The Battle of New Orleans and other Military Matters…

The Battle of New Orleans was fought 8 January 1815–two weeks after the war had ended and Treaty of Ghent had already been signed in Europe. The British were crushed, with more than 2,000 casualties. The American forces were led by General Andrew Jackson, who became a hero for his tactical brilliance and the alliances he had made to ensure victory. Most American genealogists know this story well.

The Battle of Cowpens was fought in the Carolinas, 17 January 1781. Brigadier-General Daniel Morgan, the American hero of Saratoga met Lieutenant-Colonel Banastre Tarleton on the field called Cowpens. The British forces were routed by the brilliance of Morgan’s use of militia. This story is not well known by American genealogists. Historian John Buchanan relates the story in The Road to Guilford Courthouse: The American Revolution in the Carolinas (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997): 313-33.

The profession of arms does not often attract innovative minds. Good generals do what has been done before them better than run-of-the-mill generals, and great generals do it far better. On rare occasions, however, the uncommon man appears who solves a serious problem with a method untried, yet on the face of it so simple that afterward others wonder why it took so long to discover. Daniel Morgan was one of those rare individuals. This untutored son of the frontier was the only general in the American Revolution on either side, to produce a significant original tactical thought. He had no illusions about the behavior of militia in formal battle. But the use of the militia in battle was vital to the cause because there were rarely enough Continentals to face the British alone. The unanswered question until the Battle of Cowpens was how best to use them when their presence was required in orthodox eighteenth-century combat.

Morgan answered the question: He would not try to get the militia to do what they were not meant to do. For he knew them, he came from them, those country people, those backwoodsmen, knew their faults and their virtues, their capabilities and their failings, knew that “the militia are brave men and will fight if you let them come to action in their own way.”

Put the militia in the front ranks, said Morgan. Don’t expect them to stand fast as generals before him had insisted. Instead use their propensity to flee when faced by massed bayonets advancing on them to work for you…

Brigadier General Daniel Morgan disposed the bulk of his militia in this unorthodox way: Many of these men were expert riflemen, and Morgan, who was himself an expert rifleman, wanted to get the best he could out of every man. In front of each officer with trained Continentals, he placed a militia unit under its own capable officers to engage the enemy and then fall back in reserve to merge with other troops. All he asked of them was two volleys at fifty yards, with special attention to officers and sergeants, then to fall back as a reserve.

The British, tired and hungry from marching all night, were unprepared for this tactic. They assumed that each time a militia would fall back and retreat, they were being routed. When met again, as an organized troop, Tarleton and his cavalry became confused and disoriented. An hour later, the British troops were wounded and dead on the battlefield. Daniel Morgan had planned and executed the tactical masterpiece of the war.

The principal sources for these conclusions came from diaries and journals of the militiamen and their officers, military reports from Morgan and his Continental officers, news accounts spread across the countryside–written at the time and later by the men who participated in the battle.

The tactical masterpiece of the war–using the local militias as tactical support for the Continental Army doing what they did best. The orthodox method of warfare, marching in tight lines across the field, stepping over the soldiers in front of them as they fell, to be shot down in turn was “the most beautiful line I ever saw,” reported one militiaman.

Don’t you think that genealogy is like that? A beautiful line, but a disaster as a strategy. While you build on the work of previous genealogists, you needn’t make their same errors. Try some of the new strategies outlined in my blogs and see if they don’t make a difference in your search for hard-to-find ancestors. Try a different, sometimes unorthodox tactic if you want a different result. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS And if you need professional help, remember that I have developed new genealogy tactics that guarantee success!

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