Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life

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Daniel Morgan: A Revolutionary Life by Albert Louis Zambone (Westholme Publishing, 2018)

Few figures in the American Revolution contributed more towards victory over Great Britain than Daniel Morgan of Virginia. His leadership in two of the most significant engagements of the Revolutionary War, the battles of Saratoga and Cowpens, as well as his bold conduct throughout the war, made Morgan one of the most esteemed American patriots of his day. Sadly, few people today are aware of Morgan’s contributions to American independence and liberty.

Albert Louis Zambone’s new biography, Daniel Morgan, A Revolutionary Life, seeks to change this and does so in a book that is well written and researched. Zambone’s eye for detail and keen analysis have created a captivating biography on a larger than life patriot and readers will undoubtedly find the author’s work thoroughly informative and enjoyable.

Although Zambone himself acknowledges that he provides little in the way of new revelations or discoveries on Morgan to add to Don Higginbotham’s 1961 biography Daniel Morgan, Revolutionary Rifleman, Zambone provides readers with significantly more historical context to Morgan’s story than Higginbotham (or any other Morgan biographer). This rich context helps fill gaps in Morgan’s story, particularly his pre-Revolutionary War life, which even Morgan was hesitant to discuss in detail. Zambone’s vivid description of life in pre-Revolutionary Frederick County, Virginia as well as the life of colonial waggoneers (one of Morgan’s early occupations) helps readers better envision Morgan’s early life, a topic that is largely devoid of detailed historical records. With the historical evidence that does exist about Morgan’s early life placed into its proper and more detailed context, readers will come away with a much better understanding of Daniel Morgan, the man. Additionally, Zambone’s use of just the right amount of psychoanalysis of Morgan (for instance, speculating that his spending habits in the 1760s suggest that Morgan had an inner “dandy” or gentleman in him) are spot on and something that challenges conventional views of Morgan, the proud backwoodsman.

Of course, the central focus of any work on Daniel Morgan will always be his service in the Revolutionary War, and in this Zambone offers a very thorough and balanced look at Morgan’s contributions and occasional missteps. Readers will enjoy learning of Morgan’s many exploits, from marching through the wilderness of Maine with Benedict Arnold and storming the walls of Quebec in a blizzard in 1775, to smashing the British ranks at both Saratoga and Cowpens in 1777 and 1781, respectively. Zambone does a fine job of explaining Morgan’s crucial role in all of these engagements (as well as several others). The author also acknowledges Morgan’s faults, such as his determination to resign from the army when General Washington selected a different officer to command the newly formed Light Infantry Corps in 1779. In doing so, however, Zambone once again places the incident in its proper historical context with an excellent discussion of the importance of honor and rank to American officers.

General Morgan eventually received the promotion he so strongly desired (and had earned) and rejoined the war effort in the fall of 1780, leading troops to victory in early 1781 at Cowpens before he was forced to depart for Virginia, this time for health reasons. Morgan’s poor health prevented his return to the army in any meaningful role and he spent the last two decades of his life in and around Winchester, Virginia, an icon to his neighbors.

The young, teenage grub farmer who had risen to the rank of brigadier-general in the continental army ended his public service with one term in the United States House of Representatives. His was certainly a life well lived, and Albert Zambone’s outstanding biography Daniel Morgan, A Revolutionary Life shares Morgan’s story with all who read it.

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