Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thornhills at the Battle of the "Cowpens."

The American Revolutionary War was hotly contested from the first battle in 1776 until its final major engagement at Yorktown in 1781 when British General Lord Cornwallis was defeated by General Washington. The conflict, in the late stage of the war, was being fought mostly in the south. American General Horatio Gates attacked the British Army that was ravaging the southern landscape led by General Cornwallis at Camden, South Carolina and was soundly defeated. Gates was relieved of command and replaced by General Nathanael Greene, nicknamed the "Carolina Swamp Fox." At this same time, a ragged band of American militia trapped and defeated a small contingent of Tories at Kings Mountain. The war had now dragged on for over five years but was still being fought with vigor in the South. The British, though, were growing weary of both the fight and the expense. To make matters worse, the French had openly begun assisting the rebellious Colonists and had an Army coming to the aid of General Greene's forces in the South.

On his march south to engage Cornwallis, Greene recruited fighting men wherever he could find them. It was while going through southern Virginia that William Thornhill and his oldest son William joined Green's forces. William Sr. must have impressed General Greene, for he soon advanced him to the rank of Ensign and then Lieutenant. William Jr., after a few months, was promoted to the officer's rank of Ensign.

General Greene soon moved his forces south from Virgina into South Carolina. He purposely avoided any major head-on confrontation with the much larger and better trained British force. He divided his forces  between himself and General Daniel Morgan and the two contingents raided independently   throughout the countryside as they advanced. It must be remembered that much of the South was loyal to the British so Generals Greene and Morgan had their jobs cut out for them.

The Thornhills served under General Morgan and on January 17, 1781, in South Carolina, General Morgan's troops fought and won a significant battle against a large contingent of General Cornwallis's forces. That battle comes down to us in history as the battle of  the "Cowpens"  because it was fought, literally, in a large clearing made for livestock grazing, with an extensive set of cow holding pens.

Serving with the British force was a Colonel Banistre Tarleton, one of Cornwallis's best fighting officers. In an earlier engagement, which Tarleton's forces had won, 120 Continental soldiers had been captured and disarmed. When asked what should be done with the prisoners, Tarleton ordered that they be shot on the spot. No wonder those serving in the American armies hated the British. Unfortunately, Colonel Tarleton was treated much more humanely by General Morgan and survived the Revolution and was able to return to his family in England when the war was over.

The two William Thornhills served on for a few more months under Generals Greene and Morgan. After their agreed upon term of service was  completed they returned home much to the great delight of their families I am sure. William Sr. lived another seven years, dying in September of 1788. William Jr., easily the longest lived Thornhill I can find, indeed the longest lived male in my entire genealogy, lived to the amazing age of 98.  He died in Breckenridge County, Kentucky on December 3, 1855.

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