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THE BATTLE OF COWPENS

January 15, 2017
the-battle-of-cowpens

Several years ago I took a group of Boy Scouts who were working on the American Heritage merit badge to the Cowpens National Battlefield in northern Spartanburg County. For many it was their first visit to the site. For me it was a return trip to a place many in the Upstate of South Carolina take for granted. It is a place that proved to be a turning point of the American Revolutionary War. Many believe that the battle fought in the frozen red clay of Cowpens was the decisive engagement of the war.

Dramatic events led up to that fateful day – January 17, 1781.

By 1778-80, with a stalemate in the north, the British looked south with the goal of assisting Southern Loyalists in regaining control of colonial governments. They then planned to push north to crush the rebellion, estimating that many of the populace would rally to the English Crown.

The British captured Savannah on December 29, 1778, and then Charleston on May 12, 1780. General Cornwallis took command of the British campaign in the south. On August 16, 1780, he crushed the Southern Continental Army under General Horatio Gates at Camden in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. These victories bolstered British confidence, leading them to believe that they would soon control the entire south and that Loyalists would flock to their cause.

The British didn’t expect so much opposition in the backcountry. However, the Scots-Irish came to the American colonies with a chip on their shoulders. Already despising the British for injustices done to them in Northern Ireland, many had been forcibly taken from their homes in Scotland and moved to Ireland to industrialize the country. When their products had proven superior to those made in England, they were heavily taxed. When they came to America, British colonists pushed these Scots-Irish to the frontier to serve as a buffer against the Indians. In the backwoods they learned to fire long rifles and to fight from ambush. Underestimating the Scots-Irish became an Achilles’ heel for the British.

Lord Cornwallis’ attempt to raise Loyalist support was thwarted when Patriot militia defeated a larger force of British Loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. The men who had crossed the Appalachian Mountains to fight those British became known as the Overmountain Men.

On our hike, the Scouts and I walked the trail through the battlefield. It was larger than five football fields. The terrain featured two hills dotted with trees. Since cattle grazed the land, it was devoid of undergrowth. The rutted Green River Road extended the length of the battlefield. It was there that for the first time in the war, a combined force of Patriot militia and Continental Army soldiers defeated regular British Redcoats.

After Camden, General George Washington sent General Nathanael Greene to take command of the Southern army. Greene, just two weeks into his command, split his army, sending General Daniel Morgan southwest of the Catawba River to cut supply lines and hamper British operations in the backcountry. General Cornwallis countered Greene’s move by sending Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to block Morgan’s actions.

Tarleton was a brash twenty-six-year-old officer with a reputation for being merciless. At the Siege of Charleston and at the Battle of Camden, he had proved ruthless. Tarleton won decisive victories at Monck’s Corner and at Fishing Creek. After his victory at the Battle of The Waxhaws, he ordered the slaughter of American soldiers who had already surrendered. His nickname, Bloody Tarleton, was well deserved.

On Christmas Day 1780, General Daniel Morgan and his men were camped on the Pacolet River in the Upcountry of colonial South Carolina. Lord Cornwallis thought that Morgan was planning to attack Star Fort at Ninety Six, South Carolina.

Tarleton and his legion marched in pursuit of Morgan, first to Ninety Six and then to the Broad River. Morgan received word that Tarleton was hot on his trail. He moved his troops north, attempting to avoid being trapped between Tarleton and Cornwallis.

By the afternoon of January 16, 1781, Morgan approached the Broad River, which was high with floodwaters. By nightfall he reached Hannah’s Cowpens, a grazing area for cattle. When General Andrew Pickens and his Overmountain Men joined Morgan’s forces, Morgan decided that with the addition soldiers he would stand and fight the British troops led by Tarleton.

The Patriots made camp between two small hills. Through the night Morgan moved among the campfires and offered encouragement to his men.

At Hannah’s Cowpens on January 17, 1781, dawn broke clear and bitterly cold. Tarleton had marched his army since two in the morning. Hearing reports of Overmountain Men on the way to join Morgan, Tarleton urgently ordered formation of his British regulars extending across the Green River Road for the attack.

