Monthly Archives: March 2016

A Confederate Rail-Splitter

Alexander Morse's letter from Bowling Green

Alexander Morse’s letter from Bowling Green

Our collection of Bowling Green-related Civil War resources in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections continues to grow with the addition of an 1861 letter of Confederate cavalryman Alexander P. Morse.

Camped near Bowling Green, Morse, a member of the First Louisiana Cavalry, tells his father of the influx of some 20,000 Southern forces to the area, with another 15,000 in striking range.  “We see nobody but soldiers, and nothing but guns & ammunition,” he wrote from his perch on a “well graduated hill.”  Despite the prevalence of measles among the men, he was “as well and hearty as a buck,” chopping wood with “as much ‘sang froid’ as Abe Lincoln or any other rail splitter,” and catching sleep on a mattress not yet consigned to the sick.

Although he noted that a force of Texas Rangers was attempting to engage Union troops at Green River, Morse was more excited by his dinner conversation with a fellow Louisianan who had witnessed the Battle of Belmont near Columbus, Kentucky.  Over a “great treat” of a meal, Lieut. Col. Daniel Beltzhoover showed Morse the sword he used in the fight, cut through with a minie ball just as he drew it.

An interesting postscript: After the war, Morse became a prominent lawyer.  One of his clients was Louisiana Judge John H. Ferguson, the defendant in Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld racial segregation laws until overturned in 1954 by Brown v. Board of Education.  Morse’s principal contribution to legal scholarship, a treatise on the meaning of the phrase “natural-born citizen,” is best left to discussion in other blogs.

Click here to access a finding aid and typescript of Alexander Morse’s letter, and here to browse our Civil War collections.  For more of our manuscript collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Letters to May

May Carpenter (right), with a friend

May Carpenter (right), with a friend

We previously heard from Virginia “Jennie” Amos in 1890, when she wrote to May Carpenter of Smiths Grove, Kentucky about going corsetless at a girls-only picnic that ended up being crashed by some local “town dudes.”

In other letters, Jennie also enlivened the short life of her former Cedar Bluff College classmate (May died at 20), with trash talk about friends, life and love.  Let’s hear some more from this paragon of late-Victorian female delicacy:

On her schoolteaching duties:  “Just imagine yourself with sixty brats, all under thirteen. . . . While I was lifting them by their ears. . . a half dozen in my class would be having a fist and scull fight.”

On a friend’s impending marriage:  “It is perfectly awful to think of her associating with such a scrub. . . . I can’t help but believe something will take place yet, and do most heartily hope it will be his getting drunk and breaking his neck.”

On another friend’s marriage:  “And Miss Sallie is married . . . . Did not think she would have A. Lawson. . . . It seems like good girls never get the kind of men they deserve.”

On yet another friend’s honeymoon:  “You must make Bettie tell you how badly scared Scott was the first night.  I can’t imagine him as being so immodest as to undress in a girl’s room and to get in bed with her.  Isn’t it awful to think of?”

On a date:  “My beau was one Mr. Walter Culley who was never known to speak a word unless asked a direct question.  He did not bother me very much though as we played cards most of the time.”

And this complaint, in the middle of a gossip-filled letter , about her friend “Emma’s” tale-telling behind her back:  “She never showed any sign of talking about other people to me, but then she knew I had such perfect contempt for people so inclined that may have prevented her from talking to me.”

These letters are part of the Carpenter Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Join us this weekend for the Meijer Used Book Sale


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