From Teamster To Major General

On July 3, 1775, under the great elm on Cambridge Common, Washington

took command of the patriot army. During the siege of Boston, which

followed, his headquarters were in that fine old mansion, the Craigie

house, where, from time to time, met men whose names became great in

the history of the Revolution.

Hither came to consult with the commander in chief three men who died

hated and scorned
by their countrymen. The first was Horatio Gates, a

vainglorious man, given to intrigue and treachery. Next came tall and

slovenly Charles Lee of Virginia, a restless adventurer, who, by his

cowardice in the battle of Monmouth, stirred even Washington to

anger. Then there was a young man for whom Washington had a peculiar

liking on account of his great personal bravery, who afterward became

the despised Benedict Arnold.

But here were also gathered men of another stamp,--men whom the

nation delights to honor. From the granite hills of New Hampshire,

came rough and ready John Stark, who afterwards whipped the British

at Bennington. From little Rhode Island, came Nathanael Greene, a

young Quaker, who began life as a blacksmith, {106} but who became

the ablest general of the Revolution except Washington.

Into this group of patriot leaders came also Daniel Morgan of

Virginia. Little is known of the early life of this remarkable man.

He would rarely say anything about his family. It is believed that he

was born of obscure Welsh people, in New Jersey, about the year 1737.

At seventeen, Morgan could barely read and write. He was rude of

speech and uncouth in manners, but his heart was brave, and he

scorned to lie.

The next two years did wonders for this awkward boy. He grew to be

over six feet tall, with limbs of fine build, and with muscles like

iron. In some way he had found time to study, and was regarded by the

village people as a promising young fellow.

Stirring times were at hand. The bitter struggle between the French

and the English in the Ohio valley was raging.

Morgan at once enlisted in the Virginia troops, and served one of the

companies as a teamster. An incident revealed the stuff of which the

young wagoner was made. The captain of his company had trouble with a

surly fellow who was a great bully and a skillful boxer. It was

agreed, according to the unwritten rules of the time, that the matter

should be settled by a fight at the next stopping place; and so when

the troops halted for dinner, out strode the captain to meet his foe.

{107} "You must not fight this man," said Morgan, stepping to the


"Why not?" asked the officer.

"Because you are our captain," replied the young teamster, "and if

the fellow whips you, we shall all be disgraced. Let me fight him,

and if he whips me, it will not hurt the name of the company."

The captain said it would never do, but at last yielded. Morgan

promptly gave the bully a sound thrashing.

After the defeat of Braddock, in 1755, the French and the redskins

wreaked their vengeance upon the terrified frontier settlements. A

regiment of a thousand men was raised, and Washington was made its

colonel. With this small force, he was supposed to guard a frontier

of two hundred and fifty miles.

Morgan enlisted as a teamster. It was his duty to carry supplies to

the various military posts on this long frontier. This meant almost

daily exposure to all kinds {108} of dangers. It was a rough, hard

school for a young man of twenty; but it made him an expert with the

rifle and the tomahawk, and a master of Indian warfare, which was so

useful to him in after years.

During one of these wild campaigns on the frontier, a British captain

took offense at something young Morgan had said or done, and struck

him with the flat of his sword. This was too much for the high-strung

teamster. He straightway knocked the redcoat officer senseless.

A drumhead court-martial sentenced the young Virginian to receive one

hundred lashes on the bare back. He was at once stripped, tied up,

and punished. Morgan said in joke that there was a miscount, and that

he actually received only ninety-nine blows. With his wonderful power

of endurance, the young fellow stood the punishment like a hero, and

came out of it alive and defiant.

This act, extreme even in those days of British cruelty, doubtless

nerved him to incredible deeds of bravery in fighting the hated


Shortly after this, he became a private in the militia. He made his

mark when the French and Indians attacked a fort near Winchester. The

story is that he killed four savages in as many minutes.

The young Virginian never drove any more army wagons. From this time,

he stood forth as a born fighter and a leader of men. Such was his

coolness in danger, his sound judgment, and, more than all else, his

great {109} influence over his men, that he was recommended to

Governor Dinwiddie for a captain's commission.

"What!" exclaimed the governor, "to a camp boxer and a teamster?"

Still, the best men of Virginia urged it, and the royal governor so

far yielded as to give him the commission of an ensign.

