Apr 07, 2022 - Sale 2600

Sale 2600 - Lot 52

Price Realized: $ 1,062
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 800 - $ 1,200
(CIVIL WAR.) George Webb Morell. A Union general's letters home to his family from the front, including a balloon ascension. 4 Autograph Letters Signed simply as "Geo." to his mother, niece, and nephew. 6, 4, 4, and 3 pages, various sizes; mailing folds, the first two letters with moderate water damage. Various points in Virginia, December 1861 to July 1862

Additional Details

A significant group of letters, some written as a division commander on the Peninsula Campaign. George Webb Morell (1815-1883) of Cooperstown, NY graduated first in his West Point class in 1835, and rejoined the army as a brigadier general early in the war in August 1861. His most notable service was as a division commander on the Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862, but his loyalty to his commander Fitz John Porter effectively ended his military career when Porter was court-martialed.

These letters are not signed with his surname, but can easily be attributed to Morell by his frequent discussion of the units under his command, by the names of his relatives, and his handwriting. The first two letters are to his mother Maria Webb Morell (1793-1868) from Minor's Hill, a large Union encampment near Arlington, VA. On 2 December 1861, he reports on his brigade's Thanksgiving: "The officers of the N.Y. 14th gave a dinner to which they invited Gen. Porter & staff, myself & staff & the colonels of my three other regiments . . . & went off as well as if the dinner had been served by Delmonico." He also notes: "I enclose a copy of Gen. McClellan's order complementing our division. We can hold our own." The printed order (General Orders No. 44 of the Army of the Potomac) remains with the letter. His 26 February 1862 letter also mentions his controversial commander: "The absence of Gen'l Porter has prevented my visiting the city." He also reports on a hurricane "demolishing an observatory nearly 60 feet high which was erected in the autumn beside my quarters to command a view of the surrounding country."

On 12 June 1862, he wrote to his sister's daughter Julia Mitchell Chester (1840-1891) from "Camp near New Bridge, Va.," after a promotion. He explains that "Gen. Porter now commands a corps, & I have his division." He discusses the recent battles of Hanover Court House and Fair Oaks. At Hanover Court House, he describes what has since become known as the fog of war: "Had we known half as much of the country & localities there as we did a few hours later, we could have captured the whole force opposed to us." At Fair Oaks, his division was stranded on the wrong side of a swollen river, so he missed the fighting, but did have one adventure: "I was up in the balloon (& so was Andy at another point, for there are two of them) & saw a very large force over the river with Richmond in the background." This was the first Civil War battle in which the famed balloons of Thaddeus Lowe were deployed. Perhaps Brigadier General Andrew Humphries was the "Andy" who also enjoyed an ascension.

Morell's final letter in this lot was to his sister's son Captain George Morell Chester (1838-1891), who had apparently spent time on Morell's staff. It was written from "Camp at Harrison's Bar, James River, Va.," on 5 July 1862, days after McClellan's withdrawal ended the Peninsula Campaign. The campaign's final battles are described: "My division bore the brunt of the fight at Gaines' Mill & Malverne & has suffered terribly--my old brigade more than the others. It (my brigade) was engaged at Mechanicsville also. . . . Col. Black & Woodbury & Lieut. Col. Skillen are killed, Col. Cass wounded, probably mortally; Lieut. Col. Sweitzer wounded & a prisoner. You will remember all of them."