Description

    Confederate Officer's Archive of Letters by Alexander Porter Morse. Sixteen letters in all, most at least 4 pages in length and covering written throughout the war. Alexander Porter Morse (1842-1921) was the son of Louisiana state senator and attorney general Isaac E. Morse (1809-1866) and Margareta (Wederstrandt) Morse, daughter of a wealthy plantation family. The family vacationed in Islip, New York, and Morse's first letter is written from there at the outbreak of the war. After seeing to the safety of his sister at boarding school, Morse traveled south and enlisted as a private in the Morgan Rifles of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry. His career in the service unfolds in these letters home to his mother, including an escape from Union capture. Afterwards he was appointed to the staffs of Confederate Generals Kirby Smith and James Patrick Major.

    What follows are excerpts from a few of the letters in the group. Longer transcripts of all the letters can be found online HA.com/6154*49075.

    Morse writes to his mother following the rioting in Baltimore in late April 1861, rejoicing in the start of the war. The rioting in Baltimore was a response to 6th Massachusetts marching through on their way to defend Washington. Morse's letter is written on the blank pages of the bifolium of the letter he received from his sister's school notifying him that she was safe: "Herewith you will find a letter from Mrs. Shorb in reply to a note addressed to her by me during the excitement in Baltimore requesting her in case of any...danger to take Rosa under her roof. The letter speaks for itself...in your anxiety and to some degree unnecessary alarm you desired her return. Still she expected, unless hearing from you, to remain until June...Maryland I regard as the safest state in the Union. The desire to cultivate peace with her citizens will render the troops very affable. A great deal of grumbling, complaining & lawlessness exists there. The New York Seventh Regiment (the only one...in which they appear to have any confidence) will...return to New York this week. If so I fear the poor soldiers who are left will be seized by a violent fir of ague and trembling of the knees. I have more confidence than ever in the permanent success of the Southern Confederacy... it may be one battle of some importance will be fought. We think here that Virginia will be the Flanders of the war. Harper's Ferry, Richmond or Petersburg will most likely be the battlefield. I hope they will let the Federal troops penetrate some distance in Virginia and then cut them off entirely by a signal defeat on all sides. I trust you have a sufficient naval force at New Orleans in the way of steamers, gunboats etc to engage with any fleet that may attempt a blockade of the Mississippi. A defeat there will be a wonderful damper to their pleasant expectations. Great attention should be paid to the organization of a navy. Speed and efficiency should characterize their action in this regard. Fifty or sixty thousand troops, fully armed & equipped are reported in Virginia; Gen. Lee (a man who stands high even here, in military matters) commands this division... I confess to a great eagerness to return South and do my duty in the field, in spite of hot summer yellow...fever. I really like the Tippany Irish, am spoilage for the want of a fight... Try and get me a commission as Lieutenant or sergeant in some good corps..." Multiple tears have been repaired with cello tape, resulting in staining. Paper loss at top corner of letter originally sent to Morse.

    Morse returns south and joins the Morgan Rangers, and writes to his mother with news of the war in his training: "Camp Morgan, St. Coupee, La., October 16, 1861... We have just returned from a cavalry drill of two hours...we rise about half past five, dress and wash, then to the stable, water, clean and feed our horses...after breakfast... when you will hear the cry "saddle up"; this causes a rush to the stable, horse are bridled and saddled with as much haste as if there was a prospect of having a brush with the Yankees...ranks are then formed. The drill master (who went through the Mexican War with Col. Johnson's division) takes his stand and commences to put us right through in true military style... the officers, though lacking military experience are good men and...are all brave...the Morgan Rangers will fight well...Rainey has gone down to Baton Rouge...Capt. Le Jeune also took the boat this morning for New Orleans. He goes down to procure hats and purchase cloth for uniforms...the Lizzie Simmons stopped at our landing, put out the Capt. with some recruits... in reference to [my slave] Butler you and Pa must take any action you deem proper. I do not know but that it will be as well...to accept Mr. Rice's offer...I will endorse it whatever it may be... we learned yesterday that McClellan has crossed the Chain Bridge with a hundred thousand men. I hope it is true... the ladies of the neighborhood are preparing a flag which they design to present to us shortly and we are looking with pleasure to the good day a coming..." 4 pages, 8" x 12".

