UK Heritage

Under Two Flags - Thomas Morley, 17th Lancers/12th Pennsylvania Cavalry

By Tony Margrave

 

(Adapted from his article 'Brits in Blue or Gray'which appeared in Crossfire No 96, August 2011).

 

Thomas Morley was an Englishman who fought with the British 17th Lancers in the Crimea and with the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War. As a result of several self-published works, letters to newspapers, and interviews with journalists, Morley is survived by considerably more "footprints in ink" than his fellow soldiers. In part his endeavours were motivated by fruitless attempts to secure the award of the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Honor.

Morley enlisted at Dublin with the 17th Lancers, on June 30, 1849, receiving a recruit bounty of £5- 15-6d. He remained with the regiment till January 21, 1857 when he purchased his release for £20. He was promoted Corporal on May 24, 1854 and Sergeant on November 27, 1854. During his time in service he was furloughed on just three occasions, December 15, 1850 till January 14, 1851, October 1 to 30, 1852 and November 1 till December 31, 1856. Morley sailed for the east with his regiment, in April 1854 and was at Constantinople and later Devna (Bulgaria) with the regiment until he landed with the regiment in the Crimea, in September 1854.

 

Morley was present at the Battle of the Alma, September 20, 1854. On October 25, his regiment was serving in the rear of the British army, in North Valley, outside Balaklava, when a series of confused message were sent to Cavalry Division commander Lord Lucan by army commander Lord Raglan. The fourth of these unleashed to British Light Cavalry Brigade, against a line of Russian guns and cavalry at the head of the valley. Morley was also active at the Battle of Inkerman, on November 5, 1854.

 

In their book Honour the Light Brigade (1973), the authors Canon William Murrell Lummis, MC & Kenneth G Wynn, say that Morley made many written claims to the authorities between 1857 and 1893 for the Victoria Cross for acts of gallantry performed by him on October 25 and November 5, 1854, a claim they say, was supported by surviving officers. Actually he made an application from Washington, as late as 1896. Several weeks after Morley left the army, the following letter for the Editor of The Times was published on April 24, 1857 under heading Cross of Valour", possibly his first attempt to secure the award:

 

"Sir, I am a sergeant of nearly three years, lately retired from the 17th Lancers, at the early age of 25 years, solely in consequence of being passed over most unjustly in the rewards and honours that have been bestowed. I am now made drill sergeant in the Sherwood Rangers, Mansfield, by its noble colonel His Grace the Duke of Newcastle, and, wishing my fellow men to know how unjustly I have been treated, I beg of you to allow me a place in your columns, so generously open to private as well as public grievances, to state my service as briefly as possible. After being at Alma, I was present with my regiment in every engagement that took place. I charged at Balaklava with my squadron until it was nearly annihilated, my own lance being shot away. Drawing my sword I galloped on to the Russian guns, and assisted in cutting down the gunners. On the right of our forming line I observed one particular gun going away as

fast as the horses could take it. I went after it with Captain Jervis, of the 13th Light Dragoons, who shot one of the horses and delayed its progress. On this I engaged two of the gunners, who both fell. It now became a struggle for our lives; a large body of Cossacks surrounded us. I succeeded in working my way through them, and galloped in the direction of what I judged to be our own Hussars. I found they were Russians reforming. I forced my way on full speed through them, unhurt. A regiment of Polish Lancers, 800 strong, had formed across the valley. I halted a moment to look around. Perceiving several of our cavalry in the same dilemma, I called to them, and being then a corporal, I used what authority I had to form them as well as I could. We gathered 12, and charged their centre; most of us got through. I believe three fell. These men were 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, and 17th Lancers; one was of the 8th Hussars. I received the point of a lance in the right hand; the wound was slight. The Russian infantry now opened a heavy fire upon us and after galloping through the guns of the enemy in advance of us, each one separated, trusting to fate. Private James Cope and Private James Wightman, now corporals of the 17th Lancers, were of the number. Wightman was severely wounded and taken prisoner for twelve months.

 

On the 5th of November, 1854, I was at the battle of Inkerman, and under fire. Cornet Cleveland was shot; and when our regiment was ordered to retire, I asked Captain Morgan to allow me to fall out of the ranks to assist in carrying Mr. Cleveland off the field. Troop Sergeant- Major O'Hara and Private James O'Hara of the same regiment also fell out for that purpose. In performing that act, James O'Hara and myself both had our dress caps shot off our heads by a cannon ball. We still pursued our duty till out of range, when the cornet wished to be laid down till a stretcher could be procured. This officer died...

