2019 Florence Kidder Memorial Scholarship - Second Place Essay by Jonathan Shropshire

Historical Marker for the Battle of Cowan's FordOne of my favorite things about North Carolina is her many beautiful roads. Quite possibly my favorite road lies after taking a left off Beattie’s Ford onto Highway 73 toward Cowan’s Ford. This route always sparks feelings of contentment while I cross over the Catawba River and see the water shimmering in the sunlight as it flows south.  What makes the road the most interesting, however, is the tall proud marker that stands on the western end of the bridge. Printed in bold lettering is: BATTLE OF COWAN’S FORD / CORNWALLIS,   PURSUING / GREENE,   CROSSED   THE / CATAWBA, 7 MI, W, AFTER / SHARP FIGHT, FEB.,1781. A small memorial that is a reminder of a monumental battle (Historical Marker).

Two and a half centuries ago, Lord Charles Cornwallis, General of the British army, marched his troops through the backcountry of North Carolina pursuing patriot General, Nathanael Greene, and his army. The war was in its last months and Greene knew that a large-scale battle with Cornwallis was inevitable. He knew that the British would need to cross the Catawba River in order to maintain pursuit and surmised that if he delayed Cornwallis’ crossing, he could postpone the inevitable to strategically pick the time and place of the massive battle to come (History Project). To enact his plan, Greene left behind General William Davidson with a relatively small force to slow the British advance. Cornwallis understood that he would have to be deceptive in order to cross unnoticed. He sent a detachment down the river to Beattie’s Ford to fake a crossing; meanwhile, he and his army planned to cross at Cowan’s Ford. However, Davidson knew his opponent, and realizing what Cornwallis was planning, rushed his troops to Cowan’s Ford. Under the heavy cloak of a foggy night the British waded through the river. For 400 yards they marched, four to a column, muskets in hand, using staffs to steady themselves in the current. The cover of fog acted in British favor for by the time Davidson’s forces were alerted to the Redcoats’ marching through the current, Cornwallis had nearly completed his task. The British soon began to climb ashore (Cross). Davidson and the American patriots fought valiantly, still needing to delay Cornwallis as much as possible. However, when the British superior numbers and canons decimated the American militia, Davidson called for retreat. Courageously rallying his forces to fall back, a ball stuck him in the chest and pierced his heart. The rest of the patriots scattered and escaped, and it seemed the British had ended the day with a victory (Americanwarus).

Many people may look at the outcome of this battle and see an American defeat. The British successfully crossed the Catawba River and continued their pursuit. However, I always choose to look at the big picture. Davidson had postponed Cornwallis just enough so General Greene could hurry to the Dan River and safely cross to Virginia, able to rest and obtain supplies (Cross). What seemed a tale of defeat turned into a story of sacrifice and hope. Davidson and multiple others stayed behind and gave their lives so their compatriots could escape. General Greene would use the Battle of Cowan’s Ford to revise his battle strategy, contributing to his victory over Cornwallis in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. This American triumph led directly to the British surrender at Yorktown seven months later (Surrender at Yorktown). Due the efforts and sacrifice of General Davidson and his men at Cowan’s Ford, America had become one step closer to freedom.

Now when I take that turn onto highway 73 and cross over the Catawba, I don’t just admire the view, I am reminded of the events that took place and the battle that was waged. As I look out the car window, I see the Redcoats trudge through the swirling waters and the Patriots on the other side waiting for them. I  hear the firing of muskets and the cries of war. As I jump out of my car, stand underneath that proud marker, and admire what lies around me, I remember a man’s sacrifice that would eventually end a war and unite my country.

Work Cited
Americanwasrus. "Battle of Cowan’s Ford." American Revolutionary War, 15 Jan. 2018,
"Battle of Cowan's Ford Historical Marker." The Historical Marker Database, 19 Jan. 2019,
Cross, Jerry L. "Cowan's Ford, Battle of | NCpedia." NCpedia Home Page | NCpedia,
North Carolina History Project. "Battle of Cowan's Ford (February 1, 1781)." North Carolina
History Project, northcarolinahistory.org/encyclopedia/battle-of-cowans-ford-february-1-1781/.
"The British Surrender at Yorktown." America's Story from America's Library,