Not long afterwards, in one of the bloody fights with the French and

Indians, Morgan was shot through the back of the neck. The bullet

went through his mouth and came out through the left cheek, knocking

out all the teeth on the left side. Supposing that he was {110}

mortally wounded, and resolved not to lose his scalp, the fainting

rifleman clasped his arms tightly round the neck of his good horse,

and galloped for life through the woods. A fleet Indian ran after

him, tomahawk in hand. Finding at last that the horse was leaving him

behind, the panting savage hurled his weapon, and with a wild yell

gave up the chase.

The hardy frontiersman lay for months hovering between life and

death, but finally recovered, and was once more in the thick of the

wild warfare.

In his old age, Morgan used to tell his grandchildren of the fiendish

look on the Indian's face while he felt sure of another scalp, and he

would also imitate the horrible yell the redskin made when he was

forced to give up the pursuit.

At last the war was over, and Morgan went back to his farm. He

brought home with him, however, the vices of his wild campaign life.

He used strong drink, and gambled. Far and near, he was noted as a

boxer and a wrestler. Pugilists came from a distance to try their

skill with the noted Indian fighter and athlete, who weighed over two

hundred pounds, and yet had not an extra ounce of flesh.

But these were only passing incidents in the life of the great man.

With a giant's frame, he had a tender heart. His good angel came to

him in the person of a farmer's daughter, Abigail Bailey. She had

great beauty; and she was a loving, Christian woman.

{111} They were soon married, and, as the fairy books say, were happy

ever after. As if by a magic spell, the strong man left his tavern

chums and their rough sports, his boxing, his gambling, and his

strong drink, and to the day of his death lived an upright life.

The young wife taught her husband to believe in God, and to trust in

prayer. In his simple-hearted way, Morgan tells us that, just before

the fierce attack on the fort at Quebec, he knelt in the drifting

snow, and felt that God had nerved him to fight.

In riding over the battlefield after his great victory at Cowpens,

old soldiers saw with wonder the fierce fighter stop his horse and

pray aloud, and, with tears running down his face, thank God for the


{112} His men never scoffed at their leader's prayers, for it was

noticed that the harder "old Dan Morgan" prayed, the more certain

they were of being soon led into the jaws of death itself.

Meanwhile, he and his young bride were thrifty and prosperous. They

were both ignorant of books, but they studied early and late to make

up for lost time. For the next nine years, Morgan, with his household

treasures,--his good wife, and his two little daughters,--lived in

the pure atmosphere of a Christian home.

The storm cloud of the Revolution was now gathering thick and fast.

Events followed each other with startling rapidity. Morgan watched

keenly. He never did anything in a half-hearted way; and we may be

sure that he took up the cause of the Revolution with all the fervor

of his strong nature.

After the bloodshed at Lexington, the Continental Congress called for

ten companies from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Morgan

received his commission as captain, five days after Bunker Hill. When

he shouted, "Come, boys, who's for the camp before Cambridge?" every

man in his section turned out.

In less than ten days, Morgan at the head of ninety-six expert

riflemen started for Boston. It was six hundred miles away, but they

marched the distance in twenty-one days without the loss of a single


One day as Washington was riding out to inspect the redoubts, he met

these Virginians.

{113} Morgan halted his men, and saluted the commander in chief,

saying, "From the right bank of the Potomac, General!"

Washington dismounted, and, walking along the line, shook hands with

each of them.

Late in the fall of 1775, Morgan and his famous sharpshooters marched

with about a thousand other troops on Arnold's ill-fated expedition

to Quebec. This campaign, as you have read, was one of the most

remarkable exploits of the war.

In the attack upon Quebec, after Arnold had been carried wounded from

the field, and Montgomery had been killed, Morgan took Arnold's place

and fought like a hero. He forced his way so far into the city that

he and all his men were surrounded and captured.

A British officer who greatly admired his daring visited him in

prison, and offered him the rank and pay of a colonel in the royal


"I hope, sir," answered the Virginian patriot, "you will never again

insult me, in my present distressed and unfortunate situation, by

making me offers which plainly imply that you think me a scoundrel."

Soon after his release, Congress voted him a colonel's commission,

with orders to raise a regiment. The regiment reported for service at

Morristown, New Jersey, in the winter of 1776.

Five hundred of the best riflemen were selected from the various

regiments, and put under the command of {114} Colonel Morgan. He was

well fitted to be the leader of this celebrated corps of

sharpshooters. They were always to be at the front, to watch every

movement of the enemy, and to furnish prompt and accurate news for

Washington. They were to harass the British, and to fight with the

enemy's outposts for every inch of ground.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 1777, Burgoyne, with a large army of

British, Hessians, and Indians, marched down from Canada, through the

valley of the Hudson. The country was greatly alarmed. Washington

could ill spare Morgan, but generously sent him with his riflemen to

help drive back the invaders.

