1862-64: William Foster Morgan to Family

William Foster Morgan

These letters were written by William “Foster” Morgan (1829-18xx), the son of William A. Morgan and Gratia [Foster?]. Foster, a mariner from Lynn, Massachusetts, enlisted as a private in Co. C, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry on 28 July 1862. He was married to Eliza Anne Pearson (1831-1869) in 1852 and together they had four daughters — Clara Gray Morgan (b. 1853), Lewella G. Morgan (b. 1855), Elizabeth M. Morgan (b. 1860), and Delia C. Morgan (b. 1869).

“Foster” was wounded at Gettysburg’s Culp’s Hill on 3 July 1863, but recovered and re-enlisted on 31 December 1863. He later received promotions to corporal and sergeant and then mustered out with his unit 14 July 1865. His regiment was organized in late May 1861 and from the 1862 Peninsula Campaign onward, would participate in most of major battles of the Army of the Potomac, including Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. The regiment lost 190 killed and mortally wounded and 98 men by disease for a total of 288.

Morgan was a well-educated and a highly articulate soldier though his spelling was marginal. In the second letter to his brother, he contrasts the successes and failures of the Union war effort to wars in history.


Addressed to Mrs. E. A. Morgan, Lynn, Massachusetts
Postmarked Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria, [Virginia]
December 16th 1862

Dear Elizer,

You will think strange to see this dated from this place. I am here, but how soon I may leave, I can’t tell, but as soon as Uncle Sam furnishes transportation for us. We left Sharpsburg [Maryland] Wednesday [10 December 1862], passed through Harper’s Ferry to Leesburg, from there through Hillsboro leaving Centerville about 2 miles on our right, through Fairfax Court House to Fairfax Station — a forced march throughout. At the Station, Capt. [Robert B.] Brown, who is captain of our company now, ordered me to report to Doc [Lincoln Ripley] Stone with everything I had. Consequently, he sent me with thirty others through by the cars. We shall take the boat to Aquaa Creek, then the cars to Falmouth. We shall join the regiment again which goes on by the way of Dumfries.

Jim was well yesterday and is with the regiment. It rained like time last night, and as they were the rear guard, they did not leave the station till 3 o’clock. Consequently, would be obliged to march nearly all night as they intend to report at Fredericksburg tomorrow night. But they’ll leave more than one on the road, I think.

I want you to write as usual directing your letters to Washington as ever. But as I want to bum around the city a little, I must close. If I don’t leave today, I shall write tomorrow. Give my love to all.

Yours truly, — Foster


Camp of 2d Massachusetts Regiment Vol. Infantry
near Stafford Court House, Va.
February 16, 1863

Dear Brother,

I received a letter today from Norris which I have answered, and having my hand in, thought I would drop a few lines to you. I have been very lucky for the last ten days, having received a letter every other day, which speaks well for my attempt to blow you up week before last. Norris’ ideas of the war elements, and their curious windings, are getting to be pretty well developed; but he don’t, or at least can’t, see but the surface, while to feel and realize the full force of the effect, as well as see every cause, he should be here where they strike with their greatest effect. But we may find a great source of consolation amidst all the grumblings of Abolitionists, Democrats, Republicans, Copperheads, and the more just, but less effectual of the army itself in the History of the past, for as somebody or other says (or if they didn’t, they’d orter), History if it be not there merest toy, the idlest pastime of our vacant hours, is the record of the onward march of Humanity towards an end. Consequently we must take History for our guide in countermarching over the highways of the past in search of facts to which to judge of the future. And what part of History is so well adapted to this purpose as the English History of the Peninsular War. We select this because we can see in many of its events, in the policy which sustained it, many important, almost startling parallelisms with our present struggle. Of course there is little or no similarity existing in the principal which produced the two wars, but there is a striking resemblance in the modes adopted by the two people for prosecuting war on a grand scale, and for the vindication of a principle regarded by them as of vital importance.

We have known so little in this country of the actual realities of war on a grand scale, that many are beginning to look upon the violent opposition to the Government, and the slow progress of our arms, as signs of hopeless discouragement. And by the way, if you scan closely the features of that class of persons, you will find that nine out of every ten are those that talked so loud of the South’s being afraid to go out into the dark and stormy sea of secession — that they would be glad to get back again — that they couldn’t fight and would starve to death in 3 months. And those that enlisted fretted theirselves nearly to death for fear they wouldn’t get out here before the war was over. And this brings my old favorite caution to mind, “never underrate your enemy” [and] “keep on the right side of the boys.” And all of this abundantly illustrated  by many remarkable events in English history from the days of the Great Rebellion down through the campaigns of the Prince of Orange and of Marlborough to the wars which grew out of the events of the French Revolution.

