Saturday, January 8, 2011

Crossing of the Dan - South Boston, Virginia

Site of the Crossing of the Dan
One of the greatest military accomplishments of the American Revolution was not a battle, but a retreat.

In January and February of 1781, American General Nathaniel Greene led his army across North Carolina and into Virginia in what became known as the "Race to the Dan." The race was against the larger and much better equipped army of Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, the British commander in the South.

Greene's subordinate, General Daniel Morgan, had achieved a stunning victory over a British force led by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton at the Battle of Cowpens, South Carolina, on January 20, 1781. Not only was "Bloody Ban" Tarleton driven from the field, but more than 300 of his men were killed and wounded and another 630 taken prisoner.

Taking the prisoners and captured supplies and turning north, Morgan reunited with the main army under Greene and the Americans started a rapid retreat north across North Carolina. Aware the Cornwallis would be desperate to rescued the captured British soldiers and that they could not hope to stand against his main army, the Patriot generals launched a race for the Dan River in Virginia. If they could reach and cross that natural barrier ahead of Cornwallis, they knew they could end their campaign with success.

Crossing of the Dan Exhibit
For nearly four weeks the Americans stayed just ahead of the oncoming British as they moved rapidly through North Carolina and into Virginia. Ferry boats were destroyed along the way and rear guard actions help hold the British back just long enough for Greene to reach the Dan.

On February 14, 1781, he led his army across on a flotilla of flats and boats, successfully outrunning Cornwallis and bringing the prisoners captured by Morgan across the river and to safety. The British reached the Dan River shortly after the Americans had completed their crossing, but had no way to cross after them. Cornwallis withdrew back into North Carolina.

To learn more about Greene's great accomplishment and to see photos of the Crossing of the Dan Exhibit in South Boston, Virginia, please visit

(Photos by Heather LaBone)

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