Cowpens National Battlefield near Chesnee, S.C. Visited: October 24, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 269 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Site of a flat, frontier pasture where, on January 17, 1781, the Continental Army led by General Daniel Morgan soundly defeated the proud British Legion led by General Banastre “Bloody” Tarleton.
BEAUTY (4/10) The historic dirt road remains of the Green River Road still bisect the wide swath of open land remembered as the Cowpens Battlefield. The long sightlines and sparse tree cover make imagining the Patriot’s famed doubles envelope maneuvers easy to imagine. That is once you figure out what exactly is a double envelope stratagem.
Your pictures from the Park won’t win any beauty contests but at least they won’t be cluttered by marble monuments and two-ton memorials. Although we would have enjoyed a frozen-in-time statue portraying an athletic Patriot’s pole vault hurdle across the Loyalist cannon line which, according the wayside exhibit’s account, brought the good guys great success.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (7/10) The Battle of Cowpens has captured the imagination of generations. Its combatants were national heroes. Their portraits were hung prominently in the Peale Museum, the western hemisphere’s first museum, and can still be seen at the Portrait Gallery located at Independence NHP in Philadelphia.
More recently, Mel Gibson chose the Cowpens battle as the setting for the climax his film, The Patriot. Mel got a few of the details and participants wrong but he too understood the historical power of Cowpens: it was the battle where the Patriots kicked the most butt.
CROWDS (6/10) We saw just one other person at Cowpens NB. He was a single-minded traveler who we had run into atop Kings Mountain and, according to our shared itineraries, just missed at Camden, Ninety Six and Charleston. It is either a small world or a world with few Revolutionary War-themed travelers and few places for them to go.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (3/5) The Park’s Main Gate sits along South Carolina Route 11 a/k/a the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway, about two miles east of the small town of Chesnee, S.C. From the west, take I-85’s Cowpens exit and travel north on S.C. Route 110, the Cowpens Battlefield Scenic Highway. From the east, take I-85 Exit 92 and go north on S.C. 11. In 10 miles, you will be at the Park.
Unlike Kings Mountain NMP, Cowpens NB’s environs are completely flat. Easy loop trails allow you to traverse the battleground and enjoy the beautiful South Carolina backcountry.
The hardcore Revolutionary War traveler might want to traverse the Overmountain Victory Trail from Cowpens to Kings Mountain. Make sure you have a map; the auto trail is poorly marked.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5) We were drawn to the obsessive biographies of some of the battle’s lesser-known participants and the well-titled Devil of a Whipping, by Lawrence Babits which may be the historic standard recounting Cowpens. While the bookstore carries a fine set of Cowpens esoterica, its selection is not as good as the nearby Kings Mountain NMP. We know the history was wrong, but why not include the DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, if only to spark heated discussion between the hardcore and neophyte history buffs.
COSTS (4/5) Entry is free! Rumors of a pay-per-view electronic map were false. The map was free too!
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (2/5) “Hello? Anyone here?” we asked after standing at the front desk for about five minutes. Eventually, a Ranger appeared; we just wanted him to start the electric map.
TOURS/CLASSES (4/10) We encountered a disheveled, museum-less Cowpens NB Visitor Center. The film was even cordoned off. Sad Michael and Gabby. Not so for you. New exhibits and new carpeting were scheduled to appear in time for the Battle’s 225th Anniversary Celebration on January 17, 2006. If these exhibits are anything like those enjoyed by Kings Mountain NBP for their 225th, then we have reason to return and alter our rating.
In the mean time, we loved the 13-minute long fiber optic electric map presentation. Is there anything more helpful to a battlefield visit than an electric map? They are always clean, succinct, laden with information and full of answers.
FUN (4/10) This Park has a great storyline and an even better result: Patriots defeat British Legion led by dastardly cavalry commander. The battlefield is flat and the self-guided walking tour a pleasant 1½ miles long.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10) Pre renovation, this Site was for the die-hard Revolutionary War historian only. Post-renovation, well, we do not know yet. The Cowpens story could definitely become very compelling especially with a new film starring determined re-enactors.
We enjoyed Kings Mountain and Guilford Courthouse more, but there are plenty of reasons Cowpens could be your Carolina Revolutionary Battlefield of choice: 1) we actually won; 2) we faced British troops; 3) Asheville N.C., Spartanburg S.C. and Charlotte N.C. are all nearby; 4) the military tactics are easily imagined and very impressive (in an 18th-century warfare kind of way); 5) the self-guided walk is not taxing and 6) it is fun to fully realize Mel Gibson’s egregious historical errors.
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