The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.
After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.
The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).
Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.
It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.
Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.
Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.
That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.
Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.
Samuel J. Seymour was present at Ford’s Theatre the night — April 14, 1865 — that President Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Seymour ended up being the longest survivor witness of this tragically historic moment, living long enough to be interviewed on television. On on February 9, 1956, he appeared on an episode of the CBS show I’ve Got a Secret at the age of 95 — Seymour incorrectly states he is 96, but when you’re that old, you’re allowed to say whatever you want — in which celebrity panelists try to determine each contestant’s secret by asking a series of “yes-or-no” questions.
The panelists — Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball — figure out Seymour’s secret without much difficulty, allowing host Garry Moore to summarize Seymour’s memory of that fateful evening. Moore explains that, at the age of five, Seymour did not understand that the president was shot, and therefore was only concerned about the well-being of the man who fell from the balcony. Seymour died shortly after on April 12 of that same year. Watch the video below.
In January 1991, a British Special Air Service (SAS) team was helicoptered into Iraq by Chinook helicopter. In just a few days, U.S. and coalition forces would launch Operation Desert Storm’s air war to devastate Saddam Hussein’s army as it occupied Kuwait.
Eight men from the SAS detachment, code-named Bravo Two Zero, were to insert into Iraq and set up an observation post to monitor Iraq’s main supply route into Kuwait. The men of Bravo Two Zero proceeded on foot 1.2 miles from their landing zone.
Right away, things began to go wrong. To escape capture, torture and an uncertain fate, one of the British special operators would have to walk out of there toward Syria – 190 miles away.
The first thing that went wrong for the SAS was their communications. While their home base was receiving their transmissions, nothing was coming back from the British headquarters. The men pressed on.
But they never made it to the would-be observation post. On the way, the team was discovered by a shepherd and, believing they had been seen, the team ditched much of their gear and hightailed it out of the area.
As they moved, they began to hear the telltale rumble of treads on the ground. Believing they were encountering an Iraqi tank, the SAS prepared for an ambush. Only it wasn’t a tank, it was an Iraqi construction bulldozer – and the driver was as shocked as the SAS was.
When the driver left, the British knew the jig was up but the next time they encountered heavy vehicles, it was no construction crew. Iraqi armored vehicles had caught up to them and were in such close pursuit that the British soldiers had to fire at their pursuers to slow them down.
Iraq troops soon joined the APCs in their pursuit of the British as they humped it back to their original entry point, hoping a helicopter would soon find them. But the helicopter never came. By Jan. 24th, 1991, the group was on its way to the emergency exfiltration route… north to Syria.
Since the British were looking for the soldiers to be headed south toward Saudi Arabia, the SAS were never going to be seen by coalition aircraft unless it was by accident. Even after the group got split up during a dark night, they pressed onward and northward.
Along the way, the men tried to hijack a vehicle but Iraqi Army checkpoints hampered their progress and the walk continued. Eventually, two of the men would die of exposure in the Iraqi desert. Another was shot and killed by Iraqi civilians. Five were captured, interrogated and tortured before being released to the International Red Cross. One of the men. Colin Armstrong, kept walking.
He walked through Iraq until he reached the Syrian border, where Syria – then a coalition ally – took him into custody and released him to the United Kingdom. After his long trek through the dry desert, he had lost 36 pounds and suffered radiation poisoning after drinking contaminated water. He was awarded the Military Medal for his escape.
Armstrong would later chronicle his desert journey under the pen name Chris Ryan, along with a number of other books. The story of Bravo Two Zero was later made into a TV movie starring Sean Bean (who survives).
Ed Tipper, a member of the famous D-Day-era “Easy Company,” died at his home in Lakewood, Colorado, Feb. 1.
He was 95.
According to a report by the Denver Post, the former paratrooper with the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, spent over 30 years as a teacher before retiring in 1979. He received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other decorations, for his service in World War II.
