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The movement of Morgan seemed to Cornwallis directed against the British posts at Ninety-Six and Augusta, and he sent Colonel Tarleton against him with a force of horse and foot nearly a thousand strong. He was ordered, if possible, to bring Morgan to battle, a command much to the taste of the warlike Tarleton, especially as he knew that he had much the stronger force. When aware of his menacing approach Morgan fell back rapidly. But retreat was not to his taste, and, being reinforced by a body of militia, and full of confidence in the valor of his regulars, he halted on the night of January 16 at a place called Cowpens, resolved to give Tarleton a chance to fight, if he wished.
Tarleton was following with the utmost speed, and was doubtless highly gratified in finding the Americans at bay. With his well-trained infantry and strong body of cavalry, he fancied that it would be a light task to dispose of Morgan and his men, half militia as they were. On the morning of January 17 the two armies came face to face. The chances seemed sadly against the Americans. Tarleton had every advantage, in point of ground, cavalry, and numbers, and of the two pieces of artillery he had brought. But Morgan faced him undauntedly and drew up his men in a position which military critics look upon as masterly. Two light parties of militia were posted in front, with orders to feel the enemy and fall back, firing as they did so, to the main line of militia under General Perkins. Back of this was a strong line of Continentals and militia, under Colonel Howard. The cavalry, under Colonel Washington, were held in reserve.
The conflict took place as Morgan had designed, the light troops and front line delivering their fire and falling back when heavily pressed on the Continentals, who held their own with unyielding firmness. But a chance event threatened the Americans with defeat. Colonel Howard, his flank being threatened, ordered his right company to change its front. Mistaking the order, the company fell back and the whole line began to retire. The moment was critical but Morgan proved equal to the situation. He ordered the men to retreat to the cavalry, which was successfully done, and a new position was thus taken up in the midst of the battle.
The British, thinking that their foes were breaking up in dismay, rushed forward in disorderly haste, but were greeted as they drew near by a murderous fire from Howard's new formed troops. The unexpected volley staggered them and caused them to recoil in confusion, and Howard seized the opportunity to charge with the bayonet, while the militia on the wings poured a sharp shower of bullets into their ranks. This was far more than they had bargained for and they broke and fled.
Colonel Washington saw that the moment to act had come, and charged the British cavalry, more than three times his number, so impetuously, that they, too, broke and sought safety in flight. The whole British force was now in disorderly retreat, closely pressed by the victorious Americans, Tarleton himself receiving a wound from Colonel Washington's sword as he rode hastily away. The pursuit continued for twenty miles, nearly all the British infantry being killed or taken, the cavalry badly cut up, the artillery and nearly all the arms and wagons captured. Tarleton burned his own baggage to save it from capture. In this brilliant exploit Morgan lost only ten men killed and sixty wounded. It was the most spectacular victory of the war.
Knowing that Cornwallis would soon be in motion with his whole army to retrieve this disaster to the doughty Tarleton, Morgan hastened to cross the Catawba with his prisoners and spoils. Fortunately heavy rains just afterwards swelled the river, and when Cornwallis reached its banks he was forced to halt for several days. Morgan continued his retreat to the Yadkin, which was also swollen with mountain rains just after he crossed, and the impatient Cornwallis was again delayed.
General Greene was meanwhile hastening to Morgan's aid and the two forces came together on February 9 at Guilford Court-House, in North Carolina, Cornwallis being then twenty-five miles distant. The Americans were not in condition to face his strong forces and the retreat continued, Cornwallis being drawn in the end to the borders of Virginia, where the river Dan ran between the two armies. Such was the brilliant retreat already spoken of in our sketch of General Greene. It led Cornwallis hundreds of miles from his base, and brought him into a position of danger from which he did not find it easy to escape.
The brave Morgan was now near the end of his military career. Frequent and severe attacks of rheumatism soon after forced him to retire from the army and he withdrew to private life on his Virginia farm. The remainder of his story is soon told. He left his farm in 1794 to take part in the expedition to suppress the Whiskey Insurrection in Western Pennsylvania, and he was elected to Congress in 1795, serving there as a Federalist till 1799. He settled at Winchester, Va., in 1800, and died there on the 6th of July, 1802.
HENRY LEE, THE “LIGHT-HORSE
HARRY” OF '76
In the youthful correspondence of George Washington, then a susceptible young man, he speaks of a "lowland beauty ” with whom he had fallen in love but who would have none of him. A more attractive youth of the illustrious Virginia family of the Lees had won her maiden heart and she accepted his hand. Twenty years later the son of this “ lowland beauty was captain of a troop of light horse under Washington's command, and by his daring and alertness during the war of the Revolution won the popular title of "Light-Horse Harry." In his later years he had the honor of delivering the funeral oration over his old commander and of applying to Washington a phrase which has become historical. It is of this dashing cavalry leader that we have next to speak.
Henry Lee was born in Leesylvania, Virginia, January 29, 1756. Sent to the College of New Jersey to be educated, he graduated in 1773, and was on the point of completing his studies by a tour in Europe when the excited state of the country and the imminent danger of war with England caused him to pause. An ardent patriot, he followed with boyish enthusiasm the trend of events, and when the tocsin of war was sounded in 1775 he was one of the first to respond.
Then just past his nineteenth year, he went ardently to work to raise a troop of “light horse,” was quickly afterwards made captain in Colonel Bland's legion, and in 1777, at the age of twenty-one, became a member of Washington's army. He soon showed an alertness and vigor which Washington highly appreciated and his gallantry in battle won him the rank of major in January, 1778. This gave him the command of two troops, to which he soon added a third troop and a company of infantry, forming an independent partisan corps known as Lee's Legion. Admired for his dashing courage, and a favorite in the army, some one gave him the sobriquet of “ Light-Horse Harry," a title of distinction which ever afterwards clung to him.
The duty of Lee and his men was to hang on the flank of the British army and annoy them in every possible way, whether on the march or in camp. This was done in a manner that won him high distinction. His most brilliant exploit came in August, 1779, shortly after Anthony Wayne's daring capture of Stony Point. The purpose of this movement was to show Washington's alertness to the British commanders at New York and draw them back from their invasion of Connecticut. Immediately afterwards he gave them a second example of his vigilance, of which Major Lee was the hero.
At a point on the site of the present Jersey City, opposite New York, a long, low neck of land known as Paulus Hook stretched out into the Hudson River. A sandy isthmus connected it to the main land, across which flowed a barely fordable creek. This narrow peninsula had been strongly fortified by the British. Within the line of the creek a deep ditch had been dug across the sandy neck, passable only by a drawbridge. Farther in two intrenchments had been raised, and the place was garrisoned by a force of five hundred
The commander of this stronghold and his men,