Daniel Morgan (ca. 1735-1802), American soldier, was an excellent battlefield tactician and guerrilla fighter who distinguished himself in major Revolutionary War battles.
Daniel Morgan typified the differences between British and American military practices in the Revolution. Whereas his opponents stressed bulky linear formations and volley fire—commanders manipulating their men like pawns on a chessboard—Morgan, with a tradition of frontier combat behind him, emphasized the thin skirmish line and individual marksmanship.
Almost nothing is known of Morgan's first years, except that his parents, Welsh immigrants, were living in New Jersey at the time of his birth. A restless and high-spirited youth, he left home in his teens and, in 1753, settled in western Virginia. The tall, muscular young man was frequently in trouble with the law for brawling in taverns and not paying his liquor and card debts. As a teamster, he accompanied the ill-fated expedition of British general Edward Braddock against Ft. Duquesne in 1755. Later, he fought in the militia during Lord Dunmore's War.
Morgan's life became more stable after he formed a common-law union with 16-year-old Abigail Curry, with whom he had two daughters. He purchased a farm and earned the respect of his community, gaining a captaincy in the militia and appointment to several minor county offices.
Revolutionary Service in the North
By 1775 Morgan was a tested and tempered back-country soldier. He was proficient in Indian fighting methods and knew how to use the Pennsylvania rifle, a long, slender weapon of great range and accuracy. Not surprisingly, when the Continental Congress authorized the raising of 10 companies of frontier riflemen to serve as light infantry, he was chosen to form one of them and was given the rank of captain.
Morgan's first important assignment came in the fall of 1775, when he served in Benedict Arnold's expedition that invaded Canada. Morgan, stripped to the waist and attired in Indian leggings and breechclout, led the advance. Outside the city of Quebec, Arnold's column united with an American force from Montreal under Gen. Richard Montgomery. During the attack Morgan took temporary command after Montgomery was killed and Arnold was wounded. He fought heroically against the enemy until finally overwhelmed by superior numbers and compelled to surrender.
Although Morgan spent 8 months in a British prison before being exchanged, his performance at Quebec brought him deserved recognition. He was promoted to colonel and given a special corps of light infantry composed of 500 picked backwoodsmen.
Morgan's light corps had its finest hours in the Saratoga campaign of 1777, when Morgan rushed to assist the American northern army, then opposing the southward drive from Canada of British general John Burgoyne. Even before Morgan's arrival, Burgoyne had seen his two supporting columns repulsed at Oswego and Bennington and his supplies run dangerously thin in upper New York. In the two Saratoga battles (Sept. 19 and Oct. 7, 1777), American general Horatio Gates left the bulk of his command in its entrenchments and allowed Burgoyne to wear himself down in fruitless probes. Gates used Morgan's corps to delay and annoy the enemy. The riflemen, using their woodland skills effectively, took a heavy toll of Redcoats. Soon surrounded by Gates's army and swarms of militiamen, Burgoyne laid down his arms at Saratoga. In his report to Congress, Gates declared that "too much praise cannot be given the Corps commanded by Col. Morgan."
A sensitive man, Morgan felt slighted when a particular light infantry assignment went to Anthony Wayne and not himself. Consequently he returned home for nearly a year, until he answered an appeal to join the American southern army, which was endeavoring to halt the forces of Lord Cornwallis.
Revolutionary Service in the South
After discouraging months of inactivity, the American cause in the South brightened with a new commander, Nathanael Greene, who sent Morgan into western South Carolina to sit on the flank and rear of Cornwallis. Determined to rid himself of the pesky Morgan before invading the upper South, Cornwallis sent Banastre Tarleton's famed Tory Legion in pursuit. Morgan, who had long been eager for "a stroke at Tarleton," selected a site near Cowpens to meet the British forces. Placing his militia in front of his regulars, Morgan had them fire two blasts and then withdraw behind his Continentals. Taking the retirement for flight, the unsuspecting Tory Legion charged into the face of a volley from the regulars. In the confusion Morgan threw his cavalry and reformed militia against the British flanks; this ended the battle. "A more compleat victory never was obtained," exclaimed the colorful Morgan, whose men affectionately called him the "Old Wagoner."
Cowpens, the tactical masterpiece of the war, was Morgan's last major action; he soon retired because of a severe back ailment. Returning to the "sweets of domestic life," Morgan twice emerged for public service: he aided in suppressing the Whiskey Rebellion as a Virginia militia general (1794-1795), and he served a term as a Federalist in the U.S. House of Representatives. He died on July 6, 1802.
There are two recent biographies of Morgan. North Callahan, Daniel Morgan: Ranger of the Revolution (1961), takes a life-and-times approach. Don Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman (1961), concentrates on the man. A shorter treatment that stresses the relationship between Morgan's fighting methods and the irregular war methods of the 20th century is Don Higginbotham's "Daniel Morgan: Guerrilla Fighter" in George A. Billias, ed., George Washington's Generals (1964). Recommended for general historical background are Willard M. Wallace, An Appeal to Arms: A Military History of the American Revolution (1951), and Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution (2 vols., 1952).
