DescriptionUnion Soldier J.A. Morlan Archive of Letters. A group of over thirty-five letters from Morlan, who signs his letters as "Andrew", the majority addressed to his parents, war-dated, covering the period from October 12, 1862 to May 11, 1865. Many of letters include their original transmittal envelopes. Morlan enlisted as a Private on August 1, 1862 and was soon mustered into "D" Company of the Illinois 107th Infantry. His unit participated in important battles such as the Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the Battle of Franklin and the Battle of Nashville. During his service in the war, Morlan was promoted to Corporal. He would survive the war and was mustered out of service on June 21, 1865 at Salisbury, NC. J.A. Morlan died on October 6, 1921.
Early into his career in the military, Morlan witnessed a remarkable event involving an old veteran. At that point, the 107th Illinois Infantry had moved from Louisville to Munfordville, KY, in pursuit of Bragg's army. On December 18, 1862, he detailed: "There was an old man that lived in town here that was in the 1812 war & was at N Orleans took up a rifle & came in behind the breast works & said he wanted to have a few shots at them before he died & every time he fired it was supposed that he [illegible] a man for he always took deliberate aim & it was supposed that he killed or crippled at least 30 rebels but he fell at last with 17 musket balls in him he was 70 years old & upwards he had served his country faithfully if every any one did..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 7.5" x 9.75"].
While in Kentucky, he wrote about the light fighting he participated in and the reputation that the 107th had already gained by this point in the war. In a letter dated July 15, 1863, he writes: "I expect ere you get this you will be alarmed by a report that the rebels have been in here & cut us all up again but it was only a few Gurrilas [sic] got in above us up at Elisabethtown & captured a freight train, took some horses, set fire to the train then made the engineer put up the steam & jumped off then robed [sic] him & the conductor broke open the steams express car safe & robbed it & then decamped in haste. It was first reported there was 700 of them then 400 next only 70 & I heard last night they had taken 40 of them & I will bet if the 107 & 5 Ind. [illegible] would get ahold of them there wouldn't be many prisoners brought in for we don't take prisoners of that stripe we don't think it pays to take those kind prisoners & then parole them & have them to take again in the course of a week or two. The bones of a good many lie bleaching in the hollow along the Cumberland that no one but some of the privates know anything about. The rebels round here are all as fraid as death of these two Regts. For they have found our mode of warfare out..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5.5" x 8"].
By 1864, Morlan had already been in with the Federal Army for almost two years, and had experienced his fair share of war. The 107th Illinois had joined up with Sherman's Army to aid with the Atlanta Campaign, and Morlan's unit was chosen for special assignment. On May 21, 1864, while on the way to Cassville, GA, he wrote: "...Our Corps has got orders to let the men recruit two days & for all men to be sent back that can't stand hard work & a good deal of fatigue. I don't know what we are going to do or where we are to do it but it is something of importance. Our Corps is noted for fast marching which I suppose is the reason we were chosen. We are taking some prisoners every day & picking up straglers [sic] & deserters which latter are very numerous. They report Johnson to have from forty to fifty thousand & that Gen. Bureguard [sic] had reinforced him with eight Brigades. They have some fortifications over the River but how strongly I don't know. I don't think if the folks at home were here to see the broad wheat & cornfields that we have passed over in the last week they would talk any more about starving them out. The wheat is better I expect than any fall wheat you have got this season." [Three pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8"].
A few weeks later, he wrote again to inform his parents of the progress Grant and the army were making as well as providing an insight into the issues that the Army had with volunteer contracts at this point in the war. June 13, 1864, in the field near Altoona, GA: "Once again I seat myself to pen you a few more lines to gratify your longing desires to know how I am getting along through the hourly & I might say momentary dangers both seen & unseen that the soldiers of this command are called upon to pass through in this present Campaign...we have been laying idle & have not been engaged in any conflict with the enemy. Although we are in plain hearing of the continual crack of the skirmishes Rifle & an occasional boom of a cannon. It has been raining almost constantly for the past three days & nights & the roads have become almost impassable for artillery. I do not know what are the intentions for this week but it looks to me like we would not be very apt to move far, which indeed I am pretty sure of unless the Rebs either voluntarily or are forced to fall back for we are right on their works in a manner...Camp Gossip says that Grant telegraphed Serman [sic] some days ago not to push too hard here but I take it for what it's worth. We are a good ways from our principal base of supplies & about 12 miles from the nearest R.R. communication. Consequently we have to go rather slow. It is also currently reported that the rebs have driven our forces back from Strawberry Plains & hold the forts we built there & that they are in thirty miles of Cincinnati in KY. If such be the case we will be apt to be sent back to our old Depart. as we were only borrowed for 60 days & that will be up the first of the month but I don't apprehend anything serious before that time & this may be ended by that time if the weather only proves favorable, although we expect to meet with a stubborn resistance. We all look anxiously toward Richmond & place all confidence in Grant." [Four pages of a bifolium, 7.75" x 9.75"].
