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James Morris Morgan, 1845-1928
Recollections of a Rebel Reefer
Boston; New York: Houghton Mifflin Company; Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1917.


James Morris Morgan was born in New Orleans in 1845, the eighth child of Thomas Gibbs Morgan and Sarah Fowler Morgan. He grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and entered the United States Naval Academy in 1860. When Louisiana seceded from the Union, Morgan left Annapolis, Maryland, and at fifteen became a midshipman in the Confederate navy. He served aboard the McRae on the Mississippi River, the James River, and in Charleston. There he made the acquaintance of Colonel George Trenholm, then Treasurer of the Confederacy, who looked after Morgan throughout the war. Despite Morgan's age and inexperience, Trenholm used his influence to secure an assignment for Morgan to sail on the cruiser Georgia from 1862 to 1864. Upon his return he served aboard the schoolship Patrick Henry on the James River. Morgan married Trenholm's daughter, Helen, in October 1865, but she died only a year later, leaving him with an infant daughter. Unable to settle happily into farming or law after the Civil War, he accepted General Sherman's offer to spend three years training Egyptian soldiers under the Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt. Morgan returned to the United States in 1872. He married Gabriella Burroughs a year later, but she died soon after the birth of their daughter. Morgan then worked as an engineer and prospector in Mexico and served as consul-general to Australasia under President Cleveland. Returning to the United States, he settled in Washington in 1898 with his third wife, Frances Fincke, with whom he had a third daughter. During this time, Morgan wrote several articles for magazines and published the Prince and Boatswain: Sea Tales from the Recollections of Rear-Admiral Charles E. Clark with J. P. Marquand. Morgan's autobiography, Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, generally considered his best work, was published in 1917. Morgan died at the age of eighty-three in January 1928.

In Recollections of a Rebel Reefer, James Morgan describes his life but focuses on his naval career. He opens with an account of his Louisiana childhood, characterizing himself as a restless, energetic boy who changed schools three times before entering the U.S. Naval Academy in 1860. Morgan expresses both awe and pride at being among the first to train on the U.S.S. Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), and he provides an overview of his brief naval education aboard the famous ship. In addition to recounting his daily responsibilities, he incorporates humorous sketches of his classmates and instructors. Intent on exposing his youthful ignorance, Morgan describes his own foibles in a witty, self-deprecating manner that characterizes the narrative's overall tone. However, he ends his discussion of the Naval Academy on a somber note when his education is cut short by Louisiana's secession from the Union.

Morgan begins a chronological account of his four years in the Confederate navy with a description of his first appointment at age fifteen as midshipman aboard the sloop-of-war McRae. His nickname at the beginning of the war was "Little Morgan" because of his youth and stature. Despite these disadvantages, he traveled throughout the Southeast on his own, looking for new appointments whenever his old ones ended. When Colonel Trenholm befriended Morgan, he took it upon himself to feed, clothe, and shelter him. Morgan's close relationship with Trenholm gave him remarkable proximity to members of the Confederate government, including Jefferson Davis. Morgan served both men in numerous capacities, including guarding their families from Union raiders. While stationed in Richmond at the request of Trenholm, he learned firsthand of the South's financial difficulties and the demoralization of members of the Confederate government. Morgan's last efforts for the Confederacy were his attempts to free Trenholm from prison after Lee's surrender. In the latter portion of his narrative, Morgan relates in detail his postwar travels and appointments. He includes anecdotes and opinions about the social customs he encountered in Egypt, Mexico, Australasia, and Panama. Morgan closes his autobiography with a description of his visit to Panama during its declaration of independence and his return home to receive the Confederate Cross of Honor presented by Robert E. Lee's daughter.

See also Diary of a Confederate Girl, written by Sarah Morgan Dawson, James Morgan's sister.

Works Consulted: Burke, W. J. and Will D. Howe, eds., American Authors and Books, 1640 to the Present Day, 3rd ed., New York: Crown, 1972; Johnson, Allen, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1928-1958.

Armistead Lemon
Harris Henderson

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