Morgan's Riflemen

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Surrender of General Burgoyne
Col. Morgan, having led his Riflemen in this victory, is shown in white, right of center

Morgan's Riflemen or Morgan's Rifles, previously Morgan's Sharpshooters, and the one named Provisional Rifle Corps, were an elite light infantry unit commanded by General Daniel Morgan in the American Revolutionary War, which served a vital role executing his tasks because it was equipped with what was then the cutting-edge rifle instead of muskets, allowing superior accuracy at an up to ten times the distance of the typical troops of the day.[1]


Daniel Morgan got his start in the Revolutionary War in 1775 as the captain of a small rifle unit set up by the state of Virginia, one of 10 such units commissioned by Congress. Morgan, desiring only the best marksmen, created a test by posting a 7-inch circle on a plank at 250 paces. He would hold the test twice, taking the first 40 men to strike the mark each time. They each got one chance, no sighter's. We will never know how the 41st man shot. His elite group of marksmen became known as "Morgan's Riflemen." Morgan quickly recruited 96 men (80 men and 16 officers), all capable of making that shot, and set out from Winchester, Virginia on July 14, 1775. They then marched 600 miles in 21 days arriving in Boston on August 6, 1775. They marched in rain. They marched in heat. They carried everything they needed. They gave an exhibition as described in the [2] Virginia Gazette of September 9, 1775 quoted; "A man held between his knees a board 5 inches wide and seven inches long, with a paper bulls-eye the size of a dollar. A rifleman at 60 yards without a rest, put eight bullets in succession through the bulls-eye. From the same source we are told that the rifleman gave an exhibition "in which a company, on a quick advance, placed their shots in 7 inch targets at 250 yards."

The rifle or more properly, the Pennsylvania Rifle and later known as the Kentucky Rifle made by German immigrants was cutting edge at the time as it had grooves called rifling to spin the ball greatly improving accuracy.

Later Morgan's most significant action was support for the invasion of Canada, and the Battle of Quebec[3] in which he was seen as a hero, despite General Benedict Arnold's overall failure and their subsequent capture.

In early 1777, when Morgan was freed from captivity, he was commissioned as a Colonel and assigned command of the 11th Virginia Regiment, and a few months later was also instructed by George Washington to form a Provisional Rifle Corps, men skilled with the use of the long rifle, from his and other nearby regiments.[4]

Having done so, his first assignment was to harass Colonel William Howe as he retreated through New Jersey. Morgan did so by having his 500 riflemen snipe the enemy troops as they moved, using their longer range to do so from safety, an unusual tactic for that day.

Sent to join the northern army headed by General Horatio Gates, Morgan's Riflemen helped establish better conditions for the coming Battle of Saratoga, by a series of quick attacks on their Indian allies, driving them back in order to interfere with British intelligence of the American troops' movements.[5] His Riflemen proved pivotal in several engagements, including driving back an advanced unit all the way to the enemy's main forces, and later helping turn the main battle by attacking from the right flank, and is credited with forcing the British retreat.[4]

After a series of similar successes, Morgan left active service for a year, then joined the southern army with Nathanael Greene.

Popular Media[edit]

Morgan's Riflemen were a key model for the fictional unit portrayed in the hit movie The Patriot, by Mel Gibson.[6]


  1. ^ Smoothbore Musket Versus the Long Rifle in the Revolutionary War Archived 2013-04-07 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Wright, John (August 31, 2017). "The Rifle in the American Revolution" (PDF). External link in |website= (help)
  3. ^ Daniel Morgan
  4. ^ a b Daniel Morgan and His Sharpshooters
  5. ^ Daniel Morgan's Military Experiences Archived 2013-02-17 at
  6. ^ The Patriot (DVD). Columbia Pictures. 2000. ISBN 0-7678-5846-8. Special features—True Patriots featurette