One letter in the archive is particularly interesting as it pertains to the presidential race between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan. Morlan provides a great example of the opinions and thought processes that soldiers and citizens alike may have had at the time of the campaign. On September 9, 1864, he wrote: "I thought as I had time I would say a word in regard to the probable issue of the coming Election. I am at the present time a Lincolnite & unless things take another aspect I will vote for him if we get a chance to vote. I think his reelection would close the war sooner than the election of Mc. for the Rebs know just what Lincoln's terms are & what they always will be. But if Mc. was to be elected they might think he would try to coax them back & then prolong the war another yr or more. But if it was certain that he would conduct the war on the same plan that is now going on and would be as stanch with the rebs as Abe is & it would have any tendency to unite the North any the more firmly & cause them to act with any more unity of feeling I would be decidedly in favor of the change. For a determined & zealous leader & a united & confiding people will surely crush this most terrible & gigantic rebellion." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8"].
Finally, as the Civil War was drawing to a close, Morlan wrote about some of the horrors he witnessed. In a letter written on May 11, 1865, he describes the awful conditions seen at Salisbury Prison, the mentality of the civilian population, and the fate of the freed slaves: "...I would not be a bit surprised to hear that Col. Strickland Comdg. 3rd Brig. 2nd Div. hangs a couple of citizens that shot at & wounded a couple of men in his Brig the night (Sunday) that he come in here on the cars & all evil disposed citizens had better keep themselves scarce from him for he don't think anything more of taking a person's life than he would a Hogs for he is a Deist. He was the Maj that was in Comd of the Prison Camp here under arrest & I expect he will execute him but the boys would save him the trouble if they could only get ahold of him for there was about three hundred went down town with that intention last night but failed to get him. I was over to visit the old prison pen yesterday & I found everything that I had heard about it so & a good deal more that I never heard. The stench was almost past duration after so long a time & what must it have been when filled to overflowing with such a mass of filth & corruption as was presented to our view at Willmington [sic]. I saw where they had tunneled in one place about 150ft & in another about 300ft & several made their escape through them. They had all burrowed in the ground & most of the holes had small places for fire. There are a good many shade trees in the enclosure but the Rebs occupied that part of the camp & their being a dead line through there the prisoners of course were not allowed to go near it. The burying ground & camp both are only about a ¼ of a mile from our camp there are fifteen trenches in the burying yard 7ft-wide each about 100 yards long & citizens say they are buried in the most of them two three & four deep which is horrible to think of. It does seem to me that some of the leaders of this Rebellion will surely have an awful acct to render up at the last day & that they could hardly have deep enough repentance to atone for the crime committed. The military will not issue rations to the citizens round here although some of them are in a suffering condition. I see orders posted round declaring the slaves all free but telling them they had better stay with their former masters as many as will allow them to & will give them reasonable wages..." [Four pages of a bifolium, 5" x 8"].
Overcrowding became a huge problem at the prison, rising from 120 prisoners in 1861 to 1,400 by May of the next year. By the end of 1864, over 10,000 prisoners were held there and the death rate rose from 2% to 28%, with mass graves being dug to accommodate the overwhelming fatalities. The entire archive of J.A. Morlan is an excellent collection and gives great perspective on a wide variety of experiences that soldiers had during the Civil War. The bulk of letters and the detail within them would be a fine addition to any Civil War collection.
Condition: Letters range from good to fine, with usual mail folds and wear. Light to moderate toning. Most letters are accompanied by their original transmittal envelopes.
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