ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Race to the Dan, Virginia & North Carolina
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Race to the Dan, Virginia & North Carolina
The Crossing of the Dan
On February 14, 1781, American troops led by Gen.
Nathaniel Greene crossed the Dan River to achieve
one of the greatest victories of the Revolution.
Crossing of the Dan Exhibit
The Prizery, a cultural center
in South Boston, Virginia, is
home to a beautiful exhibit on
the Crossing of the Dan.
Greene Plans the Crossing
A display at the Crossing of
the Dan exhibit portrays Gen.
Nathaniel Greene and the
planning of the crossing.
The Crossing of the Dan - South Boston, Virginia
Winning the "Race to the Dan"
A Landmark Moment
The Crossing of the Dan was
a landmark moment that
opened the door wide for
American liberty.
Copyright 2010 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
On February 14, 1781, American General
Nathaniel Greene achieved one of the
greatest victories of the American Revolution,
not in battle but by succeeding in a maneuver
remembered today as "The Crossing of the

The crossing of Greene's Army across the
Dan River from North Carolina into Virginia
was the climactic moment of the famed
"Race to the Dan," a chase across North
Carolina that began after American forces
stunned British troops at the
Battle of
Cowpens in South Carolina. The stunning
achievement is remembered today at the
Crossing of the Dan Exhibit in South Boston,

As winter descended on the Carolinas in
December of 1780, the British army of Lt.
Gen. Charles, Lord Cornwallis appeared to
be on the verge of ultimate victory in the
South. Charleston had fallen and the
American army of Gen. Horatio Gates had
been destroyed at Camden, South Carolina,
on August 16th.

One of Gen. George Washington's most able
subordinates, Gen. Nathaniel Greene, was
sent to North Carolina in a desperate effort to
salvage the situation. Greene arrived to find
that he was severely outnumbered and that
what remained of the American army was
starving, poorly clothed and barely equipped.

Through a Herculean effort he rebuilt the
American army and, even though he was still
severely outnumbered, undertook a daring
strategy of dividing his army in the face of the
much larger British army. On December 21,
1780, Greene sent Gen. Daniel Morgan into
South Carolina with one wing of his army.

One of the greatest American military officers
of all time, Morgan allowed himself to be
pursued by British troops under Lt. Col.
Banastre Tarleton, known in the Carolinas as
"Bloody Ban" because he had previously
massacred surrendering American soldiers.
After drawing Tarleton away from possible
reinforcement from the rest of the British
army, Morgan turned on him at the
Battle of
Cowpens on January 17, 1781. Using
brilliant battlefield tactics, Morgan smashed
Tarleton's command and then retreated
rapidly north into North Carolina with
hundreds of prisoners and a wealth of
captured weaponry and supplies.

Notified of Morgan's achievement, Gen.
Greene also turned his wing of the army
north. He knew that Lord Cornwallis would
be furious over the loss and would move
quickly to destroy the American army and
recapture the prisoners taken by Morgan. The
future hopes of the Patriot effort in the South
now depended on his ability to get his men
safely beyond the reach of the British. So
began the famed "Race to the Dan."

Greene and Morgan moved rapidly north,
pushing the prisoners forward as rapidly as
possible and destroying boats and ferry
crossings as they advanced. Cornwallis
burned his own burdensome trains of supply
wagons and chased with remarkable speed.

Morgan was in poor health and was soon
forced to give up his command, but Greene
continued north with his now reunited army.
Cornwallis was close behind, sometimes
failing to catch Greene in a vulnerable spot by
mere hours.
A Race turned Victorious
The Crossing ended the
famed Race to the Dan, in
which Gen. Nathaniel Greene
out-maneuvered Gen. Lord
Charles Cornwallis.
There was some skirmishing as the two
armies raced north, but Greene refused to
turn and fight a major battle that he knew he
would almost certainly lose.

As the Race to the Dan continued, Gen.
Greene aimed his army for the Dan River, a
wide and important natural barrier near the
line dividing North Carolina from Virginia. If
he could reach the Dan, he knew, he would
be able to prevent Cornwallis from crossing.

With Cornwallis and his cold and exhausted
army close behind, Greene reached a place
called Boyd's Ferry on the Dan River. On
February 14, 1781, St. Valentine's Day, and
with some of his men manning defensive
earthworks to hold off the British if they came
on too fast, he moved his men across the
river. A flotilla of ferryboats and every small
boat the Americans could find was used to
carry men, wagons, supplies and cannon

The Crossing of the Dan was a brilliant
success. Greene saved his army and just
one month later crossed back over the river
to challenge Cornwallis at the
Battle of
Guilford Courthouse. The American army
would go on to reconquer much of the South,
while the British would march on to ultimate
defeat at the
Battle of Yorktown.

The Crossing of the Dan is interpreted today
by a beautiful museum in Halifax, Virginia.
The Crossing of the Dan Exhibit is located in
The Prizery, a cultural center that stands on
the site of the home of the Boyd Family, the
operators of the ferry where Greene's army
crossed the river.

The Prizery is located at 700 Bruce Street in
South Boston, Virginia. It is open from 8 a.m.
to 5 p.m. The Daughters of the American
Revolution have also placed a memorial on
Broad Street overlooking the crossing site.

Please click here to visit an excellent site on
the Race to the Dan.
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