War, you know, is always entered upon amidst a vast amount of popular enthusiasm which is always unreasoning. And you will find that it is the universal voice of history that such enthusiasm is wholly unreliable in supporting the prolonged and manifold burdens which are inseparable from a war waged on a large scale, and for a long period. Now the popular, and in fact the almost general idea of this war at its commencement, was a speedy and decisive victory; the immediate usurpation of the Rebel Capitol followed by overtures for peace from the rebs, which we might possibly grant if they were sufficiently humbled and would accept the mudsills for masters. Nothing is revealed to the excited passions of the multitude but dazzling visions of National glory, purchased by small privations and the early and complete subjugation of the enemy. It is therefore not unnatural that at the first reverse, they should yield at once to an unmanly depression and giving up all for lost, vent upon the government for its conduct of the war and upon the army and its generals for their failure to make their dreams of victory realities — an abuse as foolish and unreasonable as was their original enthusiasm.

History teaches us that the progress of a war never fulfills the expectations of the multitude and that although victory may be assured at last to patient energy and untiring vigor, yet during the continuance of a long war, there can be no reasonable hope of uniform series of triumphs in the field. And the English have been taught that the true characteristic of public opinion in its judgement of a war, not hopefulness, not impatience of immediate results, but rather a stern endurance that ______ of ____ constancy which rooted deep in a profound conviction of the justice of the cause, supports a lofty public spirit equally well, in the midst of temporary disaster as in the hour of assured triumph. We on the contrary have had no such experience here. Our people are more easily excited by success and more easily depressed by reverses than the English and it is therefore worthwhile to consider here they carry on a war on a grand scale and for a protracted period, it will be found, I think, the denunciation of the government so common among us of late, and the complaints of the inactivity of the army have their exact counterpart in history of all the wars in which England has been engaged since the days of the Great Rebellion.

So you see  that he who draws consolation from the lessons of the past will not, I think, seek comfort in vain when he discovers — as he assuredly will — that in all most wars in which the government and army have been so bitterly assailed (except that of the American Revolution) England has at last been triumphant. And also, that our experience is the experience of all nations. And that the Rebs not withstanding their boasting, do not differ in their capacity of resistance to the rest of mankind. “Hard pounding this,” said Wellington to his officers as he hove himself into one of the unbroken squares of his infantry at Waterloo, “but we’ll see who can pound the longest.” And the ability of that infantry to pound the longest that day settled the fate of Europe for generations. Then let us bend our united energies to secure success in the field and that success gained as a natural consequence, all things will follow. Recognize as co-workers all, no matter what opinions they may entertain as regards the causes of the war, or the new issues which have been developed during its progress upon such a basis. The more Catholic and wider our faith becomes, the better. With success in the field, we should not only disarm the rebellion but get rid forever of that pestilential tribe of traitors by burying them deep in that political oblivion which covers the Tories of the Revolution, and at the same time causes Phoenix-like to spring from its ashes our old watchword, that Americans can, must, and shall rule America.

Give my love to all and write soon. Yours truly, — Wm. F. Morgan


Nashville [Tennessee]
January 22nd 1864

Dear Lide,

I received a letter from you this morning dated the 15th of this month and was glad to learn that Willey was better and hope that by the time this reaches you, they will all be well, for Heaven knows you have hard times enough when they are well without having them sick. Maj. Holt arrived here from Louisville yesterday and we have strong hopes of getting paid sometime during the week. I don’t know as yet whether I shall receive an installment of Bounty this time or not. However, I shall probably get four months pay and that will help you along some anyhow.

The weather for the last week has been very pleasant and the mud got pretty well dried up but yesterday it commenced raining and now the walking is as bad as ever. Tell Luella I am obliged to her for her letter and will answer it the next time I write to you. You say you want Jordan to take my picture but he is at work in the Government Carpenter Shop so you see it can’t be did. I am in hopes you will see the original too before many months and the prospect is certainly good for it.

Fort Fisher has been taken since I wrote you and before another month has passed, Sherman will be thundering at the gates of Charleston and where he thunders, he is bound to go in. You speak of three contrabands Gen’l. Banks sent home from New Orleans. I could send them a cord of them and all sizes and colors. We have ninety-five in this one house. Yesterday I went over to the Contraband Camp about 2 miles from the city and a hard looking place it is. And what some of them will do when the war is over and the novelty of the thing dies out will take a wise head to determine. They should be kept in the Southern States and set to work for with us North, they would starve sure, for they are not like our niggers any more than the whites are like Northern white men, though I honestly think they are more capable of earning a living than one half of their former masters who never did any work and probably never will.

But are you sure that Frank Stevens is dead? I thought George or Melville saw someone that had seen him alive and well or did I dream of it? But thousands of our boys have starved to death and it appears as though from just released prisoners tell me that the Rebs treat Massachusetts soldiers worse than they do those from any other state. And our government is to blame that they don’t retaliate for it is the only way to touch them for they have not the least particle of principle in their souls.

But darling, I must close this up and write you again Wednesday when I will answer Luella’s letter and as soon as we are paid off, I’ll send her and Clara their rings. Also one for Lizzie. Now good night dearest, and write soon. Give my love to all. There must be two letters from me on the road for you somewhere.

Yours truly, –Foster

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Scott R. Ferris and is published by express consent.]

