See biographies by N. Callahan (1961) and D. Higginbotham (1961).
Daniel Morgan (c. 1735 – July 6 1802) was an American pioneer, soldier, and United States Representative from Virginia. One of the most gifted battlefield tacticians of the American Revolutionary War, he later commanded the troops that suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion.
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. Morgan had been a teamster during the French and Indian War. During the advance on Fort Pitt, he was scourged with five hundred lashes (a mostly fatal event) by Burgoyne's command. It was an affront he never forgave.
Later that year, Congress authorized an Invasion of Canada. Colonel Benedict Arnold convinced General Washington to send an eastern offensive against Quebec in support of 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 Captain Morgan to lead all three 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 9 November it had been reduced to 600. (Note: historians have never reached a consensus on the use of a standard name for this epic journey.) When Montgomery arrived, they launched their disastrous assault, the Battle of Quebec (1775), on the morning of December 31. The Patriots attacked in two thrusts, commanded by Montgomery and Arnold.
Arnold led the attack against 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 General 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 1777.
His recruiting test for riflemen became a campfire legend. He got several broadsides printed with a picture of the head of a British officer (some versions said King George) and only recruited those who could hit this target with their first shot at one hundred 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 downright treacherous.
On 13 June 1777 Morgan was placed in command of an assembled Light Infantry Corp of 500 riflemen, including his own. Washington assigned them to harass General William Howe's rear guard, and Morgan followed and attacked them during their entire withdrawal across New Jersey.
Morgan's regiment was reassigned to the army's Northern Department and on August 30 he joined General Horatio Gates to aid in resisting Burgoyne's offense. He is prominently depicted in the painting of the Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga by John Trumbull.
Morgan's men charged without orders, but the charge fell apart when they ran into the main column, under General Hamilton. Benedict 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.
Passing through the Canadian loyalists, Morgan's Virginia sharpshooters got the British light infantry trapped in a crossfire 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 Fraser 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 (renamed Schuylerville, New York in honor of Philip Schuyler) about eight 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.
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 30 June 1779 and returned home to Winchester.
In June 1780, he was urged to reenter the service by General 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.
Morgan met his new Department Commander, Nathanael Greene, on 3 December 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 Colonel 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.
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. 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, followed by the militia, with 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 tactic resulted in a double envelopment; as the British forces approached, the Americans, with their backs turned to the British, reloaded their muskets. When the British got too close they turned and fired at point-blank range in their faces. To avoid a crude or gory dysphemism, a musket of that type could obliterate a watermelon at that range. In less than an hour, Tarleton's 1,076 men suffered 110 killed, and 830 captured. The captives included 200 wounded. 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 and one of the most successfully executed double envelopments of all of modern military history.
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; on 10 February, he returned to his Virginia farm. In July 1781, Morgan briefly joined Lafayette to once more pursue Banastre Tarleton, this time in Virginia, but they were not successful.
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 United States House of Representatives twice, as a Federalist.
He lost in 1794, but won next time to serve a term from 1797 to 1799. He died in 1802 at his daughter's home in Winchester on his 66th birthday. Daniel Morgan was buried in Old Stone Presbyterian Church garveyard and moved to the Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, after The Civil War. In the early 1950s, an attempt was made to remove his body to Cowpens, SC but the Frederick-Winchester Historical Society blocked the move by securing an injunction in circuit court. The event was pictued by a staged photo that appeared in Life Magazine.
In 1821 Virginia named a new county - Morgan County - in his honor. (It is now in West Virginia.) The states of Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee followed their example. The North Carolina city of Morganton is also named after Morgan.
In 1881 (on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the Cowpens battle), a statue of Morgan was placed in the central town square of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The square (Morgan Square) and statue remain today (see photo in Spartanburg article).
Daniel Morgan is related to the famous pirate, Henry Morgan. Henry is Daniel's great, great grandfather's nephew.
Morgan and his actions served as one of the sources for the fictional character of Benjamin Martin in The Patriot, a motion picture released in 2000.