26 December 2012

Landsman William M. Morgan, Union Sailor and Great Falls Constable

Civil War Heritage 150 Years
Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

Landsman William M. Morgan, Union Sailor and Great Falls Constable
By Ken Robison

[For The Great Falls Tribune
September 30, 2012 Sunday My Montana]

This is the thirteenth installment of a monthly series commemorating Union and Confederate veterans of the Civil War who settled in central Montana. This month a Union Navy veteran is featured. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com. To see previous installments from this series, visit greatfallstribune.com/civilwar.

In the election of November 1894, Great Falls elected a Black American to public office—a first for the state of Montana. Civil War Union Navy veteran William M. Morgan was elected Great Falls Townsite Constable in that election.

Born in Harrodsburg, Mercer County, Kentucky on July 3, 1843, William Morgan was likely one of the 256 free blacks and mixed race in that county. At the beginning of the Civil War, William Morgan joined the Union Navy and served as a Landsman on the USS Sabine during the war. As a Landsman, the rank given to new recruits in the Navy, Morgan performed menial, unskilled work on the Sabine.

The history of the Civil War has been written largely about the armies and land battles on both sides. Yet, the great historian James M. McPherson believes “the Union navy deserves more credit for Northern victory than it has traditionally received.” In August 1863, President Lincoln paid tribute to the Union Navy in opening of the Mississippi River and other Union Successes, saying “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

William Morgan was one of over 20,000 Black Americans who served in the Union Navy during the Civil War. This constituted an estimated 16 percent of the Navy’s enlisted force. The Navy used integrated crews with blacks working side by side with whites on the same ships.

The USS Sabine was among the first ships to see action in the Civil War. A Brandywine-class frigate the USS Sabine was a 202-foot sailing ship carrying about 50 guns and a complement of 400 officers and men. During the war, Sabine was actively employed along the East coast searching for Confederate commerce raiders. She participated in the relief and reinforcement of Fort Pickens, Florida, in April 1861; the rescue of 300 marines and the crew of chartered troop transport Governor with the loss of just seven during a violent storm off South Carolina on 2-3 November 1861; the search for USS Vermont in March 1862, after that ship-of-the-line had been badly damaged by a storm while sailing to Port Royal, South Carolina; and the hunt for the successful commerce raiders CSS Alabama in October 1862 and CSS Tacony in June 1863. Sabine returned to New York for blockade duty with the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron until ordered in August 1864 to Norfolk, Virginia as a training ship for Navy apprentices and landsmen.

In 1882 William Morgan came up the Missouri River by the steamboat Butte, arriving Fort Benton on May 7th. After a short time working in that river port, Owen H. Churchill hired Morgan to work on the large Churchill ranch in Sun River Valley. Morgan began homesteaded in 1886 five miles south of Great Falls along the Missouri River, and he received patent to 158 acres five years later. As Great Falls began to grow, Morgan built a house on the lower Southside and became active in the black community, serving as a founding trustee in building an African Methodist Church in 1891. He helped form Sunset Lodge #14, a black Masonic Lodge, and a black Odd Fellows Lodge.

Active in Republican Party politics, William Morgan was appointed to a “plumb” political job as janitor of the Cascade County Courthouse. In the election of 1894, he was nominated at the Republican convention with white candidate, Joseph E. Huston, for two open Great Falls Townsite Constable positions. On the night of November 6, 1894, Morgan went to bed in the evening after working that day as janitor at the Courthouse. He woke the next morning to learn that he’d received 503 votes to defeat the leading Democratic Party candidate by 24 votes and win election as Constable.  This marked the first election of a Black American to public office in Montana.

After serving well in office from 1895-97, Constable Morgan returned to his ranch that had expanded by then to 600 acres. He ranched and drove the Great Falls to Millegan stagecoach. In 1898 he helped Cascade County Sheriff Proctor capture horse thief Ed Short near the Morgan Ranch. One year later on March 24, 1899, Civil War Union Navy veteran and Constable William M. Morgan died at his home in Great Falls. The Tribune marked his passing as “Death of a Good Citizen” and reported, “Exposure in this line of duty [driving the stage] aggravated an old injury and caused his death. He was an honest and industrious man, who commanded the respect and confidence of all who knew him.” Landsman William Morgan rests in Old Highland Cemetery.

Sources: [Wikipedia USS Sabine; War on the Waters The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 by James M. McPherson; GFLD 30 Oct 1890; GFLD 21 Jan 1892; GFLD 19 Sep 1892; GFLW 7 Jun 1894; GFTD 11 Oct 1894; GFLD 24 Oct 1894; GFTD 14 Nov 1894; GFLD 6 Sep 1898; GFLD 2 Mar 1897; GFTD 28 Mar 1899; GFLD 27 Mar 1899]

1.     Union Sailing Frigate USS Sabine

No comments:

Post a Comment