The old woman’s eyes twinkled as she began her story. Sitting on her porch on a warm summer afternoon, her mind traveled back. Back to a time when memories were fresh and history was just an afternoon walk through a field near her grandparent’s house. In her mind’s eye, it was as if it was yesterday – she and her grandmother, walking hand and hand, the cicadas singing a chorus in nearby trees along with the rustling of their feet on the grass as they walked were the only sounds. But, recalling her grandmother’s words, told long ago, she could still see it play out as if it was yesterday.
Men in brilliant red jackets marched down what was more a path than a road. Accompanying them were mounted riders, their green jackets blending with the trees. They marched in rows down the old Green River Road, the breath of the horses foggy in the early morning air. The warmth of the previous night’s campfires all but a memory. Meeting them on the road was another group of men. This group was not as well dressed, but they were battle hardened. Countless days of staring into the sun had given some lines on their faces. Long marches and hunger had made them all age. A sea of mix-matched clothing in all hues gave them the appearance of a mob more so than a fighting force. But they were tired of running. It was time to take a stand.
Witnesses nearby would later say they mistook the first shots as someone shooting squirrels, but the sound that answered that first volley erased any doubt that a battle was unfolding. Even a couple of miles away locals could hear the men shout and yell as they unleashed each round. Cannon soon jointed in the fray, two at a time. Men ran in all directions after the initial onslaught. Those on horseback slashed with each other and with those on the ground. Some fell. Others ran. But some stood their ground. An hour later when the wind fell silent and locals came around to see what happened, all that was left were the slashes in trees made by flying bullets and the dead.
That little girl remembered her grandmother telling her what had happened. She remembered details like the nearby spring that marked where the Americans had camped the night before. She remembered being told that it was near this spring that the two cavalry leaders, Washington and Bloody Ban Tarleton, clashed. She remembered the depth of the wolf-pits, knowing some became graves for the men in red coats that fell that day. Telling the story all these years later, the old woman knew landmarks had changed, just as they had between the time of the battle and her grandmother relaying the story to her. The wolf-pits were now gone, destroyed when the land became a place for growing and not cattle grazing. The old road was fading as new roads were being built to replace it. No one could find the graves of red coats or the gushing spring, but the little girl inside the old woman, remembered.
In the years following the Battle of Cowpens, the Byars family purchased the land upon which the battle was fought. Nathan Byars, a Revolutionary War veteran himself, built a small cabin and established a farm. His granddaughter Nancy was born in the cabin and lived the first three years of her life there. That was in the early 1800’s. She relayed her memories of childhood and the legends of the battle to a newspaper in Gaffney, South Carolina in 1898. To this day some are still trying to find evidence of the British burials or proof the spring existed.
But those that witnessed what happened all those years ago still have descendants in this area. They told the tale just as Nancy and her grandmother before her. Because of them, we can still remember what can no longer be seen.
All photos not marked are by the author.