The Battle Over the Grave of Daniel Morgan
America's Revolutionary War heroes now rest in peace in tranquil settings across the nation. Throughout our nation's history, however, this has not always been the case. Finding a suitable resting place, bringing the old soldiers home, and dedicating a monument became the goal of hometown citizens and more than once gained public attention. But the effort often led to disputes over the most worthy abodes for the departed leaders. Where, indeed, was the proper place for burial? Controversy surrounded the bones of Ethan Allen, Anthony Wayne, John Paul Jones, and Cowpen's own hero, General Daniel Morgan.
Daniel Morgan's legacy is one of distinguished military leader in the American Revolution: leader of Morgan's frontier riflemen and march to Cambridge, Massachusetts; heroics and capture at Quebec; hero at the Battle of Saratoga; and tactical genius and patriot general at the Battle of Cowpens. Tradition has him born along the Delaware River, where he left home early in life to make his home in the valley of Virginia. From his base in frontier Virginia (the town of Berryville and later, Winchester), he would hone his skills in military leadership and gain the experience that led to his greatest victory, the Battle of Cowpens. His later home at Winchester would forever be associated with Daniel Morgan, so much so, that, in truth, it seemed his birthplace. At home in Winchester and retired from battle, he would entertain old comrades in arms, "old-blades," he called them, and regale his grandchildren with stories of battle. It was in Winchester, too, that, stricken with sciatic and rheumatic conditions, he died on July 6, 1802, at the home of a daughter. His burial in Winchester's Old Stone Presbyterian Graveyard was conducted with an honor guard of seven of Morgan's original riflemen, who, after the body had been lowered into the grave, fired a farewell volley to their departed leader. (His remains were removed to the more secure Mt. Hebron Churchyard, also in Winchester, during the Civil War for fear Union soldiers would remove them from the original site.)
But to think of Winchester alone when we think of Daniel Morgan does not do the general justice. Spartanburg County's own Town of Cowpens, located just ten miles from the colonial cow pens where Morgan won his greatest battle, also claimed the legacy of Daniel Morgan. In honor of that legacy, Cowpen's citizens determined to bring the general's body to South Carolina for burial near his greatest victory and to place a fitting monument in his honor. Armed with a great-great-great-granddaughter's approval to move the body, Cowpens prepared its strategy. In July 1951, the town sent a citizens' delegation forth to Winchester to bring General Morgan's body back to South Carolina. It was a well-prepared delegation, consisting of Undertaker J. G. Floyd and Attorney J. Manning Poliakoff, and others. Attorney Poliakoff argued that the general belonged in South Carolina where he was indeed a hero and was known in all the schools. Across Winchester, Poliakoff reported, only one out of 40 people asked could identify Daniel Morgan, whose neglected grave marker at Mt. Hebron Cemetery was chipped and overgrown with grass. Apparently, the citizens of Winchester had forgotten their long-departed hero. Cowpen's initiative spurred the citizens of Winchester to action to counter what they considered the first volley in a battle for the burial site of General Morgan.
The Cowpen's volley only served to rally the citizens of Winchester around their departed hero. This outside threat from South Carolina bade them to look at General Morgan anew (and determine to keep him in Winchester). Winchester struck the second blow of the battle when it brought suit in court to keep the general's body where it was. Reinforcements came in the form of support from political office-holders: South Carolina's Governor James F. Byrnes for Cowpens and Virginia Senator Harry Flood Byrd for Winchester. The combatants struck a truce while the judge made up his mind.
Cowpens put up a good fight, but the judge ruled for Winchester. General Morgan would remain there. To boot, Cowpens had to pay $250 for court costs. General Morgan would have been disappointed; the war was over before the combatants had reached the point of "downright fighting." But the citizens of Winchester were remorseful and, with renewed vigor, set about raising $2,000 for a new memorial. Cowpens residents were philosophical over their defeat, pleased, it was reported, that General Morgan was finally recognized. Undertaker J. G. Floyd, of the Cowpens delegation, went home empty-handed.
But all was not lost. The Town of Cowpens and the surrounding area gained national attention over the "battle" for Daniel Morgan's grave. On September 3, 1951, Life Magazine published the article, "Who Gets the General's Body?" complete with pictures taken at Winchester, Cowpens, and Spartanburg. Years later, in May 1980, Smithsonian resurrected the "battle" with the article, "Our Old Patriots' Remains Don't Get to Rest in Peace." Those and other articles were fitting reminders of the relevance of both Winchester and Cowpens to Daniel Morgan history.
Today, Spartanburg and Cherokee County residents can be proud that General Morgan is recognized in a number of ways: Daniel Morgan Avenue, Morgan Square and the Morgan statue, in Spartanburg, and, in Cherokee, the former Daniel Morgan School and the site of General Morgan's "gem of a victory" over one of Britain's finest force, Cowpens National Battlefield.