Graham, James, of New Orleans, The life of General Daniel Morgan of the Virginia line of the Army of the United States: with portions of his correspondence, Bloomingburg, NY: Zebrowski Historical Services Pub. Co., 1993. □
MORGAN, DANIEL. (1735?–1802). Continental general. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Morgan's place and year of birth are uncertain. After quarreling with his father, a Welch immigrant, Morgan
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moved to the Shenandoah Valley in 1753, working as a farm laborer and teamster. In 1755 he joined Edward Braddock's expedition as a teamster, where he was punished with a life-threatening 500 stripes for knocking down a British officer who had hit him with a sword. After Braddock's defeat, Morgan helped to evacuate the wounded and hauled supplies to frontier posts. In 1758 Morgan became an ensign. While carrying dispatches to Winchester he was struck by an Indian bullet that passed through his neck and his mouth. He lost all the teeth on one side of his face. In 1762 he took possession of a small grant near Winchester, Virginia, and moved in with Abigail Curry, whom he married ten years later. The next year he served as a lieutenant in Pontiac's War, and he took part in Dunmore's War (1774). In between, he prospered as a farmer and slave owner.
Commissioned a captain of one of the two Virginia rifle companies on 22 June 1775, he enlisted the prescribed 96 men in the next ten days, and led them the 600 miles to the Boston lines without losing a man. Morgan's company volunteered to join Benedict Arnold in his march to Quebec, which occurred from September to November 1775. In the disastrous assault on Quebec, 31 December, Morgan took command from the wounded Arnold and drove on with magnificent élan until subordinates prevailed on him to make a decision that probably was fatal to the enterprise. A prisoner in Quebec until the next summer, he returned on parole and was included in a prisoner exchange in January 1777. Commissioned a colonel of the Eleventh Virginia Regiment by Congress, Morgan joined Washington's main army a few months later. After serving with distinction in the New Jersey operations of 1777, Morgan was selected by Washington to lead 500 riflemen personally selected by the commanding general. This unit was known as "the Corps of Rangers." Washington then ordered this corps, the only rifle unit in the American army, to join the campaign against General John Burgoyne.
Morgan and his riflemen played a decisive role in winning the two battles of Saratoga, which occurred on 19 September and 7 October 1777, decimating the British in both instances. Morgan immediately led his corps back to Washington's main army, arriving in time to skirmish several times with British troops in December 1777. While in winter quarters at Valley Forge, Morgan's Eleventh Virginia Regiment was brigaded with the Seventh Virginia Regiment under the command of Brigadier General William Woodford. Morgan was not engaged in the battle of Monmouth on 28 June 1778, but he did conduct a preliminary harrassment and a vigorous pursuit after that action.
Morgan took an extended furlough from the army on 18 July 1779, after Anthony Wayne rather than Morgan was chosen to command a new light infantry brigade. Congress ordered him in June 1780 to report to Horatio Gates in the southern theater of operations, but he declined to comply. He took this action in protest, since Congress apparently did not value his services highly enough to accompany its call with the restoration of his relative rank, much less make him a general. When Morgan learned of the disaster at Camden, however, he rejoined the army regardless of rank. On 2 October he was given command of a corps of light troops that had been organized by Gates. On 13 October Congress at last appointed him brigadier general, and when Nathanael Greene succeeded Gates he confirmed the assignment of Morgan as commander of the elite corps.
At Cowpens, South Carolina, on 17 January 1781, Morgan displayed tactical genius in feigning a rout before turning on Lieutenant Colonal Banastre "Butcher" Tarleton's legion and winning a battle that is considered a classic. Morgan then, and wisely, started running again. Soon after linking up with the main body under Greene, Morgan, riddled with disease, took a leave of absence (10 February 1781).
Morgan was deaf, at first, to appeals to support the Marquis de Lafayette in halting British raids in Virginia, although he did arrive after the real danger was over. Back on the frontier, the old warrior's aches and pains—arthritis, rheumatism, and sciatica, according to different accounts—did not prevent an active life in diverse enterprises. As a major general, Morgan led the Virginia militia into Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, encountering no opposition. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Federalist in 1795, and was elected in 1797. Ill health forced Morgan's decision not to seek re-election. He retired to Winchester, the old teamster now a major landowner, and died there in 1802.
Higginbotham, Don. Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman. 1961.
revised by Michael Bellesiles
At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Morgan received command of a rifle company raised by the Continental Congress and performed heroically in Benedict Arnold's ill‐fated Québec expedition. An authority on guerrilla tactics, Morgan commanded a ranger regiment that helped defeat Gen. John Burgoyne in the Battles of Saratoga (1777). After serving under George Washington in the Middle States in 1778–79, Morgan transferred to the American Southern Army. In January 1781, at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina, his forces destroyed Banastre Tarleton's Tory Legion; Morgan's double envelopment was the tactical masterpiece of the war. Becoming ill, he returned home, but not before providing Gen. Nathanael Greene with a useful battle plan against Cornwallis at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (1781).
After the war, Morgan headed part of the militia army that put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794–95; he served a single term (1797–99) as a Federalist in the House of Representatives.
[See also Braddock's Defeat; Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Don Higginbotham , Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman, 1961.