Army life left a generation of restless men at home.

Lewis Morris Iddings, "The Art of Travel," Scribner's Magazine, March 1897

An 1897 article in Scribner's Magazine informed readers of "The Art of Travel," remarking that "there was comparatively little travel before the War, not only because there were few railroads, but because the nation had not yet been put into motion."1 Travel notably increased during the years after the war, a likely result of a generation of men and women who had witnessed and taken part in the war that had set the nation in motion. The nature of the mobility of the Civil War is evident, however, the movement of soldiers is rarely seen as travel in the traditional sense of the word. Yet an examination of the contents of their letters and journals suggest that the forced movement of military life had much in common with antebellum travelers and their travelogues. Northern soldiers traveled great distances from their homeland and recorded their observations of the peoples, places, and landscapes they encountered on the other side of the sectional divide that had so fragmented the nation.2

Travel writer Susan L. Roberson notes that "the road, both a boundary between places and a location where people and ideas meet, is an apt site for negotiating and initiating new identities, personal and national."3 In the case of Civil War travel, Northern soldiers grappled with identities of invader and combatant, and also citizen of the North, very much aware of what made the South "different or distinctive" from who they were and the Northern homes they left behind.4 As they traveled South, their observations and experiences permitted them to study their nation's enemy and confirm or reject long-established understandings of the differences between the two regions, differences that had eventually led to war.

In an examination of the postwar South, Geographer Jamie Winders argues that the region "occupied a double place within the U.S. as both an occupied territory (re)captured through war and a part of the victorious nation itself." This same relationship existed during the war as well, as Northern soldiers entered enemy territory on the behalf of a cause that denied the South's claims of independence. In this way, the South was both outsider and insider, an "imperial holding" of the North. This colonial understanding of the relationship between North and South is evident in the ways that northern travelers described the South: "discourses of civilization, descriptions of nature, and discussions of whiteness."5 These themes are also apparent in the writings of Union soldiers during the war. The soldiers' war travelogues capture their immediate reactions to their Southern surroundings, observations which reinforce the sense of cultural and geographic difference between the North and the South.

The war journal of Alcander Morse is not exempt from this imperialistic idea of the South. The Southern landscape and its inhabitants are recurrent themes of his war narrative and become diverting and amusing characters within his tale of war. By and large, Morse experiences the South as a wild, untamed, yet beautiful wilderness with equally wild and uncivilized people to match. Explore these notions further by examining the People, the Place, and the War as documented by Alcander Morse in his journal.

To see how Morse's journal fits in with letters and diaries written by other soldiers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and army wives during the war, see "'On our way for the Sunny South, land of Chivalry': Northern Imperial Attitudes in the Civil War South."

  1. Quoted in Amy G Richter, Women, The Railroad, and the Rise of Public Domesticity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 174 n42.
  2. Literary scholar John D. Cox also examines the works of Civil War soldiers in their capacity as travel narratives. He refers to Union soldiers as "tourists with guns (and pens)" who, during their war time travels, discovered similarities between themselves and Southerners that helped to foster or reinforce an American national identity. See Traveling South: Travel Narratives and the Construction of American Identity (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005).
  3. Susan L. Roberson, Antebellum American Women Writers and the Road: American Mobilities (New York: Routledge, 2011), 11.
  4. Jamie Winders, "Imperfectly Imperial: Northern Travel Writers in the Postbellum U.S. South, 1865-1880," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95 (2), 2005: 391.
  5. Jamie Winders, "Imperfectly Imperial: Northern Travel Writers in the Postbellum U.S. South, 1865-1880," Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95 (2), 2005: 391-92.

The People

The Southern people receive frequent attention from Morse. They appear largely as ignorant and uncivilized rebels, incapable of properly managing their lush farmlands or conducting themselves as proper ladies. The words he chooses to describe Southerners indicates that he associates both civilians and soldiers with their act of rebellion. (Figure 20 and Figure 21) The mutinous South is facetiously associated with the archaic notion of chivalry, but not its own separate political entity. Only once is the word "Confederacy" used. (Figure 12 and Figure 19) Southerners are rarely referred to by their regional name. Instead, Morse calls them "Rebels" or "Secesh." Only once is "South" used to refer to the section of the country; all other instances are directional. (Figure 23) It is clear from these rhetorical choices that Morse understood the South as an insubordinate section of an indivisible Union.

