•   Welsh American History

  • Daniel Morgan and the War of Independence - America's Greatest General?

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    Little is known of Daniel Morgan prior to his arrival at Winchester in the early 1750's. A recent biographer ( Albert Louis Zambone: Daniel Morgan - A Revolutionary Life ) says of his early years:-

    "Why Morgan came to the valley remains a mystery because Daniel Morgan meant it to be one. He never really explained why he left home, what it was that he left behind, or all that much about who he left behind. His earliest biographers recorded that he only mentioned his early life by happenstance, and then only when conversation was warm and flowing easily. In these moments of ease, or forgetfulness, what he said amounted to this: His parents were Welsh - given the family name this does not count as a revelation - and had come up the Delaware River from Britain in the 1720's."

    Additionally we know that he was born around 1735, had lived in New Jersey or Pennsylvania and had set out on his journey to Winchester after a family dispute, the details of which he never divulged.

    While at Winchester Morgan became a wagoner and it was in this capacity that he learned the frontier survival skills that would serve him in good stead in his later military career. He also acquired a reputation as a formidable bar room brawler in the taverns around town.

    With the outbreak of the French & Indian War (1754-1763) Morgan helped supply the British Army and earned the nickname - 'The Old Wagoner'.   He was with General Edward Braddock at the disastrous  Battle of the Monongahela in 1755. Shortly after this engagement Morgan was given 500 lashes for assaulting a British Army officer. The punishment, so severe that it could have proved fatal, obviously colored Morgan's attitude toward the British Army for the rest of his life. He maintained that the British miscounted, administering only 499 of the projected 500 lashes.

    Daniel Morgan was involved in the ill-fated invasion of Canada in 1776. He took a leading role in the Battle of Quebec and following the defeat of American forces, refused to surrender his sword until a French-Canadian priest could be found to take it. He was captured and imprisoned for a few months until his release in January 1777.

    A detailed account of Morgan's involvement in the early stages of the War of Independence lies outside the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that he distinguished himself and that his tactical genius was recognised by none other than George Washington who gave him command of a special new unit - the Provisional Rifle Corps, which he established in 1777. It was at the head of this unit, aka 'Morgan's Riflemen', that Daniel Morgan went on to play a decisive role in the subsequent key battles of the war.

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