 

I was present in every skirmish in which my regiment was engaged, and I returned home when the campaign ended. When in Ireland with my regiment I inquired of my troop officer why I did not get a medal for distinguished conduct. He told me he was very sorry I did not, but it lay to the commanding officer's discretion. So it appears they are not "distinguished conduct medals" but "discretion medals!"

 

There are several men in the 17th Lancers who wear medals for distinguished conduct on the field of battle who never crossed swords with a Russian. This is my simple and truthful statement and I think I have reason to complain that I am not decorated with a cross of valour - not to wear as a matter of vanity, but alone prizable to me as a mark that, though a young, I have not been an unworthy soldier."

 

Morley filed two sworn statements with the authorities in London in support of his claim. The first does not seem to have survived but the second, sworn in Washington, DC on November 12, 1896 was addressed to Lord Wolsey. It can be found in Morley's booklet The Cause of the Charge of Balaclava Oct 25th, 1854 first published in July 1899. Morley attributes his original failure to gain this recognition to his commanding officer, Colonel Benson of the 17th Lancers:

 

"... Colonel Benson was allowed to turn Her Majesty's and Prince Consort's Noble Order and the Royal Warrant into mockery and the Victoria Cross into a sham. He was the cause of me receiving an official letter, dated 8th October, 1857, stating that all claims for the Victoria Cross must be founded upon facts. This Colonel Benson wrote the most cruel false statements to the Commander-in-Chief, and was the cause of me purchasing my discharge out of the 17th Lancers, and then losing promotion in the Yeomanry He made false statements respecting my being promoted to sergeant. I can prove I was promoted in November, 1854, and he did not arrive in the Crimea till 22nd February, 1855. I have received all kinds of official letters telling me they see no reason to open my case. I received an official letter dated 22nd February, 1892, stating that the case cannot now be opened".

 

Benson, he explained in his booklet Fought Under Two Flags And A Record For Bravery Second To None:

 

"... was the only officer that flogged the soldiers. I saw him flog three at once at Ismid, who rode in the charge of the "600," one of them had 17 wounds upon his back, all bleeding, through the lashes of the Cat o' Nine Tails. I saw tears running down the officers’ cheeks. This Colonel Benson is the only officer that drummed out any men of the 17th Lancers, some of whom had ridden in the charge of the "600." Sir Drury Lowe, when Colonel, had a Regimental Sergeant-Major in the name of Brown, every soldier in the 17th Lancers had the greatest respect for him and officers too..

 

I have said, and more, by officers and soldiers now living. Colonel Benson was the means of me losing promotion by writing lies to the Duke of Cambridge. The Duke of Newcastle, my commanding officer, read Benson's letter and told me he should believe Colonel Benson's statement before mine. He promised afterwards that if I would not write any more letters something would be done for me. That promise was never fulfilled, for he promoted a sergeant over my head in the name of Smith".

 

These complaints may seem extraordinary but Sir Charles Oman, the noted author of The War in the Peninsular, recounts in his companion volume Wellington's Army in the Peninsular that it was not unknown for the morale of a regiment to be destroyed through the widespread use of flogging by the colonel or by his use of a toadying sergeant major as a spy against officers and men alike.

 

When Morley left the British army, he was briefly appointed as drill sergeant to the Sherwood Rangers at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but 1862 found him in America. It was here, he says above), that "Through General Charles Frederick Havelock, who became Inspector of Cavalry at Washington D.C., I left the regiment and went America ... “. Havelock cannot have been the reason he left the regiment and journeyed to America. There was a five-year time lag between the two events but later in this source he explains t he was introduced to Colonel Cesnola the 4th New York Cavalry by " by Major-General C. F. Havelock at Washington.

 

Havelock was another "Brit in Blue or Gray" and Di Cesnola was a staff officer with General La Marmora's Sardinian Contingent, which also served in the Crimea. It is not clear to me how the two met, since Charles Frederick Havelock of the 95th Foot, was commissioned temporarily as a Brigadier General in command of a brigade of the Osmanli Irregular Cavalry, a foreign command raised during the Crimean War to augment the British army in the east. The Osmanlis never made it to the Crimea whereas the Sardinians were there from the summer of 1855 onwards. Havelock himself approached Abraham Lincoln on November 16, 1861 for an appointment and he served on the staff of the Union army and was with Major General George B McClellan for a time. I suspect the two met in the United States. Nor is it clear how Havelock met Morley. One can only assume that Morley travelled to Washington, got to hear of Havelock and approached him as one Brit to another.