The female residents of the South appear often in the journal and inspire some humorous remarks. (Figure 11 and Figure 22) As he travels through Arkansas in the process of clearing the enemy from southern Missouri, he finds that the women there do live up to his expectations of what a lady ought to be. "people are very destitute through this section of the country mostly Seceshionests especially the Ladies (if such they may be called which I doubt)." A few days later he reports, "the people here are very ignorant & destitute the Ladies smoke & chew tobacco & swear like pirates." The womanhood of Southern ladies is called into question due to their penchant for tobacco and coarse language, but also their ardent secessionism. A later encounter with Arkansan women reveals the antagonism between Southern women and the Northern troops, and suggests perhaps that aggressive patriotism impairs the womanhood of these Southern ladies in Morse's eyes. "this section of the State is very thinly settled & what there is are not very wealthy people the men are mostly in the Rebel Army & the Ladies are very saucy to us Northern Mudsills, who came here (they say) to rob & burn their Houses & rob them of their rights."7

Morse records equally unflattering opinions of the Southern population at large. (Figure 14) The words "ignorant" and "destitute" are the adjectives typically used to describe the peoples he encounters. For example, while foraging near Bentonville, Arkansas, he notes, "apples are plenty but owing to the indolence of the people they are nearly all spoiled by the frost." His hostilities are also directed toward Missouri and its citizens, even those loyal to the Union. (Figure 9) He frequently criticizes soldiers from Missouri, referring to them as "our (miserable) Missouri troops" or as "pour excuse for Soldiers."8

Despite its importance to the origin of the war, issues of race are remarkably absent in the journal. African Americans are only referenced in regard to their presence in the Union army. (Figure 16) Only one passing observation of the peoples along the Mexican-American border of Texas alludes to race: "the people look very inferior very dark &.c." He does comment upon the national origins of some of the communities he encounters: "the people here are mostly French & Irish" and "the inhabitants are mostly Germans." It is unclear whether or not this is noted with the same apparent disdain he held for the dark and inferior Texans.9

The Place

Morse's response to the Southern environment is much more positive than his reaction to Southerners themselves. His view of the Southern wilderness and landscape reflects an understanding of the place as beautifully wild and poorly tamed. As a farmer from northern Illinois, he seems particularly attentive to the mountainous and marshy terrain he encounters during his travels through Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. His journal is scattered with adulations over the scenery, and the spoils of the fertile landscape often satisfy his stomach. For a soldier subsisting on army rations, the Southern environment is a lush and fertile land of plenty. He often remarks on the abundance of fruits and vegetables, including, in particular, blueberries and corn. (Figure 18 and Figure 5) He describes the wilderness—with its "magnificent Prairies studded with small Groves" and "beautiful valley with splendid springs a beautiful creek large Oaks & Pines & various trees & shrubbery"—using expressive adjectives like beautiful, splendid, and magnificent. (Figure 4) As a third-generation farmer, Morse often looks at the land with a farmer's eye. "This is the best part of Mo. we have ever been through it is generaly well cultivated & almost every farm has a vineyard & some of them beautiful ones." He also pays careful attention to the abilities (or lack thereof) of Southern agriculturalists. "the people are very ignorant in this part of Missouri they have beautiful farms but they are so very indolent that they look very bad."10

The southernmost reaches of Texas are especially exotic to the Illinoisan. His journal entries during his time in Texas are full of marvels. During his travels through the Gulf, he experienced "a perfect gale" and describes it in excited detail:

our rudder chain gave way & for an hour or so the old ship rolled as though it was a cradle with a cross child rocking it still it struggled on against the mighty waves as if concious of its precious burden & at last by persevering efforts of our Noble crew the releiving takles were rigged & manned by part sailors & part from this Reg. . . . a storm at sea is a sight of fearful granduer to see the great waves come rolling up chasing each other as though eager to seize their prey & then to see them break together or against the ship & roll back to meet the next none but those who know by experience can imagine the splendor of those Grand old waves with their foam covered crest & then to see a ship go rolling over them half upsetting & then righting it almost seems as though they were things of life instead of old hulks of wood & Iron but thus it is & we are here in one of these same old hulks with very little to keep her before the wind & nothing to keep her any other way & no knowing when this wind will die away still God is our Guide & if it is in accordance with his Holy will we shall land safley.11

While exploring an island off the coast of Texas, Morse and a fellow soldier play tourist, collecting seashells, and exploring the environment. "land on the Island it is nothing but a sand hill go hunting shell some beautiful ones are found by myself and Corporal Dukitte also one oyster."12