Tarleton pressed the attack, his line stretching across the meadow, his artillery in the middle, and fifty mounted dragoons, the British cavalry, on each side. Daniel Morgan formed his troops into three lines. Out front and hiding behind trees were sharpshooters. At the onset of battle they picked off numbers of Tarleton’s dragoons, shooting especially at officers. The sharpshooters retreated 150 yards to join the second line, the militia commanded by Andrew Pickens. Morgan asked them to get off two volleys and then retreat to the third line made up of John Eager Howard’s Continentals another 150 yards to the rear.

The militia fired two volleys as the British neared; but, as Pickens’ men retreated, Tarleton sent his feared dragoons after them. As the Patriot militia dodged behind trees, William Washington’s Patriot cavalry thundered onto the field of battle to confront the surprised British dragoons. The British lost eighteen of their cavalry in the clash.

The British regulars advanced at a trot, accompanied by beating drums and the shrill sounds of fifes. Morgan rode to the front and rallied the Patriot militia.

Now Tarleton’s Highlanders entered the charge toward the Continental line, their bagpipes adding to the confusion. John Eager Howard ordered the right flank to counter a charge from that direction. His orders were misunderstood as a call to retreat. Morgan spurred his horse on and ordered the retreating units to face about, and then, on order, fire in unison. The firing took a heavy toll on the British, who had sensed victory and broken ranks in a wild charge.

This was a serious mistake. A fierce Patriot bayonet charge ensued. The British attack was broken and the tide of battle turned. The Patriot militia and cavalry reentered the battle, leading to the double envelopment of the British who surrendered. Finally, Tarleton himself saw the futility of continuing. He and a handful of men turned tail and ran, galloping back down the Green River Road. Tarleton escaped to tell the news to Cornwallis.

The battle, over in less than an hour, was a complete victory for the Patriot force. British losses were staggering: 110 dead, over 200 wounded, and 500 captured. Morgan’s losses were minimal: twelve killed and sixty wounded.

Cornwallis and his weary army left the Carolinas and moved on to Virginia. At Yorktown on October 18, 1781, the British army surrendered to General George Washington.

Cowpens was a surprising victory and a turning point that changed the outcome of the entire war.

This week marks the anniversary of the Battle of Cowpens. I encourage you to visit this historic place near Chesnee, South Carolina, and learn more about our American heritage. We are all indebted to those who fought there for our freedom.

THE BLUE JAY

January 8, 2017
blue-jay

Several weeks before Christmas, I was helping our grandson with a Boy Scout requirement. He had to identify eight birds in the wild by sight or by their song. I decided that we should go for the easy ones at first; mockingbird, Carolina wren, crow, cardinal, downy woodpecker, blue jay. In our backyard we watched seed feeders and suet feeders until the required number of eight had been reached. We listened for bird songs in the surrounding woods. After several hours of watching and listening, I realized we had not identified a blue jay.

The absence of the raucous blue jays from our backyard surprised me. Then I realized that it had been several weeks or even months since I had seen the distinctive blue bird with white and black markings. Blue jays use to be plentiful on our one-acre plot. Where had they gone?

I did a Google search. Where have all the blue jays gone?

A reader of the Greenville News had written, “I haven’t seen a blue jay in at least the past two years. What’s going on?” Read more…

STARGAZING AND EPHIPHANY

January 6, 2017
bethlehem-star

Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that over the years some have called me Captain Kirk. Being identified with the Star Trek hero is not all bad. Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise captured the hearts and minds of multiple generations.

Star Wars created additional fans who explored galaxies far, far away from a darkened theatre while eating popcorn and gazing at the silver screen.  The popularity of these fantasies is indicative of the fascination humans have with the stars.