The Daily Caller noted that Tipper suffered severe wounds during the Battle of Carentan, including the loss of his right eye, when a German mortar shell hit while he was clearing a house. The opening credits of the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” shows Tipper, played by Bart Raspoli, being comforted by Joe Liebgott, played by Ross McCall, in the aftermath of that hit.
“So much of what people talk about with him is what he did in the war. That was two years and really six days starting on D-Day,” his daughter, Kerry Tipper, told the newspaper. “Teaching was 30 years.”
Most notable, though, is that despite the wounds, which included two broken legs, Tipper managed to carry on a very active life.
“He just refused to accept people’s limitations,” his daughter Kerry told the Denver Post. The newspaper reported that Tipper took a list of things doctors said he couldn’t do and made it a checklist. He was known to be an avid skier well into his 80s.
His daughter also added that Tipper, like many in Easy Company, felt, “a little embarrassed that their group got attention, that theirs was spotlighted when there were so many other groups that did incredible things and made sacrifices.”
According to the Denver Post, Tipper is survived by a wife who he married in 1982, a daughter and a son-in-law. A public memorial service is scheduled for June 1.
Below, see the Battle of Carentan as portrayed in “Band of Brothers.” Ed Tipper is wounded at around 7:14 into the video:
If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.
Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.
This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.
Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.
The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.
It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.
Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.
During the Battle of Okinawa, one United States Navy ship went up against unbelievable odds — and survived to tell the incredible tale. The Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724) faced off against a horde of Japanese pilots — some of whom, now known as kamikazes, were willing to crash into American vessels and sacrifice their lives to complete their mission.
Now, the Laffey’s story is coming to the big screen.
Mel Gibson, acclaimed actor and director of the Academy Award-nominated film Hacksaw Ridge, is currently working on Destroyer, a film based on the Wukovits’ book, Hell from the Heavens: The Epic Story of the USS Laffey and World War II’s Greatest Kamikaze Attack. The film will be centered around the 90 minutes of chaos experienced by the crew of the Laffey on April 16, 1945. In the span of roughly an hour and a half, the Laffey was hit by four bombs and struck by as many as eight kamikazes.
USS Laffey (DD 724) during World War II, packing six dual-purpose five-inch guns and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
USS Laffey’s story didn’t start and end with those fateful 90 minutes, however. After Okinawa, she was repaired and went on to see action in the Korean War. After Korea, she served until 1975, when she was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Register of Vessels. Unlike many of her sister ships that went directly to the scrapyard, she was preserved as a museum and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
USS Laffey (DD 724, right) next to USS Hank (DD 702), a sister ship named after William Hank, the commanding officer of the first USS Laffey (DD 459).
Laffey’s commanding officer, Commander Frederick J. Becton, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that April day in 1945. Becton was a well-decorated troop in World War II. He received the Silver Star four times, including once for heroism on D-Day and twice more for actions in the Philippines while commanding the Laffey.
The first USS Laffey (DD 459), a Benson-class destroyer, pulling alongside another ship in 1942.
A previous USS Laffey, a Benson-class destroyer with the hull number DD 459, saw action in the Battle of Cape Esperance, but became a legend during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the early morning hours of Friday, November 13, 1942. The destroyer closed to within 20 feet of the Japanese battleship Hiei and wounded Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe before being sunk by enemy fire. The sinking of the Laffey cost many US lives, but left the Japanese without command in a pivotal moment.
It seems as though the name ‘Laffey’ is destined to fight the odds.
Check out the video below to see director Mel Gibson’s excitement as he discusses the near-impossible bravery of the USS Laffey at Okinawa.
Forget Texas and Oklahoma, Alabama’s internal division, or even the rivalry between the Army and the Navy academies. There’s only one state rivalry that ever erupted into armed conflict: the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
The reason? Toledo.
Admittedly, the war wasn’t over football.
The spike in tensions was about not just the city of Toledo, but the entire area covered by a portion known as the Toledo Strip. In 1835, Michigan wanted to become a state but it had to settle ownership of Toledo first.
It may not be the city it once was (and the video below acknowledges that) but the strategic importance of the city meant control of the Lake Erie coastline and complete control of the Maumee River, a critical trade and transportation hub.
The Toledo War (as it came to be called) sparked more than just a long-lasting rivalry. Ohio’s importance as a swing state for Andrew Jackson’s Democrats led to political corruption that put the Toledo area in Ohio’s borders, even though Michigan was (technically) right.
At this point, it’s important to tell the reader that this author and the narrator of the video below are both Ohioans.
The “war” did turn into armed conflict, firing a total of 50 bullets and injuring one militiaman in the leg. And Jackson removed the governor of Michigan. At the time Michigan was a U.S. territory, so its governor was a Presidential appointee, which is how Jackson was able to sack him.
But while Ohio won the war for Toledo, Michigan gained its statehood AND its resource-rich upper peninsula as an extra point.
The record remained 1-1 for another 60 years when the states began to settle their scores through college football.
The basic story goes like this. On November 4, 1979, Iranian radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. The hostages were held for 444 days, and not released until minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president.
However, as always, there is more to the story.
The storming of the embassy came about eight months after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni seized power in Iran after the outser of the country’s leader, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. But the Shah had taken power after a coup d’etat by royalist officers backed by the United States and Great Britain deposed prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, resolving an ongoing power struggle between the two.
While the Shah’s rule saw the Iranian economy improve significantly, he soon backed a secret police known as SAVAK. The growing repression, though, helped make the Shah more and more unpopular. By January 1979 he and his family left on a “vacation” and never returned.
After the Americans were taken hostage, Khomeni gave his approval to the capture of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Following that, the U.S. attempted a hostage rescue mission that failed. The crisis crippled then-President Jimmy Carter, who eventually lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide.
Reagan’s administration would proceed to launch a major peace-time military buildup, and the eventual end of the Cold War.
This History Channel video discusses the hostage crisis and its impact on U.S. policy in the decade that saw the end of the Soviet Union.
That famous 216 CE battle is now regarded as one of the most impressive tactical victories of all time. After spending two years rampaging about the Italian peninsula, Carthaginian leader Hannibal Barca cemented his status as a military legend by surrounding and defeating his enemies with a much smaller force.
Ramsay’s forces used a similar pincer movement during the Battle of the Bastards. Jon was ultimately able to subvert the historical model and break free of Ramsay’s circle of death, with the help of reinforcements from the Eyrie.
In Hannibal’s case, the Roman legions were butchered, leaving up to 70,000 dead, including Roman consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus.
Paullus’ son-in-law Scipio Africanus would ultimately defeat Hannibal once and for all at Zama.
The Boltons share their habit of skinning people alive with an ancient regime
Getting flayed alive is probably one of the worst ways to go out.
But this antagonist’s gruesome hobby didn’t simply come from the dark side of Martin’s imagination.
In fact, one ancient kingdom was famous for skinning its enemies.
According to the blog History Buff, the Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II claimed to have “flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me and draped their skins over the pile of corpses; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I flayed many right through my land and draped their skins over the walls.”
Westeros’ colossal ice wall has a real-world counterpart
Martin first thought of the Wall on a trip to Scotland.
“I stood on Hadrian’s Wall and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a Roman soldier sent here from Italy or Antioch,” Martin told the SF Site. “To stand here, to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest.”
Hadrian’s Wall was hardly an imposing ice wall. And it didn’t protect England from scary, winter zombies. Construction on it began in 122 CE, ostensibly to separate the Romans from the native Britons.
The blog “The History Behind Game of Thrones” explains that the Westerosi Wall and the initial treatment of the Wildlings mirrors “the Roman perception of the native Britons as the ‘Other’ — a distancing strategy employed to dehumanize, alienate, exclude and justify ill treatment of groups outside of one’s own.”
There have been several Red Wedding-style attacks throughout the centuries
A strikingly similar attack took place in Ireland in 1574.
