The Battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781, depicted in
the movie The Patriot, involved American General Daniel
Morgan having a line of militia fire into British General
Cornwallis’ and Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s dragoons,
regulars, Highlanders and loyalists.
When the Americans hastily retreated, British Colonel
Tarleton, known as “The Butcher,” gave into the temptation
to pursue, only to be surprised by American Continentals
waiting over the hill, firing at point-blank range.
In the confusion, the Americans killed 110 British and
The Battle of Cowpens is widely considered the tactical
masterpiece and turning point of the war.
General Daniel Morgan met up with American General
Nathaniel Greene, and they made a hasty retreat north
Cornwallis regrouped and chased the Americans as fast
as he could, burning extra equipment and supplies along
the way in order to travel faster.
Cornwallis arrived at the Catawba River just two hours after the Americans had crossed, but a storm made the river impassable, delaying the British pursuit.
Cornwallis nearly overtook them as they were getting out of the Yadkin River, but rain flooded the river.
Now it was a race to the Dan River, but General Nathaniel Greene again made it across before the British arrived.
British Commander Henry Clinton wrote:
“Here the royal army was again stopped by a sudden rise of the waters, which had only just fallen (almost miraculously) to let the enemy over...”
In March of 1781, General Washington wrote to William Gordon:
”We have...abundant reasons to thank Providence for its many
favorable interpositions in our behalf. It has at times been my only
dependence, for all other resources seemed to have failed us.”
British General Henry Clinton then ordered General Cornwallis to
to move 8,000 troops to a defensive position where the York River
entered Chesapeake Bay.
By this time, Ben Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette were finally
successful in their efforts to persuade French King Louis XVI to
send ships and troops to help the Americans.
French Admiral de Grasse left off fighting the British in the West
Indies and sailed 24 ships to the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, where,
in the Battle of the Capes, he drove off 19 British ships which were
trying to evacuate Cornwallis’ men.
De Grasse’s 3,000 French troops and General Rochambeau’s 6,000
French troops hurriedly joined General Lafayette’s division as they marched to help Washington trap Cornwallis against the sea.
They joined the troops of Generals Benjamin Lincoln, Baron von Steuben, Modecai Gist, Henry Knox and John Peter Muhlenberg.
Altogether, 17,000 French and American troops surrounded Cornwallis and, on October 19, 1781, he surrendered.
Yale President Ezra Stiles wrote, May 8, 1783:
“Who but God could have ordained the critical arrival of the Gallic (French) fleet, so as to...assist...in the siege...of Yorktown?...
Should we not...ascribe to a Supreme energy...the wise...generalship displayed by General Greene...leaving the...roving Cornwallis to pursue his helter-skelter ill fated march into Virginia...
It is God who had raised up for us a...powerful ally...a chosen army and a
naval force: who sent us a Rochambeau...to fight side by side with a
Washington...in the...battle of Yorktown.”
General Washington wrote:
“To diffuse the general Joy through every breast the General orders...Divine
Service to be performed tomorrow in the several Brigades...
The Commander-in-Chief earnestly recommends troops not on duty should
universally attend with that gratitude of heart which the recognition of such
astonishing Interposition of Providence demands.”
The next year, October 11, 1782, the Congress of the Confederation passed:
“It being the indispensable duty of all nations...to offer up their supplications to
Almighty God...the United States in Congress assembled...do hereby recommend
it to the inhabitants of these states in general, to observe...the last Thursday...of November next, as a Day of Solemn Thanksgiving to God for all his mercies.”
On September 3, 1783, the Revolutionary War officially ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed by Ben Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and David Hartley:
“In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased
the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and
most potent Prince George the Third, by the Grace of God, King of
Great Britain...and of the United States of America, to forget all past
misunderstandings and differences...
Done at Paris, this third day of September, in the year of our Lord one
thousand seven hundred and eighty-three.”
With the war over, Massachusetts Governor John Hancock
proclaimed, November 8, 1783:
“The Citizens of these United States have every Reason for Praise
and Gratitude to the God of their salvation...
I do...appoint...the 11th day of December next (the day recommended
by the Congress to all the States) to be religiously observed as a Day
of Thanksgiving and Prayer, that all the people may then assemble to
celebrate...that he hath been pleased to continue to us the Light of the
That we also offer up fervent supplications...to cause pure Religion and Virtue to flourish...and to fill the world with his glory.”
Ronald Reagan, in proclaiming a Day of Prayer, stated on January 27, 1983:
“In 1775, the Continental Congress proclaimed the first National Day of Prayer...In 1783, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the long, weary Revolutionary War during which a National Day of Prayer had been proclaimed every spring for eight years.”