Authors: Robert Morgan
a novel by
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
For my grandson, Evan
Whensoever hostile aggressions . . . require a resortÂ to war, we must meet our duty and convince the worldÂ that we are just friends and brave enemies.
Spartan District, South Carolina
January 17, 1781
WAS THE ONLY ONE
nearby who wasn't running around. The redcoat threw down his musket and held his hands up. I thought he was hoping to surrender. The cavalry was coming toward him, and I stepped forward to protect him from the sabers. Col. William Washington's men were hallooing and chopping at every Tory still standing. A man's head went flying and rolled on the ground like a musk melon.
It seemed impossible I could be there. I felt like somebody else. I had no business being there. I raised my rifle at the Tory, and he never took his eyes off me. He looked as if he might be eighteen or nineteen. I stepped closer, holding the gun on him. His face was black with smoke and dirt, and when I got closer I saw his cheeks were wet. He was crying and trembling.
“Give me quarter,” he said.
Somebody ran between us, and then somebody else. I stepped closer, wondering what I was supposed to do with him. In the smoke and confusion I couldn't think of anything. Tears streamed down the redcoat's dirty face. A few minutes before, he had thought we were fleeing and he was the victor. And here he was with his hands raised. I aimed my gun at his chest and stepped closer.
“Give me quarter,” he said, and swallowed.
I was going to have to protect him. If somebody tried to shoot him or take him away, I had to protect him. It was my duty to see he didn't get sabered by Colonel Washington's South Carolina cavalry.
“I'll give you quarter,” I said, trying to sound loud and firm.
But even as I said it I saw the pistol in his belt. He patted down his red coat and reached for the pistol. “Give me quarter,” he said again, his voice shaking. But while he said it he reached for the pistol, like he meant, Give me quarter or I'll shoot you.
It happened so fast I didn't know what to do. He held one hand raised over his head and with the other grabbed for the pistol. His face was wet with tears.
“Give me that pistol,” I said. But he'd already gotten the pistol out of his belt and was pointing it at me.
“We'll give you quarter,” I said. But he was cocking the pistol. You never saw such a strange look as the boy had. Half his face was crying with grief and half was determined to fight on. He was so confused he was crazy.
“You rebel turd,” he spat between his teeth.
I still had my rifle aimed at his chest, and when I saw the pistol hammer bang and smoke spurt out I pulled my trigger. Rifle smoke covered the face and chest of the redcoat. He was knocked back like he'd been hit by a bull. Blood jumped from the hole in his chest, blood almost black compared to the cloth of the tunic. The boy fell with one hand raised and the other clutching the pistol. He never took his eyes off me. I'd never seen a face like that.
When he fell, I was going to make sure he didn't get back up. But then I felt something wrong with my foot. It was like I'd been kicked and my foot had gone to sleep. I looked at the rags wrapped around my right foot. They had been torn open and blood was running out. His pistol shot had hit my foot.
The strangest thing was I didn't feel anything but a twitch down there. There was so much mud and dirt on the rags it was hard to see anything. I took a step and my foot felt cold.
Just then I saw Col. John Howard of the Maryland regulars riding through the field. As he got closer the Highlanders fired at him. They
still stood in a line and hadn't surrendered. Their bayonets stuck out in front of them and their tartan caps were bright in the early sun.
“Will you surrender?” Colonel Howard hollered to the Highlanders.
“We'll nae surrender to rebels,” the Highlander officer hollered back.
“Then give them one more fire,” Col. Andrew Pickens yelled to the South Carolina volunteers. Several fired into the Highlander ranks and a half-dozen men fell.
Colonel Washington and his South Carolina cavalry were all over the field. They rode down any redcoat that still carried his musket or sword. They carried sabers long as muskets, and some held lances and some wore pistols on their belts. They had gold patches on their shoulders, and they rode easy, like they lived on their horses. Some had sheepskin capes thrown over their shoulders. No foot soldiers could stand up to dragoons. I didn't see Col. Banastre Tarleton and his dragoons anymore. There was so much smoke you couldn't see far anyway.
