Adolphus E. Morse

A claim by a Mr C. R. Keathley alleged the author who submitted this article
plagiarised work, previously researched and published by Mr Keathley himself.

As a result and without prejudice to either party, I removed the entire article
submitted by the author, at the request of Mr Keathley.

The 290 Foundation (BVI) Inc., is here to record and disseminate historical
information pertaining to the naval conflict during the American Civil War for the benefit of all.
We have concluded it best to remove any article displayed where ownership is disputed,
as this would not serve that aim or indeed, our membership.

Subsequent evidence now presented, confirms in my opinion that no deliberate plagiarism took place.
I have therefore resubmitted Mr Brindle's article for the benefit of our members with apologies
to Mr Brindle for any distress my actions caused.
 

Ian Dewar

 

The Last Aviator of the Confederacy


In a quiet corner of the Oakwood Cemetery located in the Texas City of Corsicana, a weather beaten and Moss covered headstone bears a simple inscription. A.E. Morse. 1843-1914. (See photo below) Not much to show for the man who piloted the last Confederate Balloon on a scouting mission over the Front Lines during the defence of Charleston, South Carolina in 1863.
 
When the War Between the States commenced in April 1861, with Georgia being amongst the first of the original seven States to secede, Charles Cevor, a well-known early pioneer of balloon flights in the South, was living and working in Savannah offering 'Demonstration' balloon flights at county fairs and similar public gatherings, all in an effort to earn a living and to spread interest in this new method of transport. In early April 1860, Cevor and another man named Dalton, completed an 'inadvertent' first Cross-Country flight when they lifted off into a gale and were promptly blown out to sea dragging their winch-line behind them!!

In 1861, as people flocked to support to their Civic leaders and enlist in the States Militia and National Guard in an enthusiastic support of the Southern States bid for independence from the Union, Charles Cevor promptly approached the Military to offer his balloon and services to the Army. Unhappily he was turned away, though not forgotten as news of his balloon was passed on to higher authorities. General Thomas Drayton of the newly minted Confederate Army was apparently very interested in the idea of using balloons for field observation, as was General Joseph Johnson. Cevor, after losing his first balloon the 'Montpelier' at sea, replaced it with a new vehicle, called 'Forest City' and continued flying his 'Demonstration' flights until called on to fly as a Contractor for the Army in June 1861, near the Leesburg Pike.

Through April 1862, Charles Cevor, as a civilian, continued to operate his balloon on behalf of the Army in what today would be called a Test and Development program, despite his having enlisted in the Chatham Artillery Battery in August 1861 in Savannah. Co-incidentally, in August 1861 a young and enthusiastic recruit to the Confederate cause had enlisted on the same day as Cevor; but while Cevor was developing his aviation skills and expertise, a young Adolphus Morse was learning how to be a soldier, carrying a backpack and musket in endless drilling. At this time, there appears to be no evidence of any other balloons operating in the South apart from the 'Forest City, so any references in the Northern press to 'rebel' balloons during this period presumably had to refer to Cevor's activities.

Adolphus Morse was born in Troy P.A. in 1843. Sometime later his family moved to Georgia as the prospects for their future looked better in the South. It is highly likely that young Adolphus Morse was most impressed to be going through 19th Century “Boot Camp” with someone like Charles Cevor, a famous local hero and if he had had an opportunity to attend one of Cevor’s Balloon exhibitions in Savannah before the war started, one can imagine the young lad’s determination to listen and learn from an expert! It's probable too that Cevor spent most of his time ensuring his balloon was airworthy and available when required, with not too much time being spent on the niceties of military discipline, though its more than likely he would have had to get involved in the supervising and training on the logistical support side of the operation. Being an early “Smoky” type balloon, the only real support required, was the use of several strong backs to move the balloon and basket from a cart, and to spread the envelope out after digging a hole that would be used as a fire-pit. But the Army would also have needed a training system!

