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A Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens [Paperback]

Lawrence E. Babits
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 24 2004
The real-life battle and heroes that inspired The Patriot On January 17, 1781, in a pasture near present-day Spartanburg, South Carolina, Daniel Morgan's army of Continental troops and militia routed an elite British force under the command of the notorious Banastre Tarleton. Using documentary and archaeological evidence to reconstruct the fighting at Cowpens, now a national battlefield, Lawrence Babits provides a riveting, minute-by-minute account of the clash that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War in the South and helped lead to the final defeat of the British at Yorktown.

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It's easy to forget that the British won most of the battles during the American Revolution. The Americans certainly carried the day at Saratoga and Yorktown, but they were beaten again and again by their enemy elsewhere--and often badly. So it's especially odd that the Battle of Cowpens, fought in South Carolina on January 17, 1781, isn't better remembered in American imagination. As author Lawrence E. Babits shows, Cowpens was the Continental troops' greatest tactical moment--and it marked a crucial turning point in the war.

The fight itself was fairly brief, and the outcome lopsided--it was "a devil of a whipping," as American leader Daniel Morgan said at the time. Babits provides a richly detailed account of the battle, including an especially good overview of the weapons and tactics used by troops of the time. An archaeologist by training, Babits approaches Cowpens with the familiar meticulousness of his profession; this is an important piece of scholarship on the military history of the American Revolution. --John J. Miller --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"An exceptionally well-researched and richly detailed treatment of one of the most important battles of the American Revolution." - Military History of the West "One of Babits's purposes was the hope that the Cowpens veterans would not be forgotten. The masterful work that he has produced goes far towards achieving that purpose." - Journal of Southern History"

