Born on July 6, 1736, in what is now Hampton, New Jersey, he was the fifth of seven children of James and Eleanor Morgan. His father was an ironmaster who moved his family later to Bucks County, Pennsylvania. At an early age, Daniel Morgan first displayed what would be a lifelong contempt for authority, which led to his departure from home as a teen, never to return. He was a big fellow for his time, standing at 6-foot-2. He cleared land, worked a sawmill, and became a teamster, eventually buying a wagon so he could become a contract employee of the British army, which was fighting the French and Indian War. A fellow teamster was his cousin, Daniel Boone. Theirs was a dangerous job as they plowed slowly through the forests in a large but important wagons, a very inviting military target.
Daniel Morgan was part of the party led by General Edward Braddock in 1754, which tried to capture Fort Duquesne, which controlled the Three Rivers of modern-day Pittsburgh. The fort stood at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which form the Ohio River. The French held the British off and General Braddock and his party returned to camp.
Morgan remained in the service of the British Army, in 1755, Morgan had a run-in with a British lieutenant, who Morgan with the flat of his sword. In response, Morgan knocked the lieutenant out with one punch. Court-martialed, the commander sentenced Morgan to 500 lashes, which ordinarily was a death sentence, as the blows were so severe.
However, Morgan survived, and often delighted in later years in showing off his scars. He would say, "that is the doings of old King George. While I was in his service, upon a certain occasion, he promised to give me five hundred lashes. But he failed in his promise, and gave me but four hundred and ninety-nine; so he has been owing me one lash ever since. While the drummer was laying them on my back, I heard him miscount one. I was counting after him at the time. I did not think it worthwhile to tell him of his mistake, and let it go so."
Despite the punishment, Morgan nevertheless continued his rowdy, womanizing ways, often getting into trouble by not paying his bar bills or gambling debts. Although he soured on the British army, he applied for a commission, which the British declined.
Instead, he served instead as a scout and a messenger. Once the Indians ambushed him, shooting him in the mouth. This merely cost him several teeth and left a deep scar on his left cheek. To say Daniel Morgan was one of the fledgling nation's toughest men is an understatement.
At 22, he settled near Winchester, Virginia, but he did not settle down. Instead, Morgan hung out at a tavern near Battletown, which was well-known for its fights along the American frontier; Morgan became involved in many of those brawls, and when he was not fighting, Morgan had numerous run-ins with the law. The charges over the years included arson, horse stealing, assault and battery, and resisting arrest.
At 27, he met the love of his life, Abigail Curry, 16. They had two daughters. She taught him to read and to write. After more than a decade of shacking up, they finally married. Morgan was actually a pretty prosperous farmer, militia captain, and respected citizen of the community.
In 1774, the Virginia colonial government tapped Morgan to lead a company in Lord Dunmore's War, named for the royal governor. The British fought the Shawnee and Mingo Indians over hunting rights in what is now West Virginia. The British victory at the Battle of Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774, decided the war. Depending on whether one is a civic booster, it is either the last battle of the French and Indian War or the first battle of the American Revolution. As we were not seeking independence from the Shawnee or the Mingo, I would say it was the last battle of the earlier war.
His command was a company of riflemen, which would prove as important at the Battle of Cowpens as the Indian fighting and light infantry tactics he learned along the Ohio. When the Revolution broke out the next year, the Continental Congress asked Virginia to send two rifle companies into the battlefield. The Virginia House of Burgesses asked Morgan to form one of those rifle companies. It was his pleasure.
"Arriving in the American lines on August 6, Morgan's Riflemen were expert marksmen who employed long rifles which were of greater range and accuracy than the standard Brown Bess muskets used by the British. Later that year, Congress approved an invasion of Canada and tasked Brigadier General Richard Montgomery with leading the main force north from Lake Champlain," military historian Kennedy Hickman wrote.
Morgan was part of an ill-fated party led by Colonel Benedict Arnold and Major General Richard Montgomery (a British Army veteran) to capture Quebec on December 31, 1775 -- in a blizzard. They split the 600 men into two camps. Arnold took a bullet in the leg, which downed him early on. Morgan took over his troops. Montgomery's troops faced a bigger disaster. Montgomery and the rest of his officers -- save Aaron Burr -- died in the attack. The British captured Morgan and his men. They helped him captive until September 1776, when they paroled him. Officially, they exchanged him for a British officer in January 1777.
In the meantime, General Washington promoted Morgan to colonel and assigned him to head a 500-man rifle unit. At the time, the British scoffed at the rifle because it didn't load as quickly as the musket. However, the accuracy and range of the American long rifle would win the war. Gunsmiths who settled in Pennsylvania as refugees from Germany developed the technology for this weapon, just as Enrico Fermi would flee Italy and help develop the atom bomb, which won World War II. For centuries, our beacon of liberty attracts the best and the brightest from oppressive regimes.
But in the 18th century, natural citizens won the war, and few fought as vigorously Daniel Morgan. Washington was well aware of his abilities. The general used Morgan and his rifle corps as a light infantry to raid the British in 1777. In late summer, British General John Burgoyne marched from Canada with the idea of seizing the Hudson River, which would cut New England off from the other colonies. Washington dispatched to lead the American resistance. Gates called in Colonel Morgan and his rifle militia to aid.
