Friday, January 12, 2018

Edwin Morris: Chemung County’s Last Civil War Veteran

by Erin Doane, Curator

In May 1943, Edwin Morris gave the welcome address at the annual Memorial Sunday service of Baldwin Post 6 G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) at the Centenary Methodist Church in Elmira. His wife Jane urged him to stay home instead of participating in the event. The 96-year-old Morris has suffered a heart attack a year earlier and had never fully recovered. In response to her concern he said, “It’s my duty to my dead comrades to take part in the service. If it causes my death, I will die in the line of duty.” Edwin Morris passed away less than 36 hours later on May 24, 1943 at his home at 356 Walnut Street in Elmira.

Elmira Star-Gazette, May 24, 1943 (from
Edwin Morris was born on January 2, 1847 in Athens Township, Pennsylvania. In November 1863, he enlisted in the Union Army. He was 16 years old at the time and signed up despite his father’s objects. He joined Co. D of the 179th New York Volunteer Infantry. He fought at Petersburg and in all the Army of the Potomac engagements including the Wilderness Campaign, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor, and Richmond. He was at Appomattox Courthouse when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. He was reportedly just 20 feet away from the pair when Lee passed his saber to Grant.

After the war, Morris returned to Athens where he worked on his father’s farm for 20 years. He worked in the lumber business in Pine Creek, Pennsylvania for many years after that. In 1902, at the age of 55, he married Jane Currier of Waverly, New York. The two had met in 1901 at a G.A.R. encampment in East Towanda, Pennsylvania where she was caring for wounded soldiers. They moved to Elmira sometime in the early 1900s. Morris was one of the founding members of the Chemung County Historical Society in 1923.

Edwin Morris (second from left) with charter members of the
Chemung County Historical Society at July 4, 1923 pageant
Morris was an active member of the G.A.R. There were several G.A.R. posts in the county including Baldwin Post 6 which was organized on June 11, 1868 and named after local Civil War veteran Col. Lathrop Baldwin. Other posts were named after L. Edgar Fitch, Col. H.C. Hoffman, and Gen. A.S. Diven. Around the turn of the century, the Baldwin post had about 200 members. Morris served as commander of A.S. Diven Post 623 in the late 1920s. That post, as well as the others in the county dissolved after a time until Baldwin was the only one remaining. Morris became commander of the Baldwin Post in 1938. Upon his death in 1943, the post dissolved. Its charter and other materials from the organization are now in CCHS’s collection.

This G.A.R. hat worn by Edwin Morris is
one of many items that came to the Chemung
County Historical Society from his estate.
Morris was not only involved with the G.A.R. locally. He also held statewide offices in the organization. In 1938 and 1939 he served as Junior Vice Department Commander of the New York State Department G.A.R. and in 1940 he was elected Senior Vice Department Commander. Finally, in June 1941, he was elected Commander at the annual encampment at Lake Placid. He had been asked for several years to be the commander of the state organization but had always declined because he wanted others older than he to have the honor of the position before they passed away. He was 94 when he accepted. At the next year’s encampment in Utica, he was one of the first of nearly 1,000 guests to arrive, despite having suffered a heart attack just two months early on Appomattox Day. At that encampment, he was appointed Department Patriotic Instructor.

Ribbon from the 1942 G.A.R. encampment
Morris also participated in Elmira’s annual Memorial Day commemorations as early as the 1920s. He and the other few remaining Civil War veterans were honored during the events throughout the 1930s.  In 1938, he served as honorary marshal of the parade. At that time, only four veterans remained: Morris, Bowman Jack, Edgar Houghton, and Thomas A. Dawes. When Jack passed away in 1940, Morris was left as the last surviving veteran of the Civil War in Chemung County.

Memorial Day, 1935, from the Elmira Sunday Telegram, May 30, 1943
The last time Morris participated in Memorial Day activities was in 1942. His health was failing but organizers wanted to include him in the commemorations. Col. James Riffe, a World War I veteran, suggested that the parade route be changed that year so it would pass Morris’s Walnut Street residence. While the Chemung County Veterans’ Council agreed to the reroute, plans were abandoned when Morris’s health improved enough for him to ride in the parade.

Edwin Morris riding in the Elmira Memorial Day Parade
On June 17, 1943, an article reporting the passing of Edwin Morris appeared in the National Tribune: Washington, D.C. The final paragraph of the article illustrated Morris’s devotion to his country and fellow soldiers:
In December, 1941, when volunteers were being registered [for service in World War II], a card bearing his name was found among a stack of enrollments; it said, “Will gladly cooperate in advisory capacity or shoulder a gun if necessary.”

1 comment:

  1. What a story....hard to imagine a Civil War Vet still alive in the 40's....Oh what changes this man saw in his lifetime.