Walter Goodale Morrill
Walter G. Morrill
Born(1840-11-13)November 13, 1840
Williamsburg, Maine, U.S.
DiedMarch 3, 1935(1935-03-03) (aged 94)
Pittsfield, Maine, U.S.
Buried
Pittsfield Village Cemetery
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Army
Union Army
Years of service1861–1865
Rank
Lieutenant Colonel
UnitMaine Company A, 6th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Maine Company B, 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsAmerican Civil War
 • Second Battle of Rappahannock Station
 • Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg
AwardsMedal of Honor

Walter Goodale Morrill (November 13, 1840 – March 3, 1935) was a Union Army officer in the American Civil War and a recipient of the U.S. military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, for his actions at the Second Battle of Rappahannock Station in November 1863. Also, Morrill's earlier actions in July 1863 at Gettysburg are considered essential for the famous Union victory on Little Round Top.

Morrill was raised in Williamsburg, Maine. In 1861 the age of 20, he enlisted as a sergeant in Company A, 6th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. A year later he was commissioned as an officer in Company B, 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He was promoted several times, ultimately to lieutenant colonel. He mustered out on June 4, 1865.[1] His Medal of Honor citation states:

At Rappahannock Station, Va., November 7, 1863, this officer, then captain in the Twentieth Maine Volunteers, and on duty with skirmishers in advance of the Fifth corps, learning that an assault was to be made on the enemy's fortifications by troops of the Sixth corps, those present called for volunteers from his own command to unite with the storming party. With those volunteers, some fifty in number, he joined the Sixth Maine regiment and charged it. The enemy's works were carried with bayonet, four guns, eight battle-flags, and 1,300 men were captured, and Captain Morrill was specially mentioned in the official reports of the Corps and Division commanders.

— Medal of Honor Citation[2]

At the action of Little Round Top Morrill led his unit at the decisive point of the bayonet charge without orders. His contingent created the impression of two regiments rushing through the woods, though it consisted only of 44 Company B soldiers and 14 U.S. Sharpshooters. It was Morrill's group of Union soldiers that Confederate Lt. Col. (later Brig. Gen.) William C. Oates believed caused panic in his Confederate soldiers. Without Morrill's sudden assault from the Confederates' right, Joshua Chamberlain's famous bayonet attack, often credited for saving Little Round Top and Gettysburg from defeat, probably would have been spoiled and pushed back by Oates men.[3][4]

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the bayonet charge on Little Round Top.
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ordered the bayonet charge on Little Round Top.

During their retreat, the Confederates were subjected to a volley of rifle fire from Company B of the 20th Maine, commanded by Morrill, and a few of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, who had been placed by Chamberlain behind a stone wall 150 yards to the east, hoping to guard against an envelopment. This group, who had been hidden from sight, caused considerable confusion in the Confederate ranks.[5]

Of Little Round Top, Brig. Gen. Oates said,

His [Col. Chamberlain's] skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat. [If one more Confederate regiment had stormed the far left of the Army of the Potomac with the 15th Alabama,] "... we would have completely turned the flank and have won Little Round Top, which would have forced Meade's whole left wing to retire." Oates concluded that "great events sometimes turn on comparatively small affairs."[6]

From Colonel Chamberlain's after action report:: "Captain Morrill with his skirmishers (send out from my left flank), with some dozen or fifteen of the U.S. Sharpshooters who had put themselves under his (Morrill's) direction, fell upon the enemy as they were breaking, and by his demonstrations, as well as his well-directed fire, added much to the effect of the [bayonet] charge ... that cleared the front of nearly our entire brigade."[7]

Morrill led troops in many other battles, including at Appomattox, and became a prominent businessman in Pittsfield, Maine after the war.[8]

References

  1. ^ Historical Data Systems, American Civil War Soldiers (Electronic database at http://www.ancestry.com).
  2. ^ Maine Cavalry (1897). The Maine bugle, Volumes 4–5. Main association.
  3. ^ "Defense of Little Round Top". 15 April 2009.
  4. ^ ""We went and staid too"". 18 November 2015.
  5. ^ Desjardin, Thomas A. Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1995. ISBN 1-57747-034-6, pages 69–71
  6. ^ Oates, William C. The War Between the Union and the Confederacy and Its Lost Opportunities. Dayton, OH: Morningside Bookshop, 1974. OCLC 1199018. First published 1905 by Neale Publishing Co. pp. 216, 219.
  7. ^ "Captain Walter G. Morrill, 20th Maine-CMOH Gettysburg, Autographed CDV". www.cowanauctions.com.
  8. ^ "Col. Walter G. Morrill – Pittsfield Historical Society". www.pittsfieldhistoricalsociety.org.