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue Jan. 2 2004
By Huwaryu
I'm a "good sandlapper" from Lancaster County (formerly The Waxhaws of Andrew Jackson's birth), and went to grammar and high schools that bear the name of Colonel Buford, whose unit of Virginians was massacred by Tarleton just prior to King's Mountain and Cowpens. Growing up with many references to these battles (and even attending the Bicentenial re-enactment at Cowpens in 1981), i was severely disappointed with history books that overlooked, ignored, or understated the importance of the action in the Carolinas. Actions pivotal to the success of the Revolution. Babits has done his part to remedy this, and i applaud.
The author can be forgiven if his writing style and references are lacking. The fact that this work has been published at all is a major step towards rectifying a centuries-long bias toward us "backward" Southerners -- who did so much to ensure this Nation's independence, only to have it forever marred by the ensuing conflict between the States eighty years later. One can no longer mention the words "South Carolina" and "War" without the listener immediately jumping to Fort Sumter and Slavery, Rebel Flags and Bigotry. While those are no less important for very different reasons, the role of the Carolinas in the Revolution deserves its due. And this work, while far from perfect, tremendously supports those facts.
For these same reasons, i suggest Edgar's "Partisans and Redcoats," and Buchanan's "Road to Guilford Courthouse," themselves imperfect works that present previously ignored information.
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Lawrence Babits has packed a thorough study of the Battle of Cowpens into a slim book.
The forty-minute battle was crucial to our success in the war. It was a devastating defeat for the British, specifically "Bloody Tarleton," whose British Legion had been the scourge of the Carolinas. The defeat was so total because of the Masterful plan and seamless execution by General Morgan and his subordinates. Too few Americans know about Cowpens and its place in steering Cornwallis ultimately to Yorktown.
The author had a mission: to dissect the Battle of Cowpens through pension records of participants and memoirs in order to construct an accurate placement of troops during the battle, the size of American forces present, the total of British casualties and the duration of the affair.
He has done his work well and convincingly. In the process, Babits clarifies and rectifies some commonly held notions of Cowpens. The militia line made an orderly retreat through the Main line through previously established gaps in that line and not around the flank; Morgan's troop totals and casualties in his report were only for Continental troops -- the militia doubled Morgan's probable force to 1800 men engaged; Washington did not encounter Tarleton at the end of the battle but three British cavalry officers; the South Carolina militia did not cross the field during their planned withdrawal; the North Carolina militia stayed in the fight on the American right after their planned withdrawal.
If these details have lost you, it focuses on a major facet of the book. It is for readers who have some appreciation of the Revolution in the South and the Battle of Cowpens.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A discordant voice June 6 2003
There is much that is praiseworthy in this book, but it also has its share of problems.
Despite a voluminous amount of detail, the author never presents us with an accessible order of battle with regimental strengths for either side. One of the major arguments of the book is that Morgan underreported the number of soldiers fighting on his side. Babits apparently bases this opinion largely on nineteenth century pension records, which are notoriously unreliable and therefore must be used very carefully.
In his conclusion, Babits says that Morgan understated the strength of the militia in order to inflate the contribution of the Continentals to the victory. Morgans motivation, Babits claims, is to demonstrate the importance of Continentals to victory in the war. (I do not have the text here in front of me, but his point is along those lines.) However, Babits in no way supports this argument with documentary or any other evidence. The Americans may indeed have had more soldiers at Cowpens than has traditionally been reported, but Babits does not provide good evidence for this nor does he make adequate arguments for Morgans motivation to prevaricate regarding the contribution of the militia.
-David Wilson
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fully informative, partly exciting Aug. 8 2001
A Devil of a Whipping is extensively detailed and very informative of what happened during the Battle of Cowpens. The first half of the book basically sets up the scenario for the battle, and describes tactics, weapons, the armies, and prebattle military movements. Overall, the first half of the book is a barrage of in-depth information, most of which the common reader will find boring and useless.
But during the second half of the book, the pace picks up, as the author finally gets to the action-packed, minute-by-minute description of the Battle of Cowpens. Whether the author's sources of information are entirely accurate or not, the second half of the book is still exciting, since the author took care of explanations of tactics, etc., earlier in the book, which would otherwise have interrupted and taken away from the exciting, fast-paced battle sequence in the 2nd half of the book.
So, if you're looking for the most information you ever saw crammed into 160 pages of reading material, read Devil of a Whipping.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars "Bloody" Tarleton Has His Lunch Handed to Him!
Babits' book is a long overdue and comprehensive description on what was probably one of the three most important battles in the Revolutionary War (Saratoga NY and Kings Mountain... Read more
Published on Sept. 19 2003 by Michael Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Daniel Morgan at his best
After you read this book, you will wonder who was the protagonist; Banister Tarlton or Daniel Morgan. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2002 by Cambo
4.0 out of 5 stars A devil of a good read
Babits certainly put in the time to do the research for this book. As anyone knows who has done research involving combat actions, memories, even very shortly after a battle can... Read more
Published on May 3 2001 by Robert Busko
5.0 out of 5 stars A Devil of a Good Book
This is without doubt the most clear and concise account of this pivotal battle. Easy to read and understand, the author argues his points logically and demonstrates both his... Read more
Published on April 25 2001 by Barent K. Parslow
5.0 out of 5 stars A Devil of a Work
Dr. Babits has researched and written what should be considered the best reconstruction of a Revolutionary War battle. "A Devil of a Whipping" is good narrative. Read more
Published on Aug. 24 2000 by Viking
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But Flawed
I was nearly put off reading this book while going through the preface and coming upon the last sentence which ended with 'and resulted in a more accurate view of Cowpens than any... Read more
Published on July 5 2000 by Kevin F. Kiley
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine analysis
Good scholarship, careful writing, conservative. The author previously wrote a guide to the battlefield, which is available in paper from the National Park Service bookshops. Read more
Published on July 2 2000 by Brian Broadus
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine analysis
Good scholarship, careful writing, conservative. The author previously wrote a guide to the battlefield, which is available in paper from the National Park Service bookshops. Read more
Published on July 2 2000 by Brian Broadus
3.0 out of 5 stars The definitive book on the Battle of Cowpens
Objectively, this book represents historical scholarship at his best. The labor the author put into the work is evident. Read more
Published on April 13 1999
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