“This untutored son of the frontier was the only general in the American Revolution on either side, to produce a significant original tactical thought.” John Buchanan, in The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas (1997), p. 316
Leaving home at seventeen, Daniel Morgan left looking for a better life. He worked on farms, sawmills, and finally as a wagoner. Saving his money, he bought his own Conestoga wagon and team to haul supplies for other people across the frontier. His wagons carried salt, flour, ammunition, etc.
Morgan must have saved a lot of money, because the wagon cost $250 and the team of four horses and harness $1200 more.
During the French and Indian War, he hauled military supplies for the British. Not only was he known as a crack shot, but also as an outdoorsman. His quick temper and brawling nature also traveled with him. One day he angered a British officer. After the lieutenant hit Daniel with the flat of his sword, the wagoner knocked him out with one well-placed fist. Punishment for striking an officer was 500 lashes with a whip; Morgan endured this punishment and, of course, was court-martialed. From this point on, Daniel Morgan nourished a hate for the British.
He returned to the life of a wagoner and even called himself, the Old Wagoner.
Then came a few years of settling in Virginia on a 250 acre farm that he called Soldier’s Rest and marrying Abigail Bailey. He quit wrestling and became a tobacco farmer. A woman of manners and education, Abigail had a good influence on Daniel.
On July 14, 1775, he formed a rifle company, and he fought against the British until he and his men were captured during the Battle of Quebec. His reputation proceeded him. When asked by the British to become a general for their side, he responded, “I am not a scoundrel. My services are not for sale!” After spending eight months in captivity, he was exchanged. Returning to New Jersey’s shore, it is said he fell to his face on the ground and exclaimed, “Oh, my country!”
His reputation as a leader spread; he was just and fair, and his men respected him.
Another story is told about his leadership qualities. Two of his riflemen were straining to move a rock in the road. Watching from the side was an officer, who Morgan questioned, “Why aren’t you helping?”
The officer replied, “Sir, I am an officer.”
Morgan loudly responded, “I beg your pardon! I did not think of that.”
Immediately, Morgan jumped off his horse and helped the two riflemen.
At age 44, he resigned his commission because Congress refused to give him a promotion. He worked his farm and kept up with war news for a year. Charleston, SC fell to the British, and then General Horatio Gates lost at Camden; Lord Cornwallis was moving the British army to the north. To subdue the Patriots, farms, homes, and crops were trampled in Carolina.
Plagued by sciatica issues that produced extreme pain in his back and legs, he returned to the field at the request of General Nathaniel Greene to command a corps of light infantry in SC.
Morgan’s orders read, “…You and your militia will harry the British and keep me advised of your movements and those of your enemy through your scouts….”
And the English Colonel Banastre Tarleton received orders from Cornwallis, “Wipe him (Morgan) out! Catch him and smash him!”
And the chase was on! In a week of cold, sleet, and rain in the Upstate of SC, two soldiers fought to claim victory over each other. But, as Greene said, Great Generals are Scarce–there are few Morgans out there.
This weekend at the Cowpens National Battlefield (https://www.nps.gov/cowp/learn/historyculture/the-battle-of-cowpens.htm), there will be a two-day celebration of this battle that I have given you a bit of a back story for. Reenactors will camp on the grounds for two nights and be ready to share how the 18th century soldiers lived. Activities for children, an excellent movie telling the story of the Battle of Cowpens, and tours of the battlefield will be available to share this battle’s highlights.
It is a weekend to enjoy family fun and to remember the men and women who fought to make 13 colonies into the United States of America. Perhaps I will see you there.