The balloon was used frequently by Cevor, and its very probable that Private A.E. Morse was sent along to help Cevor and to ensure that the ground handling and winching operations were carried out correctly (“team leader” perhaps?). The only reports we have on the activities of Cevor’s balloon came from reports in the Northern press, although on April 25th 1862, a memoir written by a John Hatton, who was serving with the 1st Maryland Artillery battery, describes how a balloon operated by the Confederacy was prepared for flight. He wrote in great detail about the digging of a fire-pit, the preparation of the balloon and the rigging of the lines between the basket and balloon envelope.

What is more telling perhaps is just how uncertain the operation of a hot air or smoky balloon really was. The operator or “Aeronaut,” was seated in a chair or basket like device which was attached to the balloon, he gave instructions to the balloon crew who stood round holding the open neck of the balloon envelope over the heated fire pit. As the hot air entering into the balloon and the balloon commenced to fill, the ground crew leader (Morse?) had to make sure the opening of the balloon envelope stayed open just above the fire pit, but held clear of the actual fire until the very last moment when it would be tied off. I am not sure who would have given the release signal, the aeronaut or the crew leader? In any event on this particular occasion as described by Hatton, either the fire was not hot enough or the balloon was released too early but the balloon had barely lifted off before gravity took over from lift, and the whole mess collapsed back onto the ground with some disgusting noises emanating from the envelope neck! This seems to be a fairly common event as the watcher so stated, the balloon was then speedily folded up and everything placed back on the cart, with everyone departing the area without further fuss or fanfare.

Sometime in early April 1862, Cevor had met with the C.O. of the Chatham Artillery Battery in Charleston, and had probably requested the addition of more personnel since an additional trainee officer had now been freshly posted in, so its probable that Cevor also requested on a semi-permanent basis, the official transfer of Private Adolphus Morse to the balloon squad. With a now promoted Lieutenant Morse on board as relief pilot and ground crew trainer, Cevor could spend more time tutoring the new officer who came in from General Magruder’s Headquarters, unhappily, Captain Joseph Bryan who had volunteered for this new post, thought the mission for a volunteer scout was actually a job for a fast horseman and not for someone to go flying possibly over the Battlefield in a frail looking device that was clearly begging for anyone with a weapon to fire at! Despite his protestations, he was informed he was the only one available! And to his credit he went, and succeeded in passing on information as he had been taught, for example wig-wag flag signals, loud shouting, in fact anything to attract attention and with the use of a powerful telescope he was able to identify and describe columns of troops and cantonments, presumably any long or important messages went over the side attached to a colored weighted streamer. He also learned to ensure the ground crew had been well trained in paying out the rope anchoring the balloon to the ground, and more importantly that they realized when the descent signal was given by the Aeronaut, they must winch the balloon down as quickly as possible, this came about when Bryan realized the enemy gunners might not be fast enough to catch him as he rose, but as the balloon descended it came into the elevation range of the enemy cannon and the Union gunners soon gained experience in judging height and distance!

At Richmond, the information from the balloon came in and was disseminated by the planning staff at General Johnson’s Headquarters, after flying several missions, problems again appeared at the Front. Captain Bryan was less than enthused at being a flying target, and became even less following a launch one time using a fresh new rope, which proceeded to unwind itself as he rose thus causing the basket to rotate faster and faster as the rope unwound! For Captain Bryan things finally came to a head however as he was being launched for an evening mission. It appears that the sight of a new fangled balloon launch was an excuse for every off duty soldier to come and stand round to watch the event. Frequently to simply pass drunken comments about the sight of an Officer being launched into the evening sky in a ladies shopping basket! Inevitably then, an accident occurred when a soldier somewhat worse for drink stumbled into the coils of rope that were paying out as the balloon rose. Instantly, with much shouting and yelling, one of the soldiers standing by the victim who now appeared to be entangled by his leg, grabbed a handy axe and cut the rope to free his comrade! Much relief from the soldiers, but to Bryan, a feeling of horror as he realized he was now drifting up and away, and even more horror when he appeared to be approaching the enemy lines and he could clearly hear the shouting from the Yankee lines as well as gunshots, nevertheless he attempted to carry out his mission and make notes of what he could see below!

As he drifted along wondering what was going to happen next, I expect he must have reflected on the fact that life had been very safe when sitting behind a desk back at Headquarters. Then with much relief, he felt the wind was now moving him back towards the Confederate lines, relief that turned again to fear as he realized he was now an ideal target for the Confederate troops below, despite much shouting and whooping from below, he was once again being fired at, but this time with friendly fire! With the balloon now settling as the hot air commenced to cool and lose lift, Bryan prepared to swim since he was now quite close to the York River, first thing to go was a very expensive pair of leather riding boots which he was unable to remove in the close confines of the basket, this required him to regretfully cut off the back of the boots and drop them overboard! Bryan was able to swim to shore and succeeded in tying the balloon to a tree stump and making his way to a local farm, borrowing a horse he reported back to General Johnson with the news about which roads the enemy was advancing along. Captain Bryan was relieved from his flying duties, and allowed to return to his normal duties at General Magruder’s Headquarters, where he then faded off into history! 

This was a busy month for the Confederate Balloon Corp as the Unit was shortly to be activated and with Cevor’s old “York River” vehicle now out of service, and interest rising in senior officers to formalize a suitable military unit, it was now very clear that a new balloon was needed and quickly, accordingly, General Drayton ordered Captain Langdon Cheves, an Engineer at Headquarters to meet and contract with Charles Cevor, to design and build a new balloon with all haste. Construction began on the new balloon to be called the “Gazelle”, it would be manufactured in St Andrews Hall in Savannah, and while Cevor was waiting for the material and purchasing to be accomplished, he went ahead and drew up the plans for a Hydrogen Gas Generating system, which would enable operations to be carried out in the field without having to stay close to a source of gas, such as the local gas works. The Union was much farther along with having gas generators already in service, not a very complicated system in principle; but highly dangerous to play with as the main ingredients consist of iron filings mixed in a bath of sulphuric acid, and the gases formed by the stirring of the mixture collected and used to fill the Balloon. It’s highly unlikely that this mixture would be used outside of a workshop today, and certainly not to be hauled round in a wooden cart over rough ground!

The list of required material included 8 pieces of colored silk totaling over 110 yards in length, and according to Cheves financial records, was bought from several ladies haberdashery shops for $1.50 per yard. It was reported that material of several colors had to be used and included black, white, yellow and green strips decorated with pretty little flowers (Victorian camouflage?). Since sewing machines had been invented by this time, no doubt to the relief of the good ladies in Savannah, the actual assembly work did not take too long, though quality problems did arise in the sealing of the material especially at the seams; eventually by using worn rubber carriage springs melted in liquid Naphtha, a light weight flexible seal coating was developed and applied. On the 12th of April 1862, Captain Cheves was advised that due to the fall of Fort Pulaski which was located close to Savannah, and still under fire from the invading Union forces, he was to now abandon any further plans for the completed balloon, and to concentrate all his efforts on preparing the local area for fieldwork construction, one can only imagine his disappointment at being relieved at this particular time.

General Robert E. Lee seems to have taken a personal interest about this time, in how the balloon can best be utilized and in May 1862, it appears he gave instructions for the balloon and its ad hoc crew of personnel to be formally recognized as an independent unit. And also gave orders for an officer who, with some signals experience could take command of the unit, and arrange to transport the balloon and its crew from Savannah to Richmond for likely operations in the area. The officer selected was Lt Colonel Edward Porter Alexander, the signals officer who had previously prepared a set of signaling devices and codes for use by balloon observers, when he was attached to General Magruders HQ, and had presumably met and talked to the then Mr. Cevor. With the new and multi colored two-place balloon, both Captain Cevor and Lieutenant Morse proceeded alternately to fly with Colonel Alexander from various locations in the Richmond area. As the Seven Days Battle began to really heat up in June, the Balloon was being utilized almost daily, with either Cevor or Morse piloting the vessel, while Colonel Alexander recorded his observations and transferred them to a waiting dispatch rider below.

