The enigmatic Daniel Morgan was likely the best tactician of the war.
Born in New Jersey to James and Eleanor Morgan, a Welsh family, he became initially an officer in the Virginia Militia and at the start of the American Revolutionary War he recruited a company of riflemen. He served in Benedict Arnold’s expedition to Quebec and in the Saratoga campaign. Also the Philadelphia campaign before resigning from the army in 1779. He was to return to the army after the Battle of Camden, and led the Continental Army to victory at the Battle of Cowpens.
Morgan’s plan at the Battle of Cowpens took advantage of the British commander Tarleton’s tendency for quick action and his disdain for the American militia. Morgan positioned his Virginia riflemen to the front, followed by the militia, and the regulars in reserve at the hilltop. The first two units were to withdraw as soon as they were seriously threatened, but only after inflicting some damage.
This it was planned would invite a premature charge from the British.
The tactic resulted in a double envelopment. As the British forces approached, the Americans, with their backs turned to the British, reloaded their muskets. When the British got close, they turned and fired at point blank range. In less than an hour, Tarleton’s 1,076 men suffered 110 killed and 830 captured, and 200 prisoners which were wounded. The British Legion among one of the best units in Cornwallis’s army, was rendered useless.
The captured commander of a battalion of the 71st Regiment of foot, Archibald McArthur, said after the battle that, "he was an officer before Tarleton was born; that the best troops in the service were put under "that boy” to be sacrificed”. For his actions, Virginia gave Morgan land and an estate that had been abandoned by a Tory.