Link To This Page — Contact Us —
Brigadier General Daniel Morgan
|July 6, 1736
|July 6, 1802
Frederick County, Virginia
Daniel was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, the fifth of seven children James Morgan (1710-1782), a forge worker. When he was 16, he left home after a fight with his father. After working at odd jobs through Pennsylvania, he continued into the Shenandoah Valley. He finally settled in frontier Virginia, near what is now Charles Town, West Virginia (not to be confused with Charleston, West Virginia).
Morgan was a large, rough man, poorly educated, and he preferred drinking and gambling to study. He also showed a huge capacity for work. He worked clearing land, in a sawmill, and as a teamster. In a year, he had saved enough to buy his own team, and concentrated on being a teamster.
In 1755, Morgan was hired as a civilian teamster to accompany the Braddock Expedition against Fort Duquesne. After the Battle of the Wilderness on July 9, his work removing the wounded brought him to the attention of a young militia colonel, George Washington. This expedition earned him the nickname that his troops used throughout the Revolutionary War, "The Old Waggoner."
In 1758, Morgan joined a company of Virginia rangers as an ensign. While carrying dispatches from Fort Edward to Winchester, Virginia, his party of only 3 men was ambushed. The other two were killed and Morgan was seriously wounded. A bullet hit him in the neck and went through his cheek. The bullet knocked out the teeth in his left jaw, but he stayed in the saddle and was able to escape.
After the war, Morgan returned to work as a teamster. He bought a house in Winchester, and in 1762 he set up housekeeping with 16-year-old Abigail Bailey. By the time the couple married in 1773, they already had two daughters, Nancy and Betty. He prospered at farming, building a farm of 255 acres near Winchester.
He remained active in the local militia. In 1763, he was a lieutenant preparing forces to resist the Indian uprising known as Pontiac's Rebellion. In 1774, he went to war again in the action known as Dunmore's War, now as a militia captain. In a campaign that lasted 5 months he led his company against the Shawnee Indians, striking deep into Ohio.
After the American Revolutionary War began at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the Continental Congress created the Continental Army. They called for the formation of 10 rifle companies from the middle colonies to support the Siege of Boston, and late in June 1775, Virginia agreed to send 2 rifle companies. The Virginia House of Burgesses chose Morgan to form one of these, and serve as its captain. He recruited 96 men in 10 days and assembled them at Winchester on July 14. He then marched them to Boston in only 21 days, arriving on August 6, 1775.
Later that year, Congress authorized an Invasion of Canada. Col. Benedict Arnold convinced Washington to send an eastern offensive against Quebec in support of Brig. Gen. Richard Montgomery's invasion. Washington agreed to send three rifle companies from among his forces at Boston, if they volunteered. All of the companies at Boston volunteered, so lotteries were used to choose who should go, and Morgan's company was among those chosen. Arnold selected Morgan to lead all 3 companies as a unit. The expedition set out from Fort Western on September 25, with Morgan's men leading the advance party.
At the start, the Arnold Expedition had about 1,000 men, but by the time they arrived at the Isle of Orleans on November 9 it had been reduced to 600. When Montgomery arrived, they launched their disastrous assault, the Battle of Quebec in 1775, on the morning of December 31. The Patriots attacked in two thrusts, commanded by Montgomery and Arnold.
Arnold led the attack the lower city from the North, but went down early with a bullet in his leg. Morgan took over leadership of this force, and they successfully entered the city following him over the first barricade. When Montgomery fell his attack faltered, and the British Gen. Guy Carleton circled to address the second attack. He moved cannons and men to the first barricade, behind Morgan's force. Split up in the lower city, subject to fire from all sides, they were forced to surrender piecemeal. Morgan surrendered his sword to a French priest, refusing to give it to the troops. Morgan was among the 372 men captured. He remained a prisoner until exchanged in January of 1777.
When he rejoined Washington early in 1777, Morgan was surprised to learn that he had been promoted to colonel for his efforts at Quebec. He was assigned to raise and command a new regiment, the 11th Virginia of the Continental Line, and by April, Morgan had recruited 400 men to fill its ranks.
His recruiting test for riflemen became a campfire legend. He got several broadsides printed with a picture of the head of a British officer and only recruited those who could hit this target with their first shot at 100 yards. Word of this even reached England, where Morgan was regarded as a war criminal, since aiming at individuals was considered unsporting, and aiming at officers was viewed as downright treacherous.
On June 13, 1777 Morgan was placed in command of an assembled Light Infantry Corp of 500 riflemen, including his own. Washington assigned them to harass Gen. William Howe's rear guard, and Morgan followed and attacked them during their entire withdrawal across New Jersey.
Morgan and his regiment were reassigned to the army's Northern Department and on August 30 he joined Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates to aid in resisting Burgoyne's offensive.
Battle of Freeman's Farm
Morgan led his regiment, with the added support of Brig. Gen. Henry Dearborn's New Hampshire 300 man infantry, as the advance to the main forces. At Freeman's Farm, they ran into the advance of Gen. Simon Fraser's wing of Burgoyne's force. Every officer in the British advance party died in the first exchange, and the advance guard retreated. Morgan's men charged without orders, but the charge fell apart when they ran into the main column, under Gen. James I. Hamilton. Arnold arrived, and he and Morgan managed to reform the unit. As the British began to form on the fields at Freeman's farm, Morgan's men continued to break these formations with accurate rifle fire from the woods on the far side of the field. They were joined by another seven regiments from Bemis Heights.
