Read CHAPTER XXX of Rodney‚ the Ranger With Daniel Morgan on Trail and Battlefield , free online book, by John V. Lane, on ReadCentral.com.

RODNEY RIDES WITH THE DRAGOONS

After the battle of Camden, in which Gates was sorely defeated by Cornwallis, affairs in the South looked very dubious for the American forces. A large part of the people in South Carolina and Georgia were loyalists, and their relations with their Whig neighbours were exceedingly bitter. Except for small bands of patriots under daring leaders like Marion and Sumter, “The Carolina Gamecock,” as his followers proudly called him, the British and their Tory allies held possession of Georgia and South Carolina and were planning to sweep northward into North Carolina and on into Virginia. Cornwallis’ fame was in the ascendant.

Such were the conditions on that October day when Rodney Allison joined the army of Gates. Two days later came the cheering news that a force of Tories under the command of Colonel Ferguson had been almost annihilated at King’s Mountain by a body of pioneer Whigs, most of whom came from the border settlements over the mountains. A number of those captured, known to be guilty of murder, were hanged and the impression made on other Tories in those states was very depressing.

The Americans now expected great assistance from the militia of those states, but the British emissaries among the Indians incited them to attack the frontier settlements, thus making it necessary for those brave fellows who had won the battle of King’s Mountain to return home to protect their families from the savages.

When finally General Nathaniel Greene, at Washington’s request, was sent to supersede Gates, he found an army of only about two thousand men, poorly equipped, the enemy strongly entrenched, the country swept bare of subsistence and winter approaching.

Through the influence of General Morgan, Rodney was assigned to duty with Colonel Washington’s dragoons. It was a proud moment for the lad when he found himself associated with the finest body of cavalry in the army. Those daring horsemen were the terror of the Tories and young Allison rode with them on many a daring exploit, a full account of which would fill a volume. The lad had now grown to man’s stature and sat his horse like a veteran. How often on those wild rides he longed to be on the back of Nat once more! Poor fellow, what had become of him? The sight of the spur-scarred, hard-ridden horses of the British cavalry filled him with fury as he thought it probable the fate of his beloved colt had been like theirs.

Finally came the day when General Morgan was to add another to the long list of his successes. Cornwallis and Colonel Tarleton, “the bloodhound,” had planned to trap Morgan and annihilate his force. The latter was compelled to retreat and Tarleton was sent in pursuit. When he believed Morgan was fleeing from him he threw caution to the winds and hurried his force on to what he doubted not would be the capture of the doughty leader.

Morgan has since been criticized for hazarding a battle. His force was far inferior to Tarleton’s and did not include artillery as did the latter’s. Moreover, with Morgan were many raw militia who could not be depended upon to face the veterans under the British leader, knowing, as they did from sad experience, that little quarter would be granted them if defeated. But he had the veteran Marylanders who had fought so bravely at Camden, and the support of Colonel Washington’s dragoons. Furthermore, shrewd leader of men that he was, he felt that the moment had come when he must fight. To continue his flight meant capture or dispersion of his forces. He believed that Tarleton would be over-confident and so run headlong into whatever trap he might set, and this was just what happened.

At a place called the Cowpens he found the position he desired. Here were two small hills, one behind the other and with a river at the rear; no place for a scared militiaman to escape, nothing to do but fight to his last gasp, because he knew that if he offered to surrender he would be ruthlessly bayoneted.

The night before the battle it is said Morgan did not sleep. His men, enraged at the cruelties inflicted upon their country by the invaders, were longing for revenge. This spirit Morgan fanned to flame. Throughout the night this big, brawny man, whose fame for success in many perilous undertakings inspired the confidence of every man who came to know him, walked among the soldiers and talked with them. His was the appearance of a man perfectly confident that the next day would bring victory and glory to American arms. He laughed and joked with them. “Just hold up your heads, boys; give ’em three fires and you are free. The Old Wagoner will crack his whip over Ben Tarleton in the morning, sure as he lives. Think of what your wives an’ sweethearts will say when you go home an’ tell what ye did.”

Ah! How they loved and admired the big fellow who was one of them. He had stormed the defences at Quebec after leading his men through an almost impassable wilderness; he had led his Rangers in wild charges against the regulars under Burgoyne and driven them; he would win, and they would help him, to the last drop of blood in their veins.

In that spirit of implicit confidence in their stalwart leader even the raw recruits never thought of trembling on that raw morning in the middle of January, 1781, when the outposts came riding back with the report that Tarleton was approaching. They had been placed down in front with the Marylanders at their backs to support them, and Colonel Washington’s dragoons screened behind the hill waiting for the word to charge. In front of the Carolina and Georgia militia, between whom Morgan had excited a spirit of rivalry as to which body should behave with the greater bravery under fire, riflemen had been stationed.