 

Morley's account of his time with the Union army supply the highlights of his alleged Civil War career, but how far can it be linked to a verifiable time frame or otherwise verified from contemporary sources? I have consulted Morley's Compiled Service Records, held at the National Archives in Washington, The Official Records, the Supplement to the Official Records, Frederick Dyer's, A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, and Samuel P Bates, History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers.

 

His Compiled Service Records say that he was 32 years of age when he was mustered into Company G, 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry, at Washington, DC, as a Second Lieutenant, on June 25, 1862 and that he was captured at on August 28, 1862 and confined briefly at Richmond, Va. They say variously that he was captured at Culpepper, Va and in the Battle of Manassas, Va. The incident occurred in what the Official Records call the Campaign in Northern Virginia, August 16 to September 2. The Second Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas) occurred on August 30th, not August 28th, 1862 but several actions, engagements and skirmishes occurred in the vicinity during the days preceding. No federal report covers the incident and it is not listed in the Official Records, as an incident of the Campaign. However Confederate division commander Major General Ambrose P Hill, reports the that Brigadier General L. O'B Branch's North Carolina Brigade had a "sharp encounter" with a US battery supported by the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry at Manassas Junction which was "soon dispersed".

 

Morley was released after less than a month, being exchanged (with many other Union officers) at Aiken's Landing, September 21, 1862 for a comparable number of Confederate officers, as announced by GO 147, A.G.O, War Department, September 30, 1862, his sole mention by name in The official Records. His

whereabouts for the next two months is are not clear. He was absent at the end of November 1862 on special duty but thereafter he was present from December 1862 till February 1863. His whereabouts for the period March through June 1863 are not fully recorded but he was with the regiment when captured in the Shenandoah Valley, at the Battle of Winchester, Va June 15,He was then taken to Staunton, Va and moved on to Richmond, Va. Here he remained till removed to City Point, Md where he was paroled, March 7,He was then granted leave of absence on the medical grounds of "general disability", until sent May 12, 1864, to rejoin the regiment. He was at Martinsburg, W.Va on June 25, 1864 when promoted First Lieutenant of Company G and he was on detached duty from July to October 1864 at Camp Remount, Pleasant Valley, Md with the dismounted cavalry of the 2nd Division of the Department of West Virginia.

 

After his stint with Weber, Morley rejoined his regiment and was continuously present till April 1865 (save for fifteen days leave in January) when he resigned (April 8) and was honourably discharged (April 25). During this time he was promoted Captain of Company I (February 3) which he joined three days later (February 6). The War Department's parting comment appears in War Department Special Orders No. 165, paragraph 6 "Captain Thomas Morley, 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry, having tendered his resignation, and it appearing that the acceptance of the same would promote the interests of the service, is on the recommendation of his Commanding General, hereby discharged the service of the United States.."

 

Morley was interviewed in 1894 for an article which appeared on June 24, in the Washington Post, and his interviewer wrote up Morley's experiences as a prisoner on this second occasion in these terms: "When a prisoner in Libby he was compelled to be vaccinated, and the stuff was a poison that nearly killed him. Fate seems to have selected him as a victim of egregious mistakes, but one thing has been demonstrated, he was not easily frightened. Capt. Morley is a dignified man, without any airs. His memory is wonderfully distinct, and he talks in a very interesting way about his adventures on the rare occasions when he refers to them at all". In Morley's own words "I was in Libby prison for twelve months, and while I was there 109 made their escape by making a tunnel. I was in when powder was laid down to blow as all up. During the time I was prisoner of war, General Cesnola saw me compelled to be vaccinated. The matter turned out bad, my left side and arm swelled to such a degree that I was compelled to lie on the floor for months, my brother officers believing I should die."

 

Morley returned to his regiment in May 1864. Bates notes that in the meantime the regiment had re-enlisted as Veteran Volunteers and after furlough at Philadelphia in April 1864 it "resumed its duties in guarding the frontier”. Morley was soon detached and in his own words "I was second in command in Dismounted Camp in Pleasant Valley, Maryland, to equip all cavalry without horses, and was afterwards Assistant Commissariat in Pleasant Valley. I was then appointed Assistant Inspector of Cavalry, with Major Gordon, for the Department of Western Virginia" This is borne out by his military records and it was at this time that he says he was engaged in a stiff combat in June 1864. It will be recalled that he says that on June 29, 1864 he was sent by Brigadier General Max Weber with 30 men towards Chariest own, W. Va where he came across 2000 Confederates with two guns and that he was charged by two squadrons which was "One of the worst running fights I ever was in" and that he lost 21 of his men. Weber's account, penned the day after, says that Colonel John Singleton Mosby, CSA of the 43rd Virginia Partisan Rangers with a "considerable force" was in the vicinity of Charlestown. During the day a report from the commander at Duffield's Station, Va reported that he was under attack and called for reinforcements. Weber sent 50 cavalry towards Duffield's "to feel the enemy and watch their movements" and 300 infantry were ordered to that point. Later it was heard that Mosby, who Weber says had 400 men and 2 guns, routed the Union troops, plundered and burned their camp, stores and storehouses and retired in the direction of Key's Ford. Weber makes no mention of these reinforcements being engaged in any combat with Mosby.

