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Hattie M. and Merritt Morse papers

Collection MS-2020-020: Hattie M. and Merritt Morse papers


  • Creation: 1858-1865
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1863-1865

Content Description

The Hattie M. and Merritt Morse papers document the experience of a 19th-century New Hampshire family during the American Civil War. Hattie was married to Merritt Morse, a Union serviceman stationed in South Carolina, the Sea Islands, and Virginia. These papers contain correspondence received by Hattie and artifacts from Merritt's service: carte de visite photographs, a leather wallet with a Confederate ten-dollar bill, and a pair of Lemaire field glasses.

The bulk of the correspondence is from Merritt, while serving in the war, home to Hattie, living with their parents and young son in New Hampshire. A small amount of earlier correspondence to Hattie from members of her family documents the shift in family life after her father’s death which results in her mother joining her household. Family letters written to Hattie during the war share concern for Merritt's safety as well as details of social and religious life at home. Merritt’s letters, running from 1863-1865, detail his experiences serving in the New Hampshire 3rd Infantry, the U.S. Signal Corps, the X Corps Army of the James in Virginia, and the XXIV Corps in Virginia.

Merritt describes his observations and interactions with members of the formerly enslaved Black communities on the mid-Atlantic Sea Islands, in particular the Gullah community, through his unofficial work as a minister. He comments on the Black community and culture, a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation, race relations, conditions under slavery, and includes the names of the formerly enslaved in connection to their enslavers. He also offers his opinion of white Northern teachers and missionaries sent to the Sea Islands as part of the Port Royal Experiment.

Additionally Merritt discusses the Army efforts to establish the signal system across islands still under Confederate control. Letters from his service in the X and XXIV Corps give accounts of the Battle of Pocotaligo, the Battle of Fort Wagner, the Siege of Charleston Harbor, the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, the Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, and the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox. He witnesses conscription of freedmen by Union soldiers from African American regiments and the discrimination that these soldiers faced from their white counterparts. Merritt also describes medical conditions in the army hospital where he was a patient and ward master in 1864, leading to his acquaintance with the nurse Clara Barton.

Photographs are all carte de visite style portraits of soldiers, mostly pictured in uniform, that Merritt met during his service. Many are signed by the subject, and many also include a backstamp with the photographer's name and studio location. The bulk were either shot in New Hampshire or at the 24th Army Corps headquarters.


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research; a portion is available digitally.

Conditions Governing Use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note

John Merritt Morse, known as Merritt, was born on December 17, 1832 to John Morse (1794-1887) and Mary Coffin Morse (1796-1859) in Randolph, New Hampshire.

Harriet M. (Lord) Morse, known as Hattie, was born December 25, 1838 to Reuben Marshall Lord (1799-1857) and Lucena (or Lucina) Moore Lord (1802-1881) in Richmond, VT. Her siblings were Lucena H. (born 1822), Sarah Eliza (born 1826), and Frances L. (born 1839). All four girls were educated at Thetford Academy, in Thetford, Vermont. Frances married Presbury West, and by the time of the 1860 census they were living in Wisconsin with his mother, Mercy B. West.

Merritt and Hattie’s marriage date is unknown. Their first child, Merritt P., was born in 1861 or 1862, a second son, Ernest Lord in 1870, and they adopted a third son, Hugh Benton in 1873. By at least 1870 but probably beginning in the early 1860s, Merritt’s father and Hattie’s mother began living with the family.

Merritt enlisted on August 13, 1862 as a private in the I Company, 3rd Regiment, New Hampshire, during the American Civil War. He officially transferred to US Signal Corps Unit 3724 on November 3, 1863. He transferred again in spring of 1864 to the X Corps Army of the James in Virginia, and finally sometime in winter or spring of 1865 to field service in Virginia with the XXIV Corps, where he remained through the end of the war.

Hattie Morse died December 16, 1892 in Lancaster, New Hampshire. Merritt Morse, after a second marriage to Orlana Brown, died on February 8, 1913 in Lancaster, New Hampshire.


1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

"Index to births, early to 1900." New Hampshire Registrar of Vital Statistics, Concord, New Hampshire.

New Hampshire, Civil War Service and Pension Records, 1861-1866. Salt Lake City, UT, USA: FamilySearch, 2017

U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865. Historical Data Systems, comp. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2009.

U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012.


3 Linear Feet (5 containers)

Language of Materials



Papers document a 19th-century New Hampshire family during the American Civil War. Merritt Morse shared his experiences and perspectives as a U.S. Signal Corpsman in the Union Army in South Carolina, the Sea Islands, and Virginia, as well as an ad hoc minister to formerly enslaved Black communities on the islands, through correspondence home to his wife Hattie. The papers also contain a smaller number of letters to Hattie from her family. Additional materials include carte de visite photographs of other Union soldiers, Morse's field glasses, and his wallet with a Confederate ten-dollar bill.


Organized in three series: I. Correspondence, II. Photographs, and III. Artifacts.


Purchased from Cowan's Auctions, Inc, in 2020.

Existence of digital copies

A portion of this collection is available digitally. Links are included in the inventory.

Related Materials

Florence and Ellen Burke letters, MS.2018.023, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Bernard and Margaret Hayes letters, MS.2018.026, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Isaac Plumb, Jr. family papers, MS.2018.011, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Hattie M. and Merritt Morse papers
Lynn Moulton
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States