1861: Alexander Porter Morse to Parents

Alexander-Porter-MorseThis letter was written by Alexander Porter Morse (1842-1921), the son of Isaac Edward Morse (1809-1866) and Margaretta Smith Wederstrandt (1816-1893) of St. Martinsville, Louisiana. Older Morse siblings mentioned in these letters include Edward Malcolm Morse, MD (1835-1895) and Charles Nathan Morse (1837-1880). Younger siblings — all girls — included Rosa (1844), Mary (1848), Helen (1852), and Martha (1854).

In 1861, at age 19, “Porter” left his studies at Princeton University and enlisted in Co. I (Morgan Rangers), 1st Louisiana Cavalry. Most of the troopers enlisting in this company were from Point Coupee Parish, Louisiana.

In June 1863, Porter was one of the Rebel officers who, as a prisoner of war, planned & executed the overthrow of the captain, crew, and prison guards aboard the U. S. transport ship Maple Leaf as they were being taken from Fortress Monroe to Fort Delaware (a northern prison).

In 1869, he returned with his family to Washington, DC, & engaged in journalism & was a correspondent for several newspapers. Alexander graduated from Georgetown University in law.


C. S. Barracks, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Monday, November 25, 1861

My dear mother,

Since you last wrote, I have had a pleasant surprise; Malcolm came up on Friday morning and made me a very agreeable visit, leaving again that evening. He came in just as our mess was at breakfast. I gave him a tin cup and plate and helped him to rice, coffee, and pork — all of which he appeared to relish as much as I did. He said he would come up and see us off if he could possibly do so. Malcolm was looking better and stouter than I have ever seen him and I believe he enjoyed his visit up here while to me it was, as you must know, most gratifying.

I read with much pleasure & interest the advice to a young scout, & amused as well as instructed many of my fellow soldiers by its perusal. Mr. Seabold was perfectly delighted at his reception and the attention, came to me on his return & told me “what mighty good parents” I had. In fact, every one of the company that has visited our house comes back perfectly carried away. Mr. Pettis begs to be very kindly remembered to you & my family.

I have just returned from Mr. Henry Heard’s where I dined today according to invitation. Cousin Isabella & Henry were very kind and gracious, while Aunt Nancy gave me a very interesting account of her arrival in New Orleans in 1803. The bundle, with likeness, letter &c. reached me safely. Say to Miss Alice I can never thank her sufficiently for her last valuable & very acceptable present, but that my appreciation of it, is as it should be — very great. I had occasion to use it & experience the comfort it gives last night when I had occasion to be Corporal of the Guard from two in the morning to eight. It certainly is a great addition to my ward-robe. Tell Miss Parmly that if there was anything I particularly desired, it was just what she was kind enough to send to me. Thank them both very heartily for me and make them my ‘adieus.’

Tomorrow evening I will comply with your request and make my preparations for church communion. I write soon again. The ‘sine qua non! elicits many thanks. Love to all at home & a kiss to the girls. Your devoted son, — A. P. Morse


Baton Rouge, Louisiana
November 28th 1861
9 o’clock in the morning

My dear father,

Mr. Pettis is kind enough to take my trunk back with him to the city. In it will be found a daguerreotype with the direction on it. Please have it delivered. There is also a bundle of old clothes with a silver watch enclosed. They belong to a messmate of mine who requests me to have them kept with my things. The watch does not go and is only valuable as a family piece. He says if he returns, I will let him have them & if he does not, of course, he has no further concern. The Magnolia is not yet in sight. Malcolm probably could not come up. Everything is in readiness & we only wait the boat to go aboard. I am at present writing in the post office. My horse stands at the door, bridled, saddled & equipped.

Mr. Pettis has been very kind & attentive to me and speaks in very high terms of you. Says in a few minutes he felt as if he knew you well. Tell Nathan I guess I will be in an engagement before him, and if I represent this generation in the first fight, I will try & do them the fullest credit. Mr. B. S. Tappan called at the barracks to see me yesterday evening.

The “Bonnie Blue Flag” is a favorite song among our men and may be continually heard wherever there is a Morgan Ranger. In the regiment our company is called Co. I & form with Capt. Williams a fine company — the fourth squadron. I enclose our camp song which we will sing with a full chorus at our departure, and as we land at Morganza to make our adieus to the ladies of St. Coupee who will, we understand, be in full force to give us a hearty greeting and a God speed. The aire is “Bennie Havens” as Nathan knows, if you might send him a copy. It has been printed but I cannot at this late hour procure one.