 

Morley also applied to the United States authorities for the Medal of Honor. His application is in the form of another sworn statement, sworn at a time when he was back in Nottingham. I came across an extract in a rather unusual location - it looks to be incomplete, starting with his first capture in August 1862, and I have no idea where the original text can be found. I was hoping it was to be found with his service records, but sadly it was not. The extract starts with his first capture in August 1862:

 

"Unfortunately for myself, my horse was shot and I was taken prisoner together with Lieutenant McCalier and John H. Black. This was the first time General Stonewall Jackson was ever defeated by a Federal Officer and such conspicuous service in action I think you will clearly agree distinguished one for gallantry and intrepidity above my comrades. I need no particular individual to voice the matter for me. The whole Regiment know what I did and they are facts that will live in history. Again it must not be forgotten that against tremendous odds I laid down my life as a sacred duty to save my Regiment and the country owe me this honourable distinction and thanks further, as Major Egerton Jerry will tell you if asked. I was the only Officer who knew Military tactics in the Regiment and what the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry knew they owed to my energy and experience. Such testimony needs no words of mine to prove to you what was thought of me in the Regiment...”

 

Morley may or may not have performed a signal service on August 28, 1862, but Stonewall Jackson was certainly not embarrassed by the actions of Morley or anyone else with the 12th Pennsylvania Cavalry that day! Morley's account of his service on June 29, 1864, is also at odds with the report filed by Max Webber who, as I have mentioned, makes no mention of any incidents or losses save those suffered by the men at Duffield's Station.

 

About November 1864, Morley rejoined the regiment and remained with it, save for a brief period of leave in January 1865, till resigning in April 1865.

 

Morley was clearly attached to Colonel and Brevet Brigadier General Luigia di Cesnola, and it will be seen below, that he named his second daughter Cesnolia Trefusis Morley, after di Cesnola. I can find no time when Morley and di Cesnola's respective regiments, while serving in Virginia, could be found in the same brigade, division, army or even department. In June 1862 Morley's regiment in the east while di Cesnola's was in the west. When Morley returned to duty after brief captivity, his regiment was in the west while di Cesnola's was in the east and this remained to case till they were both captured in June 1863. It continued to be the case after Morley was released from captivity. It was not till August 1864 that di Cesnola's regiment entered the Shenandoah Valley but Morley makes no mention of any signal event in his Civil War career after June 29, 1864. Anyway Morley attributes the incident to the date di Cesnola was wounded and captured (June 17, 1863) but by then Morey was himself a Confederate prisoner.

 

Morley returned to Britain after the war. On January 1, 1868 he was appointed drill Troop Sergeant Major of the Ayrshire Yeomanry and was promoted Regimental sergeant Major in June 1871. He remained in Scotland with the regiment till June 1877 where he says he was given a lease of Robert Burns home where he says two of his five children were born. On October 25, 1875 he attended the First Balaclava Banquet, and in 1879 he was a member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society. Morley then returned to the United States, where between April 1884 and the end of 1893 he was employed as a clerk in the War Department, in the building which had once been the Ford Theatre where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. It was acquired by the US Government in 1866, and was then taken up by the War Department. The front that collapsed on June 9, 1893 killing or injuring 90 clerks, Morley being one of the latter. It was then restored and used as a warehouse but it had been unused for more than 35 years when it was restored to re-open on January 30, 1968. Ford's Theatre is now very much alive and kicking under the administration of the Forde's Theatre Company.

 

The year before he was injured he was described by the Washington Post as " ... about six feet in height, of soldierly bearing, and weighs perhaps 170 pounds. His full beard, like his hair, is quite gray. His voice is deep and mellow, with pronounced English accent" Unable to continue at work after his injury in 1893, Morley was discharged from his post, and he says he was never again able to work. To make ends meet he applied for relief from the Patriotic Fund in London, but received a letter dated October 18, 1894 advising him that he was entitled to nothing. He then appealed to Connecticut Senator Joseph (Roswell) Hawley (1826-1905) who served in the war and reached the rank of Major General of US Volunteers. Hawley secured employment for Morley's second wife at the Treasury Department. Here she remained till they returned to England in 1897 for the last time. Morley, along with wife Mary and children Leonidas and Alma, embarked aboard the Indiana at Philadelphia, landing at Liverpool, on August 14, 1897.

