Author Topic: Wargaming: Learning from Classic Battles - Cowpens  (Read 993 times)


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Offline Lord Palatine

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Wargaming: Learning from Classic Battles - Cowpens
« on: May 16, 2013, 09:22:54 PM »

There are a minimum of three ways to fight the Battle of Cowpens: how it was fought, how Tarleton could have won, and however you might run the battle as either Morgan or Tarleton. That could be four. Doesn't matter. Anyway. I've fought the Battle of Cowpens a few times, using forces from the Medieval Era, from the authentic Period, and then using the British and American Armies of WWII. Basically the best chance the British force had was during the Medieval period. In the Medieval Period battles were mainly fought with lines of infantry and the bulk of the Continental force was militia that tended to run when the enemy kept advancing. In its time Morgan's tactics used the reluctance of the militia to stand as a ruse de guerre rather than a weakness. In the WWII era I was actually able to cause even more devastation as the reckless charge of the British put them nose to nose with tanks fighting from prepared positions against British armor out in the open as they came down the side of a hill.
Cowpens was a deviously effective strategy, the Contental forces feared Tarleton and his reputation as a butcher earned that dread. Morgan had a larger force but the bulk of it was not likely to stand, so he placed his most experienced troops with their backs to a river, so there could be no retreat. Before them be put a line of militia on a hill, and before them he placed sharpshooters to cover the approach to the hill. So the sharpshooters picked away at officers and sergeants and then retreated before the solid lines of red to the second line. The second lone fired until the red lines closed and then they retreated. Two lines broken and the numbers they saw running convinced the British they had broken the enemy and they rushed ahead to finally catch Morgan's force. They had followed the cagey Continental general for weeks and they were tired and low on supplies, and this looked like the time that they could crush him, provided they could keep him from crossing the river and leading them still further from their sources of supply.
But, Morgan had his third line. The regulars stood and fired while the militia circled around the hill and came in from the woods on the British left flank, and the Continental cavalry came out on the right and the regulars fixed bayonets and charged. "Bloody Ban" Tarleton lost 110 killed, 200 wounded and 712 captured as well as losing 2 guns. The Continentals lost 25 killed and 124 wounded. A decisive victory for the continentals in a war that actually had few of them. Morgan knew his forces and had an eye for the ground, he picked the site of the battle well, he used the weaknesses of his force as intelligently as he used its strengths, and used the weaknesses of an enemy he knew well to defeat him.
His men were divided and resting as the British burned their strength in pursuit, and the retreats of small parts of his force drew the whole British force in toward his trap wich further tired them, and then when they hit the well-rested line that charged back at them, some of the British ran and many surrendered on the spot. The British came in without proper reconnaissance, which was the job of the cavalry and Tarleton had this in abundance, but he couldn't have reconnoitered Morgans force well due to the terrain anyway. Still, at the end oif the battle Tarleton ran with about 250 of his force and lived to fight another day, after losing the bulk of Lord Corwallis' light infantry in the assault, costing the main British effort its only force capable of covering ground quickly in pursuit of the evasive Continentals.
The Continentals under Nataniel Green used similar tactics at Guilford Courthouse, the larger continental force chipped away at Cornwallis and ran off every time Cornwallis gathered his forces for a serious fight. Finally these goading tactics made Cornwallis burn everything that slowed him down and although he followed at a greater speed after this, it hurt the morale of his troops and the gruelling chase on reduced rations wore them down. The fight progresses similarly to Cowpens, but at the end Cornwallis prevented a Continental victory by ordering his heavy guns to fire indiscriminately at friend and foe alike. Cornwallis technically won the battle, but it was a mixed bag. A tactical victory in taking Guilford Courthouse, but a strategic loss as he entered the battle with 1,900 men, he left 93 dead on the field, and had to carry 413 wounded away with him. This forced his to withdraw his forces to find medical care and supplies for his exhausted and starving army. These were the battles that forced Cornwallis to Yorktown and eventually ended the major fighting in the revolution.
These battles are good lessons for war gamers:
  •   Your weaknesses can be as valuable as your strengths if you can use them   correctly, and especially if your enemy knows these weaknesses.
  •   Good ground is a force multiplier.
  •   You can lose more by winning if you don't make the victory worth the cost.
  • Speed and maneuverability can cancel the advantage of numbers.
  • Show the enemy what they expect to see to disguise what you're really doing.
The Cowpens strategies can work on land, at sea, in the air and in space and are natural tactics for a less disciplined, trained or experienced force to make the most of that they have. In its own way it's the Rope-a-Dope that Mohammad Ali used against George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, stay on the defensive and fall back until you tire out your enemy, then you draw them in and beat them.


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