Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the George U. Morris Collection, 1861-1876

Accession Number: HC 7
George U. Morris Collection
Bulk Dates: 1861-1876
.2 linear feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Series Description
Series I - Correspondence
Series II - Pension Application
Series III - Centennial Diary

Access and Use

Provenance: Molly Levey donated the George U. Morris materials to Berea College on May 27, 1975.

Preferred Citation: The George U. Morris Collection, Berea College Special Collections & Archives, Berea, Ky.


The nineteen letters in this collection, dated from August 8, 1861 to March 7, 1864, provide a first person account of a naval officer's life aboard a fighting ship of the Union Navy during the Civil War. The letters were sent by George U. Morris to his fiancÚ, Mary Chase Steele, while Morris participated in blockading the Confederacy. In addition the collection includes a photo of Morris, copies from the National Archives of Mary Morris's claim for a naval pension, and a brief diary, probably by Mary Morris, about visiting the Centennial Fair in Philadelphia in 1876.

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George Upham Morris was born in Massachusetts in 1830. He entered the United States Navy in 1847 and served throughout the Civil War. As a midshipman he served on the Albany, the Independence, and the Lexington, and attended the Naval Academy, graduating in 1852. After detachment from the Academy he served on the Princeton, the Dolphin, the Decatur, the Cyane and the Cumberland, until it was sunk in 1862 by the C.S.S. Virginia (the ironclad constructed on the hull of the U.S.S. Merrimack). During the battle with the Virginia, Morris was acting commander of the Cumberland.

Morris was attached to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron well into1863, then transferred farther south to the West Gulf Blockading Squadron in October of that year. He was on the U.S.S. Cumberland when he wrote the first letter in this collection, in 1861. In two later letters, he recalls the Cumberland's final battle. After the sinking of the Cumberland, Morris was given command of the gunboat U.S.S. Port Royal. In his love letters written on board the Port Royal he relates his boredom and anxieties as well as dramatic naval action, including capturing blockade runners, taking refugees aboard, guarding the approaches to the mouth of the Mississippi and being fired upon by enemy ship and shore batteries. While with the West Gulf Squadron in Mobile Bay he was ordered to pursue the Alabama to Cuba, but he never sighted the ship. At one point a storm drove him out to sea in a small boat with six crewmen and a broken rudder, and his squadron despaired of finding him.

Morris was later attached to the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron under Rear Admiral J. A. Dahlgren, and was commanding officer of the U.S.S. Chenango at Charleston, South Carolina. He was made a Commander in the U.S. Navy on July 25, 1866.

Morris's first wife had died on February 18, 1858, without issue. He married Mary Chase Steele in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 1864. About ten years after the war he was serving as commanding officer at the Navy Yard in Pensacola, Florida, when the Yard caught fire in very cold weather. He led the fight to quench the fire, but succumbed afterwards to a respiratory infection which contributed to his death from consumption (phthisis pulmonalis) in 1875 at Jordan Alum Springs, VA. His widow, Mary, never remarried and died on June 25, 1930, leaving no heirs.

Series Description
1 Manuscript Box

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Series I
Box 1

Letters to George Morris's fiancÚ about life on a ship blockading the Confederacy. They detail movement of the U.S.S. Port Royal from the Apalachicola Bay to the Florida Keys, Mobile Bay, Havana, and New Orleans. A photograph of Morris is included.

Series II
Pension Application
Box 1, con't

Copies of documents from the National Archives, apparently submitted by Mrs. Morris in order to obtain a widow's pension following her husband's death in 1875. They provide information about his marriage, death, and copies of the correspondence between Morris and the Navy medical officers relating to the circumstances which led to the deterioration of his health. Mary Chase Steele Morris's pension record and notice of her death are also included.

Series III
Centennial Diary
Box 1, con't

A diary describing a visit to the 1876 United States Centennial celebration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; probably written by Mrs. Morris.

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