You might not think of a battlefield as a place for innovation, but war spurred Patriot Daniel Morgan to employ novel military strategies in combat. With a mixed force of Continentals, militia, and state troops under his command, he intimidated the British and secured a stunning victory in the Battle of Cowpens.
Morgan was born in New Jersey in 1736 but moved near Winchester, Virginia, as a young man. He was a teamster—or freight hauler—during the French and Indian War, an occupation that earned him the nickname “Old Wagoner.” After war broke out in the colonies in 1775, he led a force known as Morgan’s Riflemen on a 21-day trek from Virginia to Massachusetts to defend Boston. Dressed in hunting shirts, his sharp shooters terrorized the British with their accurate and deadly long rifles. Morgan served in the battles of Quebec and Saratoga but left the army in 1779 after being passed over for promotion. After the defeat at Camden, Morgan returned to duty and was tasked with harassing the British in the South Carolina backcountry. His primary adversary was Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion. The two commanders eventually faced one another at Cowpens on January 17, 1781. Relying on his knowledge of Tarleton’s volatile and impulsive behavior in battle, Morgan used a tactic later known as a defense in depth, which wore down his adversary, before launching a counterattack that resulted in a double envelopment. The assault led to a Patriot victory, boosted Patriot morale, and earned Morgan a Congressional gold medal.
Morgan died in 1802 and is buried in Winchester, Virginia.
DATE OF BIRTH - DEATH
July 6, 1736 - July 6, 1802
For more information on the life of Daniel Morgan, visit Battlefields.org.