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A Daniel Morgan Comitia Americana Medal

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A couple of weeks ago I posted pictures of the William Washington and John Howard medals. These pieces were struck in copper from the same sets of dies that used to strike the silver medals that the Continental Congress awarded to those heroes for their bravery at the Battle of the Cowpens.


The overall American commander at this battle was Daniel Morgan. Daniel Morgan was highly competent Revolutionary War general who has been largely lost to history. He signed up soon after the war began but then sat out on the conflict for a while because he could not stand General Horatio Gates. Gates, who had had experience in the British Army prior to the Revolution, fancied himself as a better general than George Washington. He and his friends in Congress lobbied long and hard for Gates to become General-in-Chief.


Gates main claim to fame was that he “won” the Battle of Saratoga, and Congress awarded him a gold medal in recognition of that. Here is the Gates medal in copper that was struck from the original die pair:




The real hero of the Battle of Saratoga was Benedict Arnold. That’s right the most famous traitor in American history was the general who most responsible for winning the battle that historians view as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Arnold bravely led the American forces in Battle while Gates dithered behind the lines.


Arnold was badly wounded during the Battle of Saratoga. If he had died he would have been remembered as a hero. But during his convalescence he brooded about the fact that he had not received the credit that he deserved from the American Congress in the form of a medal. He also was concerned about providing for his high society wife on his comparatively meager income. Those factors led to his defection to the British, and his ultimate disgrace.


At any rate, after the war in the north had largely come to a stalemate, the British decided to move their main operations to the south. There they thought that more Tories would come their aid.


At first things when very well for the British. They easily gained on foothold in the American coastal ports, and badly defeated the Americans, who were led by General Gates, at Camden. That defeat finally bust “the Gates bubble.” He would no longer be a major figure in the Revolution. At that time Daniel Morgan returned to shore up the American cause.


The Battle of the Cowpens was fought in much the same way as it is depicted in the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot. The main difference was that Mel Gibson's character and the bad guy squared off on horseback, not on the ground.


The Battle of the Cowpens was fought in much the same way as it is depicted in the Mel Gibson movie. Morgan's troops were mostly militia men and were not prepared to face the professional British soldiers. Morgan feared that his men might cut and run when things got tough. It was perhaps that reason that he chose a battle site where his men had their backs to a river. At any rate Morgan’s plan was ingenious.


At the beginning of the battle Morgan set a line musketeers in front of the British. Their assignment was to fire one volley into the British lines and then retreat behind a hill. Following this volley the British chased after their attackers only to find a much large American force waiting for them over ridge. Using the element of surprise, the American infantry engaged the British and were immediately supported by flanking movements on both sides by the American cavalry under William Washington.


The Battle of the Cowpens was a turning point in the southern phase of the War. It provided the American with a much need victory and moral booster. For that victory Morgan was awarded a gold medal. It was designed by the French medal master Augustin Dupre, and it is considered to be one of the most beautiful medals in the series. This piece in copper was not made from the original dies, but it is virtually identical. If there is interest I’ll write about the history of this medal in a subsequent post.








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If there is interest I’ll write about the history of this medal in a subsequent post.


Of course there is interest! I've loved both of your Libertas Americana posts! I've always loved the medals but I can now appreciate them with your historical accounts. I personally thank you for your time in doing this. Plus, I'm on the 5th book of the "Outlander" series which is leading up to the American Revolution. So, I have further interest in your posts because of this as well.


Keep 'em coming, Bill!

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Here is the history of Daniel Morgan medal that is available for collectors.


It is virtually impossible to obtain an example of the Daniel Morgan medal that was struck from the original die pair. But, in this instance, that is really not very important.


Daniel Morgan, like all of those to whom the Continental Congress awarded medals, had to wait a long time to receive his award. After Congress voted the award to Morgan in 1781, the gold medal would not reach his hands until 1789. Part of the problem had to do with the priorities of our ambassadors to France.


Another aspect had to do with the wording that was to appear on the piece. Originally plans had called for a listing of the number of casualties and prisoners taken during the battle on the medal. The French informed the Americans that it was improper to list such things on a military award. At a time before radio and cable such exchanges of information took many months if not a year or more. At any rate Daniel Morgan, unlike Nathanial Greene, was alive when his medal finally arrived in America.


In the mid 1830’s Morgan Neville, who was an heir to Daniel Morgan, stated that the original medal been lost. He wanted a replacement and was able to convince Congress to enact a law that would provide him with one. Treasury officials checked their archives in Washington, DC and at the Philadelphia mint, but no one could locate the original dies.


Neville therefore requested that a new set of dies should be produced by the French. The one easily obtainable example of the Morgan medal was in a set of Comitia Americana medals in silver that was then in the possession of Daniel Webster. This was the same set that had been awarded to George Washington at the time that he had received his award. The Massachusetts Historical Society now owns this set.


Webster agreed to loan the Morgan medal for use in the project. The medal was shipped to Paris and French medalist M. Barre made a pair of copy dies from it. The French struck the gold medal plus a small number of pieces in bronze and shipped those medals, the dies and original silver medal back to America in 1839.


Morgan Neville did not live to see his ancestor’s replacement medal. He died before the project was completed. After some wrangling the gold medal was given to Neville’s son, who was the rightful heir in 1841.


The differences between the original medal and the copies, which were made starting in 1839 are very minor. They have to do with the spacing of a couple of letters (DA at 10:30) on the obverse and presence of absence of a tiny period on the reverse. In short the new dies were virtually identical to old ones.


The U.S. mint used the new set of Daniel Morgan dies to produce medals for many years. It is difficult to distinguish between the French made bronze pieces and those that the U.S. mint produced. The French did not begin to place their edge devices upon bronze medals until 1841. If that had been the practice in 1839, telling the French and American products apart would be easy.


Years ago I purchased a Daniel Morgan medal that the dealer claimed as a French striking. I may have made a mistake since I paid a premium for it. But later I “cost averaged” that when I purchased an American made example for very short dollars. Attributing the time at which these medals were struck is always a challenge and part of the fun of the series.


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