Because of the urgency, with which Cevor and the “Gazelle” had been transferred from Savannah to Richmond, there had been no time for Cevor to complete his work on the design and production of his Hydrogen Gas Generating System. This meant any future balloon operations would require the constant movement from the Richmond Gas Works to the area of operations, and then back again often under fire for a gas refill. A temporary solution was arrived at, when some unknown genius suggested tying the inflated balloon to a steam locomotive with one or more flat carriages attached to transport the men and equipment, and then running the train along the Richmond to York Railroad, thus enabling the “Gazelle” to observe and report on activities round the Warwick and Chickhominy Rivers and the little towns of Pine Top and Urbana. This method worked well until the movement of the opposing armies dictated the balloon be moved down the Peninsula towards Malvern Hill and the surrounding area. The Confederates had learned of the supply build up at City Point from local agents, and it was now clear that the Union forces intended to finish any Confederate activity in the Malvern Hill area by the 4-5th of July.

The balloon “Gazelle” was now transferred to the tug, the “C.S.S. Teaser”, (See 3-view plan) a veteran of the actions between the “ C.S.S. Merrimac” and the USS “Monitor” during the Naval actions in the Hampton Roads back in March 1862. Since that time she had operated under the command of Lieutenant Hunter Davidson, and was part of the Port of Richmond Flotilla. Though her duties with the Confederate Battery Service kept her operating independently supporting the laying and sweeping of “Torpedoes”, as mines were then called, it also meant her Captain and crew had become used to the careful handling and transportation of large and often delicate cargo. Another reason for using this vessel was that the Captain and crew could be trusted to be discreet round curious people from different units and civilian camp followers. Unhappily, the movement of the “Teaser” along the James had clearly become a source of interest to the Union forces, from the time she had initially been seen operating as a single vessel presumably on patrol duties, but now to be seen operating out of the Richmond Port with an inflated and brightly colored balloon on her foredeck clearly caused interest to peak. It would appear the nearest point to the Malvern Hill fortifications, would be along the Horseshoe shaped bend in the James River at Turkey Bend. On the charts this was the location of Haxall’s Wood mill, and from here an observer with a good telescope could see the trenches and guns of both armies, and even as far South as City Point and Harrisons Landing on a clear day.

The “Teaser” was believed to have been operating in this area for at least two days, employed in keeping track of the movements of McClellan’s forces, and the activity off City Point as ships bearing Union reinforcements arrived to unload cargo and troops. On the morning of July 4th, Commander John Rodgers USN on the “USS Galena” reported to Flag Officer Goldsborough, that he had been given a report that indicated the enemy had been seen operating a Balloon off Haxall’s Wood Mill just above City Point, and he had issued orders for the “USS Monitor” and the “USS Maratanza” to investigate the report that afternoon. It would seem then that the CSS Teaser had launched the “Gazelle” for a short period that morning, and unhappily the event had been noted and reported in to the Union HQ. The movement of the two Union vessels had been spotted as they began steaming the short distance up river from Harrisons Landing to Haxall’s Wood Mill. Aboard the “Teaser” as soon as the alarm was given, the deck crew well trained in emergency drills instantly responding to the alarm cut the mooring line. The Ships Master, William Face immediately rang down for steam and prepared to get underway. Unhappily, as the vessel started moving and commenced a turn to escape up-river, the current forced her firmly aground.

The “Gazelle” had been packed into the “Basket” for offloading, but it was now clear that it was going to be a total loss, Lt Hunter Davidson, the Captain of the ”Teaser” then advised Colonel Alexander to leave the ship along with either Cevor or Morse and take their dispatches on to Richmond. Fire was opened by the Union ships, the ”Teaser” outnumbered and outclassed reportedly got off several shells from the forward 12 pdr, before a shell burst against her boiler and disabling her (See photo). It was reported that the Captain ordered the steam valves closed and the crew to abandon ship, It would seem everyone managed to get away, either by swimming or in the jolly boat after it had returned from shore. Despite the tying down of the steam valves, the vessel did not explode or burn as hoped, thus providing the Union boarders with a goldmine of information regarding her Torpedo activities, a chart of locally mined areas and they also found a selection of personal letters from the Captains wife which probably did not go down well when he got home. The “Teaser” once repaired, returned to duty as the “U.S.S. “Teaser”.