For the rest of the afternoon, American fire held the British in check. But repeated American charges were repelled by British bayonets. Eventually, low on ammunition, the Americans withdrew. The British claimed victory, since they held the field, but they had twice the casualties of the Americans.
Battle of Bemis Heights
Burgoyne's next offensive resulted in the Battle of Bemis Heights on October 7. Morgan was assigned command of the left (or western) flank of the American position. The British plan was to turn that flank, using an advance by 1,500 men. This brought Morgan's brigade once again up against Fraser's forces.
Passing through the Canadian loyalists, Morgan's Virginia sharpshooters got the British light infantry trapped in a cross fire between themselves and Dearborn's regiment. Although the light infantry broke, General Fraser was rallying them, when Benedict Arnold arrived to remark that that man was worth a regiment. Morgan reluctantly ordered him shot by a sniper, and Timothy Murphy obliged him.
With Fraser mortally wounded the British light-infantry fell back into and through the redoubts occupied by Burgoyne's main force. Morgan was one of those who then followed Arnold's lead to turn a counter-attack from the British middle. Burgoyne retired to his starting positions, but about 500 men poorer for the effort. That night, he withdrew to the village of Saratoga, New York about 8 miles to the northwest.
During the next week, as Burgoyne dug in, Morgan and his men moved to his north. Their ability to cut up any patrols sent in their direction convinced the British that retreat was not possible.
After Saratoga, Morgan's unit rejoined Washington's main army, near Philadelphia. Throughout 1778, he hit British columns and supply lines in New Jersey, but was not involved in any major battles. He was not involved in the Battle of Monmouth but actively pursued the withdrawing British forces and captured many prisoners and supplies. When the Virginia Line was reorganized on September 14, 1778 Morgan became the colonel of the 7th Virginia regiment.
Throughout this period, Morgan became increasingly dissatisfied with the army and the Congress. He had never been politically active, or cultivated a relationship with the Congress. As a result, he was repeatedly passed over for promotion to brigadier, favor going to men with less combat experience but better political connections. While still a colonel with Washington, he had temporarily commanded Weedon's brigade, and felt himself ready for the position. Besides this frustration, his legs and back aggravated him from the abuse taken during the Quebec Expedition. He was finally allowed to resign on June 30, 1779 and returned home to Winchester.
In June 1780, he was urged to reenter the service by Gates, but he declined. Gates was taking command in the Southern Department and Morgan felt that being outranked by so many militia officers would limit his usefulness. After Gates' disaster at the Battle of Camden, Morgan thrust all other considerations aside, and went to join the Southern command at Hillsborough, North Carolina.
He met Gates at Hillsborough, and was given command of the light infantry corps on October 2. At last, on October 13, 1780, Morgan received his promotion to Brigadier General.
Morgan met his new Department Commander, Nathanael Greene, on December 3, 1780 at Charlotte, North Carolina. Greene did not change his command assignment, but did give him new orders. Greene had decided to split his army and annoy the enemy in order to buy time to rebuild his force. He gave Morgan's command of about 700 men the job of foraging and enemy harassment in the backcountry of South Carolina, while avoiding direct battle.
When this strategy became apparent, the British General Cornwallis sent Col. Banastre Tarleton's British Legion to track him down. Morgan talked with many of the militia who had fought Tarleton before, and decided to disobey his orders, by setting up a direct confrontation.
The Battle of Cowpens
Morgan chose to make his stand at Cowpens, South Carolina. On the morning of January 17, 1781 they met Tarleton in the Battle of Cowpens. By this time, the opponents were numerically balanced, with about 1,000 each. Morgan had been joined by militia forces under Andrew Pickens and William Washington's dragoons. Tarleton's legion was supplemented with the light infantry from several regiments of regulars.
Morgan's plan took advantage of Tarleton's tendency for quick action and his disdain for the militia, as well as the longer range and accuracy of his Virginia riflemen. The marksmen were positioned to the front, then the militia, then the regulars at the hilltop. The first two units were to withdraw as soon as they were seriously threatened, but after inflicting damage. This would invite a premature charge.
The strategy worked very well. In less than an hour, Tarleton's 1,076 men suffered 110 killed, and 830 captured. Although Tarleton escaped, the Americans captured all his supplies and equipment, including the officers' slaves. Morgan's cunning plan at Cowpens is widely considered to be the tactical masterpiece of the war.
Cornwallis had lost not only Tarleton's legion, but also his light infantry, which limited his speed of reaction for the rest of the campaign. For his actions, Virginia gave Morgan land and an estate that had been abandoned by a Tory. The damp and chill of the campaign had aggravated his sciatica to the point where he was in constant pain. So on February 10, he returned to his Virginia farm. On July 7, Morgan briefly joined Lafayette to once more pursue Banastre Tarleton, this time in Virginia, but they were not successful.
After the war, Morgan returned home to Charles Town, he became gradually less active. He turned his attention to investing in land, rather than clearing it, and eventually built an estate of over 250,000 acres. As part of his settling down, he joined the Presbyterian Church and built a new house near Winchester, Virginia in 1782. He named the home Saratoga after his victory in New York. He spent more time on his family, becoming especially attached to his nineteen grandchildren. The Congress awarded him a gold medal in 1790 to commemorate his victory at Cowpens.
In 1794, he was briefly recalled to national service, as he led militia units to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. By presenting a massive show of force, he managed to resolve the protests without a shot being fired. Morgan ran for election to the U.S. Congress twice, as a Federalist. He lost in 1794 but won next time to serve a term from 1797-99. When he died in 1802 at Saratoga, Daniel was buried in the Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester.