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"Book Review: A Devil of a Whipping - Cowpens" Topic

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©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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greenknight4 Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Dec 2017 10:44 a.m. PST

A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens
by Lawrence E. Babits

Chris Parker writes

Starting with the preface, which I must admit I almost never read in a book I was gripped with interest. The author Lawrence Babits had found a new way to determine in more detail both the number of men at Cowpens and what they did. It was simple really, he relied on after battle reports mostly from pensioners of the American Revolution. These were soldiers who 40 years after the war gave sworn statements that they had participated in the battle and gave as many details as they could A second call for pensioners was issued 10 years late. These results were then computerized and placed into a timeline as best as possible. As Babits writes the view and comments of the common soldier is quite different from that of a mounted office for many reasons. The first being the the soldier is on foot and in the ranks with a very limited field of vision and rarely has a grasp on what is going on other that what he can see and hear. The office on the other is mounted and has a much better field of vision, and often knows the bigger picture. Not to forget that if he is mounted he probably moves across larger areas of the battlefield than the soldier.

Read the full review here – link

Chris Parker


T Corret Supporting Member of TMP13 Dec 2017 11:33 a.m. PST

Truly a great book. If you like well researched history, this is first rate. I don't know of a rules set that would allow Lee's cavalry to charge and reform three times in 15 minutes as they did in real life.

greenknight4 Sponsoring Member of TMP13 Dec 2017 12:35 p.m. PST

That is so hard to write into a game. I think it almost needs to be a sort of Kreigspeil game maybe?

Bill N13 Dec 2017 12:40 p.m. PST

I do not agree with some of the authors conclusions, such as Washington's cavalry launching three separate attacks. I do think it is the best book on the battle of Cowpens and one of the best about an AWI topic. I'd add that it is almost as if Babits was writing this book for wargamers.

Private Matter13 Dec 2017 1:19 p.m. PST

Bill N; This book is the most detailed account of the battle of Cowpens so I don't have a lot of differing viewpoints on the battle but I wanted to ask: Why don't you agree with the conclusions in the book regarding Washington's cavalry or other items? I am only asking because I'm interested in varying viewpoints. I'm not looking to debate, only understand.

I really enjoyed the book and must give it credit for getting to splash out more money than I care to admit on AWI miniatures and rule sets.

bandrsntch13 Dec 2017 3:17 p.m. PST

Best book on Battle of Cowpens ever. Highly recommended. It was a real treat for me to visit the actual battle field after reading this book. On criticism I have is there is not a detailed Order of battle in the book although the information is there. You just have to dig it out of the text.

The story is so amazing, it makes you wonder why Hollywood had to screw it up with that stupid movie with Mel Gibson. All they had to do was tell the real story.

rvandusen Supporting Member of TMP13 Dec 2017 5:07 p.m. PST

"The story is so amazing, it makes you wonder why Hollywood had to screw it up with that stupid movie with Mel Gibson. All they had to do was tell the real story."

I tend to find myself thinking the same thing about every historical film!

In the case of the above title, I now have to read this and will pick it up right away.

Bill N13 Dec 2017 6:28 p.m. PST

Since you asked Private Matter, let's start with the cavalry charges. 1. I don't believe there was sufficient time for the cavalry to carry out all of the actions Babits said they made in the manner he describes. As the second line withdrew the area behind the third line would have begun to fill with militia inhibiting the ability of horse to shift from one side of the American line to the other. 2. Sources speak of Washington recognizing an opportunity for the cavalry to effectively intervene and communicating that observation to Morgan. If Washington is busy directing charges as Babits describes, he probably isn't going to be in a position to make this observation and forward the information to Morgan. 3. It seems generally agreed that the right and center of the British attack collapsed quicker than the left. This makes more sense if the cavalry attack comes in from the right rear of the British line. 4. The traditional narrative has Washington launching his first attack to help militia trying to escape around the American left flank, then attacking the British after the third line fires and charges, followed by Washington's melee with Tarleton.

The traditional narrative assumes that Morgan had either 80 men of the 3rd Light Dragoons or at most a total of 120 horse between the 3rd Light Dragoons and militia. We now know that in addition to the 3rd Light Dragoons and the militia there was also a small contingent of the 1st Light Dragoons and some state horse present. I suspect Morgan probably had at least 150 horse available.

