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Morton, Gilbert


Age: 0, credited to Essex, VT
Unit(s): USN
Service: ENS, USN [College: NU 56]

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Birth: 01/01/1819, Essex, VT
Death: 06/26/1890

Burial: Common Burial Ground , Essex, VT
Marker/Plot: Not recorded
Gravestone researcher/photographer: Kathy Valloch
Findagrave Memorial #: 32254803


Alias?: None noted
Pension?: Not Found
Portrait?: Unknown
College?: NU 56
Veterans Home?: Not Found
(If there are state digraphs above, this soldier spent some time in a state or national soldiers' home in that state after the war)

Remarks: more off-site


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Copyright notice


Essex Common Burial Ground, Essex, VT

Check the cemetery for location/directions and other veterans who may be buried there.


Captain Gilbert Morton, of Essex, died on the 27th, aged about seventy-one. Captain Morton was for forty years a sea captain, and during the Civil War he commanded a gunboat in the Mississippi Squadron.

Source: Orleans County Monitor, July 7, 1890
Courtesy of Deanna French

The Late Capt. Gilbert Morton

Some Reminiscences of a Gallant Sailor, a Brave soldier and an Honored Citizen of Vermont.

The late Capt. Gilbert Morton of Essex was born in Westford, Vt., 1819. At the age of 14 he went to sea, at 20 he became commander of a merchant vessel. Of a fearless daring nature, he loved the sea, and life upon the ocean. He could speak several languages and for nearly 40 years his life was spent upon the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Southern oceans. His pleasure was to transact business with the people of almost all the principal ports of the civilized globe.

He was a complete mariner and was always master of the situation; with chart, compass and clear sky, after having been for days drifting at the will of the wind and storm, when the "clouds rolled by" he would quickly tell under what sky he was sailing. Once after drifting for days before the winds of a storm off the coast of Africa the storm cleared up and he was hailed by another vessel and Capt. Morton asked:

"Where are you bound?"

"For Rio Janiero, (sic) South America" was the answer.

"You are a long distance from your port," answered Capt. Morton. "In the right longitude and latitude but on the other side of the world, 12,000 miles away. I am sailing for Port Natal, Africa," which port he safely entered in a few days.

He was a foreman in the Boston navy yard before the civil war. When the war broke out he hastened to his country's aid, entered the navy and was assigned to the Mississippi squadron under Commodore Foote, and was in actual service from the beginning to the end of the war. He took part in the siege of Vicksburgh, Island No. 10, Fort Henry, Fort Donelson and Decatur; was on the Tennessee, Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and in many of the most severe engagements of the Mississippi squadron. In front of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland river when the other gun boats had retreated from under the rebel fire, Capt. Morton also being ordered to retreat, replied,

"I did not come to retreat, I came to fight."

Then directly in front of Fort Donelson he stood with his iron-clad sending havoc and death into the stronghold of rebel Gen. Buckner, and stopping the enemy from crossing the river to reinforce the fort until almost every available thing above deck that could be had been shot away; yet fearlessly and alone he stood giving orders to his gallant crew.

It was Capt. Morton who solicited the commander of the fleet with which he was connected to sign an agreement to go with him in the daring attempt when they ran the batteries of Fort Henry. He commanded the gunboat "Gen. Thomas" when rebel Gen. Hood made his advance on Hashville and went to the assistance of Gen. Granger at Decatur, Ala. In this most daring encounter he fought against all odds, and gained a great victory which Commodore Foote commended very highly in a letter to Capt. Morton afterwards. This battle is not given in history as the records were destroyed when the flagship was burned.

Rebel Gen. Hood's forces of 40,000 had concentrated in front of Decatur and encircled the town from its banks, right and left, to capture Gen. Grangers forces and seize our pontoon bridge which there spanned the Tennessee river. Capt. Morton saw no other alternative but to take the chances of running Hood's batteries of 26 pieces of artillery stationed on the banks of the river above Decatur. Hood was three days' march in advance of the Union forces under Gens. Thomas and Hunter and if he could seize the bridge would capture Nashville before the Union forces could overtake him. A captain of a transport boat laying in the river near this point and who had been watching the movements of the enemy, said to Capt. Morton:

"Do not attempt to pass Hood's Batteries: they will blow you out of the river sure."

Capt. Morton replied:

"We cannot be blown up in a better cause or sink if sink we must; I have orders to go to the relief of Gen. Granger and go I will."

All the rebel batteries except one was placed on a high bank of the river, expecting Capt. Morton would take the opposite shore, but he steered straight for their batteries, hugged their shore so that many of the rebels guns could not be brought to bear on his boat as he passed this almost impregnable line sending terrible destruction into the enemy's ranks, as was reported by the prisoners brought into our lines, who stated that "we supposed your gunboat was 15 inch iron or you would never have dared to run our batteries; had we known your case-mating was only three-quarter inch we would have made you an easy prey."

This act of Capt. Morton was a most dangerous one, as it was fearless and daring, for his boat was not clad against solid shot or shell. As he rounded in at Decatur and reported to Granger, the General said:

"Capt. Morton, if you had been sent from heaven you could not have come at a more opportune moment. At the time I heard your artillery and saw your boat in the bend of the river I thought I would be obliged to surrender in 15 minutes. May God bless you and the United States government reward you. You have saved us a defeat and gained for us a victory."

Hood being repulsed retreated 15 miles down the river below and near Mussels shoals, forded the river which delayed him four days in his march and gave Gens. Thomas and Hunter time to intercept him and gave him the terrible battle on the bloody fields of Franklin, from which Hood's army never recovered during the remainder of the war.

Capt. Morton was severely injured in the attack on Fort Donelson but recovered so as to take part in the battle at Island No. 10. He was in command of the Conestoga when she was blown up; was with Lieut. Selfredge when his boat went down; was twice blown up by rebel torpedoes breaking several ribs and severely injuring him internally, but from which he so far recovered as to remain in the navy, suffering more or less the remainder of his life.

While he was bold and fearless and courted danger, he was kind and large hearted, a magnanimous soul, unselfish, unostentatious, generous, unwilling to accept reward or merit that did not belong to him.

At the close of the war the president gave the officers of the volunteer navy privilege to enter the regular navy if they could pass the required examination. Out of a class of 600 Capt. Gilbert Morton was one of 25 only, who passed the necessary examination and received a commission as ensign in the regular navy and was assigned to the South American squadron, where he spent nearly three years, then returning to civil life with his wife at the homestead of her father where he resided until his death. His whole life to this time had been bold, fearless and adventuresome. He had faced rebel artillery without flinching, defled the raging seas and laughed at the storm upon the deep. But as old age approached he said he was not prepared to meet death: "I have neglected that greatest of all obligations, that which I owe my creator who has so kindly protected and spared me in all these trying scenes of life." He became a true and earnest Christian and gave the last years of his life to the service of his Master, and was as active as he had been true and patriotic in the hour of his country's need.

The Burlington Free Press, Burlington, VT, August 4, 1890

Courtesy of Heidi McColgan