes are my first cousins, seven times removed--genuine blood relations. To see photo, battlefield entrance, Click here

We stopped at the national battlefield site late in the afternoon on a Sunday. The visitor's center was already closed, but the park trails and battlefield would stay open until dark. I began the mile hike with camera in hand and my daughter Ashley and her friend Heather in tow. The evening was beautiful and the lengthening shadows gave a feel similar to morning. But it was a cold morning on January 11, 1781 when my ancestor made final preparations for the battle of his life! The night before, he slipped from cluster to cluster of huddled soldiers, encouraging them in the flickering light of small campfires to hold fast and not be afraid. His words of challenge inspired the rag-tag assembly to stand up to the polished ranks of British regulars who had pursued them the last few days.

Woods amazingly free from distraction of modern sounds

We strolled along the paved pathway that dissects the park and then took the gravel trail toward the actual battlefield site. The woods were amazingly free from the distraction of modern sounds. After nearly a half-mile walk without the benefit of a brochure, we wondered if we would eventually find the turf once patrolled by Gen. Morgan. And then the groves open up into meadow. Informative display plaques offered the details of that fateful day. My eyes left the signs and scanned the countryside to imagine the emotions, activity, and conflict of the men under my cousin's command. The odds were clearly against them. Tarelton was a bloodthirsty adversary. Opposing armies were expected to offer "quarter" or humane incarceration for captured prisoners of war. The British colonel regularly ordered his men to slaughter those who surrendered to his troops. He was a hated opponent, but also a feared one. I could almost hear the distant sounds of the bagpipes heralding the approach of Tarelton's Highlander Brigade. Drums ominously signaled impending doom from Redcoats. To see photo of the field, Click here



Cowpens was a large meadow in midst of cattle country

Cowpens was a large meadow in the midst of cattle country. When herders were about to transport their animals to market they would bring them to this area and pen them up, hence the name. At that time there were few trees and no lowland swamps. These were two of the best natural defenses for the less-trained Continental troops against the battle-hardened British soldiers. The open fields were risky, but a relentless enemy gave our patriots little choice. Perhaps these rolling hills could offer hope to the anxious. To see photo, Ashley and Hether reading marker at Cowpens, Click here



Talked of surprise tactics used by General Morgan

I talked with the girls about the surprise tactics used by Gen. Morgan. He placed his militia on the front line since they were "good ol' boy" hunters who were deadly marksmen. They had instructions to fire a few shots each and focus on the men with the epaulets (officer shoulder decorations). Normally the militia would simply offer support to the frontline regulars. With their effective barrage at forty yards, the British troops were pushed back on their heels.

But the tide seemed to turn when the militia suddenly spun around and retreated over a hill. The Redcoats broke ranks and charged without waiting for the supporting cavalry and artillery. Only when they topped the hill and saw that the fleeing militia had joined ranks with the regular army infantry did they realize their fatal error. The remainder of Tarelton's forces finally pressed in and gained the advantage, but in short order from other hills came Colonial cavalry and infantry cutting off both flanks. The battle ended badly for England.

Meadow seemed to have wisps of gunsmoke settling across landscape

The meadow seemed to have wisps of gunsmoke settling across the landscape before my eyes. Soldiers were moving over hills and through small groves. Rifles were dropped and artillery abandoned. The Betsy Ross flag was flying supreme. It was the delivery of freedom to the men and women who braved the Atlantic to build a new life. "My" Gen. Daniel Morgan was the architect and inspiration for this momentous piece of history.

The busyness of modern human existence rarely allows for time to reflect on days gone by. Our work and play seem to be of such great significance. But 225 years ago in a cow field near the South Carolina-North Carolina border an ancestor of many in Adair County helped turn the impending fate of a young nation into a promise of freedom. And I was there.


This story was posted on 2006-07-31 12:51:14
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Greg Burton at Cowpens Battlefield: The entrance to the park



2006-07-31 - Cowpens National Battlefield, SC - Photo by Greg Burton. ON HIS MISSION OF FAMILY DISCOVERY, writer Greg Burton found that he was a first cousin, seven times removed, the two American heroes, Daniel Boone and General Daniel Morgan.
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Greg Burton at Cowpens: Ashley, Heather reading marker



2006-07-31 - Cowpens National Battlefield, SC - Photo by Greg Burton. ASHLEY BURTON, the writer's daughter, and friend Heather read a marker at Cowpens National Battlefield in South Carolina.
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Greg Burton at Cowpens: The fields



2006-07-31 - Cowpens National Battlefield, SC - Photo by Greg Burton. WRITER GREG BURTON could almost hear the distant sounds of the bagpipes heralding the approach of Tarelton's Highlander Brigade while gazing on this peaceful scene at Cowpens National Cemetery.
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