If you watched the latest installment of The Revolution series on the History Channel last night, you would have seen that General Daniel Morgan scored a dazzling victory against the British. Upon executing their Southern Strategy, the British applied a siege to Charleston, North Carolina and then captured it. The British were rolling up victory after victory in the south. If the British had succeeded in taking over the south, American history may have ended up quite differently. More on this in a moment.
Since I was a kid, my father has sometimes pointed out that my name is the same as General Daniel Morgan, an important Revolutionary War figure. My wife tells me that my mother once told her that when picking a name for me, my mother recalled the name Daniel Morgan from her history courses, and that sounded like a good name to her. So, while I have no connection to him in any way but my name and that we are both Americans, it still makes me cheer for him when hearing about him.
So I read up some on the general. He came out of the backwoods and was known as a roughneck. I found this rather amusing:
He served as a wagoner for the British Army during the French and Indian War. It was during this period that he got his nickname, “The Old Wagoner.” In the spring of 1756, as Morgan was taking a load of supplies to Fort Chiswell, he somehow irritated a British Lieutenant who struck Morgan with the flat of his sword. Morgan characteristically knocked out the officer with a single blow of his fist. As a result, he was court-martialed and sentenced to 500 lashes. In later years, Morgan delighted in telling that the drummer who was counting the lashes miscounted, and he only received 499. Morgan always maintained that the British owed him one more lash.
But it was the British who would get that last lash – 25 years later. Back to the war in the south …
The Continental Army badly needed a victory in the south to slow the British advance. And that victory was delivered by the unconventional tactics of General Daniel Morgan.
The challenge that Morgan faced was that he had many militiamen who were not well trained for fighting in conventional battles. The American forces in the south were clearly struggling against the British army – considered the best in the world at the time. In a previous battle in the south, under American General Horatio Gates, the militias had quickly broken and ran under a direct British assault. This battle ended in utter defeat.
Morgan chose an area called Cowpens, South Carolina to face the British. He put the militiamen on the front line and ordered them to take just two shots. This means that they would have to shoot once, reload, and shoot again. Morgan told them after that to retreat – which they did.
The British soldiers, sensing another route as had happened in the battle with General Gates troops, prematurely charged and chased the fleeing American militiamen. They ran over the crest of the hill but then they were suddenly confronted with lines of well-trained Continental Army regulars who unloaded on them. This had been Morgan’s plan all along. Morgan also managed to get the militiamen to turn back around and rejoin the fight.
The battle ended in a dazzling victory for the Americans. They captured or killed the entire British forces opposing them that day. A few escaped including the hated British commander, the viscous Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton. He rode away as fast as he could.
Morgan had out-witted Tarleton. Morgan, knowing Tarleton’s tendency for quick action and his disdain for the militia, had set a perfect trap for him.
General Morgan, upon delivering this historic victory, promptly asked to retire. He had severe sciatica and was in great pain when riding a horse. After such a magnificent achievement, he was granted his wish. Wikipedia notes:
Morgan’s cunning plan at Cowpens is widely considered to be the tactical masterpiece of the war.
Such is the story of one American hero from the Revolutionary War.