Charles Morfit and the Ivy

Dick Hall

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In early February of 1862, a letter was posted in Macon, Georgia to Charles M. Morfit CSN, C.S. Steamer Ivy, New Orleans, La. When the letter arrived in New Orleans, the Ivy was no longer there, so the letter was forwarded to Columbus, Kentucky. Notice the front cover of the envelope has "New Orleans" marked through and "Columbus, Ky" written in.

Figure 1 -- Front and reverse sides of the Morfit cover.

However, Fort Donelson fell on February 16, and Columbus, Kentucky was evacuated by February 20; so the cover was sent further downriver to the Confederate stronghold at New Madrid, Missouri. Notice the back of the cover is marked "Rec'd Feby 27th 1862, New Madrid, Mo." and initialed "A. O. Potts."

My investigations in the Missouri Historical Society and the New Madrid County Historical Society confirmed there was an A. O. Potts living in that area at that time. It also confirms there was a Potts that served as Postmaster during the 1860's. To my knowledge there is no mention by name in any of the Confederate Post Office manuals of a Confederate Postmaster in the state of Missouri, this man was certainly serving in some such manner in early 1862 prior to the Union occupation of the town in the last part of March. [Editors Note: While Missouri was nominally admitted to the Confederacy in late November 1861, the Confederate Post Office never formally established any offices in that state.]

Now, as to Charles Morfit and the C.S. Steamship Ivy. First, the ship: The CSS Ivy, formerly the El Paraguay, was commissioned 16 May 1861 at New Orleans as the Confederate privateer V. H. Ivy, Capt. N. B. Baker. She was purchased later in the year by the Navy, renamed Ivy, and placed under the command of Lt. J. Fry CSN. On 12 October 1861 she joined in attacking the Federal blockading squadron lying at the Head of the Passes in the Mississippi River and achieved notable success with her long range gun and maneuverability. Ivy remained active in the Lower Mississippi until May 1863 when she was destroyed by her officers near Liverpool Landing in the Yazoo River in order to foil plans for her capture.

From "A History of the Confederate Navy" the following quote mentions the Ivy. "Flag Officer Hollins had been in command of the naval station at New Orleans from August lst 1861. During his time at this station, the privateer steamer V H. Ivy, along with other ships, helped hold off a Union Navy attempt toward New Orleans. Then, in February of 1862, turning the New Orleans command over to Commander Wm. C. Whittle, Hollins proceeded up the river with the fleet which by changes of one kind and another was reduced to the McRae, the Polk, the Livingston, the Maurepas and the Ivy."

And in another quote from the same source, we find additional mention of the Ivy, "Columbus on the Mississippi River, defended by its batteries, was also defended by the Confederate fleet of Flag Officer Hollins, consisting of the McRae (flagship), the General Polk, the Ivy, the Jackson and the Marepass."

Further mentions of the Ivy find the ship appearing after the evacuation of Columbus in early March with the group of Confederate gunboats helping in the defense of Island #10. After the fall of Island #10 and the Federal capture of New Madrid, the ship can be traced to the occupation of New Orleans in April 1862. After that point in any of the sources I've been able to locate, mention of the Ivy disappears. However, in Way's Packet Directory 1848-1983, I found the following: "The wrecking boat Travis Wright in November 1873 removed from the Yazoo River near Liverpool landing an interesting relic in the form of a vessel 19lx28x9 powered by a vertical condensing engine, beam type, 44" dia. by 11 ft. stroke. It had been purposely burned by the Confederates in May 1863 to prevent its capture. This 454 ton vessel had been the C.S. privateer V.H. IVY, in 1861, and later after the Federal blockade of New Orleans, became a part of Hollins river fleet known simply as CSS gunboat Ivy."

Assistant Surgeon Charles M. Morfit is listed in the appendix of the History of the Confederate States Navy in the list of Assistant Surgeons who served during the war years. He is also listed as part of the crew of the CSS Arkansas in July 1862.

References:

  1. Evans, C.A. (ed) 1899, Confederate Military History, Vol 9, Kentucky and Missouri. Atlanta: Confederate Publishing Co.
  2. Gosnell, H. A. 1949, Guns on the Western Waters, the Story of the River Gunboats in the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press.
  3. Missouri Historical Society file of Names of families and officials of the Civil War period.
  4. Sharf, J. T. 1887, History of the Confederate States Navy. New York: Rogers and Sherwood.
  5. Toppan, A. 2000, DANFS Online the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships www.hazegray.org/danfs/csn/i.txt.
  6. Way, F. Jr. 1984, Way's Packet Directory 1848-1983. Columbus: Ohio University Press.

john@csastamps.com