George Webb Morrell


George W. Morrell

This letter was written by Gen. George Webb Morrell (1815-1883) — a civil engineer, lawyer, farmer, and a Union general in the American Civil War. Morell was born in Cooperstown, New York. His father was George Morell. the chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. He graduated from the United States Military Academy, first in his class of 56 cadets, in 1835 and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. He resigned from the Army on June 30, 1837, and became a civil engineer for the Charleston and Cincinnati Railroad and later for the Michigan Central Railroad. He moved to New York City in 1839 and worked as a lawyer. He was a commissioner for the circuit court of the Southern District of New York from 1854 to 1861.

Since 1852, Morell had served as a colonel in the New York Militia. He was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on August 9, 1861, and served in brigade and division command in the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign. Morell led the 1st Division, V Corps, during most of this period. His close association with Brig. Gen. Fitz John Porter, his corps commander, negatively affected his career prospects, as Porter was court-martialed for dereliction in the Second Battle of Bull Run. Morell testified on Porter’s behalf at the court-martial, effectively ruining his military career. After the Battle of Antietam, he saw no additional field service. Morell was appointed a major general on July 4, 1862, but the appointment expired the following year without confirmation by the United States Senate. He commanded the Draft Depot in Indianapolis, Indiana, for most of 1864 and was mustered out from volunteer service on December 15, 1864.

Morell worked as a farmer after his military service. He died in Scarborough, New York, and is buried there in the chancel of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. [Source: Wikipedia]


Hall’s Hill, Virginia
October 3, 1861

My Dear Mother,

The papers have informed you long before this of our forward movement. It came upon us most unexpectedly. On Saturday last — Sept. 28 — Gen’l [William Farquhar] Barry, Chief of Artillery, was reviewing & inspecting a field battery of this Division. Audy accompanied him officially & Anna & Miss Pigree rode over to enjoy a pleasant afternoon’s drive & witness the ceremony. Whilst the officers were engaged with their duties & I talking with the ladies, a telegram from Gen. McClellan ordered us to move. This was about five o’clock. I ordered my horse, put on a warm woolen shirt knowing that night’s work was before me, & in a few minutes was in the saddle. [Gen. John Henry] Martindale, as junior Brigadier was directed to remain behind. I as Senior (under Gen. Porter’s orders) started with the whole of my own brigade (4 regiments), two regiments of Martindale’s, & two batteries (Carlisle & Hamilton’s) of Artillery & reached this point between eight & nine o’clock, posted my force, & towards midnight laid down upon the ground to take some rest. I soon slept soundly —

(Resumed Oct. 21) –- but was aroused by the discharge of musketry close at hand. First a few straggling shots, then a good round volley which brought us all to our posts. I supposed the enemy’s pickets were upon us but as everything was again silent, I feared the firings had occurred between portions of my own command -– on the right. I was alone, Gen. Porter having returned to his quarters at Fort Corcoran. A messenger whom I had sent to ascertain returned & reported all quiet with us. I had scarcely lain down a second time when the firing was repeated with the same startling effect as before & with the same result. After awhile, I laid down a third time & slept soundly till daylight.

The firings proved to be the result of an unfortunate collision between portions of Gen. Smith’s Brigade directly in front of one of my regiments (9th Mass.) which fortunately had the nerve to remain quiet. Had they fired, Smith’s men would have suffered terrible. As it was, they lost only six killed. Smith was paralyzed for the night yet he had the credit from the press of being first in Falls Church village. The first troops in that village were from companies of the 4th Michigan Regiment under command of Col. Woodbury, ordered forward by me early Sunday morning to reconnoiter who sent me a brief report in writing. Gen. Porter had joined me a few minutes before I received it -– (I had gone forward through the woods to within ¾ of a mile of the place) & took it –- the report, not the village — to Gen. McClellan who was then on Upton’s Hill about a mile on my left.

Some of the letter writers charged the 4th Michigan Regiment with firing into Gen. Smith’s Brigade for which there is not the slightest foundation. That & the 14th New York Volunteers were in front under the hill & near where the collision occurred but neither of them, nor did any one in my command, fire a shot that night. Sunday night & Monday night I also passed on the ground with my feet towards a camp fire. Tuesday tents were sent to the regiments & I sought shelter with a friend -– just in time too, for rain fell nearly all of that night.

11.50 P. M. At 11.15 I was interrupted by a telegram from Gen. Porter at Gen. McClellan’s Headquarters, Washington, to “have the whole force — horse, foot, & artillery — ready to march at daybreak with two days provisions.” The telegraph reports a severe fight up the river. I have issued the orders & now resume. Interrupted again.

12.15 A. M., Oct 22. Another telegram — “You can go to bed, be ready in the morning.” And I would were it not for this letter. Yet if I break off now & march at daybreak, when will I resume it?

To return to Hall’s Hill.

We marched there Saturday & until the next Saturday, I did not take off my clothes. I was alone. Gen. Porter rode out every day but one to give general directions but, having other matters to look after, left the burden there upon my shoulders. Other troops having come up, my Brigade was ordered forward & on Friday, Oct. 11th, I took possession of this –- Minor’s Hill –- 1 ½ to 2 miles in advance of my former position.

I have been constantly occupied with the usual field duties & in superintending the falling of timber & closing and opening of roads to impede the enemy & facilitate our communications, & until Saturday last (19th) have been nearly all day on horseback & the pickets in sight of each other all the time up to Thursday last when the enemy retired towards Fairfax Court House.

A third Brigade (Butterfield’s) has been added to this Division which now consists of 12 regiments, 3 batteries, & 2 troops of cavalry. My Brigade is in front — the other two in the rear. Col. [Thomas B. W.] Stockton’s Michigan regiment is in the 3rd Brigade. Minor’s Hill, where I am, is on a line with Munson’s & Upton’s Hill, passing a little to the rear of the village of Falls Church -– about 1 ½ to 2 miles to the right or north from the latter. I enclose a map which, tho’ inaccurate, may aid you in regard to localities. Lewinsville is in our front & a little to our right. There is one post on our right (Smith’s Division) & then our line inclines back (McCall’s Division) to the river -– at least it was so — the last few hours may have changed it.

You write to George — or Sis does – that you do not see my name in the papers. I have done nothing to bring it there & writers & reporters receive precious little encouragement from Porter & me. I’ll now take a nap.

9 o’clock Tuesday morning 22nd. No further orders this morning. The Washington paper brings the report of a skirmish up the river & death of Col. [Edward Dickinson] Baker, senator from Oregon.

This letter will give you an impression of the way my nights are passed. Since I moved to Hall’s Hill three weeks ago last Saturday, I have been called up every night but two to receive or issue orders –- not so serious as the last but always something requiring immediate attention. George sent me Sis’s letter of the 13th. I have received two or three from her. Did she receive my check for $150? It is scarcely time yet for me to hear. She also says the Dr. & Miss Creighton are at St. Catharines. I hope they will make you a visit. I saw them for a few minutes the Sunday I went to Livingston & urged Miss C. to do so. If they are in Detroit make my respects to them.

This is a rainy morning — anything but agreeable for marching. With love to Sis & Julia & a promise to write,

Affectionately your son, — George