So this is how I see the cavalry charges happening. When the second line militia began its retreat they headed for the left and right flanks of the American third line rather than just going around the left flank as the traditional narrative describes. The British horse on both the left and right flanks moved to attack the retreating militia as Babits describes. Here is where I break with Babits. In my version Washington leads part of the horse to break up the British horse attack on the American left while the rest of the American horse attacks the British horse on the American right. This division is possible with the larger numbers of horse. This puts Washington at the right rear of the British infantry after his attack, letting him make his observation and send word to Morgan. It avoids the necessity of shifting horse between the left and right in an area filling up with militia. It also puts Washington in position to launch an attack on the right and rear of the British infantry when the third line fires and charges. It lets Washington and the dragoons he lead perform as reported in the traditional narrative. The absence of discussion of the horse on the American right can be chalked up to its failure to do more than drive off the British horse that was harrying the retreating militia. Plus it can all be done in the time period that elapsed between the retreat of the second line of militia and the time the third line fired and attacked.

Sure it is just a theory, but it seems to fit with the facts and makes more sense to me than Washington being able to mount three successive cavalry charges within a very short time period.

Private Matter13 Dec 2017 8:09 p.m. PST

Bill N; Very interesting and thanks for sharing. Your deductions make sense. Do you have any reading material you would suggest so I can learn more about this fight?

Personal logo The Beast Rampant Supporting Member of TMP13 Dec 2017 10:57 p.m. PST

…it makes you wonder why Hollywood had to screw it up with that stupid movie with Mel Gibson. All they had to do was tell the real story.

It sounds SO easy, doesn't it? grin

nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Dec 2017 10:52 a.m. PST

Bill N, In addition to Washington's Dragoons you also had McCall's troop.
Also the Second Spartan regiment fought on horseback as mounted militia so that increased the mounted figures.

Perhaps read "True for the Cause of Liberty: The Second Spartan Regiment in the American Revolution."
by Oscar Gilbert, Catherine Gilbert.

TMP link

Bill N14 Dec 2017 4:06 p.m. PST

Thanks for the recommendation.

Personal logo Ironwolf Supporting Member of TMP14 Dec 2017 7:26 p.m. PST

Bill N.
I also wanted to read your view on the Dragoons and how it differed from the book. Your theory is well thought out and makes sense. Thanky for posting it.

nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP14 Dec 2017 8:21 p.m. PST

Bill N, An interesting theory, that is a possibility.

You had Nelson, Clark, McCall and Jolly with State Dragoons. If you add in the Second Spartans, that increases
the odds that Babits is correct, because there are more horsemen than originally thought.

LMK what you think about the Gilbert's book. He also disagrees with Babits on a few points, so I would be interested in your point of view.

coopman Supporting Member of TMP15 Dec 2017 6:53 a.m. PST

Interesting theory, Bill. It is even more interesting to me that none of the participants left a coherent and accurate report on what really happened during the battle. This is not some battle from 1000 BC that we are talking about here!

Bill N15 Dec 2017 6:10 p.m. PST

If you are still there Private Matter one good alternative to Professor Babits work is The Cowpens Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour by John Moncure which is available on the internet. In addition to stating how he thinks Cowpens unfolded Col. Moncure has included pages of reports from various participants ranging from Tarleton and Morgan down to statements made by private soldiers.

The basic versions of the battle as reported by Morgan and Tarleton shortly after the battle are very similar, and track the traditional Cowpens narrative. Not surprisingly Tarleton reports the American army as being larger than Morgan, and Tarleton's estimate in probably closer to what Professor Babits estimates for Morgan. Some of the reports by others simply flesh out details of that same story while others contradict it.

Wade through these reports and you will find different versions of the role of the cavalry in the battle. Howard and others refer to Washington's horse charging to support the retreating militia on the American left at the same time as Howard turned to fire on the British. If Howard is correct Washington might have just made one continuous charge, beating off the British horse on the American left and then swinging around to hit the British flank and rear. On the British side there are indications that Tarleton was trying to bring up his reserve horse to join the British horse on his left flank (just to the left of the 71st) but the American counterattack hit before he could carry out this plan.

Early morning writer Inactive Member15 Dec 2017 8:53 p.m. PST

Can't speak to whether the book is good, bad, or indifferent. But how many books can be written about such a small battle – significant though it may have been? At least for gaming purposes. And still add something new? Again, for gaming purposes.

nevinsrip Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Dec 2017 12:37 a.m. PST

EMW I don't game, so I could care less about "gaming purposes".
I read books like this because I am interested in the historical content. Not because of "gaming purposes".

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP16 Dec 2017 6:43 a.m. PST

Ordered it for my Christmas present last night.

I already gamed it more than a year ago.
So if I get a different insight, I'll do it again. grin

Haitiansoldier Inactive Member19 Dec 2017 9:57 a.m. PST

It is a great book and I bought it at the visitor center at Cowpens back in 2011. Osprey did a Campaign book on the battle last year if you are interested.
I personally like Long, Obstinate, and Bloody more. It's better written than Devil of a Whipping but that could also be because I like both the battle and park at Guilford Courthouse more.

Virginia Tory19 Dec 2017 10:20 a.m. PST

Concur re: Long, Obstinate and Bloody.

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