By Mary Thomason-Morris
This somewhat altered old Chevy commercial ditty from the early 1960s almost works to describe how we know the Fourth of July. Of course, every child is taught that we celebrate because on the 4th of July 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed.
It is for certain, that hot July day in Philadelphia, the men at the Continental Congress were not thinking of the words in the title. Most of them were trying to keep a word out of their minds—hanging! It was, “Win this war or hang as a traitor.” Luckily for them, and us, five years later they won, and all of them could now legally be called Founding Fathers.
The Revolutionary War was already a year old before Thomas Jefferson put pen to paper. In June 1775, Congress called for 10 rifle companies to be formed, two from the Virginia frontier. Berryville resident Daniel Morgan and Shepherdstown resident Hugh Stephenson answered the call and gathered frontiersmen with accurate-shooting long rifles and woods skills.
On July 14, 1775, Daniel and Hugh were to meet at Shepherdstown to begin the march toward General Washington’s army at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Daniel’s company got a jump on Hugh’s, and the march became a race between the two companies. Daniel arrived on August 6, 1775; Hugh on August 11, 1775. No matter who won this race, marching 24–26 miles a day and losing not one man, is a feat.
This race has become known over the years as the Beeline March. The U.S. Army says that these 10 rifle companies raised in July of 1775, including the two Virginia companies captained by Hugh Stephenson and Daniel Morgan, were the foundation of today’s United States armed forces.
With his military service during the French & Indian War, in the Virginia militia, renowned leadership during the Revolutionary War, ending the Whiskey Rebellion, and serving one term in Congress, Daniel Morgan accrued 45 years of service to our country—surely qualifying for the title of Founding Father.
Morgan died in his daughter’s home on July 6, 1802, and was buried at Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Winchester. Afterwards, except sporadically, his accomplishments were ignored. In 1868 his badly vandalized grave was moved to Mt. Hebron Cemetery. Again, except briefly, Daniel Morgan was ignored. Even in 1921, when a cannon finally arrived to mark his resting spot, it turned out to be a Civil War-era naval siege gun, not a revolutionary war-era cannon. Luckily, the despised gun served its country during World War II by being removed and melted down for ammunition.
Things stayed quiet at Morgan’s grave until August 1951, when Morgan’s third-great granddaughter sent undertakers from South Carolina on a mission to remove her ancestor’s body to the battlefield at Cowpens. This visit stirred a hornet’s nest. The conflict for ownership of old Daniel actually ended up in the pictorial pages of Life Magazine—South Carolina men with shovels on one side, Winchester notables and legal eagles on the other. Thank goodness for poor Daniel Winchester prevailed, and again things were peaceful in Mt. Hebron Cemetery.
In April 1953 a project to finally mark Daniel Morgan’s grave came to fruition. A marble marker was placed beside the grave. It is inscribed:
“The people of Winchester, Virginia, dedicate this memorial
to the patriotism and valor of General Daniel Morgan
in the cause of American Independence.”
Think about Daniel Morgan, the ‘Old Wagoner’, as you eat a hot dog or watch the beautiful fireworks this Fourth of July, and say a ‘thank you’ in his direction.