Epiphany is January 6 in the Christian calendar. It has been called a day for stargazers.  It is a time for those who face darkness by looking for the light, even the light of a single star. The magi from the East were neither the first nor the last of those who are drawn to the mysteries of heavenly lights.  Native Americans looked up to observe the constellations they named Big Bear and Little Bear. Ancient Greeks on the other side of the globe also peered skyward into the night, giving those constellations the same names, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

Stargazers are dreamers. Copernicus faced the darkness of ignorance and declared our star, the sun, is the light at the center of our universe. Galileo offered a new vision of creation. As a result, he was vetoed by the darkness of the Inquisition.

The magi of ancient Persia were dreamers and stargazers. They were probably members of the Zoroastrian religion. They believed the heavens mirrored the events on earth. These wise men from ancient Persia gazed into the sky and saw an unusually bright star.  They believed it was a sign that a royal person had been born. Following the star, they traveled to Bethlehem to honor the child and to offer tribute.  This is the stellar event that we commemorate on Epiphany. Read more…

OUT WITH THE OLD; IN WITH THE NEW

January 1, 2017
happy-new-year-wallpaper

The Romans depicted Janus, the god of doors and gates, as a deity with two faces: one looking backward, the other looking forward.  The month of January in the Julian calendar was named for Janus. Janus characterizes all of us at this time of year.  We look back at the year that is ending. We look forward to the year ahead.

As a teenager, I remember that the last week of the year was the time to take inventory at our family’s lumberyard. Out of school for the holidays, I was available to help count fir and pine framing stacked on the yard, plywood in a warehouse, and molding and trim in the dark bins of a lumber shed.

The concept of a year-end inventory has stuck with me through the years. What have been some of the blessings of the past year? My personal list is always lengthy and includes family and friends. Every year has times of difficulty, to be sure, but even those present opportunities and reasons to be grateful.

We describe a new beginning as turning over a new leaf or starting with a clean slate.  This year a new calendar presents us with 365 new leaves and 365 clean slates.

Several years ago, I was headed out the door to a New Year’s Eve Watch Night communion service at church.  We had entertained a houseful of teenagers in our home earlier in the evening. We had filled two large plastic trash bags with empty pizza boxes and discarded paper products. Clare asked if I would take the accumulated debris out of the house.  I stuffed the black bags into the trunk of my car and dashed to church in time for the service, delaying the dumping of the refuse.

Following the service, which ended past midnight, I drove home, completely forgetting about the unsavory cargo in the trunk of my vehicle.  New Year’s Day and the day after came and went.

On January 3, I opened my car door for the first time since very early New Year’s morning.  The three-day-old garbage made my vehicle smell like a sanitation truck. I had made a mistake that many of us make in our own personal lives. I had literally carried last year’s garbage into the New Year!  Read more…

A SEASON OF LIGHT

December 25, 2016
hanukkah-menorah

A motorist was trapped in his automobile on a lonely stretch of a North Dakota highway during a December blizzard.  As the snowfall subsided, the traveler ventured out of his car.  In the bitterly cold night, he trudged through the drifts toward a faint light in the distance. The light grew brighter as he approached a farmhouse. The home was that of a Jewish family who offered the warmth of hospitality to the stranded man: a chair by the fireplace and a bowl of hot chicken soup.  The light that saved the stranger’s life came from the glowing candles of a menorah displayed in the window of the farmhouse.

A menorah is a candelabra with nine candles used in the celebration of Hanukkah.

Often, Christmas falls within the eight-day observance of Hanukkah. This year Hanukkah falls within the traditional twelve days of Christmas stretching from Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 6. This year, the Jewish observance begins on the fourth Sunday of Christian Advent, December 24 and extends through January 2, 2017.

The Christian community having just celebrated the season of Advent and the Jewish community beginning the observance of Hanukkah, each understands the importance of light during this season. Many Christians mark the days of Advent by lighting candles in an Advent wreath. They gather for worship in churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These times of worship often include a candlelight service.

Also known as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, the days of Hanukkah are marked by Jewish families as they light candles in a menorah each evening. Read more…

A SEASON OF LIGHT

December 25, 2016
hanukkah

Today, Christmas Morning, marks the end of the season of Advent for many Christians. But, today is also the first day of Hanukkah for our Jewish friends. This is the season of light in both traditions.