The Balloon “Gazelle” was barely mentioned in any Union reports, and eventually was cut into small pieces and given away as souvenirs, several of which still exist today in various Civil War museums including the Confederate Museum in Richmond. Both Cevor and his companion Morse, evaded capture and returned to their old unit, and were promptly ordered to prepare a second Balloon, using the original location, patterns and material, it took until August 24th for the work to be completed and the bills submitted to the Confederate accounting office.

Several Southern newspapers noted the completed vessel to have been operated in the Savannah-Charleston area from the end of August for several months, support for the Balloon was provided via the Department of South Carolina and Georgia Headquarters of the Confederate Army. Gas for the Balloon was arranged for from the Gas-works in Charleston, and it appears the Balloon, which did not seem to have been named, operated almost on a daily basis, so much so, it was issued with a monthly ration of gas using its own gas meter, signed for when filled and a monthly bill presented for payment! During this time, the invasion of Maryland and Pennsylvania began, with General Lee leading his Army of Northern Virginia around the capital of Washington and moving North towards Pennsylvania. It became clear to the Union Army that it was imperative to somehow cut General Lee’s supply lines, starting at the Port of Charleston where so many of the Blockade runners arrived.

Accordingly, the US Navy commenced to reinforce its Blockading force of ships encircling the approaches to Charleston. In April 1863, the U.S. Navy commenced a bombardment of the City, and the fortifications that had been set up around the Port. Ships attempting to run the Blockade found it was almost impossible to penetrate the ring of Union vessels and many of those foolhardy enough to try were either sunk or captured.
General P.G. Beauregard was put in charge of ensuring the Port and surrounding areas including Morris Island, was now reinforced with extra troops and supplies since it was apparent that the Union Army was about to make an amphibious landing in the area. Amongst the troops on Morris Island was Captain Langdon Cheves, who we had last met back in April 1862. Unhappily, Captain Cheves was killed during the shore bombardment by a shell from the U.S.S. Monitor, the same vessel in fact, that had helped capture the C.S.S. Teaser back in July of 1862. From available records, we know that Lieutenant A.E. Morse is shown in several reports as being the Pilot of the balloon, and as Captain Cevor signed for several monthly gas consumption reports, we can safely assume that both men continued their duties of flying the balloon up till July of 1863. On July16th, Lieutenant A.E. Morse reported activity by the Union Army on Morris Island.

July 21st was the last day a reported balloon sighting by Union Forces was noted. Since the Union Balloons had ceased operation in June, this then confirms the fact that Lieutenant A. E. Morse was indeed the Last Aviator of not only the Confederacy, but of the Civil War. Lieutenant Morse returned to his Unit in October 1863, where he reverted to his original rank of Private, the Balloon was reported to have tore loose from its moorings and lost at sea, it seems the Confederates had made a habit of losing their vehicles. He was carried again on the Rolls of The Chatham Artillery Unit, and he saw more active duty at the Battle of Olusta in 1864, he was reported slightly wounded in this action. Private Morse stood with his unit when it was surrendered to the Union forces on April 25th 1865, at Greensboro, S.C.

In 1872, a 29-year-old Adolphus Morse moved to Texas, he married a young lady named Sally, and together they had five children, Adolphus became a farmer and he worked the land. At 67 years of age however things seemed not to have gone well for him, his wife had passed away, he was unemployed and had lost his land. His younger Brother Horace, who had so proudly watched his older Sibling go off to war and do all kinds of exciting things, took up a pen on his behalf and wrote to the Texas Pension Office detailing Adolphus’ service, another former comrade also wrote a letter confirming his application. It seemed to have worked, as Adolphus Morse was awarded a pension of $6 a month, not much by our standards, but in 1910 it hopefully was enough for him to last on for a few years. Charles Cevor also made his way to Richmond and finished out his enlistment in the same unit as Morse. He reportedly moved to South America and settled in Uruguay, where he was eventually reported as being buried in the City of Bluefields.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Kindly submitted by Dennis Brindle 
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