A British officer took hold of Colonel Howard's stirrup and ran alongside as the colonel tried to ride away. “We'll give you quarter,” Colonel Howard said.
But the redcoat wouldn't let go of the stirrup. I reckon the officer wasn't at himself in all the panic and suddenness of what had happened. The colonel looked around and saw me a few yards away. “Young man,” he hollered at me, “take this man prisoner and see he's not harmed.”
My rifle was not loaded and I had no way to guard the officer. But I couldn't disobey Colonel Howard. I took a step in his direction, and suddenly pain like a scalding hot needle drove into the bones of my foot. Pain washed through me in a hundred bolts of lightning. I knew I was falling in the broom sedge but couldn't stop myself.
DON'T EVEN REMEMBER
hitting the ground, but I do recall the smell of cow manure in the broom sedge. I reckon the Cowpens were just covered with cow piles and we'd been too busy that morning to notice them. Last thing I remember was the smell of broom sedge and frost
down under the stink of smoke and blood. It was like I was sinking and there was nothing to hold me up, and the cow piles were turning gold.
But while I was drifting under the field I could hear what was going on above. Surely I was told about it later. But I seem to remember like I'd seen it myself, the horses galloping over where I lay, chasing each other in the field. And Colonel Washington riding way down the Green River Road chasing some dragoons. He rode so hard he got ahead of his other men.
They said later that Colonel Tarleton saw Colonel Washington coming after him all by himself, and Tarleton and two lieutenants turned and faced the American. “There's the blackguard by himself and I will kill him,” Tarleton spat out.
They cut Washington off at the far end of the field from where the British were fleeing and surrendering. Colonel Washington saw what trouble he was in and raised his saber as Tarleton lunged forward. But Washington's blade broke across Tarleton's sword and he had nothing to defend himself with but the stump. It looked as if Colonel Washington was going to be hacked to pieces, and he started backing away. Tarleton and the two other men came after him. But just then Washington's black bugle boy rode up and fired his pistol at the attackers. Tarleton drew his two pistols and shot Washington's horse.
The rest of Washington's bunch arrived then and Tarleton and the other English turned their horses and galloped away. “You blackguard traitors,” Tarleton called over his shoulder.
They say Washington's horse stumbled backward. A horse makes an awful whinny when it's in pain. It backed away a few steps and fell.
The Green River Road stretched south like a red string across the woods and through the pine thicket. I was told how Tarleton rode down it hard as he could make his horse go with whip and spurs. Colonel Washington had taken another man's horse and rode after Tarleton like he was in a race to the finish.
All along the road there were dozens of baggage wagons and little groups of slaves watching over the supplies. A cluster of slaves stood around a fire on the side of the road warming their hands. It was a cold morning and they were trying to keep warm after traveling most of the night behind Tarleton's army. They were cooking potatoes in the coals. Tarleton and his men galloped past them on the long road going south.
T WAS LIKE
I was deep under the Cowpens and heard the Tories all around asking for quarter. Sgt. Harold Gudger of my North Carolina company kicked one in the face where he lay on the ground with his hands up. Sergeant Gudger kicked him in the side of the head and in the face, and then kicked him again. “Let's hear the British halloo,” Gudger said.
With his mouth full of blood the Highlander spat on Gudger's boot and the sergeant kicked him again. And then a shot rang out behind the sergeant and he fell down. I think it was my friend T. R. Heatherly that had fired at Gudger. T. R. had finally gotten his chance.
Nearly everybody in a British uniform on the field who wasn't dead or wounded had given up. The little group of Highlanders over to the right were still reloading and firing at the militia. But the field was in such confusion I guess it wasn't easy to pick a target. The bagpipes kept playing and the men in tartan caps fired again.
“Kill the Scottish polecats,” somebody said.
Colonel Pickens ordered a group of men to march with him toward the Highlanders. When they got close enough he yelled to the major to surrender.
“We'll nae be slaughtered like cattle,” the major of the Highlanders shouted.