An Irish chieftain named Sir Brian mac Felim Ó Néill ruled over the kingdom of Clannabuidhe and had previously been knighted by the English Crown. When he lost the Queen’s favor, he began to fight against the English invaders. Eventually, however, he invited Walter Devereux, the Earl of Essex, to his castle to discuss peace terms over a Christmas feast, according to Wayne E. Lee’s “Barbarians and Brothers.”
At the Earl’s signal, Sir Brian, his wife, and the rest of his family were seized, while 200 of their followers were indiscriminately slaughtered.
Sir Brian Ó Néill and his family were all subsequently executed.
A similar situation occurred in Scotland, during the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe.
Captain Robert Campbell and 120 of his men were given hospitality at Clan MacDonalds’ castle. After two weeks, a message arrived ordering Campbell to attack, according to Britannica.
One winter’s night, the soldiers played cards with their victims and bid them pleasant dreams, as usual. Then they massacred all the MacDonald men they could find, including the chief.
Another Red Wedding-esque incident — the similarly-named Black Dinner — went down in Scotland in 1440. Advisers of the 10-year-old King James II grew concerned that Clan Douglas was growing too bold and powerful, according to the Week.
These advisers invited the 16-year-old Earl of Douglas and his younger brother to come over to Edinburgh Castle. The king and the Douglases had an enjoyable time. Nothing seemed amiss.
Then, at the end of the dinner, the severed head of a bull — a symbol of Clan Douglas — was tossed on the table. Like the “Rains of Castamere” at the Red Wedding, this was the signal. Much to the young king’s horror, his two friends were dragged outside, put through a mock trial, and decapitated.
In 1991, the United States and its coalition allies scored a decisive victory over Iraq, pushing the invading army out of Kuwait after a 40-day air war and 100-hour ground assault. The coalition was almost universally recognized, only Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Yemen, and Tunisia opposed to action. Also in support was Iran, enemy to both Iraq and the United States. But deep within the most fanatical ranks of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, a plot was hatched to hit U.S. troops.
During the buildup to Desert Storm in the waning days of 1990, the United States was sending thousands of troops, vehicles, ships, and aircraft into the region. They were building a force that could rival Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army, prevent it from moving further than Kuwait (namely, from invading neighboring Saudi Arabia), and have enough troops to push it out of Kuwait.
What a tempting target such a buildup would be to any foe. That’s exactly what a faction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards thought. The United States wouldn’t even expect an attack from Iran. It would have been easy.
The whole purpose of the Revolutionary Guards is to deter foreign threats to the Islamic Republic, whether those threats come from outside Iran or are fomented within its borders. They are a sort of internal security service mixed with a paramilitary organization that can operate both in and outside their home country. They are the Islamic Republic’s most fervent defenders, believers in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s vision of a nation founded on the principles of Shia Islam.
In practice, their ideological zeal has given IRGC units the green light to do whatever it takes to keep Iran and its Islamic government safe from those who would dismantle it. This includes violence, terrorism, and even all-out war alongside Iranian allies. It was the IRGC that helped Iran fight technologically superior Iraq to a draw in the Iran-Iraq War. That war also led to the emergence of the IRGC as a major military and political force in Iran. So, when the United States launched Desert Shield, the IRGC took notice.
As the tens of thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops massed in Saudi Arabia, units of a rebellious faction of the Revolutionary Guards, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini’s son, Ahmad, attempted to launch missile attacks from Iran on the troops deploying to Saudi Arabia. The goal, according to a 2008 paper by IRGC expert Ali Alfoneh in Middle East Quarterly, was to start a war between the United States and Iran on the eve of Desert Storm.
Loyalist Guardsmen and regular Iranian Army units under the command of then-IRGC Chief Mohsen Rezai got wind of the plan. It was to be launched from Khorramshahr, an Iranian city on the Iraqi border near Kuwait. Khorramshahr was the site of a particularly bloody battle of the Iran-Iraq War, a fight hard won by Iranian forces. It was also the site of an IRGC-controlled missile battery – which was quickly captured by the loyalist Iranian regime forces.
Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989, but his legacy protected his mutinous son. Ahmad Khomeini, considered his father’s right hand man, was relieved of his Revolutionary Guards command and was sent to live in isolation until his death in 1995. The 49-year-old cleric died of a mysterious heart disease while still living an isolated life.
The United States went on to victory over Iran’s former adversary, humiliating Saddam Hussein and forcing the Iraqi regime to accept harsh economic sanctions and military limitations until the U.S. came back to topple it in 2003. Iran’s patience paid off with the recent instability in Iraq allowing the Islamic Republic to project power across the Middle East.
The Military Assistance Command — Studies and Observations Group, now better known as SOG, was one of those true dark-arts units that hid dangerous men with dangerous jobs behind a boring name. The missions that these special operators, including a large number of U.S. Army green berets, undertook helped save the lives of infantrymen fighting across Vietnam.
Now, these warriors are telling their story.
Then-Sgt. Gary M. Rose, a member of Studies and Observations Group, is led away from a helicopter after heroic actions that would later net him a Medal of Honor.
Warriors In Their Own Words, a podcast that captures the authentic stories of America’s veterans as they tell them, spoke with two members of the unit. You can enjoy their riveting tales in the episode embedded above — but make sure you carve out time for it. The episode is just over an hour, but once you start listening, you won’t want to stop.
J.D. Bath and Bill Deacy describe their harrowing experiences serving in Vietnam with the SOG, and they both tell amazing stories.
J.D. Bath was an early member of SOG, recruited after his entire team was killed in a helicopter crash. He tells of how his SOG team bought pipes, tobacco, and bourbon for local tribes to enlist their help. Later, he and his team came under fire from a U.S. helicopter that had no idea that Americans were so far behind enemy lines. Luckily, another U.S. aircraft threatened to shoot down the helicopter if it didn’t stop immediately.
Bill Deacy, on the other hand, survived multiple firefights and endured a bad case of malaria before ending up on the wrong part of the Ho Chi Min Trail. The Special Forces soldiers planned an ambush against a small North Vietnamese force, and Deacy had no way of warning his men when he spotted a massive column of enemy soldiers approaching just as the ambush was being sprung.
These are incredible stories coming straight from the heroes who were there. We’ll be featuring a story each week, so keep your eyes peeled. If you can’t wait, Warriors In Their Own Words has a massive archive on their website.
What’s it like to take part in a modern air battle, flying some of the most sophisticated planes ever to take to the sky? We’re talking the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon here, during the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.
The F-15 and F-16 have seen a lot of action, the vast majority of which has taken place in the Middle East. One of the most notable engagements these airframes saw was the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. During the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War, the Israelis were dealing with terrorist attacks from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO had relocated to Lebanon shortly after wearing out its welcome in Jordan.
After a PLO assassination attempt that targetted the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Israelis went into Lebanon to deal with the terrorists. The thing was, the PLO was backed by Syria. So, when the Israelis went in, the Syrian Army went in to stop them. A crucial part of the Syrian strategy was to take control of the air.
This wouldn’t work out so well for the Syrians. Not only had Israelis just acquired the latest and greatest fighters from the United States, they had also acquired the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. This radar plane was perhaps the biggest advantage for the Israelis. Ground-based radar stations have a lot of trouble seeing low-altitude planes and cruise missiles. Airborne radar, however, has much less difficulty.
Between June 9 and 10, nearly 200 fighters from both the Israeli Defense Force and the Syrian Air Force clashed over the Bekaa Valley. When the shooting had stopped, all the Israeli planes returned safely to their bases. Over 80 Syrian combat planes were not so lucky, destroyed in the ferocious air battle.
You can see what this battle was like from an Israeli pilot’s perspective in the video below. There probably aren’t very many Syrian perspectives available.
The success of the American Revolution was far from certain in the early months of 1781. The patriots managed to gain French support and survived five years of fighting yet had still not been able to win a decisive victory.
But after a fake retreat baited a ruthless British commander into a bloody ambush, the tide slowly began to turn in the Americans’ favor and eventually led to the Crown’s defeat later that year.
