The 26mm copper medalet pictured above commemorates one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War. Issued in 1881 as part of the centennial celebration of the Battle of Cowpens, the medalet also comes in a white metal alloy. The obverse pictures the full figure of General Daniel Morgan, with sword drawn and head facing right. This rendering is an exact copy of a statue which was erected in downtown Spartanburg during the centennial celebration. The reverse features a combination oak/laurel wreath, with "Cowpens Centennial, 1781 1881" inside. The diework is very professionally executed, and resembles the work of Boston diesinker Joseph Merriam, although the dies are unsigned. Both the copper and white metal specimens are very rare. I have encountered only one copper specimen and two white metal specimens in 15 years of collecting.
The War for Independence was not going well for the patriots in the southern colonies in 1780. British forces had captured Charleston in the spring, and with their forces also occupying Savannah and all of Georgia, the Crown figured that the other southern colonies would soon fall under subjugation. The Continental Congress, however, decided to bolster the young American forces by appointing General Nathaniel Greene in charge of the Southern Army. Greene promptly took command of his forces at Charlotte, and saw that his men were so inferior in numbers to the British army under the command of Cornwallis. Greene then decided on a program of partisan warfare designed to harass the enemy's flanks, break up communications, and intercept supplies. He sent General Daniel Morgan into northwestern section of South Carolina to threaten British outposts there.
On January 17, 1781 Morgan's forces encountered a British garrison near the banks of the Broad River at a winter cattle enclosure that was known as the Cow Pens. The American forces were severely out manned by the British regulars led by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, however this did not daunt Morgan. He arrayed his forces in three lines, and awaited British attack. Tarleton's regulars pushed back the first two lines of the patriot forces, but this was just what Morgan wanted. He had arranged his best men in the third line of defense, and had ordered that the first two lines should fall back and draw the British into a trap. Tarleton, seeing his men rout the ragtag patriots, rushed his forces forward, hoping for a quick and easy victory. But his men, advancing in disarray, met the unexpected third line of Americans plus a contingent of cavalry that had been secreted behind a small hill. These fresh American troops quickly and decisively turned the tables, surrounded the British forces, and forced a surrender. British losses were quite severe - 110 dead, 200 wounded, and 500 taken prisoner. American losses were only 12 killed and 60 wounded. For a more detailed history of the battle, click here.
The victory brought renewed confidence to the young American army, and seemed to give momentum to the patriots just when they needed it most. Several more important battles were won, such as those at Guilford, Hobkirk's Hill, and Eutaw Springs, and eventually Cornwallis was forced to surrender at Yorktown.
Bronze U.S. Mint restrike of gold medal awarded to General Daniel Morgan.
Congress was so appreciative of Morgan's victory that on March 9, 1781 they voted to award him a gold medal. Silver medals were awarded to Lt. Col. John E. Howard and Lt. Col. William Washington for their parts in the battle also. William Washington was a cousin of the Commander-in-Chief General George Washington and, after the war, lived in the Charleston area. His family later donated the battle flag carried by Washington's contingent of cavalry during the Cowpens battle to the Washington Light Infantry, a militia outfit formed in Charleston in 1807. In 1856, the W.L.I. (as they were called) marched to Spartanburg county and to the site of the Battle and erected a monument in commemoration of the patriots who fought so valiantly for their fledgling country. The W.L.I. is still in existence and Washington's battle flag is still proudly displayed in their armory in downtown Charleston.
In 1881, it was decided that the city of Spartanburg should host a celebration to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Battle. By that time, the monument erected by the W.L.I. at the site of the battle had fallen prey to vandalism and the weather, and it was decided to erect a new monument, this one to General Daniel Morgan. The new monument was to be located in the middle of downtown Spartanburg, so that it would not be so easily damaged. Many dignitaries were present at the unveiling of the statue and it was noted that the Morgan monument was the first official dedication since the Civil War in which all thirteen original colonies participated.
Postcard showing present day monuments to Morgan and Battle of Cowpens.
The Cowpens National Battlefield now encompasses the site originally known as the Cow Pens. The federal government first established the site as part of the National Park Service in March of 1929. The present monument on the grounds (see bottom left corner of postcard above) was dedicated in 1932. To read more about the Cowpens National Battlefield, please click here.
Copyright 2000 by Tony Chibbaro.
Medals of the United States Mint by Captain Kenneth M. Failor, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969.
Proceedings at the Unveiling of the Battle Monument in Spartanburg, S.C. published by the Cowpens Centennial Committee, 1896.
Telephone interview with Patricia A. Ruff, Chief Park Ranger, Cowpens National Battlefield, April 2000.
If you collect or have a casual interest in South Carolina tokens or tokens issued by cotton mills, lumber companies, or other types of businesses, you may want to purchase my book, South Carolina Tokens and its two supplements. To read a description of these standard references, please click on this link: Books.
Token or Medal of the Month Main Page
A Short History of Token Use in South Carolina
South Carolina Trade Tokens for Sale - Page 1
South Carolina Trade Tokens for Sale - Page 2
Other South Carolina Exonumia for Sale
Trade Tokens from Other States for Sale
eBay Auction Listings
South Carolina Stereoviews
The Charleston Exposition
Links to Other Sites