Nashville [Tennessee]
March 2d 1864

Dear Lide,

Today I was the happy recipient of three letters from you, the two last written the 22nd and 23rd of February, but how it is that you do not get all of mine is more than I can tell. The papers you speak of sending (Bay State and Waverly) I have not received but gor two bundles of Boston Journals last week and two bundles 2 weeks ago or thereabouts.

We have been expecting to be paid off for the last six weeks but today we learn that the pay master has run out of money and we will be obliged to wait a few days longer. But as he has orders to pay off all regiments and detachments  about here, we shall probably get ours in a few days at the farthest and I know you need it.

As regards the fence, I hardly know what to say. You cannot do it till I send you money and I don’t think it would be good policy to do it any until the frost is out of the ground, and by that time I am in great hopes to be at home as it is very likely that we shall be ordered to New York by the first of April, if not before. And if we do, I shall go home if I don’t stop more than forty-eight hours. You say you want me to send you my company roll. If I should purchase a blank, I could not fill it out here, not could I get my officers signatures to [do] it here. But when I get to the regiment and I can get a blank—or as you would call it, a picture—you shall have it. People about Washington and with their commands can get more things. Here it is not so easy.

I wrote you that I got the Valentines and was much pleased to receive them. I will send the children their rings as soon as possible.

I suppose everyone is enlisting now they think the war is about over and had they done so one year ago instead of filling up their quota with men that have never seen the army. But it will probably end without their help before fall.

We are having quite a freshet here. The river has overflowed its banks and the water is nearly up to our house. The weather, however, is warm—much like May with you. The niggers are as plenty as ever with us and prayer meetings and dances are the order. I went to one the other night and remember one verse of their favorite hymns.

Oh, Death, oh Death, is a little little sting
And goes from door to door,
He knocks some down and drags some out
And “totes” some home to God.

What do you think of that? They all sing and the preacher reads a line and then they sing it. He reads or most generally repeats it from memory and they sing it and so on. But they had one the other night that could read but was very near-sighted, and had left his “spects” at home. And he told them so with the sing-sing tone peculiar to them in the following words. My eyes are dim, I cannot see. I left my spects at home. When the whole crowd sang it after him, of course I laughed and the fellow got cross and says, “I really ‘blev’ ‘dem’ folks are fools and cannot understand and again his wooley congregation followed suit, and not wishing to laugh at them, I left.

I wrote Amanda an account of a sermon they gave us the other night and she has probably told you of it. if not, ask her what it was and show her this.

I will now close this as I have a chance to send it to town and don’t wish to go today myself. So goodbye darling. Till Sunday if we don’t get paid before.

Yours truly, — Foster

Give my love to all and kiss the children for me.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Scott R. Ferris and is published by express consent.]

Camp of the 2d Massachusetts Regt. Vol. Inf.
Tullahoma, Tennessee
March 6th 1864, Sunday morning

Dear E,

This is the first chance I have had to write since I left Nashville. We arrived here during a drenching rain at two o’clock in the morning and the next day quartered ourselves among our friends in our regiment and the 27th Indiana that did not re-enlist. The 2nd day we commenced building quarters and have now quite a snug house over our heads. Four sergeants of us in one house with none to alarm or make us afraid. Gen. Slocum has command of this railroad and we shall probably stop here for some time if not longer. Col. Cogswell has command of this post and Lieutenant Parker of our company is Provost Marshal. We have any quantity of prisoners here—deserters from the Reb Army, guerrillas, spies—men and women, refugees, horse thieves, and the Lord only knows what—but taken all in all, they are a hard-looking set, though some of the lady prisoners from Lincoln county are very good looking and dress passably well. But the majority look more like scare crows.

By the end of this week, I am in hopes to the company writing finished up and shall then be able to write you often as I have no guard duty to do. Our pay rolls are all made out and when the pay master comes back, we shall probably be paid off. I received a letter from the Allotment Commissioners this morning requesting me to sign a paper which they enclosed and direct to the U.S. Paymaster at Washington which I shall do today.

We have splendid weather and the news from the front is cheering and you need not be surprised to see me home in a year, if not before. This good weather makes me homesick for it seems as if I could take some pleasure in working around the house now that I know it would be for ourselves, but wait patiently till another year, and if nothing unusual turns up, we’ll have things looking up.

How is the weather with you? And how do you like? and so forth. I was in hopes to have got a letter from you this morning but was disappointed. But I suppose it will come along in good time. But write every week and if possible, I will do the same. There was two of your letters here for me when I arrived but no papers. Send the Bay State once in awhile if anything turns up &c.

We had a very pleasant time coming out until we reached Nashville. From there to this place ’twas rather tough as we rode in box cars and the night was dark and rainy, the road so bad that we could only run about 7 miles an hour, and trains are continually running off the track even at that slow rate of speed.

But my ink is played out. I have borrowed more and “by the way” speaking of ink reminds me of that you put in my knapsack. When I took it out, I found it had all dried up and nothing left but powder. But I want to write to Father and must also write to the U.S. Paymaster at Washington and must bid you goodbye for this week but shall write again Sunday. Give my love to all the folks. Kiss the children for me and tell Clara to write and I will answer her letters as I shall probably have plenty of time in the course of a week.

Yours truly, — Foster


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