In March 1780, the British invaded South Carolina and captured Charleston. When the crown won a lopsided victory at the Battle of Camden, it strengthened their hold on the southern colonies and routed the Continental Army in the south.
General George Washington sent Gen. Nathaniel Greene to take command the Patriots in the south. Greene immediately dispatched Gen. Daniel Morgan into the Carolina backcountry to harass Lord Cornwallis and interdict his supply lines. In response, Cornwallis sent Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, a brutal young commander, to stop Morgan.
The next January, Tarleton learned of Morgan’s presence and began a pursuit. Morgan began retreating north to avoid being caught between Tarleton’s and Cornwallis’ forces. Flooded rivers slowed his progress. Morgan decided to stand and fight Tarleton rather than get caught attempting to cross a river.
Although Morgan had a formidable force of over 1,000 men, Tarleton did as well. Unfortunately for Morgan, the majority of his force consisted of colonial militiamen, untested in battle. Morgan’s “green” militia had a tendency to break and run at the first hint of a real fight. Morgan knew it. Tarleton knew it. But Gen. Morgan was a clever chap.
He decided to use the untested militia as bait to draw Tarleton into a trap. Morgan devised an ingenious, if unorthodox, tactical plan. The Cowpens, a flat grazing area in backcountry South Carolina would be the place to make his stand. He used three lines of men to oppose Tarleton’s advance.
The first consisted of sharpshooters to harass the British and pick off officers. The sharpshooters would then fall back to the second line, made up of militiamen. The militia would fire off two volleys before feigning a rout and retreating to the third line. Morgan wanted the British to assume they defeated an untrained militia force and charge forward. Instead of finding a fleeing militia they would meet Lt. Col. John Howard’s colonial regulars holding the third line. In reserve, Morgan had a small force of Continental cavalry.
At dawn on January 17, Tarleton arrived at Cowpens and advanced on Morgan. Tarleton’s arrogance played right into Morgan’s trap. Although slightly outnumbered, the British had more cavalry, regular infantry, and artillery – which the colonials lacked.
The British launched a frontal assault with infantry in the center and dragoons on the flanks. As they advanced, patriot sharpshooters hit the dragoons hard, taking out numerous officers and disorganizing their advance. They fell back to the second line to join the militia, as planned. When the Redcoats pressed the attack, militia fired off two volleys then began their false retreat. That’s when the British cavalry unexpectedly charged, sending the militia into a real retreat. They flew past the third line where they were supposed to reform.
The Continental cavalry, led by Lt. Col. William Washington (cousin of George Washington) came out of nowhere on the British right flank and dispersed their cavalry. The remaining British were still lured into the trap by the retreating militia and engaged the Colonial regulars.
Sensing victory, Tarleton committed his reserve infantry. When Lt. Col. Howard gave ordered his men to face the British reserve, a miscommunication sent them into retreat. Morgan, seeing this, quickly rode and turned the men around. They turned and fired a near point-blank volley into the advancing British infantry. It was the same trick the Americans were using in the center and it worked like a charm.
The rebels then surged into the demoralized British from all directions. As Morgan’s third line rushed forward with bayonets, the cavalry attacked from the right flank while the once-retreating militia reformed and hit the left. Many British soldiers surrendered on the spot. The rest fled.
Tarleton attempted to rally his men. He was met by Lt. Col. Washington who engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. Washington narrowly avoided being killed when his trumpeter appeared in time to dispatch a charging Redcoat. Tarleton escaped with what remained of his force.
The battle lasted one hour but was a decisive victory for the Americans. The British lost over 100 killed, over 200 wounded, and over 500 captured along with two cannons. The Americans lost 12 killed and 60 wounded.
Cornwallis, fed up with the Americans, marched to meet them himself. He won a pyrrhic victory at Guilford Courthouse before seeking refuge at Yorktown. Gen. Washington laid siege to Yorktown and received the British surrender there on October 18, 1781.