 

Morley's parting comments regarding the United States are touching and worth repeating "I shall ever be grateful to America. It is a Heaven for a soldier. They never want, if a good record. If they cannot work they have Soldiers Homes to retire in; better looking than any Hotel in Nottingham. If they die their relatives receive ten pound to carry them to the finest Cemetery in the world; with marble headstone, and their graves strewn with flowers every 30th of May. Any soldier with a record can get relief and forwarded to his destination. The Americans are the finest comrades in the world, and they are the only nation that can fight side by side with the British, they would understand one another and be proper chums, while other nations do not understand one another. You would require an interpreter to understand their names; much more work together in battle."

 

In England, Morley lived at Leek, Staffordshire for sixteen months and then moved to Nottingham, his home town. In his final years he received assistance from the T H Roberts Fund, established for Light Brigade chargers who fell on hard times. In Britain he was a member of the Balaklava Commemoration Society and in the United State he was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic. The photograph shows Morley wearing the design of membership badge adopted in 1880. He was also entitled, as an officer, to be a member of The Society of the Army of the Potomac (based on the service of his regiment with Pleasanton's Cavalry Division in September and October 1862) and The Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.

 

Morley's accounts of his family are not always correct. He was born at Nottingham about 1831 to William Morley and Ann Munston. He married first, in 1867, Catherine Howkins, daughter of Samuel Howkins & Ann Hill. They had four Beatrice Leonora Gertrude Morley, born 1870, Cesnolia Trefusis Morley, born 1874, Irene A E Morley, born 1876, and Ethel W M Morley, born 1879. Morley, it will be noted, used a "feminised" version of Colonel di Cesnola's name for his second daughter. At the time of the Scottish 1871 Census they were living at the Auchengree Foundry, Dairy, Ayrshire. He says in Fought Under Two Flags that two of his sons were born in the Burns House in Ayrshire but he seems to have had only one son, and who was named in honour of Colonel Cesnola of the New York Cavalry. By the time of the Scottish 1881 Census, Morley was a spirit merchant, residing at Burns Cottage Public House, Alloway, Ayrshire with his second wife Mary Jack (born Dundee, circa 1862) daughter of Andrew Jack and Mary Lambie, as well as the four children of his first marriage, and newly born daughter Mary M E Morley. He was living at 909 Steuben Street, N.W, Washington, DC, on November 12, 1896 the date of a sworn declaration for the award of the VC. The English 1901 Census shows that Morley, and wife Mary, were living at 2 Manning Grove, Nottingham, with three sons, all born at Washington, and aged between nine and sixteen. It would have been Mary who rescued the family finances in the 1890s by working at the Treasury Department. He had three sons by Mary and the names of two are reflective of his Crimean experiences. Eldest was Leonidas Thomas Morley, aged sixteen, Balaclava Varadio Morley aged eleven years and Alma Worthen Morley (named Alma Havelock Morley in the Washington Post, June 24, 1894) the youngest, aged 9. As the Washington Post said "Probably his children will not need to be reminded by these names of the stirring events in which their father played so brave a part".

 

He died at Nottingham on August 14, 1906 and was buried in the Veterans' Ground of the General Cemetery, Nottingham. The Washington Post carried this brief obituary: "Capt. Thomas Morley, hero of the "charge of the light brigade" at Balaklava and a soldier in the Union army during the civil war, is dead. Word was received in Washington yesterday by one of his many friends of his death at Nottingham, England. Capt. Morley had a remarkable career. During the Crimean war he served with distinction with the Seventeenth Lancers. His rescue of Cornet Cleve under fire during the battle of Inkerman and his valor in rallying the fragment the "600" at Balaklava won him special honors from the British government. He came to the United States during the war at the invitation of General Havelock and was made drill inspector of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry. He distinguished himself at Bull Run. In 1898 Capt. Morley returned to England". I have not found British obituary but The Penny illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times, September 1, 1906, contains a photograph of his funeral.

 

I should like to express my appreciation of the efforts of Dr Douglas; Austin, Larry Crider, and Glenn Fisher, three members of The Crimean War Research Society, who located some of the materials used in the writing of this article.