Alfred Dexter Morgan Diaries 1864-1866

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Alfred Dexter Morgan a native of Chicago, Illinois, enlisted in Company D, Illinois 17th Cavalry on March 24, 1864 and was promoted to full Sergeant before he was mustered out on December 20, 1865.1 The 17th Illinois Cavalry Volunteers trekked across the Missouri landscape engaging Confederate soldiers, serving as military escorts, and acting as provost guards. Morgan documents his travels from Glasgow, Moberly, Centralia, Fayetteville, MO, and recorded news of various engagements.

The 17th Illinois Cavalry’s proximity to central Missouri placed them in an area known for guerrilla warfare. The prominent guerrilla band in the area was William Anderson’s gangs. William “Bloody Bill” Anderson was one of the most notorious guerrilla fighters of the Civil War. Having lived in Missouri during the period known as “Bleeding Kansas,” Anderson and his family were familiar with the horrors of conflict. Anderson began his full on campaign against the Union army in August 1863 in revenge for his sisters who were injured and killed a Kansas City jail that had collapsed. Union soldiers imprisoned the Anderson girls, for aiding their brother. Anderson and his gang terrorized Missouri and Kansas, plundering civilians homes and killing indiscriminately. Anderson earned the nickname Bloody Bill from the uncivilized tactics he used during conflict, the display of scalps on his horse’s bridle evidence of his cruelty. On September 23, 1864 Morgan received orders to Rocheport, Missouri. While in route he encountered Jim Anderson, Bloody Bill’s brother.

found Jim Anderson and 6 of his gang on the route give him chase killed him and 5 of his men, Jim is a brother of Bill the great thief and the daring chief of his Bushwhackers…. If billy Anderson gets me and this Book he will Scalp me
Alfred D. Morgan, 1864 Diary,  pg 3

On the morning of September 27, Anderson attacked Centralia. While waiting for the train, Bloody Bill and his gang terrorized local civilians, robbing and burning stores. The bushwhackers robbed all the passengers on the train, taking 23 unarmed Union soldiers who were on furlough, and killing them on the spot. Morgan and his company witnessed the horrific scene as they passed through the town,“we pass on and find that at Centralia Anderson killed 187 more; we camped here, burned the town. I wish we had Anderson we would burn him sure.”2

In September 1864, Sterling Price also began his raid into Missouri. Price’s ultimate goal was to regain Missouri for the Confederacy, however above all else the Confederacy needed men. Even if he had to retreat from Missouri, the expedition would be successful if a sizeable number of recruits were brought into the army. Morgan reported a rumor that, “it is supposed that Anderson and his Scalpers are with Price ….”3 Anderson and approximately one hundred guerrillas under his command did attempt to join Price’s party; however, the human scalps taken at the Centralia Massacre two weeks earlier were still proudly displayed on the horses of Anderson’s men. Horrified, Price refused to ride with Anderson until they were discarded. Price instead ordered Anderson to destroy bridges along the North Missouri Railroad. Union soldiers throughout the region were on high alert and ready to fight Price and his forces to drive them out of Missouri once and for all. Morgan and his company engaged Price on October 9, 1864.

Started in pursuit of Price,, follow all day, come up to his rear guard, have some Skirmishing on the road. he retreats one of the mo. Lieuts is killed on the road. Price, retreats we chase up close to his rear guard, overtake him at a town called, California we have a small fight here, our shells do good execution.
Alfred D. Morgan, 1864 Diary, pg 18 & 19

Many in Morgan’s regiment were excited at the prospect of war and fighting. The thrill of the fight was alive in many a young men’s hearts. That is until the reality of war confronted them head on, and as Morgan wrote in his diary, he saw no joy in fighting as he heard the “sad and disgusting” stories fellow soldiers told while camped in Springfield, MO in October 1864. Morgan feared retribution for William Anderson. Morgan’s company killed Anderson’s brother, and Morgan wrote in his diary, “If billy Anderson gets me and this Book he will Scalp me but I defy him and I will kill him if I can.”4 Those fears ceased when Anderson band of bushwhackers was ambushed by Union soldiers on October 26, 1864. Anderson was killed during the engagement and eventually beheaded.

Morgan wrote in two diaries. His first diary ends in November 1864, and depicts the eagerness of young soldiers willing to join the war and the devastating realities these men actually faced. Yet through harsh conditions and bloody battles Morgan’s patriotism and sense of duty never wavered. He wrote, “I shall fall for the right, for friends I love, and my Country, the Rebs, cannot whip us up, big hurrah for our old flag liberty.”5 Morgan’s second diary, written from January 1865 to January 1866, is less descriptive and mentions weather conditions, orders and men in his company. Morgan was aware of the dangers he faced, but kept his diary as a testament for future generations to remember his actions.

Contributed by the University of Tulsa Special Collections and University Archives

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  1. Historical Data Systems, comp.. U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.
  2. Alfred D. Morgan Diary, 1864. E505.6 17th .M67 1864, University of Tulsa Special Collections, Oklahoma.
  3. Alfred D. Morgan Diary, 1864. E505.6 17th .M67 1864, University of Tulsa Special Collections, Oklahoma.
  4. Alfred D. Morgan Diary, 1864. E505.6 17th .M67 1864, University of Tulsa Special Collections, Oklahoma.
  5. Alfred D. Morgan Diary, 1864. E505.6 17th .M67 1864, University of Tulsa Special Collections, Oklahoma.