This realm of freedom
“Perish that Thirst of boundless Power, that drew
On Albion’s Head the Curse to Tyrants Due.
But thou appeas’d submit to Heaven’s decree,
That bids this Realm of Freedom rival thee!
Now sheathe the Sword that bade the Brave attone
With guiltless Blood for Madness not their own.”
— Phillis Wheatley, from the poem “Liberty and Peace”
As do many others, I tend to think mostly of New England and Virginia when I think about the American Revolution. Yet a lesser-known battle in South Carolina has been described as the psychological turning point of the war, laying the groundwork for the siege at Yorktown. In describing the Battle of Cowpens, John Marshall wrote, “Seldom has a battle, in which greater numbers were not engaged, been so important in its consequences as that of Cowpens.”
Life is full of unheralded people and less-famous events that nonetheless exert a powerful influence on how history unfolds. Ranney’s painting of the engagement at Cowpens depicts an unnamed bugler, believed to have been African-American, saving the life of Colonel William Washington by shooting his British attacker near the end of the battle. For every historic deed of bravery or moment of victory that we remember and celebrate, there are thousands of unknown moments and unnamed heroes, fragments of human drama that are never recorded.
Whenever you next find yourself at one of the many town square monuments that honor local people who died in wars, take a few minutes to reflect on the centuries that led up to where we are today. Almost all of us can say “I have it much easier now, than they had it then.” During this weekend of fireworks, picnics, holidays and recreation, let’s honor the everyday people who made it all possible.
One year ago today: