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Dr. Nathaniel Alexander “Alex” Morgan (1823 – 1907) graduated at age of 24 from the Jefferson Medical Institute in Philadelphia, PA. In 1850 he married Eugenia Margaret Frances “Fanny” McCown (1834-1917) when he was 27 and she was almost 16. They were married in Marshall, Texas.
Fanny’s mother and step-father (Ma and Maj.) were living in DeSoto Parrish, Louisiana. By 1860, Alex and Fanny were living nearby in Mansfield, Louisiana. The 1860 Federal Census lists Alex’s occupation as “physician/farmer.”
On November 17, 1861 Alex enlisted for a one-year term of service with Company F of the 19th Louisiana Infantry of the Confederate Army. When he left for war, Fanny was 27 and he was 38. They had been married 11 years and had four children: Jim 11, Ross 8, Mary Elizabeth “Pet” 3, and baby Fanny. Another son “Charlie” (born 1856) died before the Civil War.
The Battle of Shiloh
Alex Morgan’s first letter was written from Camp Corinth (Mississippi) on April 9, 1862 just after the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) which took place April 6-7. Colonel Benjamin L. Hodge wrote the after battle report for the 19th Louisiana Infantry, which may be found in the Official Records: Series I. Vol. 10. Part I, Reports. Serial No. 10. Here is an excerpt from that report:
….At 5.30 a.m. on the morning of the 6th we commenced the march, and in accordance with your orders I conducted the regiment so as to leave space for the First Arkansas Regt., Col. Fagan, which was immediately on my left, to deploy into line….
At this time the First Arkansas and my regiment were well together in line, as I could see while passing through the field. Just after crossing the road my regiment entered a small farm, a log cabin near the center, our line extending across the field. We had advanced midway the little farm, which is about 150 yards in width, when the enemy, lying in ambush about 80 or 100 yards beyond the outer fence and directly in our front, opened fire upon our entire line. Although the fire was not expected at the moment, the advance of the regiment was not checked in the slightest; but moving forward steadily to the fence the men commenced to deliver their fire at will. Owing to the impenetrable undergrowth between the enemy’s position and ours I was unable to see him, and from the manner of the men looking through the bushes, as if hunting an object for their aim, it was apparent that they too were unable to descry the concealed foe, and were only firing at the
flash of the enemy’s pieces.
Seeing that my men were being rapidly shot down, and having no reason to believe that we were inflicting equal injury upon the enemy, I gave the order to cease firing and to charge bayonets. Officers and men alike obeyed the order promptly. So dense and impenetrable became the thicket of undergrowth that after my men had boldly forced their way 20 or 30 steps into it, and if seeming impossible to make further progress, I again gave the order to commence firing.
The regiment now gradually fell back to the fence. Finding that the enemy were now opening a cross-fire upon us from our left, and seeing a large number of my small command killed and wounded, I deemed it my duty to order the regiment to fall back to the order side of the little farm, which was accordingly done in good order.
In this enequal conflict-unequal on account of the enemy’s local position-the regiment sustained heavy loss. In this one action, out of little less than 300 we had lost in killed and wounded between 40 and 50 as brave and gallant men as ever risked their lives in the defense of a righteous cause.
For maps and sketches from the battlefield found in the War of the Rebellion Atlas, click here.
To view National Park Service photos and multimedia, click here.
By the fall of 1862, Alex Morgan had moved to Alabama. In October, he writes from Greenville. While there is no record of a Confederate camp or hospital at Greenville, a later letter indicates that Morgan worked at a hospital in Greenville. The Confederate camp, Camp Pollard was located south of Greenville.
The Vicksburg Campaign
Vicksburg was a strategically important city. While held by the Confederacy it blocked Union control of the Mississippi River and permitted communication between the two geographic halves of the South. Operations against Vicksburg lasted from December 26, 1862, to July 4, 1863. Mail running out of Vicksburg was a vital, but often dangerous occupation.