The use of steam transportation in the Western Theater of the war was an asset to the Civil War traveler. Moving via railroad and steamship permitted Morse to become familiar with over a thousand miles of the Southern landscape. While foot travel allowed him the most intimate access to his destinations, traversing the Mississippi River and its tributaries by steamer provided a breathtaking and memorable view. "it is a beautiful day & it is magnificent scenery around us as we pass up the River which is a deep narrow stream."13

Morse often mourns the destruction of real property as he passes through greatly contested areas. When his regiment passed through Fayetteville, Arkansas, in late 1862, he was shocked at its condition. "this is a beautiful town or has been now it is sadly desolate. Ben McCulloch destroyed its most important parts mills Seminary CourtHouse &.c. which were all splendid buildings there is one seminary left." Most of the devastation, Morse notes, was carried out by the Rebel forces. He finds it curious that the Southern occupants of these destroyed settlements would continue to support the Rebel cause after its armies laid waste to their towns and cities. "the town has been a beautiful one but it has been ransacked by the Reb's & strange as it may seem the people are rebel sympathisers still the Officers of the Rebel Army have allowed their men to pillage this town they have even taken the dresses bedquilts & pillows from the Ladies and in some instances they have taken the victuals from the houses so that the people have to go hungry." He does refer to one instance of Northern destruction, but he places the blame on the "miserable" Missourians. "nearly all the Houses on this road Keatsville & Cassville included have been burned to the ground by our (miserable) Missouri troops."14

He applauds the civilizing affect of Northern occupation of Southern cities like Memphis and New Orleans. (Figure 6) After landing briefly in Memphis while traversing the Mississippi, Morse notes, "at Memphis two hours this is a beautiful city & is kept in good order I should judge by appearances that the Comdg. Gen (Hurlbut) was doing his duty well." When he visits New Orleans during the summer of 1863, he is enchanted by the city's scenic qualities. "this has been a lovely day I have been to the city & well may New Orleans be called the queen City of the south it is kept so clean it has no such magnificent buildings as some Northern Cities has still they look very pretty the most magnificent structure is in the city is the Monument of Jackson his motto 'The Union must & shall be preserved' is Engraved in large letters under him, & then such a beautiful yard so many pretty flowers & so many diferent kinds of shrubbery." While he appears to have enjoyed his time there, Morse cannot resist comparing New Orleans to the industrious Northern cities he has known, and equates the city with the splendor and romanticism often associated with the chivalric South.15

Not all of the journal's reflections of the environment were as picturesque as traveling along the Mississippi River or marveling at the pretty cleanliness of New Orleans. Some observations held more grim connotations. "camp on the very ground where we made our last charge at the Battle of Pearidge march 8th/62. the effects of the battle are to be seen on every side here a tree splintered by a shell in another place a score of bullets are embedded in the trunk of some giant oak." Morse witnessed firsthand the way the war had seared its violent footprint onto the Southern landscape.16

The War

The Rebel army is viewed by Morse in much the same light as Southern citizens. He does not seem to harbor any additional resentment toward them for their role as a military enemy. In fact, he curiously refrains from referring to the Confederate army as the "enemy." (Figure 24) Instead, like their civilian counterparts, he calls them "Rebels" or "Secesh," but rarely "Southerners." (Figure 13 and Figure 23)

Morse is sincere in his beliefs that the war originated at the hands of the Southerners. His journal is filled with reflections on the war's progress, and he frequently bemoans the continued Southern resistance, as in this entry written on New Year's Eve, 1863: "still this cruel war is waged with all the eagerness of madmen by the southerners, why O, why will they be so foolish. they must see by the steady progress we have made in this past year that we shall soon subdue them by force of Arms." The war is lamented for its cost, but is seen as necessary in order to end what the Rebels began. (Figure 10) Any harm these rebels came to, Morse believed, was brought upon themselves. Following the Union victory at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, he wrote, "go to the Secesh Hospitals it is a very hard sight all unkind feelings vanish as one looks upon those poor suffering men it is true they brought it upon themselves still it looks hard to see them suffer so."18

Morse and the Union army in the West saw success in the Trans-Mississippi theater. While they experienced a few losses in small skirmishes and at the Battle of Chalk Bluff, Morse was right to be confident in the campaigning prowess of the "western boys." With victories at the Battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, Arkansas, the enormous win at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the successful sweeping of Confederate forces from Missouri and northern Arkansas, Morse's encounters with the enemy typically ended with Union forces clearing Confederate troops from the field. The verbs commonly associated with the Rebels in his comments regarding military engagements are words like drove, cleared, escaped, leaving, vanish. (Figure 8) The enemy is depicted as clearly inferior to Morse and his army of "western boys." The day before victory was declared at Vicksburg, an armistice gave Morse the opportunity to meet with the enemy there. "meet the Rebs & have a chat they look rough enough still they will own nothing but without doubt they must give up soon on account of food." The next day would bring the Confederate surrender of the city and a critical victory to the Northern war effort.19