A motorist was trapped in his automobile on a lonely stretch of a North Dakota highway during a December blizzard.  As the snowfall subsided, the traveler ventured out of his car.  In the bitterly cold night, he trudged through the drifts toward a faint light in the distance. The light grew brighter as he approached a farmhouse. The home was that of a Jewish family who offered the warmth of hospitality to the stranded man: a chair by the fireplace and a bowl of hot chicken soup.  The light that saved the stranger’s life came from the glowing candles of a menorah displayed in the window of the farmhouse.

A menorah is a candelabra with nine candles used in the celebration of Hanukkah.

Often, Christmas falls within the eight-day observance of Hanukkah. This year Hanukkah falls within the traditional twelve days of Christmas stretching from Christmas Day to Epiphany on January 6. This year, the Jewish observance begins on the evening of December 24 and extends through January 2, 2017.

The Christian community having just celebrated the season of Advent and the Jewish community beginning the observance of Hanukkah, each understands the importance of light during this season. Many Christians mark the days of Advent by lighting candles in an Advent wreath. They gather for worship in churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These times of worship often include a candlelight service.

Also known as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, the days of Hanukkah are marked by Jewish families as they light candles in a menorah each evening.

The origin of Hanukkah dates to 164 B.C.E. when Syria dominated Israel.  Antiochus Epiphanes, the king of Syria, was a harsh, cruel tyrant.  Jewish worship, including the observance of Passover and the Sabbath, was forbidden under Antiochus. Idols representing Greek gods were set up in the temple, and the scrolls of the Torah were burned. Antiochus slaughtered a pig on the altar of the temple, committing what the Book of Daniel refers to as the abomination of desecration.  The Syrians murdered thousands of Jewish dissidents who were steadfastly loyal to their faith.

Three years later, under the leadership of Yehuda the Hammer, better known as Judas Maccabees, the Jews defeated an army of 40,000 Syrians.  Judas and his band of four brothers, known by their family name as the Maccabees, liberated Jerusalem. They entered the temple and cleansed it of idols. They also built and dedicated a new altar to replace the one desecrated by Antiochus.

A part of the dedication was the relighting of the eternal flame representing the presence of God in the temple. However, they had only enough consecrated olive oil to keep the light burning for one day. By Jewish law, consecrating new oil would require eight days. Miraculously, the small cruse of consecrated oil continued to burn for eight days.

Hanukkah, which means dedication, commemorates this divine blessing.  It is an eight-day festival of thanksgiving and rededication for the Jewish community. Jewish families light candles in the menorah each evening. The center taper, known as the servant candle, is used to light the other eight, each in turn as the days pass. By the eighth night all candles are burning.

For Christians, the celebration of Christmas includes symbols of light: the star of Bethlehem and the candles in an Advent wreath. For Jews, the symbols of divine light are the Star of David and the candles of the menorah. In this season of light, we recognize and respect both traditions.

In 1973, Clare and I moved our family to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was in that good place that we learned about the Moravians. Church historians regard the Moravians as the first Protestants. The denomination originated in Czechoslovakia around 1415. Started by a Catholic priest named John Hus, the fledging group became a persecuted church until they found refuge on the estate of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf.  They moved across the border from Moravia to Zinzendorf’s property, thus giving them the name Moravians.

The Moravians made their way from Czechoslovakia to Germany to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A contingent settled in Salem, North Carolina, on 10,000 acres known as Wachovia.  Today many of the area attractions preserve the history of these settlers and educate visitors about their origins and influence. Our family adopted several of the Moravian traditions while we lived in Pfafftown, north of Winston-Salem.

Each year a Moravian star is the very first Christmas decoration to appear at our home. I usually hang it on our front porch the Friday after Thanksgiving where it remains in place until Epiphany. From the beginning of Advent until the Day of Epiphany, our Moravian star represents the light that pointed the way to Bethlehem.