Soon the American sharpshooters in front began firing and falling back toward the militia, who never wavered. They had been ordered to hold their fire and they obeyed implicitly.

Now the solid wall of British infantry is almost upon them, and a sheet of flame spurts out along the American line; then another and another, and those raw soldiers only retreat before overwhelming numbers when it is apparent they can resist no longer, and then, like veterans, slowly and under orders.

Over behind the hill Rodney Allison’s knees grip his horse. This waiting is worse than fighting, waiting for that soul-stirring word, “Charge!” Now it rings out and echoes through the ranks, and like a whirlwind they sweep right through the lines of Tarleton’s cavalry forming for a charge, and, wheeling about, come riding and slashing back through them again. Colonel Howard is skilfully handling the troops and the gallant Pickens rallying the militia. The British ranks waver and become disorganized, the Americans charge and the British throw down their arms and sue for mercy or flee from the field.

Tarleton is trying to rally his shattered horsemen when down upon them come Washington’s dragoons, with Colonel Washington far ahead of his men.

Then it is that Tarleton tries to kill or capture his antagonist. Washington’s sword is broken at the hilt and, but for the assistance of a boy, the brave Washington would have been struck down. Now his men are at his back and Tarleton rides away with his fleeing men as though pursued by demons.

Then come orders to pursue and the dragoons go riding out into the country after the fleeing British. Most of them choose a wrong road and only succeed in picking up a few stragglers.

Rodney had charged and wheeled and charged again. It had been his fortune to be in the thickest of the struggle from first to last. Then he joined in the pursuit.

The group of horsemen with whom Rodney was riding came to forks in the road. Rodney’s training among the Indians often proved valuable and now he declared there were but two horses of the enemy on the road they had come, also that they had divided at the forks, each taking a different road. As many of the cavalry had come to the Cowpens over this road early the same morning, there was a confusion of tracks and a consequent confusion in the minds of the pursuers. Allison doggedly stuck to his conclusion and rode on alone.

Judging from the tracks, it was evident that the fleeing British cavalryman had ridden his horse at a mad gallop and Rodney urged his own to the utmost.

On either side of the road stretched a scraggly growth of trees. Suddenly his horse shied and at the same instant a pistol shot rang out. The lad’s left hand relaxed its grasp of the bridle and slipped nervelessly to his side. The ball had broken his arm below the elbow. Had his horse not been frightened and shied, the ball intended for his heart probably would have hit the mark.

A British rider came crashing through the bushes. Finding there was but one pursuer, and he wounded, the fellow had decided to fight. He certainly had Allison at serious disadvantage, but the latter, slipping the half drawn pistol back into the holster, grasped the bridle with his uninjured hand and wheeled his horse sharply to meet the foe, who was almost upon him.

For an instant each stared in astonishment at the other. Then into the face of young Allison swept a savage fury. His gray eyes looked black and blazing. He dropped the bridle and drew his sword, spurring his unguided horse forward. The horse swerved and Rodney missed the blow he aimed at the head of his antagonist. The latter was a better swordsman on equal terms, and Rodney, unable to use his left hand, was at a decided disadvantage.

Soon he was at his wits’ end. Twice the thrust of his antagonist had grazed his neck. Thinking he had Rodney at his mercy, the Englishman rose in his stirrups and swung his blade with evident intent to cut him down. In parrying the blow Rodney’s inferior blade was broken near the hilt, which was knocked from his hand. He struck his horse a smart blow with his right spur, reached for his pistol and cried “Down, Nat!”

Mogridge, for the Englishman was none other than the one who had stolen Nat and nearly ridden him to death, again rose in his stirrups, confident of cutting down his foe. The look of malignant hate in his face changed to that of consternation; the horse under him was kneeling!

Rodney draws his pistol. The foe is wickedly spurring and yanking the bridle and cursing his horse. Every thrust of the spur into Nat’s gaunt flanks pricks Rodney as well. He aims to kill and his finger is on the trigger, when, like a flash of light, he recalls Zeb’s words: “Killin’ even an enemy is serious, an’ not pleasant to dream about.”

“Dismount and surrender your arms or I’ll blow out your brains,” he cried.

Mogridge dared not disobey.

“You will now lead that horse back to camp. If he could ride you he should have the chance, you cur.”

“There’s such a thing as courtesy even in war,” replied Mogridge, though he was careful to do as he was bid.

“Not with horse thieves.”

“All’s fair in love and war,” retorted Mogridge, and then, seeing the look in Allison’s face, he wisely decided to say no more.