The Battles of Saratoga on September 19 and October 7, 1777, were decisive victories for the American military, and were a turning point of the Revolution. The crowd cheered General Gates, who was a brilliant administrator. But the accolades for General Gates really belonged to Morgan and Benedict Arnold, both outstanding combat commanders. To the administrator go the spoils. This would prove disastrous for the Americans, as an embittered Benedict Arnold became a turncoat, and later Gates would prove himself as untalented in actually leading an army into battle.
Morgan, the unrequited hero of Saratoga felt a lot of pains as at 41, his health was poor. But he also felt passed over for a promotion to general after Saratoga. He went home on an indefinite leave.
After a lengthy string of American victories, the British turned their attention South, hoping to tap into the widespread Loyalist sympathies. A young and daring light cavalry officer, Banastre Tarleton, soon was chalking up victories of his own, beginning with the Battle of Monck’s Corner during the Siege of Charleston, South Carolina. He was brilliant but cruel, executing American soldiers after they surrendered in the Battle of Waxwah's Creek on May 29, 1780, which the Americans called Tarleton's Massacre.
However, his cruelty backfired. American had split into three groups: Patriots, Loyalists and the apathetic. many of the people who did not care and a few Loyalists became Patriots after Waxwah's Creek.
Like Morgan, Tarleton had risen through the ranks, overcoming his humble roots. Events would propel the two rags-to-riches soldiers to a showdown on January 17, 1781, at Cowpens. the battle confrontation between 800 American soldiers -- half of whom were untrained draftees -- and 1,200 members of the best military in the world would decide the war.
The Battle of Cowpens had its origins on August 2, 216 BC, when the Roman army suffered its worst defeat in history at the hands of Hannibal in the Battle of Cannae in the first recorded (although unlike the first) double envelopment. It is a rope-a-dope movement in which the enemy charges a seemingly weak unit, only have the rest of the army attack the aggressors on both flanks. However, for all his battle victories, Hannibal lost the Second Punic War. Morgan would win his war. Morgan knew the terrain and the enemy -- and the tactic that would bring the enemy down. Young Abigail Curry had taught him to read and there is no doubt whatsoever that he read up on Hannibal.
Morgan deployed his forces into three lines on a hill in Cowpens, which was pastureland. He put his skirmishers forward, his untrained militia members behind them, and then his Continental regulars with their rifles behind them. The skirmishers slowed the British. Then the militia fired two volleys and dropped back. Morgan knew that Tarleton would then aggressively charge up the hill, which Tarleton did, right into the waiting rifles of Morgan's most experienced soldiers. Then Morgan counter-attacked.
Fools rush in, and Tarleton raced in with 1,200 men -- and barely escaped with 200. American losses were 25 killed and 124 wounded. To his credit, Daniel Morgan who had suffered 499 lashes and who was well aware of Tarleton's Massacre nevertheless took 712 prisoners -- including 200 wounded prisoners -- and treated them well. After all, he had once been a prisoner of war in Quebec. He got that promotion finally to general.
After the war, Morgan returned to Winchester and built up an estate of 250,000 acres. In 1794, President Washington asked the general to quash the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania, where citizens had tarred and feathered revenuers who tried to collect the national tax on whiskey. he extinguished the rebellion without firing a shot. Morgan later also served a term in Congress.
It was while in Congress that Morgan received a letter from a Quaker pacifist, Miles Fisher, who admonished the general for his efforts in the war. The general replied on January 11, 1798:
"I recollect about 20 years since that a number of Quaker friends were sent to Winchester by Government, for some cause which I never understood so well, not being in the Legislature, but in a Department, the employment of which afforded little time to inquire into the propriety or impropriety of your Banishment — but I well recollect you among others of the unfortunate — am sorry to observe that such misfortunes generally take place on revolutions, and often very unjustly.
"I believe in one God, the first and great cause of all goodness. I also believe in Jesus Christ the redeemer of the world. I also believe in the Holy Ghost the comforter — here perhaps we may Differ a little as I believe Jesus Christ was from eternity and a part of the godhead — was Detached by the Father to Do a certain piece of service which was to take on Human Nature, which Human Nature was to suffer Death for the redemption of Mankind and when that service was completely fulfilled that he returned to and was consolidated with the Godhead. I further believe that all that are saved must be saved through the merits of Christ. I believe the Holy Ghost to be a part of the Divinity of the Father and son co-equal with both is left here to comfort all that Hunger and thirst after righteousness a spark of which inhabit the breast of mankind as a monitor. These are apart of my ideas on the subject of religion.
"As to war, I am and always was a great enemy, at the same time a warrior the greater part of my life, and were I young again, should still be a warrior while ever this country should be invaded and I lived — a defensive war I think a righteous war to Defend my life and property and that of my family, in my own opinion, is right and justifiable in the sight of God.
"An offensive war, I believe to be wrong and would therefore have nothing to do with it, having no right to meddle with another man's property, his ox or his ass, his man servant or his maid servant or anything that is his. Neither does he have a right to meddle with anything that is mine, if he does I have a right to defend it by force."
Morgan had seen war and he had seen nothing he really liked about it. But he made sure he won. Daniel Morgan died on his 66th birthday on July 6, 1802, one of American history's toughest and most loyal men.