James St. Clair Morton

James St. Clair Morton, certainly the only Civil War figure who at his own request forfeited a brigadier generalcy of volunteers in order to revert to a regular majority, was born September 24, 1829, in Philadelphia. A brilliant student, he entered the University of Pennsylvania at the age of fourteen and after four years there was appointed to West Point where he was graduated second in the class of 1851. Posted to the Corps of Engineers, as were all the top graduates in those days, Morton displayed great ability on a number of assignments, including Charleston Harbor, Fort Delaware, Fort Hancock, New Jersey, the Washington Aqueduct, and Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, where the Lincoln conspirators would later serve their sentences. Morton did not enter the active theater of operations until June, 1862, when he became chief engineer of D. C. Buell's Army of the Ohio. This field was his forte and he had written several treatises on the subject; consequently his promotion to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers on April 4, 1863, to rank from November 29, 1862, is not readily understandable. In any event, he continued in his chosen avocation, serving as chief engineer of G. H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland in the fortification of Nashville and Chattanooga and as commander of the "Pioneer Brigade" of W. S. Rosecrans' forces. In the meantime he was present at the battle of Stone's River and at Chickamauga where he was brevetted for gallantry. At this juncture, just before the battles at Chattanooga which forced Braxton Bragg out of Tennessee, he was mustered out of the volunteer service and reverted to his Regular Army grade of major, Corps of Engineers. In this capacity he served as supervising engineer of the defenses of Nashville and nearby towns, and in January, 1864, he became assistant to the chief engineer in Washington. On May 18 he was assigned to Ambrose Burnside's IX Corps as chief engineer. After taking part in this corps' movements and actions at the North Anna River, Totopotomoy Creek, and Bethesda Church, he was killed in action in front of Petersburg on June 17, 1864, while reconnoitering the ground in front of Willcox's division in preparation for the assault of that day. Posthumously promoted brevet brigadier general, U. S. Army, General Morton lies buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.