Trivia — What do Lincolnton and Morganton have in common? Yeah, “ton” is a part of both their names, a shortening of the word ‘town’ from an earlier era. But what about Lincoln and Morgan. Who were these men who must have done something significant to get two cities named for them in western North Carolina?
Both were heroes of the American Revolution. Both did something in the war that won them admiration from everyone that studies the improbable rise of the Patriots as victors in the War of Independence.
Let’s start with Benjamin Lincoln. Born in Hingham, Massachusetts, he was early to the cause of separation from the British. He started as a politician but served in the militia and became an officer in Washington’s army. When the war got bogged down up north and the British implemented the southern strategy, Lincoln tried to hold them off in Savannah, then Charleston, neither place defendable. Lincoln knew his position was untenable but helped some of his troops get away before capitulating. After being exchanged for parole, Lincoln rejoined Washington as his second-in-command at Yorktown. When Cornwallis would not hand over his sword in person, pleading illness, Washington sent Lincoln to accept the British surrender in his place. Later, Benjamin Lincoln served as the first Secretary of War under the Articles of Confederation.
Daniel Morgan was a contemporary of Lincoln’s, coming from Winchester, Virginia. He recruited a company of riflemen that became deadly snipers. They excelled at taking out British officers daily until Washington stopped the practice, citing misgivings about guerrilla warfare. Morgan participated in the Invasion of Quebec, the victories at Saratoga and Monmouth, before heading south to counter the British, just as Lincoln did.
Morgan’s moment of genius was at the Battle of Cowpens. There he placed militiamen at the front of the battle line. He knew they were likely to run so he told them they only had to fire two shots before retreating. Once they did, British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton thought he had them on the run. Little did Tarleton know that Morgan had positioned his Continental Regulars behind the militia and cavalry on both sides that enveloped the British as they charged head long after the retreating men. It was a stellar move that resulted in the capture of most of Tarleton’s Legion and an important Patriot victory.
Sciatica forced Morgan to retire after his triumph at Cowpens but the victory helped drive what was left of Cornwallis’ army north to Yorktown, where Benjamin Lincoln would be waiting. In 1790, Congress awarded Daniel Morgan a gold medal for his service during the war. Later, he took up Lincoln’s first profession as a politician winning a term in U.S. House of Representatives.
Lincoln County and Morganton came along around the same time (Morganton in 1777, Lincoln County in 1779 with Lincolnton in 1785) as their namesakes were making history. As far as can be determined, neither man visited the town named for them, but the impact of each, especially in the southern theatre of the Revolutionary War was enough to make sure they were honored, their names still very much a part of our lives. Since they helped create these United States, they should be.
Photo: The two men for whom significant places in the western piedmont and foothills are named, Benjamin Lincoln and Daniel Morgan.