Daniel Morgan, the Great Rifleman
It was indeed fortunate for General Greene that in this time of need his men were so loyal to him. Among them was one who later became noted for his brilliant, daring exploits. This was Daniel Morgan, the great rifleman. You will be interested to hear of some of his thrilling experiences.
When about nineteen years old, Morgan began his military career as a teamster in Braddock’s army, and at the time of Braddock’s defeat he did good service by bringing wounded men off the battle-field. It was about this time that he became known to Washington, who liked and trusted him. The young man was so dependable and brave that he was steadily promoted.
When he was twenty-three, he had an exciting adventure which brought him the only wound he ever received. It was during the Last French War. With two other men, he was sent to carry a message to the commanding officer at Winchester. They had still about a mile to ride when a party of French and Indians who were hiding in the woods near the roadside fired upon them. Morgan’s comrade fell dead instantly. He himself was so severely wounded in the neck by a musket-ball that he came near fainting and believed he was going to die. But he managed to cling to his horse’s neck and spurred him along the forest trail.
One Indian, hoping to get Morgan’s scalp, ran for a time beside the horse. But when he saw that the animal was outstripping him, he gave up the chase, hurling his tomahawk with an angry yell at the fleeing man. Morgan was soon safe in the hands of friends.
During the Revolution his services were, in more than one critical situation, of great value to the American cause. In the campaign which ended with Burgoyne’s defeat, for instance, his riflemen fought like heroes. General Burgoyne, after his surrender, exclaimed to Morgan: “Sir, you command the finest regiment in the world.”
Indeed, it was regarded at that time as the best regiment in the American army, and this was largely due to Morgan’s skill in handling his men. He made them feel as if they were one family. He was always thoughtful for their health and comfort, and he appealed to their pride but never to their fear.
He was a very tall and strong man, with handsome features and a remarkable power to endure. His manner was quiet and refined, and his noble bearing indicated a high sense of honor. He was liked by his companions because he was always good-natured and ready for the most daring adventure.
General Greene made good use of this true patriot, and not long after taking command of the army he sent Morgan with nine hundred picked men to the westward to threaten the British outposts. General Cornwallis, in command of the British army in the south, ordered Colonel Tarleton to lead a body of soldiers against Morgan.
Early in the morning of January 17, 1781, after a hard night march, Tarleton, overconfident of success, attacked Morgan at Cowpens, in the northern part of South Carolina. The Americans stood up bravely against the attack and won a brilliant victory. The British lost almost their entire force, including six hundred prisoners.
Cornwallis was bitterly disappointed, for his plan, undertaken in such confidence, had ended in a crushing defeat. However, gathering his forces together, he set out to march rapidly across country in pursuit of Morgan, hoping to overwhelm him and recapture the six hundred British prisoners before he could join Greene’s army.
But Morgan was too wary to be caught napping, and, suspecting that this would be Cornwallis’s game, he retreated rapidly in a northeasterly direction toward that part of the army under Greene.
Meantime Greene had heard the glorious news of the American victory at Cowpens, and he too realized that there was great danger of Morgan’s falling into the hands of Cornwallis. To prevent this, and at the same time draw Cornwallis far away from his supplies at Wilmington, he decided to go to Morgan’s relief.
Sending his army by an easier, roundabout route, he himself with a small guard rode swiftly a distance of one hundred and fifty miles across the rough country and joined Morgan on the last day of January.
Morgan was cleverly retreating with Cornwallis in hot pursuit. For ten days the race for life continued, with the chances in favor of Cornwallis, for his army was larger, besides being trained and disciplined.
This was a famous retreat. It covered a distance of two hundred miles through the Carolinas, across three rivers whose waters, swollen by recent rains, rose rapidly after the Americans had crossed, and checked the British in their pursuit. When the last river, the Dan, was forded, the chase was so close that the rear of the retreating army had a skirmish with the van of the pursuers. Yet Greene was so alert and skilful that he escaped every danger and saved his army.
In this trying campaign valuable aid was given by “partisans” in the south. These were private companies, not part of the regular army. Such companies had been formed in the south by both sides, and that is why they were called “partisans.”