Amazing stories lost to time that emerge serendipitously are similar to finding treasures unexpectedly in that old trunk in the attic. As in this case, sometimes the treasure is found within the pages of an old magazine.
The headline in the September 3, 1951 LIFE magazine was “Who Gets The General’s Body?” The article and photos reported about the feud between two southern towns that claimed the remains of Daniel Morgan.
Morgan was an American pioneer, soldier and United States Representative from Virginia. One of the most gifted battlefield tacticians of the Revolutionary War, Morgan also commanded troops during the Whiskey Rebellion, when he received his promotion to major general.
Morgan’s roots are believed to be in New Jersey, but he is better identified as a southerner. As a teenager, he moved to the Shenandoah Valley and finally settled on the Virginia frontier near what is now Winchester. Daniel Boone was his cousin.
During the Revolution, Morgan was at the siege of Boston, participated in the Canadian invasion force at Quebec, fought at Saratoga and Bemis Heights, and then defeated the British at Cowpens. After the war, he built a house in Winchester.
Morgan twice sought election to the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist. He lost the 1794 election, but he did win the following election and served from 1797 to 1799.
Morgan died during 1802 at his daughter’s home in Winchester. He was buried in Winchester’s Old Stone Presbyterian Church graveyard. His remains were moved to the nearby Mount Hebron Cemetery after the Civil War.
The Cowpens/Winchester Feud
The folks of Cowpens (South Carolina) always felt that Morgan’s remains should have been interred in their hallowed ground. As reported in the 1951 article, they asked Winchester to return the body. When Winchester refused, Cowpens sent an undertaker and a crew armed with shovels. They also presented a document from Morgan’s great-great-granddaughter that authorized the transfer of Morgan’s remains.
Winchester mobilized historians and cemetery officials to repel the invaders, forcing the Cowpens crew to withdraw. Cowpens countered by taking the matter to court. South Carolina’s governor supported Cowpens. Virginia’s officials backed Winchester. Eventually, an uneasy truce was called while the matter went before a judge.
The Cowpens folks claimed that their town was the site of Morgan’s greatest victory. They added that Cowpens always paid tribute to Morgan with named streets, squares and several monuments while Winchester provided much less of a memorial to the Revolutionary War hero. A Cowpens lawyer reported that only one person in the 40 he quizzed in Winchester knew about Morgan.
To support its side, Winchester became a little more active with remembrances of Morgan. During the fracas, in the house Morgan lived his last days and where he died, the death bed was retrieved from the attic for public display.
While that house has had a number of additions since Morgan passed away, it continues to stand and now is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
So, what about the mortal remains of Daniel Morgan? After all these years, after all the feuding, threats and court actions, the general has never left Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester.