MATTHEW MORRISON 53rd ILLINOIS INFANTRY 


A CIVIL WAR  PORTRAIT BY BRUCE N. MORRISON

THE EARLY YEARS:  Matthew H. Morrison was born in 1833 near Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.  He was the 4th of 9 children born to James Morrison and his wife Mary Burns who had married on December 29, 1823 at Old Kilpatrick Church in Dunbartonshire, Scotland.  James Morrison was a calico printer by profession and was born in 1801, the first child of Laurence Morrison and Elizabeth McIntyre.  Mary Burns was born in 1806 in Renton, Dunbartonshire, the youngest child of Adam Burns and Agnes Gardiner.  (The Scottish lineage of Mary Burns has been documented to the 12th century and includes descent from the early Stewart Kings and Earls of Lennox).   

By 1836 the Morrison family had moved to Rumford Street in Bridgeton located in the east end of Glasgow.  The 6th and 7th children of James Morrison and Mary Burns were born during the Bridgeton years,  Elizabeth McIntyre Morrison in 1837 and John Morrison in 1839.  (John Morrison would later serve in the 104th Illinois Infantry Regiment during the Civil War).  The eldest two children of James Morrison and Mary Burns were born in Dumbuck, Dunbartonshire,  Robert Morrison in 1823, and James Morrison in 1826.  (Matthew's brother James Morrison would serve 4 years during the Civil War as a member of Hinshaw's Battery).  The 3rd son of the Morrison family was Adam Morrison who was born in 1829 at Nielston, Renfrewshire, Scotland.  Their 4th and 5th children were born near Paisley, Renfrewshire---Matthew H. Morrison in 1833 and Agnes Gardiner Morrison in 1835.

In the fall of 1841, the Morrison family immigrated to the United States, arriving in Boston on October 25, 1841 aboard the Barque Beaver from Glasgow.  The passenger manifest of the Beaver lists James & Mary Burns and their seven children Robert, James, Adam, Matthew, Agnes, Elizabeth and John.  James Morrison settled in Fall River, Massachusetts where he continued his trade as a calico printer in the textile industries of Fall River.  On 27 March, 1845,  the 8th and 9th children of James and Mary Morrison were born in Fall River.  These were the twins William H. Morrison and Mary A. Morrison.  During the 1840's the textile professions of calico and block printing were being phased out, and James Morrison began plans to patent his eventual farm land in Illinois.  Securing land in Otter Creek Township near Streator in LaSalle County, Illinois,  the Morrison family arrived in LaSalle County in early 1849.  Family tradition has the journey from Massachusetts to LaSalle County made primarily by water through the Great Lakes and Illinois river systems. The 185o Illinois census shows all members of the family listed as residents of LaSalle County. 

Matthew Morrison married Melvina Mackey on Febuary 19, 1857, and began farming on Mackey land in Bruce Township, LaSalle Co., Illinois.  Melvina Mackey was the eldest daughter of Samuel Mackey and Sarah Ann Morgan.  Two of her younger brothers, George and Jabez Mackey, would  later serve in LaSalle Co. infantry regiments during the Civil War.  (Like Matthew Morrison's mother Mary Burns, Melvina Mackey also has documented medieval ancestry, being a direct descendant of the early Plantagenet Kings as shown in one of my web sites "The Plantagenet Ancestry of the Mackey Family").  The first child of Matthew and Melvina Morrison was Samuel Morrison born August 3, 1859.  Samuel Morrison married Clara Victoria Singer in 1885 and had two children named Oliver and Victoria. Samuel would die on June 16, 1930 at Streator, Illinois. (There are no living descendents of Samuel Morrison).  A 2nd son, William Morrison, was born on September 25, 1860.  William Morrison would die in 1865 shortly after Matthew's Civil War service ended.  An  important event in Matthew Morrison's life occurs in 1858, when he and his young brother-in-law Jabez Mackey go to Ottawa, Illinois in 1858 to attend the Lincoln-Douglas debate.  Matthew Morrison became a life long Republican at this time, and would be the first of the Morrison and Mackey extended families to volunteer for military service in 1861. 

MATTHEW MORRISON'S CIVIL WAR SERVICE:   On November 15, 1861 Matthew Morrison made the short journey to Ottawa, Illinois to enlist for a term of three years in the 53rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  The 53rd Illinois was the first infantry regiment to be formed in LaSalle County.  At the time of his enlistment a physical description of Matthew Morrison was recorded.  He was listed as 5' 7" in height, with red hair, gray eye color, of light complexion, married, and a farmer by occupation.  His age was listed as 28 years old, with rank of private, and assigned to Company C of the regiment.  The first company muster roll of the 53rd regiment was taken on January 1st, 1862 at Ottawa, Illinois. The first active duty of the regiment would be guarding Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas in Chicago from Feburary 27, 1862-March 23, 1862. The regiment next arrived in Savannah, Tennessee on March 28, 1862 to begin duty as guards of General Grant's headquarters.  On the 6th of April they were ordered to join General Grant's army at Shiloh, Tennessee, but due to a lack of transportation were unable to arrive at the Shiloh battlefield until noon of the 7th.  Arriving at the battlefield toward the end of the 2nd day, the 53rd Illinois saw limited action.  After the Confederate Army withdrew, the 53rd was one of the regiments assigned to a week long burial detail of the vast numbers of Union and Confederate dead.  The 53rd Illinois then moved to Corinth, Mississippi and formed the skirmish line of the Union forces during the siege of Corinth.  For meritorious service in this duty the regiment was rewarded with new Springfield rifles. 

The hot summer of 1862 saw the 53rd Illinois marching to Grand Junction, LaGrange, & Holly Springs in Mississippi, finally arriving in Memphis, Tennessee on July 21, 1862.  On September 3, 1862 the original Colonel of the regiment, Willliam Cushman, would resign.  (Captain John McClanahan took temporary command of the regiment until October 15 th, 1862).  the other Colonels of the 53rd Illinois while Matthew Morrison was in service were:  Lt. Col. Seth Earl who was killed in action July 12th, 1863;  and finally the newly promoted Col. John McClanahan who served until the end of the war.  The last major engagement of 1862 for the 53rd Illinois occurred on October 4th at Davis' Bridge on the Hatchie River.  The regiment held the bridge for over two hours  against a Confederate force four or five times their number until reinforcements arrived.  Losses of the 53rd Illinois were 16 dead and 49 wounded.  The 4th Division commander, General Hurlbut, sent compliments to the 53rd Illinois for their valiant efforts in this engagement.  In the fall of 1862, two of Matthew Morrison's brothers and a brother-in-law would enlist in the Union Army.  His younger brother John Morrison and brother-in-law George W. Mackey would enlist in the 104th Illinois Infantry Regiment on August 27, 1862 at Ottawa, Illinois.  (Both would serve as Privates in Company F of the 104th).  On December 3, 1862, Matthew's older brother James Morrison would enlist in Henshaw's Independent Battery of Light Artillery with the rank of Artificer.  Matthew's brother-in-law Jabez Mackey would later join the 138th Illinois Infantry in 1864.

The winter of 1862-1863 saw the 53rd Illinois in northern Mississippi and Moscow, Tennessee, the regiment being involved with operations and guarding of the Mississippi & Charleston Rail Road and the Memphis & Charleston Rail Road.  Two skirmishes with Confederate troops would occur near Moscow during the month of February, 1863.  Orders to join General Grant's Siege of Vicksburg came to the 53rd at Memphis in May of 1863.  Arriving near Vicksburg by river boat on May 24, the 53rd Illinois took up position on the left flank of Grant's Army on May 25.  On June 9th the 53rd Illinois took up positions on the sharpshooter's line where they remained until the surrender of Vicksburg and the Confederate forces on July 3rd, 1863.  Two monument markers at the location of the 53rd Illinois Infantry Regiment during the siege are found at the Vicksburg National Military Park.  The large Illinois Monument in the park contains wall tablets of the Illinois regiments who fought at Vicksburg.  The name of  Matthew Morrison of Company C is still found today on the one belonging to the 53rd Illinois Infantry.  On July 5th, the 53rd joined General William T. Sherman's attack and seige against Jackson, Mississippi.  On the 12th of July, 1863. the 53rd Illinois engaged in it's most desperate battle of the Civil War.  Ordered by divisional commander General Jacob Lauman, the regiments of the 53rd Illinois, 3rd Iowa,  28th Illinois, and 41st Illinois made a near suicidal bayonet charge against fortified breastworks of the Conderate forces manned by canon and regiments of Florida and Georgia infantry. Losses in the four regiments were huge as the regiments reached the foot of the Confederate breastworks under withering canon, grape shot, and rifle fire before retreating leaving scores of killed, wounded, or captured soldiers.  The 53rd Illinois had nearly all of it's officers killed including Colonel Seth Earl.  The regimental flag, carried by George Poundstone of Company C who was mortally wounded, was captured by the Confederates. The 53rd Illinois lost 88 men killed or wounded, and another 46 captured or missing.  For the ordering of the ill-advised attack, General Lauman was relieved of command. The 53rd saw no more action for the remainder of 1863, being limited to scouting duty in Natchez, Mississippi and some periods of camping in Vicksburg. 

Like thousands of other Union soldiers in the Mississippi theater of operations,  Matthew Morrison had contracted Malaria sometime by the late summer of 1863.  Called just "fever" in Civil War terminology, it was often treated by whiskey, quinine, laudenum, and  periods of rest.  By the late summer of 1863, the muster rolls for Matthew Morrison support this by showing, for the first time since his 1861 enlistment, occasional months when he was assigned to lighter commissary duties for his company through the rest of 1863. The rolls for 1864 show Matthew Morrison back on regular active regimental duty most of the time.   Melvina Mackey Morrison applied for a widow's pension stating that her husband Matthew had contracted the disease during his Civil War service. In her government application forms, she said Matthew Morrison suffered from periodic recurrence of the disease the rest of his life, and it was the ultimate cause of his death.   After a number of unsuccesful applications, Melvina Morrison was finally granted her widow's pension.  

1864 began with the 53rd Illnois being designated a veteran unit.  (Like most veteran regiments, attrition had  left the 53rd with only a small portion of it's original size of a thousand or more).  On February 3rd, 1864, the 53rd Illinois left Vicksburg on General Sherman's Meridian Campaign.  The 53rd Illinois was part of General Hurlbut's  left column during Sherman's 150 mile advance to Meridian, Mississippi.  The Meridian Campaign was a precursor of the more famous Sherman's "March to the Sea".  The 20,000 troops were ordered to travel light, live off the land, and destroy all stores, supplies, railroad lines, and anything of value to the enemy.  This Meridian Campaign would see the first occurrence of the famous "Sherman's Bow Ties", where rails were torn up, heated, and then bent around tree trunks.  Sherman's columns were harassed by a few Confederate Cavalry attacks, but arrived in Meridian on March 2nd completing a highly succesful campaign.   On March 13 , 1864, the 53rd Illinois left Vicksburg for the start of the regiment's first furlough since enlistment. They reached Ottawa, Illinois on March 21st for a three week stay and visit with their families.  (For Matthew Morrison this would be the last time he would see his mother Mary Burns Morrison, she would die on September 6, 1864).  The 53rd Illinois left Ottawa on April 30 and rejoined General Sherman's Army for the Atlanta campaigns against Confederate General Hood by June 7th.   On July 20th, the 53rd Illinois joined the Union battle line during the Siege of Atlanta.  Hood's Confederate Army made a major attack that fell directly against the portion of the Union line which included the 53rd Illinois and the 3rd Iowa.  The attack was beaten back by Union forces with heavy losses to the Confederate Army.  The 53rd suffered heavy casualties in the action, losing nearly 100 men in killed or wounded.  Lt. Colonel McClanahan of the 53rd Illinois was given great credit and commended for his bravery and coolness during the engagement in official reports.  The losses to the 53rd Illinois in the Battle of Atlanta were second only to those at Jackson, Mississippi in 1863. 

Matthew Morrison's last campaign as a member of the 53rd Illinois Infantry Regiment would begin on November 15, 1864 with General William T. Sherman's famous "March to the Sea".   As part of the Seventeenth Corp, the 53rd Illinois was in the right hand column of Sherman's Army under the command of Major General O. O.  Howard.  The details of the "March to the Sea" are  well known and similar to those mentioned in the earlier Meridian Campaign.  The 53rd Illinois tore up miles of railroad line during the March.  The regiment used the ties to make fires to heat the rails, which were then bent and twisted around trees. (From the account of H. E. Ranstead, member of Company D , 53rd Illinois).  Sherman's Army reached the outskirts of Savannah on December 10, 1864  and commenced their seige of the city. On the 21st of December, the city of Savannah, Georgia was taken, and the March to the Sea had ended.   On December 30, 1864,  Matthew Morrison's three year term of enlistment had been completed, and he was officially discharged at Savannah, Georgia.   (The 53rd Illinois would continue with Sherman's Army through his campaigns in the Carolinas in early 1865 until the surrender of Confederate forces in  May. The Regiment would participate in the Grand Review on May 24, and final muster out would be on July 22, 1865.  The original National Flag carried by the 53rd Illinois Infantry Regiment is still preseved and bears the motto "Backbone of Illinois").   

 

POST WAR AND FINAL YEARS:    Matthew H. Morrison arrived home at his Bruce Twp. farm in LaSalle County, Illinois, in the first month of 1865.  His young son William, born in 1860, would die om Feb. 12, 1865.  He was buried in the Mackey family cemetery near Streator, Illinois.  Matthew and Melvina Morrison's 3rd child Oliver T. Morrison would be born on October 23, 1865.  Oliver Morrison would move west to Pueblo, Colorado shortly after 1900 and would marry a widow later in his life. Oliver, the last living child of Matthew Morrison, would die in Nevada after 1930 with no descendants.  Carrie Morrison, the only daughter of Matthew and Melvina Morrison, was born on October 26, 1867.  Carrie would die at a little over one year of age on December 28, 1868.  She would be buried in the Mackey Cemetery near her brother William Morrison.  All of the living decendants of Matthew Morrison eminate from his last two sons born in 1869 and 1872.  Albert Sydney Morrison was born on April 13, 1869 in Bruce Township.  (He was my own grand-father).  Albert Sydney Morrison married Elizabeth Benn McAllister in 1891 at Streator, Illinois.  The couple had 5 children: Vera in 1892,  Eva in 1895,  Albert Sydney in 1899,  Walter in 1905 (My father), and Margaret in 1911.  Albert Sydney (Bob) Morrison was a yardmaster for the EJ&E Railroad and would die in Joliet, Illinois on October 5, 1928.   The final child born to Matthew and Melvina Morrison was Jabez Morrison, who was born on November 13, 1872.  Jabez Morrison married Carrie Penny in 1902.  They had 5 children born in Streator:  Raymond, Lester,  Ralph,  Margaret, and Leona.  Jabez Morrison would die in the great influenza epidemic of 1918 on October 18, 1918. 

Matthew Morrison would remain on his farm in LaSalle County until the late 1870's.  He and his family would move to Livingston County, Illinois, settling on a farm near Wausville in Newtown Township by 1878.  Newtown Township lies just south of the LaSalle County line near Streator, Illinois.  Pontiac is is the county seat of Livingston Co., lying about 15-20 miles from the Morrison's new location.  (Matthew Morrison and his family would appear in the Federal Census of 1880 as residents of Livingston County).  Since the Civil War, Matthew Morrison would continue to suffer periodic returns of his malarial fever attacks.  A well known citizen of LaSalle County, he would be engaged throughout the 1870's in his farming occupation and horse sales.  One document from this period shows Matthew Morrison selling to the firm of Daniel Heenan & Co. one bay mare 4 years old,  a 2nd bay mare 7 years old, a two-horse lumber wagon and harness, all for the amount of $ 194.  (Equal to $3962 in 2007 purchasing power).  In politics, he would remain a strong advocate of the Republican Party.  Matthew Morrison's younger sister Mary would die on August 8, 1874.  Mary Morrison, the twin of William Morrison, had married Oliver Defenbaugh in 1865.  Oliver Defenbaugh was also a Civil War veteran, having served in the 104th Illinois Regiment.  Mary Morrison Defenbaugh was buried in S. Emery Green Cemetery in Otter Creek Twp.   On the morning of November 27, 1879,  James Morrison Sr. would die at Otter Creek Twp. in LaSalle County.  His will, written in 1876, shows that James Morrison left a very considerable estate.  (The will for unknown reasons would exclude his sons Robert, James, John, and Matthew).  The death certificate of James Morrison Sr. stated that he died of typhoid fever.  He was buried in Barnhart Cemetery next to his wife Mary Burns.  (In the period of their deaths, the cemetery was known as Otter Creek Burial Ground).  The rather large monument that marked their graves was damaged by a major tornado in the Streator area in 1903 and was never completely restored.  Today, the grave-stones of James Morrison Sr. and his wife Mary Burns in the old Barnhart Cemetery remain readable, but in broken and sad condition. 

 

Matthew Morrison would travel to Pontiac, Illinois on Monday March 13, 1882.  The next evening ( March 14th), he would be found in a Pontiac alley either staggering or fallen in a seated position, depending on differing reports.   Matthew Morrison would die in the early hours of Wednesday March 15, 1882.  His family being notified, his son Samuel Morrison, his brother Reverend John Morrison of Lexington, Illinois, and his brother-in-law Jabez Mackey came to Pontiac for the inquest and the body.  A post-mortem examination of Matthew Morrison's body showed signs of violence including a broken arm, and suspicions of murder were entertained.  A jury of inquest was impaneled at Pontiac to determine the cause of death.  The jury decided that the cause of death was natural,  and that Matthew's  death was a result of congestion of the lungs and exposure induced by the free use of whiskey and laudenum.  The foreman of the jury adamantly disagreed with the verdict and refused to sign it.  The foreman stated that a foul crime had been commited, and that he intended to hunt up some evidence that may yet incriminate some one.  (The Streator Daily Free Press and Pontiac Sentinal newspapers of March 17, 1882 supply much of the detailed information on Matthew Morrison's death in Pontiac).  On Thursday, March 16th, his son, brother, and brother-in-law would take Matthew's body back to LaSalle County by horse and wagon.  Matthew Morrison would be buried in the Mackey Cemetery on Friday, March 17, 1882. 

POSTSCRIPT:   Melvina Mackey Morrison would remain a widow for 14 years.  She would marry Matthew Morrison's  brother Adam Morrison, a recent widower, on October 31, 1896 at Joliet, Illinois.  Adam gave his age as 67, and Melvina's was given as 63.  Adam Morrison's first wife was Fanny Dickenson, the Dickenson family had been near neighbors of the Morrison's in Otter Creek Township.  Adam Morrison would die on October 30, 1908 in Streator, Illinois.   Melvina Mackey Morrison would die on December 6, 1910 in Streator, Illinois. She was buried  on December 8th in Streator's Riverview Cemetery.  The later years of the remaining children of James Morrison and Mary Burns:  Agnes Gardiner Morrison married George Miller, she died at Bloomington, Illinois in 1903.  Robert Morrison married Amanda Seamens, a cousin of Melvina Mackey, in 1851. Robert Morrison died at his home in Otter Creek in 1909.   James Morrison returned to his profession of machinist after the war, and received a Civil War pension for a hand wound suffered in the war. He was married to Margaret McCloud in 1851, and died at Ottawa, Illinois in 1909.   John Morrison became a ordained minister after his Civil War service.  He later became a noted speaker and GAR member.  John Morrison's wife was Louisa Johnson.  John Morrison would die in 1914 at Cimmaron, Kansas.  Elizabeth McIntyre Morrison married Solomon Loy in 1855, she died at Ottawa, Illinois in 1926.   William Henry Morrison married Mary Kiner in 1866, William would outlive his twin sister Mary Morrison by 66 years.  As the last of his generation of the Morrison family, William Henry Morrison would die at Streator, Illinois in 1940 at the age of 95.

The Civil War grave stone of Matthew Morrison still remains in the 173 year old Mackey Cemetery near Streator, Illinois.  It is simply marked "Matthew Morrison Co. C 53 Illinois".  Next to his grave are found the small markers of his children William and Carrie Morrison, who both had died in their early childhood.