Another inferior breed of soldiers Morse encountered in the South were irregular guerrilla fighters. Much of his war service was spent rooting out bushwhackers along the Missouri border and Mississippi River, where they were wreaking havoc on Union supply lines. "nothing but a few guerrilla's in the vicinity" that "interrupt navigation on this River almost as they please at present & I guess will for some time to come." Guerrillas were not afforded respect as fellow combatants like Confederate soldiers were. Instead, they were dealt swift punishments for their terrorising of the Union army. Morse was witness to this treatment first hand while camped in Huntsville, Arkansas. "while here Herron shot 9 bushwhackers mostly leaders of bands."20


The following visualizations provide various means of understanding the contents of Alcander Morse's journal in a concise way.

Word Clouds

This textual analysis tool represents word frequency in a visual manner. The more frequently a word is used in the text being analyzed, the larger it appears. Click the thumbnail for a full view of the word cloud.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words used in the journal.

Figure 1. Examining the journal in its entirety.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words relating to the South and Southerners.

Figure 2. Examining entries related to the South and its inhabitants.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words relating to Southerners.

Figure 3. Examining entries that describe the Southern people.

Figure 4. Examining entries describing the Southern wilderness.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words relating to the Southern landscape.

Figure 5. Examining entries describing the Southern landscape.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words relating to Southern cities.

Figure 6. Examining entries that describe Southern cities.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words relating to the war.

Figure 7. Examining entries that describe the war.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words relating to the Confederate Army.

Figure 8. Examining entries that describe the Confederate Army.

A word cloud showing the most frequent words relating to Missouri, its people, soldiers, and landscape.

Figure 9. Examining text related to Missouri, its people, soldiers, and landscape.

Key Words in Context

This tool of analysis visualizes the context of key words within the journal, providing insight into the significance of Morse's observations, beliefs, and ideas about the South.

A list showing the context of the use of the word war.

Figure 10. Morse laments the war for its human cost, but it is seen as necessary in order to end what the Rebels began.

A list showing the context of the use of the word ladies.

Figure 11. Southern women are described as peculiar and distinctly different from their noble Northern counterparts.

A list showing the context of the use of the words southerners, southern, and chivalry.

Figure 12. The Southern Confederacy and its rebellious citizens are facetiously associated with chivalry.

A list showing the context of the use of the words Reb and Rebels.

Figure 13. Confederate troops are referred to as "Rebs" or "Rebels."

A list showing the context of the use of the word people.

Figure 14. References to the "people" of the South.

A list showing the context of the use of the word Dixie.

Figure 15. While the South was not its own country as secessionists had declared, it was still a place distinct from the North.

A list showing the context of the use of the word colored.

Figure 16. Morse only mentions African Americans in relation to their military contributions. Slavery and issues of race are absent.

A list showing the context of the use of the word western.

Figure 17. Morse makes the distinction between Western and Eastern fighting styles and soldiers.

A list showing the context of the use of the word plenty.

Figure 18. Morse viewed the Southern landscape as a land of plenty.

Key Word Counts

A visualization of word frequency, this tool presents an alphabetized list of key words in the journal and the number of times they appear, revealing trends in Morse's word choice and the subjects he discusses.

An image showing that the word confederacy is only used once in the journal.

Figure 19. Morse uses the word "Confederacy" only once.

An image showing the number of times words relating to rebel and rebellion are used in the journal.

Figure 20. The Confederate Army is referred to as an army of rebels.

An image showing the number of times words relating to secession or secesh are used in the journal.

Figure 21. The Confederate army, Southern civilians, and the South at large are associated with their act of secession.

An image showing that the word lady or laidies is used fourteen times in the journal.

Figure 22. Southern women receive frequent attention.

An image showing the number of times words relating to the word south are used in the journal.

Figure 23. Southerners are rarely referred to by their regional name. Instead, Morse calls them "Rebels" or "Secesh." Only once is "South" used to refer to the section of the country; all other instances are directional.

An image showing that the word enemy is only used three times in the journal.

Figure 24. Curiously, Morse rarely uses the word "enemy" to identify the Confederate army.