Morgan mentions the Union attacks on Vicksburg in his letter of January 24, 1863.
The Battle of Fredericksburg
The Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862) was one of the largest and deadliest of the Civil War. The battle saw the first significant urban combat of the war and the first crossing of a major river–The Rappahannock. Morgan mentions the Battle of Fredericksburg (“Fredricksburg Slaughter”) in his letter of January 24, 1863.
Camp Beulah, Mobile, Alabama
Camp Beulah was located near the present intersection of Florida St. and Spring Hill Ave in Mobile.
Camp Cumming, Mobile, Alabama
Camp Cumming was approximately 4 miles west of Mobile. It was named after Brigadier General Alfred Cumming. It is sometimes referred to as Camp Cummings.
Alex Morgan’s letters from this camp date from February 1 to March 4, 1863. He served here as an Assistant Surgeon with the 1st Georgia Confederate, also known as the 1st Confederate States Infantry Regiment (Confederate), 2nd Battalion.
Ross General Hospital
In his letter of February 8, 1863, Alex Morgan directs his wife to write him at Mobile in care of “Surgeons (F.A. Ross).” At this time, Morgan was serving under Dr. Frank A. Ross, either at Ross General Hospital or at Camp Cummings nearby. The Ross General Hospital building is still standing near the intersection of St. Anthony and Broad Streets in Mobile. It is part of the Mobile County Health Department and is now known as the Marine Hospital.
“The Bonnie Blue Flag”
“The Bonnie Blue Flag” was a Confederate marching song. The lyrics were written in 1861 by vaudeville entertainer Harry McCarthy to the melody of “The Irish Jaunting Car.” The song became very popular with soldiers and civilians, and multiple additional lyrics (including a Union version) were written.
The Confederate States of America had three national flags during its existence from 1861-1865. The Bonnie Blue Flag was used as an unofficial flag during the early months of 1861 and flew over the Confederate batteries that opened fire on Fort Sumter at the beginning of the Civil War.
Here are several of the most commonly heard verses. The “band of brothers” in the first line is taken from the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakepeare’s Henry V.
We are a band of brothers and native to the soil
Fighting for our Liberty, With treasure, blood and toil
And when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!
For Southern rights, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
As long as the Union was faithful to her trust
Like friends and like brethren, kind were we, and just
But now, when Northern treachery attempts our rights to mar
We hoist on high the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star. –Chorus:
Then here’s to our Confederacy, strong we are and brave,
Like patriots of old we’ll fight, our heritage to save;
And rather than submit to shame, to die we would prefer,
So cheer for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star. –Chorus:
After the Battle of Murfreesboro (Stones River), Union General William Rosecrans established a camp there. General Braxton Bragg moved further south to establish a defensive line near Tullahoma and thus prevent the Union from reaching Chattanooga. The Tullahoma Campaign (Middle Tennessee Campaign) was fought between June 24 and July 3, 1863.
The Battle of Chancellorsville
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a major battle fought in Spotsylvania County, Virginia between Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Army of the Potomac and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Both armies suffered heavy losses. The battle ended as a Confederate victory, but resulted in the wounding and death of Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Jackson was a gifted tactical commander and his death was a severe loss to the Confederacy. On hearing of his passing, Robert E. Lee said, “I have lost my right arm.”
From May, to July 1863, Alex Morgan is in Jackson’s Brigade and moves between the 5th Georgia Infantry and 1st Georgia (Confederate), 2nd Battalion. They are part of the Confederacy’s attempt to protect Chattanooga from Rosecrans’ troops who are moving south and east from Murfreesboro.
Located on the Tennessee River, Chattanooga was an important rail hub and manufacturing center connecting to major Confederate distribution centers.
