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I will be speaking on the 1864 Civil War diary of Morris Cooper Foote (1843 – 1905) at Fort Negley Visitor Center in Nashville, Tuesday evening at 7 pm. Foote is a little-known military figure but had a substantial career in the service of the United States from 1861 – 1903.
A native from New York, Foote originally enlisted in the famed Ellsworth Avengers’ regiment, the 44th New York Infantry. While with the 44th NY he distinguished himself with meritorious service at Malvern Hill (July 1862 | see web site), earning himself a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. Shortly after he transferred into the 92nd New York Volunteer Infantry. The 92nd played a significant role in North Carolina.
While serving with the 92nd NYV Foote was appointed aide de camp for his uncle General Henry W. Wessells. Wessells commanded the Department of North Carolina from late 1862 until the end of the war.
The Union Army (Vol Eight) states,
“On April 17, 1864, he was attacked at Plymouth, N. C., where he had a garrison of about 3,000 men, by Gen. Robert F. Hoke with about 15,000 Confederate troops and the iron-clad “Albemarle.” After a gallant defense which lasted three days Gen. Wessells surrendered the town.”
It is the battle and capture of Plymouth, NC (April 17-20, 1864) that serves as the backdrop to Morris Cooper Foote’s 1864 diary, which is owned by Yeoman’s in the Fork, a rare bookstore in Leiper’s Fork, TN.
Foote’s diary is interesting for several reasons:
- Foote was an officer, captured at Plymouth.
- He provides daily detail on his imprisonment experience throughout 1864.
- He served in six Rebel prisons: Libby, Danville, Macon, Charleston (two prisons), and Columbia, SC.
- He recorded numerous successful escapes of Union soldiers from Rebel prisons.
- He details his own successful escape in late November 1864.
Foote’s account of his personal escape on November 29th, 1864 (the day before the Battle of Franklin) is riveting. He gives singular credit to the local slave population for his successful escape through the arteries of the Congaree and Santee rivers. His narrative reads almost like a fiction novel. Foote and another officer were picked up December 12th by the U.S.S. Nipsic in Winyah Bay. Foote’s personally drawn escape map of Winyah Bay has resided in his diary since 1864.
Foote mustered out of the 92nd NY Infantry in late December 1864 but could not stay away from the action very long, re-enlisting in late March 1865 with the 121st New York Infantry just in time to see action at Saylor’s (also Sailor’s) Creek, VA, in which he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant for his meritorious service.
Foote went on to serve in the U.S. military after the Civil War. His illustrious post-Ciivl War military career includes serving in the Alaska territory in 1867 as the United States negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia, serving in many native American campaigns and expeditions – including the Blackhills expedition, the Snake Wars, the Yellowstone expedition – escorting numerous wagon trains through Sioux territories, and serving as an Indian agent for the Sioux on behalf of the U.S. government.
The only extant picture of Foote (found so far) in the Yeoman’s collection is of him sitting next to what may indeed be Geronimo himself. What do you think?
Foote’s post-Civil War military career did not end with native American campaigns. His military heroics and fame continued. His surviving military journals reveal he fought in the Spanish-American Civil War (April 25-Aug 12, 1898) in 1898. His actions merited his promotion to Major of the 21st U.S. Infantry. His journals may reveal he stormed San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, but I have not looked yet.
The native-New York military hero was not done after the Spanish-American War either, sporting his new promotion to Major, Foote found himself in the thick of the Philippine-American War (2 June 1899 – 4 July, 1902) and the Boxer Rebellion in China (2 Nov 1899 – 7 Sept 1901). He was promoted to Brigadier-General on 18 February 1903 and retired the next day. Foote died 6 December 1905 in Switzerland. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.
Yeoman’s in the Fork has a very large collection of Morris Cooper Foote items, spanning his entire military career; including his diaries and journals (1864, 1967-1903), his personal library, many documents, maps, broadsides, personal items, etc. or more information on the Foote collection contact Mike Cotter (615) 983-6460.
About the lecturer:
Kraig McNutt is a resident of Franklin, TN, and is widely known as a serious bloghistorian. His Battle of Franklin blog receives over 10,000 accesses a month. He started the Battle of Franklin Facebook Group in October 2009. It currently has 2,200+ fans.
McNutt researches and writes on Civil War history as it pertains to Williamson County, including Franklin, as well as action involving middle Tennessee and the Western Theater of war. McNutt is also involved in historic preservation efforts in Williamson County.
McNutt founded The Center for the Study of the American Civil War (CSACW) in 2001, which houses his extensive personal collection of Civil War related items, including many letters, diaries, and original documents.
He is available to speak or present to Civil War organizations and functions. McNutt holds degrees from Indiana University (B.A.) and The University of Kentucky (M.S.), and can be reached at tellinghistory[at]yahoo.com or by calling 615.807.0313.