Bid a goodbye to Aunt Mona, cousin John, Dr. Boyer, & all my friends & relations. I will write you at Memphis if we remain there any time & on my arrival in Columbus will, if granted the facilities, give you my impressions of the city, soldiers, generals & position, & that my notes may be of more interest, I will give you facts when I know them to be facts & not rehearse rumors for facts.

As I before told you, Malcolm paid me a very pleasant visit & gave me some excellent advice as to wounds, gunshots, &c. that will probably be very serviceable to me in or after a battle.

Already the wealth & beauty of Baton Rouge are gathering in to see us off.

I have seen Mr. John R. Shaw of New Orleans. Much love to all at home & a remembrance to the servants. Kiss the girls for me (I mean my sisters) for I could impose so great a task upon you as to kiss them all. I will send whatever may interest you, Nathan, or Malcolm, from the seat of war. Robertson has been appointed our commissary & I learn a better man for the position could not be found We are expecting the boat every minute. Let me hear from you when you can write.

Your devoted son, — A. P. Morse

[Morse’s mother Margaretta adds a note on the verso, in part]

Dear Nathan, — Please to take care of these letters for me. They may be the last I shall ever receive from him. Also, I want you to keep for me Porter’s letter you should have received last Saturday. George handed your letters & papers to your Uncle Johnny as he went on board the steamboat last Saturday. The doctor put them in his carpet bag instead of in the clerk’s office & left them at Harlem [Plantation] ¹ requesting they should be sent on to you by last Wednesday’s boat. Porter’s letter was written in pencil but was a very spirited & interesting one of four pages giving an account of their first day’s march from Morganza to Baton Rouge. Keep it for your affectionate mother. — M. S. Morse

¹ Harlem Plantation was the childhood home of Porter’s mother, located 35 miles south of New Orleans on the Mississippi River.


Memphis, Tennessee
December 2nd 1861
Monday night

My dear mother,

Arrived here this evening at 6 after a prosperous trip, though experiencing some of the discomfort incident to soldier’s life. For myself, I had a considerable advantage over the majority as Capt. Shute was so kind as to share his large state-room with me. He also introduced me to his son James who got aboard at Vicksburg.

We had a grand ovation coming up — planters giving us sugar, molasses, cane & bouquets in the greatest abundance. Col. Morgan had three cart loads of sugar cane at his landing for us. We reached Morganza about twelve o’clock at night. There we found a large crowd of the friends & connections of the St. Coupee boys waiting to bid them goodbye, & remained there some two hours. The scene was a very affecting one — mothers parting from sons, sisters from brothers, husbands from wives — and as we pushed off from the landing, the sobs of fathers, mothers, & sisters were audibly heard, although our cheering was almost deafening.

Last night as we were towing alongside a wood-boat, the latter was struck by a snag which penetrated entirely through her bottom & killed a deck hand who was wooding on her. Another was knocked overboard but subsequently picked up.

I hear that [Simon] Buckner with sixty thousand men is on his way to Louisville & will probably be there soon. Also that Gen. [Sterling] Price is marching towards St. Louis & on that account that the Federals were withdrawing many of their forces, some even from near Cairo & Paducah. What amount of truth lies in all these rumors you will probably learn before this reaches you.

If Buckner is marching towards Louisville as intimated, the First Regiment of Louisiana Cavalry may, ere long, march gaily down Main Street & pass the once hospitable Galt House on their war steeds.

The four companies do not debark until tomorrow and on Wednesday morning next, Capt. Williams’ & Capt. [Ovide] LeJeaune’s company (the two forming a squadron) start for Bowling Green at which point we are said to have forty or fifty thousand men among whom is Terry’s celebrated Regiment of Texas Rangers.

Mr. Heard was on the wharf to see us off. He told me that Elizabeth had taken a great fancy to me and that she was sorry I could not be longer with them. I believe I mentioned to you that I had dined with them.

We passed the floating battery about one hundred miles below this place. The Manassas was near her, but the gunboats, I imagine, are by this time at Columbus. The excitement about an attack on the latter place, which was so prevalent some days past, has entirely subsided. The Yankees have their hands pretty nearly full and they begin to see that this game of brag they have been so long playing, can’t bluff us. At one time we hear of their coming up the river & attacking New Orleans with fifty thousand men; at another 100,000 men are coming down the Mississippi with gunboats, iron-clad steamers, a land force &c to shell the cities & the towns, & lay waste that beautiful valley. If twere was easy to do as tis to know what to do, chapels had been churches & poor men’s cottages palaces — but there’s the rub.

[End of letter missing]


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