    A letter written later in the war informs his mother that he has been transferred to General Floyd's command: "Camp Minor near Russellville, Ky., Jan 30th/ 62... Our camp... has again been changed; we moved here from Bowling Green last Tuesday. We were ordered here with a division of some ten thousand or twelve thousand men, infantry, artillery & cavalry under Gen. Buckner, but subsequently transferred to Gen. Floyd's brigade to which we are...attached...we were destined for Green River district to attack Crittenden's command at Calhoun...we are here now...we will remain here until this point is thoroughly fortified... Our regiment has not had an opportunity of proving its claim to gallantry & chivalry...& Louisiana honor. We know this and feel that our attachment to a brigade has...curtailed our opportunities...I forget...to mention an expedition we made into the enemy's country since my last writing. Four companies of our regiment among which was ours were ordered to report to Col. Scott in two hours, armed & equipped. We reported at three o'clock in the evening & marched to this place just twenty nine miles of the worst road you ever traveled...reaching Greenville about three o'clock of a raw cold morning...one poor fellow was nearly frozen on his horse; his feet were frost bitten & he was so numbed that he fell from his horse. By the application of some warm water & brandy he at length came too. The object of our night march was to elude the vigilance of friends & foes...next morning we moved out from Greenville...& intended to proceed on to Carrolton situated on Green River and attack them...we were some two hundred & fifty men all told. We therefore threw out a party of scouts for observation. We were now...only five miles from the Yankees & their camp at Carrolton. The scouts returned in a few hours, reported the enemy two thousand strong and waiting [with] one thousand cavalry with which to meet us & surround us. Our pickets had been thrown out & I was Sergeant of the guard...sent out to draw in the pickets. They had already been ordered in... [I] got within a quarter of a mile of the Yankees...we plainly heard their drums beating roll call [Morse's mother makes a note referencing this event at the end of the letter]... Yours, A. P. M."

    His mother writes on the bottom of page three, in part: "Sequel as related to me by Lieut. Halsey: Porter's companion in this adventure was an excellent & very intelligent man named Lyons...the adjutant said to Porter, "if you don't get back in time with the men to join the rear guard follow us in haste to Elkton. Col. Scott to delude the enemy had given out that that was his destination as he learned they were aware of his proximity...when Porter & Lyons got within hearing distance of the enemy they concluded their picket must have been captured & thought it was time to make their way out of the Federal's reach...they turned about with hot speed [&] made their way over rough roads& in the dark...towards Elkton...where they found the command who had given them up for lost. Halsey said he never felt o bad in his life. They were greeted with cheers & congratulations..." On the verso she adds, in full: "File away all these letters of Porter's. They will be interesting to refer to in the future and valuable to me if he should never come back." Porter had originally written his letter in pencil, but it is later traced over in ink. As there is no hesitation in the flow of writing, it is likely that Porter is the person who has done the tracing.

    Porter is captured by Union forces and writes to his mother from the steamer Cahawba, off Fortress Monroe: "June 8, 1863... We arrived here this evening after a delightful trip...I feel like a different man & have been gaining strength every day...Capt. Fusulier [Capt. G. L. Fusilier of General Taylor's staff], Capt. Fuller [Capt. E. W. Fuller, Queen of the West] & all our sick have been improving rapidly. We are not certain whether we are to be exchanged or kept in confinement at the Fortress...Wilson Zouaves [6th New York Vols.] return on the Cahawba with us and constitute our guard...they treated us very well. I shall write to Baltimore if we stay here...all are party are well & have arrived here safely. My love to Rosa, May, H. & C., Pa Nursey, servants & all my friends...yr devoted son, A. P. Morse." Also included is a period copy of a manuscript military pass issued by Union Brig. General James Brown (1808-1886) as provost marshall of the Department of the Gulf. In full: "Office of Pro. Sheriff, Custom House, [New Orleans], May 16, 1863. Pass Mrs. Morse & family at all times to see her son a Prisoner of War confined in the Custom House. James Bowen, Brig. General." Negligible tape stains affecting the letter.