The Christmas Eve candlelight service, sometimes called a Moravian love feast, features the sharing of Moravian coffee and a sweet roll. Each worshipper receives a candle from a server. The beeswax candles, trimmed in fireproof red paper, remind worshippers of the gift of light in a season of darkness.

An Advent wreath is another way to mark the approach of Christmas. Four candles are arranged on a table in a circular wreath.  Each Sunday during Advent a new candle is lighted. A white Christ candle is in the center. It is lighted on Christmas Day.

We enjoy several Advent wreaths in our home. One was made for us by the late Dr. Bob Cooper, a dear friend and fellow pastor, in his workshop. Constructed from simple wooden blocks, the sturdy wreath is at the center of our breakfast table. Another wreath, handmade by Sid Luck, a potter in Seagrove, North Carolina, graces our dining room table.

From the time our children were preschoolers, we have displayed a wreath that we purchased in Old Salem on a table in our foyer.  We found the decoration when we lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It was a simple circle with four red candles around the perimeter. A tall dowel wrapped in red ribbon lifted a tiny paper Moravian star above a manger scene created entirely out of cornhusk doll Nativity figures.

Each Sunday in Advent we gathered our five children around the wreath to light the appropriate candle. One year, on the third Sunday of Advent, we lit the peace candle. After reading a Scripture passage from Isaiah about the promise of peace, we sang a Christmas carol.

As I was offering the closing prayer, there shone a great light! Our Advent wreath with cornhusk figures was on fire!

Holy smoke!

I grabbed the flaming wreath and started to dash toward the front door. Clare shouted, “Throw it in the bathtub!”

I stopped in my tracks, turned on my heels, and detoured to the guest bathroom just across the hall. I jerked back the shower curtain, dropped the wreath into the tub, turned on the faucet, and doused the flames with water.

The smoke alarm was blasting. Younger children were crying. Older ones were laughing. All of us were greatly relieved.

Some of the cornhusk figures were burned to a crisp. A few were charred but still recognizable.

To this day, we display a wreath with the manger scene of cornhusk figures. Some of them are replacements. Others are scorched survivors of the fire. I have reworked the wreath. The paper Moravian star has been replaced. We still have candles on the wreath, but, for obvious reasons, we never light them. The figures singed in the fire are a reminder of God’s protection.

Whatever your holiday traditions may be, the wisdom of a Chinese proverb offers sound advice for this season of light. “Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

True, but please, be careful with those candles!

G. I. JOE AND BABY JESUS

December 18, 2016
soldier-holding-baby

Several years ago, just before Christmas, I made an unholy pilgrimage to a cathedral of capitalism, a shopping mall. I accompanied my wife, Clare, and our daughter, Betsy.  Both ladies know that such a trip is among my least favorite activities.  My attendance on this occasion was not optional. It was required.  My responsibility was to be sure the cash registers jingled their accompaniment to the piped-in Christmas carols.  I was excused to my bench and my book with the assurance that I would be summoned at the proper time.

The benches in shopping malls were made for people like me.  Given a place to sit, a book, and a cup of coffee, I can become oblivious to any crowd. With my nose in a paperback, I am able to enter a zone of solitude.

An hour and a half later, I realized I was in trouble.  I had only one book, and this trip was becoming a two-book pilgrimage. When I finished my book, I abandoned my perch and took a walk. My browsing carried me past clothing stores and specialty shops and ended, as you might expect, in a bookstore.

The item that caught my eye was not a book at all. At the front of the store, displayed on a large table, was a Nativity scene.  The familiar depiction of the birth of Jesus was presented in large wooden figures that were handcrafted in Italy.  For a person who loves wood and appreciates the art of woodcarving as I do, the manger scene was fascinating.  I would have held one of the figures in my hands to examine it more closely had it not been for the sign:

DO NOT TOUCH

On the way home from the mall, Betsy asked, “Dad, did you enjoy the day?”

I told her about the manger scene in the bookstore.

“Too bad about that sign,” she replied.  “Manger scenes were meant to be touched.” Read more…