Battle of Chickamauga
The Battle of Chickamauga was second only to Gettysburg in the number of casualties inflicted. General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee defeated the Army of the Cumberland commanded by Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans, but it proved to be a costly tactical win, and Union reinforcements poured into the area. In the words of Confederate Gen. D. H. Hill: “It seems to me that the elan of the Southern soldier was never seen after Chickamauga; the brilliant dash which had distinguished him was gone forever. He fought stoutly to the last, but after Chickamauga, with the sullenness of despair, and without the enthusiasm of hope. That ‘barren victory’ sealed the fate of the Southern Confederacy.”
The Chickamauga Campaign was followed by the Battles for Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain (November 23) and Missionary Ridge (November 25). Forces commanded by Maj. Gen. Ulyssess S. Grant pushed the Army of Tennessee into retreat. By May of 1864, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman would be moving against Atlanta.
Civil War Field Medicine
In his letter of December 7, 1863, Alex Morgan describes his work as a field surgeon at the Battle of Chickamauga. While medical technology advanced during the war, it was primitive by modern standards. The most common battlefield injury was being wounded by enemy fire. Unless the wounds were minor, this often led to amputation of limbs to prevent infection from setting in. Antibiotics had not yet been discovered.
Hospital, Macon, Georgia
In June of 1864, there were four military hospitals in Macon. Morgan may have been at Ocmulgee Hospital, the Floyd House Hospital, City Hall Hospital, or the Blind School Hospital. Confederate Hospitals, many of them temporary, were established in at least thirty-nine cities and towns in Georgia. Morgan was in the hospital recovering from fever, dysentery, and exhaustion.
Marietta, Georgia: June 9 – July 3, 1864
Map of Marietta and Vicinity prepared by the Western and Atlantic R.R. Co, 1864
During the Marietta Operations, Union troops commanded by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s fought the entrenched Army of Tennessee under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. A number of battles took place near Marietta, including Pine Mountain where Lt. Gen. Leonidas Polk (“The Fighting Bishop“) was killed. As Alex Morgan was writing, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (which saw an estimated 4,000 casualties) was only three days past, and in three more days the Union army would force the Confederates to retreat.
“I Love to Steal Awhile Away”
Words by Phoebe H. Brown, tune Woodstock (Dutton).
Writing to Fanny from the trenches near Marietta, Alex seeks to ease his wife’s nightmares by telling her of his twilight reverie:
I light my pipe + sit down alone + muse of you all + my plans when the war is over +c for an hour repeat my favourite hymn. “I love to Steal awhile away From every cumbering care” +c then commit you all to the care of “Him whom I adore” in humble prayers.
The hymn is printed in Hymns for the Camp – issued in 1861 by the Baptist Colportage Board of Virginia for use by Confederate soldiers. While 19th century hymnals typically contain only words without tunes, you can listen to a performance of “I Love to Steal Awhile Away” here.
I love to steal awhile away
From every cumbering care,
And spend the hours of closing day
In humble, grateful, prayer.
I love in solitude to shed
The penitential tear,
And all His promises to plead
Where none but god can hear.
I love to think on mercies past,
And future good implore,
And all my cares and sorrows cast
On God, whom I adore.
James’ Island, South Carolina
James’ Island is one of South Carolina’s most urban Sea Islands. Approximately one-half of the island is within Charleston city limits.
Confederate intrenchments there were illustrated in Harper’s Weekly, September 12, 1863. Fort Sumter is located on an island just off the eastern tip of James’ Island.
Alex Morgan wrote from this location on August 4, 1864. At this time, Sherman was nearing Atlanta, which he would capture by September 1st. Alex’s brother Spoon (Elam Witherspoon Morgan) was killed in the Battle of Peachtree Creek during the Atlanta Campaign.
Broxtons Bridge on the Big Salkehatchie River, Colleton County, S.C.
The Battles at Broxton’s Bridge and Rivers Bridge took place Feb. 1-3, 1865. Confederate troops attempted to prevent the right wing of Sherman’s army from crossing and moving toward Columbia. Today, Rivers Bridge State Historic Site is the only state park in South Carolina which preserves a Civil War battlefield.