Two great battles, the first at Freeman's Farm, the second at

Saratoga, sealed Burgoyne's fate. In each battle, the sharpshooters

did signal service. Before their deadly rifles, the British officers,

clad in scarlet uniforms, fell with frightful rapidity. They were a

terror to the Hessians. As Morgan would often say in high glee, "The

very sight of my riflemen was always enough for the Hessian pickets.

They would scamper into their lines as if the devil drove them,

shouting in all the English they knew, 'Rebel in de bush! rebel in de


After the surrender, when Burgoyne was introduced to Morgan, he took

him warmly by the hand and said, "Sir, you command the finest

regiment in the world."

For over a year and a half after Saratoga, Morgan and his riflemen

were attached to Washington's army, and saw hard service. Their

incessant attacks on the enemy's {115} outposts, and their numberless

picket skirmishes, are all lost to history, and are now forgotten.

Just before the battle of Monmouth, a painful disease, known as

sciatica, brought on by constant exposure and hardship, disabled

Morgan. Sick and discouraged because he had seen officers who were

favorites with Congress promoted over his head, he, like Greene,

Stark, and Schuyler, now left the army for a time.

But after Gates was defeated at Camden, the fighting blood of the old

Virginian was greatly stirred. He declared that no man should have

any personal feeling when his country was in peril. So he hurried

down South, and took, under Gates, his old place as colonel.

After the battle at King's Mountain, Congress very wisely made Morgan

a brigadier general.

The glorious and ever-memorable victory at Cowpens made him more

famous than ever before. Hitherto he had fought in battles that other

men had planned. Now he had a chance to plan and to fight as he

pleased. It was not a great battle so far as numbers were concerned,

but "in point of tactics," says John Fiske, the historian, "it was

the most brilliant battle of the war for independence."

{116} After leading eleven hundred men into the northeast part of

South Carolina, to cut off Cornwallis from the seacoast, General

Greene gave Morgan the command of about a thousand men, with orders

to march to the southwest, and threaten the inland posts and their

garrisons. Cornwallis, the English earl, scarcely knew which way to

turn; but he followed Greene's example, and, dividing his army, sent

Colonel Tarleton to crush Morgan.

Tarleton, confident of success, dashed away with his eleven hundred

troopers to pounce upon the "old wagoner" and crush him at a single

blow. Morgan, well trained in the school of Washington and Greene,

and wishing just then to avoid a decisive battle, skillfully fell

back until he found a spot in which to fight after his own fashion.

His choice was at a place where cattle were rounded up and branded,

known as Cowpens. A broad, deep river, which lay in the rear, cut off

all hope of retreat. A long, thickly wooded slope commanded the

enemy's approach for a great distance. Morgan afterwards said that he

made this choice purposely, that the militia might know they could

not run away, but must fight or die.

At Cowpens, then, the patriot army lay encamped the night before the

expected battle. A trusty spy was sent to Tarleton, to say that the

Americans had faced about, and were waiting to fight him sometime the

next day. There was no fuss and feathers about Morgan. In the {117}

evening, he went round among the various camp fires, and with

fatherly words talked the situation over.

"Stand by me, boys," said he in his blunt way, "and the old 'wagoner'

will crack his whip for sure over Tarleton to-morrow."

The British commander, eager to strike a sudden blow, put his army in

motion at three o'clock in the morning. He was not early enough,

however, to catch the old rifleman napping. Morgan had rested his men

during the night, and given them a good breakfast early in the

morning. When Tarleton appeared upon the scene about sunrise, he

found the patriots ready.

In the skirmish line, Morgan placed one hundred and twenty riflemen

that could bring down a squirrel from the tallest tree. The militia,

under the command of Colonel Pickens, were drawn up about three

hundred yards in front of the hill. Along the brow of the hill, and

about one hundred and fifty yards behind the militia, were the

veterans of the Continental line. And beyond the brow of the hill, he

stationed Colonel Washington with his cavalry, out of sight, and

ready to move in an instant.

"Be firm, keep cool, take good aim. Give two volleys at killing

distance, and fall back," were the orders to the raw militia.

"Don't lose heart," said Morgan to the Continentals, "when the

skirmishers and the militia fall back. 'Tis a part of the plan. Stand

firm, and fire low. Listen for my turkey call."

{118} Morgan was in the habit of using a small turkey call such as

hunters use to decoy turkeys. In the heat of battle he would blow a

loud blast. This he said was to let the boys know that he was still

alive and was watching them fight.

Tarleton, unmindful of the fact that Morgan's retreat was "sullen,

stern, and dangerous," had marched his men all night through the mud.

They were tired out and hungry. Never mind, their restless leader

would crush "old wagoner" first, and eat breakfast afterwards. He

could hardly wait to form his line or to allow his reserves to come


The battle begins in real earnest. The militia fire several

well-aimed volleys, and fall back behind the Continentals. With a

wild hurrah, the redcoats advance on the run. They are met with a

deadly volley. They overlap the Continentals a little, who fall back

a short distance, to save their left flank. Tarleton hurls his whole

force upon them. The veterans stand their ground and pour in a heavy

and well-sustained fire. Quick as a flash, Morgan sees his golden


"They are coming on like a mob!" shouts Colonel Washington to the

gallant Colonel Howard, the commander of the Continentals. "Face

about and fire, and I will charge them."

Then is heard the shrill whistle of the turkey call, and Morgan's

voice rings along the lines, "Face about! One good fire, and the

victory is ours!"

{119} Like a thunderbolt, Colonel Washington and his troopers, flying

their famous crimson flag, sweep down in a semicircle round the hill,

and charge the enemy's right flank.

"Charge bayonets!" shouts Howard.

Instantly the splendid veterans face about, open a deadly fire, and

charge the disordered British line with the bayonet.

All was over in a few minutes. The old "teamster" had set his trap,

and the redcoats were caught. Finding themselves surrounded, six

hundred threw down their guns, and cried for quarter. The rest,

including Tarleton himself, by hard riding, escaped.

{120} Colonel Washington and his troopers rode in hot haste to

capture Tarleton, if possible. In the eagerness of his pursuit,

Washington rode in advance of his men. Tarleton and two of his aids

turned upon him. Just as one of the aids was about to strike the

colonel with his saber, a trooper came up and disabled the redcoat's

arm. Before the other aid could strike, he was wounded by

Washington's little bugler, who, too small to handle a sword, fired

his pistol. Tarleton now made a thrust at the colonel with his sword.

The latter parried the blow, and wounded his enemy in the hand.

As the story is told, this wound was twice the subject for witty

remarks by two young women, the daughters of a North Carolina

patriot. Tarleton remarked to one of these sisters that he understood

Colonel Washington was an unlettered fellow, hardly able to write his


"Ah, Colonel," said the lady, "you ought to know better, for you can

testify that he knows how to make his mark."

At another time, Tarleton said with a sneer to the other sister, "I

should be happy to see Colonel Washington."

"If you had looked behind you at the battle of Cowpens, Colonel

Tarleton," she replied, "you would have enjoyed that pleasure."

In the battle of Cowpens, the British lost two hundred and thirty,

killed and wounded. The Americans had twelve killed and sixty-one


{121} Morgan did not rest for one moment after his victory. He knew

that Lord Cornwallis, stung by the defeat of Tarleton, would do his

best to crush him before he could rejoin Greene's army. By forced

marches, he got to the fords of the Catawba first, and when his

lordship reached the river, he learned that the patriots had crossed

with all their prisoners and booty two days before, and were well on

their way to join General Greene.

Soon after the battle of Cowpens, repeated attacks of his old enemy,

sciatica, so disabled Morgan that he was forced to retire from the

service and go back to his home, in Virginia.

During the summer of 1780, when the British invaded the Old Dominion,

he again took the field. With Wayne and Lafayette, he took part in a

series of movements which led to the capture of Cornwallis. The

exposure of camp life again brought on a severe illness.

"I lay out the night after coming into camp," Morgan wrote General

Greene, "and caught cold."

{122} Crippled and suffering great pain, he went home with the belief

that he had dealt his last blow for the cause he loved so well. He

afterward received from Washington, Greene, Jefferson, Lafayette, and

other leaders, letters that stir our blood after so many years.

From a simple teamster, Morgan had become a major general. After

taking part in fifty battles, he lived to serve his country in peace

as well as in war, and was returned to Congress the second time. His

valor at the North is commemorated, as you already know, by the

statue on the monument at Saratoga. In the little city of

Spartanburg, in South Carolina, stands another figure of Daniel

Morgan, the "old wagoner of the Alleghanies," the hero of Cowpens.