Biography of Alcander Othello Morse

Alcander O. Morse, c. 1866Alcander O. Morse, c. 1866

Military service was not uncommon in Alcander Morse's family line. His grandfather, David Morse, served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and for his war service was awarded 600 acres of land in Cuyler County, New York where Alcander was born. Alcander's father, William, was believed to have been a veteran of the War of 1812, and his mother, Louisa Cushing, came from a prominent Massachusetts family that can trace its ancestry back to the ninth century and includes several veterans of the Revolution. Alcander was born on July 31, 1839 to a large and complicated farm family that would eventually settle in Boone County, Illinois. Not only did he have seven siblings by his parents' marriage, but he also had three half-siblings from his father's first marriage and would inherit two more step-siblings from his mother's second marriage after the death of his father.

Sarah L. Brush, c. 1866Sarah L. Brush, c. 1866

Shortly after the First Battle of Bull Run, Alcander enlisted in Company I of the 37th Illinois Infantry Regiment with his friends, Gardner Tripp and William O. B. Sands, and his step-brother, Perris Bassett. Mustered in as a corporal August 18, 1861 at the age of 22, Alcander served with the regiment for three years, ending his service as a sergeant. At the end of his term of service, he reenlisted with the regiment, but for unknown reasons was "rejected by the mustering officer."1 Alcander remarks very little on the issue in his journal. On August 31, 1964, he notes, "I cannot be mustered as a Veteran, therefore must go Home the first of next month, but only for a short time when I intend to return to this Regiment to serve another three years unless sooner discharged." A few days later, he writes, "Now for a few days I am to be away from the Reg. as my papers have proved to be of no Account; shall go North & re-enlist for the same Co. as soon as mustered out."

Despite his intentions at the end of September 1864, Alcander would not reenlist with the 37th Illinois. Instead, he enlisted as a corporal in Company B of the 1st U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry for the term of one year. He enrolled on December 29, 1864 in Washington, D.C., and was mustered out in Baltimore, Maryland on December 28, 1865.2

Five months after being discharged, Alcander married Sarah Brush, the daughter of a neighbor in Illinois. There is no indication that their relationship began prior to the war. The only mention of the Brushes in the journal occurs in early 1864 when Alcander was sent back to Illinois for recruitment service. "rainy day, stay at Home, no tidings from the Reg't. go to Isreal Brushe's & Warren's." The couple had three surviving children, Amy, Eva, and William, and one child, Charles, who died in infancy.

Alcander O. Morse, c. 1894Alcander O. Morse, c. 1894

In 1883, along with neighboring families from northern Illinois, Alcander filed a claim for a homestead in Dakota Territory. While in South Dakota, he established a post office in his home and, at various times, served as commander and adjutant of the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic. After seven years of farming, Alcander grew weary of the repeated grasshopper invasions and crop failures that plagued the region, so he, his wife, and young son relocated to Butler County, Iowa where Alcander's sisters were having better luck.3

By 1890, the chronic malaria Alcander contracted during the war debilitated him to the point that he could no longer work. In addition to the severe stomach problems caused by the malaria, Alcander was also suffering from complications with his eyes. He applied for and was granted an invalid pension in December 1890, citing his ailment as "fluid in right eye, and fatty fluid in other eye."4

In June 1894, Alcander returned to South Dakota to visit his two daughters, both of whom had married Nash brothers, and were still settled on the sites of their homesteads. Unfortunately, his health took a turn for the worse during his visit, and his stomach pains became so severe that he was prescribed laudanum by a local doctor. His wife, Sarah, was called for, but by the time she arrived, he had slipped into a delirium and did not recognize her. He died on September 20, 1894 at the age of 55, sitting in the rocking chair he had given his eldest daughter as a wedding present.5 When Sarah applied for a widow's pension five months later, the cause of death was listed as "valvular insufficiency complicated with diarrhea."6 Sarah Morse was only 47 years old when she was widowed, and for many years lived primarily off of the monthly $30 pension she received for her husband's service during the war. She never remarried.

  1. Muster Rolls
  2. William S. Stryker, Record of Officers and Men of New Jersey in the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Trenton: John L. Murphy, Steam Book and Job Printer, 1876), 1465.
  3. Charles Arthur Nash and Ella Sophia Nash. Recollections (N.P.: C. A. and E. S. Nash, n.d.), 4, 6, 9.
  4. Declaration for Original Invalid Pension
  5. Charles Arthur Nash and Ella Sophia Nash. Recollections (N.P.: C. A. and E. S. Nash, n.d.), 10-11.
  6. Affidavit of Physician