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Charley Morgan

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol II.  Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

Lord Cornwallis, on taking command of the British forces in Virginia, felt himself so superior to the Americans, that he exulted in the prospect of success; and despising the youth of his opponent, Lafayette, unguardedly wrote to Great Britain, “The boy cannot escape me.” The marquis’s army consisted of three thousand and sixty men. Cornwallis proceeded from Petersburg to James River, which he crossed in order to dislodge Lafayette from Richmond. That place having been evacuated, he then marched through Hanover county, and crossed the South Anna River—Fayette constantly following his motions, but at a guarded distance, in every part of his progress. His lordship at one time planned the surprisal of the marquis, while on the same side of the James River with himself; but was diverted from his intention by a spy, whom Fayette had sent into his camp. The marquis was very desirous of obtaining full intelligence concerning his lordship, and concluded upon prevailing, if possible, upon one Charles (generally called Charley) Morgan, a Jersey soldier, of whom he had entertained a favorable opinion, to turn deserter and go over to the British army, in order to his executing the business of a spy more effectually. Charley was sent for and agreed to undertake the hazardous employ, but insisted, in case he should be discovered and hanged, the marquis, to secure his reputation, should have it inserted in the Jersey paper, that he was sent upon the service by his commander. Charles deserted, and when he had reached the royal army, was carried before his lordship, who inquired into the reason of his deserting, and received for answer,I have been,” my lord,with the American army from the beginning, and while under General Washington was satisfied; but being put under a Frenchman, I do not like it, and have left the service.” His lordship commended and rewarded his conduct. Charley was very diligent in the discharge of his military duty, and was not in the least suspected; but at the same time carefully observed all that passed. One day while on particular duty with his comrades, Cornwallis, in close conversation with some officers, called Charley to him, and said, “How long a time will it take the marquis to cross James River?” Charley paused a moment, and answered, “Three hours, my lord.” His lordship exclaimed, “Three hours! why it will take three days.” “No, my lord,” said Charley, “the marquis has so many boats, and each boat will carry so many men. If your lordship will be at the trouble of calculating, you will find he can cross in three hours.” His lordship turned to the officers, and in the hearing of Charley, remarked,The scheme will not do.” Charley concluded this was the moment for his returning to the marquis. He, as soon as possible, plied his comrades “with grog till they were well warmed, and then opened his masked battery. He complained of the wants that prevailed in the British camp, commended the supplies with which the American abounded, expressed his inclination to return, and then asked, “What say you, will you go with me?” They agreed. It was left with him to manage as to the sentries. To the first he offered, in a very friendly manner, the taking a draught of rum out of his canteen. While the fellow was drinking, Charley secured his arms, and then proposed his deserting with them, to which he consented through necessity. The second was served in like manner. Charley Morgan by his management carried off seven deserters with him. When he had reached the American army, and was brought to head-quarters, the marquis, upon seeing him, cried out,Ha! Charley, are you got back?” “Yes; and please your excellency, and have brought seven more with me,” was the answer. When Charley had related the reason’ of his returning, and the observations he had made, the marquis offered him money, but he declined accepting it, and only desired to have his gun again. The marquis then proposed to promote him to the rank of a corporal or a sergeant. To this Morgan replied,I will not have any promotion. I have abilities for a common soldier, and have a good character; should I be promoted, my abilities may not answer, and I may lose my character.” He however nobly requested for his fellow-soldiers, who were not so well supplied with shoes, stockings, and clothing as himself, that the marquis would promise to do what he could to relieve their distresses, which he easily obtained.—Gordon, iv. 118.