    A highlight of the group is four page letter dated July 1, 1863, in which Morse gives a detailed account of his escape from the USS Maple Leaf after subduing the crew: "Laburnum [Plantation], near Richmond, Va., July 1st/ 63... I have gone through some tragic scenes since I parted you all at home, on the 2nd June...I wrote you from Fortress Monroe...there we were put on a steamer & went up to Norfolk, lay there all night and in the morning took on some more prisoners & steamed down towards Hampton Roads...passed Fortress Monroe and out to sea on our way to Fort Delaware...the Yankee Lieut. said...he had no idea of the change...our plan had been agreed upon by the prisoners from N. Orleans; none or few of the Norfolk prisoners knowing anything about it until... [we] had culminated in our capturing the boat. The signal was a bow on the whistle when three of us being in readiness, near each sentinel, should seize him, throw him down and take his musket & hold him prisoner while ten or twelve of our men made a rush at the arms stacked in the cabin...all this was the work of a moment and when the Lieutenant came rushing out of his stateroom...enquiring 'What's the matter?' He was quietly told to be silent & return whence he came. That the tables were turned and that he was our prisoner. I have the musket, bayonet, cartridge box and belt which I took from one of the sentinels. Two of them resisted...we knocked them down with the butt of the gun and told them we would blow their brains out...they dropped their guns...there was no blood shed. We then called all the Yanks in a crowd & put a guard of three officers with loaded guns over them...if any demonstration was made we'd use the bayonet & gun. The Capt. of the boat, pilot & engineers all had a guard over them and the former was given to understand that if any signals were made or any of the machinery was allowed to get out of order we would beach the boat and blow her up. All this took place about three o'clock in the evening of June 10th, nine miles outside of Fortress Monroe. [Likely redacted by a Morse family member, who has cut out the name, writing in the missing word on the verso] proved to be a coward and refused to have anything to do with it & staid on board; Capt. Fuller and Musselman [Lt. J. M. Musselman, 14th La. Vols.] and McLean [Capt. F. J. McLean, 9th Tenn. Cavalry] were not able to leave; but every man who left her (71 in number) arrived here safely last Tuesday morning, a dirtier...used up, but happier set of devils...we had to leave all our clothes and things behind...all that is nothing when compared to our escape from the Yanks." A first-hand account of little known event. A report by Commander General John A. Dix's states that the Maple Leaf left Fortress Monroe at 1:30 p.m. on June 10, 1863 for Fort Delaware with 97 Rebel officers aboard. The majority of the prisoners organized a revolt, and overpowered the guards. Dix recommended that the commander be dismissed from the service due to negligence. Lieut. Col. William D. Ludlow, agent for the exchange of prisoners, threatened that the escapees would be hung if recaptured.

    The archive includes a postwar letter from a Professor William Hand Browne, John Hopkins University, May 23, 1899 addressed to Morse bringing his attention to an article in the Southern Magazine of September1871, entitled: "The Capture of the Maple Leaf" and mentioning that he would be happy to pick up a copy of the magazine for Morse if wanted. A few light stains at the top of Morse's letter, and some soiling to the last page.

    Much more good content in the group. Morse is a good narrator, and sends home both news of family friends as well as the war. Additional letters are transcribed at HA.com/6154*49075.

    Condition: Overall, very good, though a few have tape stains.


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